House debates

Monday, 1 June 2009

Nation Building Program (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2009

Second Reading

12:34 pm

Photo of Barry HaaseBarry Haase (Kalgoorlie, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Roads and Transport) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on what I believe to be an offensive piece of legislation, a preposterous piece of petty politicking, titular pilfering and spin. I refer of course to the Nation Building Program (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2009. On the topic of land transport, some people like to go for a spin in the country; Mr Rudd, our Prime Minister, does it all the time. In fact, he has personally injected so much hot air into rural Australia I am not surprised he is concerned about global warming. He is a walking and, unfortunately, talking mobile greenhouse effect; but more about that later.

The apparent fundamental purpose of this bill is to rename the coalition’s highly successful AusLink program as the Nation Building Program. The bill changes the AusLink (National Land Transport) Act 2005 into the Nation Building Program (National Land Transport) Act 2009 and changes relevant AusLink references to the Nation Building Program. I am not one of those technophiles who carries a laptop everywhere but I do know what copy and paste is. I reckon that is what has happened here with a little bit of search and replace to swap every occurrence of ‘AusLink’ for ‘Nation Building Program’. But you have to be careful with copy and paste, though, because if you are not careful you might be accused of plagiarism. Of course, plagiarism is where someone is not clever or motivated enough to have their own ideas or do their own work, so they take somebody else’s ideas and somebody else’s work and they then claim them as their own. I am told that plagiarism is the No. 1 sin at university today, and I am not surprised. Taking credit for something that you did not do rates pretty low in my book also.

I have also heard the saying ‘Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery’. Obviously, the ALP love our work. How could they not, considering the coalition left them with a very tidy $20-plus billion surplus which they have somehow managed to multiply by a factor of about minus 15? Perhaps this little matter of inflicting record generational debt on the Australian people has convinced those opposite to stop trying to write their own legislation, which brings me back to their corruption of the coalition’s AusLink bill. I use the term advisedly because in trying to pass this legislation off as their own work Labor also wrote in a few tweaks of their own. Yes, there are a few little modifications here that put their distinctive stamp on it and that really evidence Labor’s disregard—no, utter contempt—for rural and remote Australia. This bill also amends funding arrangements for road and rail projects both on and off the national road transport network.

The Howard government established AusLink several years ago as Australia’s first national transport framework to provide long-term planning and funding for the national transport network. AusLink 1 ran from 2004-05 to 2008-09 and AusLink 2 was scheduled to run from 2009-10 to 2013-14. Mr Rudd and his colleagues talked about AusLink all through the 2007 election campaign. Once in power, however, it became evident that although they still liked AusLink they did not like the term ‘AusLink’. It had fallen from favour with the Prime Minister and his colleagues primarily because, of course, whenever the term was used those recipients of this fine funding program were reminded that it was the Hon. John Howard who introduced this program, and the thing that our current Prime Minister hates most of all is to be reminded that the good things, the great foundations laid in Australia, were the responsibility of the Howard-led government.

Personally, I think AusLink was a little too practical for them, a little too simple, a little too self-explanatory. AusLink—linking Australia. AusLink, with only two syllables was far too short a term for our obfuscatory, polysyllabic and frequently sesquipedalian Prime Minister—check them later. So we now debate the Nation Building Program (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2009.

One of Mr Albanese’s modifications to this bill allows locations on the national land transport network to be eligible for black spot funding. This is a new development because the black spot funding was intended for projects on local roads and streets. It was a funding program to be accessed when it could be proven that a particular intersection or section of local road or street was causing accidents resulting in injury or fatality. Black spot funding could then be called on. That has gone; it has simply been shovelled into the whole bucket of funding and is no longer specific, no longer put to that fine scrutiny that proved the system to be so effective in the past.

Another little tweak provides more flexibility with Roads to Recovery so that the minister can increase the amount of funding to local government authorities if he so chooses, and this of course makes the program more able to be accessed for the government to place funds where they, for various reasons, want—maybe to fulfil a pre-election promise to a local area. So once again that money is able to be accessed with less scrutiny and is able to go to projects that are possibly, on a national scrutiny basis, less deserving. Currently, once the initial list for a funding period has been determined, no increases can be made to the specified amounts on the Roads to Recovery list.

To my mind and certainly to the minds of those in my electorate, the most offensive change to this legislation is the renaming of the AusLink strategic regional projects funding to the Nation Building Program Off-Network Project funding and, of course, enabling it to be dispensed in areas that are not regional—which is to say, Mr Rudd and Mr Albanese have taken regional specific funding and taken the regional specific criteria out of it, making it just funding. So if country areas are competing with metropolitan areas for funding, which one will be successful? This government will put the funding where they think the votes are; the votes that they hope will get them re-elected. So needy projects in my electorate or in the electorates of my colleagues—the previous speaker, the member for O’Connor; the member for Pearce; or the member for Forest—will be effectively competing for funding against projects in the electorate of Perth, possibly Fremantle, perhaps the inner metropolitan patch of Grayndler or even Griffiths. It does not really matter which way you look at it, it is less funding for the regional transport network.

As for nation building, let me reiterate my initial point: it is a political stunt. AusLink has been such an effective program that I dare say Labor is seeking success by association. I have heard that nation building is nothing more than a photo opportunity for Prime Minister Kevin—also known as Bob the Builder with his yellow hard hat and his hi-vis vest. I do not see how photo opportunities are going to upgrade the land transport network in my electorate.

These changes to the strategic regional projects funding and the Roads to Recovery program are simply offensive. They are a corruption—a bastardisation, if I may say—of these very successful programs. On announcing the legislation for its second reading, the member for Grayndler said:

I am pleased to introduce the Nation Building Program (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2009. It renames the AusLink (National Land Transport) Act 2005 (the principal act) as the Nation Building Program (National Land Transport) Act 2009. This is central to the effective delivery of the government’s road and rail infrastructure investment through the Nation Building Program.

Of course it is. The member for Grayndler is there acknowledging the very success of AusLink.

AusLink has funded numerous projects across my vast 2.3 million square kilometre electorate of Kalgoorlie. It has done it on a selective analysis basis, looking at where the most important projects and therefore where the funding would make the most difference. I will give a couple of examples. There was the upgrade to the Great Eastern Highway. The road was so narrow that it was causing concerns, especially with the movement of road trains et cetera. There were problems and potential for accidents. They funded the upgrade, which included the widening and the smoothing out of the road and the installation of better safety facilities along that section of road.

On the Great Northern Highway, a section between Muchea and Wubin was upgraded and continues to be upgraded with that initial AusLink funding. This means greater convenience and safety for the multiplicity of vehicles, which include road trains with over-wide loads, caravan towers, sedans and trucks. There is a whole mix of users on that highway and they need to be accommodated. And they are not accommodated unless roads are made wide enough, have overtaking lanes, have bays for parking up so that those in the transport industry can get their designated rests et cetera. The Durham River Bridge was constructed with money from the regional funds.

Those programs would not have got funding simply on the basis of asking where the votes are. The new regulations for this legislation will see the regional nature of that funding program removed and projects will have to compete regardless of where they are in this nation. That is going to mean that when a mischievous government looks to shore up its position at the next poll they will putting money into those populous metropolitan areas and the bush will miss out again. That will be to the detriment of Australians who want to take to the nation’s highways and live in regional Australia.

The reason that that has been done and the reason that section 5 has been totally removed is that they do not want any mention of the word ‘regional’ when it comes to the criteria for selecting programs that will receive funding. An additional $763 million that would not have been available under this fund previously will now be available to spend on metropolitan programs where the votes are not regional programs. It will fund commitments that were made prior to the 2007 election.

I have given you some great examples of regional projects that have been funded. Projects like those are not going to be funded in the future. It is a change that this House ought to oppose. It is a change proposed by the government for which they ought to be ashamed. The backbenchers of the government who have some interest in regional Australia will rightly be slammed over this. This is simply another poke in the eye to anyone who lives outside metropolitan areas. It is a vote-grabbing exercise. It is a cheap political move to rebadge this at the expense of the Australian taxpayer and at the expense of those who are living in regional Australia. It is something that I deplore. It is something that my constituency will be made more and more aware of from today. As this news filters down to rural constituencies, they will become more and more disposed of this government. That is my wish.


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