Senate debates

Thursday, 16 November 2023

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers


3:05 pm

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (Senator Watt) to a question without notice asked by Senator McKenzie today relating to infrastructure.

In May last year, just 17 months ago, the Australian Labor Party, while working very hard to attain office, said that it would stand up for Western Australia. And it didn't just say that. Around Perth suburbs, there were corflutes and signs. That commitment to stand up for WA was plastered across Perth's northern and southern suburbs. Tracey Roberts, the Labor candidate for Pearce, said that she would stand up for WA. Anne Aly, the Labor Party candidate for Cowan, said that she would stand up for WA. Tania Lawrence, the Labor Party candidate for Hasluck, said that she would stand up for WA.

Well, guess what we've heard today? In a decision by Minister King, the Labor government's infrastructure minister, we have heard further news that Labor will cut important road infrastructure spending from Western Australia. Just think about this for a moment—this is in addition to the $639 million that was previously cut in the October budget, the first Labor budget. So, rather than standing up for WA like Labor said they would, in just 17 months they have made a high priority of cutting infrastructure spending in Western Australia, and in today's announcement they have decided to cut important road projects that are critical to the mining industry in our state and critical to agricultural producers in the Great Southern region of Western Australia.

And remember this—this is just another example of Labor's commitment not to WA but to breaking its election promises. On two occasions now, Labor has consciously chosen not to stand up for Western Australia and has chosen to cut infrastructure spending. Let me remind you that, in the $639 million that was cut last year, they cut upgrades to Kwinana Freeway, Mitchell Freeway, Reid Highway, Great Northern Highway and the Tonkin Highway extension. They cut upgrades to the Great Northern Highway between Broome and Kununurra. Anyone who understands that part of the world knows that those single-lane roads are hugely dangerous, and they're the only way to travel across the far north of our state in times of natural disaster. In addition to that, they cut the Tanami Road project, which is important to me, and many other projects. Today we heard news that they were cutting the future road and rail connection project in Perth, the Great Southern Secondary Freight Network, the Marble Bar Road project and stages 1 and 2 of the Pinjarra Heavy Haulage Deviation project.

Labor knows no end. There is no end in sight to Labor's commitment to breaking promises. And the broken promises in regard to WA infrastructure spending come on the back of Labor's commitment to make life cheaper for Australian families. That has not happened. They come on the back of Labor's promise to change Australia for the better. There is no way anyone in our country can argue honestly that things have got better in the first 17 months of this Labor government. Things have got considerably worse, and they've got worse for working families. Labor said that life would be cheaper under them, and it has only got more and more expensive. It's not just us saying that anymore; international commentators, the Economist magazine, others, are saying that living standards in Australia are now dropping. Western Australians deserve better from this Labor government. There is no end in sight to Labor's commitment to breaking promises, whether it's on infrastructure spending, economic performance or other things. Labor must do better, because Tracey Roberts, Tania Lawrence and Anne Aly said they would do better and they would look after WA families, and they have not.

3:11 pm

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

What an opportunity to correct the record. I know that Senator Smith is passionate about his state of Western Australia, but he served in a government that went out and, as a matter of routine, went into communities and promised that it was going to deliver infrastructure. The minute they put it in a press release and sent it out into the community, it was as if money to do that project just magicked out of nowhere. When you are a responsible government, as the Albanese government is, you don't make a commitment to deliver a piece of infrastructure if you can't pay for it. Families know. You might want to go out for dinner, but you don't go into a restaurant and order something that you can't pay for. But that's what that government did, under Mr Morrison, in particular. They made it an art form. I use the term 'art form', with plenty of colour and movement. They were so dedicated to creating a pretence across the country that they were going to fund every single good idea that came forward and they could say yes to everything, but the reality is: ordinary Australians understand, as this government understands, that, when you make a commitment to fund something, you have to have the money to do the job.

I really want to make sure we get on the record in support of my colleagues who are passionate advocates for the great communities that they represent in Western Australia. Tracey Roberts, Tania Lawrence and Anne Aly are my colleagues from the Labor Party from Western Australia. Let's be clear that it is a Labor Party government, under Mr Albanese, that is going to deliver additional funding to actually do really critical projects that were committed to by the previous government that would not go ahead if the money were not allocated. So irresponsible were the former government that they didn't have the money to do the job.

I can give assurance to the people of Western Australia that the Albanese Labor government is providing additional funding to critical projects. METRONET will get an additional $1 million. The Perth Greater CBD Transport Plan, which is the Swan River bridge, will get an additional $20 million. The Karratha to Tom Price Corridor Upgrade, vital for the northern part of Western Australia, will get $11 million. The Mandurah Estuary Bridge Duplication will get $13 million. The Thomas Road and Nicholson Road project will get $5 million, and the Thomas Road upgrade as well. These projects were so badly budgeted for that they were at risk of not being completed. But we've made sure that they will be completed, and it's the advocacy of those great champions of their local communities Tracey Roberts, Tania Lawrence and Anne Aly that is making sure that their constituents are heard in this place.

One of the misrepresentations that the opposition are trying to get on the record today is that somehow there's been a cut to the $120 billion of investment in infrastructure that was on the record. Let's be very clear: there were no cuts. A hundred and twenty billion dollars of investment in Australia remains $120 billion of investment in Australia.

Now, to actually deliver what you promise rather than just make an announcement, you have to have a funding program and a work program that is fit for purpose. We know that the independent review found that the infrastructure investment program designed by those opposite simply couldn't be delivered. We're not only going to invest in a number of projects in the states and territories where such bad management by those opposite has led to funding cost overruns; we're going to confirm really clearly our commitment to a range of existing projects. At 10 am today, that is exactly what Minister King did. So there's clarity for the sector, for those governments that are going to engage in delivering this, for the prime companies that are going to invest in this and for all the people— (Time expired)

3:16 pm

Photo of Ross CadellRoss Cadell (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Here we are talking about infrastructure. There's lots of debate about this project or that project. I get that this government is in. It is this government's call on what they want to build. If they want to spend $200 billion building a statue of me, I get it! It's a good thing to do in their eyes, but they don't.

But this mistruth that that these projects and this government—they've cut 50 projects from what they want to do. That's their call. But it's not the fault of this side when it was in government. It is a decision by the people over there. It is the decision of this government to do their things. They are in control. They could have built them all. They could have put more money in. They chose not to.

We hear that there are no cuts and there is $120 billion still there. When they got in, they decided to have a 90-day review. Yesterday or today is the 200th day of that 90-day review, and many of these projects have been pushed off into the never-never, saying: 'Here is a bundle of funds. States, you decide what you want to do.' They've hit the snooze button on decisions for some of these. 'We won't get out of bed. We won't make a decision. We won't go and do anything. We'll just rest a little bit longer on this.' That has the effect of a real cut. When you're talking about $120 billion last year, when this started, and cost-of-living growth of seven to 7½ per cent and construction cost increases of between 10 and 20 per cent, you're talking about $12 billion to $24 billion worth of extra money needed just to keep up. That's not there anymore, so in real terms that's a cut. I don't know about anyone else, but for me the odd $10 billion here and $20 billion there soon adds up to real money, I would have thought, but they're pretending it's a problem of this side.

A full year of twiddling thumbs and wondering what to do means people will suffer and people will not get their deliveries. And they pushed this on the states. It's almost like another question that was asked today, about the farmers and the cost-of-living reduction. 'Yes, we're making farmers pay for the cost of living.' Government is not helping out. 'We're making small business pay for cost-of-living reductions.' Here they're making states pay for the infrastructure.

And what are the effects? I went through the list briefly; it's a long list. We have the Bruxner Highway at Goonellabah. A review found that that area has eight times the serious or fatal accidents as roads of similar nature, and it is cut. Eight times the risk as roads of similar nature, and that's not worth funding. It is a regional thing. We go to the regions and we cut from the regions again and again. With Inland Rail, this great thing that's going to be productive for Australia—productivity is what we need—we cut the inland port at Narrabri, which will stop them getting their goods, their crops, their products. They're trying to build a manufacturing hub around the gas plant up there, but that won't do any good now, because they won't have an inland port to ship their goods. So what happens to them? They suffer.

This is what we're really talking about here: productivity slashes to things that make Australia better. When they say, 'We have to cut funding,' cut the recurrent or ongoing funding that doesn't build productivity, that doesn't build safety, that doesn't add to us as a nation. That's what we should be doing, not cutting projects that make Australia better—and that is what they are doing.

What have they done for other places? In my patch of the world there are great big billboards either side of the Hexham bypass. Anyone going north on holidays on the M1 freeway sees the local member for Paterson and 'M1 delivered by this Labor government'. It needs an asterisk with 'no, not anymore'. I'll have to buy a little billboard under it, if the state government agrees. Labor have bundled that project with the Coffs Harbour bypass and so many other projects on that road and said, 'Here is a pool of money if you want to do it, State Government.' The state asks, 'Is that enough money to do it?' and they say: 'We don't care. That's all you've got.' So there are more question marks going forward.

The government had many options. They could have been honest and just said, 'We're cutting that,' and faced the consequences of it. But they can't deliver bad news, can't deliver the truth, because they want to put everything onto us over here. If I'd had two budgets I'd be saying, 'It is my responsibility,' but that doesn't happen in this place. It is all too hard, it is all the other side's fault, and there are all these other reasons that don't stack up to scrutiny.

When you get down into the document it's easy to see what's going on, because it clearly says, 'The following projects will be built as planned.' It's very clear and unambiguous. We know that stuff is going ahead. But then there are tens of billions of dollars under headings that say, 'The following planning projects will continue as planned,' and, 'The following projects will proceed through planning, with remaining funding reserved for construction.' That means there is no certainty. They've cut 50, but there are 250 that are not under 'These things we'll build as planned.' Australia deserves better, Australia deserves certainty, and regional Australia certainly deserves better.

3:21 pm

Photo of Karen GroganKaren Grogan (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Strategic, integrated, sustainable and affordable—four great words that underpin where we are going with this issue. There's a furore on the other side about this review, a review required because Liberal-National governments over nine long years did not manage this program appropriately, did not make appropriate decisions about which projects should go ahead and which should not. They did not make appropriate decisions about what the funding was going to look like, what the supply chains were going to look like or what the outcome was going to be for the states and communities who'd had those projects allocated to them. What we ended up with was a complete blowout and a whole bunch of projects that could not be delivered. So you can jump up and down as much as you like. This is the sensible thing to do. This is about having sustainable projects that are genuinely going to improve the lives of Australians done appropriately and in time frames that are realistic, not with the ridiculous delays we've seen with some of the commitments made by those opposite.

Senator Cadell, I completely agree with you: we are responsible now. But we did not make a lot of those commitments and we did not undertake a lot of those negotiations. The states and territories are now front and centre of negotiations about priorities in their states and territories, unlike what was happening previously. We will not see any more car park rorts—and I'm afraid, Senator Cadell, we won't be seeing a statue of you either, although I might make a little plasticine one in a hearing one day just to keep us all entertained—but what we will see is enhanced productivity, with projects that are genuinely going to make a difference to people in our communities. We will see reduced congestion, improved productivity and a strengthening of our supply chains, because that's what we are committed to as a Labor government. The Albanese Labor government has reviewed those projects and has been transparent. We have declared everything that has been found and have been very clear about what will progress and what will not. We will not be progressing any half-thought-through projects, which is why the list has changed.

I would like to reassure the people in my duty electorate of Grey that nothing has been dropped. The Augusta Highway duplication is going ahead, the APY Lands main access road upgrade is going ahead, the Eyre Peninsula road network upgrade is going ahead, the nationwide freight highway upgrade program is going ahead, the Port Augusta to Perth corridor upgrade is going ahead, the Horrocks Highway corridor package is going ahead, sealing of the Strzelecki Track is going ahead and the roads upgrade pilot project is going ahead—just to be clear.

And there has also been money put into an additional support for the state government as requested by the state government on the north-south corridor, the Torrens to Darlington, of $2.7 billion. That is about working with the states to get the outcomes that we need to get to improve the lives of Australians, to go forth and do projects that are actually going to make a difference, that aren't going to put us in a situation where we are wasting money and throwing money away. We had cost blowouts. Was it $33 billion? That's a lot of money to not be able to add up. That's a lot of money to not really be able to understand what you're doing on the ground. So this review and their announcement today clears up that mass, cleans up that poor management of this program and actually looks to the future—a future in collaboration with the states, the future to improve facilities and structures for Australians in our communities and across this country.

3:26 pm

Photo of Hollie HughesHollie Hughes (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

I note that we had a New South Wales senator, Senator O'Neill, in here speaking earlier. She responded to Senator Smith taking note of this question and answer. Not at any stage did Senator O'Neill mention that New South Wales is actually the recipient of the greatest number of cuts to projects. All she wanted to talk about was what was happening in WA, which is, of course, regional cuts—disgracefully behaviour that is putting regional populations, in particular, at risk. But I noticed that she didn't mention what was happening to her home state of New South Wales, which has seen the greatest number of cuts. Again, this feeds into the complete narrative that this Labor government doesn't understand how economics work.

They're talking about cutting spending, but what they're also doing by taking some of these projects off the table and removing funding for them is actually reducing productivity. Productivity is the one thing that will actually help reduce inflation and help get this economy moving and help reduce cost-of-living pressures. Real wages are declining at the moment—when we talk about wages, we put that word 'real' in front of it. How we reverse that trend is by boosting our productivity. What we see here are cuts being made to infrastructure that was specifically designed to boost productivity. If you go into the regions where these freight trails were, it was important for the Commonwealth to invest more than the states because they went through regional centres.

One that will be cut is actually in my old hometown of Moree. They are going to lose improvements to the Gwydir Highway, a very, very busy highway that sees a lot of freight and trucks. It also sees combine harvesters, particularly around this time of year, going up and down the highway as they move from property to property. It is also cotton territory, so we see big cotton harvesters out there. That funding is going, so we're going to put those lives at risk. We also know that the intermodal terminal in Moree will no longer be funded.

We just heard from Senator Grogan about the car park rorts. I did note what was interesting: the one in Campbelltown is actually getting a boost in funding, so obviously not all of them are rorts, because this government is actually giving a boost in funding to the one in Campbelltown. I guess that's a good thing, because, when you look at the volume of projects that are going to be cancelled throughout south-west Sydney and Western Sydney, the congestion around these areas is going to be considerably worse.

One of the areas that we're going to see a cut—and, again, I'm going to quote Senator Grogan—are projects that were 'half thought through', including the M7-M12 Integration Project. Transport New South Wales, which is obviously now under a Labor government, said:

The M7-M12 Integration project will support future development growth in Western Sydney by improving travel times and congestion. Once complete, the project will provide direct access to commercial and residential hubs, and the new Western Sydney International Airport.

Apparently, a half thought through project is one that opens up Western Sydney, one of the fastest growing areas in the nation! At a time when we're facing a cost-of-living crisis coupled with a housing crisis, those opposite, in another little brainwave that they've had, are going to remove construction and funding from a road that is deliberately being built to open up Western Sydney, improve access and ensure that the people who live in Western Sydney can work in Western Sydney. We understand here that, when we put these infrastructure projects in and housing and commercial enterprises go together, it actually forms a community, without people in Penrith having to travel to the Sydney CBD every day to get a job and go to work, because the Penrith CBD is booming and people are able to work closer to home.

We're also going to see a cut to the Werrington arterial stage. This is another project that was going to boost economic participation and connection between the Great Western Highway, Werrington and Marsden Park. This is in north-west Sydney, another booming area to which we are seeing young families move, and we want them to be able to work there. We want those areas to grow and thrive so they turn into communities and people can spend less time in their cars commuting and more time with their families and loved ones. We have family-friendly hours in this place. What a joke. But that's how they are. That's how they operate. Being family friendly obviously doesn't come into it when they are taking away the opportunities for families to live, work and have infrastructure around them to make their lives get better.

Question agreed to.