Financial modelling shows Qld’s finances perilous. Where’s the come-back plan?
We commissioned modelling by Adept Economics, to fill-in the gaps left by the Treasurer’s budget review of September 7.
It projects general government debt increasing by up to 140% between June 2019 and June 2023, and total gross debt up as much as $47 billion to $118 billion in the same time period.
Lead Author Gene Tunny said the Treasurer’s statement departed from standard practice by only forecasting one-year ahead instead of containing full forward estimates.
“No doubt the government realises how bad the outlook for the budget is and it has decided it is better not to publish these estimates in the lead up to an election.
“The government claims that they couldn’t produce longer forecasts because of the current uncertainty. But you should forecast more frequently, not less, when times are uncertain. It would be helpful to know what worst case scenarios the Treasury is planning for.”
AIP Executive Director Graham Young said that it was common for governments to want to hide the real extent of financial problems, often aided and abetted by their oppositions.
“COVID, with the damage to lives and livelihoods, is the worst crisis most of us will hopefully see in our lifetimes. Recovery will be difficult, but there is also a sense of urgency which can help us to rebuild bigger and better.
“We can’t do that without absolute honesty and integrity. That’s what this report is about.”
Key findings of the report are that:
- Total Gross Debt in the Non-financial Public Sector increases from $71 billion in 2018-19 to between $113 and $118 billion (59%-66%); and General Government debt from $32 billion to $72-$77 billion (125%-140%)
- Net debt in the General Government sector is estimated to almost triple from $14.2 billion in 2019-20 to over $40 billion
- Operating deficits totalling at least $18 billion andfiscal deficits (including infrastructure spending) totalling at least $38 billion over the five years 2019-20 to 2023-24
- Annual interest payments increase by approximately $300-400 million by end of period, with potential for a further $1 billion in the long-term if interest rates the government borrows at normalise from current rates of 1-1.5% to 3-4%.
Mr Young said that the $300-400 million in interest was productive infrastructure investment foregone.
Mr Tunny said it was vital that financial governance be improved.
“Austerity is not appropriate at the moment, but when the economic situation returns to normal we recommend the government adopt a number of fiscal rules which will over time reduce excess borrowings and return the budget to good health, as well as providing head room for the next crisis.”
The report suggests these rules could include:
- tying nominal expenditure growth constraint to the long-run growth in nominal GSP (as a maximum ceiling) and targeting the fiscal balance in the General Government Sector;
- adopting an efficiency or productivity factor of, say, 0.5 percentage points to this ceiling to drive continual improvement in public sector service delivery and value for money such that the effective nominal expenditure growth target is 6% per year;
- considering “no regrets” asset sales or leases, which would release funds that it could use to pay down debt in the future; and
- requiring nearly all new infrastructure investment in the General Government Sector (such as for roads and hospitals) to be funded out of recurrent revenue on average over the economic cycle.
Mr Tunny also expressed concern at the governance processes around infrastructure projects.
“Poor project selection can actually destroy state wealth, rather than growing it. In this respect it is disappointing to see Building Queensland being reabsorbed by Queensland Treasury.
“Building Queensland was a 2015 State Election commitment of the current Government’s designed to demonstrate a commitment to transparency, independence, objectivity, and rigour.”