Thursday, 9 February 2017
At the request of Senator Gallagher, I move:
That the Senate condemns the failure of the Turnbull Government to invest in public transport infrastructure across Australia.
Here were are some eight months into the second term of the coalition government and, in that time, our Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has not sought to commence a single new major public transport project anywhere in the country. We all had high hopes that Malcolm Turnbull would differentiate himself from Abbott's appalling record on this front, but instead investment in our public transport systems coming from the Commonwealth continues to languish.
When Labor were in government, however, we increased federal spending on transport infrastructure from $141 to $269 a person. We committed to more public transport than all our predecessors since Federation combined. This has been incredibly important for our nation because we cannot have sustainable cities and quality family lives when people are stuck on congested roads.
In fact, the Barnett government relied on federal Labor when we were last in government to put money into the sinking of the railway line between Northbridge and the city of Perth, and we are just beginning to see the benefits now of this fantastic investment in the city. It has been thanks to the planning and investments coming from the Commonwealth that we have been able to see this project start to come to fruition. Without that money, this project would not have happened and our city would be much the poorer. The project really highlights the significance of investment in public transport, and this is exactly what WA is now missing out on.
What we had instead from the Liberal government when they came into government is that they scrapped all funding for public transport in our nation to the tune of $4 billion. From my home town of Perth where this investment is sorely needed, the Commonwealth has withdrawn $500 million that Labor allocated for public transport when we were in government. This is despite the appalling fact—and I know you will understand this, Madam Deputy President—that figures show that Perth is set to have seven of Australia's 10 most congested roads within 15 years. The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics says that 50 to 65 per cent of people are spending more than 45 minutes commuting to work every single day. That could be more than 10,000 hours per year stuck on the road because we have a government that will not invest in public transport around our country, 10,000 hours per year of people missing out on time with their families because the Liberals will not invest in public transport.
There has been no investment by the Turnbull government in public transport in Western Australia. There has been no investment by the Barnett government in public transport in WA. What we have here is both the Turnbull and Barnett governments taking Western Australians for granted. We have here a very wrong set of priorities. The WA Liberal and National government's key infrastructure project is, I am very sorry to say, a $1.9 billion freight link that is in fact a road to nowhere. It is a road whose construction is destroying important wetlands in areas of biodiversity. These are very precious areas that are much needed within our urban environment. It is a road that is destroying the homes of animals and wiping out endangered flora.
Colin Barnett, the premier, has argued that the freight link is to facilitate the passage of trucks to Fremantle Port. But the simple fact is that the road does not go to the Fremantle Port. If that were not so terrible it would almost be funny. The road terminates before it gets anywhere close to the Fremantle port. In fact, what we know about the Fremantle port is that it is already very much close to capacity, and what the state really needs is a southern port that fits with the state's future infrastructure needs and enables the state's economic development.
Instead, what we have is this appalling road to nowhere. The Freight Link has been an absolute debacle from the get go. It is a terrible example of the Barnett government's mismanagement of Western Australia. So while we have Colin Barnett, Lisa Harvey and their mates in the Turnbull government sitting back and doing nothing about public transport in WA, what we have in the Mark McGowan Labor government is a real plan. We have a plan to invest in METRONET to connect our suburbs around Perth and to help fix congestion on our roads. It includes the introduction of a circle line, revolutionising Perth's rail system, providing the first east-west rail link so that commuters do not have to travel into the CBD to get out to other suburbs. It is an incredibly important plan. It includes completing the Forrestfield-Airport line, building a train line to Ellenbrook and, finally, keeping the promise that the Liberal government broke time and time again, building a Yanchep line to the north and a Byford line to the east as well as a new train station at Karnup in the south.
It is a comprehensive plan, but it will need investment from the Commonwealth government. The plan involves fixing dangerous level crossings on the Armadale, Midland and Fremantle lines. With that, with METRONET, Western Australia will have the world-class public transport system that it deserves. It is smart, affordable and achievable and it will bring Perth in line with some of the best cities in the world when it comes to public transport.
These are issues that the Commonwealth government can no longer be missing in action on. The plan is not only good for fixing congestion; it will create more than 10,000 jobs for Western Australians in our state. It will also see local manufacturing of railcars in Western Australia, increasing our local manufacturing of railcars to 50 per cent, which is a massive increase from the current two per cent under the Barnett Liberal government. This is incredibly important because the decline in the economy in Western Australia has seen many of our state's young people missing out on apprenticeships. We need this infrastructure and these jobs for the future of our state.
But the plan does require federal funding and federal investment for WA. So what we really need to see is the Commonwealth government diverting that money from the Freight Link, because we know a Mark McGowan government will not go ahead with it. The Commonwealth government needs to divert that money from the Freight Link and invest it in our public transport system, just as it did for the state of Victoria when state Labor won government there and the state made infrastructure and planning changes.
Those of us from WA Labor here in this place and the other place will not back down on this question. We will be fighting the Turnbull government to make sure that you fund our infrastructure projects in WA. We will fight to make sure that the Turnbull government invests in our public transport to ease congestion in WA. We want to fight the Turnbull government to make sure you play your part in making METRONET happen for the people of Western Australia. Why? Because it is a good plan. It is a necessary plan and it is the only real plan that is going to reduce congestion in our cities.
I know that if the Turnbull government takes money away from Western Australia because they do not support the reinvestment of the Perth Freight Link money into our public transport system, if they do not act on congestion problems that are becoming uncontrollable in our state, then they will lose seats in Western Australia, because voters in Western Australia's outer suburbs are angry. They are angry about the lack of investment in infrastructure and public transport in our state. They are sick and tired of being left behind by Liberal governments here in Canberra and over in WA.
What we have here is a real choice on 11 March. It is a choice between a tired Liberal government that has no plan for Western Australia, or a fresh approach with the Mark McGowan Labor government. Labor will invest in our future and in our public transport system. I am confident that we in this place will be able to fight the Turnbull government for a better deal for our state.
Is that it? Is that the first contribution by the Labor Party this afternoon on their notice of motion in regard to a lack of investment in public transport infrastructure—they allege—by the Turnbull government? We did not hear one convincing bit of evidence. There was lots of rhetoric and lots of wishful thinking about the future of a possible Labor government in Western Australia. But there was nothing convincing in Senator Pratt's contribution this afternoon. I hope that other Labor senators will rise to the occasion and at least put their hearts into the motion that Senator Gallagher moved.
I am surprised, I have to confess, about Labor's choice of subject for this afternoon's motion. Here is Senator Sterle—it will be interesting to see Senator Sterle's contribution this afternoon. It will be interesting to see whether he is tempted to digress into the rhetoric of Mark McGowan and future Labor governments that they hope for.
I am very surprised at Labor's choice of a discussion topic this afternoon in the Australian Senate. I think it is very odd that the Australian Labor Party in this place would be looking to talk about public transport this week. I will be particularly interested if any Labor senators from Queensland are planning to take part in this afternoon's debate, given the week that the Labor government there has experienced, specifically in relation to public transport. The veracity of their claim around poor public transport infrastructure spending by the Turnbull government will be tested if there are any Labor senators from Queensland that participate in the debate this afternoon.
It is an odd choice of motion for another reason—and that one is a pretty simple one. The evidence just does not demonstrate a lack of investment in public transport by the Turnbull government. To accuse this government of the lack of care, concern or investment in public transport infrastructure requires one to live in a fantasy world because it is just not reflected in the reality. I will demonstrate that with not rhetoric but facts. Quite frankly, it is hard to think of a federal government that has done more for public transport infrastructure than the Turnbull government. That is not a difficult claim for someone like me to make.
Senator Sterle interjecting—
Senator Sterle, I hope you will sit through my whole presentation because I am going to put the facts and the evidence on the table. That will be your challenge—to put the facts and the evidence on the table.
This historical investment in public transport infrastructure has arisen in no small part because, after seemingly endless stuff-ups and delays under hopelessly incompetent Labor state governments, the community has developed an expectation now that the federal government will be involved. Now, if you will permit me to be brutally honest for a brief moment: that does not sit particularly well with my very, very strong federalist instincts. I think it is a bit rich for Labor state governments, in particular, to now expect the federal government to be doing their job for them, especially in the space of public transport.
I also note that this motion comes from Senator Gallagher, the former Chief Minister of the ACT, which is not a jurisdiction renowned for its exceptional public transport system. And I might add that, after some 16 years of unbroken Labor government, I find that deeply ironic. Of course, there is now a light rail project being constructed on the north side of Canberra. I can only hope for the sake of this city's residents it does not suffer the same usual problems of major projects managed—or, in this case, mismanaged—by Labor governments. It is also worth noting that the Turnbull government has provided $67 million to the ACT to assist with the construction of that project. Perhaps that might have slipped Senator Gallagher's mind when she presented the motion this afternoon.
Nonetheless, our system has evolved to the point where there is an expectation now that the federal government will be involved in funding public transport infrastructure projects. That being the case, this federal government has been more than willing to step up to support the development of public transport infrastructure. No matter which part of Australia you live in, there is ample evidence to back that up.
So let's look at the evidence—let's look at some of the facts. Between now and 2018-19, the Turnbull government is investing some $1.9 billion on urban passenger rail projects, despite the fact that it is primarily a state government responsibility. Let's look at South Australia, a jurisdiction also afflicted with a long-term Labor government so incompetent that it literally cannot keep the lights on. I send my greetings to those in South Australia who may be watching or listening to this debate, but, sadly, we cannot be confident that they are able to turn on their televisions and listen to their radios as a result of the incompetence. In South Australia, the Turnbull government is investing $43 million to extend the Tonsley rail line to the Flinders medical precinct. In the state of Queensland, this government has made a contribution of $95 million to stage two of the Gold Coast Light Rail extension project. That will see the line extended by 7.3 kilometres from the Gold Coast University Hospital to connect with the heavy rail network at the northern end of the Gold Coast, at Helensvale, with new stations at Parkwood and Parkwood East, and a new heavy rail/light rail interchange at Helensvale.
In South Australia, in Queensland, Senator Gallagher's motion that the Turnbull government is not investing in public transport infrastructure has proven to be wrong. Importantly, for Queenslanders and for others travelling to Australia for the Commonwealth Games, this public transport infrastructure will, of course, be very, very important. In addition to this, Queensland is also getting from the Turnbull government $10 million to further investigate urban regeneration opportunities and funding and financing options, and assess the integration of Cross River Rail with the council's Brisbane Metro Subway System. It is very, very clear that Queenslanders are benefiting from the Turnbull government's investment in public infrastructure.
Turning to New South Wales: through the asset recycling initiative the Turnbull government is contributing over $1.6 billion to the Sydney Metro, Australia's largest public transport initiative currently under construction, which, when completed, will be Australia's first fully-fledged rapid transit system. On top of this, in New South Wales there is $98.4 million for the Western Sydney rail upgrade, $78.3 million for the Parramatta Light Rail project and $26 million to support development of a rail link to the new Western Sydney Airport.
In Victoria, the Turnbull government is contributing $10 million to the development of the Melbourne Metro project, which includes five new underground rail stations. I know, Senator Rice, you would prefer people to walk! I know you prefer people to walk, but people need to get to work, they need to shift their families around they need to get jobs, and freights are important.
Senator Rice interjecting —
I know you prefer people to walk or to sit under a tree.
In my own state of Western Australia—which is where Senator Pratt left her very, very modest contribution to the afternoon debate—the federal government is contributing $490 million to the Forrestfield-Airport rail link, which is an absolutely critical project for Perth and for the entire state of Western Australia. And I should point out that that construction work is well underway—it has already started; it is well underway—after careful planning and implementation of those plans.
Of course, that money came as partial compensation for our low share of GST revenue.
Senator Sterle interjecting—
Together with my Liberal colleagues in this place, I am very proud to have played a role in securing it—which brings me to an important point, Senator Sterle. Your challenge to Mark McGowan is to ask him what he is going to do about GST distribution. And what is Bill Shorten going to do about GST distribution? If the government changes, that issue falls heavily on what he is going to do. What is he going to do?
That is his big challenge. I will be watching closely, Senator Sterle; I will be watching very, very closely.
It is worth noting that Bill Shorten has never revealed his own plan to address WA's GST shortfall. I suspect we all know why: he is utterly beholden to his Labor mates in South Australia, who continue to fight against sensible reform that would be in the interests of Western Australians and indeed, I argue, in the interests of Australia's economic productivity.
It is a marked contrast to the approach from WA Labor, which went to the last state election, in 2013, promising to build an airport station that was located a couple of kilometres from the airport terminal. I know you remember that, Senator Sterle.
You do remember that, don't you? A railway station that was not even located where the people are! This demonstrates a consistent problem with the WA Labor Party: they like to talk big. They have a nice, colourful map and a few logos for their projects, and the spin gets underway. They hoodwink Western Australian voters, and then of course, in the end, Western Australian voters are left with nothing. But scratch the surface and, time after time, they have the detail badly wrong. That is something that Western Australians will be bearing in mind as we approach the state election on Saturday, 11 March.
While on the subject of transport infrastructure in my home state of Western Australia, it would be remiss of me not to mention the brazenly irresponsible decision of the WA Labor Party to oppose Roe 8, which is a critical element of the Perth Freight Link project, in a cynical attempt to win a few preferences from the Australian Greens in advance of the election. The Labor Party has bought into this ridiculous notion that we have to make a choice between road and rail. That is simply a false choice. We need both. It will come as news to the Labor Party, but not everything can move around by rail alone. It is not a perfect solution. That is why Roe 8 and the recently announced Roe 9 tunnel are absolutely critical to meeting Perth's freight needs.
It is odd that the Labor Party are constantly talking about the need to create jobs—and they are right; job creation is critical in Western Australia—but they never want to actually build the road infrastructure that will deliver it. Instead, they want to get together with the Greens and pursue an ideological fetish for passenger rail. Roe 8 and Roe 9 are critical projects that will both help WA to diversify its economy and make it easier to export our goods to growing markets in Asia. Roe 8 and Roe 9 will remove nearly 7,000 heavy vehicles per day from Perth's southern urban arterial road network. This will make for a safer and more reliable road journey into and out of Fremantle. Together, they will also allow heavy vehicles and other road users to bypass the 14 sets of traffic lights now on the Leach Highway and Stock Road, creating a safer environment for all road users. Moreover, the project is anticipated to create 1,900 direct jobs, with a total on-site workforce of over 6½ thousand during the construction phase. This is something that WA Labor—
Thank you for paying attention to my contribution this afternoon, Senator Sterle; I do appreciate that. But job creation, of course, is very, very important to the Western Australian economy. With 1,900 direct jobs and almost 6½ thousand other jobs during the construction phases of Roe 8 and Roe 9, that has to be good news for Western Australians and for the Western Australian economy. It is a very confusing stance that WA Labor have. It is one taken simply because they have convinced themselves that there is more virtue in rail projects than there is in road projects, and that is just not true.
At the beginning of my contribution, I said that it was very curious that the Labor Party had chosen this week to raise the matter of public transport, given the problems currently being experienced by the Labor government in Queensland. I just want to have a look, briefly, at what has happened in recent times in Queensland. Since the second part of last year, it is fair to say that Queensland's passenger rail system has been a basket case—and that is probably putting it charitably. On 21 October last year, around 100 passenger rail services across south-east Queensland had to be cancelled due to a shortage of drivers. On Christmas Day, almost two-thirds of scheduled services had to be cancelled for the same reason. This left many people who were trying to spend Christmas Day with loved ones simply stranded.
These shortages occurred because of the bungled implementation of a new timetable, not due to a lack of investment from the Turnbull government. The federal government does not schedule train services. The federal government does not recruit train drivers. Passengers were not left stranded on rail station platforms across south-east Queensland on Christmas Day because of inaction on the part of the federal government. This is something that has occurred because of the manifest ineptitude of the Queensland state Labor government. I note that the minister for transport in that government finally fell on his sword earlier this week after a damning report into that disaster, and is it any wonder? Just listen to this:
There was also a 7 per cent drop in train crew productivity due to more restrictive crewing rules agreed between unions and QR's—
The supply of qualified drivers declined by 4 per cent over the same period, reaching 471 drivers in December 2016, due to QR preferring to operate with a 5-10 per cent undersupply of crew, driven by a practice of providing overtime opportunities and restrictions on the ability to recruit externally.
So a sweetheart deal between the unions and Queensland Rail, a Queensland government body, limited the ability for new drivers to be recruited.
Of course, we all know which side of politics is beholden to the Australian trade union movement in our country—that is the Labor Party; no surprises. The report went on to recommend that negotiations with unions address the restrictive rules regarding continuous working time, meal breaks and rostering processes. I wonder what prospect there is that a Queensland Labor government which cannot survive without the political muscle supplied by its union allies will act on that very simple and clear recommendation? My fear is that Queensland commuters may be experiencing delays for some time to come, if they have to rely on the Labor Party to do the right thing and put the public interest before the unions' interests.
Of course, it is also the Turnbull government that has established the Smart Cities and Suburbs Program, and public transport is an absolutely critical element within that. This government recognises than an ad hoc approach to the development of cities is no longer viable. In today's economy, our cities must compete in order to grow and prosper. That competition should foster important collaboration. The government is combining smart policy, smart investment and smart technology to ensure our cities are more liveable, more productive and more prosperous. The Smart Cities Plan means more affordable housing, new jobs closer to homes, better transport and more liveable cities. To support the Smart Cities Plan, we announced $50 million to accelerate planning and development on major urban transport projects and the establishment of an Infrastructure Financing Unit to broker commercial deals with the private sector so that we can deliver more congestion-busting infrastructure sooner. This will make our cities more liveable through better coordination, integrated planning and targeted infrastructure investment. Smart Cities creates a shared vision for cities and a plan for governments, businesses and communities to coordinate their actions and investments to achieve agreed targets.
This motion before us is from the Labor Party, and so, in the very brief time available to me it would be remiss of me not to reflect on their record in government in this area. And I have to say that there is not a lot to say about Labor's record of investment in public transport infrastructure. Before and during the 2016 election campaign, the Labor Party committed to funding a number of urban rail projects through its $10 billion 'concrete bank' facility, with the balance apparently to come from the Building Australia Fund. However, that money is already fully allocated to other projects, and the Labor Party have not identified what projects they would cancel. So Labor's answer to public transport infrastructure is to make promises that cannot be funded, that cannot be honoured. I know what you're going to say, Senator Sterle: 'Here we go again—Senator Smith is right. This is history repeating itself. How does he know these things?' Because you and Labor oppositions think they can hoodwink the Australian community. When the Labor Party were last in government, of the $6.2 billion they allocated to urban transport in the 2013 budget, just $1.9 billion—30 per cent—was in the forward estimates. The remaining $4.3 billion was outside the budget estimates. That is standard operating procedure for the Labor Party in this place—talk projects up, promise voters the world and then keep kicking the can further down the road when it comes to the question of actually paying for things.
It is clear: the Turnbull government does have a plan for investment in public transport infrastructure in Queensland, in Victoria, in South Australia, in New South Wales and, indeed, in my own state of Western Australia. What is the contrast? What is the comparator? The Labor Party has no plan. When it did have a plan, those plans were unfunded, they were hollow commitments and they would have left Australians high and dry.
In parliament yesterday we heard the Prime Minister accuse the Leader of the Opposition of being a parasite. But, when it comes to public transport policy in Australia, Prime Minister Turnbull is the great leech of our trains, trams and buses. He is more than happy to try and boost his popularity by taking selfies of himself on the train or—his second favourite—bus, but when it comes to investing in public transport he is just absent. He sucking the life out of public transport across our cities and propping up the big road lobby instead.
Senator Smith wanted to talk about facts, traversing the country as to where federal investment in transport was being made. The figure that he quoted for Victoria was notable. If you look at how much federal money is going into public transport infrastructure in Victoria, you see that less than one per cent—yes, one per cent—of that money has gone to Victoria in recent years. Senator Smith's quote was very telling: $10 million towards the Melbourne Metro rail tunnel. That is $10 million out of a project for which there is an investment of $10 billion. This is how out of whack this government's public transport funding is. What is really sad and what makes it so clear is that this is just a continuation of policy by both Labor and Liberal governments over many decades. If you look at investment by federal governments over many, many years, you see there was zero investment in public transport. Since the middle of last century, overwhelmingly the money from both state and federal governments has been spent on building more and more and more roads.
I am not against roads—roads are very useful things. I am also not against cars, as much as some people in this place might think that is the case. I drive a car. But it is a matter of having some balance. The balance that we need is a balance that will give us a very different model of transport investment than what we currently have. We are at a crossroads. We can continue in the direction in which we have been going for the last 60 years, with the overwhelming investment in large, polluting roads—more and more and more of them—in the vain hope that, by building more and more roads, we will somehow solve our congestion problems. Or we can take a step back and look at what transport planners, transport academics, community groups—anybody who is looking at the future of our cities in an objective way—say: that is not going to deliver the cities that we want. So we have got a choice. We have two very different models that we have to choose between.
The model that has a much better balance between road based transport—with cars providing passenger transport—and public transport and active transport is the city that I want to live in. We need cities that have got that balance. Let us look at all the trips being done in our city and let us aim to have about an equal balance. About a third of those trips should be made by private transport, so when we need to be driving somewhere in our private cars there is the road capacity to do that. About a third of all the trips we are taking should be able to be made by public transport. And about a third of the trips we are taking should be able to be made by active transport, like walking and cycling. To me, that is the balance that would actually lead us to have much healthier cities.
But the direction we are heading in at the moment is just a continuation of the same, which is where we have nine out of 10 trips being made by people in private cars, generally with only one person in that private car. There is an occupancy rate of 1.1 person per car. That might have worked in cities in Australia in the 1950s and 1960s and even the 1970s, because our cities were not nearly as big. We did not have the density that we have in our cities now. We could build the roads to cater for everyone who wanted to drive, who wanted to be able to jump in their car whenever they wanted to get somewhere and have a relatively clear, flowing journey to get from A to B. But it just does not work in cities the size of Australian cities today.
When you have cities like Melbourne and Sydney, which are pushing five million people, the fundamental problem is that you cannot fit that many cars in without having massive impacts on how your cities function. If you are going to continue to have nine out of 10 trips being made by cars in cities of five million people, you actually have to take up about a third of the city. One third of the space of the city has to be allocated to those cars in roads and parking, and that is just swallowing up far too much of the city that should be being used for all sorts of other things. It should be used for parkland, for housing and for recreational space. But the ongoing obsession with building big, new roads means that just gets eaten away. We have the tollways continuing to eat up our cities whether it is in Perth, with the Perth freight link; Sydney, with WestConnex; or Melbourne, with what was the East West Link, and we are now fighting the Western Distributor.
You cannot build your way out of congestion, because if you are going to build those roads to cater for that many people, you have the city going down the gurgler in terms of being a livable space. You also have the pollution that accompanies all of those trips—unless you are suddenly going to have a massive investment in renewable energy and electric cars being powered by renewable energy. The cars in our cities today have internal combustion engines, which are pumping out those greenhouse gases that are causing climate change. If we are serious about tackling climate change, we have to deal with reducing the number of cars on our roads. Then there is the urban air pollution, not just the carbon dioxide. There are the nitrous oxides, the sulphur and the other pollutants. The more cars you have in the city, the less and less livable it is.
When it comes to investment and the lack of investment by the federal government, the other telling factor as to why it is so much more sensible to be investing in public transport rather than in our roads is just how much more bang for your buck you get when you invest in public transport. Whether it is putting in something at grade or above ground or whether it is digging a tunnel to put in a train line or a tollway, basically you can shift far more people with a public transport project that you can building a tollway to shift people at 1.1 people per car.
In fact, if you build a new rail line, the number of people who can travel on a service operating at a high frequency is the equivalent of 12 lanes of freeway traffic. It is 12 to one in terms of the number of people you can shift, for about the same cost. That is why, if you are working out where you are going to put your money and what is going to give you the most benefit in terms of shifting people around their city, time and time again, hands down, investing in public transport is going to win out, and it is not just trains either. The Greens have a commitment to investing in trains, trams, buses and other public transport vehicles. You can get so much better value out of investing in busses to solve the congestion problems in the outer suburbs than you can by just continuing to expand the road network. As I said, we are at a crossroads. We can continue to go down the path we have in the past, which leads to congested, polluted, incredibly unpleasant cities to live in. Or we can go down a path that will lead to cities that are much more livable and sustainable and where people really want to live.
I think about the young people who are growing up in our cities today, particularly people who struggling to afford to buy a house. They find themselves having to live and rent in the outer suburbs, with pathetic public transport. That is not fair on them. And you have the older generations, who are able to afford to live in the inner city and who have access to good public transport. But because the investment in public transport has not kept up with our population growth, anybody who is living in more affordable housing on the outskirts of our cities are being discriminated against. It is not fair. It is intergenerational inequity, just so that the people who have always wanted to drive their cars can continue to drive their cars. It is not surprising that the younger generation have been much less keen. They see the advantages of public transport. They know that on public transport they can sit there and work on their phone or check their emails. They do not have this obsession or feeling that their whole sense of identity is tied up with having to be able to get in their car for every journey they take.
We have a situation where it is clear that logic and sensible planning shows that investment in public transport is the direction we need to be heading in. If we are heading towards a city that has the sort of balances I have talked about—a third of trips being made on public transport, a third being made in private cars on roads and a third on bikes and walking—there is something that is a really important part of that equation, and that is that we actually do not need more roads. We have enough roads for a third of our trips to be undertaken by roads, but we need to be investing in public transport to have public transport trips that really compete with cars and to provide public transport that is fast, frequent, reliable, affordable, safe and well-networked. That is where the deficiencies are, and it is because we have had this failure of investment over the last 60 years and we are continuing to have the failure of investment by this government.
If we actually decided that we really wanted to have healthy, sustainable cities and looked objectively at where the money needed to be spent, it would be very clear and very obvious that it is in those public transport projects, whether it is in the metros, electrification of lines that are currently regional services like the Melton line in Melbourne or putting in train services like the airport. People are astounded that Melbourne, a city the size that it now is, has not got a rail line to its airport. That is where the priority needs to be. Forget about trying to build your way out of congestion by wasting money on roads like the Western Distributor and the East West Link. It is by putting money in things like airport rail and rail out to Doncaster that we can really start to transform our cities.
The Greens have got a vision for $10 billion of investment over the next four years as being what is needed in federal funding to get public transport back on track. We will continue to call upon this government and to call upon Labor governments here at the federal level and at state levels to give priority to public transport funding. The Prime Minister in particular must stop being a public transport pretender and start getting serious about making public transport a better experience for all Australians.
I cannot believe how blessed I am to be following on from Senator Smith and Senator Rice. Before I go to Senator Smith's contribution, I say God bless the Greens. I think Senator Rice really is pure of heart, and it is well known that Senator Rice is a cyclist, but I just have to clarify a few things. It is a wonderful dream to think we could have a third—I think it was, Senator Rice—of journeys in cars, a third on public transport and a third walking or cycling. But it never ceases to amaze me. The Greens, like all Australians, like to wake up in the morning and know the milk is fresh in the stores, there is bread on the shelves and newspapers have been delivered so everyone can read them. They actually get there through heavy vehicles and our transport networks, and we have to have roads to get our trucks from the ports, railheads, warehouses and distribution centres. You always seem to skip over that, Senator Rice.
I could probably make a suggestion: the Greens should lead by example. If they really are that concerned and passionate about cutting down on car journeys, why don't they all turn up each morning here—the whole nine of them—in a pastel rainbow painted bongo van so they could save the eight Comcars the journey? You do not see that. Mind you, it would remind me of that 1960s comedy sitcom, The Munsters, when they were on holidays! But I digress. I have got to come back to Senator Smith's contribution.
It is very clear the general business notice of motion was condemning the Turnbull government's lack of investment in public transport infrastructure, but Senator Smith clearly did not deliver a lot of home truths, and I would like to correct the record before I go down the path of talking about infrastructure for public transport. It is not only trains. It is not only buses. It is roads, bus stations and train stations. Senator Smith, in our state of Western Australia you cannot possibly argue—and I know you would not even try to argue—against the massive investment by state Labor governments in public transport over the last 20 years. It was state Labor governments that built the northern railway line, as you and I both know. You also know it was the Court Liberal government that shut down the Fremantle train line. You would remember that very well, because I know I do too. It was the state Labor government that opened it back up again. You would also know it was the state Labor government, through a previous member for—what seat was Alannah in? I cannot remember. What was her federal seat?
Perth! It was her fantastic work that opened up the southern suburbs with that magnificent piece of public transport infrastructure: the Perth-Mandurah railway line. I tell you what: I use it so many times. There are so many times when I use that in peak hour, and it is not big enough, let me tell you. It should be double-deckers.
But let's just clear some things that Senator Smith will not talk about. Yes, there happens to be a state election coming up in WA. We know that. Each time we have a state election under Barnett, from the Liberal opposition in 2008 to becoming the Premier in 2008 and then the Premier again at the 2013 election, there are shocking, misleading statements that the Barnett opposition and then Barnett government put out. Senator Smith, in his own words, made accusations of Labor 'hoodwinking voters' and about promises. I am not quite sure if it was 'broken promises' or 'Labor makes lots of promises'. But let me quote to this chamber a few examples of the shocking broken promises, false commitments and—no, I cannot use the word 'lies', because I will get pulled up by the Acting Deputy President. But what about the Ellenbrook railway line?
Everyone in this chamber knows I very rarely read speeches, and I am not reading a speech, but I want to quote and make sure I get my quotes right. This was during the 2008 campaign, when Mr Barnett was the Leader of the Opposition. The Liberals specifically stated:
A Liberal Government will provide $53 million over the next four years toward the construction of a new rail line to Ellenbrook, to meet needs in the fast growing North Eastern Growth Corridor.
The Liberal candidate and now member for Swan Hills, Mr Frank Alban, sent out material to his electorate, telling voters that the Liberals would build the Ellenbrook line. The fact is the funding was not delivered. The project was cancelled. During the 2013 campaign, Premier Barnett claimed that the commitment had never been made. Of course, someone forgot to tell Mr Alban, who sent out all that information to the seat.
Here is another ruse from the Barnett Liberal government in Western Australia. This was on 31 July 2013. The catchcry at the time was 'fully funded, fully costed'. Here we go: despite claiming during the election campaign that its projects—this is the Liberal Party—were fully funded and fully costed, it was revealed that a total of $3 billion in Commonwealth contributions was assumed for major infrastructure projects such as the Liberal's MAX Light Rail, the Liberal's airport rail and the Perth to Darwin highway. The federal government had not given one single commitment to provide one cent of funding. It was another ruse by the Liberal Premier Barnett.
I will go onto the MAX Light Rail; let's talk about the MAX Light Rail not being funded. MAX Light Rail was this grand plan that the Liberals had into the election. They were going to look after Perth's public transport infrastructure. On 31 July 2013, both the funding and time frame of Premier Barnett's MAX Light Rail project were uncertain, with the Premier refusing to reiterate his promise that it would be operational by 2018. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott refused to provide the required federal funding for the project as well.
The Liberal government said the Metro Area Express, which is the MAX, would be a new light rail system connecting Mirrabooka with the CBD—Mirrabooka is a northern suburb—and across to Nedlands. Nedlands is the area around the university. It is very nice suburb. You would not find too many blue-collar workers in Nedlands, which is a shame, because I know I would love to live there. The light rail would also connect up with Victoria Park, which is the next suburb, out of Perth and over the Causeway. Commuters would be able to use that new light rail by 2018. The Premier, Mr Barnett, said this on 2 September 2012:
Max light rail, that project is going to be complex … my instinct tells me is that if any of the projects are going to slip out, it’ll be that one.
He said that a year later, on 15 May 2013, on ABC TV radio.
Here is another cracker. We will take this one from 28 August 2013: the rapid bus transit to Ellenbrook. You would have heard about that one. The Barnett government broke another promise to the people of Ellenbrook by failing to fund the Ellenbrook rapid bus transport service. They could not have the rail line and they are certainly not going to get the bus line. This is what the Barnett Liberal government promised: they promised Ellenbrook a rapid bus transit service, which was identified as a priority in the state government's public transport plan for Perth. Do you know what they are saying now? No funding was provided back in 2013-14 and it has just slipped off the books.
Here is another one. Now, before they all jump up on that side, all of a sudden with an election in the air, whoosh, it was: 'Let's get the graders out there, let's get some orange witch's hats and let's put some sites and fencing.' They have now extracted their political digit and now got on with the airport rail link because there is an election on. It is two years delayed. That happens. We know, we understand that delays happen. But Mr Barnett promised on 13 February 2014 that the Barnett government would deliver the airport-Forestville train line by 2018. If there was not an election coming now, there still would not be anything. That is the only reason they started one project after all the broken promises.
They also promised, on 30 June 2015, the Aubin Grove station. The Liberal government broke another promise on public transport with the delay of the construction of the Aubin Grove train station. They promised a train station and 2,000 park-and-ride facility would be open in 2016. Now they are hoping it is going to be open sometime around 2018. Before those opposite get all excited, I know massive infrastructure projects get delayed, but there is a difference between promising when you are going to do it and waiting until the last minute before the next election, then racing out to try to tell the people of Perth why you have lost a AAA credit rating and that you are a government that delivers. They are a government that breaks promises on public infrastructure and infrastructure projects constantly.
The Barnett Liberal government in Western Australia also promised—it was the Liberal-National government back then; now they are not, because they have had a little bit of a falling out with Mr Grills, the leader of the Nations, but anyway—that the Liberal-National government would add more than 15 million service kilometres and an extra 158 buses to the state's transport system, in the biggest boost to bus services in Western Australia in more than a decade. That was on 23 May 2011. What they are now saying is that the target of 15 million service kilometres has been 'wound back a little bit'—I do not know what that means—and spread over an extra seven years. That came from the Public Transport Authority's managing director, Mark Burgess—I know Mark Burgess. That was at an estimates hearing on 9 June 2015, when Senator Smith gave me the opportunity to correct the record.
I may as well keep going. On 27 July 2015, Mr Troy Buswell, who at the time would have been the Minister for Transport, said:
Our two key transformational projects to redefine travel and development patterns are the extension of the northern suburbs railway to Yanchep and a light rail from Mirrabooka to the CBD.
I have heard that before; it has popped up again. This was to the Sun City News on 21 July 2011. Where are we now? The Yanchep rail extension is not going to happen until possibly the middle of the next decade.
See, there is a constant here. There is a constant theme of promising anything that they think they need to do to win an election. They take the Western Australian voters for fools, promising it up. They promise, promise and promise. They then come back after the election and have more excuses than you could even imagine about why they cannot do it, while also losing our AAA credit rating, while also knowing that the wind-down on construction and in the mining industry was going to bite and while also knowing all the Treasury forecasts that the price of iron ore would fall through the floor. But that did not stop Premier Barnett and his ministers and members of parliament absolutely misleading the people of Western Australia with false promises that I said I am not allowed to call lies—but I do not know what else you call them in this day and age.
So, while I am on a roll, let's continue about the Western Australian Liberal government, shall we? And let's have a look. On 6 November 2015 they promised:
In total, 50 six-car sets (300 railcars) will be delivered over 10 years from 2019 at an estimated total capital cost of $1.2 billion.
Then, on 26 October 2015 in TheWest Australian Mr Barnett is quoted as saying:
We're just not in a position to make a huge commitment for the next series of cars.
Now, isn't that amazing? So, Senator Smith: good luck. I know how it works, mate: Thursday arvo, and we have been here bashing heads all week, and we all have a lot of things going on, and then you get tapped on the shoulder, you get the phone call from the whip's office: 'Geez, we've got 20 minutes. Can you burn up some time, because the bloody opposition's put one on us. You're from Western Australia; the West Aussies will certainly get up and have a crack at us. Can you go in there and defend the indefensible?'—which I think you have done. You have done your party a service. You have tried your best, Senator Smith, but you really led with your jaw when you allowed me to come in and talk about the lack of public transport infrastructure in Western Australia and the misleading commitments and promises that were all broken by your mates in the Western Australian Liberal government in Perth under the leadership of Premier Barnett—who, I must say, now has found himself heading for another election, and all of a sudden I am just waiting for the promises that are going to come this time.
But unfortunately the beauty of this is that I think Western Australians will say: 'Hang on: we've heard it all before. We're sick of the promises. You can get away with the odd one that slips up now and again, but when you continually lie to us and continually mislead us and continue to promise the world and then come up with all the lame excuses for why you can't do it, while congestion in Perth is going through the roof—'.
And there is absolutely no secret that the former Prime Minister, Prime Minister Abbott, had no respect for public transport. He made it quite clear. How do I know this? I know because I have chaired the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee, whether it was Legislation, in the government years, or References, in the opposition years, for the past 10 years. That is how I know that. I sit there in Senate estimates, alongside Senator Back. We know all the promises. We know all the bulldust that gets sprayed around in every set of estimates. We get up there and we ask the same questions: when are you going to get a Bobcat and start turning over some soil, and when are we going to get graders in and when are we going to start building these huge infrastructure projects that you are good at talking about but do not deliver?
One can only say this, in all fairness: it is a well-known, proven fact, when it comes to infrastructure, that the previous, Labor, government was a leader of the pack, under the great leadership of the transport and planning minister, Anthony Albanese—Albo, as we all know him. What a leader. I have to tell you: I was at the Safety Summit the other day and I was listening to Albo speak and I am still inspired that the man has been in parliament for as long as he has and still has the passion for infrastructure, still has the passion for public transport, and absolutely has a passion for road safety. And I cannot wait for the next Labor government, because when we get in we will continue to invest heavily in infrastructure projects. We will continue to invest heavily in public transport. We will not be as misleading and as silly and off with the fairies as the Greens are—just imagine: we are all going to put a sidecar on our pushbikes and squeeze a couple more Greens in on top of each other—we are going to be sensible about it. We understand that freight has to move around this nation. We understand that people have to move around this nation. We also understand that public transport has to be safe, it has to be reliable and it has to be up there with best practice. We know all that. We also know that whatever we do we have to integrate all the facets of transport. It has to line up. And we do not go off into fairyland at elections and make all these weird promises and then come up with, 'Oh, sorry; we can't do it.'
So, Senator Smith, thank you so much for giving me the opportunity on this side of the chamber to actually correct some of the wrongs that you did espouse—and some of the language was a little—there was a little bit of argy-bargy, because I quite enjoy listening to Senator Smith, because he is a very intelligent person; there is absolutely no doubt about that. But he cannot fool those of us on this side of the chamber, who actually understand infrastructure, understand the need to move freight safely and to move it as sustainably as we can—
So, thank you. On that, I would just make this very clear: we have a proven track record on the Labor side. No-one can even try to pretend that it is Labor that does not build public transport infrastructure, and we recognise that we have to move people around this nation safely.
Senator Back is jumping at the gate to make a contribution. He is like a greyhound. I was at the Dapto dogs the other night, when I put that $20 on the dud.
If he was jumping at the gate like Senator Back is, I would have been able to take the kids out for tea on Saturday night. But, on that note, I thank the Senate for its time and I shall now disappear off into the ether and see you next Monday.
And what a disappointment it is that Senator Sterle is going to leave us, because I was going to refer to some comments of the then secretary of the Transport Workers Union Western Australia in regard to the performance of one Alannah MacTiernan and her role as transport minister. And of course—before he leaves—that official was none other than now Senator Glenn Sterle. But I will not be addressing that for some time, Senator Sterle, so, if you are on your way then you might as well go on your way, because it is going to be about 10 minutes into my contribution before I actually get to roll that one out again.
In 2008 I was a candidate in the state election for the seat of Alfred Cove. And do you know that the Labor premier was Mr Carpenter? We did not have a leader, as Senator Smith knows. Troy Buswell was on his way. Colin Barnett had made a decision to retire, and he came back in. And the complete program that we ran: do you know what we actually said to the people of Western Australia by way of launching our campaign? We said, 'Name us five things that Labor has done in government.' And do you know, they could not: the people of Western Australia could not name five things Labor had done in government. Now, Senator Smith sits here, and if I am wrong I ask him to stand up and correct me. Why did we end up winning the election? It was for two reasons. First of all, nobody could name what Labor had done in government. It is true what Senator Sterle says—that they retained their AAA credit rating—because they did not do anything.
The second thing was that Mr Carpenter at the time, the Premier of the state, had within his right to control and nominate the date of the election. He could have said, 'It's going to be on Saturday, 9 or 10 February 2009,' but did he? No. Why? I will tell you why: he was an opportunist. He knew his government had achieved nothing in his time or that of his predecessor, with the exception, I will say, of then minister MacTiernan, a competent minister. I agreed with the statements that the then Secretary of the Transport Workers Union, Mr Glenn Sterle, said about Alannah MacTiernan: that she was competent and she achieved something, but she was the only one in their government that did. So what did Mr Carpenter do? Believing in the chaos that he thought existed in our party, he called the election for the middle of September 2008, thinking he would get us offside. He got one thing right, and that was Labor had twice the amount of money that we had. But what poor old Alan Carpenter forgot to take into account was that the first two weeks of the campaign were the Beijing Olympic Games, during which time whatever message went out from Mr Carpenter was buried in the euphoria. Not even his strategist, Mr Jim McGinty, knew that Alan Carpenter was going to go to that early election, so by the time the games were finished, the game was on. We both had the same amount of money.
Colin Barnett had gathered us together. He is a man of enormous integrity. He had had years in government, in opposition, as Minister for State Development, as Minister for Resources Development. When I was chief executive of Rottnest Island, he was my minister for tourism, which is where I first came to understand the intellect of the man and, I must say, his intolerance for fools. Senator Smith and I would both agree that one of Colin's weaknesses is that not only is he is highly intolerant of fools but he has a bit of difficulty in concealing it. I was talking to him the other day and I reminded of a campaign. Mr Ben Morton, the now member for Tangney, was the new state director for that campaign. Coming from eastern Australia—now he is a confirmed Western Australian, fortunately—he had not been there five minutes, but he had woken up to the fact that Labor had done nothing in government, and he ran the campaign. I said to Colin Barnett the other day, 'Colin, if we asked people today—whether they like you or not, whether they like the Liberal Party or not—to name 20 things you've done in government, I tell you what, they would get RSI writing out the number of things that the Barnett government has achieved.'
Poor old Senator Sterle is going to go now, but I am going to get to his comments about Alannah MacTiernan in her time when I speak about the Roe 8and Roe 9 campaigns. But one of the very first things Barnett did was the undergrounding of the railway. You remember, Senator Smith, that they had talked for about 100 years about undergrounding of the railway in the centre of Perth. Who did it? Barnett. Did it cost? The benefit to the city has been the sale of the land on top of that area and the reconnection of the city with the area to the north.
You know, Acting Deputy President Bernardi, and I think those in the gallery know, that you incur debt in this world. We all have debt. We incur a debt to buy a home. We might incur a debt to buy a car. But there are two types of debt. There is debt that creates assets and there is debt that damns you in liabilities. In my contribution, thanking Senator Gallagher for the opportunity this afternoon, I intend on alerting the wider community to the miserable circumstances that the Labor governments of Mr Rudd, Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd left this country as a result of the squandering of what was a surplus handed to them on a silver platter, not through the debt from the creation of assets that create you further wealth, but the debt that damns you to the $360 billion that we inherited from Mr Rudd in 2013. But those of you that need to get a handkerchief in the gallery need to know this. It is not so much the debt that is costing you today and restricting our ability to do a lot of things we talk about; it is the fact that we are borrowing from overseas $400 million a day, or $1.2 billion a month.
Now you would think, 'Oh well, if Australia's doing that to pay the debt back, isn't that a good idea?' But no, as Senator Smith knows—he has cried out over this—we are not paying the $1.2 billion a month on the debt repayment; we are paying it to pay the interest on the debt. The $1.2 billion a month, the $400 million a day, 30 days of every month goes down the gurgler like it does if you have a credit card debt: you must pay. If you have a mortgage on your home, you know you have to pay the interest, and that is where we find ourselves in this country today. Mr Costello, who inherited a $96-billion debt from the previous government of Mr Keating—typical of Labor governments—said to me one day, 'Chris, when we paid the $96 billion back, we had $6 billion then that used to go out in interest that we could now put back into the Australian economy.' Incidentally, he did not sell anything. He did not sell any Australia Posts to pay back the $96 billion; he just did it through economic rigidity and stability.
Imagine that $1.2 billion a month today. Imagine if we had $15 billion or $16 billion that we could put back into services. I will tell you what that $1.2 billion equates to. It equates to the new Perth Children's Hospital, which Mr Barnett has just finished. That is one lousy month's interest on the debt. The Fiona Stanley Hospital that Mr Barnett has built—arguably, in the words of doctors I have spoken to in recent days, the most modern hospital in the world—is about six weeks interest on the debt. Do you know that we could be building two new primary schools are day, seven days a week, if we were not repaying that interest on the debt.
That brings me not just to the Fiona Stanley Teaching Hospital and the new children's hospital that Premier Barnett has been responsible for—in the time Mr Barnett has been in government, there are no less than 37 new hospitals in the rural areas of WA, the ones that Senator Smith and I represent. They are in the wheat belt, the South West, the Great Southern, the Mid West and the Pilbara—in towns like Merredin, Northam and Narrogin new hospitals are being developed—23 small hospitals. And we are invited to think that the Barnett government has not done anything?
Let me tell you a little bit more about assets versus liabilities, because I am going to get onto the liabilities of the federal government, where they wasted your money. In a visionary manner, Colin Barnett has reclaimed the Swan River back up to the city. It had always been river. It was reclaimed and he has brought it back up to the city and created what is called Elizabeth Quay. So we have this absolutely world-leading capitalised facility now, right at the base of the city. All the critics said, '$440 million. What a shock. What a debt he has incurred in doing this—' in creating the most phenomenal facility. Did you know that the other day he sold the last block that is available as part of the commercial development and he already has $390 million of the $440 million back in the kick? That is what expenditure of money on assets creates.
Only recently did I have the pleasure, on behalf of the federal transport minister, to open a section of the Forrest Highway-Kwinana Freeway, right beside that Aubin Grove railway station that Senator Sterle was asking, 'Would it ever be built? Is it ever likely to be there?' It is bad luck that Senator Sterle does not perhaps get into those areas a bit more often, because it was right beside where our Minister Marmion and I opened the $120 million freeway. The Aubin Grove railway station is there; it is finished. But I was able to say proudly at that time how phenomenal it is that the Barnett government, with the support of federal funding, has completed the Great Eastern Highway extension out to the airport. It has completed the multibillion dollar gateway road project around the international and domestic airports. It has built the Forrest Highway down into the south-west, down into our Margaret River-Dunsborough recreation areas, attendant upon all of the increased business in tourism, in mining and in agriculture. But I was also able to say that through the excellence of the combination of Western Australian and federal funding, each of those projects has been completed under budget, under time and if not superior to at least equal to the quality that was contracted for.
That is what the Barnett government is achieving in Western Australia. I was not always in favour of a new football stadium, but in most Western Australians are. We looked at the beautiful facility they now have in the Adelaide football oval in South Australia when we looked at the old heap of garbage that exists at Subiaco Oval. Yes, some people do not always want every project. But, as I said to somebody the other day when he was complaining about the debt incurred, 'Mate, just tell me which project you did not want. Tell me about not wanting Elizabeth Quay. Tell me about roads to the north of the state you did not want. Tell me about roads that are now more safe. Tell me about hospitals and schools. And tell me all about those infrastructure projects you don't want.' And this joker said, 'Chris, I want every one of them.' That is the difficulty in today's world—so, yes, the Barnett government has incurred debt.
I now want to turn attention to where the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd governments incurred the debt that the Australian taxpayers will be paying back well beyond the time of their children and their grandchildren. Remember, Rudd came into government with no debt—the only country in the OECD that had no debt. No deficits; we were in surplus. We had $40 billion or $50 billion sitting in the bank earning interest. So, what did he do that? Well, he chucked it out on $900 and $1,200 cheques. That was successful! People who had died got them; people in prison got them; backpackers back in Switzerland who had paid tax in the previous year got their $900 cheques; and my aged mother, wheelchair-bound in a nursing home, got both the $900 and $1,200 cheques. Do you know where most of the money went? We know this as a result of Senate inquiries and joint inquiries. It went into three main sources: drugs and alcohol, evidenced by the increase in accidents and emergencies at all of Australia's major hospitals on those two Friday nights; poker machines, as evidenced in evidence to us in the Mr Wilkie inquiry on mandatory pre-commitment; and, of course, Chinese TVs. That was the first great effort by the Rudd government.
Was any money spent on asset development lake exploration from mining, which might learn actually lead to some more employment. No, no, no—no Labor government ever spends money on asset creation! What was next? Next was the Gillard memorial halls. I chaired the Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committee at that time, and for my sins I was for nine years on the Catholic Education Commission of Western Australia, so I know a little bit about spending Commonwealth government moneys, because the Commonwealth gives the independent and Catholic schools money, and we spend that money down to the last dollar, because it is so rare to get it. But we sat there and watched the states like New South Wales—not so much Victoria, because they had the sense not to spend the money initially, and that was fairly unusual because the whole purpose of giving it to them was to create an economic activity. Victoria did not do the spending but at least they did not waste as much money. The other states all did. So it was about $13 billion or $14 billion on the Gillard memorial halls.
Moving on, there was the $2.8 billion of the pink batts—do you remember that? There were people going up and down streets saying, 'We put pink batts there, there, there and there,' and they sent in the bill and the Labor government paid the bill. The unfortunate thing was that four young people, I think, regrettably were killed as a result of the dereliction in terms of oversight of those young people in roofs. People were saying, 'No.' When it all came out and there was a royal commission, they went back and said, 'We better go back and address ourselves.' Officers knocked on doors and they said, 'Oh, Mrs Fognucklevitch, we're here to check on the pink batts for which the Australian taxpayer paid $1,600 to some charlatan.' And Mrs Fognucklevitch said, 'Nobody's been to my home to put in pink batts.' That was $2.8 billion, plus the other costs associated with further compensation.
We know, of course, there was the infamous mining tax. Some of us from the west actually know a bit about the mining industry. And to give him credit, the then shadow minister, Mathias Cormann, stood up here and said to the now Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Wong, again and again: 'You will make no money out of the mining tax. It'll be the first ever tax which is going to cost you more than you'll get back.' And indeed that happened. That was a bit more expenditure on liabilities. We also had the carbon tax offsets that went up in smoke. We had the Green Loans scheme, another $175 million. You see? That is the difference between a Barnett government and a Labor government. A Barnett government, with the assistance of a coalition government in Canberra, will spend its resources and those of the Australian taxpayer on assets, whereas a Labor government will squander them—your money; not government money, but your money.
I conclude my contribution with the Roe Highway, going through an area very close to where I live and where my electorate office exists—Roe 8 and Roe 9. I did mention many years ago that this project should have been completed. But a then state Labor government, with then minister Ms Alannah MacTiernan and the local member for Fremantle at the time, Mr Jim McGinty, decided that they would put a spoke in the wheel. They rezoned the land as residential and they started selling it. I said—I promised—that the biggest critic at the time from a heavy transport point of view was none other than a person I regard as a personal friend, the highly respected Senator Glenn Sterle, who was the secretary of the Transport Workers Union in WA at that time. He resoundingly criticised Ms MacTiernan.
So here we are today building Roe 8 and Roe 9, a project mainly funded out of federal government funds because Infrastructure Australia has concurred how critically important that project is—one that will add immeasurably to safety and one that will cut down on travelling time. And, yes, the heavy industry will pay a little bit of a toll. Residential cars will not pay a toll, but the trucking industry will pay a bit in consideration of the enormous savings they will make. I can only thank Senator Gallagher for the opportunity to highlight why Western Australians must re-elect a Barnett-led government.
I know that Senator Back and Senator Smith work very hard. They are on a number of Senate committees and they are from Western Australia. Most of you in this chamber know that it is a long flight and as senators we often are on the trot for three or four days in a row when we do our committee work. I can only conclude the fact that they have this bizarre idea of what is happening in Western Australia, looking at Mr Barnett through rose-coloured glasses, because they have been out of the state for quite some time because nothing they have said today is actually accurate. Senator Back was within the last seconds of his speech before he mentioned public transport. And do you know why, Mr Acting Deputy President Ketter? Because Mr Barnett's track record and, indeed, Mr Turnbull's track record—and, before him, Mr Abbott's track record—on public transport spending in WA is zero. They have done nothing. In fact, Liberal governments in WA have a history of broken promise after broken promise and of even closing down train lines.
The motion before us today is the failure of the Turnbull government to invest in public transport infrastructure across Australia. Senator Smith and Senator Back focused on Western Australia because Colin Barnett is in big trouble. He is the most unpopular Premier of all time. The other point that Senator Back talked about was—he tried to slip the West Australian debt under the carpet. The West Australian debt is so big, is so large and is so frightening you could not sweep it under anything if you tried. It is currently at $41 billion, all incurred by the Barnett government—every single cent of that. That is the legacy Mr Barnett will leave when he is swept out of office on 11 March. No wonder Senator Back and Senator Smith did not mention public transport, because it is a sorry story. Certainly it could be called, like Roe 8, a road to nowhere. That could be the mantra of the Turnbull government followed by a failure of the WA Barnett government in any kind of investment, whether it is road investment or public transport investment.
I want to put my bona fides on the table. This is my SmartRider card. I am a user of public transport in Western Australia, public transport that has, in the main, been put in place by Labor governments. Let me just go over the records of the Turnbull and, indeed, the Barnett governments. I want to start with Ellenbrook, which sits in the state seat of Swan Hills—there is a fabulous Labor candidate there by the name of Jess Shaw—but also sits in the federal seat of Pearce, which is held by Mr Christian Porter. Mr Christian Porter well and truly takes that seat for granted—I have never seen him at Ellenbrook—and his margin during the federal election was halved. Is it any wonder? Ellenbrook is not a new development, although there are still housing developments going up there; it has been around for quite some time and it is completely isolated as a suburb of Perth. Mr Barnett, when he came into power, made big promises—'We'll get a train line out to Ellenbrook'—copying the commitments that Labor had given. He was forced to follow on with that commitment.
To get to Ellenbrook, you have to go on very narrow old roads that once upon a time would not have been used very much, because Ellenbrook is adjacent to a pine forest and sits in what was formerly fairly rural land. We created this development, but sadly that is all we did. We developed housing development after housing development. There are two roads into Ellenbrook, single lane all the way. There are a number of roundabouts on those single-lane roads. Believe me: on the times that I have been out to Ellenbrook, it does not matter what time of the day you go out there. The tailbacks coming off those roundabouts are disgraceful.
So Mr Barnett, in a great flurry, said, 'Yes, yes, yes, I'll build a rail line to Ellenbrook.' Within six weeks of winning government, he had completely reneged on that promise. Some time later, he said he would do a fast transit lane out there. I am not quite sure how he was going to put a fast transit lane in on roads which are predominantly single lane, but anyone who has been stuck on Lord Street or the other roads leading out to Ellenbrook will just laugh at that commitment. But guess what: he did not even deliver that. That got cancelled quickly. Then he promised Ellenbrook, a fast-growing suburb, a high school. That has gone by the wayside as well.
I just want to share with you a story from a woman called Tiffany who lives in Ellenbrook, about the daily battle that she has to endure as she travels to work, because her only option is to use her car or sit on a bus—but that would equally mean getting caught up in the chaos of that single road in and out of Ellenbrook. She is an education assistant, and she travels from Ellenbrook to Redcliffe. That is similar to the journey that I do. I live in the adjoining suburb to Redcliffe, so I know the sorts of trials and tribulations that Tiffany endures. With only two roads leading in and out of Ellenbrook, the outcome of her drive to work is always the same: slow, long and irritating. The 48-kilometre journey takes up to two hours. This is not Western Sydney; this is Western Australia—Perth. It amounts to more than $200 every fortnight in fuel, and this is for an education assistant whose hourly rate is probably around $26. Sadly, this is not an uncommon story among Ellenbrook residents, and that is why so many of them want a rail line. Over the past nine years, the Barnett Liberal government has broken promise after promise on local transport to Ellenbrook. In 2008 it was the Ellenbrook rail line, and then it was the fast transit lane. Of course, all Tiffany wants to do is reduce her two-hour car journey to and from work every day.
Ellenbrook is so isolated. I will just say again that we have pine plantations at the western end and fairly rural communities around Ellenbrook. There was a very bad fire there in 2013, in the Gnangara pine plantations, and guess what: residents were unable to evacuate because those two roads became so congested with people trying to leave. But that did not spark Mr Barnett into action to keep his promise. He completely broke that promise to the voters of Ellenbrook, and they will remember that. I have to say that Mr Porter, as the federal member and a member of the Turnbull government, has also not been banging on the door and saying to the Prime Minister, 'We need to do something in Ellenbrook.'
But it does not stop there. That is the story of Ellenbrook. The other story, of course, is the MAX light rail project, another pie in the sky idea from the Barnett government. They were going to build a MAX light rail system that went across the north of the city. Great promises were made about the MAX light rail. It was going to ease city congestion. It was going to be wonderful. They promised that it would happen. Well, guess what: another broken promise, and that promise did not even have any funds committed from the federal government, because Mr Abbott, when he was Prime Minister, made it very clear that the Abbott government was not going to commit those funds to the MAX light rail project.
You might want to forgive the federal government for reneging on that. You might even want to forgive Mr Barnett for failing to invest in public transport into Ellenbrook or, indeed, public transport across the northern suburbs of Perth. But it does not stop there; it just goes on and on and on. This is a Liberal Party, as I said, with a history of closing rail lines. Under Mr Court they closed the Fremantle line. Who in their right mind would close the rail line from Perth to Fremantle? Well, the Liberals did it under Mr Court.
I used to live in the suburb of Byford. We had a rail link to Byford that I used to use as a young mum with two kids. There was a train twice a day. In those days, when my children were small, Byford was a very long way out, in the outer metropolitan area, and they closed that line. Now Byford is going to be another Ellenbrook unless something is done to make public transport accessible out there. Byford, a little bit like Ellenbrook, was formerly on the outskirts of the city, with lots of dairy farms. Those have now all been subdivided, so there is booming development in Byford, in those former dairy paddocks, and guess what: Mr Barnett has not provided one ounce of public transport. We will have another Ellenbrook on our hands if we are not careful.
Young people in Ellenbrook are trapped there on the weekends, with nothing to do. Students in Ellenbrook have to move closer to the city if they want to go to university, because, just as Tiffany travels each day for two hours to her workplace in Redcliffe, if you were going to university from Ellenbrook, your journey would probably be three hours by car. And goodness knows how long it would be if you had to use what limited public transport there is, because Mr Barnett and Mr Turnbull have absolutely failed to invest any money in public transport.
In Byford, there is this new development sitting on the former dairy farms. They have some of the largest primary school. With the development, every week, if you go out there along the Thomas Road, there are more and more houses, with more and more people moving out there because it is affordable. But there is no public transport.
I know that Mark McGowan, the Labor leader in Western Australia, has invested in public transport, and he has pledged to reopen the Byford line. You would not think that would be such a hard commitment to make. All the line infrastructure is still there because the trains that go down to Bunbury still use that line. It is not as if it has fallen into disrepair. It is perfectly able to be used. The trains go as far as Armadale, and Byford is the next stop. But there has been nothing from Mr Barnett. He does not have the foresight to do anything because he does not believe in public transport, and neither does the Turnbull government, so no commitments are being made there. If the Barnett government is re-elected, which I have to say at this stage there are very long odds against, the people of Byford will be left high and dry.
But it does not stop there. Belmont is a suburb adjoining mine. Yesterday in here I reported on the sudden closure of the Medicare office. It was closed by the Turnbull government—no notice, nothing. Belmont is a suburb that has a high population of people over the age of 70 and a higher than average population of families. If they need a full-service Medicare office, if they need to talk face-to-face with a person, they have to go to Cannington, 8.5 kilometres away. Guess what? There is no direct transport link. Once again, that is an absolute failure by Liberal governments. Both Mr Turnbull and Mr Barnett are failing to invest.
As a mum with kids or as a dad with kids, if you need to go and do face-to-face work with the Medicare office in Cannington, you could either make a two-bus journey or—wait for it—you could do two buses and a train. That is to travel 8.5 kilometres. What a joke. They are almost adjoining suburbs, yet you have to take this indirect route, round and round the tree, to travel 8.5 kilometres. Even if people have a car at their disposal, as certainly some of the senior Australians I spoke to do—who were very disgusted by the Turnbull government closing this Medicare office, on Medicare's birthday last week, I might add—they do not want to travel those 8.5 kilometres in their cars because, given that the public transport options are so bad, where you have the choice between a two-bus journey or a two-bus plus a train journey, the road is heavily congested. The roads between Belmont and Cannington are heavily congested because people have no option other than to get in their cars, just to travel 8.5 kilometres.
Let us look at the sort of investment Mr Turnbull or Mr Barnett have made in the seat of Belmont, which, again, sits in the federal seat of Swan, the seat that I live in: zilch. In fact, the big joke is that, time after time, the member for Swan tries to take credit for the Gateway project around the airport, which we all know was a Labor project, and he tries to take credit for the upgrade of the Great Eastern Highway, which again was a Labor investment—so much so that, during the federal election, when the member for Swan made these incorrect pronouncements once again, his own state Liberal members said, 'Actually, no, that was the Labor government that put those in place.' So we have this pretence going on that, somehow, the Turnbull government is interested in infrastructure in Western Australia. It is not. It has not spent a cent on public transport infrastructure in Western Australia, and all we have seen from Mr Barnett is failure, and broken promise after broken promise, on public transport.
Finally, there is, we think—we think; we do not know—a link being built out to the airport. I heard Senator Rice speak earlier about the embarrassment of Melbourne not having a train, and I agree with her; we should have a train out to our airport in Melbourne. Until recently, we did not even have a bus service out to the international airport in Western Australia, so, if you were a visitor and you wanted to use public transport, sorry, but you have to pay for a taxi, a private car or a private bus. For the last six months, we have had one bus going out to the airport, but it does this almost circular route, so you probably need to allow about two hours for your journey. That has been the sole public transport option delivered by the Barnett government in Western Australia. As for the airport link, I will not hold my breath. I will not hold my breath, because Mr Barnett has made a commitment for beyond his term of government about what might happen out at the airport in terms of trains. So I am not holding my breath on that one, because that could well be a white elephant in the unlikely event that the Barnett government gets re-elected, because you can only break promises so many times before people see you as just a complete waste, someone who squandered the boom and who racked up a $41 billion debt all of his own making—all his own making, nothing to do with Labor. That absolutely lies at the feet of Colin Barnett. It scares me as a Western Australian that we have this massive debt. It really does.
Labor has a plan for public transport, a plan for jobs, a plan for building train carriages locally and a plan for local jobs. Mr Barnett has nothing. He has a history of broken promises. He does not deserve to be re-elected on 11 March, and, certainly, at this rate he will not be.
Before I start my contribution on this motion I cannot help but reflect on the final presentation by Senator Lines, who clutching her heart indicated that she was scared about the debt of Western Australia of $41 billion. I do not know where she got her fright from, but it was not Western Australia. It might have had something to do with the $320 billion that you yoked the neck of this nation with when Labor were in power. I have no idea why she is frightened of a little tree snake in WA when she left a dirty, big mongrel python crawling around in this part of the nation. I promised myself that I was going to make a quiet and constructive contribution, but this hypocrisy gets to me eventually.
I do not often point out to the Australian Labor Party where they have gone wrong, but I do want to give them some advice on drafting these motions. When I read this motion in my office I thought that finally the Australian Labor Party wanted to have a discussion with us about infrastructure and public transport. I have not seen any sign of it in the last couple of years. We come into question time time and time again—and I am noted for interjecting on this subject and calling out: 'Are you going to talk about education? Infrastructure? Are you going to ask us a question about health?' But I get no, no and no.
So here is my advice for you. When you drafted this motion you should have said, 'That the Senate condemns the failure of the Turnbull government to invest in public transport in marginal seats in Western Australia.' You forgot to put in the motion 'marginal seats in Western Australia'. Here is what was a bit of a clue for me. I came in here and saw the speakers list and saw that every Labor contribution was to come from a Western Australian senator. I scratched my noggin and wondered why that would be so. I am a bit slow on things, but then it dawned on me that there must be a state election in the west.
In the contribution by Senator Lines she drew the boundaries around suburbs. This was not a general question. This was not a reflection across the nation. She went street by street, if you listened very carefully. I say, as I lead into my contribution on this, that that is a complete abuse of this place. It is a complete abuse that the Labor Party would engineer to devote the time of this Senate to direct politicking in a state election campaign in their home state. You need to be condemned for it.
Mr Acting Deputy President, I have a point of order. It is a point of order in terms of just some advice back to Senator O'Sullivan. If he reflected on the previous contributions in this debate by the Western Australian Liberal senators, he would understand that there were a wide range of contributions in this debate.
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.
I want to make four points. In the Pauline Hanson's One Nation party we are strong supporters of the need to invest in infrastructure—infrastructure of all kinds that becomes productive and adds to our wealth. But I am very doubtful about this Labor motion. As a 17-year-old I can remember Gough Whitlam saying at the end of his first year that he had spent $50 million on Aboriginal people in Australia, and he proudly boasted that that was double the expenditure of the last 12 months of the previous government under William McMahon. He implied that by spending more it benefited the people. We see now that that welfare, according to many Aboriginal people, has effectively hurt Aboriginal communities. So the spending of money does not necessarily translate into beneficial spending or investing in people or infrastructure. It is the quality of spending of taxpayer funds that matters, not the quantity. That means we need cost-benefit analysis to justify any expenditure, and what I have seen in the brief period that I have been here—three months—is that there is very little, if any, cost-benefit analysis used. Quite often we see spending used as window-dressing to promote fantasies, to promote propaganda and to promote reputations. That is the first point: spending does not necessarily translate into effective spending.
The second point I raise is that competitive federalism is at the heart of our Constitution. The states are responsible for transport and transport infrastructure. Unfortunately, we have gone so far away from our Constitution that competitive federalism is dying. The Commonwealth has made a mess of education. The Commonwealth has made a mess of health and a mess of the environmental stewardship. Those are just to name a few. We need to give back taxation to the states and let them be responsible for spending, and then we will have far greater accountability—instead of the Commonwealth raising all the funds. We need to restore our Constitution.
This reminds me of a very effective mayor that I met recently while travelling in south-west outback Queensland. Tyson Golder, from the Maranoa Regional Council, is the mayor at Roma. He became mayor on a ticket of handing the power back to the councils, back to the local shires, and that is difficult under the state government laws. But that is something he is working on. He has councillors who have their positions as a result of the amalgamation, so they are hanging onto the power. Nonetheless, we need to do what he is doing—taking the regional council and sending the decisions back to the people in the shire councils. We need to do the same—take what is currently used at the federal government level and move it back to the states. Of course, the federation was formed with the idea of protecting the smaller states that cannot raise the funds. That is a legitimate need, and that has to be addressed, but we need to restore responsibility and accountability in the state governments and let them fund.
The third point I want to make is that South Australia and Victoria now illustrate what is happening under the 'spend, spend, spend without accountability' reputation of these states. The lights have gone out in South Australia, and the last thing we need is a Commonwealth government to bail them out. Now we are talking about massive federal control, or federal oversight, over energy, which is the last thing we need. Queensland has the world's best and cleanest coal, and yet the Palaszczuk government, another Labor government, is shutting down the coal industry. It refuses to invest in coal-fired power stations when we need that. It is the cheapest and most reliable form of electricity, the most stable and the most secure, and the Palaszczuk government, sitting on a treasure-trove of coal, will not use it. We have seen the South Australian Labor government dynamite their last coal-fired power station and shut down their coalmines. We have seen them rely on Victoria, yet Victoria now wants to shut down its Hazelwood plant, so then everyone from South Australia and Victoria will be needing power from Queensland and New South Wales, which will drive up our prices. We need to stop this stupidity, and we must not continue to subsidise stupid state behaviour, fraudulent and dishonest state behaviour, irresponsible state behaviour that is hurting the citizens of South Australia and Victoria.
We have seen Labor states spend money on desalination plants. This is my fourth point. Those plants, with the exception of one of them, have never been used. We have spent billions of dollars—I believe the figure is around $10 billion—and they have never been used. We have achieved nothing. That is not investment in the future; that is waste. If we do not get a return on our investment, if we have nothing to show for it, then we will go broke. But we will have the Greens parroting on about renewable energy and water from desalination plants that never materialises.
We need to fix the systems in this parliament to ensure accountability and to stop the waste of funding. Instead of speaking to sell, more politicians in this building need to listen to learn. Instead of using taxpayer funds as bidding on an auction for a reputation for votes, we need to restore accountability and cost-benefit analysis. We need to restore competitive federalism. We want productive spending that is investment, so I do not accept the Labor Party's motion that we need to increase spending. The Turnbull government, for all its many ills and shortcomings, cannot be labelled incompetent or lacking simply because it has not spent enough money in the Labor Party's eyes, because they are spendthrift eyes. I disagree with the Labor Party motion.
Question agreed to.