Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls.
Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls. Dave Hunt

Newman Government looking for public support to sell assets

THE Queensland Government has started ramping up efforts to secure public support to sell or lease public assets ahead of the state election in 2015.

Treasurer Tim Nicholls said today scoping studies will get underway to examine options surrounding government-owned coal-fired electricity generators CS Energy and Stanwell Corporation.

A further two studies will be undertaken to investigate whether offering long-term leases on the Ports of Gladstone and Townsville are viable options.

The proposed sell-off of the Mount Isa to Townsville freight rail line has also been flagged.

Mr Nicholls said Labor's $80 billion debt legacy had reached a point where the State Government had been forced to act.

"If we look at the numbers every man, woman and child is carrying almost $15,000 on a Queensland state credit card compared to the average of about $8400 for those in living in other states," he said.

"That debt is a dark shadow over Queensland.

"This is all about addressing the burden of debt. We have done what we can in a budget sense to ensure expenses have been brought under control.

"There is a limit we can reach in terms of the operating statement and we believe we have reached that limit."

Mr Nicholls said a further study will be undertaken to look at the possible creation of a new electricity business incorporating Ergon Energy aligning it with a generator company to create further competition into the marketplace.

"We want to see if we can create a third competitive force in Queensland to provide electricity into rural and regional Queensland at a competitive rate," he said.

"What we know is people living in rural and regional Queensland have been coming to us and saying give us some alternatives to just Ergon, give us a competitive market player.

"We believe this will go some way to opening that market up and providing competition."

Mr Nicholls said the sheer size of the debt was now a massive constraint on the state's ability to move forward.

"It is stopping for us investing in the economic infrastructure we need to grow in the future," he said.

"The issue we have is we have reached the reasonable level of debt we can incur.

"We have reached as far as the rubber band can stretch in relation to our borrowing capacity; there is no more credit available without some very substantial consequences.

"If we do not address the debt issue it will result in one of two things, either less services or higher taxes."

Mr Nicholls said undertaking scoping studies was in no way a decision to sell assets, but a decision needed to be made quickly as the debt level had reached a critical level.

"We remain committed to seeking a mandate from the people of Queensland should we decide to go down that path," he said.

"No decision has been made and any commentary to the contrary is simply wrong and ill-informed."

Mr Nicholls said there had been no discussion about going to an election before the government's three-year term expires, but said an election win would equate to a mandate.

"Winning an election is winning an election," he said.

"If you go to the people and say here is my policy and this is what you are asked to vote on and they give you a majority of seats in the House, that is a mandate, winning the election is what it is all about."

Former Labor premier Anna Bligh was booted from office at the 2012 state election on the back of her decision to divest five assets shortly after winning the 2009 state election.

At the time the LNP State Opposition was against the idea of selling public assets in a bid to reduce the state's debt levels and said it would never privatise unless mandated by an election win.

Mr Nicholls said five scoping studies were already underway and were due to be finalised before February next year, but would not speculate on how much money the State Government expected to raise.