Senate debates

Thursday, 9 February 2017


Public Transport

5:22 pm

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

Through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, I let Senator Moore know that just because I have given her some advice she does not need to give me any. It would be no surprise for the government to send in qualified individuals from the state of Western Australia to rebut the falsehoods expressed by Labor senators from that state. I am going to leave that where it is because I will not be denied the chance to lay down the fantastic work of this government in the field of public transport and infrastructure. I am best qualified in my home state of Queensland and I want to talk about that.

I see Senator Dastyari there. If I were to ask to him: what is the RAAP? I bet him a carton of anything he drinks that he cannot answer that question. I will sit silently if he wants to take a point of order and win a carton of Dom Perignon or whatever it is Labor people drink. I can tell you that it is the Regional Aviation Access Program. For all of my National Party colleagues here this is a significantly important program. In this program the Australian government provides targeted support for aerodrome infrastructure and air services to remote areas.

Why is that important? Because if you people who come from the cities get a bit crook you can take a cab, take a bus, get an ambulance or even get a helicopter to land on the park opposite you if you want. There are so many choices of modes of transport that you have to get yourself from point A to point B. Our people, particularly those in the more rural and remote areas of the country, have to rely on air services. It might take them 15 to 20 times longer to get themselves into care or to go about the general business that they need to do. This support keeps these aerodromes open for that public transport and publicly subsidised private transport. In Queensland $140 million is spent in supporting the provision of public transport by private sector providers. This is incredibly important funding.

Your motion says that the Turnbull government has failed, but that is an absolute nonsense. Not only are these public services funded and supported but there is support for the aerodromes and all the infrastructure that goes with them that enables them to operate. This is the lifeblood for these communities of ours. Fresh food, mail, educational materials, medicines and other urgent supplies come via these simple routes. I can promise you this: whatever you may think of us in the National Party, if the government that we were involved in and that we had influence in was not doing the right thing about investing in the sorts of infrastructure and public transport needs of our people in the bush, we would be squealing here like stuck pigs all day—12 hours a day and four days a week—when the Senate sits. That is all we would talk about. But we are not doing that because we are a part of a government that understands the essential needs for so many Australians who do not live in postcodes that end with three noughts.

This scheme currently subsidises a regular air service to 260 remote communities. You want to talk about this government supporting public transport? We subsidise regular air services to 260 remote communities. Do know why that is important? It is because they do not have any other choice. There are no bicycle pathways—hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent around the nation putting in bicycle pathways—and you cannot walk under the street light to get from where you are to where you need to be. You cannot even ring a near friend. Your nearest friend could be 200 or 300 kilometres away. There are just so many things that the Labor members in this place take for granted, because they are all locked and embedded in the metropolitan high-population areas, and their lives have always been like that. Their lives have been lived through a trade union movement for the most part, where they spend their time taking something off someone else. They do not know how to deliver it themselves. They have never employed anybody. Honestly, if a Labor person over there put their hand in their pocket to pay a wage it was because they were reaching for the consolidated revenue of some organisation they were working for. There are no business people, no farmers and no people from the bush over there. Labor people come in here to try and lecture us about the government that we are a part of not supporting public transport and all the infrastructure that underpins it. I must say that I take some offence to that. Eighty-six of these locations are Indigenous communities, with the balance being primarily cattle stations—that is what it is. Our people are making their land available—their own private assets—for services to be delivered to their regional communities—no charge. 'Let's build and maintain a light airstrip at property No. 1 and all the people who live in the district, within a couple of hundred kilometres, can utilise it for services that are supported by our government.'

Then, of course, there is this Remote Airstrip Upgrade Program. It is a competitive merit-based grants program where there is some flexibility to relax the co-funding requirements for projects if they happen to be in priority Indigenous communities. These are people who cannot get out of these places unless we have subsidised public transport opportunities. I can tell you and report to this place—I keep a close eye on this and I keep a close ear out, and I know my colleagues from New South Wales do the same—that I do not have one complaint to make.

At my end of town, in Queensland, I am happy with what this government has done. We can always do more, and we continually push for more or less increases in services, not the establishment of them. I have been around for a while now—in my adult life I have been involved in politics for nearly 35 years—and there are two things I can tell you about the Australian Labor Party without fear of contradiction, and this is what makes it so offensive when they come in here with these things. First, they cannot manage an economy. They are good at so many things and the Labor movement is made up of so many decent people—honest people and true warriors for their ideology—but they cannot manage an economy. Second, they have no interest in rural Australia. Not only do they have no interest in rural Australia but they also do not understand rural Australia. They did not understand when our government invested $10 billion to upgrade the Bruce Highway in my home state of Queensland. That was the biggest single infrastructure commitment in the history of the Commonwealth government, but not by the Labor Party. The Labor Party had been in power for six or seven years beforehand and not a red razoo was committed or promised to the Bruce Highway upgrade. We then came to power and spent $10 billion, which, over a period of time, will enhance the movement of public transport and subsidised transport up and down the eastern seaboard of my home state of Queensland.

This Remote Air Services Subsidy Scheme that we talk about provides 366 remote communities in isolated Australia with improved access through the subsidy of delivery of regular air transport services by the private sector. Do you want to talk about the public sector? Do you want to talk about how you can walk out of your house and ring Uber, ring a cab or walk over the road and get a train every three minutes? All of these things are what you, my colleagues on the other side, take completely for granted living in the city and in the metros. Our people are lucky to have a service a week, and they would not have that if this government did not heavily subsidised these 366 communities not just in the movement of people passengers but also in the movement of freight—the essentials of life in many cases. You go down and get your bottle of fresh milk. That is not available to our people in the bush.

This investment by our government is not just simply about subsidising public transport and making sure that we subsidise and support the maintenance of hundreds of airstrips—I imagine across the country there is well over a thousand 'aerodromes', as they were called—but it is also about other infrastructure programs. I have just talked to you about the Bruce Highway. I will talk now about the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing. If anybody from Longreach—and if you are familiar with our state, just close your eyes and imagine about half the land mass of the state of Queensland—wants to use subsidised public transport with buses and a range of other methods, they have to come down. They have to get efficiently from where they are to where they are going. That is why this government has invested about another $2.5 billion in things like the range crossing and the upgrade of the Warrego Highway. So it is unfair, and in fact quite hypocritical, for the Labor Party to come out and talk about the failure of the Turnbull government to invest in public transport infrastructure.

Every time I speak I am going to ensure that I bring to everyone's attention this feature of the Australian Labor Party: they are like an organ-grinder's monkey—I could put in ear plugs, move my lips and tell you what they are saying. They come in here and get this whine up and we hear this big shrill noise—it is complete and absolute negativity. There is not one positive element, not one alternative option. We heard Senator Lines—she went street by street, crescent by crescent. If I closed my eyes I could almost make the journey. I do not know where it is but I have an image in my mind now that if you turn left and go down there past the medical centre, you get to the end and turn right—no grids to cross, just four-lane bitumen roads. There was not one word from her, or in any of the other contributions today, about what the alternative would be; nothing about what Labor would do. There is a reason for that—Labor made some monstrous commitments during the election and reflected on commitments that they said they had done, but of course they made the statements, they made the promises, but they did not make provision in the budget and the budget forecasts, in forward estimates, to pay for the projects.

I heard the Greens senator lament the inability of the Victorian government to provide some public transport infrastructure out to the airport. For goodness sake, this is the same government that tore up $1 billion—that is what it had to pay contractors when it abandoned its biggest major project in recent decades in the state of Victoria. I wish Senator Lines were here because I would yield some of my time for her to answer me: what could you build for $1 billion? Could you have put a public transport corridor, a rail corridor, from the city for these visitors out to the Melbourne airport? I think the answer is clear—I think the answer is yes.

We just have this unfolding hypocrisy. I do not know what structure there is with our friends across the other side, but someone has just had a little brain thought: 'We've got a Western Australian election, we will have a statement and we will conceal it as if it is generally for Australia but then we'll have a series of speakers and we will not mention anywhere in Australia except in marginal Labor state seats in Western Australia. That is the hypocrisy. There is a reason they do not stand on their record; there is a reason they do not say to us that 'Turnbull and company have not done this but we have done that,' and the reason is that they did not do that. We watch this vulnerability here all the time, particularly at question time, when they want to talk about defence spending. My colleagues would have noticed over recent weeks and months that they do not ask questions on defence spending any more, because they were tired of being struck in the middle of the forehead with the fact that in six years under a Labor government they never spent a zack. It is for that very reason that they do not stand on their record when they come up with these crazy, crazy motions like this one here today. There is not one mention from any of their speakers about what they have done. Not one significant project was heralded, and particularly not in regional and provincial Australia. They have never been out there. They do not know of the need for public transport in Roma because they have never been to Roma and they do not care—that is not where their people are; that is not where the CFMEU is based. They do not care about my country communities. We hear the view that there is no public transport and no support, but I read out all the programs that we support—260 remote communities, 360 airport services subsidised—and I am sure that if there are any more contributions from the other side they will not recognise that. They will not say one single thing about the description provided by this side of the chamber of the incredible investment that has been made by the Turnbull government, and indeed the coalition since we came to power. There is a lot of catch-up, a lot of investment in things that should have been done years ago. We can stand here for the next hour and talk about the projects, we can talk about the funding, but the facts are there; they are on the public record and they cannot be disputed. Yet we listened to Labor speaker after Labor speaker after Labor speaker and not once did they either put on the record what they themselves have done or offer any alternatives to their whingeing. We have done all this with the legacy of a $300 billion debt. We have done all this with a legacy of structural deficits that we are still struggling to get under control. We have had to do that because all those projects that they even put in in pencil had no money in the forward estimates. I do not intend to sit quietly while the Labor Party comes along and lectures my government in relation to matters of public transport infrastructure when we have such a sterling record to date in very difficult circumstances.


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