With the calling of a snap Queensland election for 31 January, local candidates are out in force campaigning for your vote. This is a great opportunity to raise an issue you care about. Here are some questions you could ask next time you see a local candidate at a political forum or at your local shopping centre.
“How will you balance mining activity in a way that minimises social impact on local communities and maintains sustainability for the environment?”
While Queensland relies on the mining industry for economic sustainability, the question remains how mining development can also be environmentally and socially sustainable. The Downs Presbytery in western Queensland is one group that has raised questions in response to tensions in their community around coal seam gas mining. They cite concerns about safety, fairness and lack of conclusive evidence about the environmental impact.
Currently 17 year olds are treated and sentenced as adults in the Queensland criminal justice system. When a young offender turns 17 they are transferred from youth detention to an adult prison to serve the remainder of their sentence. The Queensland Synod of the Uniting Church has consistently spoken against this practice, and governments have been promising action for over 20 years but with no result. The numbers of young people in detention is increasing, with an average of 191 10-17 year olds per night in Queensland. Most of these are unsentenced (139) and more than half of those are Indigenous young people.
School chaplaincy has been a controversial issue in Australia, resulting in a number of High Court challenges to the program. In response to the last High Court decision, the federal government will continue to fund school chaplains, but the implementation of the program is now the responsibility of the states*. Much of the controversy surrounding school chaplaincy has arisen from the exclusion of funding for secular welfare workers from the program.
“What will you do about the high incidence of poker machine addiction in Queensland and the social damage it causes?”
In 2013 Queenslanders spent more than $2.1 billion on poker machines—the equivalent of $464 per person. The Queensland Council of Social Services estimates that almost eight per cent of Queenslanders are at risk of developing gambling-related problems (this equates to 68 000 adults) and that 14 000 are already problem gamblers. Gambling addiction is likely to be a key factor in intergenerational deprivation in disadvantaged communities and the public health and community welfare implications of this are significant, not simply for addicted persons, but for their families, children, neighbours, employers and the community generally.
South Australia has been running a deposit scheme for bottles and cans for years, and the Northern Territory legislated for an identical program in 2012. New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory have all indicated strong support, but Queensland has so far resisted attempts to implement a scheme. Container deposit schemes not only significantly reduce litter and landfill; they provide an economic benefit to community organisations and individuals who participate in the recycling process.
“How will you support the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution?”
In 2014 the Queensland Synod resolved to support the Recognise campaign to advocate for Constitutional recognition of Indigenous people in the Australian Constitution. Making any changes to the Constitution requires a referendum in which a majority of Australians from a majority of the states need to agree to the change. Although it’s a federal issue, it’s highly unlikely a referendum will succeed without the support of state governments.
“How will you deal with the significant state debt in a way that minimises further damage to struggling Queenslanders?”
Queensland does have a significant problem with an estimated accumulated State debt of $80 billion and annual $4 billion interest bill. Queensland also has the mainland’s highest unemployment rate and the Queensland Council of Social Service estimates that 430,000 (12.5 per cent) of Queenslanders are living below the poverty line. The challenge ahead is to grow a strong economy that is also fair and just for all Queenslanders.
*This sentence used to read, “… the implementation and funding for the program is now the responsibility of the states …” but the National School Chaplaincy Programme continues to be funded by the Commonwealth government. State governments can choose whether or not to accept the funding and implement the program. H/T Office of Scott Ryan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education and Training.