Talking regional with Campbell Newman
BEFORE Premier Campbell Newman's overwhelming sweep into power on March 24, he told a room packed with regional newspaper editors that the Labor government had become too centralised in Brisbane.
Mr Newman and former premier Anna Bligh went head to head at an APN editors' conference in February to pitch their plans for the state.
Many editors were impressed with Anna Bligh's knowledge of local issues and her detailed responses to impromptu questions.
Mr Newman, they found, painted with a broader brush while stressing he was a man for all Queensland, not just Brisbane where he had been Lord Mayor.
Since the LNP won 82 seats in the 89-seat Queensland Parliament, the state's new leader has already visited Toowoomba, Fraser Coast, Ipswich, Sunshine Coast and Mackay, with Rockhampton to be crossed off the list this Saturday.
APN's other editors at Bundaberg, Warwick, Gladstone and Gympie say they have not seen him yet but he is making his presence felt in regional areas in his first four months.
Mr Newman asked the media and the public to judge his LNP government firstly on its 100-day action plan which he saw as a report card to be measured by.
After successfully ticking off each of those election commitments, he has now launched another six-month action plan as another tool to measure his progress.
APN Newsdesk's Brisbane bureau, a wire service for APN's daily regional newspapers across Queensland, put a question from each editor to the premier as our own yardstick.
Mostly questions we can return to in six months, a year, three years to check what progress has been made.
Mr Newman, who had the list of questions in advance, had good detail on some and was sketchy on others in the 15-minute slot allocated.
"A lot of this stuff you're asking about is long lead-time," he said.
"The bottom line is that we're working on all these things; they were promises and they're now being worked on.
"All the things we said we were going to do in the first 100 days we've done."
Mr Newman said each issue might come up when he visited a regional area but there would be another five in the queue people might ask first.
He said the public purse was tight and he had already had to say no to many people state-wide requesting money.
"If we don't stop the spending we're heading for an absolutely unacceptable financial mess," he said.
"We are in a mess now so we have to turn that around.
"So there is no money for starry-eyed schemes."
Here's how he responded to a regional issue in each circulation area across APN's Queensland footprint.
>>Jump to Mr Newman's responses for your region:
Q. Many police officers are taking jobs in the mines, leaving the force chronically understaffed. What is the LNP doing to address declining police numbers in the Mackay region?
A. Mr Newman went through the LNP plan to place 1300 police - 200 from behind desks and 1100 new recruits - on the frontline in the next three years.
But he said he was "very conscious of the Mackay situation" after speaking to the LNP candidate for Mackay, John Kerslake, while visiting a few weeks ago.
"He is a serving police officer and he was telling me how bad it was. We've got to recruit the people and get them out (working)," he said.
Former police minister David Gibson, who left after a matter of weeks in a cloud of controversy over speeding fines and unlicensed driving, had told APN about plans to attract police officer back from the mines.
"The wages of working in the mines are attractive, but the working conditions are not," he had said.
"If we lose a police officer to the mines - let's say they work in the mines for two to five years and then say 'I've made some good money' - I want to be able to get them back.
"We've trained them, skilled them up and invariably often they have great life experience.
"So we need to look at ways we can bring them back, if not at the same level they were when they left, certainly at a more senior level."
When prompted, Mr Newman said he thought new police minister Jack Dempsey was looking at that option too.
Q. Are you committed to building a 20,000-seat football stadium in Rockhampton? Will it depend on whether the bid for a new team is successful or will the shovel-ready project go ahead regardless?
A. The simple answer was yes, if there's a new team, and no, if there's not.
"We're not talking about the fact we've got 20,000 more public servants than we can afford to pay for because we think that's fun, we're making really tough political decisions," Mr Newman said.
"The trouble is the finances of this state are shot and we have to curtail capital spending, we have to see people leaving the public service - we've lost 3000 full-time public servants in the past few weeks.
"A commitment's a commitment but it's on the basis they need one for that team."
When asked about the importance of building lifestyle planks in Central Queensland, Mr Newman Cairns had asked for $38 million for an entertainment precinct and Townsville had asked for money for similar projects too.
"Everywhere I go in Queensland, someone want's something," he said.
"If we promised we'd do something, we'll do our very best to deliver that promise.
"If we didn't promise to do it, the answer is no."
When asked about the perception regional constituents might have of building new government headquarters in Brisbane, Mr Newman said that was a perfect example of the government trying to save money.
He said no government money would pay for the building, they would engage the private sector and lease it back for 99 years.
"Within a few 100m of where we are now, the govt has 420,000 sq m of office space," he said.
"It's old, run-down and inefficient. It isn't open plan, for example.
"If you could take the public servants we have now and magically put them into brand new modern buildings, you'd only need 320,000 sq m.
"That's 100,000 sq m of office space at $550 per sq m per annum plus the outgoings. That's a $60-70 million saving a year."
Q. The previous government relocated 1200 public servants to an Ipswich office development. Are you still committed to that or will you continue to centralise services? What is the plan?
A. A Queensland Times letter writer wrote in as recently as Wednesday about doubt whether the government would relocate public servants to Ipswich and Carseldine.
The premier says he is committed to sending 1200 public servants to the nine-storey office tower on the corner of Bell St and Brisbane St, which was a former Labor government plan to decentralise public service jobs.
"We're doing that and it's meant to be happening late next year," Mr Newman said.
The tower is expected to contain 18,000 sq m of office space and 200 car parks.
Q. What will the LNP government do to ensure high quality agricultural land and underground water supplies in the Warwick areas are not harmed by mining activity? Will the government consider a moratorium for the Southern Downs region, including the Granite Belt (Stanthorpe)?
A. Mr Newman said he had not heard of any concerns in the Granite Belt areas and he would not consider any moratoriums.
He said statutory regional planning was now under way in the Darling Downs and Golden Triangle to protect farming land and other areas might be considered when that process concluded.
"We intend to protect top quality farming land from inappropriate development and we're doing that right now," he said.
" I acknowledge it doesn't really cover the granite belt but up until now I haven't heard there were any concerns down there.
"Our problem in opposition was trying to make commitments to stop things where the government had already given approval.
"Any sort of development from now on where someone is just proposing something, they will have to go through serious hoops to get approved."
Q. What's your plan for the new Sunshine Coast University Hospital at Kawana? When will it be delivered - will you change the timelines outlined by Labor? If so, forward, back, when?
A. Mr Newman was very coy about answering this one, knowing he was less than 48 hours away from signing Queensland's first public-private partnership with Exemplar Health to design, build, finance and maintain the major new tertiary teaching Sunshine Coast University Hospital.
In 2007, Ms Bligh said construction on the hospital would begin in 2010 but not a single brick has been laid. Labor pushed the date back and committed to opening the hospital in 2016, which is when Mr Newman says it will open its doors.
It will be the first major new hospital built in Australia for more than 20 years.
Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said he hoped signing this contract ahead of schedule meant there would be more time for the design and planning stages, with works expected on site about October.
Q. Residential rent prices in Gladstone have jumped from $250 a week to $600-800 a week in the past two years. What is the LNP doing about these increasing rents in Gladstone due to the industry boom?
A. "You can't (click your fingers) and do anything right now," Mr Newman said.
"The reason it's happened is because they (Labor) didn't properly plan and didn't deliver."
Mr Newman said his plan to fix the problem in Gladstone, Mackay and other mining regions was about giving "power and authority" back to local governments.
He said this would "allow the Gladstone council to go on and do the planning themselves".
"This is about land supply," he said.
"We need to actually ensure the Gladstone council can open up new areas for residential accommodation and that's what we're doing right now.
"It won't change like that (clicks fingers again) but what will happen is that over the next two years we'll make sure the councils are back in charge as masters of their own destiny.
"It's simply because the planning act is too complicated, it is too bureaucratic, too much cost involved which means it takes a long time for someone to get a block of land here ready for development.
"The other thing is that Local Government Act means that councils are tied up in red tape themselves and so we're busy sorting that out as well ... busy putting legislation through the parliament.
"Some things take a long time to flow through the system."
Q. The issue is always jobs in the Fraser Coast area. You indicated 20,000 contract workers would be out of work when their arrangements were not renewed. The Fraser Coast has already had job losses as a result. How many of that 20,000 will be in the Fraser Coast region? What are you doing to combat higher unemployment in regional areas after this move?
A. Mr Newman swept his hands in a circle around his body as he described his message to ministers and directors-general: "Put your arm out and 300m around you, from where you are, that's where we're trying to lose people".
He said frontline workers and regional workers were not supposed to be in the firing line, so to speak, despite the claims of unions or the Labor party with ulterior motives.
"There might be some losses there (on the Fraser Coast) but they are small," he said.
"I know anything's significant when the (Fraser Coast) has been doing it tough but it isn't going to be a lot of people.
"I can tell you now it's the objective of the government that (the job losses are) from head office, from the bureaucracy.
"We don't know a precise figure, believe it or not.
"It might sound terrible, that might sound crazy that a government can't tell you but the first thing I say to you is health payroll system. They don't know how many people are on the books at any given time.
"So it's very hard to give an absolute definitive figure, we're saying it's about 3000 so far."
Mr Newman said government employment was not "what the economy was about" and his plan was to increase eco and adventure tourism on the Fraser Coast.
He said one solution they were working towards was allowing international park permits, which he said would apply to Fraser Island, so tourism operations could offer new products.
"What we're doing for the Fraser Coast is trying to get the tourism sector going again," he said.
"That's what will generate more jobs and get business going, not how many people the public service employs."
Q. When are beach driving fees going to be lifted from Rainbow Beach as promised by Gympie MP David Gibson before the election?
A. Mr Newman could not confirm what would happen on Rainbow Beach fees but he said National Parks Minister Steve Dickson was looking into it.
"(He) is looking at all the fees and charges and the complexity of the permits people need," he said.
"He's trying to actually get that sorted out and standardised so it's not the maze it is and there's basic consistency.
"I'm certainly undertaking that we're going to go and have a good look at it as well."
Q. Given the Bundaberg region is one of the most important horticultural food bowls in the state and country, and given much of the region is covered by mining exploration permits, can the LNP government guarantee we will be given higher protection in recently passed strategic cropping legislation? What would be the timelines for this?
A. Bundaberg's prime food growing land is not on Mr Newman's immediate radar as he deals with more popular mining areas.
But he says the strategic cropping land legislation should mean higher protection for what he considered an important food bowl in Queensland if it met soil, slope and other criteria.
"We would have huge concerns about approving anything," he said.
"Someone can go and take a mining exploration permit out. But someone's got to then go find something and then got to apply to have a project.
"If the project involves digging a hole in the middle of some of that great area south of Bundaberg then we're going to (say) 'you've got to be joking'.
"If however it's putting in a coal seam gas well, or something like that, and the mining company can demonstrate it is not going to impact on the ability of the farmer to work that land, then maybe it will be considered.
"But I don't think it's likely to be coal seam gas around there, it's more likely to be shale gas."
Q. In what ways does the government plan to balance coal seam gas plans versus productive farmland?
A. There are farmers who want their land protected and farmers who want the option to sell up to mining companies when they retire, Mr Newman says.
Attending a public meeting where "supposedly local farmers didn't want a coal mine" before the election, Mr Newman found a farmer later approached him about legislated protection meaning he could not sell.
"I said yes that would be right (and he said) 'Oh well I'm not sure if I like that'. So you see you've actually got to thrash it out," he said.
Mr Newman said a plan detailing which areas of the Darling Downs and Golden Triangle should be protected from mining should be available for comment in early 2013.
He said all the work behind the scenes, the terms of reference and the people involved in the planning had been set up.
Mr Newman said the process would now involve sitting down with all the landholders and councils and mapping out what can happen and where
"It's about land use and (saying) the very good cropping land, there it is, you can't dig a great big open cut coal mine there," he said.
"We'll just say that's it, it just doesn't happen there."