Ipswich debate heats up on debt, jobs and assets
JUST how serious is Queensland's debt, and what does it mean for Ipswich's rising unemployment and the city's chances of scoring vital infrastructure projects in the near future?
This was what the debate between candidates for the State seat of Ipswich boiled down to in The Queensland Times' Meet the Candidates forum at the University of Southern Queensland on Tuesday night.
LNP incumbent Ian Berry opened proceedings with a reminder of the debt that the State Government inherited, and the need to make tough decisions in order to bring the budget back into the black.
"If you remember back, we actually had a $63 billion debt and a $4 billion unfunded deficit ... which had been accumulating over the Beattie and Bligh governments," Mr Berry said.
"That debt has been projected to $85 billion."
Mr Berry said a re-elected LNP Government would continue on its course of "cutting red tape" to allow business to prosper, while leasing public assets to pay back debt and restore confidence.
Mr Berry was jeered by some members of the audience when answering a question by Labor candidate Jennifer Howard over what the back-up plan was, if the LNP Government was not able to lease assets for the right price.
"The plan is that the assets will be leased at the best available price," Mr Berry said.
After speaking of her extensive volunteering contributions across Ipswich, Independent candidate Patricia Petersen moved on to a pressing state issue, suggesting that a refinancing of the debt could save money for essential infrastructure and services.
"We are paying an interest rate of 5.4% on $63 billion of loans. There are better deals available, so why hasn't anyone looked at this?"
Ms Petersen defended some of her pre-election publicity tactics, which included parading around Ipswich Mall in an Aussie bikini.
"To bring attention to serious issues - such as the state debt - I am prepared to go to great lengths," she said.
Ms Petersen said Queensland needed to move away from coal-fired power production in favour of investment in renewable energy.
Ms Howard was next up, and started by relating a story of her poor childhood to the importance of the Labor Party's belief in addressing inequity in society.
"What I learned from an early age was that if it wasn't for the Labor Party, my brother, my sister and I would not have had the opportunities we had in life," she said.
Ms Howard said Labor planned to keep public assets and use the $2 billion annual profit to pay down debt to the tune of $12 billion over 10 years.
But she came under fire from Ms Petersen, who claimed the $2.3 billion made from public assets was already being used to "prop up unprofitable public assets".
Ms Howard did not provide a direct answer to the question, and was asked again by Mr Berry.
"I can't actually answer that," she said.
Greens candidate Pat Walsh may be largely unknown across the Ipswich community, but he did his chances no harm with his performance at the forum.
Mr Walsh is a chartered accountant and works as a strategy manager for a large non-profit organisation.
"This has given me good insights into affordable housing, aged care services and many other community services that have been cut by the LNP Government," he said.
The Greens candidate was the only one present on the night to claim the state's budget deficit was not the biggest crisis facing voters.
He pointed to figures showing the number of days over 35 degrees in Amberley each year would increase from 12 to 55 by 2090 if the current rate of warming continued.
"The Greens will be introducing a renewable energy target for Queensland, as there is no action being taken at a Federal level," he said.
When asked what Ipswich's most important infrastructure project should be, Mr Walsh said the public transport system needed major improvement.
Who will you vote for in Ipswich in 2015?
This poll ended on 31 January 2015.
1. Tim Stieler - FAMILY FIRST
2. Ian Berry - LNP
3. Patricia Petersen - INDEPENDENT
4. Jennifer Howard - ALP
5. Pat Walsh - GREENS
This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.