January 30, 2015

Election '15: the elephant in the room

That a changing climate will affect all aspects of life is not in doubt: precisely when the most serious consequences of our failure to limit carbon emissions will have an impact is still open to debate. We are seeing changes now, all over the planet. Gen Y's children will experience greater challenges, and their children will have good cause to blame their great grandparents for inaction, I suspect.

There is no big issue in the Queensland election that will not be profoundly affected by climate change, but did you hear the words during any debate or phone-in? I have listened to the ABC extensively since 12 January, on both television and radio; I have been busy on Facebook and Twitter; and I have attended an election forum and an election campaign launch. I have read journos' and lobbyists' lists of key election topics. I have, however, heard hardly any serious discussion about how on earth the political parties are going to deal with climate change.

I find that extraordinary.

It was briefly a debating point when Tony Abbott resisted leaders' requests for climate change to be on the G20 agenda in Brisbane last November. President Obama even spoke about its importance the day before the conference. (The nerve of the man; telling Queenslanders what to do.) But it faded from the spotlight just as suddenly, as Australians once again buried their heads in the sands of their glorious beaches and never gave their impending and major lifestyle changes a second thought.

So, back to the election.

If you're concerned about the state's economy and believe that its mineral wealth must be exploited and exported to raise revenue to pay off debt and increase wealth, consider this: there may currently be a huge demand for coal from China, but the Chinese government has ambitious plans for renewable and nuclear energy programmes. The world's two largest greenhouse gas emitters, the US and China, have overcome the geopolitical gridlock about who is responsible for a warming world and who is going to do most to fix it. China may need to import coal for a while, but it has responded well to the global climate crisis. A carbon trading system is expected by 2016. Australia's Galilee Basin coal mines, should they become a reality, may soon be stranded assets as coal and gas prices fall. Not to mention the vast quantities of water that mines use, which will exacerbate the precarious business of farming the land even more so as the climate becomes more extreme.

When looking at the pros and cons of further resource development – principally coal and coal seam gas – consider the loss of even more strategic cropping land, such as in the Darling Downs west of Brisbane, and what that will mean for food production (for home consumption or for export) as lower yields become more likely in the hotter, drier, stormier conditions on a continent that may experience even higher temperatures than other regions on earth*.

If you are worried about the state of the Great Barrier Reef, consider that, among several problems contributing to the death of corals, a warming ocean is going to require a greater effort than finding an alternative location for dredge spoil or killing off considerable numbers of star fish. In addition, corals don't like silt, and more extreme weather events in a warmer world will not only bring much more sediment down in rivers, but also churn up the shallows.

Precisely how many jobs will eventuate in the resources sector over the next decade is a hotly debated topic. Many jobs have already been lost in the solar industry as a result of the Federal government's reluctance to commit to the existing Renewable Energy Target. In Queensland, the LNP have done their best to thwart the people's desire for solar panels on their roofs. Despite slashing the feed-in tariff and threatening to remove subsidies for installation, half a million Queenslanders have gone and done it anyway. The creation of new jobs in the renewable energy industry would be considerable if it were encouraged. Community energy projects and shared schemes have enormous potential**, as does the establishment of a smart grid to enable alternative energy to be integrated for wider distribution. In farming communities, already struggling with prolonged drought and threats to their water resources, community energy projects provide alternative employment to mines that may never materialise.

Which brings us to privatisation of assets. In LNP world, loadsa money will be made by persuading private business to take on ageing, fossil-fuel-based energy generation and distribution for the duration of 99-year leases. Private companies are motivated by making profit for their stakeholders primarily, not the health of the environment or the future of the planet. How willing will they be to invest in making coal cleaner or capturing carbon? How keen will the network companies be to accommodate renewable energy generated by little people? When necessity of action replaces profit as number one priority in the coming decades, how will they fare? And will you want utility industries in private hands when handling extreme weather events and displaced people becomes commonplace?

When it comes to the cost of living, electricity prices are often close to the top of the list. Politicians of all colours prioritise the lowering, or at least the capping of electricity prices. Renewables are the key to lower prices in the longer term. People's motivation to switch to solar may as yet be mostly economic, but it's a step in the right direction towards the only option in a climatically challenged society.

So, climate change is the silent big issue in this election campaign. Hardly anyone dares speak its name. Because most voters don't want to know, and most pollies don't know what to do. Australia is increasingly out in the cold as big economies commit to climate action programmes. The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris at the end of this year will be upon us before we know it. Assuming Abbott survives his unpopular period and is still PM, is he going to rise to the occasion and embrace the reality of this ominously warming planet?

Last April, I went to ask my MP, Aaron Dillaway, the LNP member for Bulimba, why climate change wasn't on a list of topics for discussion distributed throughout the constituency. He assumed I meant 'the environment', and started talking about beautifying Bulimba by planting trees. Back on topic, he struggled with the meaning of anthropogenic. I hope he's done some research since, but I doubt it. Not that it matters much, because I suspect he'll be out a job by Sunday. I hope so.

To be ill-informed about such an important and potentially catastrophic threat is indefensible.

** http://www.fundcommunityenergy.org/about

January 28, 2015

Election '15: integrity and trust

Half way through the final week of Queensland's state election campaign, it occurs to me that perhaps I should have tackled this subject before now. After all, it has been a matter of political debate increasingly throughout the LNP's term of office. Honesty, transparency, misuse of power, accountability: such words and phrases have been recycled many times in expressions of complaint and cynicism; disappointment and disillusionment.

Some voters seem to be able to juxtapose a dislike of Campbell Newman with the belief that he is a strong leader – to use his favourite word. The political history of the last three years in Queensland reeks of so many dodgy deals as to be almost suffocating, but a significant number of voters rank apparent economic performance above all else, it would seem.

Although details emerged long after the event, sand-mining company Sibelco funded Newman's campaign in Ashgrove in Brisbane in 2012, to the tune of $90,000. Later they were rewarded with a 16-year extension of their right to dig up Moreton Bay's beautiful North Stradbroke Island, until 2035, and against the wishes of local people.

But worse, much worse than this, in many people's eyes, have been Newman's lies about the third stage of New Hope's Acland coal mine in the Darling Downs. He had promised this would not go ahead. I remember reading about his announcement, in disbelief. I always doubted his weasel words. Principally because New Hope is one of the LNP's biggest donors*, and they must expect to get something for their money. And sure enough, as people hurried off on their christmas holidays, on the evening of 19 December, Jeff Seeney quietly announced that the Co-ordinator General had approved the mine's further expansion.

These deeds make Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk appear almost squeaky clean. The LNP have not managed to dig up any dirt, and I'm sure it's not for want of trying. Newman's childish, straw-clutching throwaway line during last Friday's leaders' debate, that Labor may have been funded by the dreaded bikies, was as laughable as it was outrageous. He went on to place the onus of proof on the Labor leader to show that they had not been. I don't think so. Does he recall the principle of the accused being innocent until proven guilty?

Missing from the election campaign has been any reference to the philosophy of either of the main parties. Fundamental principles or underlying beliefs are never mentioned, or rarely; instead, lightweight policy announcements and incentives are peddled constantly. Four-pillar economy; cutting green tape; anti-association laws; asset leasing… these are slogans or sound bites, not components of a political raison d'ĂȘtre. When was the last time you heard mention of terms such as representative democracy, progressivism, capitalism, fair trade, social justice, labour rights, market economy, state interventionism, social partnership… The devil is in the detail, which you never hear about either. Landowners learn of the erosion of their rights to prevent miners spoiling their land and water once amendments have been passed at five minutes to midnight.

In September last year, Tony Fitzgerald, who was a judge for 30 years and headed up the state's famous corruption enquiry in the 1980s, encouraged Queenslanders to vote for neither of the main parties** in this election.
In practical terms, power has been substantially transferred to a small, cynical, political class, mostly professional politicians who represent, and act as directed by, one of the two major political parties which [sic] have entrenched themselves and their standards in the political system and collectively dominate political discussion and control the political process.
He added that both parties use election wins to reward sectional interests, financial supporters and 'ambitious camp-followers'. And he went on:
Political reform is… a task for the community. If Queenslanders want a free, fair, tolerant society, good governance and honest public administration, a sufficient number of voters must make it clear that they will decline to vote for any party which [sic] does not first satisfy them that it will exercise power only for the public benefit.
About two weeks ago The Australian Institute wrote an open letter to all party leaders, asking for their commitment to Fitzgerald's principles of accountability:
1 Govern for the peace, welfare and good government of the State;
2 Make all decisions and take all actions, including public appointments, in the public interest without regard to personal, party political or other immaterial considerations;
3 Treat all people equally without permitting any person or corporation special access or influence; and
4 Promptly and accurately inform the public of its reasons for all significant or potentially controversial decisions and actions.
The letter was signed by 'prominent Australians'† and sent to Queensland Labor, Bob Katter's Australia Party, the Palmer United Party, the Liberal National Party and the Queensland Greens. All but the LNP responded and agreed to commit to the principles if they are elected.

In the absence of a commitment by the party currently in charge of the State, perhaps you should fall back on an old technique. Ask yourself whether or not you would buy a second-hand car from Campbell Newman, Jeff Seeney et al.

** http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/11/tony-fitzgerald-urges-queenslanders-not-to-vote-for-either-major-party?CMP=share_btn_fb
† see who they were at http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/queensland-state-election-2015/prominent-australians-open-letter-to-political-parties-20150121-12v9z4.html

January 25, 2015

Election '15: costs of living

Australia is an expensive country; not many people would argue with that. We noticed it from the day we arrived – just over five years ago – and we're still noticing it. Last weekend, two simple, over-the-counter, tickly-cough and sore-throat remedies cost $30.

I have kept two lists since our arrival: one of items that are appreciably less expensive, and the other of those that cost considerably more than I'd been used to. The former is a short list, and includes prawns, light bulbs, accountants' fees and fuel; the latter is extensive and ranges from insurance (car, house contents, you name it) to hotel accommodation, eating out, wine, electricity, mobile phone tariffs, internet, new cars, car registration, bank charges, repairs (shoes, for example), medical costs (dentistry especially), window cleaning, hairdressing and cosmetics, flowers, entrance fees to tourist attractions, books… even tattoos!

In the last week, two items in the press confirmed what we all know. Australia is well up the top ten of most expensive countries.

In addition to high retail prices, there are hidden service charges everywhere. When we moved into our first rental property, we couldn't pay our rent directly to the rental agency. Instead, we had to pay a middle man who then paid the agency. That privilege was going to cost us $2.50 a month. We refused the 'service', and the agency eventually agreed to let us pay them direct.

And then there's settling the bill up front. You're already paying through the nose for even modest accommodation in a popular destination, and then you have to pay in full as long as a month in advance. If you're renting a holiday house, there'll be a deposit to pay against damage. One condition of a booking I have in a month's time is that I send screenshot of the transaction, and another is that the deposit appear in the owner's bank account before I attempt to pick up the key.

If you have to make a claim on your car insurance, you have to pay hundreds of dollars of excess right at the start, before they'll instigate a claim, and you'll never know the actual costs of the repair.

The biggest item in the cost of living that worries most Australians is the price of electricity. Abbott's abolition of the carbon price didn't bring people's bills down like they'd been promised. In Queensland that's because the network companies over-invested in improving poles and wires. In itself, that was good, but energy companies overestimated their income at a time when power consumption was falling. More people were installing solar (nearly 400,000 homes in QLD now) and cutting their usage because of high prices. The high prices are not because of solar subsidies: this is LNP misinformation.

Electricity could be much cheaper if right-wing governments embraced renewables. There is masses of scope for solar take-up as the technology (including storage batteries) comes down in price. Large-scale solar farm projects have been scrapped rather than encouraged. The LNP is blinded by its love for fossil fuels (and mining donations) to the enormous scope of the Sunshine State.

There are lots of ways that I can see that people could cut their household budget. But I see little evidence yet of lifestyles being modified in order to reduce massive consumption. There has to be a will for there to be a way.

January 23, 2015

Vote for the Reef

Last night I attended the Great Barrier Reef State Election Forum, organised by the Australian Marine Conservation Society, at Brisbane City Hall. All political parties were invited. Unfortunately only two took their seats on the stage: the ALP's Environment spokesperson Jackie Trad, and Greens Queensland Senator Larissa Waters. The LNP didn't show up but sent some extraordinary video clips that allegedly summed up their Reef policy. And PUP spokesperson John Bjelke-Petersen sent a statement that was read out.

The LNP's video was received with sneers and jeers and lots of laughs. Their arrogance in not turning up for a debate on the most important environmental issue for many voters deserved such derision.

The Marine Conservation Society has six Reef commitments they are looking to the politicians to make, and that they suggest voters bring to the attention of candidates.
• Ban industrial dumping in order to minimise dredging
• Protect wetlands, the Reef's natural filters and nurseries
• Stop farming runoff pollution
• Protect rivers, bushland catchments, water resources and community rights
• Restore habitats, fish stocks and other marine animals
• Generation of more energy from renewables to check climate change

The Environmental Defenders Office – defunded completely by the Newman government and the Feds between them – are campaigning to have that funding restored. They, too, have an environmentally focused agenda of seven key changes they would like to see made. They link the Reef to the protection of other natural resources and add wider issues of citizens rights and the democratic process.

First look at their list of detrimental effects on the environment caused by certain pieces of legislation at http://www.edoqld.org.au/
assaults-on-qld/. More details of the seven key changes can be found at edoqld.nationbuilder.com. There's a petition to the pollies you can sign, as well.

Queensland Conservation is another organisation that lists all
the damage done to the environment in an 'election brochure' at http://qldconservation.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/
qc_election_brochure-4.pdf. The Great Barrier Reef is at the top of their agenda, with climate change right behind it. Then comes uranium mining; public rights to appeal; protection of the Cape York Peninsula; the management of water resources; subsidies to fossil fuel industries and the monitoring of them; land clearance; and national parks.

I would add to all these lists, or perhaps attached to 'national parks', the problem of declared protected areas of high conservation value, such as nature refuges, being at risk of destruction from mining. Prime agricultural land also needs effective protection from mining encroachment, not merely glib talk about economic 'pillars'.

There are common themes between environmental organisations, but what leaps out is the broad range of subjects of concern gathered under the Environment umbrella. If you share those concerns, take them to as many candidates as you can in your constituency – on the corners; at election forums. Ask them where they stand and exactly what their policies are.

Saving the Reef has emerged as a big issue in this state election, but there are a whole host of other environmental matters that need their profiles raising. If you want to vote for the Reef, you're unlikely to choose the LNP I would have thought. If you don't believe Labor are promising enough, but neither do you think the Greens will be elected, then you have to choose your preferences carefully, and not vote for one only.

There are clear choices at this election between the main two parties on some of the key issues. That gives you a greater opportunity to achieve what you want, as long as you get the numbers right.

Update: I have just found this piece, which is the best summary of the problems for the Reef, with stats, and suggestions for the next government, whatever their colour. Read it and share.

This post was last edited on 24 January 2015

January 20, 2015

Election '15: jobs

There are more myths about jobs than there are about the LNP's handling of the Queensland economy. The biggest by a mile is how many people are employed by the state's mining industry, and coal in particular.

Coal mining employs a fraction of those engaged in service industries; building and construction; hospitality and tourism; retail; manufacturing; health, education and local government…

The Queensland Resources Council and the mining companies themselves include 'indirect' jobs in their figures in order to inflate them. So they'll garner numbers from a contractor supplying goods and services, for example. I think many people in Brisbane would be surprised to learn that 'direct and indirect spending' by minerals and energy companies supported more than 197,000 jobs in the Brisbane region, according to QRC Chief Executive Michael Roche.

When a company applies for a mineral development licence or an environmental permit to mine, it doesn't have to provide a cost benefit analysis that takes into account the 'value' of farmers displaced off the land or tourists deterred once a landscape has been laid waste. Neither does the assessment procedure take into account the future costs of dealing with the effects of increased carbon emissions, either in Australia or in the countries where coal exports are headed. In the case of the Reef, job losses in tourism will be considerable if the degradation continues. The reasons for its demise include warming oceans, agricultural run-off and a starfish invasion as well as the more widely publicised dredging and dumping for port expansion.

Jobs are glibly promised to accompany resource development or infrastructure project announcements. They are likely to be more numerous during the construction phase, rather than once a mine, for example, is up and running, especially with the high level of mechanisation. The reality of job numbers locally is often debated. Historically, many workers have come from overseas, either selected for their skills and entering on the infamous 457 visas, or brought in by foreign owners of the mines from their home states where labour is cheaper. Both are controversial. Job creation is used to justify ruining the landscape, losing prime agricultural land and upsetting ecosystems, thus reducing biodiversity. I'm sure most people don't expect to see half these projects materialise, even if the party who promised them are elected.

A couple of weeks ago, a man in search of a job rang into local radio to describe an extraordinary state of affairs. He had expressed interest in working on the Carmichael mine project in the northern Galilee Basin. He lives a couple of hours from the site, but was informed he'd have to fly in and fly out from Brisbane. This despite an Adani spokesperson assuring the Mackay Daily Mercury only last August that the company favoured applications from local people.

Mining workers are often housed in largely self-sufficient camps, thus depriving local communities of a lot of the business they'd expected to be generated by the mine.

Those people who believe no more new coal mining areas should be developed are criticised for denying jobs to areas badly in need of a new stimulus. Investment in renewable energy projects will create opportunities in regional Australia, such as the construction of large-scale wind and solar farms and community energy projects. Jobs have already been lost in the domestic solar market, thanks to uncertainty surrounding the Renewable Energy Target created by the Federal Government's lack of enthusiasm, and the Queensland government's threat to remove subsidies for solar power installation and feed-in tariffs.

In reality, alternative thinking and practice within new industries and communities will ultimately provide more opportunities than either of the major parties while they have their electioneering hats on. You can start reading about some of these alternatives at http://bze.
org.au/zero-carbon-australia-2020 and http://cpagency.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/CPAgency_HowtoGuide2014-web.pdf.

Update 27 Jan: yesterday, Australia Day, Campbell Newman declared he would only take questions from the press on jobs and the economy, and suggested this would be the case for the rest of the campaign.

This post was last edited on 27 January 2015

January 18, 2015

Election '15: debt and asset sales

Few would dispute that Queensland should be concerned about its debt, but if you're from practically any other Western economy you might smile wryly as Australians angst about what seems to be a relatively small amount of it, and the near-obsession in this country with getting back to black.

Few ordinary people seem to care about triple-A credit ratings from agencies with silly names. (For years I thought one of them was Standard & Paws. Was its founder, Henry Varnum Poor, being ironic?) The difference between two As or three doesn't mean the state pays that much more interest on loans, some economists say. Others argue that a manageable amount of debt helps you finance infrastructure projects that you'd never begin if you waited until you could afford it.

The LNP have bitched about the debt they inherited from Labor ever since they came to power almost three years ago. They usually add at least $20 billion on to the real figure for effect, and they fail to mention that Labor's woes were added to considerably by costly natural disasters, namely the floods in SEQ and cyclone Yasi in FNQ, in 2011. And possibly the GFC. In the name of that debt, Campbell Newman's government ruthlessly axed tens of thousands of frontline public sector jobs while cutting trifling amounts of funding from valuable programmes such as $97,000 from the Environmental Defenders Office. At the same time, taxpayers were subsidising the expansion of Abbot Point port to the tune of almost $2 billion. The LNP agenda was clear.

Now they propose to lease and privatise certain public assets – namely power generation and distribution, the ports of Gladstone and Townsville, water pipelines and the Mount Isa rail line – to pay off some of the debt, seemingly forgetting that they are in power because the public never forgave former premier Anna Bligh for selling state assets, so they booted her out of office in 2012. Either that or he thinks Queenslanders are so stupid as to not see through the plan. With the demise of coal predicted by many economists over the next decade or two, are any private-sector investors going to pay the monies he needs (to reduce debt and fund his election bribes) for ageing coal-fired power generators or even brand new (hence higher electricity prices) but soon-to-be-obsolete poles and wires (as solar owners go off the grid in future)? He himself has expressed uncertainty about the prices he might get. And he'll have to wait for sales to be completed before he can deliver on his promises.

Labor announced details of its economic strategy last Friday. They have learned from past mistakes, and will not be selling or leasing the state's assets. They propose a longer-term debt action plan: to pay it off over a decade from dividends raised by state-owned corporations they keep as they are. Interestingly, Labor plans to merge the three electricity distribution companies (Ergon, Energex and Powerlink) and the two electricity generators (CS Energy and Stanwell), saving $150 million a year, they claim.

This link includes figures for dividends: https://independentaustralia.

Talking about the past coming to haunt the you, it appears that Deputy Leader Jeff Seeney once wasn't such a fan of leasing. On 23 March 2013, in the Queensland Parliament, he said: 'Leases are a… sneaky, dishonest way to undertake asset sales.' And his colleague, Treasurer Tim Nicholls added, 'A 99-year lease is as good as giving away the farm'. Both were in Opposition then.

Some methods of reducing debt are rarely debated by either of the major parties. Doing away with mining subsidies is one of them. A recent report by TAI (The Australian Institute) claims a figure of $9.5 billion for Queensland, with the coal industry the largest beneficiary. Right-leaning critics dispute many of their claims. So here is another analysis: https://www.academia.edu/9719052/Calculating_Queensland_state_government_subsidies_to_the_minerals_and_gas_industries.

Another way is to increase taxes. Nobody dare mention putting up taxes to voters who complain loudly and frequently about the cost of living. Perhaps someone should be bold: in the Newman government's Strong Choices survey, a significant proportion of contributors expressed a preference for higher taxes rather than the sale of state assets. The LNP has completely ignored this. They claim that leasing is different from selling. This seems to me to be a red herring, to sweeten the privatisation pill. And the waters are muddied further by methods of profit maximisation, the role of the industry regulator, the potential life of the asset, and the terms of the statute defining the terms of the lease. Confused? Read this article written a few months ago: http://theconversation.com/making-the-case-for-selling-off-queenslands-power-assets-32488

There is a more general question, and that is, is privatisation in any form the way forward these days? This is an interesting idea that
I was completely unaware of over here on the other side of the planet: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/09/
tide-turning-against-privatisation. If you're Australian, don't be churlish about the fact that many of the examples are from the UK. Their experiences are pertinent, and the trend is not limited to northwest Europe.

The LNP's campaign rests on the claim that it has strengthened the economy over the last three years. This has been seriously challenged – see http://theconversation.com/the-true-state-of-queenslands-economy-without-the-spin-35959. The art of spinning statistics is a common thread I'm sure, in many a political campaign. The poor voter has to pick his or her way through huge numbers of numbers, most of which will be contested by someone or other.

Good luck.

Update 27 Jan Since writing this I have learned that the state government would benefit from an 'asset recycling initiative' by the Commonwealth government. The state would receive 15 per cent of the price of the asset sold if the proceeds from the sale were allocated to investment in new infrastructure. Read more about
this scheme at http://www.budget.gov.au/2014-15/content/glossy/

This post was last edited on 27 January 2015

January 15, 2015

The electioneers

I've been back three days. Time to get down to the forthcoming Queensland election (31 Jan).

It's being called a snap election, which roughly translated means Campbell Newman was scrambling to catch everyone out. January is big-holiday time here: even state schools don't resume until the end of the month. He hoped the small Opposition team wouldn't be prepared. More significantly, he knows he is likely to be in deep water once the Senate enquiry into Certain Aspects of Queensland Government Administration related to Commonwealth Government Affairs kicks off in March, when the election was expected. The polls were more or less neck-and-neck when he took the plunge, but a lot can happen in two weeks and two days.

The bribery of voters is manifold: a youth employment scheme in Newman's constituency of Ashgrove if the people elect him rather than the more personable previous incumbent Kate Jones; a railway duplication for commuters north of Brisbane; and bottleneck-easing where the Gateway and Pacific motorways merge. Labor has promised more teachers; and a five-year programme to resuscitate the Great Barrier Reef. And all the photo-ops, complete with hard hats and high-vis vests; the awkward embraces of reluctant infants; or the obligatory nodding-party-faithful backdrop to the announcer of inducements.

What about the issues? As soon as the date was announced, The Guardian predicted: 'Queensland election: all about the environment, bikies and privatisation'. I wish. The environment, I mean. I sit here wearing my Bimblebox T-shirt as I write, willing Queenslanders to wake up to the continued trashing of their landscape.

So many issues are not being addressed. Why are vital Artesian aquifers and unique remnant ecosystems being put at risk by the proposed development of nine mega mines in the Galilee Basin of Central Queensland (not to mention the argument for leaving this coal in the ground)? Why are coal ports already being expanded for the export of the products of mines whose economic viability is seriously in doubt and which are nowhere near being operational? How will the decline of the Reef be arrested not only to keep UNESCO happy but also befit Australia's global responsibility for this natural wonder? Why aren't coal trains covered as they pass within a kilometre of 40,000 schoolchildren in Brisbane's southern suburbs? Why isn't renewable energy policy at the top of an urgent list of action on carbon emissions reduction? Why have sand mining operations on North Stradbroke Island been expanded, not wound down†? How will the Channel Country's ephemeral water courses be protected and Cape York's wild rivers remain untamed? Who will reduce the percentage of land under mining leases and gazetteer new national parks instead? Who will ensure the safety of coal seam gas extraction and prevent its further encroachment on prime agricultural land?

Many Queenslanders will list the cost of living – Queensland has the most expensive rego (car registration) and petrol, for example – the management of the economy and jobs creation as the biggest issues of the election. If you've been impressed by claims that Queensland's economy has been strengthened over the last three years then you had better read this: http://theconversation.com/the-true-state-of-queenslands-economy-without-the-spin-35959. Perhaps you should also be sceptical of numerous promises of vast numbers of new jobs – see http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/jan/14/with-queensland-election-promises-and-mining-projects-its-wise-to-keep-digging?CMP=share_btn_tw. And be generally wary of weasel words, doublespeak and the selective use of statistics.

There's no economic policy as yet from Labor. The last-minute appearance of meat on bare bones seems to be a feature of electioneering here. Tony Abbott did the same during the Federal election campaign in 2013. Did he reveal his economic intentions at all, in fact? My memory fails me, but it matters not, because he had reneged on many pre-election promises by budget time. Its unpopularity is one reason Campbell Newman doesn't want the PM coming up from Canberra to join the LNP campaign trail in Queensland.

And then there are the subjects no pollie, whatever their colour, thinks they can risk. Such as billions of dollars' worth of subsidies to the mining industry*. A good example of this was last November's announcement of the Newman government's Infrastructure Enabling Agreement with Indian coal company Adani to build a rail line linking the Carmichael mine to Abbot Point port**. The removal of such subsidies might help to reduce the state's debt, I think. As would raising taxes. Queenslanders pay less tax than in any other state, but woe betide anyone who suggests an increase. Even though, in the state government's Strong Choices questionnaire, people said they would rather see taxes raised than assets sold. 'As a State we have always been proud of our low tax regime, which encourages interstate and international investment,' they cry. They should cease bleating about the debt if they're not prepared to discuss the most obvious yet more radical solutions.

I can't vote in the state election. Neither can my friend, despite paying a lot of tax over the last five years. In Australia you have to vote, by law (and you have to be enrolled to vote). It's your choice to embrace your responsibility, or be a donkey (ranking candidates in the order they appear on the ballot paper rather than according to your preferences) or an 'informal' voter (spoiling your ballot paper or leaving it blank). Accustomed to voter apathy and low turnouts in the UK, I used to think compulsory voting was a good idea, but now I'm not so sure.

Enjoy the rest of the campaign. I'll keep you posted.

† http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/10/campbell-newman-is-in-quicksand-over-mining-on-stradbroke
* Subsidies range from concessions to access rail services to infrastructure construction and maintenance to exemption from taxes. For more detail and figures, see 
Mining the age of entitlement, a paper produced by The Australian Institute 
http://www.tai.org.au/content/mining-age-entitlement. Not everyone agrees with their findings.
** http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2014/11/17/historic-agreements-bring-jobs-to-queensland

This post was last edited on 22 January 2015