House debates

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Ministerial Statements


9:01 am

Photo of Tony AbbottTony Abbott (Warringah, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—At the last election, the coalition promised to scrap the carbon tax, stop the boats, get the budget under control and build the roads of the 21st century. We are honouring all these commitments—but my task today is to report on one of them, our infrastructure agenda. I said that I intended to be the infrastructure Prime Minister—and that part of that was delivering an annual infrastructure statement to the House of Representatives. So today I am pleased to report progress in building the modern infrastructure that our country needs.

Infrastructure does matter. It helps determine our quality of life as well as our country's competitiveness, productivity and living standards. Australia needs an infrastructure Prime Minister because for too long, infrastructure improvements have not kept pace with population growth or the needs of our people. Too many of us have painful, firsthand knowledge of the problems with our national infrastructure, particularly in our big cities. People leave for work earlier than they did a decade ago because the traffic jams just keep getting worse and worse. Parents rack up late fines at childcare centres when freeways slow to a crawl. Businesses see their costs rise when trucks idle in traffic. Air travel between our cities is actually slower today than a generation ago—because of clogged airports and surrounding road networks. And exports can be held up at bottlenecks in key freight networks, particularly, again, in congested cities. That is why building the infrastructure of the 21st century is an essential part of the government's economic strategy to build a strong and prosperous economy and a safe and secure Australia.

This budget committed $50 billion to infrastructure. It is the largest infrastructure investment in our nation's history—and the government's spend is forecast to generate a record $125 billion of public and private investment in infrastructure over the next decade.

To help the states and territories, the government has introduced an asset recycling initiative. It is an incentive for them to privatise existing assets and to reinvest the proceeds into new economic infrastructure. Asset recycling should reassure the taxpayers who paid for the assets in the first place that their investment is being preserved and their legacy built upon.

I am pleased to say that every state and territory has signed the National Partnership on Asset Recycling. That will help them to build the infrastructure they need, including, it should be said, public transport infrastructure. It is cooperative federalism at work—as is the National Partnership Agreement on Land Transport Infrastructure, which will make roads safer for truck drivers and for all the vehicles that share the roads with them. This is a five-year agreement and the funds will flow this year to the states that have signed up.

We promised that big new projects would be underway within 12 months of a change of government and we are delivering. In New South Wales, Australia's biggest urban road project, WestConnex, has begun, with geotechnical work underway across stages 1 and 2. Stage 2 of WestConnex, which duplicates the M5 East, will begin ahead of schedule because the Commonwealth will provide a concessional loan of up to $2 billion on top of the $1.5 billion we committed for stage 1.

WestConnex will create almost 10,000 jobs during construction and, when complete, it will bypass 52 sets of traffic lights. It will reduce travel times for the 100,000 motorists who use the motorway every day by up to 40 minutes and take 3,000 trucks every day off Parramatta Road.

As well, the Commonwealth and New South Wales government are working together to complete the Pacific Highway upgrade by the end of the decade; and, in just the past year, 32 kilometres of the highway has been duplicated, including the Sapphire to Woolgoolga upgrade, and now 397 kilometres or 60 per cent of final highway length is complete.

The duplication of the Pacific Highway, combined with the NorthConnex project in Sydney, means that, by the end of the decade, at most there will be just two stretches of traffic lights between Melbourne and Brisbane.

In Victoria, the Commonwealth is investing $3 billion toward Melbourne's East West Link. The East West Link will create more than 6,000 jobs during construction and it will reduce travel time by up to 20 minutes for commuters travelling from Geelong to the city and beyond. Stage 1 alone is expected to allow 100,000 vehicles each day to bypass 23 sets of traffic lights, and on 29 September, the Victorian government signed contracts to build stage 1 of East West Link. The link has been inked, so there can be no turning back from this major project that will help tens of thousands of Victorians every day.

In South Australia, the Commonwealth has committed $944 million to upgrade the North-South Road Corridor. This project will create 1,000 construction jobs and early work is already underway on Ashwin Parade.

In Western Australia, the Commonwealth has committed $174 million to widen and strengthen the North West Coastal Highway, which is the main link between Geraldton, Carnarvon, Karratha and Port Hedland. Construction will commence in the next month.

The Gateway WA is on track. The Commonwealth is providing $615 million for the 40-kilometre Northlink WA project. Planning is underway and construction will commence in 2016. Planning is also underway for the $1.6 billion Perth Freight Link project funded with $925 million from the Commonwealth.

In Queensland, five major projects have been completed on the Bruce Highway—at Gin Gin, Mackay, Cairns, Calliope Crossroads near Gladstone and at Burdekin. The last section of the Townsville Ring Road will start within 12 months. Early works have begun on the Gateway Motorway upgrade. And the procurement process is underway for the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing, so that major construction works can start next year. The Commonwealth's commitment of up to $1.28 billion is the largest ever federal contribution to a single Queensland regional road project.

In Tasmania, the Commonwealth has committed $400 million to the Midland Highway and the Westbury Road Upgrade will be completed by the end of this year.

In the Northern Territory, the duplication of the first sections of Tiger Brennan Drive has been completed, and the Commonwealth has committed a further $77 million towards upgrading Northern Territory highways with planning already underway.

In addition to these major road projects, the government is spending $2.1 billion on the Roads to Recovery Programme and funding a $565 million Black Spot Programme to improve the most dangerous stretches of road throughout our country. Then there is the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Programme providing $248 million to increase the number of rest areas and improve connections to freight networks. There is also the $229 million National Highway Upgrade Programme for practical improvements such as shoulder and centreline widening, strips and wire rope barriers. And the government is providing $300 million for the Bridges Renewal Programme to upgrade deteriorating bridges across the nation.

Airports are our gateways to the world. For more than 50 years, governments have talked about a second airport for Sydney. Finally, and not before time, the talk is over. We have taken the final decision that Badgerys Creek will be site of Sydney's second airport—or, as I prefer, Western Sydney's first airport. The government has commenced consultations with the Sydney Airport Group. We are working up the commercial model and the airport concept designs and construction should begin in 2016. This airport is irrevocable. It is going ahead, and construction should begin in 2016. By mid-century, the new airport could generate a $24 billion increase in our gross domestic product and 60,000—60,000—new jobs in Western Sydney. It is the centrepiece of our long-term vision for Western Sydney.

And heeding past lessons, it will be a case of roads first, airport second: the roads will be built before the first plane has landed. A $3.6 billion, 10-year partnership with the New South Wales government is underway, starting with the upgrade of Bringelly Road. Together, our road package and the airport will give Western Sydney the modern infrastructure it deserves.

In Hobart, environmental and design studies for the extension of the runway at Hobart Airport are underway.

This $38 million upgrade will help Hobart to become the gateway to the Antarctic and give the potential for direct flights to Asia.

As well, planning work and consultations are currently underway on the Inland Railway between Melbourne and Brisbane which would significantly improve freight productivity compared to the coastal line via Sydney.

Importantly, the government is also getting on with the job of rolling out the NBN so that Australians will have access to very fast broadband as soon as possible, at affordable prices and the least cost to taxpayers. This government has connected more premises in just one year than the previous government did in five! An independent cost-benefit analysis of the NBN found that this government's multi-technology approach will deliver net economic and social benefits of almost $18 billion.

The government is determined to end the dam phobia that has largely stopped the construction of new dams for the past three decades. Water is a priceless asset especially when the vagaries of our environment make it so scarce. Strengthening our water storage capability is essential if our country is to grow. We do need to build the right dams in the right places. Most of these dams should be feasible without government support. But we are looking at some modest seed funding to help break the anti-dam mindset.

Just as we promised to end the analysis paralysis and get projects moving on the ground, we also promised a long-term vision for Australia's infrastructure needs and a comprehensive plan to deliver it. We have passed legislation to make Infrastructure Australia more independent, robust and transparent, with a board-appointed CEO, so that states, territories, industry and the community can be confident it is working in the national interest, and not just the Commonwealth's interests. And to see our nationally significant infrastructure needs more clearly, we have tasked Infrastructure Australia to develop a 15-year infrastructure plan. The plan will cover all economic infrastructure—transport, energy, communications and water. It will evaluate projects receiving more than $100 million in Commonwealth funding to help clarify our country's infrastructure priorities for the future. It is reform to build the right projects at the right time for the right price. The work done to make costs and benefits more transparent should build deeper engagement by private investors in infrastructure.

Australia is not alone in facing a greater need for infrastructure investment. Almost every country needs more and better infrastructure to underpin jobs and growth, and almost every government lacks the resources to underwrite that investment. Governments do not have the money to deliver on their own.

As this year's G20 president, Australia has made boosting private sector investment in infrastructure a priority. We are driving a global infrastructure initiative for quality investment across the G20 and beyond. Part of this initiative is a new global infrastructure hub that we hope will be based in Sydney.

This government is committed to building the infrastructure that we need to get products to market faster, to speed up the wait for freight and to get employees to work and home again with less time wasted in traffic. Nothing boosts confidence like cranes in the sky and bulldozers on the ground. It is an unmistakable sign of faith in our future. Next year, I look forward to reporting further progress in delivering the projects we promised in our plan to build a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia. I table a copy of my statement.

9:16 am

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection) Share this | | Hansard source

I commend the Prime Minister on his statement and I ask leave of the House to move a motion to enable the member for Grayndler to speak for 15 minutes.

Leave granted.

I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent Mr Albanese speaking in reply to the ministerial statement for a period not exceeding 15 minutes.

Question agreed to.

9:17 am

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the relatively brief statement by the Prime Minister on his record of infrastructure delivery in his first year in office. I suspect that in delivering his account, the Prime Minister was thinking of former Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who once said:

You don't tell deliberate lies, but sometimes you have to be evasive.

In infrastructure, talk means nothing; only results matter. Despite going to the election giving Australians the impression it would maintain Labor's six-year focus on nation building, the government is struggling to deliver results. It continues to present old Labor projects as though they are new. It continues to treat its election promises as though their delivery was somehow optional.

The government has also run up the white flag on traffic congestion by scrapping all Commonwealth investment in the best remedy to solve the problem—better public transport. Just a few days before the election, Tony Abbott told the National Press Club a line that he has repeated today, that there will be cranes and bulldozers at work on major new infrastructure projects within one year of the election. As recently as last week, a Senate estimates committee heard there were no cranes at work, no bulldozers either—just clouds of bulldust. Today's statement by the Prime Minister is more of the same.

Before addressing the statement, let me remind the House of the infrastructure record of the former Labor government. We inherited an infrastructure deficit. The Howard government had squandered the windfall receipts from the mining boom on middle-class welfare and electoral bribes. That money should have been used to build roads, railway lines and ports. Over the following six years and despite the global financial crisis, Labor rolled out an infrastructure investment program which yielded results that can best be illustrated by a single statistic. When Labor took office, Australia was 20th amongst OECD nations in terms of infrastructure investment as a proportion of GDP. When Labor left office Australia was first. Looking at it another way, Labor lifted total infrastructure spending from $132 per person to $225 per person. While others talk about infrastructure, Labor deliver. We are nation builders. We realise, as John F Kennedy once said:

Things do not happen. They are made to happen.

Over six years Labor established Infrastructure Australia to provide, for the first time, a system for evidence based decision making on infrastructure; doubled the roads budget, and upgraded 7½ thousand kilometres of road; rebuilt or built anew 4,000 kilometres of railways—about a third of the national railway network was rebuilt. As a result of that investment, we reduced the freight rail journey from Brisbane to Melbourne by seven hours and the journey from the east to west coast by nine hours.

We committed more to urban passenger rail than all previous Commonwealth governments combined from Federation right up to 2007. We created the nation's first aviation strategy, the nation's first port strategy, the nation's first national freight strategy. We initiated planning for the second Sydney airport. We focused on cities by establishing the Major Cities Unit and the Urban Policy Forum, including experts from government, planning and development sectors to advise government in better long-term planning—a proud record of achievement.

We did not just throw money at building new toll roads and pretend we were meeting our nation's infrastructure needs. We established a process for evidence based decision making on infrastructure and collaborated with states and local government to make sure that we got it right. Then we delivered in spades.

During last year's election campaign, the then opposition leader made infrastructure a central plank of his platform. A year later, his promises are undelivered and his platform is tottering. I know why. During the period of the Labor government, the then opposition leaders never had a positive idea and took no time for serious policy consideration. The now Prime Minister was too busy being negative. He turned, indeed, the coalition of yesterday into the 'noalition'. As election time approached, the most negative opposition leader in Australian history realised he needed to find a positive narrative, so he turned to infrastructure. The problem was that his ideas were too narrow, not thought out and came with no proper planning.

That is why these plans are now crumbling and why this first year has been dominated by broken promises. Let's look at a few. The then opposition leader promised to retain the independence of Infrastructure Australia. He also promised to reappoint its chairman, Sir Rod Eddington. He failed to do so. And one of the government's first actions was to launch an assault on Infrastructure Australia's independence. It proposed legislation that would have given the Minister for Infrastructure the power to dictate its research agenda and to censor publication of its findings. The proposal went so far as to suggest that the minister should have exclusive power to exclude entire classes of infrastructure from Infrastructure Australia's consideration.

This was a sneaky, backdoor attempt to warn Infrastructure Australia off the government's ideological no-go area of public transport. Fortunately, the government ultimately backed down on this ridiculous plan due to pressure not just from the parliament but also from outside—from the Business Council of Australia, from Infrastructure Australia itself, from the Property Council and from the Urban Development Institute of Australia. It folded as a result of this pressure.

Another key coalition promise was to require all Commonwealth infrastructure spending worth more than $100 million to undergo a proper cost-benefit analysis. That analysis was to be ticked off by the experts at Infrastructure Australia. The government has treated this promise with contempt from day one. In its first budget, it handed the Victorian government $1.5 billion as an advance payment for Melbourne's East West Link project. Indeed, $1 billion of this is for stage 2, which not only did not commence last financial year when the payment was made; it will not commence this financial year and not even next financial year; yet a billion dollars has already been paid for this project.

We can only conclude that the payment was designed to pad Premier Napthine's budget bottom line in advance of the Victorian state election. We should also never forget that this favour to a political mate came at a time when the government claimed it was facing a budget emergency. So much for the budget emergency—making advance payments years in advance of any construction. That compares with what the assistant minister told the Civil Contractors Federation—and the minister may well remember this. On 6 June he said:

So we are driving the state governments very hard to give us timetables to ensure that we’re meeting the expected time of delivery of these projects. That we’re hitting milestones, that we’re only making payments to states when they actually deliver the milestones, that they’re not getting money in their bank account prior to milestones being delivered …

But that same month a billion and a half dollars arrived in the Victorian government's bank account, years in advance of anything actually happening.

The government also provided a concessional loan for Sydney's WestConnex project—another project without a cost-benefit analysis. For anyone who knows anything about Sydney, stage 1 of the WestConnex project goes to Haberfield and stage 2 goes to St Peters—to the west of the airport. I am a supporter of the concept of taking people to the city and freight to the port, but the road needs to do both of those things if it is to stack up—yet the money has already been paid.

If you thought East West and WestConnex were bad, have a look at the so-called Perth Freight Link. It used to be known as Roe 8. This project seems to have been pulled out of a Weet-Bix packet—no cost-benefit analysis and no clarity on details. Even the Western Australian Liberal government is in the dark. In June, the WA government's Parliamentary Secretary for Transport, Jim Chown, told a parliamentary committee:

... at this stage we have not actually got plans that are worthy of public scrutiny.

He said that a month after the budget announcement. This is the Liberal Party person in government responsible for this project—an extraordinary proposition.

The government currently has legislation to institutionalise cost-benefit analysis on projects funded to the tune of more than $100 million. There is a fundamental problem here, though: the analysis would come after the projects have been funded. So you determine what projects will have a cost-benefit analysis after you have determined that they will receive more than $100 million of government funding. News flash: do the cost-benefit analysis prior to determining where the funding will go. That is a fundamental principle of what should happen. This explains why there are problems. Just ask one of my constituents. Vince Crowe received two letters from a representative of the WestConnex Delivery Authority on 26 June 2014—on the same day. The first letter said, 'We're going to buy your property,' and the second letter said, 'We don't need to buy your property'—on the same day. That is what happens when you do not get planning right.

Such misadventures are bad enough, but the government's biggest mistake is its refusal to spend a cent on public transport. You cannot deliver solutions to urban congestion without dealing with both road and rail and without having strategies for transport. If you are going to have the infrastructure of the 21st century—as the rhetoric goes—you need to deliver on urban public transport, you need to deliver on high-speed rail and you also need to deliver on the National Broadband Network. And one of those infrastructure challenges is just that. The 21st century is the information age. All Australians deserve fibre to the home. All Australians deserve best practice. When we talk about analysis paralysis, an example is that, over the last 12 months, there have been eight separate inquiries into the National Broadband Network—eight separate inquiries. So we need to be serious about that.

The government's infrastructure strategy has been to take money off projects that had cost-benefit analysis, like the Cross River Rail project and Melbourne Metro—to take money from urban public transport—and give it to roads. The government does deserve credit for the work that has been done on Badgerys Creek. But Badgerys Creek needs to have not just roads, but rail. It needs to preserve the corridor, but it would be logical—when you have the rail line being built to Leppington funded by the former state Labor government—to extend it further and to connect with the main western line. That would be the smart thing to do.

Government Members:

Government members interjecting

When the Prime Minister was attempting to spin the 2014 budget he claimed he had delivered significant infrastructure investment. The truth is that his statement today repeated a range of projects, many of which are just about ready to open. Gateway WA and the projects on the Bruce Highway that he mentioned, like Calliope Crossroads, are projects that have been underway for years.

The so-called asset recycling plan has been spoken about by those opposite in the form of interjections. The truth is that the only thing that was recycled there was the money. They took money from the Building Australia Fund, called it the Asset Recycling Fund, and pretended that there was new investment where there was not. The truth is that the former government lifted infrastructure investment from 20th in the OECD to first. This current government needs to give a commitment that it will maintain that investment at first place. It is simply that. I commend to the government the advice of Henry Ford, who once said, 'Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.' The government should get infrastructure investment right. If they do that the nation will benefit.