Gov’t claims police boost “fully funded”, but won’t release full budget forward estimates

Earlier today, in announcing a huge boost to police staffing, expected to cost $624 million over five years, Queensland Police Minister Mark Ryan commented (in the media release Palaszczuk Government to deliver an extra 2,025 police personnel):

“Unlike the commitments made by the Newman Government and the current LNP State Opposition, the additional police personnel and the associated resources to support these positions are fully funded by the Palaszczuk Government”.

The Minister makes a fair point about the Opposition’s unfunded commitments, but it’s pretty rich for a current Queensland Government Minister to deliver a sermon on financial accountability. The Government hasn’t released a full budget since June last year, and its 40-page COVID-19 update didn’t contain any forward estimates beyond the current financial year, breaking well-established practice which would have seen estimates produced out to 2023-24 (for further info, check out my conversation with 612 ABC Brisbane’s Steve Austin).

So how can the Government confidently claim its additional $624 million over five years for additional police is “fully funded”, when it can’t, or rather won’t, tell us what it expects the state of the budget to be over the next few years? As I told Steve Austin the day after the Government released its woefully inadequate COVID-19 Fiscal and Economic Review, the Treasury should be able to provide a range, with lower and upper bounds, for expected budget outcomes. This is something Joe Branigan and I have tried to do in a paper we’ve written for the Australian Institute for Progress:

Queensland Budget Update report

It’s pretty clear that, due to the huge adverse economic shock from COVID-19 and the economic response, the state government will run large deficits for several years and total state debt will climb further, probably to somewhere in the $113 billion to $118 billion range by 2023-24. Yet the government is committing to a large permanent increase in the size of the public service, albeit on arguably much-needed “frontline” police officers.

What strain will be placed on future budgets by this surge in police numbers, plus all the additional election commitments to come, plus the interest on the government’s additional borrowings? Will the state government need to increase taxes in the future to bring the operating balance into surplus? Quite possibly.

Alas, the Government has so far provided us little information on or analysis of the outlook for Queensland’s public finances. It hasn’t even provided a decent tabulation of the cost of all of its 2020 measures over the forward estimates as far as I can tell. So it’s very rich indeed for a current Queensland Minister to preach on financial accountability.

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