The Opening of the First Session of the 55th Parliament
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past and present.
Honourable Members, I congratulate all of you on your being elected to represent the people of our State in your respective electorates in this, the 55th Queensland Parliament.
Following the State election held on Saturday 31 January this year I accepted the resignation of Campbell Newman as Premier and invited Annastacia Palaszczuk to form government.
An interim Cabinet led by Ms Palaszczuk was sworn in on Saturday 14 February with the full Ministry sworn in on Monday 16 February.
I am sure all Honourable Members know it is an honour and a privilege to hold a place in this House.
As with every new Parliament there is a mix of continuing and new Members.
Regardless of your levels of experience, all of you will be making a contribution to the governance of our State and to debates on important issues affecting the future of this and successive generations.
This is a Legislative Assembly, which reminds us all that your most important task is the making or amending of the laws of our State.
In this Parliament, my government will embark on an extensive legislative program.
It has made commitments to create jobs and expand training opportunities.
Indeed delivering jobs for Queenslanders will be the major focus of my government.
My government has also made commitments in many areas to restore or improve frontline services.
It will also improve integrity and accountability in the way government operates in our State.
In addition, my government will implement a plan to reduce general government debt.
Focus on jobs
The availability of secure, fairly-paid jobs is central to the wellbeing and future of every Queenslander.
My government believes most Queenslanders measure the health of the State’s economy on the simple measure of whether they are employed; whether their children have or can obtain a job; and whether training is available for those wanting to enter the work force or change jobs as the demands of our economy change.
To that end, it is proposing major initiatives to help Queenslanders wanting to enter or re-enter the work force.
A Working Queensland jobs plan will include a number of policies announced in the recent election campaign or beforehand.
They include a reinstatement of the successful Skilling Queenslanders for Work programs scrapped in 2012.
Those programs were assessed by respected independent consultants to have helped people into jobs, but also to return almost $8.00 to the community for every $1.00 they cost to run.
Skilling Queenslanders for Work programs are estimated to be able to deliver training to a cohort of approximately 32,000 young people, Indigenous Queenslanders, mature-aged Queenslanders, and others wanting to join the work force.
My government will also introduce a Ready for Work scheme to help young people prepare themselves to enter the job market.
In addition to a payroll tax rebate for employers engaging trainees or apprentices, my government will also ensure that 10 percent of workers on major public projects are apprentices and trainees, and will also extend that requirement to government-owned corporations.
Jobs Queensland will be established as a roundtable group representing those directly involved in business and industry, who can advise government on the skills our State needs now, and will need in future years, so the government can plan accordingly.
My government values our regions and those who live and work in our many unique regional communities.
It will implement a Locals First program to support local contractors and suppliers.
It will also be legislating against 100 percent fly-in / fly-out projects, to create more jobs for Queenslanders living in regional communities.
My government will aim to revitalise our State’s TAFE system and restore it to its position as Queensland’s leading provider of Vocational Education and Training.
To do so, it will create up to 100 new TAFE teaching and support positions, fund new training schemes in emerging industries, invest in student support services, and subsidise foundation skills courses for disadvantaged learners.
My government sees TAFE as a provider of well-trained workers for our future, and an essential element in our training sector if young Queenslanders are to have worthwhile and viable career options.
Jobs of the future
My government not only wants to generate jobs for this generation, but for the next as well.
Its Working Queensland plan will also implement its Advance Queensland program to reinvigorate research and development and harness new ideas to create secure, knowledge-based jobs of the future.
It will provide:
- 100 Advance Queensland Research Fellowships to foster research on projects such as protecting our Great Barrier Reef and on new industries such as industrial biotechnology; and as well,
- a three-year payroll tax holiday for new companies coming to Queensland as a result of Advance Queensland research programs; together with,
- 20 University Scholarships to post-graduate students each year to encourage women, Indigenous students and those from low socio-economic areas to pursue a Master’s degree in specific fields of study; and also
- the Advance Queensland Women’s Academic Fund to support female researchers advance their careers.
The government will implement a Business Development Fund to help finance the progress of bright ideas into new products that can also create sustainable, secure jobs in our State.
Just as important as having a job are the rights that workers should expect to exercise when it comes to negotiating wages and conditions and other entitlements.
My government will restore basic decency and fairness for workers, restoring the rights that had been stripped from them.
State public sector workers will have access to good faith bargaining, an independent Queensland Industrial Relations Commission and will have enterprise bargaining agreements and co-operation restored as the core elements of a modern industrial relations system.
Most importantly for injured workers and their families, changes to the State’s previously highly successful workers’ compensation scheme that denied them their common law rights will be reversed.
My government will prioritise safety in the workplace and reverse a number of damaging changes made in recent years.
This will include once again allowing workplace health and safety permit holders to enter potentially unsafe work sites to protect the wellbeing of workers at those locations.
Changes to the scheduling of the historic Labour Day public holiday will also be reversed to take effect from 2016.
My government came to office after making clear to voters its opposition to asset sales proposed by the former government.
It believes asset sales cause job losses and that income-producing government-owned corporations earmarked for sale by the former government should be retained.
To fulfil its promises to voters, my government has already put in place steps to halt work associated with the sale of those assets which contribute an estimated $2 billion a year to the State Budget.
Debt action plan
The retention of revenue from government-owned corporations is a key element of the new government’s debt action plan.
This plan will pay down $12 billion of the State’s $46 billion general government debt over the next decade.
This can be achieved without asset sales and by earmarking a share of the returns from GOCs to pay off debt while also implementing plans to realise savings by merging a number of power industry organisations.
My government recognises the importance of infrastructure projects to meet the demands of a growing State and their role in fostering jobs and strengthening State and regional economic activity.
It will release a comprehensive forward Infrastructure Plan while maintaining an ongoing program of capital works estimated at $9 billion a year.
A new body, Building Queensland, will also be established to assess all major infrastructure proposals worth $50 million or more.
This independent body will ensure infrastructure is funded and sited where it is needed, and is not determined by political demands or influences.
Building Our Regions
Wherever Queenslanders live, they require infrastructure to meet their needs and the needs of their local community.
My government will implement its Building Our Regions program to better target funds and ensure all regions are treated on a fair basis.
Once again, the proposed funding of up to $390 million for regional infrastructure including $200 million in new funds over three years will not rely on asset sales.
Our Great Barrier Reef
While our built environment is important, we must also recognise the need to act as protectors and custodians of our natural environment.
Our State is home to one of Earth’s most significant natural assets — our Great Barrier Reef, truly one of the wonders of the world.
The Reef stretches 2,300 kilometres along our coast — from the tip of our State to just north of Bundaberg.
It includes 3,000 individual reef systems, and covers more than 344,000 square kilometres.
My government is committed to ensuring the world can continue to enjoy our Great Barrier Reef’s magnificent attractions while our State continues to receive the benefits of the 60,000 jobs it supports and the $6 billion it injects into our economy.
The Reef faces threats on many fronts — poor water quality, coastal development, climate change, and damage from crown-of-thorns starfish.
Our generation must protect it for future generations.
My government has already acted on the dumping of capital dredge spoil within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area in relation to a planned new port facility at Abbot Point.
It has also committed to a $100 million, five-year policy package to improve water quality.
These and other initiatives — many needing the co-operation and support of the Federal Government — are important to the future of our Great Barrier Reef and the government sees them as priority actions.
My government is committed to beginning the work on restoring frontline services after the cutbacks of the past three years.
In particular, our State’s health and hospital system will be boosted through several initiatives.
The Refresh Nursing program will employ 1,000 graduate nurses in our public hospitals for 12 months each over a four-year period.
That will help start the careers of 4,000 nurses and will also mean better service standards for patients in public hospitals.
My government will also boost nurse numbers to improve patient safety.
The employment of 400 new nurses will ensure safer patient-to-nurse ratios in both intensive care and general wards.
As part of its plans to boost frontline services, my government will ensure schools with more than 500 high school students each have a fulltime guidance officer or equivalent.
An extra 45 fulltime guidance officer positions over three years will be created to ensure students receive the professional support and advice needed to make sound career choices.
Jobs for 875 new teachers will also be provided in state schools to help reduce class sizes that have been allowed to grow in the past three years.
The additional teachers will be over and above the more than 1,600 already planned to be engaged to keep pace with population growth, meaning a total of 2500 extra teachers over three years.
My government’s Letting Teachers Teach initiative will also improve our school system and its outcomes by encouraging our best teachers to stay in the classroom, rather than moving to administrative jobs.
Currently many excellent teachers move into administrative roles to advance their careers.
But this initiative means teachers will be able to be classed as Highly Accomplished or Lead Teachers with pay grades reflecting their value to students and our school system.
My government will expand services available to young Queenslanders with serious mental health issues.
This will include the establishment of a dedicated facility with an integrated school in South East Queensland.
It will deliver services based on the successful approach used at the former Barrett Centre at Wacol closed by the former government.
The rebuilding of adolescent mental health services will also include an expanded range of services in Townsville to service families in northern and regional Queensland.
Tough on crime
My government will have a zero tolerance for those who choose to break the law, especially organised crime gangs engaged in the drug trade, extortion, stand-over tactics, or violent behaviour.
A Commission of Inquiry into organised crime across the State will be established with the powers of a Royal Commission to focus on organised crime and broaden laws to target more than just bikie gangs.
Existing crime gang laws will be reviewed and where necessary amended or replaced with more effective ones that target real criminals, and cannot be used to intimidate innocent people.
Changes will occur only after consultation with police, the Crime and Corruption Commission, experts and other stakeholders.
Current legislation will remain in place until more workable laws are introduced.
The government will also advocate for nationally consistent laws to tackle organised crime across the nation without variance from state to state.
Statistics show drug arrests rising dramatically in Queensland and damaging and destructive drugs like “ice” are becoming a bigger problem across Australia.
My government recognises the urgent need to attack this scourge and the devastating impacts other illicit drugs and the drug trade have on the lives of Queenslanders.
It will give police the resources they need to tackle organised crime and the drug trade.
It has also committed to take real action on alcohol-fuelled violence by adjusting trading hours for licensed venues; to ensure the publication of independent crime statistics; and to increase penalties for domestic violence and streamlining domestic violence applications and court processes.
My government will be responding to the recommendations by the task force on domestic violence chaired by Dame Quentin Bryce and has already moved to establish an additional portfolio committee of this Assembly which will consider any necessary changes to laws covering family and domestic violence.
Integrity and accountability
A major focus of the government will be on the standards of government itself in our State.
Significant commitments have been made to ensure integrity and accountability in public administration.
Legislation will be introduced to re-assert the independence of the State’s corruption watchdog, the Crime and Corruption Commission.
Queenslanders know from their own history the importance of accountability and integrity in government.
The Fitzgerald Inquiry of the late 1980s and its subsequent recommendations for reform helped establish more open and accountable government.
They also established across our community higher expectations of behaviour by those engaged in public life and those on the public payroll.
My government believes these standards have been eroded in the past three years and must be reasserted.
Changes to electoral laws covering political donations will be reversed.
The higher $12,800 threshold for declaring donations to a political party or candidate will be returned to $1,000.
The new declaration level will apply from November 2013 when the higher threshold implemented by the previous government took effect.
A consultative approach
Just as important as what a government does is how it does it.
My government has pledged to be more consultative, and to listen to Queenslanders before acting on their concerns.
It has pledged to be a government of consensus, but one that also is unafraid to take decisive action when necessary.
This recognises the fact that Queenslanders always work better when they work together.
My government also seeks a constructive and consultative relationship with the Federal Government.
But it will never shy away from standing up for the interests of our State.
This historic year
Honourable Members, this year, like all others, will see the celebration of various milestones and anniversaries.
Possibly the most important for 2015 will be the Anzac Centenary, highlighting our nation’s involvement in World War One.
It is often remarked, quite rightly, that the men and women who served our nation and sacrificed their own lives in such conflicts did so to protect the rights we enjoy today.
The Anzac Centenary is a chance for all of us to remember the price paid by those who have protected our rights and our nation over the past century.
As Honourable Members exercise their rights in the Legislative Assembly Chamber I trust you will remember those who have ensured the survival of our great and precious democratic system. I wish all Honourable Members well for their service to Queenslanders in our 55th Parliament.