House debates

Tuesday, 23 May 2023

Matters of Public Importance

Albanese Government

3:17 pm

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable member for Gippsland proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The Government pausing and cancelling infrastructure projects at the same time as bringing 1.5 million more people to Australia.

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

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

3:18 pm

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

What an orgy of self-congratulation we've experienced this week. The one-year anniversary of the Albanese government has proven that hubris and arrogance are more contagious than COVID itself. I'm not sure whether it was the Prime Minister or maybe the Treasurer who started the outbreak, but they've both been superspreaders, haven't they! The whole ministry has a case of long hubris. 'That's enough about me. Let's talk about you. What do you think about me?'

One minister after another has strutted in here, strutted up to the dispatch box and, in that overdose of hubris and arrogance, they've pumped up their own tyres. It was like a clearance sale at the fig-jam factory! I thought I was trapped. I thought I was trapped in a Kath & Kim marathon—'Look at moi, look at moi, look at moi'—all preening themselves in front of the Prime Minister, auditioning for a job in the next reshuffle.

But there was a notable exception. Someone actually missed out on getting a question on their own portfolio. Who was it? The poor Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government couldn't get a question from her own side on her own portfolio. I've been here for 15 years, and I've never seen anything like it after a budget. Just a couple of weeks after the budget, you'd expect the minister for infrastructure to be selling her achievements too.

But then I read the Treasurer's speech again—I know, it's a lonely life in opposition when my night-time reading is the Treasurer's speech, but I read it again. I need to get out more often! There's not a single mention of the word 'infrastructure' in the entire speech made by the Treasurer on budget night. I know he couldn't say what those things were that we sell overseas or speak of high prices for things we sell overseas like coal, iron ore, gas or agriculture products. He couldn't say those naughty words, but I thought he'd say 'infrastructure'. No, he didn't mention infrastructure and he didn't even mention the word 'roads', not once. He didn't mention roads, so then it was obvious. It became obvious why the minister for infrastructure and transport couldn't get a question to tell us about her infrastructure achievements; she wouldn't be able to speak for three minutes. At a time when those opposite are opening the doors to another 1½ million new arrivals, they are actually cutting back funding for infrastructure in the communities that need to cope with and house the new arrivals.

When you look at the budget papers and you listen to those opposite, there's one program in particular which has stood out as being a high-profile budget victim: the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program. This is the most mean-spirited part of the federal budget for rural and regional councils because it is one of the most successful programs of the coalition era. It was hugely popular among local councils. It has received no additional funding and has effectively been abolished; it's just going to run out of gas over the next couple of years. They are effectively robbing our regional councils and urban councils of an important source of funding for those pipelines of community projects which are so important in those small and regional areas in particular.

Remember, under LRCIP, the federal coalition government actually gave power to local government. We let them set their own priorities. We trusted them to make decisions because we decided that they would be best placed to know what community infrastructure would be required in their communities, and not the bureaucrats here in Canberra. We saw things like sporting ground upgrades, new skate parks, pump tracks in my community of Gippsland, library improvements and road upgrades. They were all completed earlier because councils had more money and didn't have to rely completely on their rate base to get things done. It was good policy delivered well. Local governments loved it. Labor abolished it in the budget. Labor doesn't trust the democratically elected councils right across Australia to make the right choices. They would rather have those choices made by Canberra based bureaucrats.

It's probably true that some of the urban councils won't notice it quite as much, but in those rural and regional areas it was an incredibly important part of their funding, and they are very disappointed and devastated by the fact that they won't be able to build that infrastructure going forward. In my electorate of Gippsland, which I know everyone would love to visit it one day, East Gippsland Shire received $16½ million, Shire of Wellington received $17 million and Latrobe City received $11 million. That was repeated right across Australia. Over the course of the program, multimillion-dollar contributions were made to community infrastructure. Every council received funding on top of their financial assistance grants, on top of Roads to Recovery and on top of black spot funding. It was new money.

Now to my friend the member for Ballarat, the minister who can't get a question. Ballarat, the home municipality of the minister for infrastructure, Catherine King, received almost $11 million under the program. She was glowing with praise for the program. She turned up to the Ballarat tramway project last year. Minister King said at the time:

This project is a great example of what the LRCI Program is all about—supporting locals to deliver projects with a great importance to the community.

She loved it so much, she abolished it. By failing to fund LRCIP going forward, Labor is sending a message to our local councils: 'You simply can't be trusted with money, and we're going to make decisions. We're going to drag all the power back to Canberra, and we won't let you make decisions on local priorities.'

I mentioned the minister for infrastructure's double standards. The hypocrisy of some of those opposite becomes more and more palpable every time we walk into this place. The minister for infrastructure comes in here, ridicules the previous government, attacks programs that delivered hundreds of millions of dollars across the community, makes a bunch of allegations and then sneaks out to open them. She takes credit and hopes no-one notices. Now, the minister for local government is here and she is sitting really quietly. I think I know why, because she does the same thing. The minister for local government is all about taking credit for coalition government announcements, coalition government commitments, coalition government projects actually delivered in her community. The minister for local government went to the Eden Killer Whale Museum. The Eden Killer Whale Museum received its biggest grant ever in 2019.

Photo of Melissa PriceMelissa Price (Durack, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Who was that?

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I think it was the coalition government. That's right, the coalition government was in power at that point—$640,000 from the previous government. Even though she stands up here and attacks—

You didn't want the 640? Okay. Even though the minister walks in here and attacks our regional grants programs, that did not stop the minister for local government turning up to the opening and taking credit for the $640,000 that she does not want any more, apparently. The minister said:

The Australian Government is proud to have funded this expansion project, making it a reality for Eden. Now bigger, better and more accessible than ever, the Eden Killer Whale Museum is a real treat to visit and learn about the town's whaling history.

She also said:

I am thrilled to be here today to see this fantastic space and what our investment in critical regional tourism infrastructure means to the communities it benefits.

Another minister loves the program, so let's abolish it. Let's get rid of it. It is not just members in this place, not just ministers, even senators get in on the act. Senator Raff Ciccone from Victoria went down to Gippsland. It was the first time he had been there, actually. No, this was his second time. He came to Gippsland Grammar and opened a $4 million project. The rush to cut ribbons and unveil plaques is unbelievable. But they don't want to work that fast to deliver infrastructure themselves.

The member for Barker is right: I have never seen a ribbon they don't want to cut. They will knock you over in their rush for their photo opportunity. I'm being a bit harsh on the minister for infrastructure and transport; it is not like she has been doing nothing. She has announced a review. She has hit the ground reviewing. She has announced a review. She will review all those infrastructure projects that haven't started, all of them except the ones announced by Labor in the election campaign; they will not be reviewed. They will review everything else but not those ones.

We heard last night in Senate estimates that Roads to Recovery is included in the review, along with other sub programs like Bridges Renewal and the Black Spots Program. If you cut those programs, surely you will understand what a threat that is to road safety. Surely those opposite understand it is a threat to the viability of a local council. The minister says, 'We do not hear an answer.' You love local roads and community infrastructure. You turned up and said how great it was, but you cut that, so why would I believe anything you say about Roads to Recovery? I don't say this lightly because this is very serious. Those opposite need to understand if those infrastructure projects, particularly in regional areas, involving intersection upgrades, highway safety improvements, do not go ahead, people will be killed and injured on those roads. People will be killed on those roads, and all we have been doing over the last 12 months is watching your government delay and make excuses.

So on this side of the chamber, we are proud of our achievements in government. We had a record investment in infrastructure, which changed lives and saved lives. We actually built roads. We built railway lines. We built airports and we funded councils to build community infrastructure. After 12 months, we're still waiting for the Albanese government ministers to build anything other than their own egos.

3:28 pm

Photo of Kristy McBainKristy McBain (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

I am so incredibly excited to be standing here on this side of the House answering this MPI because I know that facts are nice to have in the toolbox of those opposite but it would be lovely if they pulled them out and actually used them. Here are a few facts for you. The Eden Killer Whale Museum: in 2019, who was the Mayor of the Bega Valley Shire—me. Who advocated for it—me. Who actually came and asked for it—me. Who worked with the Eden Killer Whale Museum? Guess what, you were in government. That was $640,000 for a museum that is community-run by a good lot of people who volunteer their time, and you are crowing about giving $640,000 to a community-run project that was one of the only BPRS projects that the entire region ever got.

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Why did you abolish the program?

Photo of Kristy McBainKristy McBain (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

Local Roads and Community Infrastructure was a terminating measure under the previous government. That was you guys.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Member for Barker.

Photo of Kristy McBainKristy McBain (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

It was a Liberals and Nationals terminating budget measure. So when you come up to the dispatch box—

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Member for Barker, do you want to leave the chamber?

Photo of Kristy McBainKristy McBain (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

facts sometimes—usually—are good.

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

Not under your order. I'll leave myself.

Photo of Kristy McBainKristy McBain (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

That is absolutely the calibre of people we have opposite, who don't even recognise the Deputy Speaker's order.

And he's still carrying on on his way out—absolutely ridiculous. There was a terminating measure—the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program—under those opposite.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Member for Groom, don't intervene.

Photo of Kristy McBainKristy McBain (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

What we did on this side of the House was that we went to last election with an additional $250 million for the program, more than those opposite ever announced, because they didn't announce any additional funding when they had the chance at the last election, which we had in 2022.

We have seen so many talking points from those opposite. They've delivered nothing and talked about a lot. The baseless fearmongering in our regional communities, playing politics with the future of our nation, is ridiculous. Resorting to fears on immigration and baseless claims about projects being cancelled, they've learnt nothing from a wasted decade, and they clearly didn't learn enough from the message that voters clearly sent in 2022.

It is outrageous that our infrastructure pipeline grew from 150 projects to 800 yet, at the same time, there was no additional money put into the infrastructure pipeline. It was always about a press release, an announcement or a 30-second radio grab. The problem is that you cannot build a bridge with a press release and you cannot build a new playground with a 30-second radio grab. If you want to build things, pull out a shovel. Better yet, grab your calculator and add some additional money to the infrastructure pipeline. That's how you get things done.

There are so many examples of failures from those opposite that we will not be taking lectures from those opposite about mismanagement and rorting taxpayer dollars. That's absolutely not going to happen on this side of House, because their failures are there and highlighted for everyone to see. There was the hopelessly mismanaged Urban Congestion Fund—imaginary car parks in marginal seats, with costs that were 200 or 300 per cent more to actually deliver. There were projects committed to under the Liberal and National government that hadn't even started because they could not be delivered. It was the same strategy with the Inland Rail, which was underfunded and mismanaged—a project that was meant to connect to our ports but didn't actually connect to the ports. What about the $10 million to the North Sydney pool, an inner-city pool getting regional water safety money? I've never heard of something more ridiculous. If the Nationals were so concerned about it, they should have done something, because I don't know how many constituents of New England are going to go and use the North Sydney pool. There are not a lot of constituents in Eden-Monaro who are off to use the North Sydney pool.

There was the Wellington Road duplication, with its $110 million allocation, in Alan Tudge's former seat of Aston, but it was actually $640 million to deliver. Do the maths. It's not enough. It's sad to see those opposite stoking fear in local government. Local government are absolutely the best delivery partners for us, and to go around running these lines that we're going to cut roads funding and put community safety at risk is absolutely ridiculous. We are committed to funding longstanding road programs, which are essential to keep our country connected. We know how important those road programs are to local communities, especially in our regions, and we are committed to the delivery of these programs through our community in the best possible way over the long term. We want to see our councils have more flexibility and less of an unnecessary administrative burden, and that is the reason that we are making sure those programs deliver better for them.

This year alone, there is $760 million in the budget for Roads to Recovery, the Black Spot Program, the Bridges Renewal Program and the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program. We want to make sure that our government is helping our communities deliver more resilient infrastructure. It is surprising that the Liberal and National parties do not support this given the damage done to our ageing road infrastructure during recent floods, especially in our regions and our remote communities. It's also surprising that the coalition would not support helping more local councils deliver programs in their communities in a more effective and efficient way.

After 10 years of mismanagement of the infrastructure pipeline, putting political priorities above deliverability, it is time for the Albanese government to fix the mess left by those opposite. Not only did they absolutely muck up our infrastructure investment pipeline; we came into office with another flailing program—migration. It was complicated. It was slow. It was an unplanned mess. The system was left in the lurch, with close to a million visa applications stagnating. We saw people desperate to stay in Australia, and already contributing in our local communities through jobs and through their taxes, completely abandoned by those opposite. Have you ever heard of a more oxymoronic term than 'permanent temporary visas'? It's an oxymoron. So many people in our communities filling jobs in aged care and child care or running their own businesses were not able to get a permanent pathway to citizenship in Australia because those opposite left them on permanent temporary visas. Employers were left in the lurch at a time when skill shortages were at their peak. Those opposite left us with no system, no plan and no way to give certainty for the future to their staff. Even the planning they did have saw the Liberal-National government forecast a bigger Australia than what we have today. So, as I said, facts might be a 'nice to have' in the toolbox of those opposite, but if they go and look at their own budget papers they were forecasting a bigger migration number than we have in our budget papers today. It was a migration system left to stagnate, with no plan, no direction and no vision for what Australia needs.

We will maintain our commitment to a 10-year $120 billion infrastructure pipeline. We will ensure infrastructure projects are delivered that are nationally significant and nation-shaping. The evidence is clear: the pipeline was broken. We are undertaking a short and genuine review, supported by the states and territories at National Cabinet in late April. It is not about savings; it is about being realistic and understanding the project pipeline and not selling false promises to communities, like those opposite did. We need genuine delivery partners. We need to make sure we've got funding for those projects that are there. We want to make sure that the projects can be delivered with the economic conditions that we face.

We are working with the states and territories through National Cabinet on a better approach to housing supply, infrastructure and migration. We are developing a sensible system through migration strategy and the long-term management of the system. We want a manageable infrastructure pipeline that we will work with the states and territories on and can be delivered in a way that eases pressure on costs and leaves room to deal with the new challenges we have.

There is a clear theme here—absolutely clear. Our national programs are needed for growth. They are needed for stability. They were left in an absolute mess by those opposite. Those opposite managed these nation-building programs without a plan, without a vision and without a clear understanding of what is needed for our nation. It's one of the reasons we've had to do reviews. It's because we need to make sure we can deliver for communities.

The other interesting fact today is that, of the 40 MPIs we've heard in this 12 months of government, the coalition have only let the junior partner do this twice. It's time for the Nationals to step up. Are you serious about regional development? Then come and work with us, because the Liberals don't take you seriously.

3:37 pm

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a shame that the minister couldn't fill in her full 10 minutes. I think she's a little concerned. She's coming up on some sleepless nights because, in a couple of weeks time, we have the Australian local government conference. I'm just wondering how she's going with her speech. Who was the local government minister that doubled the Roads to Recovery program during the drought? Me. Who was the local government minister when LRCI was introduced? Me. Who was the local government minister who got a standing ovation at the last ALGA conference he went to? Me. The minister will have some sleepless nights as she tries to work out what she is going to say to the 517 local government councils that are coming to Canberra in a couple of weeks time.

Today's matter of public importance is about pausing and cancelling infrastructure. One of the things that I'm particularly concerned about—and I certainly hope this is a pause, not a cancellation—is Inland Rail. At the moment, there is a cloud over the greatest infrastructure program that Australia has seen in 100 years. We've heard speeches over there about Aboriginal disadvantage, but, at the moment, in my electorate, we've got Aboriginal people who had jobs working on Inland Rail who now don't. We've got young guys having a go in my hometown who have gone to the finance companies and bought a truck and a couple of side-tippers and been working seven days a week on the Narrabri to North Star section. What are they doing now? They're lying awake at night, wondering how they are going to make their next payment as they are waiting for an announcement from the minister on what's going to happen with this project.

I can see what the minister's priorities are. She's actually banned me from attending sites in my own electorate. I actually had to write to the minister, 'Please, Minister, is it okay if I go and inspect the progress on the Narwonah infrastructure site at Narromine?' 'Oh, no, you can't do that.' Or: 'Minister, could I go to the soil turn for the new bridge at Dubbo that the previous federal government funded 80 per cent of?' 'Oh, no; you can't go to that.' Or: 'Minister, maybe I could open the new museum in Warren.' 'Oh no; we'll send some senator out.' Thanks to Google Maps these senators can actually find towns in my electorate. They would have had some trouble a few years ago.

But back to the inland rail: this is not just the Commonwealth's project. State governments have also put millions of dollars in. Private companies have put millions of dollars in, and local councils have. We've got the Special Activation Precinct at Moree that would basically give Moree an economic base that would see it through droughts and seasonal fluctuations. It's already a productive agricultural shire, but there would be permanent local jobs in that activation precinct. In Narrabri, at the inland port: connection to gas, so that we can start to develop the already strong recycling industry in Narrabri as well. And all the way through—Gilgandra, which was looking at turning one of its subdivisions into a village to accommodate the workers. But what about the 120-odd farmers between Narromine and Narrabri who are halfway through negotiating sale of property, access and all of those things? They are already uncertain about their future. Do they sell the property? Is this coming through? What's happening?

This uncertainty is causing an enormous amount of grief. The minister needs to come clean. If she's going to knock this project on the head—and God help us if she is—she should do it now, rather than drawing out the pain, the uncertainty, that is impacting hundreds of people across western New South Sales as we speak. This is a disgrace. This is a project that's going to build our nation. It's going to put cheaper groceries on the shelves in supermarkets in Melbourne and Brisbane, and it's now under a cloud.

3:42 pm

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I get into my main remarks, I want to do a bit of a history fact check for those opposite. On Roads to Recovery funding under the previous government, we helped them to fix the mess they created. Remember when they introduced an increase to the fuel excise and couldn't get it through the parliament? They couldn't get it through the Senate, couldn't get it through the House. It was actually the current Prime Minister—then the opposition spokesperson for infrastructure—who came up with the solution and suggested, 'Let's roll that extra money you've collected, without having authority from the parliament, into Roads to Recovery.' You couldn't get a better champion for the Roads to Recovery program than the Prime Minister of this country and the Australian Labor Party. That's how committed we are to it, and that is why the minister could answer that question in question time with one word: yes.

On black spot funding, I've got the privilege of being the Victorian chair of the Black Spot Program, carrying on the tradition from when they were in government, when it was being chaired by the member for Monash. It's a privileged position. It meets once a year. We've met. We're continuing. That program is not under threat. Again, this is another opportunity for those opposite to try to play politics. These are programs that continue to be funded, programs that we're proud to be part of and have backed in. But we shouldn't be surprised at the hypocrisy of those opposite. This MPI reeks of it.

Then there is the most recent fearmongering that they're trying to introduce to the Australian public and body politic: the 1.5 million extra migrants that they keep saying are going to take all our homes. For a moment I felt like it was 1901 and all of a sudden the White Australia policy was back, hearing those opposite talking here—the White Australia policy. Let's bring back the fear about migrants! It has been abolished, for those opposite. You might have missed the memo. It has been abolished, so why are we standing here today, trying to divide our community about housing and having a debate about race?

There is the hypocrisy of those opposite in all the speeches we've had so far from the Liberals and the Nationals about the Voice. They say, 'We can't support the Voice, because we believe it is about dividing race. We believe it is race based.' Yet in the very next breath they come in here in question time and continue to ask questions and put forward MPIs that are about nothing but race, trying to suggest to Australians, 'If you are struggling to find a home, it's because of migrants coming in,' and failing to be honest about what they did in government.

There was a pause in migration in this country during the pandemic. That happened worldwide. Borders were shut. Prior to the pandemic they were quite happy to have the place flooded with temporary migrants—migrants who were exploited, migrants who went from visa to visa, desperate to stay in this country. They wanted to contribute to this country but couldn't get a pathway to permanent residency. Those opposite are happy for you to come, but not to establish roots, not to establish a future, not to establish a base. When so many of us have a proud migrant history in this country, they want to deny that in the future. They want to deny it to the people who are here right now who say, 'I want to stay.'

All of us have met those beautiful international students, those beautiful temporary skilled workers who say, 'Lisa, what's my pathway? How can I stay? I love this country. My kids love their school. I want to stay.' This government is proud that we've established that pathway. We are saying: 'An end to the rollover of temporary migrant visas!' We are establishing a pathway for those people who are making a contribution and are restoring that proud legacy that this country has. If we are genuinely going to be a country that is built on a proud multicultural migration policy, then we need to end the exploitation of temporary migrant workers that has been occurring. That is the legacy of those opposite. It is hypocrisy, fearmongering, and now we see a return to some colonialistic ideals, where they're saying, 'You can't get a home because of this other issue, or if you're struggling to get a home, it's because of migrants.'

It's embarrassing and shameful that those opposite are invoking this kind of fear amongst the Australian people. I call on them to do better. Do better not just for this parliament but for the Australian people, because they are exhausted and tired of this divisive politics. Do better with what you do on a day-to-day basis in this place, and do better in your communities.

3:47 pm

Photo of Sam BirrellSam Birrell (Nicholls, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Advice to me and other new parliamentarians on giving our maiden speeches suggested that the theme be: who are you, where you are from and why you are here? There are a number of reasons why I'm here, but the key one is that I really believe in regional Australia and regional Australia's future in helping to deliver for and build this nation. The electorate that I come from is such an amazing example of a proud migrant history and of people coming with not much to have a go. I really reject the assertion that there's anything about race in this, and that's certainly not the experience in my electorate.

The people who came to my electorate from an incredible array of places, including Albania, Greece, Italy and, more recently, the subcontinent and the Middle East, and built businesses and got ahead did so because governments helped build infrastructure in regional areas, and that's what I want to do in this place—build infrastructure in regional areas. My experience is that the previous government, the coalition government, with a lot of great leadership from the Nationals, lived up to this.

There are some great examples in my electorate. One is the Shepparton Art Museum, which was opened by the member for New England. With the leadership of Senator Fiona Nash, it is a great investment in a cultural icon in the Shepparton area. Another is the Echuca-Moama bridge, which the member for Gippsland, when he was transport minister, drove. We actually built a bridge. We didn't talk about building a bridge. A bridge now exist between Echuca and Moama, and it has drastically improved the lives of everyone in that region. The Shepparton rail corridor, which was funded by the then Deputy Prime Minister, the member for Riverina, is being built right now, and it's going to mean that the people of Shepparton and all along those areas can get to Melbourne and back on many more train services.

So I'm really disappointed that those opposite don't seem to be as focused on regional infrastructure as the previous government was. One example is the Shepparton bypass. It's a really important project. The previous coalition government made a commitment to it. The Victorian government sat on its hands and has not been serious about the project. But in my electorate what they've said—and this is serious—is: the floods really impacted, and are still impacting, the people in my region, but it would have been business as usual had we had a second river crossing. Now, that bypass gives us a second river crossing. I implore those opposite: think about the wealth that a place like Greater Shepparton delivers to this nation, through the agricultural produce and through the hard work of people who came from all over the world to build great businesses; fund infrastructure that will help continue that agricultural production in the region, and one of those is the Shepparton bypass and the second river crossing.

I can't tell you how hamstrung we were by having the only bridge over the Goulburn River cut. It was terrible for our perishable produce. It was really dangerous for our emergency services, who couldn't get across. This is the sort of infrastructure we need to build, and it's in your 90-day review. I'm disappointed that the state and federal Labor governments aren't more committed to this project, but we need to build it. And we really need to focus on what makes Australia great.

In my maiden speech I also mentioned the fact that Germany has 80 million people, yet its biggest city is three million people. It has a really good set of industrial manufacturing centres in cities connected by high-speed rail. That's a country that has taken its regional infrastructure really seriously. And they are benefiting as a result.

I think we can do the same thing—I really do. Don't cancel airport rail. Increase airport rail, so we can get regional trains in via Tullamarine airport and into the city. Get serious about Inland Rail. Don't pause it. Let's build it and lower emissions from transport of goods between Melbourne and Brisbane. These are exciting projects that are important for building this country, which is what we should all be doing. I implore those opposite to take infrastructure, particularly regional infrastructure, seriously.

3:52 pm

Photo of Anne StanleyAnne Stanley (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Australians want solutions, and they want a government that governs for all. They want a government that's responsible and they want a government that is accountable.

Those opposite seem to have forgotten their record on infrastructure. This government inherited a lot of promises, but these promises rarely had a delivery plan. There was a $120 billion infrastructure pipeline full of under-costed commitments. Many projects were left without adequate funding and were of no real benefit to the public, and too many projects were never started because they were unable to be delivered.

So let me take you on a little survey of the opposition's history on infrastructure spending, or the lack thereof. When I think of the previous government's infrastructure spending, my mind is immediately drawn to pork-barrelling. What was the previous government's record? What those opposite did was to deliver thought-bubbles, without the investment to back them up. When they did decide to spend money on infrastructure, they left a trail of rorts and waste behind them.

Let's start locally, in the electorate of Werriwa. The Leppington Triangle was purchased for approximately $30 million. In anyone's language, that's a lot of money. It was! It was 10 times what it was worth. And what about commuter car parks? That even has its own Wikipedia article. Not only were car parks grossly overpriced, but many were targeted to Liberal-held seats. The list could go on: sports rorts; the Napoleon Road upgrade; the Wellington Road duplication; the North Sydney pool.

This Albanese government could not be more different from those previous coalition governments. We take seriously our responsibility to govern for all Australians fairly and equitably. The most recent budget handed down by the Treasurer demonstrates the Albanese government's focus on delivering transformational infrastructure. We want to deliver projects, not press releases. And we want to deliver them on time and on budget, because that's what responsible government does, and it's what our Australian people expect.

I am delighted that the Albanese Labor government is continuing to invest in nation-building infrastructure, including $1.6 billion for the M12 Motorway, a road that will provide access to Western Sydney airport for workers and tourists. And on a smaller but just as important scale, the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program will deliver funding to fix local roads in Werriwa. In my community, councils will receive over $5 million to fix potholes and make our roads safer. These investments will make a real difference; they'll make it safer for motorists and quicker to get to work.

We are a multicultural country, and I am proud to represent one of the most multicultural communities in Australia. When the Albanese Labor Party came into government there were almost one million visa applications. As we heard from the minister today, that's been reduced by 40 per cent. Under the stewardship of the then minister for immigration, the current Leader of the Opposition, the path to permanency was deliberately made harder, leading to a greater reliance on temporary migration and causing heartache to the people who live in Werriwa. I can't count how many people I've had in my office in tears because of the previous government's policy.

The migration review found that the previous government's efforts to plan for the impact of population growth from migration was insufficient—the perfect characterisation of the previous government's decision-making. And for all the noise that those opposite are making about immigration, the numbers do not lie: the Australian population is forecast to be significantly smaller than was forecast by the former government.

We do have a plan to manage the effects of population growth over the next few years. The Albanese government is working with states and territories to better coordinate migration, housing supply and infrastructure, while the budget delivers an additional $2 billion for small social and affordable housing. And if those opposite really cared about housing, they would have voted for the Housing Australia Future Fund.

This MPI shows us that those opposite have learnt little over the last 12 months. The Australian people want an Australia where no-one is left behind and no-one is held back. The Australian people rejected the political games of those opposite. They want responsible government that gets on with the serious task of governing for all, and that's what the Albanese government is delivering.

3:57 pm

Photo of Garth HamiltonGarth Hamilton (Groom, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Aren't MPIs fun! I'm going to address some of the issues that have been raised here. It was suggested previously that we can't talk about immigration and its impact on infrastructure without somehow raising the prospect of the White Australia policy. That was raised in the context of the current debate on the Voice. So let's have some truth telling. The White Australia policy is a Labor policy dismantled by a Liberal government. Let's have that. That's a little bit of truth and I'd like to hold onto that. It's one that I'm quite proud of. They talk about immigration; they talk about the projected number being bigger under us. What they're conveniently forgetting is the cap of 160,000 that was put on immigration by the previous government. Again, another piece of truth for us.

We're told that we're fearmongering, that we're raising fears amongst councils. And, yet, in Senate estimates just this week it was confirmed that not only projects but also programs are under review. This is an important point for us to go through. To add to this, we had the minister confirm that they will deliver the $120 million pipeline, but also confirmed that the pipeline is under review. What's the review for? What's the value of the review? You've got two pathways here that don't make sense. Either they are under review, either there is something that's going to change because you're reviewing it, or they're not and you're going to deliver them. Which one is it? It's just a complete mess of communication coming through here.

This brings me to the Inland Rail, certainly the most important and significant piece of infrastructure that will come through my part of the world. It will impact regional Australia in a way that we cannot even yet foresee. This is something that has been talked about for the best part of 100 years. We've seen this opportunity, and it's here in front of us now. We have the opportunity to deliver it. When they came into government, they made a big noise about putting this through a review. They were going to sort this all out. This was all going to be sorted out. Inland Rail was going to be solved by the Schott report; it was going to be fantastic.

What we get from the Schott report—I've been the loudest critic of the ARTC's delivery. I've sat the kitchen tables of people who've been affected by, quite frankly, their poor consultation standards. Let's see what the review comes at. There was this great review that was going to solve Inland Rail. They've come up with putting it at Ebenezer. This doesn't even have a business case on the table yet; this end point doesn't have a business case. There's a one-lane road each way next to the Cunningham Highway. It's already high risk and it runs right through a significant residential area. Imagine running B-double trucks through that area, thinking that's going to pass through your approvals. It's absolutely ridiculous. There is no way that Ebenezer fits up, yet this is the result of the review. What does this do to Inland Rail? It absolutely puts it under threat, because it's not a viable end point.

When we're told the projects and the programs are under review, yes, there is a threat that ridiculous outcomes like Ebenezer might be found for other projects. Toowoomba has the most to gain from that project. I will fight continuously for that. We must get that project to Toowoomba. The hard work has been done. To not get us there, to not deliver that project now—the opportunity cost is immense.

One thing that being a regional Liberal provides me, particularly in a seat like mine, is the importance of investment in road infrastructure. Our government delivered the second range crossing that takes trucks out of 17 sets of traffic lights through Toowoomba. This is a significant $1.2 billion investment in improving safety throughout the city of Toowoomba. It's transformed it. Our government invested in the flood protection works right up along East and West Creek that have stopped Toowoomba flooding every time it rains. This is a significant change. Just last week, I was at the corner of the Perth Street and Curzon Street works progressing under the black spot program—crucial for our area. Anyone who has driven out west of Toowoomba across those plains and sees what happens to the roads through there will see that this needs constant work and renewal. The Warrego, the Gore and the New England highways running north-south—these roads need our attention. These programs are specifically designed to help the people who are there, who are closest to them, to work on them. That's the councils. That's what these programs are for.

When we're told we're just fearmongering: no, we're passing on what was revealed in Senate estimates—that these projects are under review. And when these reviews happen, adverse outcomes, like the ridiculous selection of Ebenezer, can happen. So, yes, there is a threat and, yes, will do the right thing and speak to our councils and pass this on because this is important, to make sure we continue to grow our country.

4:02 pm

Photo of Matt BurnellMatt Burnell (Spence, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I must say that I feel extremely fortunate to have been able to get a glimpse of the MPI the member for Gippsland submitted for consideration today. I was fearing that the next time I was unleashed for MPI duty I'd be reprinting one of the many speeches I've made to one of their many motions on the cost of living. Adding variety to one's diet is important, after all. It gave me quite a shock to see those opposite diversifying their complaint portfolio at MPI time.

But then you take one look at the motion. It's about putting a stop to the unfettered green light those opposite gave to many infrastructure projects—projects that came about on spreadsheets with metadata opaque enough to keep many veteran auditors-general up at night. This should be obvious for most, but I feel it needs to be said for some here: votes are not the sole criteria for a proper business case for infrastructure spending. The relevance of what's been struck in a coalition agreement is not relevant either. It was their Utopia for nine years. I love that TV show, but I will not miss their government!

On the other hand, our government is reviewing white elephant projects. If one falls it won't be due to malice, but those opposite certainly take it very personally. It's almost as if they pre-purchased all those ribbons, which, frankly, would equate to the only level of funding put towards some the projects listed in this review. The government is probing projects for their lack of probity, and the Nationals are certainly feeling that sting. I also note—cutely, I might add—the member for Gippsland adds a kicker into the mix, on migration: 'How dare the government review these questionable projects in the face of net overseas migration rising.' Far be it from me to see a National Party signature on a page that holds a position fearful of migration. Maybe we are back to groundhog day after all. If the member for Gippsland wants to lead his foot soldiers into this place to talk about infrastructure funding, I will reluctantly fight that fight, despite my apprehension that soon we're going to return to cost-of-living MPIs after this display of creativity by those opposite.

The member for Gippsland leads this MPI as the shadow minister regional development, local government and territories, but the senior partner in their portfolio team is in the other place. It is none other than Senator McKenzie, a senator whose personality mirrors her spreadsheets—colourful. The senator and the member for Gippsland are in lockstep when it comes to thinking of Australia's infrastructure pipeline as one giant pork barrel. This government has put a handbrake on many projects that stack up as well as the famous commuter car parks of those opposite. Three expert reviewers are looking into numerous projects that are not just undelivered but also underfunded. A total of 160, in fact, have had less than $5 million committed to them. Under the former government, that would seldom have covered the cost of a pull-up banner and a lectern at the announcement of the project itself. If taxpayer dollars are going to a project that is effectively no more than a media release or two, it had better stack up. What do those opposite have to fear from the review if they possess the knowledge that the projects that stack up aren't destined for the chopping block. I think we all know the answer to that. It's as plain as day as the animus behind the motion entering the debate about migration. Those opposite turned off the migrant tap alongside many other Australians who were stranded and unable to return for many long months during the pandemic.

Nature is healing. We have skilled migrants coming and returning to Australia. Those opposite have heard us talk about our dire skill shortages. They should know. They voted against the Jobs and Skills Australia Amendment Bill as recently as last sitting week. International students are returning, although there are not as many as projected. They know that migration will be 315,000 migrants lower than the number in the pre-pandemic projections for June 2023. It's all sad in the face of those opposite who consistently demonstrate themselves to be so flexible with their positions that they have at times voted against policies they endorsed while they were in government. Yet with this, with infrastructure spending and with migration they are very inflexible with their flexibility, constrained by something we can't quite see in its entirety.

I think back to being in the Federation Chamber yesterday evening, listening to the member for Riverina say, 'Let's build a better Australia'—not necessarily a bigger Australia but a better Australia. When it relates to infrastructure spending I could not agree more with the member's statement to a great extent, but not so much when it refers to migration, as it did last night.

4:07 pm

Photo of Keith WolahanKeith Wolahan (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Spence for focusing on the topic of this MPI, unlike many others. There has been a really disturbing and sad tendency for some who claim to go high when others go low to do the opposite in their actions. Unlike others, the member for Spence actually focused on infrastructure. No party has a perfect record to tell, so he was well within his rights to do that. But many others who spoke before him went low. I will single out some truths here. Behind me is the member for Casey. His father, Dominic Violi, came from Italy as a young boy, like many in my electorate. My electorate is eight per cent Italian, and I am extremely proud of that. Six per cent of my electorate is of Greek heritage; I'm extremely proud of that. My electorate is the third-highest for Chinese heritage, and I am extremely proud of that. And lately the fastest growing community in my electorate is those from Iran, and I am extremely proud of that and proud of them.

So when we talk about infrastructure and migration, to suggest there is any form of dog whistling or racism is going as low as you can go in a country that is a multicultural migrant country, a country that has more than half of its residents being first- or second-generation migrants. We can do better than that. We all can do better than that, and the member for Spence did better than that.

We talk about a particular number that wasn't in the budget and we ask questions about infrastructure. If we're not allowed to ask that question about the number, then what is the number? What if it said 5 million or 10 million? We have to have a reasonable discussion about population policy.

I'm from the great city of Melbourne. Sadly, it is not as great as it could be. After today's state budget it's the highest taxing state in Australia. It's got the highest amount of debt in Australia. In fact, the debt of New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania combined doesn't add up to the debt of Victoria. I remember that for years Melburnians would brag about topping the Global Liveability Index. We were No. 1 from 2011 to 2017. We are now ranked No. 10.

One of the challenges in livability and quality of life is managing infrastructure in proportion to your population growth. It's not easy. When you look at the Global Liveability Index, with cities like Vienna, Copenhagen, Zurich, Vancouver, Geneva and Frankfurt, all bar one have fewer than five million people, because what we know is that, when a city goes over five million people, the infrastructure challenges get extremely hard. No matter which party you come from, they're hard. It's difficult. You need to build more roads, more bridges, more public transport, more hospitals and more schools, and you need to reserve more green space. It's difficult. It requires governments, state and federal, who will do the hard work and not just tax you more.

When we ask these questions, I think of families in my electorate from mostly migrant backgrounds. Seventy per cent are first- or second-generation migrants. Right now, when they're struggling to find a space at the Doncaster Park + Ride, they are entitled to ask if government has this under control. Right now, when people in Melbourne are stuck at the end of the Eastern Freeway, which ends at Alexandra Parade, they are entitled to ask if government has this under control. In the Fiveways intersection in Warrandyte, many families risk their lives as they move into that intersection. It desperately needs funding. They're entitled to ask if government has infrastructure and population under control. It is the same with the North East Link and Templestowe Road in my electorate. When many people, including students and families, seek to get a seat on a train at Box Hill Station, they're entitled to ask if government has this under control, because, when we think and talk about this, they're not just things that we build in our electorates; it's about the most precious thing we have, which is time. We are giving up time when we are stuck in traffic—time that we can otherwise spend with our families, coaching a sporting team, teaching our kids or being with friends, having a better life. That's what we're talking about, and it's not easy when you get to be a city such as Melbourne, at five million. Melbourne is projected to be the largest city in Australia.

I'm extremely proud of our migrant background. I myself am one. I wasn't born here, and I still remember the day when Dad came home and said, 'Sorry, we didn't get the points to come to Australia,' and we thought the dream was over. Someone took a chance on us, and I'd like to think we'll always take a chance on migrants. Don't ever take this debate lightly. This side cares about migrants, and to say otherwise is a disgraceful accusation.

4:12 pm

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

One of the reasons I'm in this place is to try and make life better for my electorate, which is now, by population, the biggest electorate in the country and growing twice as fast as the next-biggest electorate. We're growing by over five per cent a year. In the last 10 years, my electorate has dramatically changed from basically a semirural area to a dormitory city for Sydney. Farms that I've known in the last 40 years have now changed to suburbs like Willowdale and Gregory Hills. A whole range of different little towns have been turned into these huge suburbs.

In the last 10 years, we have really lacked any reasonable infrastructure development by state and federal coalition governments. From the Abbott years to the Turnbull years to the Morrison years, Macarthur was neglected under the coalition. I made many, many calls on previous infrastructure ministers, including, most notably, the member for Bradfield, now the Manager of Opposition Business. When he was infrastructure minister, I begged him to make a rail link from Macarthur to Western Sydney airport and to upgrade Appin Road, which is a really important road connecting the Illawarra to Wollondilly, Camden, Appin and greater Macarthur, through to Sydney. Nothing was done.

I really would like to just focus for a few seconds on Appin Road. Appin Road is a single-lane road each way. It's now a conduit from the port of Wollongong through Macarthur to Sydney and also through to Western Sydney airport and the north. As I said, it's a single lane each way. It separates the Georges River and the Nepean River, and it's home to the last healthy urban colony of koalas in Australia. I begged previous environment and infrastructure ministers, including Josh Frydenberg, the previous member for Kooyong, and Melissa Price, the member for Durack, when she was environment minister, to try and do something to put in koala protections and to develop a Twin Rivers koala park. We even had the environment ministers from the state come out and visit the area and agree that we needed to turn this into a koala protection area and put in safety improvements to the roads.

We shouldn't forget that almost 30 people have died on Appin Road in the last 40 years—absolute tragedies—including some people that I knew very well, like teachers of my children and one patient of mine, who died on Appin Road in motor vehicle accidents. It's an absolute shocker—terrible—and continues to this day. We had a near-fatal accident the week before last, and that person is in hospital with multiple injuries. This is terrible. I approached the coalition about this multiple times. I virtually begged for it to be done.

We had Angus Taylor, the shadow Treasurer and the member for Hume, make lots of announcements about improvements to Appin Road and commuter car parks for Campbelltown. The only infrastructure that he came out and announced which happened was Wedderburn Bridge, which I actually got the funding for, yet he refused to have me at the opening of it. It's a tragedy that the coalition government behaved in this way. The comments from those opposite today are really—if I can use medical terms—a lot of renal output and flatus, because they don't believe what they say. They did nothing for the most rapidly growing electorate in the country, and it's a great, great shame. The people of Macarthur know this all too well. We know because that's what happened in south-west Sydney in the latest state election. South-west Sydney delivered for Labor because of the neglect of federal and state Liberal governments.

The member for Gippsland has targeted the increase in people coming to Australia. Well, we are now a huge multicultural electorate. I'm proud of that, and I'm proud of the way that people who have come to my electorate are contributing to Australian society. I love the fact that their kids are growing up as young Australians who will contribute to our society in the future. The dog whistling from the other side and the lack of support for my electorate of Macarthur are just a great shame. Mismanagement, underfunding, no proper infrastructure for a rapidly growing electorate—that's all we've got from the coalition, and they should be ashamed of themselves.

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The discussion has now concluded.