Wednesday, 24 March 2021
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2020-2021; Second Reading
I'm very pleased to rise to make a contribution on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021 and to acknowledge the fine efforts of previous speakers here today. In doing so, I am very conscious of the fact that this is the last sitting week before the federal budget comes down, so I would like to take a moment to reflect on some of the needs of my electorate of Newcastle and to remind the government of some of the really critical projects—particularly infrastructure projects but not exclusively infrastructure projects—that are in need of funding from the Commonwealth coffers. This is a time in which many people across the nation have been hurting, in the wake of a global pandemic. People have faced job losses. There is a need to reactivate our regional economies. I'd like to direct the government's attention now to some of those key projects that would help enormously to provide some impetus, to help drive regional economies so that we can ensure that people retain their jobs and also create new ones.
There are some pretty tried and tested ways that you can drive local and national economic activity and spur economic life back into our communities, and one of those is around new infrastructure builds. I noted with regret in this House last year that the government had failed in their budget to support some of the really key infrastructure projects that my community of Newcastle has been asking for for some time. In Newcastle we are looking to put forward projects that will diversify and strengthen our entire regional economy for decades to come, not just for now but to set us up for the future as well. Regretfully, the Morrison government really turned their noses up at the University of Newcastle's proposal for a STEMM Regional Transformation Hub, which had significant job creation potential and the capacity to position our region as a leader in the critically important technology based industries of tomorrow.
But the last budget also failed to support the Port of Newcastle's $1.8 billion deepwater terminal, despite the fact that this project would create 15,000 direct and indirect jobs and transform the entire regional economy. It sounds like a big ticket item—$1.8 billion—but they were not seeking government money. They were seeking the support of this government to help unblock the obstacles being put in place by the New South Wales Liberal government, which has consistently put a foot on Newcastle's neck in terms of being able to diversify our port of Newcastle, leaving us in a vulnerable situation. We should be the centre of an important freight hub in the region. Botany is choked. I can assure you that there'd be a lot of National Party people up north who would appreciate being able to freight their produce and grain out of the port of Newcastle rather than having to take it all the way down to Botany, where they face massive congestion. But I'll come back to that in a moment. The other project that was sadly overlooked—and, again, is critical if you're trying to put together an important freight hub for the northern region, the north of Sydney—is the shovel-ready project to extend Newcastle's airport to code E standard.
What did we get in the budget? We didn't get any of the things we were actually asking for or any of the priorities from the different local governments, the Committee for the Hunter and the business community. Everyone had a very united voice about the projects that I've just spoken about. But what did we get out of the budget? We got a commitment to splash $360 million to fund the Newcastle inner-city bypass, a project, I want noted, that the state government had already promised to fund! What in fact has happened is that the Commonwealth has just gone and let their state mates off the hook from funding it. Don't get me wrong: this is an important project. It's a much-wanted project, and we will rejoice seeing the project delivered earlier, if this means a pipeline of funds coming through. But letting your state Liberal mates off the hook from funding it isn't a win for my region; it's just allowing one level of government to cost-shift to another. Frankly, you're letting off the New South Wales Liberal government from honouring their commitment and their promise to Newcastle whilst they collect all the royalties from our region. Some $2 billion in royalties went to the New South Wales government in 2018-19. It's been estimated that $1.8 billion in royalties out of the resources sector is going to go to the New South Wales government, but not a cracker is coming back into the electorate. Mine is one of many electorates in which that wealth has been generated, so it is time that the state government recognised the enormous economic output from Newcastle and the Hunter region and started channelling some of those very precious royalty dollars back into funding key projects. Accordingly, the federal government should not be letting the state off the hook when they make a commitment to fund a project. I do hope, if federal dollars are going to fund the Newcastle inner-city bypass, that it comes with a caveat. The Morrison government should tell the Berejiklian government in New South Wales that they need to ensure that, if they've been let off the hook from paying $360 million, they will spend that amount of money on other key projects in our area this is.
Let me take you through some of those projects. As I said, there was a proposal for a STEMM hub at the University of Newcastle. It's a terrific project. We all know how important it is for the next generation of Australians to be coming through training in STEMM, particularly women—and girls. We know we need to encourage and support them to take on STEMM subjects at school and then engage in STEMM disciplines in their tertiary education so that they can go into the workforce with the skills and expertise required. I'd like to quote the vice-chancellor of the University of Newcastle, Professor Zelinsky, who said:
"STEMM skills will power global economies long into the future and are the lifeblood of emerging knowledge-based industries such as … advanced manufacturing…
"These skills also underpin the competitive advantage we need for our established industries like agriculture, healthcare and resources…
"This investment … will reinforce our place on the research and education world stage …"
That's the kind of commitment I want to see. I want to see the Commonwealth government backing in regional universities, like the University of Newcastle, who are punching way above their weight and are leading the field in so many areas. I want to see them properly supported. I want to see the Commonwealth put some money towards critical projects like an industry-led STEMM hub that has been proposed for the Newcastle university. I want to see this government back in the Port of Newcastle to enable us to build a container shipping terminal in the seat of Newcastle. That is how freight is transported around the world.
The fact that the New South Wales Liberal government did a dodgy deal when it sold off the three ports of New South Wales and effectively prohibited Newcastle from being able to have a container terminal is unconscionable. This is a matter before the courts and the ACCC. Seriously, it really warrants the New South Wales government cutting through the obstacles that it has put up at every opportunity to disable the port of Newcastle from growth. It needs to put aside those weapons now. It needs to drop those ridiculous cases and back in a group that has so many infrastructure projects in the pipeline and ready to go, if only they were allowed to develop the port of Newcastle. I will quote the CEO, Craig Carmody, who says:
... the Port is ready to go.
He also says:
The Newcastle Multi-Purpose Deepwater Terminal ... will deliver more jobs in regional NSW, a reduction in ... road and rail movements in and out of Sydney, and cheaper freight costs for importers and exporters across the state.
… … …
We have cost effective landside connectivity, interested shippers and a deep channel port that is operating at less than half its capacity. With freight growth in NSW expected to double by 2040, a fully utilised Port of Newcastle with a world-class container terminal will provide efficiencies and competition to meet the future logistics and freight task.
The federal government need to find a way to work with their state counterparts to remove the cap on containers so that this shovel-ready project can go ahead.
As I said at the beginning, the Port of Newcastle are not asking the Commonwealth for money. In fact, they are the body in town that has money and is ready to create jobs and diversify our economic base in the Port of Newcastle. The only thing that's in the way is the New South Wales Liberal government and the ridiculous obstacles they have put in place—the anticompetitive, unfair obstacles they have put in place. They need to go. The Prime Minister recently visited the region and said he's backing in the Port of Newcastle. He needs to tell the New South Wales Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, that, because the state government are the ones in the way. Any support that the Prime Minister could lend would be gratefully received.
I want to move on to the other project, Newcastle Airport. There is a critical need now to ensure that the runway at Newcastle Airport is upgraded. The project has a value of $119 million. Sixty-five million dollars is required for a Code E runway upgrade and $54 million is required for the airport terminal expansion. The Commonwealth will fund the upgrades for the Defence Force. It is an airport that is utilised as a civilian airport but is also a strategically important Defence airport. Defence must undergo repairs and works on the runway, so we have a time-critical period. It's essential that the runway is widened to enable international flights to go in and out. It would be senseless not to undertake this work, at the same time as Defence is doing work on the runway anyway. So there is a very small window of opportunity for the Commonwealth to come in and support the building of critical runway infrastructure that will enable development and growth at Newcastle Airport. We cannot miss out on this opportunity. It's a project that has to be funded now. I want to see it in the budget, if not before.
Finally, I want to point to the issues that have been not just before this House but before the nation, and that is matters around women's place in our society, the ongoing inequities that exist and that are fuelling the levels of gendered violence in Australia, and the matters before us that we see how this also impacts workplace culture. This House is very much the focus of that discussion in the nation right now. I want to see a government with a plan of action to not just stop gendered violence in Australia but address what has been a growing inequity between men and women in Australia for some time. I want to see a plan of action. I want to see some recognition around these matters. I want it understood that gender inequality is one of the primary drivers of family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia. If you're serious about stopping violence, you're going to address gender inequality. I want to see this Prime Minister have the courage to introduce a gender equality act for the whole of Australia. That's my gift to you, Prime Minister. That's my suggestion. Please take it up. The women of Australia will be forever thankful.