After two days of bad press, talkback anger and talk of further action, the Queensland government has backed down and agreed to reinstate the entire senior and pensioner concession rate.
Premier Campbell Newman took to parliament as soon as the Thursday session began to call the Stafford by-election for July 19, attack "the same old failed Labor team and the minor parties", and point to the "action" his "strong team" was capable of, before announcing the state would make up the federal contribution shortfall.
Seniors' groups are relieved.
Making up the concession gap will cost the state about a $54 million. Photo: Tamara Voninski
"We were very concerned that it seemed that they were going to place people who are very vulnerable in an even worse situation. So their decision to continue with the concessions is very much appreciated,'' said Mark Tucker-Evans, chief executive of Council on the Ageing in Queensland.
It is the second about-face the government has made in less than 24 hours, coming on the back of the union balloting laws repeal late on Wednesday night.
Making up the concession gap will cost the state about a $54 million, but it was seen as politically too expensive not to find the funds.
"We are a government that listens to Queenslanders," he said.
"We are responsive. We are always looking for solutions when Queenslanders tell us there is a problem.
"Passing on some of the Commonwealth's cut to pensioner concessions is clearly not an acceptable outcome for Queenslanders.
"This government made the decision to raise our pensioner and concessions by almost $26 million in this coming year's budget to help compensate.
"But pensioners and older Queenslanders have told us that they simply can not wear the cost of filling gap between Queensland's increased contribution and the Commonwealth's cuts and increased fees and taxes, like fuel excises.
"That is why today I am announcing we are not only listening to Queenslanders, but we're acting in the space of two days, to reinstate the full level of the pensioner and senior concessions.
"Queensland seniors and pensioners will not be worse off by the Commonwealth cuts."
It is a significant backdown from the government, which, only the day before, had passed a motion vowing to lobby the federal government to reinstate its funding contribution, but had insisted its hands were tied by a budget weighed down with debt.
Pensioner groups and retired unionists had formed an action group coalition, having claimed that following the federal budget's increased costs, including the fuel excise and GP co-payment, the gap between what the state would continue to pay and what the Commonwealth had cut was the last straw.
The Opposition was also gaining traction on the issue. Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk spent the morning after the budget with pensioners in Inala. She compared her morning to the LNP fundraising lunch later that day, where Treasurer Tim Nicholl's budget and $33 billion asset sale and privatisation plan was met with applause.
Mr Newman said the state's contribution would be made up by withholding and recouping funds from the federal government.
“It is the Commonwealth Government that has caused the problem with pensioner cuts and increased charges and you only have to look at the statements of other first ministers and premiers around the nation," he said.
“We will be looking for opportunities, all opportunities to withhold and recoup funding from the Commonwealth’s programs and initiatives that they ask states to contribute from time to time to make up the shortfall that they have created.
“We will continue to send a clear message to Canberra that Queenslanders won’t stand for these kinds of cuts.
“The Commonwealth should be bearing the burden.”
On Wednesday when asked about the Queensland criticism, a bemused federal treasurer Joe Hockey said it was "easy to blame Canberra when you're a premier in Queensland".
He said the state had "done better out of this budget over the next four years than even they were expecting".
Ms Palaszczuk said pensioners would not forget the Premier's "disgraceful attack'' on their household budgets.
“It shows he only cares about pensioners when he cops a few negative media stories. He doesn’t really care about how they pay their bills,'' she said.
“No-one, but pensioners especially, will forget his callous disregard for their welfare in this budget.”
The Stafford byelection was widely seen as the first big test for Queensland's latest budget and its 'Strongest and Smartest Choice' action plan.
With the state election less than a year away, the government is moving into election mode.
- with Tony Moore