House debates

Wednesday, 3 April 2019


Infrastructure, Transport and Cities Committee; Report

6:42 pm

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

I rise to speak on the release of the report Innovating transport across Australia produced by the House Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities. I commend the chairman of the committee, the member for Bennelong, and his committee for producing a serious, forward-looking report. This report examines how technological advances in areas including automotive vehicles and alternative energy sources demand serious consideration by governments, along with comprehensive planning and significant investment.

The report says:

The automation and electrification of mass transit … has the potential to make our cities and regions cleaner, greener, more accessible and more liveable.

The member for Bennelong noted, in an accompanying media statement, that 'achieving this outcome will demand vision and leadership from government'. He continued to say, 'We need to make the timely provision of the supporting infrastructure for the transition to the fuels of the future.' That is absolutely correct. Technological change is accelerating in the 21st century, particularly in the area of transport.

The fact is that what we have to do is manage the change that inevitably will occur. We must do what we can in terms of planning, coordination and infrastructure investment, and we've seen that this week from one side of politics. We saw that from the Labor Party when we released, on Monday, our plan for managing not only the transition that is occurring around the world to newer fuels but also, in particular, the transition that's occurring to electric vehicles, with our policy that looks towards having 50 per cent of new vehicle sales be electric vehicles by the year 2030; that looks towards 50 per cent of the government car fleet being electrical vehicles by 2025; that allows for 20 per cent accelerated depreciation in the first year, to encourage the private sector to increase its uptake of electric vehicles; and that looks at creating a fund of $200 million to provide the required infrastructure to have charging available on, in particular, our national highways and major road networks.

The fact is that in a country as vast as ours this technology will be required as a precondition for the increase in the supply of electric vehicles. In Australia we have, at the moment, the lowest uptake of electric vehicles in the OECD. This is problematic, because we know that around the world there is no major car manufacturer looking at new internal-combustion engines. They are all looking at electric vehicles and other fuels of the future—hydrogen and other potential innovations that are occurring.

We know also that Australia is the only nation in the OECD that doesn't have fuel emission standards. And we know that, as a result of that, Australian motorists are paying an additional $500 per year at the bowser than they would be if there were available a better standard of fuel that was more efficient. We know that it would produce economic benefits as well as environmental benefits. That's why Labor have said that we'll support the US standards transitioning. We'll sit down with the automotive industry, just as we'll sit down with car dealers and people across the sector, and work through the transition that is required, which is consistent with the report of this important House standing committee, chaired by the member for Bennelong.

Indeed, one concern that's been raised is road user charges and what will happen. There, of course, I was approached by the government about supporting a bipartisan approach to establishing a committee that would report on road user charges and what the implications were—the fact that we will see a change in the mix of vehicles on our roads over the coming years. It is indeed most unfortunate, the government having gone to the 2016 election with that policy and having announced in 2016 that they'd establish a committee chaired by an eminent person, with both representation nominated by the government and a member nominated by the opposition, that not only has that committee, at the end of this term, not completed its deliberations and reported but it hasn't actually started. It was never appointed. It says it all about this government's complete failure to do the basics of government that that hasn't occurred.

The fact is that, if there is a change of government when the election's called in coming days, we will see a change. We'll see the major cities unit re-established to look at a visionary approach to these issues. You'll see once again a government that's prepared to look at change and how it occurs in terms of climate and managing the transition—a genuine approach to dealing with the challenge of climate change and how we transition to a clean energy economy. What you'll see is a government that is committed to managing the transition to the future rather than being fearful of the future.

The report before us includes 17 recommendations. Most of them are just a commonsense road map for what governments have to consider as our transport systems are transformed by the arrival of automated vehicles and other changes that will occur, including the growth of cars powered by electricity and hydrogen. Indeed, recommendation 5 says:

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government facilitate the introduction and uptake of electric vehicles (both BEV and FCEV), especially mass transit vehicles, including through coordination and planning of the development of infrastructure to meet demand; ensuring that refuelling and recharging technology follows defined standards for compatibility and interoperability; and by promoting greater coordination between the transport and energy sectors.

Well, we're doing just that. The government's not doing anything, but we're responding to the recommendations of this report. It is a unanimous report chaired, of course, by the government and with a majority of government members.

A range of recommendations for supporting the sector are in recommendation 13. The fact is that we have a policy to deal with these issues. We have a coalition that is scared of the present and terrified of the future. What we need is a government that is prepared to transition the Australian economy through these issues.

There's also an important consideration in this report about automated vehicles that does require consideration. There are real implications for employment, for example, and it is to the credit of organisations like the Transport Workers Union that they've hosted forums giving consideration to what that means. Indeed, recommendation 12 refers to 'an audit of Australia's existing transport communications infrastructure', and that is certainly something that would be required.

In conclusion, I thank the committee and congratulate them for delivering a thoughtful report in a short time frame. Some of the best work that's done in this parliament is done in a bipartisan way, looking at the policy challenges and coming up with recommendations. Certainly the government will give proper consideration to these recommendations if there is a change of government. If there's not, I suspect that what we'll see is more of the same, which is no action on dealing with the challenges of the future.

6:52 pm

Photo of Patrick GormanPatrick Gorman (Perth, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a well-known fact that not all committee reports generate excitement, but this is an exciting report. I, too, commend the members of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities for this inquiry. Hyperloop, hydrogen transport infrastructure, common charging infrastructure, automated mass transit, cybersecurity for infrastructure—very exciting, very challenging things that we need to be talking about more in this place.

If I can note one nerdy thing, they talk about 'hyperloop' as if it is a generic term. Hyperloop is a proprietary technology based on what is known as a vactrain. The vactrain was invented by Robert Goddard. He is also known as the man who invented the modern solid fuel rockets that got people to space. It is a very amazing technology. We shouldn't put all our eggs in the Elon Musk basket, but it would be very exciting to see a hyperloop or vactrain of some sort as part of our transport infrastructure here in Australia.

When we federated as a nation, these were the conversations we were having. How do we make sure that our infrastructure connects together? How do we make sure that everything works and everything talks to everything else? Some 120 years on, we're having the same conversation. That's a very good thing. How do we ensure that COAG delivers a nationally consistent approach to these new technologies? How do we develop a national strategy for transport communications infrastructure? How do we ensure that our charging electricity networks enable vehicles to travel from one end of the country to the other on any road available to them?

It's not surprising that the private sector is ahead of the government when it comes to charging infrastructure. I commend the RAC in Western Australia for their work in developing the nation's first electric highway, as they call it, in the south-west of Western Australia. You can get from Perth to Margaret River, charge your car and make sure that you have a lovely time while you're visiting the wineries and food opportunities that are down there. I look forward to seeing a rapid expansion of the public charging infrastructure across the Perth electorate, and this report gives us the roadmap on how to do that.

These devices can be installed for less than $4,000 a unit and, if you're a local council, these can often be great revenue generators as you charge road users to charge their cars. I expect that, in coming years, we'll see them on Oxford Street in Leederville, at the Mary Street Piazza, at Bassendean Oval and even at the carpark at Morley Galleria. Equally, government, as a purchaser of vehicles, has a job to do. I was shocked to learn that there is not one fully electric vehicle on the government standard vehicle list. There's not one single vehicle available to the Commonwealth public sector. That's why we have to take leadership in this space too. In this regard, I commend the member for Port Adelaide for his vision for 50 per cent of government vehicles to be electric by the year 2025.

The report also highlights the absurdity that, in a nation of just 25 million people, we have nine different public transport ticketing systems. Surely nationally consistent ticketing and payment systems for public transport are within COAG's ability. Equally, if we can get that far, you could probably also have national access for time-share vehicles and to pay for use of public charging facilities. At the same time, as we go to new tech and new things, we shouldn't forget the cyclists of Australia. Often we talk about that last mile and what connects the big, clever bits of infrastructure. Often that is cycling and cycling infrastructure. One of the things that is a challenge that we'll need to face in coming years is making sure that, when we build major pieces of public infrastructure—train lines, roads, et cetera—we build in cycleways as well so that you actually get the full benefit of those major nation-building projects.

Speaking of major nation-building projects that will benefit in their development from the recommendations of this report, I note that, obviously, in my electorate of Perth, there is a generalist bipartisan commitment to the Perth-Morley-Ellenbrook train line. That's been a big fight and a big win for the community of Perth and includes a major upgrade to Bayswater train station. Again, I want to make sure that that is futureproofed and full of the technology that we need to make sure that it fits in with all the other technologies that are in this report.

Inevitably, you have the conversation about the challenges of what automation means for the workforce of the future. Research suggests that a third of Australian jobs could be lost to automation. But there are new opportunities and new roles to be created. Current roles will be redefined. New career paths will open up. It should mean a transition to more highly skilled, high-income jobs across our country. I read in this report one encouraging comment on the transformation of jobs as opposed to the elimination of jobs. One presenter to the committee talked about the experience in the aviation industry, saying: 'The job of a pilot has changed. They used to fly a plane. Now they watch a system.' As policymakers, we need to watch the system that deals with transport in an entirely different way.

I learnt recently from a mining executive that some of the best people to be the operators and supervisors of autonomous trucks in this country are people with nursing backgrounds. They have everything you'd want in someone overseeing a huge, expensive, complex system: technical training, attention to detail, problem-solving skills—all things in high demand. The competition for new skills will place pressure on existing industries such as health and aged care. We should see this as an opportunity for improved environmental outcomes and clean jobs of the future. I see it also as an opportunity to improve our urban environment. I wish to see this as an opportunity to improve our fuel and energy security.

Australia is already a leader in mining technology. In developing policy responses for innovative transport, we need to fully tap the experience of our mining and resources sector, much of which is based in the heart of my electorate of Perth. There are some 900 mining businesses in the seat of Perth, most of them in the R&D space, making huge investments in finding and perfecting these technologies of the future. We're also well serviced by the researchers in the world of academia, with the Australian Resources Research Centre and the National Resource Sciences Precinct.

To conclude my statement, there has been a lot of talk this week about one of my favourite bands: AC/DC. In talking about electric cars, of course, I should say that one of AC/DC's great songs is 'High Voltage'. High voltage is the future of our transport industry, it's the future of our car industry and it's very exciting.

6:59 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker Kelly, I think you are in shock after that contribution by the member for Perth! I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution to debate on the report Innovating transport across Australia: inquiry into automated mass transit from the Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities. Reflecting on the title of the committee focuses my mind on some of the critical transport infrastructure needed in my electorate of Moreton, within the city of Brisbane.

Despite being, historically, one of Australia's most decentralised states, the growth of the greater Brisbane area is jumping ahead. Not only does this growth place complex needs on continually overstretched and underfunded frontline services, like schools and hospitals, it makes transport infrastructure an area that needs a lot more attention. On too many occasions in this space, by the time we realise we need the infrastructure we know it's too late. The corridors are gone, or they're impeded, or construction would cause even greater disruption and many other problems. Cross River Rail is a key example of this. Inaction on public transport infrastructure, kicking the can down the road, not only makes it more difficult to build but increases congestion on local roads while we wait even longer.

Connected with Cross River Rail is the fact that the capacity on the Beenleigh-Gold Coast line is set to grow. What does that mean? It means that the case to fix the dangerous Coopers Plains rail crossing becomes even stronger. Not only I, as the member for Moreton, but my predecessor, Gary Hardgrave, have spoken about the urgent need to get this fixed. I think it was back in the nineties when he spoke about this crossing. He said that it should have been done 20 or 30 years earlier.

With that in mind, I wrote to the Brisbane City Council—to the now former Lord Mayor, Graham Quirk—and asked him to reconsider his 2018 budget commitment, where he was only prepared to pay 15 per cent of the costs of this piece of infrastructure. To compare: the LNP-led Brisbane City Council has previously funded 50 per cent of two crossing upgrades on the northern side of the river, one in Geebung and another in Bracken Ridge. Somehow, on the southern side of the river, there has only been one crossing repaired in Moreton, and that was 100 per cent federally funded. So you'd think that they owed the ratepayers of the south side something. But, no, the Lord Mayor was only prepared to fund 15 per cent of the cost of upgrading this very dangerous crossing—a crossing called out by the RACQ as being very dangerous.

I received a response from Graham Quirk, the previous lord mayor, and he admitted that he'd made generous funding arrangements on the north side of Brisbane—that fifty-fifty arrangement—but he said he wasn't willing to contribute to this dangerous crossing on the south side. He refused to budge from his paltry 15 per cent. Maybe his replacement, who actually used to work for the previous member for Moreton, Gary Hardgrave, will step up. The new mayor is Adrian Schrinner . In fact Adrian Schrinner probably wrote the speech a few decades ago saying that this bottleneck at Coopers Plains should be fixed, so he will understand the problem—I hope. I hope he will reconsider the mean-spirited 15 per cent offer.

The LNP council has been treating south side residents as second-class citizens. But in the 2019 LNP Morrison budget it actually got worse for southsiders. Not one single dollar of federal LNP funding could be allocated to eradicate this dangerous crossing, a crossing that causes chaos on local roads and which spreads out—not to mention the danger it causes for pedestrians running for the train station.

Not only is the LNP council refusing to budge from 15 per cent but now the federal LNP, led by Prime Minister Morrison, is refusing to allocate even one dollar for Coopers Plains, which is the highest priority project in Moreton. Again, we have the LNP treating south side residents like second-class citizens. Compare this with the north side, where they're happy to go fifty-fifty. I'm not asking for fifty-fifty; I'm prepared to go a third, a third and a third—local, state and federal doing their fair share. I know the locals are sick of politicians' buck-passing; they've said it to me time and time again. It's only fair that the cost of this upgrade be shared equally between the three levels of government. What could be fairer than federal, state and local all putting in the same amount?

I'm sure that a new Shorten Labor government will contribute $73 million to help eliminate one of South-East Queensland's worst traffic blackspots, the boundary road level crossing at Coopers Plains, to start to emulate some of the work I've seen going on in Victoria under the Andrews government. This road overpass will significantly boost productivity, so it's good for the bosses. But it reduces traffic congestion, so it's good for the environment, with less particulate matter being pumped out into the air. It also improves road safety for local residents.

Labor will focus heavily on tackling traffic congestion. The member for Grayndler made a contribution about that earlier in talking about this report. Labor always makes significant investment in better public transport. We also want to improve roads through practical projects, such as the elimination of the Coopers Plains crossing. I was proud to stand with the member for Grayndler when he announced that commitment of one-third of the funds required to build it.

Labor, at both a federal and a state level, is prepared to get this mess sorted. We have commitments from the local state member, Peter Russo, and the Deputy Premier, Jackie Trad, that they will do their fair share. We now need the current LNP mayor and Prime Minister Morrison to stop playing politics and pay their share. If they did, we'd be much closer to having shovels in the ground and local jobs created. We'll get this bottleneck sorted. We'll make the streets of Moreton electorate safer. It's time for the LNP to get on board.

Debate adjourned.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 19:06