Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Politics before community.

Today I received a flier in the mail from Warren Entsch MP. It is filled with lots of information regarding the local and Federal issues, including several pats on the back for local organisations. Well done Warren for recognising great work within our community.

It confuses me that he is excited about the new State Government initiative to formulate a 10 year plan for the Bruce Highway with him on board as the previous Government had a 20 year plan already done and ready to go. It will now cost more money to get the same result. Still, so long as eventually they start building those roads and fixing the black spots, nobody will care about the extra cost.

Lots of fuzzy stories which always make people feel good about themselves. They may even make people feel good about Warren which appears to be the point of it all. Pictures out and about in the region also give that same impression.

So far, not a bad read really. Until you spot the two glaring oddities.

One is the 'Plan to Grow Australia's Economy'. A fantastic idea but no mention in there on how it can be achieved with the current Government. It's a political ad for the next election and does nobody any favours. Cairns and the greater region can't wait until the next election. They need action now. Putting forward ideas on how that can be achieved while in Opposition, working with the Government, would be a much better indication of how capable he is of doing his job. If you can't be effective in Opposition and still work for the region, truly, what's the point? Essentially warming a seat until the next election rolls around is not what we need at all.

The other is the survey. I love a good survey. Nothing like putting in your two cents worth and feeling like you've had some input in proceedings. Provided of course, your input isn't led in a certain direction. That's not a survey, that's another ad.

For example, he has listed under the header; The Issues, several comments which you are to number in order of importance according to your concerns, from 1 to 4. No problem so far. Listed choices include; Fixing our hospitals, Tackling local crime in our community, Reducing cost of living pressures, Backing small businesses, Protecting the environment and a few others which make it tough to choose a top 4 because they seem equally important to me.

Then you have these offerings; Reducing Australia's debt, Securing Australia's borders, Stopping the Carbon Tax, Support for the NDIS.

Firstly, Australia's Debt . Before the next election there will be a surplus if all goes according to plan. If something comes up that is not accounted for (another flood, cyclone, financial crisis) then we will not make it back to surplus this financial year. We will however, make it back sooner rather than later and current debt at around 10% is not high enough to cause anyone any real concern. Considering how little most people understand the full financial situation, that is a loaded option. Most will look at it (as I admittedly did initially) as a surplus/deficit question, rather than a lasting national debt question and will answer accordingly. Those who do understand the current state of financial obligations, income streams and debt, will answer along political lines. Conservative voters abhor any debt at all, liberal voters (in the true definition of the word) understand that there is such a thing as manageable debt.

Next, securing Australia's borders. With Parliament currently sitting on this issue and discussion well underway, now is not the time to jump in and pretend it's suddenly a priority. It's been a priority for years, some would say too much of a priority, and if both major parties would just do their job properly, a solution they can accept will be reached. I've seen both offerings from both parties and neither are acceptable to my mind. Humanity and the right's of people in crisis loses out on both scores. I fail to see how one is any better than the other and if they combined the two, it would leave me just as peeved as I already am on the issue but would satisfy the criteria of the hysterical to STOP THE BOATS!

Now, Stopping the Carbon Tax is about as politically motivated as it would be possible to get. There is no option to Support the Carbon Tax or anything even close to that. Believe it or not, the Carbon Tax will not be as horrific as it is made to seem. He should be advertising the new hotline where you will be able to report price issues if you believe they are motivated by the Carbon Tax and do not accurately reflect the true cost. Besides anything else, even if by some quirk of fate the Carbon Tax becomes a nightmare of epic proportions, you shouldn't in good conscience give the option on a survey to 'stop it' when it has not yet been implemented and nobody really has any idea of its impact. It astounds me that it could be an issue when it hasn't been given a chance to fail, or succeed.

It has the support of everyone except the Coalition politically, the support of economists and the support of all business which is not highly polluting. The tax will apply to high polluters only, which means the cost rise to all other Australians should only be felt on electricity bills, something we are all being compensated for. Some businesses will pay more for products which create high carbon emissions to produce, so be it. Do you really believe that the country we live in will start looking for alternatives and focusing on less environmentally damaging methods of manufacture if there wasn't any impetus to try?

The NDIS support listed last is one of only two which are positive. Beside 'Backing small business' which should be a priority for everyone, supporting the NDIS is also well worth acknowledging. Placed next to creating jobs and fixing hospitals, it is definitely less likely to come in most households top 4, unless of course they are affected by the current disarray that is our national disability services. The cynic in me says that it has been placed there as an option in an effort to prove it is not as high a priority as the Government is making it and should therefore be scrapped and the money spent on other areas of need.

There is no mention on this form on how the information will be collated or where it can be viewed after all surveys are handed back in. If there was any reason to believe it would be worthwhile I would urge you all to fill it out as you please and get it to him asap but there isn't, so I won't. What I will say is that in my opinion, this is further proof of the current sad state of political affairs, where it is easier and more fruitful to continue perpetrating the myth that the Government, regardless of which party is in power, is always the wrong one.

It's painful to watch and it's helping nobody. The race to the bottom is well underway and there are months of these 'surveys' and polls to wade through and be bombarded with. Thank goodness for the human touch in this flier or it would have had it's trip to the bin much faster than it did.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

LOOK! Good news from the LNP!

Something happened this week which I am extremely grateful for. After several weeks of nothing but negative news and backward steps, the new State Government has done something good. (I know, how could one government possibly be making ONLY bad decisions? It's simply not feasible.)

Think federally for example. If Abbott is to be believed, the balancing act that is the Gillard Government has not made a single good decision or passed a single beneficial bill in the past few years. In fact, this perception has entered mainstream thought and is a popularly held belief throughout the country. No doubt the numbers will reflect the success of the negative campaigning from the Opposition when the election rolls around late next year.

I can't remember a time since I became politically aware (I think I was about 12 when I first realised that Queensland was being laughed out by the rest of the nation due to its backward direction politically) when a Government has not had a single moment with bi-partisan support for one of its proposed policies. It's an interesting phenomenon to witness and appears to be a reaction from the new breed of political beast which utilises the 24 hour news cycle to work for votes, not for the best interests of our nation. I still can't help wondering what a carbon based bill would have looked like if the Opposition had chosen to work WITH the Government, the Greens and the Independents, rather than against them.

Being a 'NO! NO! NO!' Opposition may fit the job description quite literally, but it doesn't take into account the population or national needs.

The same can be said for our current Queensland Government. Many times since the election the Campbell Government has provided fodder for negativity and pessimism. How could you possibly find a silver lining to the abolishment of the Literary Awards, the Healthy Community services, green programs, solar programs? The fast-tracking mining interests, ignorance of the Great Barrier Reef ecology, abandonment of the NDIS, the reduction of workers' rights, removal of significant funding opportunities for the Cairns region, potential loss of up to 20'000 public service jobs and the removal of Civil Unions compounded by the loss of surrogacy and adoption rights for vast portions of our society? Where is the positive news? The programs which will bring jobs? The programs which will be environmentally brilliant? The services which will make a healthier, more vibrant community?

Someone asked me recently if I would ever report something positive about the Newman Government. My answer was "Yes, as soon as they do something positive." Well, I am very pleased to announce; that day has come!

Michael Trout, MP for Barron River, will be tabling a Bill shortly that will put the implementation of Fouridation into water supplies back into the hands of local Councils. This, is BIG news.

Quite unfortunately, many Councils (including Cairns Regional Council) have already added fluoride to water and the Bill is not retrospective. However, areas like Kuranda, due to come online very soon, will hopefully have the opportunity to do what their community would prefer and leave fluoride out. In further good news, Behana Creek water supply, which services much of the south side of Cairns, is NOT fluoridated and was not due to come online until later this year. I haven't seen the Bill so am unsure if specific parts of Council areas could exercise their rights to withhold fluoride but will be ensuring the local population is aware of their options as soon as the information becomes available.

So, quietly hopeful for the Newman Government. A sound option based on what the community is telling you and science is backing up. Pass this Bill so I can thank you properly! Now, bring on some more good decisions and a heck of a lot less stripping away of people's rights in all other sectors and I will make sure that every single one of those positive movements is applauded. With a majority as big as the one you have, think of all of the innovative ideas you could implement!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Vroom......... Should Cairns be off and racing?

So, the V8's are being considered for the Cairns region. I have read the online comments everywhere on the subject and those in print and it seems to have plenty of support. I'm not sure what happened to the idea of having the large stadium but it seems to have fallen by the wayside in the bid for a once-a-year car race.

That being the case, I thought I'd look up some detail on the current situation in Townsville, as an interested local of Cairns who would like to see some grand plan for the future make its way here. While I remain unsure of the repercussions of having an event here which is fairly obviously an environmental nightmare, I'm sure that Cairns could re-brand itself if required. Can't really profess to being a sustainable city with ecological marvels if we run a SuperCar race for three days a year.

So, here are the facts. Townsville ratepayers have forked out almost $2.5 million since the first Townsville 400 V8 Supercars race - on top of their initial $30 million investment. It should be noted that the track actually cost $55 million but funding from the State Government of $25 million meant that Townsville's portion was only $30 million.

In the three years it has been running the council has spent $2,423,313 on maintenance, rates, water and in-kind event support at Reid Park and have received just $133'000 in revenue. That means it costs rate-payers to keep the race. It also receives funding of 2.5 million per year from the State Government to remain operational. This money is in question at the moment which is one of the primary reasons, along with the 5 year contract renewal, that Townsville is unsure of its future viability.

Mackay is also lobbying to take the V8's from Townsville. They believe they have the infrastructure and space to cater to the event, a claim that Townsville denies as they are of the opinion there is little in the way of accommodation choices in the Mackay region.

Almost all parties acknowledge that for one week per year, Townsville fills up hotels and restaurants for the event. The current concern is that the money made by businesses is offset by Rate input into the track and to spend so heavily on a venue which operates for 3 days a year total is something all parties are worried about. They are however, considering other events (suggestions include a cultural festival and music festivals) which could utilise the space throughout the year.

Townville also has a significant problem at the moment which is the prime cause of the conversations around the events viability. Their Council has extremely high debt. In documents detailing the sustainability of Council coffers it states that debt as at May 2011 was $380 million and with good fiscal management and annual Rate rises of  6% it is forecast to drop to $250 million in 2021. This is because Townsville Council has continued to build infrastructure on a large scale over the past several years and has simply added the cost of the Dairy Farmers Stadium, Reed Park facility, Strand development etc....... to their borrowings.

In comparison, a similar document on Cairns Regional Council states that the total debt is $83 million, much lower than Townsville. The borrowing capacity for Cairns is therefore much higher and while this document includes the CEP as it was forecast to occur when the document was written, Rates would rise by 6% in this region also as the debt was to be paid off much quicker.

Both Councils have increased Rates by significant amounts in past years, with Cairns having the lowest Rates rises over the past 4 years, but rises of between 9 and 12 percent for the four years prior to that. At the same time, Townsville rates have risen by an average of 9-12 percent over the entire 8 year period.

Also worth noting, Cairns Regional Council is projected to have low maintenance costs over the next 4 year period as the previous 4 years saw new water and waste infrastructure built at significant cost but now requiring little in the way of future maintenance. Townsville will spend double the amount of Cairns on maintenance of assets each year.

All of this indicates that Cairns is well placed financially to borrow 30-60 million to build a V8 track. It is doubtful that the Cairns community will allow for further borrowings for a stadium, and certainly will not allow any borrowings for a replacement to the Civic Theatre. It is now vitally important that Cairns locals decide on their priorities. With jobs so desperately needed and new infrastructure the best way to kick-start the economy, one of the three projects will need to begin as soon as possible.

Obviously I would prefer a replacement to the Civic Theatre first. As far as I am aware, the current sporting facilities are not in danger of crumbling and have appropriate wheelchair access. That said, there is no denying that Cairns is as much a sporting city as it is an artistic one. To my mind, V8's do not belong in Cairns and I would happily allow Townsville to keep them, even helping them lobby further so that Mackay loses out and the people of Cairns can still attend. I'll happily lobby for a sporting stadium locally if that is what the people of Cairns would prefer as I firmly believe it is needed here and our population would support it.

If the Civic Theatre closed it's doors tomorrow due to safety issues, similar to what happened to Sugarworld, would it be that day when people finally realised the importance of the facility? I don't know. Maybe not.

Still....... we have options here in Cairns. Now is the right time to explore them as our finances are good and the future looks bright. Which facility would you utilise most?