Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Statements by Senators

Central Coast: Roads

12:55 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As we do our work in this place, our local communities back home continue their work and their lives too. They even get their local papers. And today, in my local paper, the Express Advocate, there was a story on the front page about local roads. Roads are in dire need of investment and works on the Central Coast. Local residents are calling out for a government to listen, to assist and to commit money. Gosford City Council has put the figure at $59 million to bring the city's roads up to a satisfactory standard.

The member for Robertson added her two cents into this argument, saying she of course supported the local community. How could she be expected to let this opportunity for some cheap politics slip her by? So she showed up and the crocodile tears flowed. Here we stand with the masters of fake concern, the experts at spinning appearance versus reality—because the reality is that, while Ms Wicks had crocodile tears rolling down her face in the Express Advocate and was decrying the state of local roads, she is here in Canberra, in parliament, voting to cut the funding for local roads, voting to freeze budget increases and voting down federal assistance grants to her own local electorate and local councils. With all the appearance of care, the reality is much bleaker.

In the Abbott government's first budget, it froze local government assistance for three years. That cut $925 million from local communities. For the Central Coast, that means a funding cut of $8.4 million. That is no small amount, and it is not going into our roads because the Liberal government decided to do that. They cut that funding, and they were supported by the local members, both Ms Wicks and Mrs McNamara. Despite that reality, it seems that the local Liberal members are quite comfortable telling locals that they agree with their local concerns and that they will stand up for them in the fight. But this is the art of deception at its most malevolent.

The Abbott government's cuts to local roads and local government have been devastating in our local communities, particularly affecting economic activity right across the country. If you do not have decent roads, small businesses pay the price, in slower travel times, in wear and tear on their equipment. This is supposed to be the party of small business. Small businesses move. They need decent roads and they need them in the local communities where they do their business. The Abbott government's cuts have been particularly hard-hitting in areas where there are, sadly, too high levels of unemployment. Many regions are currently experiencing unacceptably high youth unemployment, and sadly the Central Coast is one of those areas.

The government admitted during Senate estimates that they have not always done an analysis of the impact of their cuts to local governments. Of course they did not. They just tried to get away with it, and they are continuing to try to lie about it to the local communities. They also admitted to having undertaken no consultation with local councils or communities before making the decision to cut the funding to roads. The flow-on from this will hamper councils' ability to provide good local roads, decent libraries, well-maintained parks, regular garbage pick-ups and high-quality essential services, including child care.

It is often the unenviable task of a Labor government to come in and fix the mess caused by a Liberal government that failed to see that they needed to invest in local communities—a dearth of investment caused by fiscal tight-fistedness, ideology, and a fear of big thinking. In the final term of the Howard government, Gosford Council received only $1 million, despite the local member at that time also being the minister for roads and local government. That was $1 million invested on local roads in Gosford by the Howard government in its last three years—it is just appalling. But, compare and contrast: under Labor, in just three years between 2010 and 2013, we delivered $58 million to the local council for local roads and for infrastructure. The people along the coast know that they not only needed it but also need a whole lot more, and they are not getting it from this Liberal government that lies to them when they are in the electorate and votes down the support for funding when in Canberra.

What new money has the Abbott government brought to the coast? Let's be truthful about this. There is a $10 million commitment up in Somersby. They have claimed the $200 million for the M1. But I remember the day when former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, former Minister for Infrastructure Anthony Albanese and I stood there at Mt Penang and announced that package—$200 million for the M1 productivity package. The Liberal government claim it as their own, but it was delivered and budgeted for long before they came to government. They have claimed the $400 million for the M1 and M2—same thing; that was delivered by Labor. I am glad that the Liberal government have not decided to cut that yet, but we will be watching.

The Liberal Party is less a party of government and more a party of deception. This art of deception is not unique to the federal Liberal government. The New South Wales Liberals are also quite skilled, somehow spinning a 25 per cent budget cut into a positive in the local news. Under the previous New South Wales Labor government, the Central Coast received a growing and growing roads budget that was appropriate to its growing demographic need and as a growing area for business. In Labor's last term in government, the coast received a combined total of $343.4 million over four years for construction and planning for roads—an amount unseen before on the coast. What did we get from the Liberals in their first term in office? They have been in for four years. We got a budget that dropped to $259.85 million. A Liberal government was elected and the Central Coast was ripped off to the tune of a reduction of more than $83 million.

Once again, the appearance: the member for Robertson calling for more action, the Liberals calling for better roads on the coast, all the while cutting the funding. The reality is that Liberals at all levels of government have cut budgets, frozen indexation and are leaving coast roads, literally, to crumble beneath our feet. There is absolute truth in the pictures that are shown in today's Express Advocate, but the language of Liberal care is completely misrepresenting the reality.

Labor will continue to fight the freezes, the cuts and the deception. Labor have secured an additional $1.1 billion for local and regional roads to boost local jobs across Australia and improve the roads we drive on every day. Labor supported the reintroduction of the fuel excise indexation to make sure that money raised did not go to fill the Liberal's budget black hole but went to real projects in regions across Australia. The $1.1 billion boost to the Roads to Recovery Program will stimulate regional economies, generating much needed jobs and a boost for vital local infrastructure. Labor will hold this government to its announced position that every dollar raised by reintroducing excise indexation is directed to building new roads and upgrading existing road infrastructure. We will hold them to account—make the gap between their words and their actions shrink. As I have said, the masters of deception are in charge of the government at the moment.

Labor should not have to drag the Prime Minister, his ministers or even the member for Robertson kicking and screaming to the table to actually make an investment in local roads. Despite the appearance and what the member for Robertson says in the Express Advocate about how much she cares and about how hard she is fighting, the reality is she is here in Canberra today, as she has on many, many occasions, using her vote to cut the very money she is now saying she is arguing for. That is just the height of hypocrisy—to pretend to the Central Coast community that you are fighting for road funding while you are a representative of the government that is cutting it.

The sad reality is that this is a government addicted to deception. It is a government with a leader of tragic captain's pics, a government of jobs for the boys that is spending $80 million on a fake royal commission—$80 million. That is the difference between the amount that was invested in the roads on the Central Coast by Labor and what has been invested by the state Liberal government. They had a choice when they were making their decisions about how they would spend their money. But they revealed their values: $80 million for Central Coast roads; indeed, $80 million for the roads of any regional part of this country. They had a choice. The National Party should have been standing up for it. Instead, what did they choose to spend their $80 million on? It was not spent on roads, not on helping small business, not on growing the local economy or on growing jobs but on setting up a fake royal commission that is highly compromised. (Time expired)