The Newman government is keeping a lid on what, if any, Queensland asset sales will be in the budget, but says its options to pay down debt are limited.
Queenslanders have endured two axe-wielding and no-frills budgets under the Newman government and come Tuesday, they’re likely to find out what public assets will be sold to pay down debt.
Voters will be hoping for sweeteners, especially as this may be the last budget before the election in 2015.
The government, however, has spent months and millions preparing Queenslanders for a mass privatisation agenda, and has promised they will announce asset sales well before the upcoming election.
This has fuelled expectation that the June 3 budget will detail what public assets will be sold.
Electricity generators and ports could be up for grabs, as well as an equity stake in Ergon, Powerlink and Energex in return for private investment in infrastructure.
Treasurer Tim Nicholls has all but confirmed assets, totalling up to $32 billion, will be sold to help pay down the state’s $80 billion debt and regain its he triple-A credit rating.
Mr Nicholls says cabinet will only sign off on any deal on Monday, less than 24 hours before the budget is handed down.
Because of the big unknown, the government has been cagey about any budget drops, unlike last year where there had been a stream of announcements.
Mr Nicholls says severe cuts in the federal budget have made increased taxes and reduced services unpalatable.
“Do we want more cuts on top of cuts? Do we want more taxes on top of taxes?” he said repeatedly this week.
Asset sales go against the wishes of the majority of the 40,000 Queenslanders who responded to the government’s $6 million “Strong Choices” advertising blitz and survey. They preferred gaming and mining tax hikes.
Selling or “recycling” assets sat outside the top five preferred solutions, the preliminary results showed.
A poll commissioned by the Queensland Council of Unions on Thursday also indicated the LNP would be punished at the elections over an asset-sale agenda.
It found that 47 per cent of respondents would be less likely to vote for the LNP, and 22 per cent of the party’s traditional supporters would be turned off.
Constituents believed asset sales were a forgone conclusion, with a whopping 72 per cent believing the government was very committed to selling assets or privatisation despite its consultation process.
Premier Campbell Newman needs an election boost.
Polls indicate he could lose his Ashgrove seat and the LNP’s majority will be slashed, with the party lucky to hold on to power.
Mr Newman hasn’t revealed any big ticket spending items and describes the LNP’s last budget before the next election as “steady as she goes”.
“I think people will be happy with this budget,” Mr Newman told ABC Radio.
“It completes this workman-like process of reform of the last three years.”
Shadow Treasurer Curtis Pitt said that before the last election, Mr Newman promised to cut electricity bills, cut unemployment to four per cent and pay back debt without asset sales, but he hadn’t done any of those things.
“Mr Newman’s asset sales plan is nothing more than a plan to cut jobs and increase electricity prices,” Mr Pitt told AAP.
“How will that help the everyday working people of Queensland?” he said.