House debates

Thursday, 20 October 2016


Infrastructure and Regional Development Portfolio

10:31 am

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

We certainly will need to have some discussion, because the nature of the matter under consideration that is before the House is to approve an appropriation for infrastructure. The context for this is that the previous two years appropriations for infrastructure have certainly not been delivered. Last year there was a gap of some $1 billion between what was anticipated to be spent in the 2014 budget and what actually happened. But that looks pretty good compared with the performance in the last financial year, 2015-16, which shows that, in spite of the fact that the government committed, with all of its rhetoric, to spend some $8 billion on infrastructure, the actual figure—the final budget outcome for 2015-16—is just $5.5 billion. The $5.5 billion of course includes the one-off payment, in rounded figures, of $500 million to WA as compensation for the GST. What we are left with, essentially, is a $3 billion gap between what the government said it would spend and what the government has actually invested. That is because this is a government that simply has no idea when it comes to nation building.

When the government came into office, they cut funds from projects that were ready to go in order to fund projects that had no prospect, in some cases, of going anywhere. There is a gap between rhetoric and reality. To be fair to the cabinet minister, his junior minister this week—his errand boy, if you like—made a statement about the $50 billion of expenditure, once again, that was expected. Whereas, year on year, up to the end of the decade, the figure is $30 billion, not $50 billion. When the government uses these big figures, they are talking about the never-never. When we look at what is actually happening, we see three categories: the first is projects that were stopped but that were ready to go and that had been approved by Infrastructure Australia, that were in the budget—projects like the Cross River Rail and the Melbourne Metro Rail Project.

The second category are those that were delayed because of government incompetence—projects like the latest section of the M80, which began just this month. The funding was actually in the budget in 2013 but was cut in 2014. Another project is the South Road in Adelaide, where the government said, 'No, we're not going to do Torrens to Torrens; we'll do Darlington first'—except Darlington was not ready and Torrens to Torrens was underway. So they stopped work on that South Road. Then there is the Perth Airport road link. There was $500 million in the budget in 2013 for public transport projects in Perth. That was cut in 2014 and then put in. More remarkably, projects have simply been slowed. Estimates show the Pacific Highway cut by $129 million; the Bruce Highway cut by $94 million; Gateway North cut by $54 million; Perth Freight Link cut by $88 million; Adelaide South Road cut by $92 million; Goodwood and Torrens Junction rail project cut by $232 million—cut from an IA approved project that was underway and stopped by this government; Black Spots cut by $34 million; bridge renewal cut by $24 million; and heavy vehicle cut by $26 million.

This is a government that does not actually have a plan for jobs and growth. If it did, infrastructure would be at the centre of it—but that is not what we see.

10:36 am

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Deputy Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

If it would assist members opposite, I would encourage them to make their contributions and I will answer as a job lot in the future.

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the minister, but I cannot thank the minister for the actions of his government when it comes to this portfolio. There is no shortage of members in this place who started their political life in local government—no shortage of them. Unfortunately, when it comes to members of the government, once they enter this place they seem to forget the important contribution that local government makes to civic and economic life in this country. Members opposite have supported the decision of their ministers and their government in reducing funding to local government by close to $1 billion since 2014-15. Close to $1 billion—$925 million—has been slashed from local government financial assistance grants since the 2014-15 budget.

It is important that this house knows what the future of financial assistance grants to councils around the country is going to be under a future Turnbull government. The impact on local governments cannot be underestimated. I have here some examples which I think should be interesting to the minister. Indeed, the minister, as a proud Victorian, should be acquainted with the impact that these cuts are having in his own state. The Victorian Grants Commission only last week published an interesting report that showed the results of the government's heartless cuts to financial assistance grants on his state alone—a cut of $200 million. So $200 million is no longer available for funding the important services provided by Victorian local governments.

Around the country we are seeing the impact of these cuts hurting very, very hard. The Livingstone Shire Council in Queensland are facing a cumulative loss of $2.7 million as a result of this government's cuts to their services. It is no surprise to members in this place that the state of Tasmania is struggling economically. They have limited capacity to raise additional revenues at the local government level, and they are incredibly reliant on the financial assistance grants for the provision of their services. Indeed, for the Burnie City Council of Tasmania, the financial assistance grants represent 7.2 per cent of council's total operating expenditure. The minister might say, 'Well, it's up to the Burnie council to just up the rates.' The Burnie council has some of the highest rates in Tasmania. In a very low-SES area of the state, as anyone who knows anything about Tasmania would attest to, the result of these heartless cuts will be the closure of services, the laying off of staff and, indeed, a pullback from some of the important capital works programs that the council would otherwise be planning.

In the South Burnett Region in Queensland, the South Burnett Regional Council is looking at significant cuts as well, with staff reductions of between 28 and 30 full-time equivalent staff. Again, that is in another struggling region.

The questions that the minister has to answer in this chamber are: what is the future of the Financial Assistance Grant? Can the minister guarantee that there will not be another round of financial assistance grants freezes? What action is the government going to take to ensure that these struggling councils from around the country are going to be put in the same position as they would have been had the Abbott-Turnbull government not imposed these Financial Assistant Grant freezes? How can the government ensure that these councils are going to be in a position to provide the vital services that their residents, their rate payers, so sorely rely on?

10:41 am

Photo of Scott BuchholzScott Buchholz (Wright, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is not my intention to detain the chamber any longer than I have to. If the minister has the opportunity after answering the opposition's questions in this place, could he also give a quick update on the Toowoomba range crossing and where things are at in my electorate.

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to raise the vexed matter of East West Link and the very damning audit that the Australian National Audit Office released regarding the federal funding of this project. Just to set some context, this is a project that this government decided to fund at the expense of shovel-ready public transport projects that had been committed to under the last Labor government. This government, when it came to power in 2013, cancelled vital public transport projects and deferred assistance for some of these projects to fund this dog of a project. This is a dog of a project that economic modelling showed would return 45c for every dollar of funding invested. Let me repeat that: 45c for every dollar spent—that is how awful this project was!

I have read a few ANAO reports in my time, and this has to take the cake for the quality of the condemnations in the findings. I will just to go through a few of them. Firstly, the government approved $3 billion in funding before a merit assessment of the project had been completed. The then Liberal Victorian government did not even submit it to Infrastructure Australia for stage 2, and this joke of a federal government approved it without the project having been presented to or assessed by Infrastructure Australia, the vital independent expert body in this field. Secondly, this approval was contradictory to warnings from the minister's own department to wait until the assessment had been completed. The department tried to act honourably in this process and they were sidelined by the Abbott-Turnbull government and its ideological obsession with road funding. Thirdly, again, the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development warned against making a $1½ billion advance payment, when there was absolutely no need to. Its own department warned there was no need to allocate and divert $1½ billion into advance payments. Fourthly, the ANAO found that this decision was driven purely by the government's cynical desire to inflate the 2013-14 budget deficit and reduce its horrendous 2014-15 budget deficit. It is very rare for the ANAO to go to the political motivations of government—they are usually a bit more circumspect—but in this case they made it very clear that the only reason this government chose to make these advance payments was to inflate a budget deficit.

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

To be fair, I think these two are slightly more honourable than their predecessors. Time will tell.

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a very low bar!

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a low bar. There will be an opportunity for them to prove us right or wrong.

The ANAO finding was extraordinary. The ANAO found that this decision had cost the Commonwealth $49 million in lost interest earnings. That is $49 million that could have supported women's refuges, that could have supported public transport, that could have supported people on Newstart and that could have provided jobs somewhere. It was lost because of this government's cynical political opportunism. The audit also found that there was poor risk management for the proposed stage 2 of the project and poor documentation across the entire project process from the Commonwealth. This litany of failures might have been understandable if this had been a rolled gold, you-beaut project that was going to deliver massive economic benefits for Victoria and the nation. As I said at the start, this project would actually lose money in terms of economic benefit. For every dollar invested, it would return 45c. This litany of failures will hang as a millstone around this government's neck.

I have a number of questions for the minister and, if he is unable to answer them, I ask that he please take them on notice. First, will the minister apologise for this disgraceful process? Secondly, will the minister apologise for wasting $49 million of taxpayers' funds? Thirdly, will the minister apologise for his government attempting to fund a project that returned 45c in every dollar invested? Fourthly, will the minister apologise for the government sidelining the independent experts, Infrastructure Australia, during this process? Fifthly, will the minister guarantee that this will never happen again under this awful government?

10:46 am

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I remind the minister at the table that Victoria is Australia's fastest growing state and also home to one in four Australians. Melbourne is of course the fastest-growing city not just in Australia but, I believe, in the developed world. Yet it seems the Commonwealth government are unaware of this or are treating the Victorian community, particularly residents in Melbourne's outer suburbs, with utter contempt. Madam Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou, when you are not sitting in that chair, you may be aware of some of these issues. Only nine per cent of Commonwealth infrastructure spending is going to Victoria, short-changing the growth sectors of Lalor—

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am looking forward to both ministers' responses, but it should be pleasing to have a minister for transport from Victoria. It is so disappointing that not only the minister from Victoria but both ministers are not engaging with their responsibilities when it comes to infrastructure provision in Victoria and, in particular, in Melbourne. This is particularly egregious because it is the case that there is a large evidence base supporting good projects. The member for Shortland has just taken us through the debacle that has been the Commonwealth indulgence over East West Link—again, a criminal indulgence, in defiance of the evidence, in defiance of any nation-building agenda on the part of this government.

As the local member for Scullin, if you want to talk about other road projects, the people of Epping North, Epping and Wollert are desperate; they have been waiting for far too long to see the Oherns Road project completed—a project that Labor, in federal government, committed to, a project that the Andrews government have committed funds to, a project that the City of Whittlesea have committed to, a project with a business case that stacks up, a project in need of federal government support. This is incredibly important to the growth area around Epping, the Epping central activity district, centred around the Northern Hospital, one of the busiest hospitals in Victoria. It is an area also containing the Melbourne markets—a matter that may be of interest to some of the constituents of the minister for transport. If the market is to prosper, we need the Oherns interchange project completed now. This is why Labor, at the last election, promised to fund the federal government's share—a fair share—of the Oherns Road interchange project. I thank the member for Grayndler for coming out to the site at Epping North to make that commitment, which was incredibly well received by the local communities, including communities in the McEwen electorate and, I am sure, people in the Calwell electorate.

However, the communities of Melbourne's northern suburbs are awaiting any meaningful response from the ministers opposite, a meaningful response to a project with a business case that stacks up and with clear community need underpinning it. The residential areas beyond the business area of Epping Central are going to grow by 40,000 over the next 10 years. This project must be built now. The quality of life of these residents and the ability of the businesses and the hospital to conduct themselves depend on immediate funding of this project.

The member for Grayndler talked about some of the wider issues in terms of the federal government's failure to support Victorian infrastructure—in particular, the appalling freeze on the M80, linking the electorate of Lalor with the electorates of Scullin, McEwen and Jagajaga, through Calwell. The delays there have had an enormous cost on my constituents and on business and residential amenity in Melbourne more generally. The failure to invest in public transport has put a big pause on making Melbourne the most livable, sustainable and productive city it can and should be. Growth areas, in particular, are stuck in traffic under this government, which is damaging lives as well as damaging growth. This government's failure to invest in city-shaping infrastructure in Melbourne, based on evidence, is not only meaning less time for people with their families—a big cost on livability—but it is a huge handbrake on productivity, a huge brake on economic growth, running completely counter to the rhetoric of this government around jobs and growth. So I ask the ministers, because I have trouble seeing anything about it in this government's budget: when will Victoria, and in particular Epping and Melbourne's north, get our fair share of infrastructure funding? Specifically, when will the minister commit to fund the O'Herns Road interchange project?

10:51 am

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Deputy Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

I appreciate the opportunity to speak in the consideration in detail of Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2016-2017, because I am very proud of this government's commitment to investment in infrastructure, both road and rail infrastructure, with a $50 billion commitment from 2013-14 to 2019-20. The government is very proud to be building for the future. We recognise that, if you invest in good infrastructure, you change people's lives and you save people's lives. It is changing lives by reducing congestion and improving productivity, and it is saving lives through road safety treatments, at a time when we have seen an increase in road trauma right across the nation but particularly in our regional areas. We are very committed to building the right infrastructure at the right time to create jobs and prosperity.

The member for Grayndler has spoken today and he has been making a lot of public comments about payments that he says have not been delivered, about the gap between anticipated expenditure and actual expenditure. But managing the federal budget according to construction schedules is nothing new, and the member for Grayndler knows that. Reprofiling or rephasing expenditure is nothing new. He knows that. He is either being quite deliberately mischievous or he is suffering from some form of amnesia. Labor's record in relation to this is a case in point. In the 2010-11 Commonwealth budget, Labor predicted they would spend $6.8 billion on infrastructure in 2012-13. But what did Labor actually spend on infrastructure in 2012-13? It was just $3.6 billion. So the member for Grayndler is running round the country making big and bold claims—

Opposition Member:

An opposition member interjecting

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Deputy Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, yours is a $3.2 billion black hole. The member for Grayndler knows very well that reprofiling or rephasing expenditure is nothing new, because he did it himself. There is a $3.2 billion difference between what was forecast in the Commonwealth budget in 2010-11 and what was actually spent on infrastructure in 2012-13.

In this year's budget the Turnbull-Joyce coalition government is very proud to be supporting, announcing, delivering a $9.1 billion infrastructure investment program. These are record levels, and this means thousands of projects both large and small, right across the nation. My friend and colleague the member for Bradfield, the Minister for Urban Infrastructure, will talk further about some of the urban opportunities that we see, to partner state governments in, but, with regard to my particular interest, in some of the regional communities, we have seen great expenditure and great improvements—in the Bruce Highway, the Pacific Highway, funding through the Roads to Recovery program and black spots. There is a terrific amount of work going on throughout our community.

I will address the member for Whitlam's commentary as well. He was very selective in his commentary to the chamber today. He chose not to mention a little program called Roads to Recovery, which is an important program. It is one that the coalition government established many years ago, and it has survived changes of government. Over the past two years, we have seen a record investment in Roads to Recovery, higher than any year under Labor, and beyond 2019-20 it is also higher than any year under Labor. This money goes directly to local councils. Local councils appreciate this program enormously, because it allows them to set their own priorities in their own communities. It is a program which, as I said, has withstood the test of changes of government, which we cannot always say occurs in this place. It is a program that has had bipartisan support, and I expect it will continue to have that in the future.

The other program that the member also chose to ignore is the National Stronger Regions Fund. I was very surprised—

Honourable members interjecting

I welcome the interjections, because—

An honourable member: And the characterisations!

I notice the member for Whitlam has gone very quiet, though. He has gone very quiet.

An honourable member: That is to be encouraged! That is very much to be encouraged!

I wonder if it is because he came and met with me and made a very strong case—a compelling case, in fact—for a $10 million investment in his own community. He made a very compelling case for the $10 million for the Fowlers Road to Fairwater Drive link in the seat of Whitlam.

Honourable members interjecting

I notice he has gone quiet. He is not critical—

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! I am having difficulty hearing the minister. I do not mind a little bit of banter, but I am having a bit of difficulty.

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Deputy Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Deputy Speaker. I do notice that the member for Whitlam has gone quiet and is not very critical of the National Stronger Regions Fund, because his electorate will benefit to the tune of $10 million under round 3. It is an excellent program which is delivering right across our nation. In fact, the government is investing more than $126 million in 67 projects across Australia under round 3. While I certainly welcome the feedback from my esteemed colleagues opposite, I think their selective quoting of figures and their selective references to government programs is giving them no credit whatsoever. Right across Australia, we are getting on with the job of delivering.

10:56 am

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

I wish to raise three issues with this contribution. One is: how is it that, during the election campaign that we have just had, the coalition committed to 78 road projects—76 of which were in coalition electorates? How does that fit with a fair analysis and distribution of funds for projects? They added up to about $800 million. Most of them were very small projects which would have been suited to local or state government, but they were clearly political commitments that were made.

Secondly, I refer to the 2016-17 budget and Budget Paper No. 1, page 538 and table 15, which goes to the projected expenditures. I note that, when it comes to rail transport, the projected expenditure for 2019-20 is a very round figure. Indeed, it is the most round figure the minister would be aware of—zero. How does the complete withdrawal of the Commonwealth from public transport projects fit with the government being so very good at turning up to those projects after their completion? Just weeks ago I was with the minister for major projects at the Redcliffe rail opening, which was funded by the federal Labor government when we were in office and the Queensland Labor government, and which received a funding cut for a portion of it back in 2014. I was there for the Regional Rail Link opening of the new stations at Tarneit and Wyndham Vale, in the electorate of Lalor, and the government was quite happy to go to that opening as well. The government, who opposed the Gold Coast Light Rail project, was happy to go to the opening of that, of course. How is it that the government, despite its change in rhetoric—and I acknowledge the difference in rhetoric between Prime Minister Turnbull and former Prime Minister Abbott—has made no change to funding of projects like the Cross River Rail, Adelaide light rail, Perth Metronet and other significant urban infrastructure projects which require Commonwealth support?

The third issue I go to is that of planning. The member for Shortland has outlined the audit office finding with regard to the East West Link. As to the Perth Freight Link, I am wondering where the minister is up to with funding of that project because in the past he has said that the whole project has to proceed, otherwise it will not be eligible for Commonwealth funding, and yet the Liberal state government has wound that back to essentially the Roe 8 project. That is a project that has previously been rejected because it goes through a wetland and does not really lead anywhere. What we need is funding of the outer harbour.

The third project is WestConnex. The minister would be aware that the scope and nature of that project has changed almost on a weekly basis. Lucy Turnbull, the person in charge of planning in Sydney and who gave an oration last night about planning in Sydney, was unaware that acquisitions were occurring in Haberfield, where whole blocks of heritage listed homes have been demolished. We have a tunnel there, but it is unclear where it is going to come out. A tunnel has begun. It is always a good idea to know where it is going to end before you start digging, but that is not the case here. How will the government ensure that planning is done right? Blackmore Oval in Leichhardt is under threat. There is a range of uncertainty when it comes to this project that is leading to legitimate community concern about this issue. How will the government ensure that in future it gets the planning done before the funding comes to make sure that we get the right outcomes?

11:01 am

Photo of Scott BuchholzScott Buchholz (Wright, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Again, it is not my intention to delay the chamber or to take the opportunity away from the opposition to put their questions so that the minister can answer. But, if there is time available at the end, could the minister please update the chamber on local government and the benefits of the portfolio that he has in and around the increase in Roads to Recovery. In particular, my electorate has seen with four local governments increases in the federal assistance grants over a period of time and that has had an enormous effect on local governments throughout the state and the nation.

Could the minister also touch on the national bridge program and the success of that? Also, there is the sustainable regions program, where $10 million has landed in my electorate on the back of a private partnership, through council as the sponsor, and the Stronger Communities Program for the inland intermodal rail hub. Could the minister also give an update on the largest infrastructure rail project in Australia, which will come through my electorate? That is the inland rail, which again has been a priority of Infrastructure Australia.

11:02 am

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased to hear the minister trumpet the benefits of the Roads to Recovery Program and, in particular, the increased funds that were won by the previous Labor government for the Roads to Recovery Program. Mr Deputy Speaker, before you arrived in the chamber we negotiated an increase through fuel levies, the revenue for which was allocated to boosting the essential funds available to councils through the Roads to Recovery Program.

However, isn't it true, Minister, that the benefits that you have claimed—being the increases in the Roads to Recovery Program—have been more than offset by the cuts to financial assistance grants? I bring to your attention the situation of councils within your own state of Victoria. The City of Greater Geelong in Victoria advises that, whilst local road funding has increased marginally, the funds that are available to them through the financial assistance grants have been reduced significantly. In fact, they are close to $1 million—$974,723—worse off over the triennium. So it is indeed good news that more money is going to the Roads to Recovery Program, thanks to Labor initiatives.

Councils as a whole would have been better off had the government not put in place the financial assistance grants freeze which is affecting councils right throughout the country and particularly in the state of Victoria. Citizens in Victoria are going through the process of voting in new councillors—they are in the process of electing new councillors as we speak. And it is important to know what the Liberal-National party attitude is towards future funding arrangements as they cast their votes for Liberal, National, Labor, Greens or Independent members of parliament. It is very important that they know what the disposition and attitude is of the Liberal and National party ministers who are responsible for this portfolio.

I am also glad that the member has made a reference to the National Stronger Regions Fund. It is true that they have funded an excellent project in the seat of Whitlam, after strong representations from their local member and the local council. Regrettably, they did not make the decision in round 2, but it does prove that even the minister is not impervious to good reason and a good idea when it is presented to him. So I congratulate them on reaching the right decision, after exhausting every other alternative proposal.

It is also true that if you look at the moneys that have been allocated, particularly in rounds 1 and 2 of the National Stronger Regions Fund, of the 111 successful projects that were funded in round 2 of the National Stronger Regions Fund, $230 million worth of funds were allocated to coalition electorates and only $16 million worth of funds were allocated to Labor electorates. So I put it to the minister that there is still an enormous disparity in the allocation of funds, that this is being used as nothing more than a pork-barrelling trough—particularly for the National Party, but for both Liberal and National parties—in electorates where they are seeking to shore up support, either in those electorates or for the ministers themselves, seeking to shore up support within the cabinet and the backbench.

In the time available to me, I also want to raise questions in relation to the Stronger Communities Program funds. But I see there are 20 seconds left on the clock so I might leave the minister to answer these questions and invite my colleague to raise some questions that are available to him in his portfolio.

11:07 am

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Minister for Urban Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to address a number of the matters that have been raised in this debate today, but I want to start by addressing the matter of the East West Link, which was raised by the member for Shortland.

The East West Link, of course, has become notorious as the project which caused the Andrews government to squander $1.1 billion of taxpayer's money—$1.1 billion of taxpayer's money was used not to build a road. That was $1.1 billion of taxpayer's money used by the Andrews government not to build a road!

Now, it was put by the member for Shortland—he raised questions about the cost-benefit ratio in relation to the project. I want to make the point that in November a business case was provided to the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development which identified a cost-benefit ratio of 1.4, with wider economic benefits for this project. I am also advised that Infrastructure Australia assessed the East West Link last year and arrived at a cost-benefit ratio of around 1.2. So there is a clear benefit to this project.

And why is it necessary? Why is the East West Link necessary? The existing road network across the north of Melbourne is under pressure. By 2031 there will be some 400,000 vehicles travelling east-west across Melbourne. Melbourne has no direct cross-city connection as an alternative to the M1. The Westgate Bridge is heavily congested, carrying an unsustainable 200,000 vehicles a day. The east-west freeway is the last of the major urban freeways that ends abruptly on the edge of the city, creating a major congestion bottleneck and affecting productivity. Liveability in Melbourne's inner north and west is affected by through traffic, and tram and bus services have their reliability challenged because of the time given to east-west traffic on suburban roads. These are the challenges with the existing traffic needs in Melbourne that East West Link was designed to support.

It is interesting actually to go back and see what prominent Labor figures had to say about East West Link when the original recommendation was made by Rod Eddington. Bill Shorten had this to say:

There are chronic problems in the western suburbs and I'm keen to see it get better connected. It's good that Kelvin—

that is Kelvin Thomson

is pushing his case but there is a shortage of east-west links. I think that Eddington report is a good one.

Of course that was the Eddington report, which recommended the East West Link. Indeed then Labor members, Julia Gillard and Nicola Roxon together with the current member for Maribyrnong and others, had this to say in July 2008 in a joint submission on the Eddington East West Link needs assessment:

As part of an integrated transport solution, the four WSMPS—

that is the acronym for the four Labor members including the current Leader of the Opposition—

support a cross-city road link from the western suburbs to the Eastern Freeway.

I will just say that again for the benefit of the House. This is the wisdom contained in a submission, in what seems to me to be a very sound submission, put by Julia Gillard, Nicola Roxon and, amongst others, the present Leader of the Opposition:

As part of an integrated transport solution, the four WSMPS—

in other words, the four Labor MPs—

support a cross-city road link from the western suburbs to the Eastern Freeway.

That of course is the project that became East West Link. Due to the desire of the Victorian Labor Party to hold onto a couple of inner city seats, well advanced plans for the East West Link were abandoned. In fact better than well advanced, there had been contracts signed. Shockingly, those contracts were torn up by the incoming Andrews Labor government and some $1.1 billion of Victorian taxpayers' money was squandered as a result—$1.1 billion to not build a road. That is a very disappointing approach to infrastructure. So I am very pleased to have the chance to respond to the member for Shortland on that particular issue.

11:12 am

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

I wish to raise issues of aviation and also of the Australian Rail Track Corporation. As the minister would be aware, Airservices Australia is largely funded by revenue from industry by charging airlines and aircraft operators for use of its en route terminal navigation and for its aviation rescue and firefighting services. The level of charges is based upon five-year forecasts prepared by Airservices on what it believes the activity levels will be. Airservices Australia does have its own board, of course, but the minister oversees and indeed recommends the appointment of that board.

Airservices Australia has announced a restructure program called Accelerate. Under that program, it is proposing to eliminate 900 jobs across the organisation. One in five people are being essentially eliminated from the workforce. More than 500 positions have been already gone and other staff are being moved to individual contracts.

From time to time, organisations should look to make efficiencies, but I seek an assurance from the minister that he is satisfied that the number of redundancies, which are particularly large at Airservices, will not have an impact on the fundamental job of Airservices, which is to look after aviation safety. Is the minister confident that Airservices have undertaken a proper risk management analysis of the impact of these significant cuts? Included in this, particularly, is an issue that the minister knows I raised with him personally after he took over the portfolio. The issue of the closure of firefighting services at some regional airports is certainly of concern to me because of the role that those firefighting services play not just at the airport but as an important part of the emergency services response in some of those regional communities. I ask the minister to rule out, essentially, the closure of these firefighting services.

Something else that concerns me when I see an organisation making such drastic cuts is whether it is being set up for privatisation. I ask the minister to rule out any proposal to privatise Airservices Australia—a proposal which is being supported by some in the commentariat who I think are not aware of the important role of Airservices Australia. If you move to a for-profit system with something like Airservices then you change the nature of the organisation, by its very definition, because it would be looking at different criteria. Essentially, it would be looking at producing a return, which I would find quite reprehensible and which we on this side of the chamber would not consider.

While he is at it, the minister might like also to rule out privatisation of the Australian Rail Track Corporation, which was considered in the last term of government. The ARTC, of course, provides the track, and then you have competition and private sector input on top of that. Where privatisation of rail services has occurred in places like the UK, there have been disastrous consequences for ongoing maintenance and provision. The ARTC is something that has enjoyed bipartisan support as a public entity, and I ask the minister to confirm that that is his — (Time expired)

11:18 am

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to raise a few matters. I want to continue on East West Link, as the minister commented on it. Minister Fletcher, in a February 2016 interview regarding the Victorian request for support for Melbourne Metro—a most excellent project—is quoted as saying:

And of course what now needs to happen is the Commonwealth Government will have Infrastructure Australia study the business case carefully. We’re not in the business, unsurprisingly, of handing over a check for $4.5 billion just because we’re asked for it.

Given that the ANAO found that that is exactly what this government did regarding East West Link—handing over a cheque for $1½ billion dollars before an Infrastructure Australia assessment had been conducted—why do you say that this government is not in the business of writing cheques?

My second issue returns to the subject of the smaller projects that the member for Grayndler highlighted before: the coalition's election commitments around road projects, which was pork-barrelling at its very worst. I am sure that will be the subject of an ANAO audit in due course. The government committed $858 million to 78 road projects, 76 of which were in coalition held electorates—76 out of 78. There was not a single public transport project, yet again demonstrating this government's commitment to public transport. So I have a question for the minister: what does he say to the 40 per cent of Australia's population who do not live in those electorates? Are they not worthy of improved road funding?

One of the most interesting projects funded under that was one million dollars for upgrading a road mainly used for billycart races—that is right, Mr Deputy Speaker. They spent a million dollars on a road whose most notable claim to fame is to be used for billycart races. And this stands in stark contrast to this government's continuing failure to fund the most important project in the entire Hunter region, which is the Glendale transport interchange. This project has been identified by all 11 Hunter councils as the most important project, and Minister Chester would know that getting 11 councils to agree on anything is a remarkable achievement.

All 11 Hunter councils have said that the Glendale transport interchange is the most important project in the region. Labor, in government, funded it to the tune of $13 million. The Abbott-Turnbull government cut a million dollars from it and is refusing to play any part in funding the remaining $32 million required to get the project completed.

Labor, I am proud to say, under the shadow minister, committed another $13 million during the election campaign, and this is a no-brainer. Independent economic modelling has shown that this $32 million will drive a billion dollars in private sector construction activity. It will create 10,000 jobs. It will drive $780 million in regional income. It will lead to 5,000 dwellings being built in the Glendale area, driving another 1,000 full-time jobs.

This independent modelling has found that this project, for every dollar of public sector investment, will drive $38 of private sector investment—not 45c as the East West Link; $38. I ask the ministers that table: why will they not commit to the most important project in the entire Hunter region?

My third area is this government's addiction to spin and propaganda. It was revealed before the last election that $18 million was spent in propaganda ads bragging about its record—a false record, might I add, because they have not done much on infrastructure but they spent $18 million bragging about it. That $18 million, we confirmed, came out of the infrastructure budget. So they spent $18 million less on building bridges and roads to brag about building bridges and roads.

What is even worse is we also found out the former minister, Minister Truss, spent $3,200 in one year alone on props for media events—easels, A1 maps and other things for media events.

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Does Jamie Briggs count as one?

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

He is certainly a prop—and $2,000 on hard hats and high visibility vests. Let me repeat that: Minister Truss spent $2,000 on hard hats and high-visibility vests. At every road project I have been to, they are generally okay with giving you a hard hat and a high-visibility vest.

So my final question to the two ministers—and they will probably need to take it on notice—is: can Minister Chester and Minister Fletcher outline how much the department has spent on props for media announcements, how much less spent on hard hats and how much less spent on high-visibility vests? If they could come back when they have got that answer, that would be great.

11:23 am

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Deputy Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

You will probably not be surprised to hear that I will deal with the more substantive questions from the member for Grayndler in relation to Airservices Australia, and I certainly welcome his questions in relation to Airservices. As he correctly pointed out, it is a very important body and the safety of our aviation arrangements here in Australia are chaired by an eminent Australian, Sir Angus Houston.

The member is right to indicate that there is a restructure program underway at the moment known as the Accelerate program and the reduction of the workforce in the order of 900 jobs. I want to assure the member for Grayndler that I have also sought and received assurances that none of the positions to be made redundant under the Accelerate program would impact on aviation safety. I appreciate the question and assure the member that, in the same spirit of that question, the government has no plans to privatise Airservices Australia.

I can say that Airservices is continuing to advise me and consult with its staff on the rollout of the program and I expect to be kept closely informed on the progress of that through the Airservices board. I meet quite regularly with the board and the chief executive. Airservices has been quick to indicate—and I appreciate those assurances—that, obviously, safety remains the highest priority in delivery of its services.

I would also like to refer to the member for Grayndler's questions in relation to the aviation—

Mr Albanese interjecting

I will get to that in a moment, thanks, member for Grayndler—rescue and firefighting services. I welcome the very constructive manner in which the member has raised these questions not only today but in the past, and he has raised some concerns with me privately. The government has no plans to close the aviation rescue and firefighting services that currently operate at regional airports. The government's response to the Aviation Safety Regulation Review asked the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development for policy advice on a range of potential improvements to the regulation of the ARFFs. The government is considering the advice from the department on the outcomes of that review and I undertake to keep the House and the member fully informed, as any final decisions about the acquirement of ARFFs at regional airports will be made, quite appropriately, by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

The member referred to the Australian Rail Track Corporation, the ARTC. It was made clear in this year's budget, and I can assure the member again here today, that the ARTC is our preferred delivery model for the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail project and that there are no plans to privatise ARTC. In the context of this year's budget I think it is important to note that $594 million was put forward in this year's budget for the next stage of the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail project. I know it is a project that many members opposite and on this side of the House have a great deal of interest in. It is regarded, quite rightly, as a project of extraordinary national importance. The total commitment from the Commonwealth at this stage is in the order of $894 million. We are fully aware of the fact that that does not build you the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail. That gets you through the foundation stages. There is a market testing process underway. There are a whole range of preliminary works underway.

I was in Warwick just last week, where I met with state members of parliament, local federal members of parliament and local council. It is fair to say that there is a heightened level of interest in that community about the proposed alignments from the New South Wales border, through the Warwick area, to Toowoomba and down to Brisbane. I would put to the chamber that the heightened level of community interest reflects the fact that the community now believes that the government is going to get on with the job of actually delivering Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail. It is a project that has been talked about for decades, and we are now getting close to the pointy end of the conversation about what the final alignment will look like and how we are going to deliver maximum benefit to communities along that route.

Again, I assure those opposite—and I would like to assure the member for Wright, who asked the question of me earlier about the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail—that we are working in a very constructive way with the ARTC and with the Queensland, New South Wales and Victorian governments, in terms of reaching agreement on memorandums of understanding on how we can work together to deliver this project. It is one that is of great national importance, and I certainly look forward to having bipartisan support for a project which I think will deliver enormous benefits to not just regional Australia but the whole nation. If we are ever going to capitalise on the benefits of the three free trade agreements which were negotiated under the previous trade minister, Andrew Robb, we are going to need to make sure we get our national freight arrangements working in a way which minimises cost to producers right across regional Australia. I thank the member for his questions.

11:27 am

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

On Inland Rail, which the minister has just raised, of course there had already been $600 million in round figures expended on Inland Rail on the existing parts of the north-south corridor that will form part of the Inland Rail line. In our previous, Labor government budgets, $300 million was contributed for planning and updated work. I was pleased that in this year's budget there was the first dollar that had ever been added by a coalition government for that project. I do note that it took until the third budget was brought down by the coalition before a single dollar was put into the Inland Rail project. It is good that it be gotten on with.

I think there is no doubt that that has to be seen as a regional economic development project, not just a transport project. A city such as Parkes will be very much transformed, sitting, as it does, not just on the north-south corridor but on the east-west corridor as well. I do believe that is an important project where construction needs to be gotten on with in this term, otherwise people are going to be somewhat frustrated by the slow way in which the government proceeded in the period before the current minister was in that job.

I also want to raise the issue of cuts to Infrastructure Australia's actual budget. If you look to the forward estimates, Infrastructure Australia's funding is cut by 25 per cent next year and the following two years. I am concerned that this is happening at a time when the government says that it is going to take Infrastructure Australia seriously. That is not the way to do it. Funding is not just an indication, but I am somewhat concerned that the minister's press release last Monday spoke about 'new' projects on the Infrastructure Australia list when, frankly, they were all old. That is not a criticism of the minister, but there is some concern that Infrastructure Australia think that the M80 is somehow a new project. That is quite bizarre, frankly. There is also the ARTC work on the east-west corridor across South Australia—the funding of which had already been announced or re-announced by the government. It was actually funded as part of the former government's funding package.

It is of some concern that the process seems to have been reversed, in that Infrastructure Australia now seem to make announcements of things that have already been funded or announced by either this government or, in some cases, the previous government based upon assessments that had already been made. For example, Infrastructure Australia also had recommended Cross River Rail as the No. 1 project in its 2012 priority list, when in 2016 Brisbane's public transport network—which will not only impact Brisbane but also the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast—reaches complete capacity with just the one crossing at Maryvale Bridge within five years, best case scenario, and the government's position is that it is still waiting on processes. This is a project that was signed off by the Commonwealth and the Queensland government's in 2013 following the Infrastructure Australia recommendations. The longer the delay, the less economic growth and productivity growth from projects like that. The government should be getting on with it.

I would also ask the minister: how is the Commonwealth having an impact on the oversight of the planning work on the WestConnex project? I accept that some of the changes will make it better, but how is the Commonwealth keeping an oversight given the changes that keep occurring, many of which are creating considerable— (Time expired)

11:33 am

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Minister for Urban Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to address a number of matters that have been raised by members today. The member for Scullin raised questions about the funding that is available to the state of Victoria. I want to make the point that the Turnbull government has made it clear that there remains $3 billion of funding available to any Victorian government which chooses to proceed with the East West Link. When you add up the total funding commitments available from the Commonwealth government to the Victorian government, including that $3 billion, the proportion of funding going to Victoria sits at 21 per cent of the Commonwealth's infrastructure investment over this period.

I also want to make the point that earlier this year the Commonwealth announced a $1.5 billion Victorian infrastructure commitment. There is $500 million towards to a billion dollar upgrade of the Monash Freeway in Melbourne; $350 million to complete the upgrade of the M80 Ring Road in Melbourne; and $345 million for a Victorian rural and regional roads package. There is $220 million for the Murray Basin Rail Project, to transform a series of existing broad-gauge lines into standard gauge lines, to bring some lines back into service and particularly to facilitate the movement of produce from northern and western Victoria to ports and to export markets. There is $75 billion for an urban congestion package. We have also offered a commitment of money towards planning works on Melbourne Metro.

So in fact the Turnbull government has provided very substantial funding and we stand ready, as I have indicated, to provide additional funding should the Victorian government choose to proceed with the East West Link project. Certainly the elements of the funding package which we announced in April this year are very significant. For example, in relation to the Monash Freeway we have committed to investigating an extension of the widening of the Monash Freeway westwards towards Warrigal Road and eastwards towards Cardinia Road. That would build on work already underway and would deliver a very significant benefit to commuters in the south-eastern areas of Melbourne.

As the member for Scullin has rightly said, Melbourne is a very rapidly growing city and it is important that we upgrade transport infrastructure to assist people to move around the city efficiently. That is important from an economic efficiency and productivity perspective; it is also important from a livability perspective. We do need to recognise that one of Australia's great strengths is the livability that our citizens enjoy, including the citizens in our major cities. We need to make sure that our transport infrastructure planning addresses the continuation of that livability. That is certainly an important priority.

I would like to come to the comments made by the member for Grayndler in relation to investment in rail. I remind the House of the very extensive range of projects to which the Turnbull government has provided funding support in the rail space. There is $490 million going to the Forrestfield rail project, which is in Perth. That will better connect the Perth CBD to Perth Airport and to the suburbs surrounding the airport. There was $150 million announced for the Townsville Eastern Access Rail Corridor. There is $43 million for Flinders Link, which will enable the Flinders Medical Centre on the Flinders University campus to be connected for the first time to the Adelaide metropolitan rail network. Of course, there is a $1.7 billion commitment under the asset recycling initiative to the Sydney Metro project. We have put on the table $857 million towards a Melbourne Metro project. I have mentioned the $220 million for the Murray Basin rail, so there are very significant rail funding commitments.

11:38 am

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the minister for responding to some of the issues and questions that I raised, but I note that I invited the minister to rule out a further freeze—an extension of the existing freeze—on financial assistance grants to local councils. That has not yet occurred.

I turn now to shipping policy and I note that the coalition did not release a shipping policy during the recent election. In fact, the department told estimates on Monday that it had identified no new commitments on shipping from the coalition. The portfolio budget statement for 2016-17 says at page 35 that this year the department will have a target to 'amend regulations to deregulate port service providers and ships undertaking interstate voyages'. Minister, does this mean that the government intends to take the same approach to shipping in this parliament that it took in the previous parliament?

At estimates earlier this week we were told:

The minister has reconfirmed that he wants to introduce legislation into the parliament that will create a competitive and efficient shipping industry that forms part of Australia's national transport network. He has also emphasised the need to provide certainty to that industry.

Minister, are those your sole objectives? Does the minister see that Australia has a national interest in fostering and developing Australian maritime capacity and skills? Will the minister join with Labor in committing to including an objective to foster Australian shipping businesses and skills capacity—that is, Australian maritime capacity and jobs?

Finally, Minister, I will ask some questions concerning the very popular Stronger Communities Program fund—a $45 million-fund that was established in the 2015-16 budget. It is so popular, indeed, that during the last election campaign we had the Prime Minister running around the country, announcing and opening projects which were funded out of this fund. I want to ask the minister whether he can commit to continuation of this fund, as no commitments have been made and no budget allocations have been guaranteed to date. So, can the minister commit and guarantee that this fund will continue?

We have also been advised that there was an underspend and underallocation of the moneys that were available in round 1 of this fund for individual electorates around the country. Can the minister advise the House what happened to that underspend and where it was reallocated? Can the minister also advised the House whether there was an underspend in round 2 of the program? And, if so, what has happened to the moneys that were underspent in round 2 of the program? Can the minister also advise that House of what process was put in place by the ministers office in relation to the approval of projects in round 2, which I note occurred during the caretaker period and that this is an unusual course of events?

I also ask a question in relation to road deaths in Australia. This is a very serious subject, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I am sure you would agree with this. Given that road deaths so far in 2016 are almost eight per cent higher than for the same period last year, why is the government cutting funding for the road safety program by over 20 per cent from $24 million to $18.8 million from next year?

I know that this is a matter that is of deep interest to the member for Scullin, and he has spoken to me about this on a number of occasions. I know that the people in his electorate and, in fact, right throughout Melbourne and Victoria are very concerned about that. He has raised with me the question that this is not the right time to make $4 million worth of annual cuts to training for learner drivers in the keys2drive program. So, we ask the minister: isn't road safety a priority for this government and for his ministry?

11:44 am

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Deputy Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

I will undertake both on behalf of myself and the Minister for Urban Infrastructure to get back to the members on the more substantive questions. Perhaps some of the more politically related rhetoric may not get the answer the members were seeking, but certainly on the substantive questions we will get back to them and provide them with some information.

I will just indicate in relation to the road safety questions, that I would certainly be happy to meet with the member and discuss the whole range of activities which are currently underway in relation to the state jurisdictions. I understand the member for North Sydney has a couple of comments he would like to make as well.

11:43 am

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

One of the issues that faces my electorate, which has one of the highest usages of public transport in Australia, is the critical congestion that is occurring on the North Shore line in Sydney. At various stations we are almost reaching displacement point because of the level of demand.

I am interested in the Minister for Urban Infrastructure advising the House on what the funding commitment is that this government is making to the Sydney Metro project and what benefits that will bring for the North Shore of Sydney.

11:44 am

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Minister for Urban Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

In the brief time available, can I confirm that there is a $1.7 billion commitment to the Sydney Metro project. Of course, that will be a metro-style, turn-up-and-go service that will run from Rouse Hill in the north-west of Sydney to Chatswood, then down through the lower North Shore, across the harbour to Barangaroo and Martin Place, and then connect with the line going to Bankstown. That will offer additional, high-quality rail capacity. It will be a transformative, very exciting project. It will be very significant, in my view, for the member's electorate, and it will also deliver benefits more broadly.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.