As the Kennett Government press secretary responsible for attacking the financial record of the Labor government, the worst single rort I discovered was the decision to borrow about $50 million from the Parliamentary superannuation scheme to fund ongoing budget deficits.
This was on top of the $1.3 billion breach of Loan Council limits which was only revealed after the 1992 election.
When you look back at all the financial scandals of those Labor years, the most egregious act was the deliberate decision by Premier Joan Kirner to ignore financial warnings and simply keep spending recklessly while raiding every hollow log available.
Doing a Robert Maxwell on the parliamentary super scheme was about as low as you could go.
The parallels with Queensland at the moment are very interesting. A popular and relatively centrist Premier has been succeeded mid-term by a financially undisciplined left winger.
The Queensland economy has suddenly hit the skids, the AAA credit rating has been lost and, just like Kirner, Anna Bligh has deliberately decided to keep on spending.
The contrast with the new Liberal-National government in Western Australia is stark indeed, which has put the brakes on spending and is already talking about curtailing public sector wage claims and scaling back infrastructure projects.
When Victoria suffered its double-downgrade in late 1992, spreads on the state’s $32 billion debt blew out to a peak of 142 basis points over what the Commonwealth was paying.
Lo and behold, that is almost exactly the premium Queensland is now paying as it attempts to raise a record $16 billion debt in 2009-10, something no Australian state has ever achieved.
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Whilst global spending sprees by government have now been emphatically rejected by markets, the big question is when the ALP will wake up to the fact that the Australian public sector is facing a Kennett-style belt tightening.
The Federal ALP has already started raiding the hollow logs. The Future Fund needs more than $100 billion but Anthony Albanese persuaded Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd to turn off the tap at $60 billion and instead divert surpluses to newly established infrastructure funds.
The AFR revealed last Wednesday that only $10 billion of the promised $40 billion had been deposited into these various new funds. In other words, it looks like the Rudd Government has dramatically scaled back infrastructure spending to fund reckless cash splashes.
The one thing Queensland has in its favour is fully-funded public sector superannuation. A re-elected Blight Government will be sorely tempted to start raiding the $60 billion Queensland Investment Corporation. Ironically, the QIC has just spent $500 million on buying a New Zealand power utility from Babcock & Brown Infrastructure, which just happens to be chaired by former Queensland Labor Treasurer David Hamill. Shouldn’t Queensland be directing public servant savings into Queensland infrastructure?
The harsh reality of the situation is that Queensland’s $107 billion infrastructure program will be more than halved and whoever forms the next government simply won’t be able to sustain fuel taxes that are about 8c-a-litre lower than the national average.
But don’t expect either Anna Bligh or Lawrence Springborg to admit this before polling day.