Tuesday, 10 December 2013
Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013; Second Reading
Building the right infrastructure in the right location at the right time is critical to national economic development and productivity. To secure the productivity gains that drive jobs growth you have to invest in roads, ports, railway lines and airports. Most importantly, you need to ignore the electoral map. If you make the right strategic investments the resulting productivity gains benefit every Australian—not just the communities in which you have delivered the infrastructure. It is my experience that many elected representatives dealing with infrastructure struggle with the need to take a long-term, non-partisan view. Some representatives make decisions that are based on their political interests rather than the national interest. Others, like former Prime Minister John Howard, simply ignore infrastructure spending and blame the states when anyone complains about infrastructure bottlenecks. That approach, of course, helps no-one.
Labor took a very different approach when we were elected in 2007. In line with our proud heritage we focused on nation-building. I argued in the lead-up to that election that the challenge for infrastructure was to delink the infrastructure investments cycle—which was, by definition, long-term—from the electoral cycle, which is much more short term. Infrastructure Australia was specifically designed as a vehicle to do just that.
I am here today to oppose the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill because it is a blatant coalition attempt to re-establish the old link between the political process and the delivery of infrastructure. This bill gives the Minister for Infrastructure the right to interfere with Infrastructure Australia's considerations by nominating pet projects for assessment. It would also allow the minister to ignore entire classes of infrastructure investment, such as public transport.
I note that Minister Truss, in his contribution to this debate, claimed that the legislation was designed to increase Infrastructure Australia's independence. Having opposed the very creation of Infrastructure Australia, in recent times the coalition have argued that they would increase its independence and strengthen it. The fact is that this legislation does exactly the opposite. It reopens the door to pork-barrelling and the short-sighted approach of the past. It can only have two outcomes: lowering growth of economic productivity and, as a consequence, reducing growth in employment.
I, of course, have seen this approach before. Minister Truss hails from the National Party—the party of the pork-barrel; the party that has always been preoccupied with supporting funding for its own electorates rather than having a broader view of the national interest. When the coalition were last in government, they had no infrastructure policy. I was the first ever infrastructure minister to represent this nation. They simply refused to invest in anything other than regional roads—except for pet projects such as regional road programs that funded Campbell Parade at Bondi Beach in the member for Wentworth's electorate. There was no coordination of infrastructure provision. They made it up as they went along.
In fact, the Howard government's idea of regional infrastructure provision was the Regional Partnerships scheme, found by auditors to have been rorted by the government. Who could forget the $600,000 grant to keep struggling Queensland company Beaudesert Rail afloat, against the advice of corporate administrators. There was the $426,962 given under the dairy assistance program to the Indigo Cheese factory in the electorate of Indi, which, of course, did not produce any output. Indeed, the company shut down in March 2007. Three months later, the government paid the company a further $22,135 instalment on its grant because its standards of oversight were so poor that grant recipients did not have to produce anything to continue to qualify for money. No wonder the Australian National Audit Office investigation into Regional Partnerships found that it had fallen short of an acceptable standard of public administration. That is why I was very cynical about the coalition's rhetoric, and, unfortunately, that cynicism has come to fruition in the form of this bill.
Labor came to office determined to create a system whereby infrastructure needs would be independently assessed and where elected representatives could make decisions based on evidence about a project's potential to lift productivity, not on the basis of their electoral strategy. When we created Infrastructure Australia in 2008, we asked it to conduct the first ever national audit of infrastructure needs in Australia's history. We also asked it to advise on approaches to infrastructure policy. It did that at arm's length from government and that national audit provided the basis for funding.
One of its key early findings was the development of a formula for an integrated policy approach to provision of infrastructure. It identified seven priority themes which it recommended needed to be addressed as a whole, in preference to the piecemeal approach of the past. These principles were prioritised. The first of the principles was, indeed, the development of a more extensive, accessible and globally competitive National Broadband Network. Infrastructure Australia described the importance of better broadband as 'almost impossible to overstate'. The second principle was the consolidation of a national energy market. The third was competitive international gateways like ports and airports, including the creation of a national ports' strategy. The fourth was the development of a national freight network. The fifth was transforming cities with effective roads and public transport. The sixth was the provision of essential infrastructure for Indigenous communities. And the seventh was adaptable and secure water supplies.
Members opposite should take note of this list. It reminds us that infrastructure comes in many forms, many of which are interdependent. That is why you need to have an integrated approach without Infrastructure Australia being directed to look just at a specific project or to not look at other projects. Take the National Broadband Network. It is not just a communications infrastructure vehicle; it also has an impact on the way that cities function. It has an impact on transport. If people can telework from home, it reduces urban congestion. That is why you need to have this integrated plan, not the cherry-picking approach that would result if this legislation is carried.
Infrastructure Australia argued that, if you wanted to improve the functioning of our nation, you needed to cover every angle, not just building roads or clearing port bottlenecks. To get maximum productivity growth, you need to adopt a holistic approach, including the functioning of our cities and regional communities, and you need to address every element critical to the infrastructure equation. Let me quote from Infrastructure Australia's December 2008 report to the Council of Australian Governments:
In delivering this new national approach, Infrastructure Australia has not sought to predetermine any particular infrastructure outcome or solution. Rather, it has created a broad framework that was used for assessing any investment or actions.
This advice sums up the point that I am making—that adequate infrastructure provision requires a flexible approach that does not pick favourite modes of infrastructure but simply uses objective evidence to choose the best outcomes.
Labor did not give itself the ability to interfere in Infrastructure Australia. It also did not give itself the power to even direct Infrastructure Australia about what projects it could or could not consider. We asked only for evidence so that we could make evidence based decisions. As at the 2013 election, the former Labor government had allocated funding for all of the 15 Infrastructure Australia priority projects—every single one. In the same Infrastructure Australia report to COAG that I mentioned a moment ago, its chairman, Sir Rod Eddington, wrote that his organisation's formation represented a new level of leadership on infrastructure:
It introduces a bold new approach to identifying, planning, funding and implementing infrastructure of national significance across Australia. It also introduces rigorous and robust economic analysis of infrastructure investments prior to government decision-making.
And yet Sir Rod Eddington was not even consulted about this legislation before it was introduced into the parliament. That is a fact.
This brings me to the proposed changes in the bill. Under the bill before us, Minister Truss wants to give himself very specific powers: to set time frames and the scope of audits and evaluations; to direct which matters can and cannot be considered; to order Infrastructure Australia to evaluate particular projects nominated by him; to confer tax loss concessions upon projects without reference to Infrastructure Australia; to sack members of the council of Infrastructure Australia for the ill-defined crime of misbehaviour; and to rethink the representation of state and territory governments that are currently represented on the Infrastructure Australia Council.
All of these changes are retrograde steps. Governments which give themselves poorly defined rights to sack people are in fact giving themselves the power to dispose of advisers whose advice does not suit their political line. I am deeply concerned about the bill's provision allowing the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development to order Infrastructure Australia not to consider classes of infrastructure when it assesses the relative merits of infrastructure projects.
This provision goes to the very heart of the design of Infrastructure Australia. It will dismantle IA's ability to give governments advice on the full range of infrastructure investment which is required to drive productivity gains and create jobs for future generations. I fear the motivation for this move is rooted in the coalition's inexplicable and, frankly, irresponsible refusal to invest any Commonwealth funds in urban passenger rail. Our cities are congested. The Australasian Railway Association estimates that traffic congestion is costing our nation $15 billion a year and says the costs will increase unless governments take real action now to unclog our cities. An essential element of the solution to congestion is greater use of public transport. That is why in government Labor allocated money for a range of projects recommended by Infrastructure Australia, including Brisbane's Cross River Rail project and the Melbourne Metro. In this year's budget, $715 million was allocated for the Cross River Rail project and $3 billion for the Melbourne Metro.
Our view is that the Commonwealth needs to help states invest in urban public transport and that this investment will ease congestion and lift urban productivity. We consulted with both the Queensland and the Victorian governments on those assessments. They were found by Infrastructure Australia to be nationally significant projects. Indeed, funding for planning money for both of those projects was previously allocated, the planning was done, the projects stacked up, and yet the coalition have a view that the Commonwealth should just fund urban and regional roads and that there should be no funding for urban public transport.
The problem there is the definition of 'nationally significant' projects, which is why the assistant minister could not answer the question that he was asked today in parliament. The fact is that, during the term of the former Howard government, as he would be aware, the coalition government shied away from funding urban roads as well as urban rail. The Howard government funded a total of $300 million in Sydney infrastructure over 12 years. It completely vacated the field. The problem with the approach of the Prime Minister, who says, 'The Commonwealth should stick to its knitting and invest in roads,' is that it ignores the fact that, historically, the National Party, while they have held the transport portfolios, have also not invested in urban roads, either. They have not invested in our cities. And, as the most urbanised country on the planet, the fact is that there is a direct link between investing in our cities and growth in our regions. We need to do both and we need to have a national approach to it—something that those opposite do not seem to understand. Labor in fact doubled the roads budget, compared with the Howard government's record.
The current government's roads-only policy is an affront to everything we know about effective provision of infrastructure. As I mentioned earlier, when outlining Infrastructure Australia's seven themes, you cannot drive productivity without taking an integrated approach and you cannot take an integrated approach unless you have Commonwealth leadership. A piecemeal approach, with projects as determined by the minister, without looking at alternative options, which this bill will allow, will reintroduce the very problem that Infrastructure Australia was created to overcome. This bill is proof that the coalition simply does not understand nation building.
It will take us back to the bad old days when infrastructure provision was not an integrated process but a recipe for pork-barrelling. When it comes to policy, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If you are already making a good pudding it makes no sense to change the ingredients.
Thanks to the recommendations of Infrastructure Australia, here are some of the projects that the previous Labor government delivered: the Hunter Expressway, which will be opened in coming months; major upgrading of the Pacific Highway, worth $7.9 billion, through works including the Bulahdelah Bypass, the Kempsey Bypass and the Ballina Bypass, all opened by Labor; and the Bruce Highway, with funding of $5.7 billion, including work on what the now transport minister describes as the worst road in Australia, the Cooroy to Curra section of the Bruce Highway. Minister Truss would know that because it is in his electorate. He just did not fix it during the 12 years in which he was part of the government. It took a Labor government to deliver this project. We delivered Victoria's Regional Rail Link, again, something that the now Prime Minister seemed to be totally ignorant of, when he said in his interview where he declared that no funding for public transport would be forthcoming from a government he led: 'We don't do public transport projects; we don't do them.' There he was sitting in a studio in Melbourne, the site of the largest ever Commonwealth investment in an urban public transport project, the Regional Rail Link, a project in which today there are 3½ thousand Victorians in work, and which will benefit Melbourne, Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat but, most importantly, the national economy by improving productivity.
South Australia's Noarlunga to Seaford Rail Extension project has been opened. The Gold Coast Rapid Transit project is significantly increasing the productivity of the Gold Coast. Infrastructure Australia operated in conjunction with the Major Cities Unit, and that has already been abolished by the new government as one of their first acts coming in—'No, we don't want to be involved in cities.' It recommended projects like the Perth Citylink project. The new member for Perth, the former member for Perth and I went to the opening just prior to the election. It is an exciting project that has transformed Perth as a major international city by uniting the city's CBD with the Northbridge precinct. It is an exciting project boosting productivity, boosting sustainability and boosting livability in Perth. Brisbane's Moreton Bay rail line was first promised in the Queensland parliament in 1895; delivered, though, by the former Labor government and set to be opened next year. Both projects are exciting projects and important projects.
In line with the principles for effective delivery of infrastructure, IA also produced major reports for COAG which led to important microeconomic reform, a national port strategy adopted for the first time, a national land freight strategy and a strategy to improve delivery of infrastructure to Indigenous communities. An integrated approach to infrastructure delivery also requires consultation with industry—a hallmark of Infrastructure Australia's approach and something that industry welcomed. This was acknowledged by Ports Australia chief, David Anderson, in 2011 when he said the government was to be complimented for making a serious endeavour to develop a nationally based approach to port planning and regulation. Mr Anderson said:
The National Ports Strategy is based on the simple but effective premise that our ports will develop long term plans that will be out there for all stakeholders to view and own and that this approach will drive processes to ensure that port land and its associated freight precincts and road and rail corridors are appropriately developed and protected.
Governments that close their ears to impartial expert advice are letting down the nation. Infrastructure Australia also played a role in advising about the national transport regulators. That microeconomic reform will benefit the national economy by $30 billion over 20 years, and yet, under the approach envisaged in this legislation before the House, that will end.
Let me come to transparency. I note that the minister has said that this bill is about greater transparency, but it makes the minister the gatekeeper for publication of information via his powers to direct IA's activities. Under existing arrangements, IA routinely published the outcomes of its considerations, providing important information to inform the public debate and sending clear signals to the investment community. If the coalition had paid any attention at all they would know that rhetoric such as 'We'll produce an annual report to the parliament' already happens. There is already an annual report to the parliament and to the Council of Australian Governments. It is published on its website. Because we do not direct Infrastructure Australia on what they can look at, there are recommendations that, frankly, I do not support as the former minister. There is a recommendation, for example, about putting a toll on the Pacific Highway. I do not support that. I do not think that is viable. But it is appropriate that where you have an independent, at arm's-length body making recommendations, from time to time there will be disagreements and governments will take different positions. That is what the Infrastructure Australia process is all about: challenging governments at the national level and at the state level to lift their game and to do better when it comes to infrastructure provision and delivery.
The changes proposed in this bill, giving the minister the ability to block the publication of project evaluations, make a mockery of transparency. On what possible basis is that acceptable from those who, in opposition, spoke about transparency? There is a provision in this legislation to block the publication of project evaluations. That is something that simply does not exist at the moment.
The minister made clear in his contribution to this debate that he wants IA to conduct more of its own research on the economic benefit of infrastructure proposals rather than rely upon work originating from state governments. Infrastructure Australia now makes assessments of the work that state governments have done. Those opposite were talking earlier in their rhetoric across the chamber about the East-West Link in Victoria, for example. The only published BCR on the East-West Link found a benefit-cost ratio of 0.5.
That is what the Eddington study found—0.5—and yet they will not publish any of it. You get the childish statement across the chamber from the assistant minister, saying, 'So you're against it.' That is not what I said. What I said very clearly was: publish the economics of this project; let it be seen transparently—
Those opposite say, 'In the middle of the tender process.' That is the whole point. You find out if it is viable before you go to tender and before you provide funding for it. The assistant minister across the chamber has a lot to learn.
I note the minister does not propose, however, to lift Infrastructure Australia's funding at all—there is no suggestion of that—and yet they are going to replace the existing IA council with an IA board and bring it under the auspices of the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997. Bodies that exist under this act cost more to run. It places obligations on reporting and compliance that are currently done by the department. He does not actually understand that is the process. IA in terms of its financial operations operates with the department for reporting and compliance requirements. That reduces the cost. Yet Infrastructure Australia will be asked to do more with fewer resources.
On top of this, the minister in this legislation proposes sacking the entire Infrastructure Australia council and creating a new board structure to which new people will be appointed, one would assume political appointees. One would assume that that is why that is occurring. It is just like the creation of the new CEO position as opposed to the Infrastructure Australia Coordinator. One assumes it is an attempt to create a system whereby the minister will be able, in the time-honoured fashion of the coalition, to appoint political cronies.
Yes, but you appoint the board. The fact is that the only person with any political background on the Infrastructure Australia council is Mark Birrell, a former minister in the Kennett government who was appointed by the former Labor government cabinet on merit. That is why we did not have a situation whereby we engaged in the sort of interference that will occur under this system. We have seen these motives before.
As I explained earlier, the Prime Minister refuses to invest in urban passenger rail, preferring to invest exclusively in roads. But even his proposed investment in roads ignores the Infrastructure Australia process. He said that the East-West project had been through a recommendation by Infrastructure Australia. That is not the case. He said it repeatedly and it is simply not true that it was recommended and on the Infrastructure Australia priority list. The WestConnex project in Sydney also has potential but it is yet to have finalisation of its route and finalisation of any costings being done. That needs to be done before federal government money is confirmed. You need to have those processes. With regard to Adelaide's Darlington Interchange project, which was raised today, the coalition say they have got $500 million for that project. Well, where is the other $800-900 million that the project will cost coming from? With regard to the South Road upgrade, the Torrens to Torrens section has been recommended by Infrastructure Australia as the priority, an area in which preconstruction work has already commenced but will not be able to continue without federal government funding if it is withdrawn.
The fact is that this legislation is contemptuous of the evidence based approach of Infrastructure Australia. It is far more attuned to the electoral map than the national interest. If you are a nation builder, the only map you look at when thinking about infrastructure is the national map. The member for Gippsland would know full well that I as a minister dealt well with him. He was a good representative of his local community, and his claims were dealt with on their merits. If you have a look at where our road funding went, at the end of our government something like three-quarters of the funding that had been allocated had actually gone to coalition seats; three dollars in every four as the most conservative assessment that you could make. We made assessments based on the national interest. That has always been Labor's way, with the transnational railway, the Snowy Mountains Scheme, the NBN and national strategies for ports, shipping and aviation. You need to have an integrated approach, one that is blind to modes of infrastructure, one that puts efficiency first, one whose aim is productivity and jobs. The coalition has never understood this concept in the past, and this bill shows that nothing has changed. This bill is short-sighted and it will take this nation backwards. It would be more honest if they just abolished Infrastructure Australia and the whole process.
In joining this debate on the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013 I note the contribution by the people's choice for Leader of the Opposition, the member for Grayndler. He is right in what he said, on some occasions. It is a bit sad to see the member for Grayndler living in the past with almost a sense of denial that 7 September occurred. When I referred to the former minister being right, he did deal with me reasonably as the member for Gippsland when I came to him with issues relating to the Princes Highway and other infrastructure issues but he did always say no as well in relation to those issues. So it is not as though the former minister can claim any great credit for infrastructure development in Gippsland when the answer, although it was pleasantly given, was inevitably no when it came to extending the national network to include the Princes Highway east of Sale to the New South Wales border.
The former minister talked about the independent assessment process and keeping ministers out of evaluation for major infrastructure projects to avoid, as he described, rorting or inappropriate influence. But he conveniently overlooked his government's own record in its dying days in relation to the regional development association and the way it approved grants under Regional Development Australia for a sports complex on the outskirts of Melbourne, at Wyndham in the seat the former Prime Minister; for a swimming pool in Ringwood in the suburbs of Melbourne; and for the Penrith football club, again in the suburbs, this time in Sydney. There was a long list of projects approved by the former government under Regional Development Australia with no regional links whatsoever. So it is a bit rich for the former minister to come in here and make allegations and cast aspersions about a coalition government when his own government's record in relation to pork-barrelling and inappropriate use of regional funds had a long and chequered past.
The Australian people know that we have a big task to undertake here as the new government. They know that we are cleaning up the former government's mess, and they want us to get on with the job. So it is disappointing to listen to the former minister engaging in old battles dating back to the Howard era. He had to cast his mind right back—almost a decade—to find fault.
Ms MacTiernan interjecting—
My firecracker friend over here: just light the fuse and off she goes! It is almost like Groundhog Day—every time I stand up, I get the member for Perth!
The Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013 will help to meet the government's election commitment to make Infrastructure Australia a more independent, transparent expert advisory body by changing its governance structure and better clarifying its functions. The policy embodied in this bill was taken by the coalition to the election, and the coalition was rewarded with the majority vote of the Australian people. I call on those opposite to, rather than be obstructionist and oppose for the sake of opposition, recognise that on issues such as infrastructure the Australian people have clearly spoken and given us a mandate to proceed in a responsible and moderate manner.
The new Prime Minister has clearly indicated that he wants to be seen as an infrastructure Prime Minister, and one of the steps in delivering on the coalition's infrastructure promises to the Australian people is this bill before the House today. The government understands that investment in nationally significant infrastructure is central to growing Australia's productivity and to improving the living standards of Australians—not only Australians in the cities but also Australians in regional communities—now and in the future. There is a long list of projects that this government has committed itself to building in our term and beyond, if we are so fortunate at future elections as to be given the opportunity by the Australian people to govern again.
We have already made some significant commitments to a number of vital infrastructure projects right across the country, starting with $6.7 billion for the Bruce Highway in Deputy Speaker Vasta's own state. I am sure that he would be well aware of the issues confronting the Bruce Highway. In fact, last year I drove the Bruce Highway in the company of several members from the Liberal-National Party and the now Deputy Prime Minister. We took a firsthand look from Brisbane to Cairns; we drove the whole road and had a look at the issues confronting communities up there, including the productivity, social and economic concerns which go with having a highway which is not up to standard. The new coalition government has undertaken to spend $6 billion on the Bruce Highway project alone.
There is $5.6 billion to finally finish the duplication of the Pacific Highway. I know, from campaigning during the election with candidates—at that stage they were candidates; they are now the new members—for Page and Lyne, and with the continuing member for Cowper, how important the Pacific Highway is to people in communities near the highway. There is a great need to improve the links between Sydney and the South-East Queensland growth corridor. There is also: $1.5 billion to WestConnex in Sydney; $1.5 billion to the East-West Link in Melbourne; another billion dollars to continue the Gateway Motorway upgrade in Brisbane; $615 million for the Swan Valley Bypass; $686 million to the Gateway WA project; $400 million for the Midland Highway in Tasmania; and $500 million for the north-south corridor in Adelaide. On top of all that, other funding has been committed to projects such as Roads to Recovery and the regional Bridges to Renewal program. These are areas where this government is committed to investing in the critical infrastructure which will really make a difference to people's lives and also make a difference to the economic productivity of the Australian nation. We are looking to create jobs for people right throughout Australia—not just in our cities but also throughout our regional communities.
We do intend that Infrastructure Australia will play a role in assisting all levels of government to plan for the longer term investment in infrastructure which will be required into the future. I take exception to the member for Grayndler's comments at the end of his contribution in which he suggested that it sounded as though we may as well abolish Infrastructure Australia. That is not the intent of the coalition. We believe that Infrastructure Australia has done some good work, and we want to strengthen its independence through improved processes and a more traditional, board-like structure. We believe that Infrastructure Australia will go on to deliver even better results for the Australian people.
In the five years since Infrastructure Australia was created it has become evident to members on this side of the chamber—and, clearly, others may have a different view—that the current structure does not provide the degree of independence and transparency needed to give the best advice to government about the infrastructure priorities which will reverse Australia's productivity slide. I am not one of those people who ever stand in this place and suggest that the former government, in which the member for Grayndler was a senior minister, did nothing. I would never stand in this place and suggest that, because I think members come to this place with the full intention of delivering for their communities: they want to make a difference. I believe that the member for Grayndler, when he was the minister for infrastructure and minister for transport undertook some good reforms and did strive to deliver for the Australian nation. But that does not mean that a new government cannot come to office and seek to make improvements. That is what the coalition is endeavouring to do with this legislation.
This bill will establish Infrastructure Australia as a separate statutory authority under the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act. The bill will give Infrastructure Australia the capacity to be more independent and to strengthen the work it does in partnership with the Commonwealth government, other levels of government and the broader Australian community. The bill will see the Infrastructure Australia authority as led by a CEO responsible to their board rather than, as in the current structure, responsible to the minister—which we believe is again a great improvement in the independence that Infrastructure Australia now has from the government.
There are things about infrastructure on which we agree with the opposition. We agree that there needs to be a more integrated and broader approach—a more holistic approach—to making sure that all the infrastructure fits together better, and I think that the member for Grayndler made that point well. The new government recognises that Australia needs improved long-term planning for infrastructure investment which is based on robust, evidentiary assessments of our future needs. To achieve this goal the government has tasked Infrastructure Australia with: undertaking new, five-yearly, evidence based audits of our infrastructure asset base; developing top-down priority lists at national and state levels; developing a 15-year infrastructure plan; evaluating both economic and social infrastructure proposals; and publishing the justification for prioritisation, including cost-benefit analysis.
I cannot go past the point made in the chamber by the Minister for Communications, who noted the failure of the previous government to undertake a proper cost-benefit analysis of the National Broadband Network. This coalition government, which does aim to invest heavily in the future infrastructure that Australia will require, is determined to deliver value for money to Australian taxpayers. We will be regularly publishing cost-benefit analyses, as the former Labor government failed to do.
From my perspective, in the seat of Gippsland you will not be surprised to hear there is a long list of infrastructure requirements that I will be aspiring to deliver over the course of this parliament and beyond. Every member comes to this place seeking to make a difference in their community and secure a fair share of government funding for critical infrastructure and new services. I will be working with the new minister, the assistant minister and other senior colleagues on a range of projects I will be hoping to fund in partnership with state and local governments.
These projects will be like the East Bairnsdale Enabling Infrastructure Improvement Project, to which the coalition committed $1 million during the election campaign. This is a very good flood mitigation project that seeks to resolve a complex drainage problem that exists in Bairnsdale's industrial precinct. For those not familiar with the Bairnsdale area, the project we are talking about is at the rear of Patties Foods, which bought Four'N Twenty pies. It is a business we are very proud of in Gippsland. It started out 45 years ago when the Rijs family, an immigrant family, came to Australia and started their own cake shop. Now, 45 years later, they are responsible for a business that turns over $250 million per year. That is an extraordinary success story.
We have a plan to work in partnership on the first stage of that project. The new federal government is putting in $1 million, the state government is making a major contribution and Patties Foods is also contributing to the project. This will assist future residential and industrial growth in the Bairnsdale area, but it will also benefit the Gippsland Lakes by reducing the nutrient run-off into our Ramsar listed wetlands, which are so important for the tourism industry in the greater Gippsland region.
In addition to that, during the election campaign the coalition, through Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, announced that we would partner with the Victorian state government on an $11 million safety upgrade on the Princes Highway East. This work will allow for the construction of three new overtaking lanes between Nowa Nowa and Orbost. These overtaking lanes will provide more opportunities for safer transport in our region. I mentioned previously that the Princes Highway, east of Sale, currently does not qualify for federal funding. It is one of those issues I have been working on with the former minister and with the current minister. In that the Princes Highway is recognised as a road on a national network, until Sale, it has been the beneficiary of $140 million of federal funding over the past five years and $35 million of state funding. But the highway from Sale all the way virtually to Sydney does not receive federal funding. I think this is a problem and I will be working with the new member for Eden-Monaro and other members who are interested in the road to try to improve safety. This may be through off-network projects in partnership with the Commonwealth, or seeing whether we can get the status of the road changed. It is an issue for us. The road has a high accident rate. Tragically, many fatalities occur on that stretch of road and there are also many accidents, where people are seriously injured. I will be working with the new minister, with the new member for Eden-Monaro and with the New South Wales and Victorian state ministers on efforts to upgrade the Princes Highway, not just to Sale but right through my electorate and all the way up the south-east coast of Australia, through the seat of Eden-Monaro.
I would like to mention one other infrastructure project that I am very keen to see progressed in this term of government. The Victorian coalition government is carrying out the first stage of the Macalister Irrigation District 2030 plan. This plan has been around for a long time. It is basically an attempt to modernise irrigation infrastructure that has been allowed, through decades, to deteriorate to the extent that it does not meet modern needs. These planned upgrades include channel automation projects, outlet rationalisation and construction of a balancing storage that will support the return of more than 12,000 megalitres of water a year to productive use.
For members who do not live in rural seats, talking about irrigation upgrades and 12,000 megalitres might not sound particularly important. But 12,000 megalitres per year means more wealth created in regional communities. It means greater productive capacity for the Macalister Irrigation District. It means that milk production can be boosted by in the order of 24 million litres per year. So it is a critical infrastructure project and one that the previous federal government failed to invest in in any way, shape or form. The previous state Labor government failed to invest in it. So I am very proud to see that the Victorian coalition government is going to start this project with $16 million over the first three years. It will be a challenge in the future for any Commonwealth government, whether it be a Labor or coalition government, to work with my community to invest in critical infrastructure like the Macalister Irrigation District 2030 plan.
I thank the House.
The rationale for the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013 as outlined by the minister in his second reading speech is a fig leaf—a complete fiction. It is a fiction because, while pretending to strengthen the independence of Infrastructure Australia, the minister, through this bill, is in fact making Infrastructure Australia less independent. We know this because the bill repeals section 6(3) of the existing act to remove the provision that says:
Directions given by the Minister … must be of a general nature only.
In its place, the bill before the House sets out a whole host of ways that the minister can direct the work of Infrastructure Australia and intervene in the arm's length process that was fundamental to Labor's approach.
There can be no doubt that the establishment of Infrastructure Australia has been a resounding success. In the relatively short space of time it has been up and running Infrastructure Australia has successfully entrenched the idea of a more strategic approach to infrastructure investment in Australia. In fact, the model has been so successful it has been mimicked by state governments around the country. Infrastructure Australia has shown that the allocation of scarce government funding should be directed to projects in order of national and economic importance.
I want to pay tribute to the member for Grayndler in his role as the minister for infrastructure. He has a fine legacy. Indeed, a part of that legacy is the fact that he was the first infrastructure minister in any Commonwealth parliament, and the establishment of Infrastructure Australia is one of his great achievements and a great gift to the nation. While the idea of Infrastructure Australia is not new, it took a Labor government to properly resource and implement this all-encompassing and apolitical approach to infrastructure planning and funding. Infrastructure Australia established the need for objectivity and long-term planning into infrastructure funding. Through the establishment of Infrastructure Australia, Labor overhauled the way our nation plans, prioritises, finances, builds and uses infrastructure. With the establishment of IA, Labor took a nation-building approach to infrastructure and ended the National Party disgrace of pork-barrelling and buck-passing on to the states. Naturally, those opposite were suspicious of IA when it was set up—at the time, the now minister did not even see the need for such an organisation to exist. It is welcome that, despite the changes entailed in the legislation before the House, IA will remain and continue its important role.
It is a fact that the minister's powers to interfere have been expanded. The coalition wants to weaken the independence of Infrastructure Australia by increasing the power of the minister to interfere in IA's evaluation processes. The minister will acquire the new power to nominate pet projects for evaluation under section 5A of the bill. The minister will have the power to exclude classes of projects from IA's consideration—for example, public transport projects, which we have been advised by the Prime Minister are not a part of the coalition's knitting bag. The minister will have a new power to prevent the publication of project evaluations and any reasons for decisions and evidence relied upon. This reverses the current position where material is ordinarily released and relied upon by industry and investors to base important decisions on.
The bill will replace the current provision preventing the minister from giving directions other than of a very general nature only and enable the minister to give new directions, acquiring specific power to give directions in specific areas, including what projects may or may not be considered by Infrastructure Australia. The minister will also be able to direct the manner in which other functions are performed. It is also a fact that the legislation before the House will mean that the decisions of IA will be less transparent, because they will require permission from the minister to publish the material that it believes to be commercial in confidence.
My understanding is that nobody in the business community or elsewhere has said that the existing board of IA has done anything other than a first class job. On that basis, it is passing strange to those of us on this side of the House that one of the first acts of the new minister is to bring legislation before the House that sacks the board, creates a new board and enables the minister to appoint, presumably, people who are friendly to those on that side of the House to the new board. That ensures that the new board will not have the same arm's length independence that Infrastructure Australia has enjoyed until this point.
It is also of concern to those on this side of the House—and this is perhaps even more extraordinary when you listen to the direct action rhetoric of the Minister for the Environment and others—that one of the first acts of the new government is to remove the provision in the IA charter that requires it to consider the impact of climate change of infrastructure policy and infrastructure projects and their capacity to reduce carbon emissions and to create more environmentally efficient infrastructure. That strikes us on this side of the House as very strange indeed and a backward step.
It is also a fact that the new body will be less resourced while given more tasks. The minister has said that the changes will be achieved without extra funding. As we can expect that staff salaries will increase over time and the corporation will cost more to run, this will reduce resources available to IA to do its functions. The government is saying that IA will have to do more of its own research—despite the fact that it already does research—on and analysis of the proposals that are brought to IA by state governments. Far from doing more, it is quite likely that IA will only have the capacity to do much, much less.
Another one of the problems with the legislation is that it stalls projects that are currently under assessment. We know that there are a number of projects currently being assessed for tax concessions under the tax concession arrangements put in place by the Labor government. These will now be held up and rendered less certain as a result of ministerial intervention—this at a time when governments, businesses and constituents of members on all sides of the House are crying out for increased action when it comes to spending on infrastructure.
Greater intervention is being dressed up as stronger governance. The government is making much of the change in governance structure via placing IA at arm's length from the department under CAC Act. But as we have already seen, this is a fig leaf to ensure that Infrastructure Australia has less independence and the arm's length that currently exists is reduced significantly.
I want to make a few observations on the importance of this legislation and infrastructure in general. Labor had a distinct approach in government to the planning and the funding of infrastructure. Labor's approach was about nation building. It understood that state governments, local governments and the federal government had to work together on the basis of the best projects to ensure that we got the best outcomes for the nation. That is because nation-building infrastructure is a responsibility shared by all layers of government. It is a responsibility that each and every member in this place has an interest in, since it touches the lives of constituents, either when they get on their bus or train to get to work or when they get in their car to travel our highways and national roads. It touches them more indirectly through increased productivity in our freight, rail, ports and social infrastructure.
Labor did not expect that the new government would embrace this approach. But we are disappointed in the new approach of the government to reduce the independence of Infrastructure Australia. Labor's last budget saw an unprecedented nation-building program, one that is building the modern, well-planned infrastructure that makes working people's lives easier, our businesses more competitive and the Australian economy more productive. Under Labor, total public and private investment in the nation's roads, railways, electricity generators and water storage facilities was 40 per cent higher in real terms than it was during the last full year of the former coalition government. We were working together with the private sector to encourage and to encourage investment in critical infrastructure. That is the benchmark to which this side will be holding the Abbott coalition government when it comes to his promise to be an 'infrastructure Prime Minister'.
In government Labor doubled the federal infrastructure spending from $141 per capita to $269 per capita, and that is a legacy that we are very proud of. We did this with the large-scale road, rail and public transport projects initiated by Infrastructure Australia and expected to generate long-term economic, social and environmental benefits worth almost three times more than what they cost to build.
Australia has an enormous infrastructure challenge ahead of it. We live in the highly competitive, globalised world of the 21st century. The quality of our infrastructure will drive productivity and will quite literally drive our capacity to continue to be a wealthy and lucky country into the future.
Since its inception Infrastructure Australia has served the Australian people well. Its arms-length approach to Australian infrastructure projects, putting economic productivity as the central criterion, has seen 55 per cent of Infrastructure Australia nation-building money going to urban rail on the basis of merit. It is on this basis that we are very concerned about some of the early decisions of the Abbott government. As I have said, they simply do not see urban rail as part of their knitting bag.
In government Labor strongly backed vital urban transport projects, including the Commonwealth's single-largest investment in urban rail, the Regional Rail Link in Melbourne. Disappointingly, since the election of the Abbott government, Commonwealth funding has been withdrawn from a number of important projects that were in the last federal budget, including Brisbane's critical Cross River Rail project, a tunnel under the Brisbane River that will deliver capacity for 17,000 additional passengers during peak times—needed because the existing rail bridge over the Brisbane River is about to run out of capacity. If Brisbane is to grow, Deputy Speaker Vasta—and I know this is a matter of direct concern to you—this is a critical piece of national infrastructure.
I also point to the Melbourne Metro, which Infrastructure Australia has reported could increase—
Mr Deputy Speaker, I would yield but they never ask the right question. On that basis I will continue. The Melbourne Metro project, which Infrastructure Australia has reported could increase passenger capacity on Melbourne's urban rail network by 30 per cent, has had its funding withdrawn.
Then there is the Perth Airport link. I see the member for Perth in the chamber at the moment. I have seen her speak quite passionately about this issue. She is a passionate advocate for infrastructure in her electorate and has a long history in urban rail and transport in her former role in the Western Australian state parliament. Then we look to the upgrade of Adelaide's Tonsley Park rail line, another project the government has withdrawn funding from. Prime Minister Abbott is on the record as having said:
We have no history of funding urban rail and I think it's important that we stick to our knitting, and the Commonwealth's knitting when it comes to funding infrastructure is roads.
We on this side of the House disagree with that. We on this side of the House understand that urban public transport infrastructure has to be integrated, and when you put more cars on roads that has a flow-on effect on congestion. We understand that we need an integrated plan for our urban public transport and that the Commonwealth has to work with state and local governments to ensure that our cities are fit-for-purpose when it comes to meeting the infrastructure challenges now and into the future.
We have seen some disappointing starts with the Abbott government when it comes to infrastructure planning and infrastructure funding. It is on this basis that Labor will be opposing the proposition before the House. We think it is a fig leaf; it is unnecessary and it reduces the independence of IA. (Time expired)
Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. I welcome seeing you in the chair and I congratulate you on your role. The Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013 will implement the government's 2013 election commitment to strengthen the role of Infrastructure Australia as an independent, transparent and expert advisory body. The bill will re-establish Infrastructure Australia as a separate entity under the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997 and will provide for an independent governing entity that is both legally and financially separate from the Commonwealth. The bill will more clearly define the functions of Infrastructure Australia. It will enable Infrastructure Australia to demonstrate transparency and rigour in its prioritisation of projects, and in its advice on policy reforms, while facilitating a level of independence from governments.
The government understands that investment is of national importance, with particular significance in infrastructure, and is central to growing Australia's productivity and improving the living standards of Australians now and into the future. That is why as a government we have committed ourselves to building the infrastructure of the 21st century. We have already made significant commitments to a number of vital infrastructure projects across the country, including $6.6 billion to the Bruce Highway, $5.6 billion to finally finish the duplication of the Pacific Highway, $1.5 billion to WestConnex in Sydney, $1.5 billion to East-West Link in Melbourne, $1 billion to continue the Gateway Motorway upgrade in Brisbane, $615 million to the Swan Valley bypass, $686 million for the Gateway WA project, $400 million to the Midland Highway in Tasmania and $500 million to the north-south corridor in Adelaide.
But it is clear that the task does not end there, and we intend Infrastructure Australia to play a very important role in assisting government at all levels to plan for longer-term investment in infrastructure that will be required well into the future. In the five years since Infrastructure Australia was created it has become evident that the current structure of Infrastructure Australia does not provide the degree of independence and transparency needed to give the best advice to government about the infrastructure priorities that will reverse Australia's productivity slide.
As I was preparing for this speech I noted an article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Adele Ferguson on 12 March 2013. In the article she said:
It is a sad indictment on a government that returned to power in 2007 promising to rebuild the nation and lift productivity using infrastructure as the centrepiece.
To this end it gave the country its first infrastructure minister and set up an independent advisory body, Infrastructure Australia (IA). IA was designed to eliminate pork barrelling by creating a priority list of infrastructure projects based on a cost-benefit analysis and advising on major policy reforms - including how to make public private partnerships (PPPs) work and rational tolling.
Fast forward to today—
That is 12 March—
and outside of the NBN - which has its own set of controversies - the government's grand plan for infrastructure is in tatters and sound policy and decision-making have been hijacked by real politics.
A previous speaker spoke of pork barrelling. Well, if there were ever any examples of pork barrelling, they were while those opposite were in government. They stripped money in the first instance. It says in the article that '$3.6 billion was outlaid in the last federal budget'—and here we are talking about the budget before 12 March—'compared with $7.69 billion in the previous year'. I remember quite well the promise 10 days out from that election that $2 billion would be committed to the Parramatta-Epping Rail Link in Sydney. Well, the rail link did not even qualify for Infrastructure Australia. And talk about pork barrelling: I think it is very rich for those on the opposite side to be talking about pork barrelling.
But it was an absolute, utter failure, and that is why this bill has to be introduced. The Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013 will strengthen Infrastructure Australia by restructuring its governance. It will clarify the scope of its responsibility and entrench its role as a key advisor to government. This bill is also very welcomed by industry, and in particular I refer to the support of the bill from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland, which is headquartered in my own electorate of Brisbane. The CCIQ is very supportive of the proposed amendments contained in the bill and believes that Infrastructure Australia ought to play a stronger role in setting infrastructure priorities nationally and in Queensland. The amendments included in the bill work to further Infrastructure Australia's role as key advisor to government on current and future infrastructure needs; mechanisms for financing investments; and policy, pricing and regulation impacts on investment. Queensland will reap the benefits of greater participation between Infrastructure Australia and state governments when setting infrastructure priorities, thus delivering better outcomes for the small and medium business community in Queensland that rely on ongoing priority investment in local infrastructure.
The bill will give Infrastructure Australia greater agency and clear mandates to advise the federal government on every social and economic infrastructure project undertaken nationally. And Queensland will reap the benefits of greater participation between Infrastructure Australia and state governments when setting infrastructure priorities, thus delivering better outcomes for small and medium businesses in Queensland that rely on ongoing priority investment in local infrastructure. More importantly, the CCIQ believes that the proposed amendments will reorientate Infrastructure Australia's role towards a focus on improving productivity through infrastructure investment—a much needed measure to encourage a reversal of diminishing productivity predictions nationally.
A key aspect of this bill is increased independence. The bill will establish Infrastructure Australia as a separate statutory authority under the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997, and for the first time Infrastructure Australia will be both a legally and a financially separate entity from the Commonwealth. The bill will also see Infrastructure Australia led by a CEO responsible to their board, rather than responsible to the minister as in the current structure—a great improvement to their level of independence from the government.
There will be increased transparency. The government recognises that Australia needs improved long-term planning for infrastructure investment that is based on robust and evidence-based assessments of future needs. To this end, we are going to be focusing on long-term planning based on robust, evidence-based findings through a greater understanding of the critical issues facing Australia's infrastructure and land transport systems. To achieve this goal, the government has tasked Infrastructure Australia with undertaking new five-yearly evidence-based audits of our infrastructure assets base; developing top-down priority lists at both a national and a state level; developing a 15-year infrastructure plan; and evaluating both economic and social infrastructure proposals and publishing the justification for prioritisation, including cost-benefit analyses—that is something new! This will be for projects worth over $100 million seeking Commonwealth funding, excluding defence projects. It will regularly publish cost-benefit analyses. That is one thing Labor repeatedly promised to do when they were in government, but they failed to deliver this in any meaningful way. Together these measures will enhance Infrastructure Australia's ability to provide the best possible advice to the government on infrastructure matters.
Prior to the most recent election, the coalition announced a number of policy reforms to better deliver infrastructure investment in the short to medium term. The reforms to Infrastructure Australia contained in this bill are part of a suite of reforms that were clearly articulated as part of the 2013 election commitments in our policy to deliver the infrastructure for the 21st century. The basis for these changes was Infrastructure Australia's current governance structure, which inhibits its independence in its advice to government. The direct line of reporting between the Infrastructure Coordinator and the minister places significant power in the position of Infrastructure Coordinator, rather than the infrastructure council. Under Labor, Infrastructure Australia has not been successful in fundamentally changing the way projects are identified as national priorities. In particular, while it has delivered priority project lists, projects are derived from state and territory government project proposals and the prioritisation is based on the extent to which the project business case is advanced, rather than the extent to which the project will contribute to improved national productivity.
The government is committed to delivering on a broad infrastructure reform agenda aimed at improving productivity and driving economic growth. These reforms will be critical to delivering this agenda. Labor's failure to properly manage infrastructure development and investment in this country led Prime Minister Abbott to promise the Australian people to be an 'infrastructure prime minister'. In particular, the coalition will build more modern infrastructure to boost productivity.
As I stated earlier, the eastern states are very big infrastructure winners from the coalition's election victory, with over $17 billion in funding committed for road projects in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and Northern Territory also received significant funding commitments. The coalition has also committed funds to significant freight rail projects and promised further measures to facilitate infrastructure project investment and delivery. The Abbott government has made strong funding commitments to road and freight rail projects. This bill delivers policy changes to facilitate investment and the delivery of major infrastructure projects. This significant pipeline of projects will be welcomed by the building and construction sectors and is likely to deliver productivity dividends in future years.
The coalition's total infrastructure package at the election was more than $20 billion. The Abbott government's agenda includes over $20 billion in new or upgraded infrastructure projects, including an investment of almost $5 billion of additional funding over the forward estimates period. Recently the state treasurers and the federal Treasurer agreed to commence work on new incentives for building Australia's economic infrastructure, for the way that will be funded and for the way we will increase the private sector's involvement. This group will reconvene early in 2014 to continue these discussions. In order to leverage greater private sector investment in infrastructure, the government has also committed to a Productivity Commission inquiry into infrastructure funding and financing arrangements; examining an infrastructure bond scheme; and considering alternative financing arrangements, in conjunction with traditional grant funding, where the Australian government can leverage greater private sector investment in infrastructure. In order to ensure rigorous planning and advice to governments on infrastructure projects, the government has committed to strengthening the role of Infrastructure Australia. The government is also continuing to deliver the Roads to Recovery and Black Spot local road programs, directly assisting councils to improve their local road networks.
A bill of this kind is long overdue to facilitate the kind of infrastructure investment and development that this country so sorely needs after years of Labor's neglect and incompetence. The bill delivers on a promise that the coalition made to the Australian people at the election, and here we are, delivering once again. I commend the bill to the House.
This legislation totally fails to deliver on the coalition's pre-election promise to 'ensure better infrastructure planning, more rigorous and transparent assessments of taxpayer-funded projects'. The Liberal government has inexplicably and disgracefully ruled out funding for urban public transport projects such as the Melbourne Metro Rail Capacity Project, Brisbane Cross City Rail, Perth light rail and airport link and the Tonsley Park rail upgrade in Adelaide. The changes before the House will allow public transport to be excluded with the stroke of the minister's pen. These changes will harm business confidence, drag down productivity benefits and reinstate a process where taxpayers' money is wasted on lesser priority projects. It facilitates closed-door deal making and tax break deals that weaken confidence in merit assessment.
Labor has a strong record on infrastructure funding. On any objective measure, the far-reaching reforms we implemented and the unprecedented capital works program we initiated did make a real and substantial difference. Australia went to second place on the international league table which ranks OECD countries by the scale of the investment they are making in their fixed capital. When we left office, our nation was investing more than any other major advanced economy with the exception of South Korea. Total annual investment in our nation's roads, ports, railways, energy generators, water supply facilities and telecommunication networks hit a record $58.5 billion in 2011-12, equivalent to four per cent of GDP—the biggest share of national income since at least 1986-87. Annual infrastructure spending by the public sector alone was greater than two per cent of GDP for the first time in a quarter of a century—that is, since the last time there was a Labor government in Canberra. But this bill returns us to the bad old days of political, rather than merits based, decision making about infrastructure, and the days of the regional rorts that marred the Howard government.
If we were serious about merit based infrastructure planning then the East West Link—the freeway through Royal Park in Melbourne—would not proceed. Concern with the lack of due diligence behind the decision to proceed with the Royal Park freeway is growing. This is because it is acknowledged in the transport industry that adding road capacity through the freeway will bring in more vehicles more quickly and actually worsen congestion on Hoddle Street, Flemington Road, the Tullamarine Freeway and other roads that are currently at capacity. Industry assessments are that the freeway will not fix congestion because, as the 2008 Eddington report identified, less than 20 per cent of all vehicles travel through from the east to the west, while 80 per cent of all vehicles exit to inner Melbourne areas to access jobs and services. They will continue to do so, despite the Royal Park freeway and, with more vehicles reaching exits more quickly, congestion will in fact be worse.
There is no strategic justification for the project. There is nothing to allay concerns relating to the 2008 Eddington report's identification of a negative cost-benefit ratio for the project, with 50 cents lost on every dollar spent. The east-west road link, on this basis, would fail the critical productivity test and would actually be negative for state product and GDP. When a poor public project is selected, the community loses twice: first, because scarce capital is misapplied, and, second, because taxes and funds raised to finance that project distort behaviour in ways which have a significant cost. Further, the use of scarce capital for the Royal Park freeway will crowd out other worthwhile projects. As The Age commentator Kenneth Davidson has accurately pointed out in relation to this project:
It will cripple the state's fiscal position for many years through massive payments to the public-private partnership consortium that will finance it.
The financial burden on the Victorian taxpayer will be so big that it will 'crowd out' the state's core responsibilities for funding schools, hospitals, rail transport and even other roads for at least a generation.
We need to remember that the Eddington report identified that, for every dollar invested in the project, Victoria will see a return of only 50 cents.
Tolls on the planned freeway would have to be three times the current cost of an average trip on CityLink for the project's investors to make a profit, according to an international study led by University College London, which analysed numerous transport mega-projects, including Australian road and rail projects. It found that, for investors to get a return on the freeway, motorists would have to be charged a minimum $10.50 to use it. The authors of the study stated
At a projected construction cost of just under three times the cost of CityLink, the tolls for the tunnel will need to be at least three times the cost of an average trip on CityLink if investors are to make a similar return.
Experience in Sydney has shown that motorists unfamiliar with paying tolls, such as those along the Eastern Freeway, will resist tolls this high and seek alternate routes.
This would be prohibitive for motorists and demonstrates just how unrealistic this project is. It is a white elephant. The study's authors predict that the probability that many motorists would baulk at such a steep toll and take other roads instead, such as Hoddle Street, will put pressure on the government to toll the Eastern Freeway.
I agree with Kenneth Davidson when he says:
The contempt shown at every step of the way for due process suggests that the financial establishment which benefits from these projects - and the politicians who serve those interests - are well aware that these breathtaking examples of sophisticated financial engineering can't stand the light of day.
This extends to the Federal Liberal government, which has promised $1.5 billion for the project despite the absence of a business case. Infrastructure Australia confirmed recently in Senate estimates that the Victorian government is yet to provide its full business case for the east-west road link despite the Commonwealth government's funding commitment. It also confirmed that the new government had not asked it for advice on the east-west link. The Victorian and federal governments want to proceed with the Royal Park freeway without any proper public scrutiny. So much for transparency! It is extraordinary that the government's key infrastructure advisor has yet to see the full business case for this project, which begs the question: is the government keeping the business case secret because the economics of the project are seriously flawed? I believe that it is.
The freeway would be delivered as a public-private partnership availability model. This means a third party would build and manage the toll road, but toll revenue risk would be borne by the state government. This means that, if the road fails to meet optimistic traffic projections, my fellow Victorians will foot the bill. In recent years, a number of high-profile PPP projects have generated large financial losses. These include $800 million on Sydney's railway AirportLink, $100 million on the Brisbane Airtrain, $1 billion on the Lane Cove tunnel, $300 million on the Sydney cross-city tunnels and an estimated $770 million on Melbourne's EastLink. How can the government legitimately withhold the business case from the public when the public bears a significant financial risk? The east-west link demonstrates a fundamental problem of transparency and accountability in public-private partnerships.
The Age reporter Josh Gordon has revealed astonishing research prepared for the Linking Melbourne Authority which shows thousands of motorists will experience more congestion, not less, with this freeway. Traffic at the top of Hoddle Street near the Eastern Freeway, already chock-a-block, will rise by up to 35 per cent during the morning peak by 2021 due to this project. Morning peak traffic on Manningham Road in Bulleen is tipped to increase by a quarter by 2021. Morning peak traffic on Earl Street, Kew, is expected to surge by up to 40 per cent once the freeway is completed. It is bizarre—billions of dollars spent to achieve more congestion.
The money for the Royal Park freeway would be better spent on improving public transport infrastructure, frequency and reliability. This money should go towards building a railway line to Doncaster along the Eastern Freeway, building a rail link to Monash University and extending the Epping rail line. The east-west link ranks behind other planned transport projects, including the Melbourne metro rail tunnel, which has been assessed by Infrastructure Australia as economically beneficial and ready to proceed. In fact, the Melbourne metro rail project received $40 million federally on the recommendation of Infrastructure Australia that it was in the highest priority category. This project has been assessed as being able to add travel capacity equivalent to 100 lanes of freeway. The expert and independent adviser rejected the Royal Park freeway on economic grounds and has recommended that $3 billion be made available to begin building the metro rail tunnel. The Victorian government and the Commonwealth government should act on this advice.
The Doncaster rail project would carry an estimated 100,000 passengers per day and take 800 cars per train off congested roads. This equates to each train removing a 3.7-kilometre lane of traffic. Doncaster rail could be built at a fraction of the cost of the tunnel. The project, carrying 100,000 passengers per day, would not only enable a 20-minute journey to the CBD but would substantially ease vehicle congestion on the Eastern Freeway, Hoddle Street and other arterials north and east of the CBD. I commend the work of the Metropolitan Transport Forum and Yarra Councillor Jackie Fristacky, who have put forward useful ideas for public transport infrastructure in Melbourne.
Apart from Doncaster and the metro rail, other needed projects which could be funded in lieu are Rowville, Mernda and airport rail lines; the Dandenong rail corridor upgrade; removal of at least 20 key level crossings; and system-wide signal upgrades to increase capacity on all rail lines. The decision to proceed with a freeway through Royal Park instead of investing in vital public transport is a critical issue for Melbourne, where rail services nowadays effectively reach only 30 per cent of Melbourne's population.
Another freeway will create more carbon pollution, increase traffic congestion, and destroy local amenity for the communities that will be affected by the tunnel's construction. Community opposition to the freeway reflects concerns around the demolition of homes, the impact on Melbourne Zoo, reduction in parkland, the cost of tolls and the increases in traffic congestion along adjacent roads. Melbourne Zoo is seeking assurances that the east-west link tunnel construction will not have an impact on the animals. The western entrance of the tunnel will be just a few hundred metres from the zoo. Concerns centre on ground vibrations and loud noises during the project's construction. University of Melbourne zoology professor Mark Elgar has said that vibrations and noise from drilling work could increase the stress levels of zoo animals. Melbourne Zoo director Kevin Tanner has said that the zoo has been in contact with zoos around the world to see how they have been affected by similar projects.
One of the greatest challenges facing the 21st century is the challenge of climate change. We cannot tackle climate change by building more roads. By all means, let us build transport infrastructure—let us be a nation of builders—but let it be public transport infrastructure. We cannot build our way out of congestion. We have been trying it for years and it does not work.
For years we have been told that one more freeway would solve Melbourne's traffic congestion problems. I used to believe that—I supported CityLink, I supported EastLink, I supported the metropolitan ring road and I supported the Craigieburn Bypass—but it never works. Many studies around the world have shown, freeways generate new traffic and new trips, so it would be better to put public money into public transport. This will do more to help traffic congestion, more to contain carbon emissions, and more to help people who do not drive cars—for example, younger people, older people and people with disabilities.
The changes the coalition is seeking today will reduce transparency and allow a return to the days when a minister can skew process towards pet projects that have less merit, over more important projects that deliver real productivity gains. I strongly support the remarks of the shadow minister in expressing his opposition, and Labor's opposition, to this legislation.
I rise to speak today on the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013. Quite contrary to the contribution from the member for Wills, which we have just heard, and unlike those opposite in the previous government, the current government is focused on trying to improve transparency and accountability in terms of how we spend scarce taxpayer dollars. The entire purpose of this bill is to seek to establish Infrastructure Australia as the advisory body to governments, investors and infrastructure owners on a wide range of issues. These include, but are not limited to, Australia's current and future infrastructure needs; the mechanisms for financing infrastructure investments; policy, pricing and regulation, and their impacts on investment; and the efficiency of the delivery, operation and use of national infrastructure networks. The bill seeks to strengthen the role of Infrastructure Australia as an independent, transparent and expert advisory body through a change in its governance structure and through better clarification of its functions.
The bill will re-establish Infrastructure Australia as a separate entity under the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997, and will provide for an independent governing entity that is both legally and financially separate from the Commonwealth. The bill will more clearly define the functions of Infrastructure Australia. A better definition of Infrastructure Australia's functions and deliverables will assist in improving infrastructure planning and prioritisation on a national basis, thereby providing a more transparent, robust, evidence based approach to allocating scarce public funds to projects with the highest yield in productivity returns. This is important because we regularly hear, in this place, discussions about productivity. The ease and capacity of people to travel to and from work, or for transport companies to move freight around our cities or across the country, is vitally important. That is one of the key productivity drivers to our economy.
Infrastructure is only useful for productivity gains once it is completed. So it is important that infrastructure is completed in a timely and cost-effective manner that is affordable to federal, state and local budgets, so that those productivity gains can be realised sooner rather than later.
The Deputy Prime Minister, in his second reading speech, outlined the actions to fast track delivery of the iconic inland rail project—a project for inland rail from Melbourne to Brisbane to create another freight route to take truck traffic off our highways and to provide rail connectivity through some of our most productive agricultural regions. This rail line will link into Sydney as well as into other key towns along the way. In my discussions with a number of logistics providers I found that they are looking forward to these nation-building infrastructure projects to improve the transport and cost efficiency of our freight networks around the country.
A high-level implementation group will be chaired by the Hon. John Anderson, former Australian minister for transport and former Deputy Prime Minister. The implementation group will report directly to the Deputy Prime Minister and its first priority will be to settle on an alignment and to reserve land for the route. The group will examine financing options and engage with the private sector and those with significant interests in and benefits from construction. As I said, I have already spoken with a number of transport and logistics groups in my electorate of Forde about the capacity to use this freight line to improve the delivery of freight both into and out of some of our major industrial areas.
The coalition will work with state governments on this particular project, but we will work with state governments on other projects. During the election campaign, we announced some $6.7 billion to commence works on upgrading the Bruce Highway in the state of Queensland and another $1 billion to continue the Gateway Motorway upgrade on the northern side of Brisbane. I know, having travelled that part of the Gateway to visit my father-in-law, that you want to pick the right time of day to use it, otherwise you will be sitting in traffic for a significant period of time. There are many other infrastructure projects around the country which are designed to help local communities benefit from this forward planning—because we are going to be a government that builds things and focuses on the infrastructure that allows us to grow and develop the productive capacity of this country.
There are some local issues in the electorate of Forde around infrastructure that I would also like to take this opportunity to touch on. There are infrastructure projects such as the M1 from Loganholme to Daisy Hill. This was first looked at under the Howard government and there was a commitment from the former Howard government of some $500 million per annum over a 10-year period to complete this piece of infrastructure. Over the last six years we did not see any funding from the previous Labor government and, due to the budget conditions that we have inherited as a government, we have not been able to allocate the funding at this point in time, but I will continue to speak with my colleagues and the Deputy Prime Minister about how we can look at starting to fund this key infrastructure project. As a result of the community being ignored by the previous Labor government, this is now a significant bottleneck during peak hours, both in the morning and in the afternoon.
We also need to plan for the future public transport needs of the residents of the western part of Forde. We already have a rail line there, the interstate rail line. During the previous term of government I invited the now Deputy Prime Minister to visit the western part of the electorate to look at how we can utilise the rail corridor that already exists and expand it to carry a passenger service that will cater for the rapidly expanding residential estates, not only within the Forde electorate but also in the neighbouring electorate of Wright—namely, the estates of Yarrabilba and Flagstone, which over the next 30 years expect to have approximately another 200,000 people living in them, with a very significant lack of public transport infrastructure to support such a large growth in population.
Infrastructure Australia does a tremendous job when it works with the government to develop Australia's infrastructure requirements. This bill is a reflection of this government's desire to continue to give official bodies the capacity to provide sound advice to government better and more efficiently, in the context of our overall objective to reduce red tape and regulation and to make sure that we use taxpayers' funds wisely. One issue that has led to this, in our view, is that the current governance structure of Infrastructure Australia inhibits its independence. We want it to be a robust, independent organisation that can provide us good, sound, quality advice so the decisions we make on how we spend taxpayers' dollars are well considered and thought through. The direct line of reporting between the Infrastructure Coordinator and the minister places significant power in the position of the Infrastructure Coordinator rather than the infrastructure council.
Infrastructure Australia has not been successful in fundamentally changing the way projects are identified as national priorities. In particular, whilst it delivers priority project lists, the projects are derived from state and territory government project proposals and the prioritisation is based on the extent to which the project business case is advanced, rather than the extent to which projects will contribute to improved national productivity.
The government are committed to delivering on a broad infrastructure reform agenda, improving productivity and driving economic growth. We believe these reforms will be critical to delivering this agenda. The government in this space will seek ensure a seamless transition to the new independent governing entity through the amendment in the bill. We will ensure that the new board, the chief executive, the staff and the relevant financial appropriations are in place to commence the new body. The current structure of Infrastructure Australia, as I said at the outset, does not provide the flexibility that is required to achieve these outcomes.
What we seek to achieve with Infrastructure Australia is a broadening of their skills, so they can undertake new five-yearly evidence based audits of our infrastructure asset base; develop those top-down priority lists at national and state levels; develop a 15-year infrastructure plan, which gives us some vision and direction for the future; evaluate both economic and social infrastructure proposals; and publish the justification for prioritisation, including a cost-benefit analysis. This will be for projects worth over $100 million seeking Commonwealth funding, excluding defence projects. Regularly publishing a cost-benefit analysis is one thing that Labor has consistently failed to do in any meaningful way across any number of projects, whether it be the NBN, pink batts—all manner of areas.
In closing, together these measures will enhance Infrastructure Australia's ability to provide the best possible advice to government on infrastructure matters. This will allow us as a government to ensure that taxpayers' dollars are spent wisely on projects that are going to aid economic growth, improve productivity and the future wealth of this country.
Listening to the debate today on the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013 and reading the second reading speech of the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development has been very interesting. You see quite a Stalinist or totalitarian use of language where you actually use words that mean the direct opposite of what you are saying. We are talking here about Infrastructure Australia, a very admirable institution, set up under the Labor government, an institution that, apparently, 'We are going to make more transparent.' How are we going to make it more transparent? By stopping any independence on that body in terms of the publication of their reports or assessments of infrastructure.
At the very heart of this notion of Infrastructure Australia was the idea that we would get a group of people—and we got very senior people from business, academia, even persons from the blue team—with political experience to sit on this body and to provide fearless and sound assessments of the various infrastructure projects that the government had to prioritise. A key part of that process was the publication of their assessments. We are now going to change that so that the minister actually controls whether or not those assessments are indeed published.
The fundamental driver of this legislation, which is the independent publication of these reports, has now been changed. So rather than getting greater transparency, a very great part of this legislation is in fact designed to subtly reduce that transparency and independence. I think it will impact on our ability to get people of the same quality whom we have had in the past on that body. That ability to be independent and to be sure that the work and effort you put into that task would, at least, be rewarded by a frank publication of your assessment has now been undermined by these changes. You cannot blame us for being somewhat cynical, when those of us who have lived through the Howard years saw that then ministers for transport were, almost invariably, wheat farmers—not that I have got anything against wheat farmers, but that should not be the only occupational qualification required to be a coalition transport minister.
Under that administration we had what was officially called 'Roads of National Importance' but of course we knew that they were not RONIs; they were RONPIs, 'Roads of National Party Importance.' I find it extraordinary that we talk about pork-barrelling under Labor, when we had, as I said, these 'Roads of National Party Importance.' They probably did not go to the lengths that their state equivalents did. For example, when a National Party transport minister came into office and found that Main Roads was just about to publish a journal listing and prioritising all the roads in the area where he lived and that the road that he wanted to go to his farm was not included, he then had all the documents shredded in secret—fortunately, some good person reserved one document, which made its way into my hands—and reissued that with a total reprioritisation which, surprise, surprise, turned the road past his farm from being a very low priority to being a very high priority! I do think members opposite should be a bit understanding of our cynicism.
Interestingly, we are now going to be engaging in infrastructure development that is related to productivity. Can I tell you about some of the difficulties I had as a state transport minister in trying to get the Howard government and the wheat farmers interested in the roads into the Pilbara? They produced a national transport plan which, as I have said in this House before, had one road west and one road north. It did not include those major centres of national production—that is, Karratha and Port Hedland. Indeed, we struggled. Time and time again, we approached them and said: 'We need money to duplicate the Dampier highway into Karratha; we need money to totally revise the road network into Port Hedland.' Notwithstanding the fact that they are probably the biggest generators of export income in this nation, those roads could not compete with the roads you need to get to the wheat farms to get funding.
As I have said before in this place, it was Martin Ferguson as the then shadow minister who made the commitment that, if Labor were elected federally in 2007, the federal government would contribute to the development of those roads. It was the right and proper thing to do. I am very pleased to say that the member for Grayndler was the one who delivered on that promise. It was not hard to get productivity on a heavy-haulage road into Port Hedland and a heavy-haulage road into Karratha.
I have noticed a theme coming from a number of members—and I have noticed that people do not listen to each other's speeches, generally. The implication is that they are justifying this bizarre decision to think strategically and holistically, but somehow or other we are not going to think about passenger rail when we are thinking holistically or strategically about the city. They seem to be implying: 'That's because we're talking about productivity.' As I have said here before, you cannot talk about productivity in Australia without talking about productivity in our cities. Eighty per cent of our GDP is developed and produced in our cities. The ability for those cities to deliver that productivity is underpinned by the need for mobility. It is a great tragedy that time and time again we see the Liberal Party surrender the Transport portfolio to the National Party, where the focus is very much on freight roads and rural roads to the exclusion of the city, but there is no desire or belief that there should in fact be an urban policy. Eighty per cent of Australians live in large cities of more than 100,000. In Western Australia—
Absolutely not. She can try by way of interjection, but—
Ms Henderson interjecting—
Do not worry. Next time around, I will be asking you every five minutes. Next time you get up to speak, you will be getting a little bit of your own medicine. I am quite happy for you to interject but not trying to—
No, I will not, but I certainly will reciprocate the favour. This is not something that I have invented. The government have said time and time again that they are not interested and they are not prepared to develop an urban policy, because that is something that they leave to the state governments. I do not quite understand how we are going to have all of this holistic and strategic thinking that we have been talking about if we are going to put our blinkers on and not talk about urban policy.
The member for Wills was previously talking about the Doncaster rail project. That is an absolutely magnificent project. It is a real tragedy that it is not one of the highest priorities for Victoria. I have had the pleasure of being invited by the Public Transport Users Association in Melbourne and working with Jackie Fristacky and others in the city of Yarra, using classic examples from Western Australia as to how you can deliver a railway line down the centre of a freeway, achieve great productivity for your community and get tremendous results. It is a very good way of ensuring that you can deliver a modern public transport network in built-up areas. This is precisely what we need in Perth. We need further investment in rail. We particularly need a rail link to the airport. We have one of the highest rates of movements in and out of our airport because of our fly-in fly-out activity. Unless we have further investment in public transport, we are simply not going to be able to keep that great productivity growth that is happening in Perth.
I want to use this opportunity to raise a major infrastructure project that has been sabotaged by the state government in Western Australia. It would have been funded by Infrastructure Australia had it not been for the sheer wickedness of Premier Colin Barnett. That project is the Pilbara integrated power solution. We have a situation in the Pilbara where we are struggling to provide the power infrastructure to fuel our industry. Even the most conservative entities such as the Department of Planning talk about how the Pilbara economy cannot expand without additional power generation being installed. We have Regional Development Australia saying that an immediate additional source of at least 100 megawatts is needed to meet short-term demand. Medium-term demand must be in the order of 350 megawatts with at least a million dollars worth of investment. The Chamber of Minerals and Energy is telling us that we need $4 billion worth of investment. But what we have continued to allow in the Pilbara is a group of independent warlords setting up their own little power stations, with no linkage of the network. As a result we have high-cost and substandard provision of infrastructure that is simply not going to cope with the future.
We had a report by SKM just last year that tells us that if we made that investment—if we were prepared to put in what in 2008 would have been $1.1 billion—we would actually get a saving over the next 20 years of $3.8 billion by building that integrated grid. So great are the power savings that we would get by putting all of those different power stations on the grid and allowing large-scale renewables to hang off them that the total benefit would be $3.8 billion, plus we would have a system of immensely greater resilience, much more resistant to the problems that are created by cyclonic behaviour and increasing cyclonic activity in that area.
But unfortunately the No. 1 submission to Infrastructure Australia in mid-2008 was withdrawn. The first thing the Premier did when he became Premier in 2008 was to withdraw that project because he wanted Oakajee—which of course has gone absolutely nowhere. He wanted to withdraw this. He wanted to manipulate the federal government into a position where they had to fund Oakajee. It is an absolute disgrace, and we have seen it. I want to work over the next three years to make sure that this project— (Time expired)
Can I say from the start that as a representative of Northern New South Wales, the regional community of Page, I welcome the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013 as being long overdue. Nation building and developing Australia's infrastructure for this century, with an eye on the next, must be at the heart of any good government. It is important for the nation and for regional areas like mine. This amendment bill will strengthen Infrastructure Australia by re-establishing it as an independent, transparent and expert advisory body.
As a regional representative, I can personally testify that nationally significant infrastructure projects are crucial to growing Australia's productivity and improving living standards. I gave my maiden speech to this House almost three weeks ago. Since then, underpinning everything I say in all my speeches has been the theme of the need to build nation-changing infrastructure as a way of creating jobs—jobs not just in the construction phase of a particular piece of infrastructure but also from the economic flow-on effect.
The Pacific Highway is a crucial part of our nation's economic artery which connects the major cities on Australia's eastern seaboard from Brisbane to the north, via the Bruce Highway, and from Brisbane south to Sydney, to Canberra and to Melbourne, via the Princes Highway. While this federal coalition government has rightly committed to funding the final significant section of the Pacific Highway between Ballina and Woolgoolga to the tune of $5.6 billion, it was done despite Infrastructure Australia, not because of it.
In the five years since Infrastructure Australia was created, it has become apparent that the current structure of the organisation does not provide the necessary degree of independence and transparency needed to give the best advice to the national government about the infrastructure priorities that will reverse Australia's slide in productivity. However, this amendment bill will strengthen Infrastructure Australia in its governance, clarifying the scope of its responsibilities and entrenching its role as a key adviser to government.
One of the problems of the existing structure is Infrastructure Australia's inability to correctly and independently identify projects as national priorities. For example, while it compiles priority project lists, these projects are based on state and territory government projects, and the prioritisation is based on the extent to which these project business cases are advanced, which in some cases is irrelevant.
While I have great respect for our state governments and for our federated system of government, the needs and wishes of a particular state are not the same as those of the nation. This House is charged with looking at the broader, bigger picture: the national picture. It is only the national government, not state governments, which can advance national priorities. And it is only by taking this larger national view that we can improve the nation's productivity.
It is my sincere hope that by ensuring Infrastructure Australia's independence we can avoid the political squabbling which until the last election threatened to delay the completion of the duplication of the Pacific Highway. Although the duplication of the highway was named as nationally significant, it was dogged with delays when the previous Labor government wanted to argue about the funding split with the state. These arguments became highly political. The previous federal Labor government—and I credit it—lifted funding on the Pacific Highway from a fifty-fifty funding split to 80-20. This, though, coincided with when we had a state Labor government. When the state Labor government was defeated, the federal government in its wisdom decided that it should lower its spending commitment to the Pacific Highway. What rationale was that based on except the fact that the state government had changed from a Labor government to a coalition government? That type of rationale and that type of decision making is absurd, and it is not what the Australian people deserve.
The families in my electorate were angered when the previous federal Labor government made such a political statement with infrastructure that was of such national importance. They did not care who funded the highway or who promised what; they just wanted it fixed. This double standard by the previous federal Labor government was not good enough.
Businesses are the same. They need certainty. They need to know that a project will be completed by a certain date. They cannot create sustainable jobs without planning certainty.
Thankfully, we as the new government recommitted to funding that necessary infrastructure at 80 per cent federally, and I am a proud member of the government that has committed to that.
On a different tangent, to show the inconsistencies of the previous Labor government with areas of infrastructure of national importance, we also saw this type of politicisation within the RDA funding which members of the previous Labor government go on so much about. Regional funding was meant to be as it was: for regions. The previous Labor government decided that the Perth Airport qualified as regional spending.
There are members in the House shaking their heads in disbelief that they did. When questioned on how the Perth Airport qualified under regional spending—wait for it— they said that people from the regions fly into the Perth Airport. That was their rationale for their spending on that.
It is not just the headline-capturing multibillion dollar infrastructure projects that this country needs. It is also the small but no less important projects that must be put on the national agenda and understood for the economic value they create. As part of the policy this government took to the election on delivering the infrastructure for the 21st century, we also promised to invest $300 million to upgrade wooden bridges in our rural communities. Within the electorate of Page, this is badly needed infrastructure. Both the Clarence Valley and the Kyogle council areas have hundreds of these wooden bridges. This upgrade is essential to their financial survival. We are not talking here about giving the Sydney Harbour Bridge another coat of paint. We are talking about the 800-odd wooden bridges on the New South Wales north coast. There are 30,000 nationally that are in dangerous disrepair. Many of these bridges are literally falling apart and pose risks to motorists, school buses and every truck and vehicle that crosses them. All of these 30,000 wooden bridges across regional Australia are a vital link connecting our towns and rural communities to the city. They are unsafe and sometimes impassable for standard trucks, let alone B-doubles.
Earlier this year, Graham Kennett, who heads the infrastructure division of Kyogle council, which is in my electorate, called the area's deteriorating bridges a 'massive, massive problem' and a threat to their financial viability. He was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald saying it was the 'only extreme risk' the council faced. Indeed, Kyogle has seen some serious near misses. The Mills Road bridge has collapsed three times since 2004, most recently last year when the bridge failed under a loaded gravel truck. In 2008, a council water tanker transporting water to nearby homes fell through the Simes Road bridge. Luckily it was not a school bus. But a 12-tonne school bus still plies its way every school day over Grieves Crossing—one of 13 bridges in serious disrepair along Gradys Creek Road in the Kyogle Shire local government area. Grieves Crossing is rated over four on the New South Wales government's one-to-five condition scale. A rating of level five is deemed 'critical, beyond repair'. Who knows how many school buses cross similar bridges every day across the country and how many businesses and farmers have difficulty getting their products into town? What better way to raise the nation's productivity than by fully utilising the labour and natural resources we already have in abundance?
Of course, the new Infrastructure Australia will not instruct parliament what to do. But as a legally and financially separate entity it will be in the position to provide the government and the community with frank, open and honest advice. To help achieve this, the amendment allows for the appointment of a chief executive officer who is responsible to the board, rather than the current arrangement, which sees them as responsible to the minister. We saw far too many examples of where that type of governance structure was abused by the previous Labor government. With this greater level of independence comes greater transparency. What we need—and this bill will deliver it—is more robust and evidence based assessments of Australia's future needs. We need a greater understanding of the critical issues facing the nation's infrastructure and land transport system.
This amendment tasks Infrastructure Australia with four things, and it is worth going into some detail on those four issues. Firstly, it must undertake a five-yearly evidence based audit of our infrastructure assets base. That is common sense. This audit will be robust and proactive. An evidence based audit will allow the private sector to better plan its involvement in particular projects and use its knowledge to suggest innovative funding and financing initiatives. It would also allow the public sector to ensure funding capacity and project management skills are allocated to support planned projects.
Secondly, it will develop a top-down priority list at a national and state level. I have already mentioned that it is a national body that is in the best position to look at what infrastructure is needed for the national good, not the good of the states.
Thirdly, it will develop a 15-year infrastructure plan. This allows the nation's good to be put outside the three-year political cycle. It means, as a nation, we can start to develop a long-term vision for where we want to be and what infrastructure we need to get there. There are substantial benefits to delivering a clearly articulated pipeline of national infrastructure projects. It will provide the community with a higher degree of transparency about what, where and when projects will come on to the market so that we can encourage much more private sector investment in these projects.
Finally—and what a great example this is—it will evaluate infrastructure, both socially and economically, and publish the results, including a cost-benefit analysis if a project is worth more than $100 million. We are now all well aware of an example of the previous Labor government. We are made aware of this daily in question time by the now Minister for Communications, who comes in and articulates to us the debacle that was the NBN, run by the previous Labor government. I am sure, Madam Deputy Speaker, you remember the dollar value examples that he has given us and the fact that many millions—in some cases tens of millions or hundreds of millions—of dollars was spent on this infrastructure project with no cost-benefit analysis and no analysis of what was going to happen, when it was going to happen or how many people were going to get connected. The revenue figures were completely out of tune as well.
This amendment bill means no more of Labor's pie-in-the-sky and expensive NBN. I could talk for another 15 minutes about the flawed delivery of Labor's NBN and its refusal to provide a proper cost-benefit analysis. I, like the rest of the nation, am over Labor's inability and abject refusal to put their thought bubbles through proper economic analysis, so I will simply say, 'Thank goodness our colleague Malcolm Turnbull is now in charge of rolling out an affordable and effective NBN.'
This amendment is about increasing the nation's productivity, creating common wealth and providing more jobs. This bill is good government at work.
I rise to speak against this bill, the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013. In the 21st century, those societies and communities that will prosper are those that have skilled workforces, whose industries can adapt to a carbon constrained world and that invest in modern, well-planned infrastructure. We did that when we were in government, after more than 11½ years of neglect and underinvestment under the coalition. Total expenditure, public and private, on the nation's roads, rail, electricity generators and water storage facilities was 42 per cent higher than in the final year of the former coalition government.
We restored leadership in the area of infrastructure. We created the first federal infrastructure department and established and empowered the first federal infrastructure ministry. We established Infrastructure Australia to look at infrastructure in this country, and to recommend the planning, assessment, financing and creation of infrastructure for the 21st century. Through Infrastructure Australia we commissioned the first infrastructure audit. We created a national infrastructure priority list. We established public-private partnership guidelines. We undertook a national ports strategy and a national freight strategy. We created a national prequalification scheme and we launched the National Infrastructure Construction Schedule. We invested $64 billion in infrastructure. We committed $60 billion as part of our nation-building programs, building roads, rail and ports, making sure that people's lives and lifestyles were improved, produce could get to market, kids could get to the school, people could get to hospital and business and commerce could progress.
There was not a single public transport infrastructure project in my home state of Queensland under the Howard coalition government. During the life of the former federal Labor government there was an increase in funding from $132 per person to $314 per person on roads, rail and public transport in Queensland. Two-thirds of the funding we put into infrastructure went into regional and rural communities. That was good for my electorate of Blair in South-East Queensland. We also invested about $6.4 billion to help rebuild flood affected communities in South-East Queensland and Victoria and cyclone affected communities in North Queensland. Sadly, those opposite could not bring themselves to vote for the funding that was needed to undertake that rebuilding.
The former federal Labor government had a massive infrastructure program. I pay tribute to the shadow minister, the member for Grayndler, who really led this. Sitting at the feet of Tom Uren, his mentor, he saw the necessity for the world's most urbanised country to invest in major cities—in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and beyond. That is why we invested an enormous amount of money—$13.6 billion—on urban public transport infrastructure, more, combined, than all our predecessors since Federation. We established the first Major Cities Unit. We established the national planning task force. We required all state and territory governments to come up with strategic plans for infrastructure. We made sure that there were productive, sustainable and livable cities where communities could grow. That is why we invested so heavily in the major cities and provincial towns in this country
I oppose this legislation because it is a retrograde step. Having grown up in Queensland, I fear we will see a situation such as we had during Joh Bjelke-Petersen's days when sealed roads led up to the home of the local president or secretary of the National Party. If you were a prominent member of the coalition back in the 50s, 60s and 70s you could get what you wanted through regional rorts. We saw that a bit in the ANAO report that looked into the Regional Partnerships program. The report found that the previous coalition government's infrastructure scheme had '… fallen short of an acceptable standard of public administration.' The member for Grayndler outlined a number of examples where the previous coalition government had failed in that regard.
This bill uses Orwellian language. The bill will reduce transparency and potentially create a situation where we will return to the Regional Partnerships arrangements and the pork barrelling that was endemic to them. In fact, one of the things that I remember most from when I was first elected was people coming to see me as a new member of parliament and asking me to assist them in their projects. Very few of them actually had much of an evidence base or much merit to them, but they expected us to fund them under the old scheme. I told them that they needed to get an evidence base. That is why I was so pleased when we brought in Infrastructure Australia. That recommended many good projects in my home state, including the major one—probably the hallmark of the failure of the Howard government in Queensland—the Ipswich Motorway between Brisbane and Ipswich. That went out towards Toowoomba through the Warrego Highway and into the rural areas of South-East and South-West Queensland.
The flawed Regional Partnerships arrangement is, I fear, back with this government. We will see the capacity for the minister to interfere in Infrastructure Australia's evaluation process, and I think what will happen here will be a real weakening of independence and impartiality. I fear that those people who are currently on the necessary council will therefore find themselves getting the chop. I think we will see an increase in ministerial power. I think those on the Infrastructure Australia council have done an excellent job since its creation, back in 2008, when we introduced the Infrastructure Australia bill.
The bill before the House creates a board rather than a council. We will see, as I say, the previous members of that particular council likely to find that their services will no longer be required in the future. The minister has incredible powers here and is being given opportunity to do a lot of things. The minister has the power to nominate pet projects and to exclude classes of projects—for example, public transport. The coalition government have wrongly, in my view, opposed public transport as something that requires national leadership. They can block project evaluations. They can set time frames, set the scope of audits, make evaluations, list plans or advice, direct matters to be considered or not to be considered by Infrastructure Australia and direct the manner in which a function is performed. The minister can make directions that require Infrastructure Australia to refuse to publish material. Under those circumstances, how this legislation is creating independence is beyond me. It really is beyond me to think that somehow Infrastructure Australia's powers are being strengthened. In fact, as I said before, in the Orwellian phraseology that we have heard those opposite sprout in the last hour or two, we can see that Infrastructure Australia is effectively being gutted, neutered.
In 2004, in the middle of the Howard era, the Australian Council for Infrastructure Development estimated that the lack of investment in the nation's infrastructure during the Howard years had cost the economy about $6.4 billion in lost production. I fear that that is what we will see in the future—a loss of economic productivity. We will see poor and inadequate infrastructure directed by the minister for pet projects, which will see, as the Australian Council of Infrastructure Development found under the Howard coalition government, a loss of production.
I mentioned South-East Queensland before. In my home state we are powered by what happens in South-East Queensland. I know that there are many members opposite who sit up in that corner who are from North Queensland, but two-thirds of the people in Queensland live in South-East Queensland. One-in-seven Australians lives in South-East Queensland and about a fifth of the GDP is produced in South-East Queensland. So we invested about $6.3 billion in major road, rail and public transport in South-East Queensland—important projects such as the Moreton Bay Rail Link, which had been promised by coalition governments up there for a long time. In fact, it had been promised for more than 100 years by successive coalition governments. We also invested $365 million in the Gold Coast light rail project, which we delivered in partnership with the state government and the local council. So we have seen a massive investment in the Bruce Highway and the Pacific Highway to the south. We invested as much in the Warrego Highway as the Howard government invested throughout its whole duration.
The coalition refused to fix projects such as the Ipswich Motorway. They refused to do the work that was necessary in relation to it. It took the election of a federal Labor government in 2007 to finally fix the Ipswich Motorway from Dinmore to Darra at a cost of $2.8 billion. We fixed the Dinmore to Goodna section at a cost of $1.7 billion and put $200 million towards the Bruce Highway. It was finished under budget and six months ahead of schedule. I thank the alliance partners who undertook that. When it came to this infrastructure project, the coalition government repeatedly voted against the funding for it in this place. Just as they voted against the funding that was necessary for the rebuilding of Queensland after the floods and cyclones, they voted against the funding for the Ipswich Motorway.
The coalition also voted against another project, the No. 1 project on the list of South-East Queensland council of mayors, which was the Blacksoil interchange. This is the intersection between the Brisbane Valley Highway and the Warrego Highway. The council of South-East Queensland mayors is always led by the Lord Mayor of Brisbane. I recall Campbell Newman in his previous iteration as the Lord Mayor of Brisbane coming down to Canberra and meeting with both sides of politics and talking about the necessity for investment in infrastructure. But one of the first acts of the new LNP coalition government in Queensland was to rip $100 million out of road projects across the Warrego Highway and the like. It was the exact opposite of what he had previously urged us to do when he was the Lord Mayor of Brisbane. There are many, many electorates across Queensland that have taken the brunt of coalition cuts.
I mention coalition cuts because, during the last federal election, the coalition said that across South-East Queensland they would match the $279 million that we were putting in to kick-start the final section of the Ipswich Motorway—not in my electorate but mostly in the member for Moreton's electorate—from Darra to Rocklea. I tell you what, Mr Deputy Speaker, I was a bit surprised when Senator Brandis and the LNP state member for Ipswich and my political opponent said they would match our plan, after they had opposed that motorway upgrade and the $2.8 billion that we had put in previously. It did not last long. I fear that infrastructure will not last long, because a couple days before the election I saw the fiscal budget impact of coalition policies. I see the member for Groom's Toowoomba Range Crossing does not get very far in terms of funding. I also see that the Warrego Highway does not get much either. But to my surprise, although I should not have been surprised, for the Ipswich motorway, Darra to Rocklea, there was $65 million—a commitment that could not even last a couple of weeks—not $279 million. To make matters worse, their colleagues and comrades in the Queensland government would not undertake to partner in the Darra to Rocklea section of the Ipswich Motorway. If they cannot get this project right and will not support it, how will the future of Ipswich be secured in Brisbane and how will Infrastructure Australia in its new, weakened guise operate effectively? I suspect what will happen in the future is that it will be gutted, neutered and emasculated.
I will just correct the member for Blair. He was talking about funding that had been promised by what he said were 'coalition governments for more than a hundred years' in Queensland. The Liberal party was formed in 1945 and the National party, or its predecessor, was formed on 20 January 1920—a famous day for Australian politics—so I do not quite think that equates to 'coalition governments' supposedly breaking promises for 100 years. I think that is a bit of a stretch.
The member for Blair also talked about ministers interfering in the process with Infrastructure Australia, the fact that it will test impartiality, and bemoaned the fact that there would be an increase in ministerial powers. Let me just refer the member for Blair to a document I have before me, Grants for the construction of the Adelaidedesalination plant in South Australia—and, admittedly, he is from Queensland—which is from the National Audit Office. It is interesting reading. It talks about the process for the grants administration framework, saying:
… there were shortcomings in the underlying assessment work and the resulting advice did not fully inform the Minister.
It says of a second grant awarded:
… this grant was awarded through a process that was inconsistent in a number of respects with the requirements of the Government’s grants administration framework.
It is very interesting to note that the report says:
Infrastructure Australia concluded that the project had not demonstrated economic merit—
it had not demonstrated economic merit—
and, as a result, Ministers had been advised that the project was not eligible for funding from the Building Australia Fund. Nevertheless, the grant was subsequently approved … notwithstanding that—
and these three points are very interesting:
the National Urban Water and Desalination Plan—
program guidelines did not allow for funding to be awarded for ad hoc grant proposals (a major projects funding round was open, with applications to close on 30 June 2009—
we are going back a little bit, but it is important—
but with project funding capped at 10 per cent of estimated project costs to a maximum of $100 million);
It goes on:
The only advice provided to Ministers in respect to funding of the ADP expansion proposal through the NUWDP was from central agencies—
an approach that may be viewed as atypical—
given the role usually expected of portfolio agencies in advising Ministers on spending proposals being considered in relation to programs they administer.
The central agency advice did not recommend that NUWDP funding be awarded (as neither central agency had assessed the merits of the proposal in terms of the program guidelines) but, rather, supported further consideration of funding the expanded ADP under the NUWDP.
Now, that all sounds very complicated, but it goes to the very crux of the problem with Infrastructure Australia under the Labor government and how the system broke down.
The Infrastructure Amendment Bill 2013 will implement the government's election commitment to make Infrastructure Australia a more independent, transparent and expert advisory body by changing its governance structure and better clarifying its functions. The government understands that investment in nationally significant infrastructure is central to growing Australia's productivity and improving the living standards of Australians now and in the future. If you listened to those from the other side, you would think that they were the only ones who cared about productivity, they were the only ones who cared about jobs and they were the only ones who cared about growth for Australia. Certainly, that is not the case.
As a government we have clearly committed ourselves to building the infrastructure of the 21st century. We have a Prime Minister and a Deputy Prime Minister who are committed to this goal. We have already made significant commitments to a number of vital infrastructure projects across the country. But it is clear that the task does not end with the many, many projects that we have already committed to, and we intend that Infrastructure Australia will play a role in assisting governments at all levels to plan for the longer-term investment in infrastructure which will be required into the future.
In the five years since Infrastructure Australia was created, it has become evident that the current structure of the group does not provide the degree of independence and transparency needed to give the best advice to government about the infrastructure priorities which will reverse Australia's productivity slide. The Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013 will strengthen Infrastructure Australia by restructuring its governance—and it is needed—clarifying the scope of its responsibilities and entrenching its role as a key adviser to government. The bill will establish Infrastructure Australia as a separate statutory authority under the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997. For the first time, Infrastructure Australia will be both a legally and financially separate entity from the Commonwealth. So there is no question about impartiality there. The bill will also see Infrastructure Australia led by a chief executive officer responsible to their board, rather than the current structure which sees them responsible to the minister—a great improvement to their level of independence from government.
The government recognises that Australia needs improved long-term planning for infrastructure investment based on robust and evidence based assessment of our future needs—robust and evidence based, unlike the National Broadband Network, unlike so many other things that the former government foisted upon this nation. There is going to be careful, methodical planning. I see the member for Throsby shaking his head in disagreement, but he understands that you cannot keep spending more money than you earn. You cannot keep spending money that you do not have, you cannot keep borrowing, because it is not the government which is going to pay it back, it is not the opposition which—when it gets into government again, hopefully many, long years from now, if ever—is going to pay it back; it is the taxpayers of the nation. It is the businesses. It is the hardworking families. They are the ones who are paying back Labor's debt, which we inherited—Labor's legacy of debt, deficit and bad spending.
To this end, we are focused on long-term planning based on a greater understanding of the critical issues facing Australia's infrastructure and land transport system. To achieve this goal, the government has tasked Infrastructure Australia with undertaking new five-yearly evidence based audits of our infrastructure assets base, developing top-down priority lists at national and state levels; developing a 15-year infrastructure plan and evaluating both economic and social infrastructure proposals and publishing the justification for prioritisation, including cost-benefit analyses. This will be for projects worth more than $100 million seeking Commonwealth funding, excluding defence projects.
Labor talked about infrastructure while it was in government, but if it were so committed to defence—I have three bases in my home town of Wagga Wagga, with Navy and Air Force, and every Army recruit goes through Kapooka just south of Wagga Wagga. Defence is very important to Wagga Wagga. I can tell you that many people are connected with Defence. Indeed, the community was absolutely aghast at the $5½ billion which was taken from the Defence budget. They are absolutely aghast that our defence spending as a percentage of gross domestic product slipped to 1938 levels. We all know what happened the year after 1938—we had World War II. Our defence spending as a proportion of GDP slipped to levels pre-World War II. That was a disgrace. It stopped vital works from being undertaken as fast as they should have at Kapooka, which every year puts thousands upon thousands of young recruits, and some not so young, through their paces to be a part of that great Anzac tradition.
Regularly publishing cost-benefit analyses is one thing, but Labor repeatedly promised but failed to deliver while on the Treasury benches for the six years under Rudd, Gillard and then Rudd again. Together, these measures will enhance Infrastructure Australia's ability to provide the best possible advice to government on infrastructure matters.
This bill is an important part of the government's efforts to ensure that taxpayer dollars are well spent. We need to spend them well. Labor surely should recognise that. We understand because many of us, as we saw in question time today when the Treasurer asked how many of us had been in private business and just about every member of the government put up their hand. The member for Farrer has been in private business. She understands the need to balance family budgets. Certainly in private business you cannot spend more money than you earn. On the other side, only two or three frontbenchers put their hands up. They do not get it because they have come up through union ranks to get their place here and they do not understand how business works. When they are in charge of the Treasury benches that is why infrastructure projects blow out, just like spending on school halls.
Nobody criticises the fact that many fine buildings were erected during the school halls program. Certainly there were a number in my electorate. At Mater Dei Catholic Primary School I have the piece de résistance of school halls. It is a wonderful facility. But with $8 billion of blow-outs in school halls, you can see out at Ungarie and other areas of my electorate tin shacks were put up for a lot of money. The joke was that it was 'the builders' early retirement fund'. And in many aspects of public schooling it was, sad to say.
There was a $2½ billion blow-out in pink bats and an $11½ billion blow-out in border protection—all money which could have gone to vital infrastructure projects. Dare I mention the Gocup Road between Gundagai and Tumut? It is still waiting for vital infrastructure spending.
Mr Stephen Jones interjecting—
There will be a chance because it is a vital project that needs funding. I will certainly be campaigning hard to ensure that it happens. We are committed to $100 million on improving telecommunications black spots. Certainly I get far more complaints about mobile communication black spots than I do about broadband coverage. We are committed to spending $300 million on replacing bridges, as the member for Page indicated in a fine speech. That is a good proposal because many of those wooden rickety bridges in country areas need replacing. The member for Throsby knows that.
Mr Stephen Jones interjecting—
The bill is important. I am disappointed that you are not getting on board with it because it is a good bill. We understand that investment in nationally significant infrastructure is vital and I am sure the member for Throsby does too. That is why he needs to get on board with us, with this bill, with this amendment, to ensure it passes and that it can pass through the Senate in time for the Christmas break. Just like repealing the carbon tax, which was what the voters of Australia wanted, they want us to get on board with governing the country in the way they voted for. They do not want us to keep going down the path that Labor was taking us—that is, projects which cost far more than they were worth, projects which did not meet the needs and expectations of the community.
We have heard that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister are infrastructure builders. The New South Wales government, particularly the roads minister Duncan Gay, knows the federal coalition government is committed to building the roads of the 21st century and the infrastructure the nation so desperately needs. On 19 September, less than a fortnight after the federal election and just one day after being officially sworn in, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister joined the New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell, a good Premier, and roads minister Duncan Gay, a good state roads minister, in Sydney to announce the details of the WestConnex project. At that press conference the Prime Minister reiterated his pledge to be the infrastructure Prime Minister. Indeed, he will—
Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek to intervene. I would like to ask the honourable member whether a cost-benefit analysis was done of the WestConnex project?
I will take the intervention. Does it mean that I have only 50 seconds to answer it? For everything we do there is going to be a cost-benefit analysis. We are going to look at the investment and to make sure that the taxpayers of this nation get value for their money. We understand business, we understand that projects need to be brought in on time and hopefully under budget. The WestConnex project is no different to any other project. It is a vital piece of infrastructure, and certainly in capital cities we need to make sure that the transport clog is not as bad as it is now, because we need to get people to regional areas such as Throsby, such as Riverina, such as Farrer, and having clogged-up urban and metropolitan areas is not helping the situation at all. (Time expired)
What Orwellian times we live in. This is just like back to the future, the bad old days when the coalition government would come into this place and put forward these absolute crackers of bills. If you had read the Work Choices bill you would think it was about more choice for workers, but if you had it applied to you it meant the take-it or leave-it contract bill; that is what it should have been called. If you went through the detail of the more jobs, better pay bill, it was not about more jobs or better pay, it was quite the opposite; again there was the take it or leave it contract style. Now we are seeing it again with the Migration Amendment (Regaining Control Over Australia's Protection Obligations) Bill 2013. This is directly related to what is before us, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am sure you are quizzical as to why I would draw your attention to those things.
It is very much the same with this bill, the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill, which purports to create more transparency and do a whole range of things in restructuring for the betterment of infrastructure and Australia and productivity. It is all just words thrown around like confetti and meaning absolutely nothing. That is not what this bill does at all. People, when they look at this bill, should ask what the bill does. What it does is take all of that away. Just by putting the words there does not mean it actually happens that way. You do not create a better Infrastructure Australia by restructuring it to death. In fact, it is a long-held mantra for bureaucracies or governments or even business that if you want to get rid of something but you do not want to look like you are getting rid of it or shutting it down, you restructure it—you restructure it out of existence. You restructure it to the point where the minister gets to make all the decisions. You make the council, the board or the organisation running it impotent and you take away their funding. There is a whole range of things that can be done, all of which are contained in this bill. This bill is about the destruction of Infrastructure Australia because it does not suit the agenda of this government to have independent, fearless advice that is not based on what the minister thinks. How novel would that be.
I recall in opposition and in government, particularly in opposition, speaking on infrastructure for many years because my electorate, like everyone else's, is in desperate need of some non-political funding for infrastructure based on some sort of a national interest test: whether this is good for all of us, whether it delivers for productivity. There was nothing more stark to me than the loss this country was experiencing through clogged roads, highways that would never get built, ports that were not being done, and particular railway systems that were not done for 100 years, because governments never had the gumption to move beyond the politics and get on with the job of delivering infrastructure.
I recall very clearly that during the Howard government, which I am led to believe by the Abbott government has been the model that it models itself upon, it was absolutely clear: 'We don't do infrastructure,' John Howard said as Prime Minister. 'We do not do infrastructure. That is the job of the states.' And he was true to his word: he did not do infrastructure. He said that, he promised it, he delivered it—zero, nothing for infrastructure. Right across Australia a whole heap of projects went begging. It was very clear: we do not do infrastructure, we do not do housing; there were a whole heap of things that the federal Howard government said and followed through on and delivered by not delivering.
But things got a bit heavy and a bit weighty, because after a while you look around the country and see some big infrastructure projects that really need doing and are just outside the scope of the state or there are some other issues that collide which mean that the federal government does have to step up, co-fund, partner, JV with the state and local council in some areas. We needed something new; we needed, dare I say it, a new way. We needed a way to break through. We needed a way for the federal government to once again be a partner with the states and deliver on really vital infrastructure, the sort of stuff that in Queensland in particular we have heard about. I have one that keeps popping into my mind through my electorate and a range of others, the Ipswich Motorway. I will talk on that in a moment, Mr Deputy Speaker.
This is all about infrastructure and the bill in particular and how we have to have Infrastructure Australia. I recall in Queensland in Minister Macfarlane's electorate and looking at Toowoomba, particularly the range bypasses, and a whole range of things that had been promised forever and a day, and forever and a day they still are not delivered. They had nearly 12 years in government and did not deliver it then. They are back in government now and have an opportunity to deliver the Toowoomba range crossing or some new infrastructure and spend some money there. We are all waiting. You have three years so hopefully that will happen. I am always hopeful and I have always been on the record as saying, 'Every road that the coalition government build I will say thank you,' because it is in the national interest. I will not be partisan about it: build a road and I will say, 'Thanks, well done, good job. You ought to get praise for it.'
Unfortunately you are coming in here with a bill that is all about reducing all of that. What this bill actually does is seek to reduce transparency. Right now we have the transparency built in, we have the independence of Infrastructure Australia. We put that into place so that it would be at arm's length, as far away as possible from government so that you would get some sort of advice on really what were the best projects. They were not at the direction of the minister and you could actually work to some sort of formula which said, 'Here is the list of what you should do.' It is always going to be the right of a government to decide on which projects it does and does not do, but at least you had some advice, some sort of form to work to, a council, some independent people that you could really work with. And it has worked really well, if you have a look at what we did in six years.
I am happy to take criticism about a range of things that were not perfect, but the reality is that we did deliver. We not only promised the Ipswich Motorway in my electorate, we delivered the Ipswich Motorway.
The Ipswich Motorway was the biggest, most expensive road upgrade in Australian history, yet when we were in government we delivered it not only ahead of time but also under budget. It was a fantastic alliance project which was delivered by the Commonwealth with the states and which did work because we used a really good formula. We did the same thing on a whole range of other road projects, rail projects and port projects—infrastructure projects across the country. In a short six years, we did more catch-up work on infrastructure in this country than had been seen in nearly 100 years. Before we did the catch-up work, infrastructure was going backwards. That was the problem.
Those on the other side like to bleat on about how they are all great at business; they are all the doyens of business. Good on them—that is great; it is a good call—but plenty of people here have experience too. However, government is not a business in quite the same sense as a small enterprise is a business. Government is not a question of using the kitchen table at home, where you scratch around and say: 'Can we save a few pennies here or there? How is it going to go? Can we meet the budget this week?' Government is a little bit more involved than that. I am sure most of the members on the other side do to get that; I am afraid, though, that I think there are a few who do not. But that is another story.
Government is a little bit more involved than just a home budget, a going-on-a-picnic-on-the-weekend budget or a small-business budget. As complicated as all of those things might be, government is a bit more involved than they are, because it involves doing things which might not give you a return and instead give you something in the future which you cannot put a dollar value on today. When you build a national highway, it might not give you a return today; it might give you a return 25 years down the track. But you build it today—and you might build it a little bit larger than you need it to be today, because you understand the future needs of infrastructure.
All our ports, I can tell you, are already at capacity today—and we need more. So ports are pretty easy to do a cost-benefit analysis on. It is pretty hard to find commuter rail which makes money for any owner, let alone a government. But you build it because you are not a business. That is just the point. As a government, you are not a business; you are in the business of providing services: a social framework, infrastructure and rules. You do the things that other people cannot do. That is why governments exist. Otherwise, we would all just be small businesses.
I love small businesses because I think they are the backbone of this country. They are the largest employer in this country and they all do a great job. But small business relies on government not to be a business. Small business relies on government to provide support services and support-lines and tax concessions—things that do not make money. A support-line to help small businesses does not make money; no-one in the private sector sets them up, because they would go broke overnight. But we still set them up when we were in government. In fact, even this coalition government sets them up and continues to fund the ones that we put in place because it understands the benefit they deliver to small business. You are not going to make money out of such services, but you provide them anyway.
There are also some very expensive services that we started to provide—through websites, for example. There is the National Business Name Register, which the government does not make money out of. In essence, when we were in government we were trying to provide a cheaper service to small business. In the past, under the previous coalition government, if you had wanted to register your business across the country it would have cost you about 1,000 bucks, and you would have had to fill in a different form in every state and territory. It was an absolute, bureaucratic, red-tape nightmare. When we were government, we condensed it to one website and one form. It cost you 30-odd bucks, you did it once, it remembered all your details and you were done. That is how you save money for small business. It is in realising that government is not a business that you can provide really good infrastructure systems and programs such as Infrastructure Australia.
Everything that is contained in this bill does the exact opposite of what it says it does. Under this bill, Minister Truss wants to give himself, personally, very specific powers. Why would a minister want to do that? To me, it harks back to the good old days—or the bad old days—of roads of National Party interest, when a road was a great road as long as it led to your farm or your dam. That was okay; it did not matter which farm or dam, as long as it was your farm or dam. It was too bad that everybody else had to miss out and go down a particular—
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. You are right—there is no point of order. But just in case: I was using the general rather than referring to any particular member, so, if the member took offence, I apologise to him; none was meant.
In this bill the minister gives himself a range of very specific powers over things that he decides can or cannot be done. He can order Infrastructure Australia to evaluate particular projects nominated by him and only him. Through this bill, the minister will become Infrastructure Australia—so you may as well not have Infrastructure Australia. Let us just stop the sham and the pretence of this bill, by which Infrastructure Australia will be denuded of its capacity to be able to do the job it was put in place to do.
In effect, this bill gives the government the right to sack people—to just get rid of everybody in Infrastructure Australia in one way or the other. I am not only concerned; I am deeply worried. I think it would be more honest of this government to come in and completely get rid of Infrastructure Australia, because that is in effect what this bill will do. All of the powers and all of the decision making will go to the minister, and we will go back to the old days when you only ever got infrastructure if you were in a Liberal Party or a National Party seat and too bad for the others.
This situation had to be changed, and I can remember countless talkback radio programs and people saying that enough was enough and that we needed independence to be able to get on with getting infrastructure built in the national interest and with getting roads to go somewhere—to a small business park, for example—apart from somebody's dam or farm. In other words, the idea was to get infrastructure to where it was needed the most—that is, to the productive capacity of this country. Phrases such as 'productive capacity' get thrown around this place like confetti by people who do not understand at all what they mean, and that is what worries me about what this bill will do.
I will touch, in the couple of minutes I have left, on a project of national significance: the Ipswich Motorway. As I said before, it was a very important project, yet I recall the local Liberal member fighting against it day in and day out. We used have debates on it all the time, and he promised in 2007 that, if he was elected in 2007, the Ipswich Motorway would never go ahead. He wanted to make the Ipswich Motorway a referendum issue in Queensland, but the people of Queensland decided very clearly that they wanted the motorway because they were being strangled to death.
Small businesses, mums and dads—everybody travelled on the road before the motorway was built. I will not get into the road deaths and the associated trauma and social costs before the motorway was built. Since we built the motorway—and it cost a pretty penny; it cost a couple of billion dollars, which was well worth it—there has not been a single death on the motorway. Work that out in a cost-benefit analysis, and tell me what it is worth. Tell me what your cost-benefit analysis tells you about that. Not one family has lost one of its members on the Ipswich Motorway since we built it, and the road was a horror before we built the motorway.
There has been less trauma and fewer accidents since we built the motorway. Trucks and cars no longer break down on that road and get blocked for four or five or six hours in a day.
Productivity went up, and that was a massive saving for small business. If you are trucking something from Toowoomba, Ipswich or Brisbane or to Warwick or Sydney or Melbourne when you go through that road it makes a world of difference. All of that was possible because of programs and institutions that we put into place, because we said enough was enough. We agreed with the Australian people that we had to de-politicise infrastructure and start working as a federal government that said, 'We will play the game of infrastructure.' Well, it is not just up to the states; it is up to us to lend a hand. I recall in the election campaign only a few short months ago that we promised $279 million for the final piece of the Ipswich Motorway and the other mob finally got to the table and said, 'We will put the same money forward,' and as soon as they got in we have not seen the money and I do not think we will see it in the future. This bill is an absolute disgrace.
I rise in opposition to the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013. This debate does not occur in a vacuum. It is important to reflect on the steps that have led to this legislation. On 11 May 2005, Labor announced that if elected it would establish Infrastructure Australia in government. Consistent with this pledge, the Infrastructure Australia Act was enacted in 2008. The current governance arrangement for the Infrastructure Australia Council, whose remit is set out in the act, is to provide advice to the minister. Additionally, the Infrastructure Coordinator was established to assist the council in the performance of its functions. The minister makes a decision based on the advice from this independent panel, whose job it is to assess applications. The idea was to de-politicise infrastructure spending and de-couple the infrastructure cycle from the political cycle—the long term and the short term—and so establish a framework, an integrated policy approach for the provision of infrastructure in a strategic manner. This is nation building.
The context that gave rise to Labor's approach was what became known as the 'regional rorts' program, under the Howard Government. In her contribution to this debate, the member for Perth reminded me of the roads of National Party importance. In its report on the 'regional rorts' matter, the Australian National Audit Office outlined situations where former coalition ministers routinely approved funding for projects for which no application had been made and demanded that departmental officials fast-track applications without scrutiny.
In the lead-up to the 2007 election, the then Regional Partnerships program funded 32 projects, of which 28 were in coalition electorates. Some examples of these valuable projects include: the announcement of a $1.5 million grant to dredge the Tumbi Creek in NSW, days after heavy rains had set it flowing again; $5 million to fund the Beaudesert tourist railway in Queensland that went bankrupt; $1.3 million to a milk company in Queensland that went bust just days after the grant was announced; and, best of all, half a million dollars for a pub in Atherton, Queensland, that specialised in bikini babes and wacky Wednesdays. I noted yesterday in question time the Treasurer's interest in the manner in which individuals spent their stimulus money. I look forward to hearing from him on this. It was pork barrelling on a national scale that would not have occurred if there was independent oversight over applications to access these funds.
This bill performs a sleight of hand. It provides a veneer of independence, but in reality seeks to strip Infrastructure Australia of its power and, indeed, its role and gift it to the minister. So much for the contributions of many members opposite, replete with references to transparency and independence that simply do not withstand scrutiny. While the one hand gives Infrastructure Australia legal and financial separation from the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development under the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997, the other hand takes independence and power away, giving the minister unprecedented powers to intervene in and interfere with Infrastructure Australia's operations. This bill in effect reduces Infrastructure Australia to a slush fund for the minister.
It is worth noting briefly the contrast to the position expressed in 2008 by the now minister, the former shadow minister. While it is true to say that the then shadow minister proposed a number of amendments to the legislation put by the Labor government, it is clear that the scope of those amendments was dramatically different to what is before this parliament today. Again, we see the present government being more reactive and more negative in government than they were in opposition.
Going to the provisions of the bill in more detail, I observe that, if the bill is passed, the minister will acquire a wide range of new powers, in particular to nominate pet projects for evaluation by Infrastructure Australia, to exclude classes of projects from Infrastructure Australia's consideration—most obviously, public transport, as other speakers have noted—and to block publication of project evaluations, any reasons for decisions and evidence relied upon, unless the minister decides otherwise. So much for transparency! This reverses the current position, where material is ordinarily released and relied upon by industry and investors. New powers are also acquired to confer tax loss concessions on project proponents without reference to Infrastructure Australia; to sack board members; and, to replace the current provision preventing the minister from giving directions other than those of a general nature only, and preventing directions about the content of advice.
The minister will also acquire specific powers to set timeframes; set the scope of audits, evaluations, lists, plans or advice; direct matters to be considered or not considered by Infrastructure Australia; and, although the minister cannot specifically direct content, the minister will be able to direct the manner in which a function is performed. The current act only permits ministerial directions of a general nature and does not extend to content. The minister needs to explain why he needs this power and whether he will use this power to exclude public transport as an excluded class of project from Infrastructure Australia's consideration. It is a question most definitely worth asking, given the coalition's apparent vendetta against funding urban rail and given the proposal to jettison considerations of sustainability found in the present organising framework for Infrastructure Australia. It is a vital question for the future of Australia's cities, the cities in which 80 per cent of our population reside. This is a matter of great concern for people in the electorate of Scullin and, of course, to people elsewhere, in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, in relation to current proposed projects, and right across the urban centres of our country.
After all, it was the then Leader of the Opposition and now Prime Minister who remarked that the federal government has 'no history of funding urban rail' and that it was important that it 'stick to our knitting, and the Commonwealth's knitting when it comes to funding infrastructure is roads'. But Infrastructure Australia took a different view and rated the vital Melbourne Metro as 'ready to proceed'. This is in stark contrast with the East-West link project, which Infrastructure Australia ranked behind Melbourne Metro and repeatedly gave it its second-lowest rating.
Yesterday, the Age, on its front page, under the headline 'Secret report on East-West link reveals traffic explosion' enlightened the Victorian community as to the real benefits to flow from this project, beloved by so many members opposite. It will in fact increase congestion at extraordinary cost. On the other hand, Infrastructure Australia independently acknowledged the nationally significant problem that Melbourne Metro sought to remedy and said:
The project addresses the constraints of the existing public transport system in Melbourne arising due to increased patronage and population growth. This is a nationally significant problem since it constrains access to high value employment in the CBD, limiting productivity increases.
Consequently, Infrastructure Australia described Melbourne Metro as:
A project that is expected to shape Melbourne's future transport network and land use patterns. The preferred option presented could achieve up to 30 per cent capacity increase in the urban passenger rail network however the project cost is approximately equal to the benefits.
Any responsible government's response to advice of this nature would be to proceed with this project, but instead the coalition's response seems very, very likely to be to simply remove urban rail from consideration and from the prospect of funding. That will deny residents in Scullin and right across Melbourne the opportunity to have the city reshaped to serve their needs—the needs of Melbourne's economy and the needs of a more productive city and society.
The East-West link, as I mentioned before, is clearly something of an article of faith amongst those opposite, so much so that the then Leader of the Opposition, the now Prime Minister, agreed to $1.5 billion of federal funding for the East-West link before he had even seen the business case. Not seeing the business case would put him in good company with all Victorians, who remain in the dark about the business case. This is why it is so important to have a body like Infrastructure Australia as it currently stands and whose job it is to filter and contest applications to make sure that taxpayers get good value for money—generally a concern expressed by members opposite. A key part of this process must be public scrutiny, and, as I and many others have mentioned, this bill changes the position in relation to the publication of materials such as the evaluation of infrastructure projects. This bill seeks to reverse the current provision, stating that the publishing of this material should be a function that must only be performed when directed by the minister. This is in keeping with the coalition's approach of silencing anything or anyone that diverges from their position or presents a critical view.
We saw this with the appointment of the Business Council of Australia's president to conduct the coalition's 'commission of cuts'. And we see it with part 6 of this bill, whereby the existing members of the Board of Infrastructure Australia are virtually condemned with their positions being—and this is again an Orwellian phrase—'considered for reappointment'. If the Commission of Audit is any guide, I wonder if the Business Council of Australia is in danger of being short staffed.
There is a better, more independent and more transparent way. When the global financial crisis hit, Labor responded to this challenge and enacted the Nation-building Funds Act, whereby Infrastructure Australia became responsible for recommending projects for funding from the Building Australia Fund. In the electorate of Scullin, one of these projects was the upgrade of the M80 Ring Road. This included widening the M80 Ring Road to a minimum of three lanes, including the sections from Sydney Road to Edgars Road and Plenty Road to the Greensborough Highway, as well as the introduction of an intelligent transport system for the M80. The point I make here is that this project occurred through an open, transparent and consultative process between state and federal governments. It was also outlined in the 2013-14 federal budget.
Labor's mission has always been to invest in modern, well-planned infrastructure that will make working people's lives easier, our businesses more competitive and the national economy stronger and more productive. The M80 upgrade was the right decision. But more importantly, perhaps, it was made in the right way. It was a decision for the region's future that will stand the test of time.
And the present structure of Infrastructure Australia is clearly fit for purpose. It is the right path to nation building. It could, and should be, the best friend our 'infrastructure Prime Minister' could have, rather than what it will be if this bill is passed: simply a fig leaf purporting to cover what is effectively unfettered ministerial discretion. Australia's future infrastructure needs are best met through independent, transparent decision making with a long-term focus, such as through the present structure of Infrastructure Australia. Robust evidence-based approaches to funding infrastructure have been mentioned by members opposite. Robust evidence-based approaches to fund strategic infrastructure are at the core of the present governance and broader arrangements of Infrastructure Australia. This bill does not advance this approach and must be rejected.
I rise to oppose the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013. I follow on from excellent speeches from this side of parliament, which have drawn attention to some very significant flaws in this bill, mostly around the criteria, the granting of extraordinary powers to the minister, the politicisation of an independent process, a complete abandonment of any commitment to an evidence-based approach to infrastructure funding in this country and a clear bias against public transport funding. I would like to concentrate on three particular aspects of this bill, namely the politicisation of a very important process, the impact that this will have on private sector investment and the changes to Infrastructure Australia's role around climate change, which is a little known aspect of this bill and yet another example of the government attacking any independent authority that dares to advise on climate change.
Before I go to that, I would like to comment on the proud record that Labor has in this area compared to those opposite. When Labor came to government in 2007 the OECD had ranked Australia 20 out of 25 countries in relation to our investment in public infrastructure as a proportion of national income. I am proud that, because of Labor's record investment—particularly through the GFC, which the member for Scullin highlighted—Australia is now ranked second in the OECD in terms of investment in infrastructure as a percentage of national income. Among the advanced economies only South Korea is investing more in infrastructure.
Investment in infrastructure in Australia in 2011-12 was four per cent of GDP, which is the highest it has been in 30 years. Again in 2011-12, annual infrastructure spending was 59 per cent higher than the last full year of the Howard government when compared in real terms. This was a real achievement of the previous Labor government and something of which we should be justly proud—both the former minister responsible, the member for Grayndler; and Prime Ministers Rudd and Gillard. Labor not only invested much more significantly in infrastructure; we also invested in aspects of infrastructure that were ignored and neglected by the previous coalition government—proudly so, if you believe the words of the current Prime Minister. Labor has invested more Commonwealth funding towards public transport than any other government since Federation, a great achievement that the member for Scullin was commenting on and urging an expansion of, rather than a retreat from.
Labor also appointed Australia's first ever federal infrastructure minister and created the federal infrastructure department. It is interesting to note that transport, such an integral component of infrastructure, no longer has a dedicated cabinet minister in the Abbott government. Instead, the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure has responsibility for transport. That is no reflection on that particular individual, but I think the loss of cabinet rank is a grievous move in terms of infrastructure priorities in Australia. I am proud to say that Infrastructure Australia was established by the former Labor government to ensure that the needs of the nation were put first, rather than petty political needs. Currently Infrastructure Australia has a great purpose: nation-building—not party-building, not electorate pork-barrelling but nation-building. However, this amendment yet again proves that the current government is pining for the past, when pork-barrelling was rife and politics stifled progress. There is no hiding from the fact that this government is seeking to politicise what is currently a well-functioning apolitical body that is guided by sound independent evidence and strong cost-benefit analyses. The proposed amendments will give the minister the power to redirect funds—
Opposition members interjecting—
(In division) I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Just prior to your calling this division, there were two members on their feet: the member for Watson, who has not spoken in this debate, and the member for Mayo, who has.
(—) (): (In division)Speaker, I raise a point of order. I am simply inquiring as to why the tellers are counting again when it was a one-minute division and you said those who had changed their minds or came in late should make themselves known to the tellers.
(In division) You have a perfectly valid point. I would remind the tellers that the whole point about a one-minute bell is to speed up the process, not to deliberately slow it down. I would suggest that, as the person who did change her vote did advise the teller and that everybody else I asked remained in their seats, I would have thought you could have speeded it up considerably. It being 9 o'clock—