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QUEENSLAND has long prided itself as a frontier state. Far from the purview of the federal government and distinct from the Sydney-Melbourne duopoly, this vast and diverse state has forged ahead regardless through its unique entrepreneurial spirit.
Few challenges have been viewed as too tough.
Labor premier William Forgan Smith built the Story Bridge during the Great Depression to create jobs.
Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen opened up coalmining opportunities to spawn a generation of prosperity.
And the Beattie government attracted major companies to Queensland through a raft of tax agreements, much to the chagrin of leaders in other states.
Sadly, the pioneering zeal that has served us so well appears to be fading, disparaged as an anachronistic, colonial approach.
In its place has emerged a process-driven and mulish mindset where sectional interests hold great sway and performing well at the blame game is a prerequisite in politics.
The stalled Carmichael coalmine and the limbo land in which the Cross River Rail project finds itself are just two examples. But they are also the two most critical projects on the to-do list of the Palaszczuk Government.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk (left) has lost control of the Adani megamine process, while Cross River Rail remains mired under Infrastructure Minister Jackie Trad (right).Indian miner Adani’s announcement that it was postponing an investment decision on the Carmichael mine amid a factional brawl within Labor is a bitter blow for regional Queensland.
No other issue has so greatly exposed Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s lack of gravitas within her own ranks.
Months of negotiations with Adani representatives over royalties were scuttled by an 11th hour intervention by Deputy Premier and Left faction leader Jackie Trad.
In truly unruly scenes, Left faction ministers publicly condemned the proposal before a Cabinet discussion took place and restated Labor’s pre-election rhetoric opposing taxpayer-funded aid for Adani.
Ms Palaszczuk will wear the Carmichael delay like an albatross around her neck at the next Queensland election.
The Government has flicked the switch to salvage mode – both for itself politically as well as the Carmichael mine – by talking about region-wide royalty agreements for all future miners in the Galilee Basin and other areas.
However, this will not shift what will be the pervading atmosphere in regional Queensland from now until the election that inner-city Left MPs scuttled their employment prospects.
The disconcerting thing about the Adani delay is the deal that was on the table seemed nothing special.
Royalty relief in the early years while the mine builds up production, which would have been caught up at a later time, seemed sensible.
In fact, the deal seemed downright judicious for a state facing a dearth of major investment opportunities and stubbornly high unemployment.
Would Forgan Smith, Bjelke-Petersen or Beattie have surrendered so meekly in the face of some internal discord? Unlikely.
Yet despite enjoying similar popular appeal, Ms Palaszczuk has wilted at the sight of a fight, surrendering the pursuit of the great good of job creation in the face of the self-serving incursion of her deputy.
Meanwhile, Ms Trad should be focusing on her infrastructure portfolio, given she has so far proved as incapable as her predecessors of pushing forward the Cross River Rail project.
Ironically, her hand in scuttling an Adani deal may have only made affording the significant ongoing costs of a new underground passenger rail link into Brisbane’s CBD more difficult.
Different incarnations of the 10.2km rail link between Bowen Hills and Woolloongabba have been bandied about for years to avoid the crunch point when rail demand exceeds the ability to deliver services.
Yet while untold millions of dollars have been spent by successive governments keeping transport planners employed to scribble lines on maps, commuters have been kept waiting.
It is worth noting that a previous foot-stamping episode ensured that the entire portfolio responsibility for Cross River Rail was brought under Ms Trad, yet this has so far delivered naught.
The Federal Government is either not enamoured with the project’s business case or is playing politics with the timing of any commitment they might make.
If Cross River Rail, the state’s “No.1 infrastructure project”, is as critical as the Palaszczuk Government purports, then surely it is incumbent on it to lock in an alternative funding arrangement.
Not only has Ms Trad failed to convince Canberra of the merits of Cross River Rail, she has so far failed to convince her colleagues of alternative funding arrangements.
If the Government goes to the next election with little more than a blueprint to bemoan the lack of federal funds for the project, then it would be rightly chastised by voters.
Past governments, those that embraced Queensland’s frontier mindset and entrepreneurial spirit, would have struck a deal on the Carmichael mine and found a way to fund Cross River Rail.
All the Palaszczuk Government has done is combobulate an argument that others are to blame while celebrating its own mediocrity.
This article first appeared on www.couriermail.com.au
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