By Paul Dobbyn
POLITICAL rivals have responded to Church leaders’ queries on policies ranging from job creation and education, to support for drought-affected farmers, environmental and law and order issues.
Queensland St Vincent de Paul Society president John Forrest, Brisbane archdiocese’s Catholic Justice Peace Commission executive officer Peter Arndt and Queensland Catholic Education Commission executive director Mike Byrne recently raised the questions.
Mr Forrest was concerned about the marginalised such as pensioners and the unemployed “having difficulty putting food on their tables”.
Premier Campbell Newman and Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk saw job creation as one solution to the problem.
Levels of detail differed in how this goal would be reached if winning government after the January 31 election.
“I know some families are struggling and that’s why I’m so passionate about our plan to create 209,000 new jobs in Queensland,” Mr Newman said.
“More jobs mean more money for families and ensures we can keep helping seniors through public transport concessions and our rebates on electricity, water and council rates bills.
“Our plan will save the typical Brisbane family $577 on their electricity bills over five years and around $100 on their water bills over two years.”
Ms Palaszczuk said it was only pressure from seniors’ groups and the Labor Opposition which had led to Mr Newman’s “backflip on heartless cuts to pensioner rebates and subsidies”.
“Labor has also committed to reinstating the Skilling Queenslanders for Work employment programs axed by the Newman Government,” she said.
“Skilling Queenslanders for Work was supporting thousands of unemployed back into work each year and more than paid for itself through increased economic activity.”
Ms Palaszczuk said since the Newman Government came to power in 2012, Queensland’s trend unemployment rate had increased to 6.6 per cent.
“The unemployment rate was 5.5 per cent when Labor left office; now it’s the highest rate in 11 years and the second highest rate in mainland Australia,” she said.
Regarding questions about funding for Catholic education, both leaders indicated considerable increases in funding were planned.
“At the weekend, I announced a $1 billion Future Schools Fund for both the state and non-state sectors,” Mr Newman said.
“The fund will allow new Catholic schools to open where they are most needed and existing schools to build extra classrooms.”
Mr Newman said the LNP Government had established the Queensland Schools Planning Commission “so we can work together to better plan for student growth”.
Ms Palaszczuk said “a Labor Government will provide an extra $37 million in capital grants for the non-state schooling sector in each of the 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-18 financial years — or $111 million over three years in additional funds”.
“Of the $37 million extra funds in each year the Catholic sector will receive $25 million,” she said.
Ms Palaszczuk said Labor, should it gain government, would consider further cost-cutting exercises in education such as the sharing of sporting facilities between schools and “the provision of low-interest loans or loan guarantees to non-government school bodies”.
Mr Arndt questioned the government’s approach to youth justice, particularly regarding indigenous youth.
The leaders revealed significant differences in their approach to this issue.
“I don’t want young offenders to go on to a life of crime and so we’ve launched early intervention boot camps for at-risk young people,” Mr Newman said.
“The camps teach kids life skills, discipline and respect for others and themselves.
“Nearly 100 per cent of participants do not reoffend after taking part in the camps – a fantastic result.”
Ms Palaszczuk was critical of the LNP Government’s cuts to Labor programs and special courts established to deal with offenders from underprivileged social groups.
“Labor in government has always prioritised programs that divert vulnerable Queenslanders from the criminal justice system as a first measure,” she said.
“For example, the previous Beattie and Bligh Labor governments established the Murri Courts in various locations across Queensland.
“This assisted in reducing the level of incarceration of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
Other programs and special courts to be abolished by the LNP Government included the Special Circumstances Court for the homeless or those with mental health issues and court-referred Youth Justice Conferencing, she said.
Both leaders urged financial institutions to show compassion to Queensland’s farmers as they struggle to deal with the worst drought in decades.
“We have implemented a major drought relief scheme for producers and our spending so far on that will pass $100m this year,” Mr Newman said.
“That is unless the drought breaks which would be the best news of all.”
The Government and Opposition leaders disagreed on which side of politics was more responsible in such environmental matters as the management of the Great Barrier Reef.
“The LNP Government has done more than any state government in Queensland’s history to protect the Great Barrier Reef,” Mr Newman said.
“We’re restricting port development in Queensland to just four ports and have increased penalties for any company causing harm to the reef.
“We have also scaled back Labor’s massive expansion plans for Abbot Point and will ensure dredge material is disposed of onshore.”
Ms Palaszczuk said Labor was “the only party at this election with a stated commitment to ban the sea dumping of capital dredge spoil within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area”.
“In fact the Newman Government is actively subsidising dredging operations in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area with $40 million committed to dredging Trinity Inlet in Cairns and an undisclosed amount allocated to the Abbot Point project,” she said.