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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 414

Senator BLACK —My question is directed to the Minister for Finance. I refer to an article in Friday's Age newspaper which reported Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen's defence of his Government's economic record. Can the Minister provide any further information to support a comment by his staff reported in the article that Sir Joh's points were juggling with figures? Is Sir Joh correct in suggesting that his points indicate the strength of the Queensland economy or is Queensland dragging the rest of Australia's economic performance down?

Senator WALSH —In response to the last part of the question, Queensland has the highest unemployment rate of any mainland State. It has had the highest unemployment rate of any mainland State for about 12 months and it approximately alternates with Tasmania for having the highest unemployment rate of any State. That is a fair indication that Queensland is dragging the rest of the country down. I can elaborate on the other matters which were in that article. I have seven or eight different areas where I could comment, but I will comment on three of them now.

Sir Joh claimed that Queensland is not a high tax State. If one looks at what is recorded as State taxation it is true that Queensland is not a high tax State but what those figures, as conventionally defined, do not show is the hidden taxes paid particularly by mining companies in Queensland through the rail freight surcharge. The hidden loss is estimated to be $394m for 1985-86, and when what would otherwise be an operating deficit is taken into account, that figure becomes $431m. If that is added to State taxation, as it ought to be because it is a hidden tax, the per capita tax in Queensland for 1985-86 was some $705, which is higher than South Australia at $625, Western Australia at $670 and Tasmania at $560. On the question of electricity charges, it was claimed by Sir Joh:

It is not true that Queensland has the highest electricity charges. Western Australia does.

I interpolate that it is correct that Western Australia does have the highest electricity charges, which is a consequence of the `take or pay' contract that Joh's bosom friend Sir Charles Court forced the State Energy Commission to sign some years ago. As a consequence of that, I might add, the State Energy Commission is now technically bankrupt. Let me continue quoting Sir Joh. He also said:

Since most of Queensland's electricity stations have been built, electricity charges will plummet.

Charges in Brisbane for electricity have increased by nearly 32 per cent since Sir Joh won government in his own right in October 1983, whereas the consumer price index for Brisbane increased by 22 per cent. More importantly, there is no possibility of electricity charges in Queensland plummeting because the power stations have almost been completed. They have been completed, but they have not been paid for. The Queensland Electricity Commission has a total debt of $3.4 billion of which-I hope this point will be noted by people who are concerned about `reckless overseas borrowing'-$1.1 billion was borrowed overseas. The interest payments on that debt will continue long after the construction of the stations is complete. In 1985-86, $444m in interest payments accounted for nearly 36 per cent of the total expenditure by the Queensland Electricity Commission.

The other specific point with which I will deal is related to the first point, that is, Sir Joh's claim that New South Wales has the highest coal freight rates in Australia. The annual report of the New South Wales Department of Transport shows that the average charge for rail freighted coal in New South Wales is $7.97 per tonne, while the report of Sir Joh's own Queensland Railways shows that the average coal freight rate in Queensland is $10.92 per tonne-some 42 per cent higher than the New South Wales rate.