Curtis Pitt: Economic future looking brighter
THIS time last year I was sitting in an Opposition team of just nine people in a Parliament of 89 seats.
Tens of thousands of government workers had been sacked by the LNP, our economy was struggling and state funding for projects on the Sunshine Coast had been stripped to help pay for Campbell Newman's ego-tower in Brisbane.
Fast forward to January 2016 and the economic data shows that after just one year of a Labor Government, Queensland is now better positioned for success.
We've worked hard to right the wrongs of the LNP years and restore business and consumer confidence in our state.
In fact, Queensland is now forecast to have the highest growth rate of any Australian state in 2015-16, at 4%, leaving NSW behind on 3%.
Despite being a minority government, Labor has had 12 months of achievements because we know the importance of a steady economic hand, public consultation and sensible policy.
What the LNP forgot when they called a snap election this time last year is that no political party is mightier than our democracy - January's poll results reminded all politicians of that.
Combating unemployment on the Sunshine Coast is a challenge Labor won't shy away from and one of the Palaszczuk Government's most significant achievements is to have created an extra 50,800 new jobs in Queensland since the election, with the state's unemployment rate now at a near two-year low.
In fact, unemployment on the Sunshine Coast finished the year down 1.1% to 6.3 %.
This has been achieved despite some challenging global economic conditions, which highlights the underlying strength and diversity of Queensland's economy.
My focus will remain squarely on getting this positive economic story to translate into jobs and opportunities for all of Queensland's regions, like the Sunshine Coast.
To keep local tradies on the job over the Christmas holidays, as you may have seen, works are under way on schools right around the region including Eumundi, Noosa District State High, Sunshine Beach, Nambour Special School, Burnside, Cooroy, Pacific Paradise, Mooloolaba, Buderim Mountain, Palmwoods, Maleny and Meridan State College, as part of our $178 million school works program for 2015-16.
This was absolutely necessary after the LNP wilfully ignored critical maintenance needs.
In 2016 we will work to continue developing and diversifying our economy by supporting new industries and innovative investment in the jobs of tomorrow.
My first budget allocated $1.5 billion for infrastructure improvements in the Sunshine Coast and Moreton Bay regions as part of a state-wide capital works spend of more than $10 billion in 2015-16, which is estimated to support around 27,500 direct jobs.
Critically, the July budget was designed to deliver the biggest surplus in more than a decade, with the first reduction in general government sector debt in nearly 16 years.
And our economic plan is working.
Last month I released the Mid-Year Fiscal and Economic Review, which showed our budget measures will save Queensland taxpayers around $1.45 billion in interest repayment savings over the next four years - compared to the LNP's last budget, which forecast debt to balloon to more than $80 billion this financial year.
Under the Palaszczuk Government, total state debt is not even forecast to reach this level by mid-2019. In fact for 2015-2016 it will be $235 million lower than what we forecast just six months ago.
We've achieved all this without selling our critical income-generating assets, which deliver over $2 billion in dividends to Queensland each and every year - although I expect the LNP will continue to push their asset sale agenda in 2016.
Labor will continue to pay down debt while working with the private sector to get innovative new infrastructure and projects off the ground to ready us for the future.
Our reform agenda has seen a mass of legislation pass through Parliament to right the wrongs of the LNP years and restore consumer and business confidence to Queensland, including restoring our workers' compensation scheme to again be the best in the nation.
This isn't government spin - it's an economic fact backed up by reports from independent agencies.
According to the NAB Business Survey, Queensland has led Australia in business confidence for the past five months consecutively.
Westpac's latest report shows consumer confidence has returned to Queensland, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics has recorded that trend unemployment is at 6.1% under Labor.
That's in contrast to the 6.7% unemployment peak we endured under the LNP.
Clearly if you're going to be anywhere in Australia in 2016, you're going to want to be in Queensland, in areas like the Sunshine Coast.