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Estimates: Questions on the $175M loan for the Olive Downs coal mine

During Parliamentary Budget Estimates on Friday 16 July 2021, I asked the Premier whether she would use her power to veto the Federal Government's proposed loan to $9B private equity firm Denham Capital for the Olive Downs coal mine in Queensland. 

You can read the answers below or in the official Queensland Parliament Record of Proceedings (Hansard).

Mr BERKMAN: I have a question for the Premier in relation to the federal LNP’s plan to hand over $175 million in public money through the NAIF facility to the $9 billion private equity firm Denham Capital to build the Olive Downs coalmine. Premier, do you support the use of the NAIF for the Olive Downs coalmine, or will you use your legal power to veto that subsidy by the federal government.

CHAIR: With respect, this is not relevant to the appropriations in the question we have put before us. I am not sure whether the Premier—

Ms PALASZCZUK: I might have to take that on notice. Some of that is opinion. I would rather just get the facts, so I will take that on notice.

CHAIR: Premier, it is not actually the question that the committee has been charged to answer.

Ms PALASZCZUK: It is not actually part of our budget, so it should perhaps be ruled out of order.

Mr BERKMAN: I will ask a follow-up question if I may. In relation to the assertions made, the Premier’s decision-making power under the NAIF Act is in fact—

CHAIR: Hold on, member for Maiwar. You seem to be arguing the question. This is a question that might be perfectly adequate to ask in the House but it is not necessarily a question that fits within the standing orders—and I notice the deputy chair nodding—relating to the appropriations debate in estimates. With respect, do you have another question?

Mr BERKMAN: Yes, I do, Chair. I will preface it by saying that the exercise of the Premier’s power under the NAIF Act clearly uses departmental resources to carry out that function. I will go back to the follow-up question. Premier, in 2015 you described the state LNP plan to loan Adani $500 million for their railway line as gifting taxpayers’ money. How would loaning a $9 billion firm money to build their coalmine be any different?

CHAIR: Is this to do with the appropriations and the estimates expenditure in this—

Mr BERKMAN: Chair, as I explained just a moment ago, this is to do with the Premier’s exercise of her legislated powers and the exercise of a power to veto loans that are proposed under the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.

CHAIR: There are administrative powers that do not have to do with the estimates. There would be nothing wrong with the question if it was asked in the parliament per se, but it is not to do with the expenditure before the parliament. I do not know if anyone wants to correct me—

Mr TANTARI: I have a point of order, Mr Chair. Relevance.

Mr BERKMAN: Chair, the Speaker has been very clear about the latitude that is allowed in questions that are asked and answered in the context of estimates. I would suggest that this is a very flimsy line of defence you are running on behalf of the Premier.

CHAIR: Do you wish to take that back?

Mr WHITING: I think he should.

CHAIR: I do not think that is appropriate, member for Maiwar.

Mr WHITING: I would take that as a no, Mr Chair.

CHAIR: Is that a reflection on the chair?

Mr BERKMAN: I might reword it by saying that I feel the position that you have taken as chair is not consistent with rulings that the Speaker has made previously about the extent of questions that can legitimately be asked and answered in these estimates hearings.

CHAIR: Are you attempting to then move dissent from the ruling of the chair?

Mr BERKMAN: I am just asking the Premier to answer the question.

CHAIR: I know that. There is nothing wrong with the question; it is a worthwhile policy debate. However, we do have limits: within the expenditure that is in this budget. It seems to me this is clearly not. However, there might be something if the Premier attempts to connect this to the expenditure in the budget in giving an answer.

Mr BERKMAN: Chair, the Premier has indicated a willingness to take the first question on notice. I do not intend to waste any more of the committee’s time arguing on these points.

CHAIR: I have given the call to the Premier.

Ms PALASZCZUK: The issue is that it is nothing to do with the budget that is before us and before the committee. I am happy to find out where that matter is at. It might be more appropriate to ask the Treasurer. I think the correspondence would go to the Treasury not to the Office of the Premier. I am happy to clarify that for the member.

Mr BERKMAN: Thanks, Premier.

CHAIR: With respect to the member for Maiwar, this is an opportunity to ask questions about the expenditure of the budget. We announced in the beginning what we had as a limit to our discussion. An administrative decision, which is an important policy question, is not connected to the expenditure before us. I counsel you that there is a limit to how much was included.

Mr BERKMAN: These are administrative decisions made using the resources of—

CHAIR: Member for Maiwar.

Mr BERKMAN:—the Department of the Premier and Cabinet.

CHAIR: Order, member for Maiwar.

Mr BERKMAN: Those are resources that are allocated under this budget.

CHAIR: Member for Maiwar! We have called order before. The ruling of the chair does not get argued each time. This is now the third time you have engaged in this argument. I have actually given you enormous latitude to put the question to the Premier; she has answered the question twice. We will move on. We only have a few minutes left. I might put a question to the Premier.

[Later in the session]

CHAIR: The committee secretary has just reminded that me that during a part of a question you obviously did not have knowledge of correspondence that had been entered into in regards to the member for Maiwar’s question concerning the NAIF. I had sort of ruled it out of order, but I am trying to be tolerant. Is there any information that could be added, or is that best addressed to the Treasurer?

Ms PALASZCZUK: I should say for the record, in terms of the Olive Downs Mine, our government very much has been working, supportive and facilitating of the approvals through our government processes. In relation to that specific question about federal government funding, that would be best directed to Treasury.

CHAIR: Of course, it is best directed to the federal government during its estimates process?

Ms PALASZCZUK: Correct. It is not part of this budget.

Mr BERKMAN: Can I clarify, chair? The question that was asked and that I understood was taken on notice was: does the Premier support that NAIF funding, or will the Premier use the legal veto power in relation to the proposed loan?

Ms PALASZCZUK: Our government has been facilitating the processes.

CHAIR: With the enormous latitude I have given the member to express this—because you cannot frame questions that fit in with the budget—I have put that to the Premier and the answer has been given. Thank you very much.

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