April 30, 2014
The State Government’s $6 million “Strong Choices” campaign rolled into Kingaroy on Wednesday morning.
The campaign is asking Queenslanders to weigh up the “tough decisions and strong choices” facing a State Government determined to reduce Queensland’s $80 billion debt so it can invest in new infrastructure.
Treasurer Tim Nicholls describes Strong Choices as an Australian first and “unprecedented” public consultation.
The Electrical Trades Union – opposed to asset sales – has described it as a “tour de spin”.
All the action unfolded from 10:00am at the Kingaroy Town Common Hall.
Both sides of the debate arrived in force.
Mr Nichols and his team came to town via government jet; the Electrical Trades Union and Not4Sale campaigners arrived in vans.
And while Mr Nicholls and his dozen Strong Choices workers set up their displays inside in the hall, the unionists set up their placards on the grass outside.
Two policemen kept a discrete eye on proceedings but they needn’t have bothered … nearly everyone seemed to know each other and the loudest catcall was a polite “Enjoy your National Party meeting!”
Inside the hall, just over 40 people gathered to hear the Treasurer speak and then ask him questions.
There was a mix of LNP members – some of whom were even wearing badges – councillors, Stanwell employees, farmers and local small businesspeople.
Attendees had to register beforehand online and pass a security check. This high-tech system, obviously designed to avoid any hint of “trouble”, broke down at the last hurdle when the website issuing tickets failed on Wednesday, telling successful applicants no tickets were available.
Organisers worked around this by emailing attendees individually, telling them to just turn up. Even so, attendees still needed photo ID to get inside …
Treasurer Nicholls covered familiar ground, ie the three choices the State Government faces to pay down debt: Raise Taxes, Cut Services or Sell/Lease Assets.
He then fielded questions from the floor.
It quickly became obvious that asset sales – particularly the recommended sale of Tarong power station – had the local audience worried, even some of the LNP stalwarts.
Mr Nicholls was quick to reassure everyone again that no decision had been made on asset sales, and that no sales would occur before the next State election.
Outside, the ETU was saying something similar.
Spokesman Andrew Irvine said the union wanted to turn the next State Election into a referendum on asset sales.
A few other points from the Forum:
The Kingaroy forum was the 23rd Strong Choices campaign meeting to be held across Queensland.
As well as forums like the Kingaroy one, Treasurer Nicholls has also had meetings with selected civic leaders and a “virtual town hall” meeting completed by phone hook-up.
More than 30,000 people have provided their input either via the People’s Budget webtool or via a paper submission – and submissions are still open.
However, Mr Nicholls emphasised Strong Choices was not a poll. The results gathered from all this interaction will be included in the mix of feedback considered by the State Government.