House debates

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Matters of Public Importance


Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Chisholm, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The Speaker has received a letter from the honourable member for Wide Bay, the Leader of the Nationals, proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The consequences of the Government’s failure to invest in productive economic infrastructure for the long term benefit of Australians and the national economy.

I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

3:56 pm

Photo of Warren TrussWarren Truss (Wide Bay, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

In true Labor style, the government believe that the process of governing is just about spin, announcements and taking credit for whatever good things might be happening in the country. They give themselves credit or they give credit to their economic stimulus package for almost anything that has been constructed or built in this country over recent months or years. But when the Coordinator-General released his first progress report on Labor’s nation-building and economic stimulus package he showed how seriously flawed Labor’s rhetoric actually is on what they are achieving by way of infrastructure. Of over 33,000 approved projects, only 370 have been completed—only one per cent. When you look at some of the major projects about which the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government—the captain of spin—likes to boast, you see that only four out of the 14 major road projects that have been announced have even commenced. Ten out of 17 major rail projects have commenced, and the credit for that belongs to the ARTC, a body set up by the previous government to manage the rail track infrastructure. There are 607 black spot projects announced, but only 88 have been commenced and only five completed—five out of 607. Thirty-seven of the 292 boom gate projects have been completed, and most states have not completed a single one.

And this is the stimulus package that we are told is rescuing Australia from the global recession. Only one per cent of projects have even been completed. With Labor, it is all spin. It is about pretending that they are achieving things, they are doing things, when it is all empty talk.

We had another example this morning of this government being caught out trying to revel in the majesty of everything else that is good in Australia. At question time last week the minister for infrastructure said:

We have completed 32 large-scale infrastructure projects within our first two years in office—32 projects announced, built, completed.

That was the minister’s boast, that the government had completed 32 infrastructure projects.

This morning the Labor government was caught out. When the minister was asked to provide a list of these 32 projects, he could provide only 29 and some of those are a bit indecisive. Of those 29 that he has listed, at least 22 of them are not projects that were announced, built and completed by the Labor government at all. At least 75 per cent of them were not announced, built and completed by the Labor government. In reality, very few of the projects were announced by Labor at all, very few of them were funded by Labor, very few of them were built by Labor and quite a number of them had actually been completed before Labor even came to government, before they were even elected; yet we have the minister including on his list of achievements projects that were completed before he even came to office.

I drew attention to one in question time today—stage 1 of the four-lane road upgrade through Gympie. This was a project that was not announced by Minister Albanese; it was announced by the then Minister for Transport and Regional Services, John Anderson, in 2004. It was funded under AusLink 1 by the previous government and the official opening on 5 October 2007, which I had the honour to perform, was almost two months before the election. In fact, I have brought along a picture of the official opening and I cannot see Mr Albanese there anywhere. The mayor is there. The contractor is there. The engineers are there. You can see in the back of the picture that the road is already completed. There are cars driving on it and it is all landscaped. This was two months before Labor came to office, yet this is a project they are taking credit for. I have brought in another picture of me as a local member announcing stage 2 of the project. That also happened before Labor were even elected. So before the minister starts to claim credit for stage 2 of the project I would remind him that he did not announce that either.

That is not the end of these projects that he claimed to be Labor’s projects but which he did not announce and in many cases he did not build or complete. Let us go through a few of them, such as the Pacific Highway upgrade between Karuah to Bulahdelah. Section 1 of this particular road was completed in December 2006. The project received initial funding of $131 million for sections 2 and 3 in the 2006 budget. So the previous government not only announced this project but did the design and provided the funding. Yet this is top of the list of projects that the minister is claiming as Labor’s achievement.

Let us move to the Hunter Valley and the Maitland to Branxton rail project. This project was announced, designed and funded by the previous government. Indeed, work started on that project only a couple of days after the election before the minister was in his plush chair, yet he is claiming that this is a project that helped Labor save the nation’s economy through their stimulus package. The Coolac bypass is another one featured on his list. This is a project north of Gundagai that was also announced, designed and funded by the previous government. The tender for this project was awarded to Abbey Group in February 2007. The contract was let 10 months before the election, yet Labor are asking us to believe that this was one of their triumphal projects that helped save the national economy.

I move now to the Hume Highway safety works. Both sides of politics committed to the duplication of the Hume Highway. We actually provided $800 million for this in our 2005 budget, yet it is one of the projects the minister puts on his list as part of Labor’s achievements in government. Let us move to the Sheahan Bridge, a single-lane bridge at Gundagai which has been duplicated. Construction of this duplication project commenced before the election in October 2007. It was announced, designed and funded by the previous government, yet Labor are claiming it on their list of achievements. Moving on to the Trewilga realignment project, this is actually only a design project. The minister included this on his list of big picture construction projects. This is on his list of the 29 projects out of the 32 that he was referring to in question time last week, but it is actually only a design and planning project of $1 million. The $1 million was actually flagged in AusLink 1 and the funding was provided in the 2006 budget by the previous government. Yet this is one of Labor’s great achievements.

There was a package or works on the Newell, Sturt and New England highways. Again, funding for this was provided in the 2006 budget by the previous government. The Donnybrook Road grade separation was announced, designed and funded by the previous government. The funding allocation was in the 2007 budget. I move to the Goulburn Valley Highway and the Arcadia section project, which was a $30 million contract to construct the duplication of the Goulburn Highway. The contract for this project was awarded on 18 May 2006. That was a year and a half before the election, yet this is one of Labor’s great triumphs, one of the things that it has done in its infrastructure package. The Deer Park bypass on the Western Highway was a 9.3 kilometre project announced, designed and funded by the previous government. The first contract for the project was signed on 19 July 2006 and the project commenced. The second two contracts were signed in early 2007. Labor had no role in devising and dreaming up this project. The contract was signed by the previous government and it was designed, funded and delivered by the previous government.

Moving on to the Calder Highway, there are two projects—Kyneton to Faraday and Faraday to Ravenswood. Again, these are more coalition projects. Construction started on the Kyneton to Faraday section in November 2005. That was two years before the election and Labor is taking credit for the project. The construction started on the highway between Faraday and Ravenswood in October 2006, yet Labor is claiming credit for it. Some of these projects were actually completed before Labor’s stimulus package was ever even invented. In fact, Labor was still telling us that the inflation genie was out of the bottle; we could not spend money. These projects were completed during that era and now Labor is claiming them as a part of its response to the stimulus package.

And the list goes on. There is the Geelong bypass. All three stages of the Geelong bypass were announced and funded by, and construction commenced under, the previous government. The first stage commenced on 17 February 2006. Stage 2 commenced on 27 September 2006, and stage 3 on 14 September 2007. All three projects were designed, funded and announced by the previous government. Yet the minister says that he announced these projects. He built them. He completed them. The answer was simply dishonest.

Let us move on to the Dynon intermodal precinct, the grade separation in Melbourne, of Footscray Road. I remember this project very well because I had turned the first sod in June 2006. Yet Labor claims that it is its project. I was there with the Victorian minister and together we turned the first sod. But this minister claims it as his own project.

Let us move quickly on to a couple of the other projects. I have already mentioned the Gympie four-laning. Let us move further north into Townsville in Queensland and the Townsville ring road, extended from Shaw Road to Dalrymple Road to Hervey Range Road. It opened in 2005 and yet it is on the minister’s list of his achievements. It was opened two years before the election and yet he is taking credit for it. Then there is the Douglas arterial, the precursor to the Townsville ring road. This project commenced in September 2005 and was finished in April 2009—but the work commenced in 2005 and this minister thinks that it is his project.

What about the Great Eastern Highway in Western Australia? This project involved the realignment of 1.5 kilometres of the Great Eastern Highway and was another project that the coalition had designed, announced and funded. Indeed, construction commenced in January 2007, a year before the election, and finished only days after the election. Yet Labor thinks that this was one of its great achievements. There is the Great Northern Highway from Leonard Street to Muchea—another coalition project that Labor has taken credit for. There were three stages. The first stage was completed in June 2005, the second stage in July 2006, and construction began on the final stage in November 2006. It was a year before the election and Labor claims it as its project.

What about going to South Australia? There is the Sturt Highway, a five-year program which commenced in 2005, and Labor claim credit as though that was one of their brilliant ideas. In Tasmania, on the Bass Highway, there is the duplication, stage 2. A $42 million project, the first tender to construct the second bridge over the Leven River, was awarded in July 2006, and the second contract for the roadworks, awarded in August 2006. Labor takes the credit for that project as well.

This is the list of 29 projects that the minister announced as Labor’s great achievements in road building. The reality is that Labor has always been about spin and no substance. This time the minister has been caught out. The projects he is taking the credit for were not his. They were not announced by Labor. They were not built by Labor, and very few of them were completed during Labor’s time. This government cannot run away from the fact that it has actually cut expenditure on road and rail and will spend $5 billion less on road and rail infrastructure over the next five years than the coalition had committed before the last election. That is a clear fact. Labor talk about being the big spenders on infrastructure but in reality they are spending less than the previous government. They cannot boast about their achievements. They have been caught out, dishonestly claiming credit for projects in which they have had no role whatsoever. (Time expired)

4:11 pm

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to get, finally, a matter of public importance on infrastructure. Today I had the first question I have been asked all year on infrastructure from the shadow minister for transport—quite extraordinary. Day after day we see infrastructure at the heart of the agenda of the response of the government to the global financial crisis and yet nothing has been said by those opposite.

They talk about what we have done during our first years in office. I will tell you what the previous government did when it came into office. They slashed $2 billion from the federal roads budget over their first eight years in office. They refused to invest in any ports. Indeed, Peter Costello, the former Treasurer, was on the record as saying that investment in ports was purely the responsibility of the states. They ruled out federal involvement in urban public transport despite the escalating cost of urban congestion. They left Australia ranked 27th out of 30 on average download speed for broadband. Under the previous government Australia ranked 20th out of 25 OECD countries when it came to investing in public infrastructure as a proportion of GDP. Over their period in office public investment as a share of national income fell by close to 20 per cent, and this occurred in spite of the record revenues coming in from the once-in-a-generation mining boom.

Those opposite say, ‘It’s all about debt.’ They are going back to their two-pronged strategy. On the one hand they want to argue that they would have invested more in infrastructure. On the other hand, of course, they are calling for cutbacks. Indeed the shadow minister said at the doors this morning—and repeated here again today—that Labor is spending $5 billion less on road and rail than the previous coalition government would have. The fact is that the press release issued by Mark Vaile and Jim Lloyd on 8 May 2007 indicated that their commitment for AusLink 2 from 2009-10 to 2013-14 was $22.3 billion.

The statement of the Leader of the National Party exposes the extraordinary inconsistency in the opposition’s economic argument. There is only one side of politics that is arguing to cut back spending on infrastructure. When asked by the Adelaide Advertiser on 20 May whether he would maintain the current levels of infrastructure spending, the Leader of the Opposition said:

… everything will have to be reviewed. There’s no question about that.

Helen Coonan, the shadow finance minister told the ABC on 7 October:

… the Government should start by looking at the $8.5 billion earmarked in this year’s Budget for a series of road, rail and ports projects.

She said:

It’s a very good opportunity for the Government to take a very good look at whether this final part of the stimulus package is really necessary

That was the statement. Let us have a look at what the 15 projects are. Construction of the Hunter Expressway in New South Wales is expected to commence in 2010 with a total federal investment of almost $1½ billion. There is the Bruce Highway Cooroy to Curra section B duplication—I have turned the first sod on that project—in the shadow minister’s electorate. They could not do anything about it for 12 years but we have got on with the job of doing something about it and are investing $488 million in the project. The Queensland government are contributing $125 million to the project. Perhaps that would not go ahead if the opposition were to win the next election.

There is the Kempsey bypass on the Pacific Highway in New South Wales. I have been up there and had an inspection with the state minister. It is expected to commence in 2010 and is scheduled for completion by 2014, with a total federal investment of $618 million. Here it is, in National Party heartland and ignored by those opposite for 12 years in spite of the fact that the National Party had the transport ministry for that the entire time. Construction of the Ipswich Motorway in Queensland and additional works commenced in 2009 and is scheduled for completion by 2012, with a federal investment of $884 million, bringing our overall commitment to the Ipswich Motorway to over $2½ billion. Perhaps they would stop work on that project.

Photo of Warren TrussWarren Truss (Wide Bay, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, we would build the Goodna bypass.

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes; the shadow minister confirms in parliament that, yes, he says they would stop work on that. So we have got one response from them. The Leader of the National Party is here in the parliament and he says they would stop work on that project and build the Goodna bypass. That is what their position remains.

Construction of the regional rail link in Victoria is expected to commence in 2010. The preliminary work has already been done and I have been down there with Premier Brumby on two occasions so far already. It is scheduled for completion in 2014, with a federal investment of $3.2 billion. There is the Gawler rail modernisation in South Australia—perhaps that would just stop. It has a total federal investment of $293 million. Construction of the Noarlunga to Seaford rail extension in South Australia is expected to commence in 2010 and is scheduled for completion in 2013, with a total investment of some $291 million. Preconstruction work on the east-west rail tunnel in Victoria is underway with construction expected to commence in 2012. It has an investment commitment of $40 million. The Northbridge rail link is a project asked for and agreed to in conjunction with the Western Australian government and is expected to commence this year and be completed in 2014, with a total investment of $236 million.

All of these projects are going ahead under this government’s Nation Building Program and are part of the doubling of road spending and the quadrupling of rail spending that we have seen from this government as part of our commitment to nation building infrastructure. We have involvement in ports. For the first time there is direct Commonwealth involvement in our ports, opposed by those opposite. We have $339 million for an equity injection into the Oakajee port common user facilities north of Geraldton. It is a visionary project to establish a new port on the west coast to improve productivity for Australia into the long-term. There is $50 million for the Darwin port expansion. These two projects have money set aside subject to further work and consideration by Infrastructure Australia.

Those opposite say that they would simply get rid of some or all of these projects. It is up to them to say what projects they would cut back. We have got a $36 billion Nation Building Program on transport infrastructure. Those opposite are saying that they have $5 billion more than us so they would argue that somehow there is $41 billion over this period of time. The problem for the shadow minister is not just the budget papers, because it was news to the National Party that the budget papers have figures in them that are publicly available and able to be scrutinised. Therefore they say, ‘Oh well, that was months later. We made promises.’ The problem is, I have here a release from the member for Wide Bay in October 2007 where he is indeed inspecting works—not opening—on the first stage of the Gympie extension.

Photo of Warren TrussWarren Truss (Wide Bay, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

It was finished.

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

Your release says you were inspecting works on the first stage. We have the release here and on that he says:

AusLink involves a record $38 billion spending on road and rail infrastructure over 10 years—

10 years—

to 2014.

So he is on the record in lots of places arguing what their commitment is under AusLink. AusLink of course had a period of AusLink 1, and then they committed to having AusLink 2. They say ‘10 years to 2014’, but then they argue they committed to $5 billion extra. They try to argue two different positions, two diametrically opposed positions. They are wrong about lots of the detail as well in terms of, for example, the Black Spot Program and boom gates. All these measures, as part of the economic stimulus plan, have been critical to supporting jobs in the short term whilst building the infrastructure we need in the long term.

Photo of Warren TrussWarren Truss (Wide Bay, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Truss interjecting

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

And Mr Truss repeats his error by saying that one per cent of them are going. It is simply completely wrong. They are unable to keep up with the present. That is the problem.

Before, we had from the Leader of the National Party the comment about the Kempsey bypass. Well, not everyone says that, not even everyone in his own party. The Leader of the New South Wales Nationals, Andrew Stoner, said, ‘It is great that Kempsey is finally getting some attention from government.’ That is what he had to say. The member for Cowper said:

The Kempsey bypass is long overdue …

He sat here as part of the former government. We take action, and he says the Kempsey bypass is long overdue! Indeed. Indeed, the member for Cowper has spoken about this issue on a number of occasions, as has the state member. What happens is that they actually go out there and claim the work that is taking place right now as their own.

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Chisholm, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

We have seen the work of the member for Gippsland. We have seen the work of those opposite, project after project. They voted against the economic stimulus plan, but they come in here—

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Chisholm, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

and they want to argue that they support it in their own electorates. They are turning up to project after project right around the nation. Whether it be a sod-turning or the announcement of new projects, whether it be a road, rail or community infrastructure project, they are turning up and arguing that somehow their electorate is different—because they have not come to terms with the fact that they lost the last election. That is their real problem, and that is why they are such a disjointed opposition which has nothing to say about any of the real challenges facing this nation. They are reduced to internal chaos, to being a rabble without a cause, because they simply are unable to come to terms with where they are at.

But we are working with the business community on the infrastructure agenda. Indeed, the BCA report yesterday said:

  • The good news is that these problems are now well recognised, and economic infrastructure is now back centre stage in the economic policy debate. … the solution directions seem largely agreed, and the Commonwealth is now engaged in all sectors, including urban transport and urban water.

That is where the BCA are at. That is where the business community are at. That is where the Australian Industry Group and the Constructors Association were with their report last week, when they recognised the importance of our infrastructure investment in insulating the Australian economy from the impact of the global economic recession.

Australia is performing ahead of the rest of the world. Part of that is because of our commitment to infrastructure development. That is a commitment that is long term, a commitment that is at the heart of Labor’s economic agenda—one that has served us well to date and will serve us well into the future.

4:26 pm

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Housing and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to have the opportunity to talk on this matter of public importance today, the consequences of Labor’s failure to invest in productive economic infrastructure. The consequences are these: higher debt, high deficits, higher interest rates, fewer jobs, unaffordable housing, congested cities, isolated communities and lower standards of living.

The population growth projections that have been put forward by the Treasury bring challenges and opportunities. A growing population provides the demand we need to grow, but failure to manage and support this growth creates major problems for our cities, our regions, our towns and throughout rural and remote Australia. We can loiter at the edges of this problem, and we can talk about issues of managing demand, but our principal response must be to address supply. We have seen the problems in the housing industry, because this government and state governments around the country have failed to issue instructions and conduct policies that deal with the supply of land and the supply of housing, and so we are seeing housing becoming uncontrollably unaffordable in this country—through a failure to act.

The government has raised expectations on this matter, and the minister just alluded to that. In the BCA report it actually says that the government has raised expectations on these matters. But these expectations, I am sad to say for the government, remain unfulfilled. They remain unaddressed, despite the government’s attempts at spin to the contrary.

From listening to this debate, under the government’s mantra, there is the time before 23 November 2007 BK—before Kevin—when the earth was a great expanse of darkness! It was a formless void in the BK period, if you listen to those who sit on the other side of this place. According to the government’s version, on 23 November 2007, they emerged from that darkness and pronounced, ‘Let there be pink batts and let there be school halls,’ under this government’s false understanding that this constituted investments in economic infrastructure in Australia’s long-term interests and in the long-term interests of our economy.

The truth is something quite different. The truth is that, under the coalition, infrastructure investment rose from three per cent of GDP to 5.6 per cent of GDP. Each year, that is an increase from $15 billion a year to $56 billion a year. We undertook that task in recognition of the increasingly central role that the private sector plays, and must, in delivering on the nation’s infrastructure challenge—an infrastructure challenge that is estimated at somewhere between $450 billion and in excess of $700 billion. We are not going to meet that challenge if we think that the government sector is going to do it all on its own, which is the illusion this government is working under. Under the coalition, not only did we have a significant increase in the amount—almost a doubling—that is spent as a percentage of GDP on infrastructure but we also had an increase from one-third to two-thirds of the component that was invested by the private sector.

The government might want to put itself at the centre of the economy but, if we are going address this nation’s long term infrastructure challenges, that is not the answer. We need to put the private sector at the centre of our economy and ensure that we can deliver on the challenges ahead. While the investment infrastructure was increasing, the government that John Howard led was paying back Labor debt—a point that this government seems to forget on every occasion. It was not just $96 billion worth of debt that was paid back; it was also the $56 billion of interest that had to be paid on that debt in order to retire it. What of the government’s action? As we read in the Business Council of Australia report yesterday, only 14 per cent—

Photo of Bruce BillsonBruce Billson (Dunkley, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Sustainable Development and Cities) Share this | | Hansard source

One in seven.

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Housing and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

One in seven, as the member for Dunkley said. Only one in seven dollars of the government’s stimulus has been spent on economic infrastructure. As a courtesy to the government, I thought I should inform them of what economic infrastructure is, because they seem to have a difficulty in understanding it. According to the Productivity Commission, it means this: electricity, gas, water and sewerage, urban transport, ports, railways, telecommunications—that is what economic infrastructure is. Investments in these things provide for the long term performance of our economy and the long term future of this country. In response to questions in this place yesterday, I understand, the minister came to the dispatch box and talked about school halls and public housing being economic infrastructure. He is deluded. Economic infrastructure is infrastructure that produces an economic dividend that will help us pay back the mounting debt that this government is racking up on a daily basis.

So only 14 per cent—one in seven dollars—found its way into actual economic stimulus projects that were involved in economic infrastructure. Of the $22 billion that was announced in the budget, only $8 billion was spent on roads, rail and ports. These projects, incidentally, require another $60 billion of investment so that they can be finished. The government is happy to start some projects but, unless they can find $60 billion, none of those projects gets to be finished. The government’s program is one that they have deliberately decided to be wide but not deep. This project does not go deep; this program does not go deep. What it does is to spread noise far and wide—an announcement here and an announcement there, there is something for everybody—but when you look hard or under the surface the roots do not go down deep.

It reminded me of when I went to Sunday school. There was a great story we used to learn at Sunday school. It was the parable of the sower. I remind members that the parable of the sower told of where the seed was scattered. It reminded me of where the government are scattering the funds that they have available to them. When I read that parable—if it was the Prime Minister who was doing parables it would be the parable of the spinner, not the parable of the sower—it said:

Behold the sower went out to sow and as he sowed some seeds fell beside the road and the birds came and ate them.

With the economic stimulus projects, I would call that the cash splash.

Others fell on the rocky places where they did not have much soil, but immediately they sprang up because they had no depth in soil…

like so many of the government’s projects.

…but when the sun had risen they were scorched because they had no root and they withered away.

Think no more about pink batts and even the First Home Owners’ Grant, which was a worthy project in its endeavours but in terms of economic infrastructure it meant absolutely nothing. The parable continues:

Others fell among the thorns and the thorns came up and choked them out…

and we think of things like the SIHIP program in the Northern Territory where we can spend hundreds of millions of dollars and not build one house. We can think of the public housing program where only one in 10 of the projects which need to be completed by now have been completed and fewer than half of those that need to be under way by now have got under way. Projects that are lagging and falling behind are going to be the ones that put the pressure on interest rates down the track. These are the projects that the Reserve Bank governor is worried about because of the delays.

The projects we needed to invest in, when I go back to the parable of the sower, were those that fell on good soil and yielded a crop some hundred-fold, some 60-, and some 30-. They are the projects we need in this country but they are not the projects we are seeing. We are seeing only 14 per cent of stimulus spending going into projects that deliver that type of an economic dividend. The BCA had many other things to say and I will run through them in the time I have remaining. They raised serious questions, and effectively put a vote of no confidence in the government’s plan when they said in relation to urban infrastructure that the government had created confusion about roles and responsibilities. The government has stormed in, thrown some money around, and they have created confusion about who is responsible for what. With regard to transparency, where the government made much of its great approach, it refused to release the cost benefit analysis undertaken by Infrastructure Australia on the projects it has spent money on. It refused to provide that information. The BCA was highly critical of that approach.

No plan to address the nation’s freight challenge, at all. With water, they are buying air—thin air, rather than spending on replumbing Australia’s rural and regional areas. With electricity, they have completely lost control of the agenda and they have let go a transitionary agenda regardless of what happens to the ETS. What they are not doing, if the ETS goes ahead in its current form, is dealing with the problem of electricity generators. It will be on this government’s head if the generators switch off as a result of its failure to provide a transitionary plan. But the best is the broadband: from $4.5 billion or thereabouts to over $40 billion and we still do not have a business plan. As the BCA report said, ‘…with little or no supporting analysis…’. This is not a plan to invest in deep. This is a plan to invest in wide. It is a disgrace. (Time expired)

4:37 pm

Photo of Ms Catherine KingMs Catherine King (Ballarat, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is always somewhat perplexing when the Leader of the National Party, a former minister who had some interest in roads and transport, seeks to pit his record on infrastructure spending over the 11 long years of the Howard government against the massive investment that this government has made in productive infrastructure in our two short years in office. It prompts me to ask of the Leader of the National Party: are you actually serious about this motion? Who put you up to this? I really want to ask that, because—I hate to tell you—I think you have been set up.

Here we have a former minister of the Howard government who failed when he was in office to advocate the case to fund major productive infrastructure in our roads, rails and ports. Here is a former minister who, may I remind the House, only just last week during question time interjected on the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government when he was talking about our funding for the Midland Highway. He interjected: ‘Finally, someone’s funding it.’ I do not know what he was doing in office but, frankly, that was a pretty helpful interjection.

In fact, in the speech that we heard from the shadow minister I think we were all a bit misled by the terms of the MPI. Of the 15 minutes of the speech by the Leader of the Nationals, 12 of them were not about investments in infrastructure; they were all about him being upset—he did a massive dummy spit—because he was not being given credit for infrastructure projects that were commenced under the Howard government. Now, frankly, how petty! What a waste of this parliament’s time to have the Leader of the Nationals in here for 12 minutes calling on an MPI about why he is not personally being given credit for the funding of infrastructure projects under the Howard government. Well, I have some advice for the Leader of the Nationals: frankly, get over it! You lost government; you do not get to claim credit for projects that are completed when another party is in government. Get over it. Actually start contributing substantially to the national debate about building infrastructure and provide some decent opposition in relation to what you would do, as you purport to be the alternative government.

I want to pick on one project in particular. I have to do this, because it was mentioned in the Leader of the Nationals’ speech. It is a project that is dear to my heart. In 2001, when I was first elected as the member for Ballarat, we desperately needed to have funded the Deer Park Bypass. I am digressing a little from what I wanted to say but I cannot help myself on this because of the amount of stunts I had to pull, as a local member, to get the Deer Park Bypass onto Auslink II funding, and the work I had to do to get promises from our shadow ministers in opposition to promise to fund the Deer Park Bypass, which then, finally, got the government to fund the project. Member for Wide Bay, you are upset about us claiming credit for it but I have news for you: you bet I am going to claim credit for it! I worked damn hard for that project and I am very proud that I got alongside the Premier to open it, finally. I am sure the members representing Geelong feel exactly the same about the work they had to do for the Geelong Bypass.

Let’s look at the facts here. Labor really is the party of nation building. Since coming into office this government has a strong track record on infrastructure. We have appointed a minister for infrastructure—the first one in our nation’s history—and, as a result, established a federal department for infrastructure. We have established Infrastructure Australia to tackle our infrastructure challenges for the future—a body the coalition did not know which way to vote on; frankly, they were all over the shop. Through Infrastructure Australia, for the first time we have undertaken a national audit of infrastructure priorities. The outcomes and methodology by which it was developed have been made public, unlike the lottery of infrastructure project funding that occurred under the previous government.

In the May budget we invested some $389 million in port infrastructure. We invested $36 billion in transport infrastructure over six years—more than the Howard government spent in nearly 12 years—including two projects in my own electorate: the Anthonys Cutting realignment and, in the member for Wannon’s electorate, the duplication of the Western Highway between Ballarat and Stawell. That is a project that has been on the member for Wannon’s priority list for a long time but was on the never-never under the previous government. In addition to all of this there is our commitment to building a national broadband network.

As a government we have set infrastructure investment as a priority and our track record is strong. Since the budget, we are already seeing projects around Australia being built. Construction is already underway on the Brighton Bypass, which has received $164 million. The Western Ring Road in Melbourne has received $1.2 billion. In Ipswich we are seeing the upgrade of the motorway with $2.5 billion. We are seeing the Victorian Regional Rail Express set for construction in 2010. That is a project that is very important for my electorate and the electorate of Bendigo. Construction is set to begin on the Noarlunga to Seaford rail extension in South Australia next year with federal investment totalling $291.2 million. And the roll out of new projects is expected to continue into 2010.

Currently about to get started is the upgrade to the Princess Highway East between Traralgon and Sale—an important project for the Gippsland region. The list goes on: the Hunter Expressway; the upgrade of the Warrego Highway; the Kempsey Bypass, the east-west rail tunnel pre-construction works in Victoria; the Gold Coast light rail in Queensland, championed so well by the member for Forde; and the Gawler rail line modernisation in South Australia.

We are investing to set our port facilities up for the future. The $389 million set out in the budget is the best investment in ports that a federal government has ever provided. This investment will work alongside our national ports strategy that Infrastructure Australia is currently developing.

Under the previous parliament, the House transport committee, then under the excellent leadership of the member for Hinkler—I am disappointed that he is not here at the moment—undertook a major inquiry and produced a very informative report called the Great Freight Task. It was a bipartisan report but I remind the House that it had previous Howard government members as the majority. I highly commend the report to the Leader of the Nationals as he will find that many of the projects that are being funded by this government were recommended in that report. A great example of that is Port Oakajee—a significant project for Western Australia and particularly for Geraldton. That project was strongly recommended in the Great Freight Task.

This government’s commitments do not end with roads, rail and ports. The government is also taking significant steps to revitalise our nation’s major cities with our $4.6 billion commitment to urban public transport. The national urban policy is currently being developed and is a significant step in urban planning. Our nation broadband network is yet another example of critical long-term infrastructure that members opposite do not support. We have continually reiterated the importance to this country’s future economic growth of investing in the high-speed broadband infrastructure we need today.

We have here a motion from the Leader of the Nationals that really shows they are all over the place on infrastructure. First they claimed, quite incorrectly, that they would have spent more on infrastructure. Then the Leader of the Opposition said that stimulus spending should be cut. The Leader of the National Party was in the House here today saying that they are upset that they are not getting credit for a large number of projects, some of which started and were completed under the previous government but many of which are still ongoing. AusLink 2 stretches out to 2014, so it is understandable that many of its projects are funded under the current government. Some of the opposition voted against the establishment of Infrastructure Australia. Some of them abstained and some of them did not quite know what to do or what they were voting for, I suspect. They have voted against the Nation Building and Jobs Plan funding. Frankly, they are all over the shop on this government’s investment in infrastructure. Yet in the motion the Leader of the Nationals states that we have failed somehow to invest productively in the nation’s infrastructure.

The Leader of the National Party had the opportunity in the House today to lay out his plan but spent 12 minutes instead basically dummy spitting. He had the opportunity today to lay out his better plan for investment in infrastructure, to table that or outline that for the parliament. I ask him to go and do that when he has the opportunity. If the Leader of the National Party is absolutely serious about this motion, if he seriously believes that the infrastructure investment that this government has made is wasteful and not productive for the economy then he and every single member of the coalition need to tell us which projects they think funding should be withdrawn from. They need to have the courage to go into electorates like mine and say that they do not support the work at Anthony’s Cutting. The member for Wannon should say that he does not support the duplication of the road between Ballarat and Stawell. They need to be honest about which projects they do not think are productive and which projects funding should be withdrawn from. They need to come into my electorate and tell local councils why they do not think investment should be made in the National Broadband Network. Unfortunately, I doubt very much whether they will be honest in their electorates. We have seen them say one thing in this place and another out in their own electorates.

4:47 pm

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

I too appreciate the opportunity to take part in this vital debate on matters of public importance. Today, in response to the accusations from the opposition, we have seen the government trying to defend the indefensible. Prior to the 2007 election, there was a great statement made to the voters of this nation that a Rudd government, if elected, would solve all of the infrastructure problems. Voters went to the polls confident that if they elected Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party all of that infrastructure that was presumed lacking, especially in regional Australia, would suddenly be created. Nothing could have been further from the truth, because we are now a couple of years down the track and where is this infrastructure? Where is the infrastructure that the people of Australia voted to obtain? It is missing.

The simple facts are—and we have heard them stated and restated here today—that prior to the 2007 election the coalition government of the day had committed, if re-elected, to nearly $6 billion more than the Rudd government committed to. I very seriously believe that we, as an experienced government, would have presented those positions and created the infrastructure—unlike the current Labor government, who consistently make poor and hasty decisions and as a consequence put at risk the whole future of ordinary Australians.

The one thing that is guaranteed today for the future of ordinary Australians is that they will wear the millstone of debt around their necks for generations to come. Anyone conscious of today’s state of affairs, with rising interest rates and enormous debt, will ask: how is the Labor government going to develop a plan that will see this debt paid back and once again ease interest rates for ordinary Australians? Ordinary Australians with increasing mortgage costs today have a great deal to be concerned about. What they ought to be doing is basking in the rewards of a Labor elected government that is creating infrastructure across this nation—but it is not.

Furthermore, I would suggest that, seriously, the government are best at spin. They are wonderful at stunts. They provide photographic evidence of their race around the nation to bring to the press and therefore the people of Australia their great achievements. But what are they achieving and where is the sincerity? As the member for Cook said previously, ‘Where is the depth of policy?’ Where are the roots going deep down to provide for the future needs of the population of Australia—the ordinary indebted members of Australian society? Those roots are not to be seen.

When it comes to sincerity, I wish to bring to your attention, Mr Deputy Speaker, another matter. On the Notice Paper appears a notice of motion given on 17 June to the Table Office. This was a motion to be moved by Mr Albanese, the member for Grayndler. He is the current minister responsible for the fiasco of hasty decision-making. The motion reads:

That the House supports borrowing for Nation Building for Recovery to help Australia through the worst global recession in 75 years; Nation Building in rail, roads, ports, broadband—

that is a joke—

and the biggest school modernisation program in Australia’s history to help support the economy, local jobs and small businesses in each of the following electorates …

I am ashamed of this minister, and he should be embarrassed to a mortal condition, because amongst the list of electorates that he mentions there is no Kalgoorlie. (Time expired)

4:52 pm

Photo of Jim TurnourJim Turnour (Leichhardt, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The debate today is about infrastructure and productivity. The Leader of the National Party spoke for 15 minutes. I did not really hear him say much about productivity, but productivity is very important for growing the economic prosperity of this nation and infrastructure is a very important part of that. Looking back over the 12 years of the Howard government—which we have heard members opposite describe as some sort of golden age of investment and infrastructure—and comparing that to the two years of the current Rudd government, we need to look back at the context even of the last few years of the Howard government. We saw that after the 2004 election, when the current opposition—the then government—promised to keep interest rates at record lows, they went up 10 times and the independent Reserve Bank Governor was talking about infrastructure bottlenecks and the skills crisis in this country being a major driver of that, because infrastructure and skills are important for driving the productive capacity in this country.

The Reserve Bank Governor was saying, very clearly, there were infrastructure bottlenecks in this country that the Howard government had done nothing about. We need to focus on infrastructure and we need to invest in nation-building infrastructure if we are going to put downward pressure on interest rates. The Rudd government came to power in November 2007 and created the first ever infrastructure minister. We put in place—in our first budget—the Nation Building Program and we have continued to invest in nation-building infrastructure, in our response to the global financial crisis that led on to the global recession. Seventy per cent of our investment in economic stimulus has been in nation-building infrastructure. That, in the broad scheme, is the difference between the current government—the very proud Rudd government, with an infrastructure minister—that is about nation building, and the opposition and previous Howard government, who approached infrastructure with pork barrelling and short-termism. That is the way the National Party has always approached economic issues: ‘What can I do for my local constituency,’ and ‘What is in our local political interest?’—not what is in the national interest. We have seen that continued with the current Leader of the Opposition, the member for Wentworth, who shows poor judgement on a range of different issues, particularly issues that relate to the economy. And he shows very poor judgement, particularly when it comes to investment in infrastructure.

Let us go to what the Rudd government has done and what the Rudd government is doing. If we look at transport infrastructure we have, as the minister for infrastructure has said, over our six years—two years and the next four years over the forward estimates—committed $36 billion alone in transport infrastructure compared to, in over 12 years of the Howard government, $28 billion; that is, $36 billion over six years and $28 billion over 12 years—more in half the time. I am very proud that in the state of Queensland we are investing $2.2 billion in the Bruce Highway and $1.1 billion between Sarina and Cairns.

We heard members opposite talk about investments across the country and I was particularly interested to hear the Leader of the National Party talking about investments in the Douglas arterial road around the electorate of Herbert. He did not have anything to say about investment in the electorate of Leichhardt. The former Liberal member has been recognised as being a good advocate up there but there was not too much road funding that came into Leichhardt during the former member for Leichhardt’s time here—there were a few crumbs off the table. I can assure you that in the lead-up to the last election we got a commitment of $150 million to upgrade the southern approach to Cairns. The then minister for transport in the Howard government made no commitment—silence. The then member for Leichhardt, Mr Entsch, made no commitment. We had the then opposition spokesman—the current Minister for Resources and Energy and Minister for Tourism—come up and make a $150 million commitment to upgrade the Bruce Highway south of Cairns.

The current minister for infrastructure has committed to that and later this year we will be rolling out the last couple of options. Over the next four years we will see $150 million investment in the southern suburbs of Cairns, more than we ever saw under 12 years of the previous member for Leichhardt. I am very proud of the work that this government is doing. It is building the nation—nation-building infrastructure—not only across the nation but in my particular electorate.

Photo of Harry JenkinsHarry Jenkins (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The time for the discussion has concluded.