Browsing articles in "Shadow Ministerial Hansard"
Jun 19, 2014

Asset Recycling Fund Bill 2014 – Pacific Highway

I cannot let the comments of the parliamentary secretary go unchallenged, given that he failed to address the substance of the amendments.

He made statements about the Pacific Highway that simply do not stand up to scrutiny.

The fact is that during the period of the Howard government the federal contribution to the Pacific Highway was $1.3 billion and during those same years the state government contribution from the New South Wales Labor government was $2.5 billion—almost two-thirds of the funding for the Pacific Highway came from the state government.

The previous federal coalition government took for granted the people who live in electorates along the Pacific Highway.

I did not, as a minister, and nor did the federal Labor government. As part of the economic stimulus plan, we invested massively in the Pacific Highway.

During the six years I was a minister, there was additional funding for the Pacific Highway in every single budget from 2008 through to 2013, totalling $7.9 billion.

Page 13 of the 2013-14 budget papers shows a graph that outlines Pacific Highway projects.

This year’s coalition budget papers, on page 17 of the ‘Building Australia’s infrastructure’ document, also contain a graph of Pacific Highway projects. They are exactly the same—every single project. There is not one extra dollar from this government for the Pacific Highway in the budget.

What is worse, it has let state governments off the hook.

The coalition’s colleagues in New South Wales have withdrawn funding that they had allocated for the Pacific Highway, along which they hold every single seat in New South Wales.

Every metre of the highway, from the Harbour Bridge to the Queensland border, is held by a New South Wales coalition member.

They cut funding in their midyear forecast because they got the green light from a National Party minister, the member for Wide Bay, who is asleep when it comes to this issue.

Have a look at the list of projects in the coalition’s own budget papers: Banora Point upgrade, completed late 2012; Ballina bypass, completed in 2012; Devils Pulpit upgrade, completed; Glenugie upgrade, completed; and Kempsey bypass, completed and opened in 2013—fully funded, 100 per cent, by the Commonwealth government as part of the economic stimulus plan and involving the largest road bridge in Australia.

Herons Creek to Stills Road was completed in 2013 along with the Bulahdelah bypass.

Then there are the projects under way.

Tintenbar to Ewingsdale is more than half completed—it is funded by previous budgets and will be completed next year. Sapphire to Woolgoolga is just about completed, and perhaps it has been completed by now.

It was due for completion now. It was fully funded. Construction on the Nambucca Heads to Urunga and Warrell Creek to Nambucca Heads sections has all begun.

They were funded in previous budgets. I turned the first sod on the Frederickton to Eungai construction last year.

Kundabung to Kempsey and Oxley Highway to Kundabung construction is commencing this year, funded in previous budgets.

There is not a single new project on the Pacific Highway from this mob opposite—not one.

We have the ridiculous circumstances of the member for Lyne asking questions about this.

The previous member for Lyne delivered on the Pacific Highway, as did members of the Labor Party.

The coalition did not. All they have done is give a free pass to their coalition colleagues in New South Wales.

They will maintain existing federal funding but because of a reduction in state government funding the project will be completed later than it would have been otherwise.

It is to the National Party’s shame that they have allowed that to happen.

 

 

 

Jun 19, 2014

Asset Recycling Fund Bill 2014

I go to the amendments and why it is important to have a proper process around the allocation of any funding arising from this legislation.

I go to the issue of the Perth Freight Link project.

I ask the parliamentary secretary to consider these issues seriously when he considers the amendments that I have moved.

In the budget there is a considerable allocation of money for the so-called Perth Freight Link project.

I was surprised because infrastructure projects tend not to just pop out of a Weeties packet in the morning, they tend to be the subject of a long-term development process.

There is engagement at the bureaucratic and at ministerial level. I had a good relationship, I must say, with Troy Buswell, the WA transport minister, and we engaged regularly about our common interests over projects like the Gateway WA project, for example, that has been under construction for two years but which the government is pretending has just begun in the last two minutes.

The Perth Freight Link project therefore surprised me when it popped out just prior to the budget.

But it appears that I was not the only one who was surprised; the WA government were pretty surprised about it as well.

There has been almost $1 billion allocated for this project but this is what the WA parliamentary secretary with responsibility for transport, the Hon. Jim Chown, had to say to questions in the estimates process of the Standing Committee on Estimates and Financial Operations in the WA parliament just last week, on Thursday, 12 June.

In response to questions about Freight Link he said:

Look, it is a bit early to give a breakdown. It is still under development in regard to the Perth Freight Link.

That is the Hon. Jim Chown. Then he was asked about more detail, and he said:

The commonwealth has a propensity to make these announcements, as you well know, but the reality is that the Main Roads department and this government will be implementing and designing the Roe 8 extension, and at this stage we have not actually got design plans that are worthy of public scrutiny, as the director has stated.

He went on to state some quite extraordinary positions. When asked, he said that all options are on the table because they just had not got any detail.

Ken Travers, Labor’s transport spokesperson in WA, said about the Commonwealth that they must have had conversations with the WA government.

Again, the Hon. Jim Chown said:

Maybe that is a question you should be asking a commonwealth government representative.It was quite extraordinary evidence given. For example, on the claims that have been made by the government, Mr Travers asked:

So you are not in a position to provide any modelling to show that 65,000 heavy vehicles will be taken off Perth roads?

The Hon. Jim Chown responded:

Not at this stage, and I think the director general has stated his reasoning really well.

Another question from Ken Travers was:

Would it be helpful, then, for the commonwealth minister to stop making claims that cannot be backed up and that you do not have the evidence to support?

This was the answer from the WA Liberal Party member of the executive responsible for transport to this committee:

The simple answer in the context of the conversation would be yes!

 Here you have the WA coalition government saying can the federal government stop talking through its hat with regard to infrastructure projects, because the detail simply has not been done.

What we argue is that you do the planning, you get the detail, you get the economic assessment and then you determine where the funding should go.

What this amendment before the parliament today does is ensure that the government’s rhetoric is able to be implemented.

It is as simple as that, and I do not understand why the government is not supporting these amendments. I commend them to the House.

 

 

May 27, 2014

Speaking against the motion

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (16:01): I am very pleased and, indeed, proud to defend my colleague the member for Watson and the Manager of Opposition Business. They say: why am I speaking on this? This is not an attack on the member for Watson—you attack one, you attack all! This is an attack on the Labor Party. This is an attack on the opposition and this is an attack on the democratic institution of this parliament. If this motion is carried, then any future government by a majority vote can determine that a member of the opposition, who by definition will lose any vote, can be required to come on and take certain actions.

We were in government six years—that never happened. You were in government for 12 years—that never happened. That shows how desperate you are. What you are confirming today is that you had a plan to get into government but you certainly do not have a plan to govern. You would rather talk about anything else than the health cuts, the education cuts, the changes to pensions, the public transport cuts, the attack on economic growth—your pathetic budget of broken promises just two weeks ago.

We were told by those opposite that the adults were going to be back in charge. This is the most childish student-politics stunt that I have seen in this parliament since 1996, a desperate government desperate to defend the Speaker and her right to continue to hold that position. In order to have the confidence of the House, you have to be accountable to this House, Madam Speaker, and what the member for Watson did yesterday was raise, quite correctly and completely in order with the standing orders, a question to you about how many times your office had been used to raise money for the Liberal Party.

You refused to answer that. You refused to be accountable to this parliament and, hence, the member for Watson then went to the next step, which is to ask you whether that constituted a breach of privilege by using the Speaker’s office to raise partisan money for the Liberal Party on budget night—and who knows how many other nights it had been raised. We know that extra crockery had to be ordered into your office the night before budget night. We know that was the case. But the Manager of Opposition Business, quite correctly and in accordance with standing orders, raised the question.

Under any circumstances it would have been reasonable to say, ‘I am directly involved in this, so I will just refer it off. I will not make a ruling,’ but you chose not to do so. You chose to make a ruling and to say that you were not going to refer it. So then the Manager of Opposition Business moved a motion. Under any previous circumstances, it would have been reasonable to say—as we did when we were the government—’Okay, let them have a look at it.’ Yet that was voted down. Then the Manager of Opposition Business wrote to the Privileges Committee and they have said, ‘We cannot even consider whether we will consider it because of that resolution.’ It is absolutely extraordinary.

Today of course we finally saw someone from that side ejected from the parliament. Interesting that it was the same day that this motion has come and I am not clear whether you had advance notice of this motion coming, but I would be surprised if this was a spontaneous outburst from the Leader of the House. The member came in before one hour was up, but that was all okay as well, contrary to all the precedent that is there.

Mr Brough: That is rubbish!

Mr ALBANESE: The substance of the issue which should be considered is over whether it is appropriate for your office to be used for a fundraiser. That is what the Manager of Opposition Business raised, and it says very clearly—

Mr Brough: Madam Speaker, is it appropriate that the member at the dispatch box be disparaging of the Clerk of the parliament?

The SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. When I ask someone to sit down, I expect them to. Yesterday you refused to sit down and you went out under 9A, because you once again refused to take a direction.

An honourable member interjecting—

The SPEAKER: Yes, he is indeed, finally. So I will give the call back. I will answer first on the point of order from the member for Fisher: is it appropriate for the member to abuse the Clerk? No, it is not. But I will give the call back to the member for Grayndler.

Mr ALBANESE: Thank you. The substantial issue is that of the Speakership and whether it should be used. The House of Representatives Practice makes it very clear—impartiality of the chair. That is what it is all about.

They raise an issue of whether the member for Watson said, incorrectly apparently, that the office had never been used—and he has apologised for that. He apologised for that at once and he also said sorry twice that that was incorrect. But let us be very clear about where that article comes from. It comes from a response about the abuse of the Lodge and Kirribilli House to raise money for the Liberal Party. That is where it comes from; that is the context of that article.

Should any Speaker, be they McLeay or Bishop or any of them, use the Speaker’s office? No, they should not! That is an appropriate debate for us to have. They then say, ‘Well, if you got some of the detail wrong then therefore there should be an apology for that.’ But there was false information, with respect, Madam Speaker, given from the chair. You said from the chair during this debate that the independent Speaker was an agreement between Labor and the Greens. It was not—it was not!

Tony Abbott:

… I’ve always supported an independent speakership …

Press comments from him:

I also want to make it very clear that we discussed the issue of a Westminster style speakership …

Over and over again, those opposite—and the Leader of the House signed, in writing, a document.

So, Madam Speaker, I do not hold it against you for the fact that you were wrong. But you were. You were. And we do not ask for you to apologise for that. You got the facts there wrong. And what is their remedy for this? The remedy for this is that the Manager of Opposition Business somehow should be demanded by a majority vote to take certain action. Think about the precedent in terms of free speech!

This is the day after Sorry Day. The irony of those opposite, who for 10 years could not say sorry to the first Australians, coming in here seeking to move by resolution that the Manager of Opposition Business take certain action.

Have a look at all the quotes they have said. The Leader of the House himself:

… the Leader of the Opposition—

Tony Abbott—

… proposed a Westminster style independent Speaker as early as the early part of this decade, in early 2001.

They were all up for it, allegedly, during that period. They signed an agreement but they walked away from it, of course.

But also, what are they asking for here? The same person, Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister who said:

We have never been involved in the business of suppressing free speech …

This attack on my colleague, the member for Watson, is all about, ‘How dare he come in here and ask questions on behalf of Australian taxpayers about how much money was raised in the Speaker’s office?’ the one area of this parliament that should be free from party politics—that should be used in the national interest, that should be used for functions involving foreign guests and that should be used in a bipartisan way in this place.

What you seek to do in doing this is to shut down free speech and debate in this parliament. The fact is that during this very debate, Madam Speaker, the problem is not the member for Watson. The problem is a Speaker who interjects from the chair. The problem is a Speaker who makes partisan decisions. I stand by, and we stand by, all of the comments—with the exception of that factual error that he made—of the member for Watson about the conduct of this parliament because, at the end of the day, it is not about you, Madam Speaker, it is not about the member for Watson, or me or the Leader of the House. It is about how this parliament functions.

The fact is, if you think this parliament has been functioning well since last September then I think you are completely out of touch with what the majority of Australians who watch this parliament see each and every day with this abuse of power continued over and over again by the Leader of the House, who is too immature to hold that job!

 

May 27, 2014

Appropriation Bills 2014-2015 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12:52): The coalition had a plan to get into government, but no plan to govern. In opposition the current Prime Minister’s only aim was to say no to anything that was proposed by the then Labor government. Knowing that Labor faced the difficult circumstance of a minority government, Mr Abbott sought only to create the impression of chaos by rejecting any government initiative. But during this period, as he wandered around declaring that the sky was falling, the now Prime Minister failed to prepare for government by crafting alternative policies. The first Abbott budget is the result of this extraordinary policy lethargy, this absolute preference for putting politics first and policy second. This is a government budget of ideology. This is not the budget of a government with a well thought out program to build a better nation; it is a mean-spirited budget of cuts and broken promises. It is an attack on fairness; it is an attack on economic growth. It is notable for its lack of any policy narrative beyond scorching the political earth of any trace of the previous Labor government. It is a reactionary budget from a reactionary Prime Minister who lives in the past, in an age of knights and dames.

The real problem is that he wants the rest of the nation to go back there and keep him company. This budget asks us to return to a bygone era where people’s access to opportunity, security and even good health depended on their parents’ bank balance or what school they attended. The budget smashes the universality of Medicare by adding a $7 co-payment for people to see their doctor. It abandons the Gonski education reforms, which were explicitly designed to ensure equity of opportunity. It cuts $80 billion in Commonwealth grants to states for health and education. It walks away from federal investment in public transport, despite the fact that Commonwealth leadership to deliver an integrated approach to urban transport can significantly boost the nation’s economic productivity. While encouraging motor vehicle use instead of public transport, it places even more of a burden on Australian families by increasing fuel prices. It slows down the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and limits future access to the age pension. Yet before the election the Prime Minister told the voters of Australia there will be no cuts to health, education, pensions or the ABC. His promises were worthless.

The starting point for any examination of this budget is its economic context. When this government took office it inherited a growing economy with low inflation, low interest rates, low unemployment and with AAA credit ratings from all three of the nation’s top agencies. But, despite this, the government has justified its cuts and broken promises with the claim that the nation faces a budget emergency. Let us look at the facts. The latest budget update shows that net government debt for 2013-14 is $191.5 billion, the equivalent of 12.1 per cent of GDP. According to the IMF, the average debt level in advanced nations is 74.7 per cent. It is also claimed that the budget is burdened by unsustainable spending. The budget deficit peaked in 2009-10 at $54.5 billion, or 4.2 per cent of GDP—less than half the average among advanced nations. In Labor’s final year in office, the deficit was $18.8 billion or 1.2 per cent of GDP.

The use of the term ‘budget emergency’ to describe our budget dates from Mr Abbott’s relentless campaign of negativity when he was Leader of the Opposition. Having been too lazy and cynical to create a policy program, the now Prime Minister chanted three-word slogans so loudly that people began to believe them. Anyone prepared to be honest about recent Australian history knows that our spending and debt levels increased in the past few years because the previous Labor government borrowed money to fund an economic stimulus package that protected our economy during the global financial crisis. In 2009 the Rudd government was grappling with a crisis—a global crisis, not a pretend crisis of the type confected by the current Prime Minister so that he could impose these mean-spirited cuts. Our stimulus package saved Australia from the recession that enveloped the rest of the developed world and we chartered a path back to budget surplus. Treasury analysis says that our package saved 200,000 Australian jobs. We did not create a crisis, we dealt with the crisis.

The real deficit problem in this country is the honesty deficit in the Prime Minister’s office. The only crisis in Australian politics today is the integrity crisis of those opposite and the fact that people were misled by a party that said one thing before the election and another thing afterwards. And if the government had any serious ability to put forward its position in a consistent way, it would not be proposing to deliver an unaffordable paid parental leave scheme. While families struggle to get their children to the doctor, the Prime Minister will give millionaires up to $50,000 to have a baby.

This budget exposes this government’s true colours. It attacks the weak, but favours the top end of town. I am all for business prosperity—it creates jobs—however, like most Australians, I expect that prosperity should be shared. Take as an example the proposed $7 co-payment that will apply to visits to the family doctor. It will not affect people like parliamentarians, but it will affect many in my electorate who will choose to go to a public hospital emergency room because they cannot afford to take their kid to the doctor. Labor believes that Australians have a right to the same level of health care regardless of their income, and we will defend Medicare and its universality, which is at the point of its principles.

On education, before the election the Prime Minister said he was on a ‘unity ticket’ to implement the Gonski education reforms. These were designed to deliver a needs-based funding model to schools and ensure equality of opportunity—and to end the decades-old debate that has occurred around schools funding in this country. But he has walked away from this undertaking. The same goes for university funding, with the government proposing a US-style deregulated system where money matters more than a student’s potential. Education is not just about the individual; the nation benefits by being a smarter, more skilled country.

Let me turn to the budget as it affects my own shadow portfolios of infrastructure, transport and tourism. Before the budget the government inflated expectations about infrastructure to divert attention away from cuts to services and broken promises. Under examination their claims collapse. The majority of the government’s infrastructure spend was not new but a collection of re-announcements of projects funded by the previous government. Anything new in this budget was funded by cuts to existing rail and road projects: cutting all public transport funding not currently under construction; cutting existing road projects, including the M80 in Melbourne and Tasmania’s Midland Highway upgrade; and cutting nearly $1 billion to financial assistance grants for roads through an end to indexation, which will hurt councils in rural and regional communities more than any others. The government has taken the axe to existing projects so that it can falsely claim it has new money for different projects. Indeed, in its glossy, when you look at projects like the Pacific Highway in New South Wales, it is exactly the same graphic that was produced by the former government, with the same projects listed with funding there.

The fact is that Mr Abbott also said that a full cost-benefit analysis would occur for every infrastructure project worth more than $100 million. But none of that has occurred. There is not one single project that has been recommended by Infrastructure Australia as a priority project funded in this budget—not one. In the case of the East West Link in Melbourne, the Senate budget estimates committee heard yesterday, extraordinarily, that the government will give the Napthine government $1 billion in the next month that will sit in a bank account because stage 2 is not due to commence until not this year, not next financial year, but the financial year after that! They say they have issues with finances but they are giving a billion dollars in the next month for something that is not due to commence for another two financial years. Today they say they will ask the Victorian government to pay back some of the interest that they get from that billion dollars—absolutely absurd! It is clearly a favour to help their mates in the Victorian government prop up their budget.

If the fiscal situation is so dire in the national government, why are they propping up their mates in the Victorian state government through this billion dollars for stage 2, for which there are no traffic projections, for which there is no business case, for which there is no forecast, and for which there has been no assessment made whatsoever? Absolutely extraordinary.

In March the assistant infrastructure minister, Mr Truss’s errand boy, the member for Mayo, attacked these payments. The errand boy said this:

This represents a massive abuse of taxpayer dollars, with money lying around in state government accounts collecting interest, scandalously underutilised at a time of scarce public funds.

He said that should never happen. And let me tell you that nothing like that happened under the previous administration and, to be fair to the Howard government, I have not heard of any such circumstance occurring like this ever in the whole time that I have been in parliament.

At the same time, of course, Minister Briggs, Assistant Minister Briggs to give him his correct title, the errand boy for the actual minister, spent some $70,000 in public money attempting to kid Australians into believing its infrastructure spend was new.

Mr Chester interjecting—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Vasta ): Order!

Mr ALBANESE: I withdraw. He actually breached a budget embargo, releasing the presentation well before the budget speech. Yesterday we heard that 2½ thousand people have looked at that video, so it cost almost $40 per viewing. There is value for taxpayers!

The budget also created a $5 billion incentive fund. But the problem with that is that it wasn’t new money either. The $5 billion came from the Building Australia Fund and the education infrastructure fund. Paying someone else to do the heavy lifting does not constitute investing in infrastructure. The fact is that the infrastructure package in this budget is a con—a collection of already funded projects and cuts to fund other projects, which have not even been tested by experts to verify that they represent value for money. There are other cuts in there as well, such as the upgrading of remote and regional airports—gone, that program, from the next financial year. The previous government, of course, was concerned about addressing funding in our cities for public transport as well as for roads. The fact is that this government has walked away from those commitments.

I have heard the Treasurer say before that the core of his approach to economics is the idea that if you increase the tide all boats rise. I was reminded of the words of Indian politician Rahul Gandhi, who once said: ‘A rising tide doesn’t raise people who don’t have a boat. We have to build the boat for them. We have to give them the basic infrastructure to rise with the tide.’

That is the problem with this budget. It is a budget which helps those who have and punishes those who have not. It puts in place policies that expose all the prejudices of the existing government. My message to the government is that it is not the fault of the Labor Party that the Prime Minister was too lazy to frame genuine policy when he was the Leader of the Opposition. Nor is it the fault of the poor, the disabled, the sick, state premiers or young people—all of whom are bearing the brunt of the budget decisions. As opposition leader, Mr Abbott clearly took a conscious decision to turn the coalition into the noalition.(Time expired)

May 14, 2014

Condolences – The Hon. Neville Wran, AC, QC

Federation Chamber

Mr Albanese (Grayndler) (11:29): I want to join with the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and other members on this condolence motion to a great Australian and a champion of the Australian Labor Party, Mr Neville Wran. Neville Wran was educated at Nicholson Street Public School and Fort Street High School, in my electorate. He went on to study law at the University of Sydney and became a prominent lawyer prior to entering the upper house of the New South Wales parliament in 1970. In 1973 he moved to the electorate of Bass Hill. He became leader of the Australian Labor Party and was elected premier in 1976. That was just after the very significant defeat of the Whitlam Labor government in 1975. It was a time when the Australian Labor Party was going through considerable difficulties. Neville Wran mobilised public support. Neville Wran understood that it was vital that politicians be aware of issues such as costs of living and the concerns of people in their local communities.

At Neville Wran’s quite extraordinary send-off at Sydney Town Hall just a month ago, the contributions of former Prime Minister Paul Keating, former Premier Bob Carr, Justice Michael Kirby, Labor historian Rodney Cavalier and members of Neville’s family—his wife, Jill, and children, Kim, Harriet and Hugo—were quite remarkable. In addition to those family members, I also give my condolences to Glen Wran, his son, who was the president of the Ashfield branch, in my electorate, of longstanding note, during the time in which I have had the honour of serving in this House as the member for Grayndler. I well recall the extraordinary state conference of the New South Wales ALP at Sydney Town Hall when Neville Wran announced his resignation in June 1986. As I entered the magnificent Sydney Town Hall that morning, the loyal deputy to Neville Wran, Jack Ferguson, pulled me aside and said, ‘Take a seat, son; you’re about to see history.’ I did not know at that time what was coming.

We all know in this place that there are very few secrets in politics. It is indeed remarkable that Neville Wran was able to resign from that high office after serving for a decade as premier of the largest state in Australia and it was kept a secret. The gasps from delegates at that conference were an emotional reaction that will stay with me for as long as I live. It was fitting that Neville Wran chose the floor of a New South Wales ALP conference to announce his resignation. He was of the view that no individual is greater than the movement of which they are a part. From time to time you hear that individuals might like to think that they get here on their own. They do not; they get here because of the support of their family, their community and the political party they represent.

Neville Wran, a giant of the labour movement, never put himself above that movement. His achievements were quite remarkable: the economic transformation of New South Wales into a modern economy, the new railway infrastructure out to the Eastern Suburbs, the electrification of the rail lines to Wollongong and Newcastle, new infrastructure in Sydney’s western suburbs and support in regional New South Wales. Those achievements led to the remarkable ‘Wran slides’ in 1978 and in 1981. This was a time when Labor won seats like Manly and Willoughby, and many seats in regional New South Wales. A two-party preferred vote of higher than 60 per cent is something I suspect might never be seen again.

It was a remarkable performance, which did not come about by doing nothing. It was an endorsement of a reforming, forward-thinking government. It was reforming in terms of the great achievements in infrastructure and economic development and also in the environment whereby, thanks to Neville Wran, the great national parks of the North Coast of New South Wales were saved and protected. He created the Land and Environment Court. He understood that development needed to be balanced with appropriate outcomes in environmental protection. He rebuilt the inner areas of Sydney through the Darling Harbour project and the Sydney Entertainment Centre. The Darling Harbour project on the old Pyrmont sites was very controversial. It was a dilapidated area, which he subjected to urban renewal. As someone who was born during and lived through Neville Wran’s premiership, living on Pyrmont Bridge Road, Camperdown, I am very familiar with that area.

Neville Wran established the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and the most significant land rights legislation anywhere in Australia up to that point. He introduced the Anti-Discrimination Act. He removed the criminalisation of homosexuality. In our time, when there is a modern debate about marriage equality, it is remarkable that just those few years ago to be gay was to risk being jailed because of your sexuality. Neville Wran had the courage to take that on and to lead the nation, to make a real difference to people’s lives.

Neville Wran was ahead of the nation on women’s rights when he introduced legislation concerning the appointment of women. Before Neville Wran’s government, the idea of a woman being appointed to a court was seen to be remarkable and not really appropriate. Neville Wran made sure that women were appointed to all of the highest offices in the New South Wales regime.

Before Neville Wran, the Legislative Council of New South Wales was a bit like the House of Lords in the UK, where the Lords were not elected by the people; they were appointed by each other. Neville Wran went to a referendum and won it to transform, more than a century after the New South Wales parliament was formed, the legislative council into a democratic body. Neville Wran introduced public funding and disclosure laws. Pecuniary interest registers for members of parliament did not exist before Neville Wran in New South Wales.

Regarding some of the laws that were still present in New South Wales before his premiership, the death penalty was still in place in New South Wales prior to it being abolished. The Summary Offences Act, whereby people were picked up and put into jail for the crime of being homeless or for other issues of poverty, essentially, was removed. He was, of course, the longest serving Premier of New South Wales until Bob Carr broke that record.

Neville Wran was someone whom I had the honour of having contact with as the president of Young Labor. At the time, Young Labor was not always compliant with the government of the day. Neville Wran had a wit but also a very sharp way of taking a young fellow, as I was in the Labor Party in those days, and giving him the benefits of his wisdom in a very direct fashion about the need to support his government. He was someone who was larger than life. He was someone who went on to have an extraordinary career in business. He was someone who was prepared to take a young fellow like me aside and give him good advice about the Labor Party.

I am very honoured to be a member of the Australian Labor Party like Neville Wran. Because of my membership of the Labor Party I have enjoyed a better life and privileges that I could not have dreamed of when I was growing up just a few kilometres from where Neville Wran grew up and went to school in our local community. I pay tribute to him and I honour him in this parliament today. I conclude by once again giving my condolences to Jill, who gave such as remarkable eulogy at his farewell, and to his children and all of his friends, colleagues and comrades.

 

Mar 27, 2014

Condolences for flight MH370 – Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10:48): Rarely in my lifetime has the world seen a greater mystery than that surrounding the fate of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, which was last heard from on 8 March, nearly three weeks ago. Those three weeks have been harrowing and bewildering, not least for the families of the 227 passengers. I can scarcely imagine the trauma these family members have suffered as they waited for news about the fate of the aircraft. It is indeed with a heavy heart that I make my contribution today and offer my sincere condolences to the families of all those passengers and crew. They will live with the dreadful finality of this incident for the rest of their days. It is fitting that this parliament acknowledge this loss.

I have heard directly from my constituents who, like just about everyone on the globe, have been shaken by this tragedy. On their behalf, I offer condolences to the families of all the victims, particularly the families of the Australians on board—Rodney and Mary Burrows, Bob and Cathy Lawton, Yuan Li, Naijun Gu and Perth based New Zealander Paul Weeks. The people of the inner west of Sydney are thinking of you, just as I am sure every citizen of this nation shares your sense of sadness and loss.

In this era of affordable air travel, increasing disposable incomes and generally high aviation safety standards, it is easy to forget that flying in an aeroplane involves risks, just as there are also risks in driving a car or taking a train ride. But people still eagerly fly, because aviation opens the world to us. It allows us to do things once unimaginable. Not long ago, air travel was out of the financial reach of many Australians. Air travel is in fact five times more affordable today than it was 20 years ago. I was in my 20s before I went on my first plane trip, which was from Sydney to Canberra as a ministerial adviser. My family did not have a car; our preferred mode of transport was the bus. It is a very different world today whereby people cross this nation to go to football games and to meet with each other.

The increasing affordability of air travel with the arrival of low-cost carriers has also driven increased success in this sector. Over all of my time watching federal parliament, both sides of politics have displayed maturity and goodwill in working together to maintain the highest standard of aviation safety. As the minister responsible for six years, I knew that this would not be a subject of partisan debate and I have undertaken a reciprocal obligation in how I handle my work as shadow transport minister at the moment.

Our airlines also constantly strive to lift our already excellent safety standards, and that is something that we can be proud of. But, no matter how much we dedicate ourselves to aviation safety, no matter how much airlines invest in safer aircraft and no matter how many satellites we can use to track aircraft, we will never completely eliminate the possibility of accidents. Today, as we think about the victims of MH370 and their families, we should rededicate ourselves to doing all we can to reduce that risk.

Today, I also want to pay tribute to our defence forces and the great people, who I know well, at the Australian Maritime Safety Authority who are leading this search. These are people we call on in difficult times and they never ever let us down. Similarly, as we have watched the difficult challenges facing the governments of Malaysia, China and more than 20 other nations, both inside and outside our region, we should remember our shared humanity. There are many aspects of global affairs that cause division among the nations of the world. During this extraordinary incident a positive aspect has been the way that countries have worked together. Seeing airlines from not just our own country but also China assisting the search from Pearce air base in Western Australia is very positive.

But nothing can bring back the victims of this dreadful incident, and investigators will no doubt spend months trying to piece together the events surrounding the loss of MH370. I hope that over time they will ascertain the facts of what occurred. I am confident that, if they learn anything from this tragedy, their lessons will be applied to the never-ending battle to improve safety in our skies. Once again, I express my condolences to the families who have lost loved ones in this terrible tragedy.

Mar 27, 2014

Business Rearrangement

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (14:43): I second the motion. We all know that this is a position that you coveted for years and years. How sad is it, having achieved his ambition, that you have chosen the low road of partisanship, rather than the high road of independence that this office demands. Madam Speaker, when you were the member for Mackellar you were very fond of the big book, House of Representatives Practice. I draw your attention to pages 163 and 164, which state a very simple principle:

The Speaker must show impartiality in the Chamber above all else.

That is the fundamental principle upon which the reliance and integrity of this parliament resides. Those opposite say, ‘Oh, but we won the election.’ That is absolutely true—there is a majority there. But there are millions of Australians voting for us on this side and they also deserve to be represented and not be treated with contempt from the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

It is one thing for this Prime Minister when he was Leader of the Opposition to want to trash the 43rd Parliament and come in here every day and move to suspend the standing orders and engage in disruptive conduct as a tactic, but it is another thing, having won the election and achieved the high office of Prime Minister, for him and his team to trash the 44th Parliament. So addicted are they to negative tactics, they engage in them. We see it every day. We saw the Prime Minister last week, while the sand was going through the hourglass for a division, looking upwards and giving directions to you, Madam Speaker, saying: ‘Close the door. Close the door. Close the door.’ We see, time after time, the Leader of the House give instructions to you as the chair, including today.

Madam Speaker, we have a penalty count at the moment. If this were a Souths-Manly game and the penalty count was 98 to nil in favour of the home team, they would be jumping the fence. What we have day after day in this parliament is partisanship from the chair, is abuse of standing orders and is treatment of those on this side of the House with contempt. We are seeing it by this very process. We are seeing it by the process whereby those opposite are not even allowing the motion to be debated. We are having to suspend the standing orders. What they should do is allow the motion, and then it will be a vote in the confidence of your speakership. As it is, it is left hanging as a result of them not even allowing the motion to proceed.

The SPEAKER: I remind the member that he must address the motion as he is drawing attention to it.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE: I am, and that is why standing orders should be suspended! You have just given a cracker of an example, Madam Speaker, of your partisanship. Here I am saying why they should be suspended so that we can have the proper debate and have a vote in your speakership, as to whether you have the confidence of the House, and you interject from the chair in order to slap that down.

Today we had, in the naming of the member for Isaacs, unprecedented action taken for such a minimal statement. I checked, Madam Speaker, if he said ‘ma Dame Speaker’ because I thought maybe there was something that was a reflection, but there was not. What we see in this chamber every day is the born-to-rule mentality of those opposite. We saw it from this Prime Minister just two days ago with his reinstatement of imperial honours and we see it with your behaviour, unfortunately, Madam Speaker, each and every day in this chamber.

The SPEAKER: The question is that so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the member for Watson moving immediately that the House has no further confidence in Madam Speaker.

The SPEAKER: I am giving the call to the Prime Minister who was in the middle of answering a question.

 

Feb 13, 2014

Statements by members – Melbourne metro

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (13:48): I also wish to join the member for Chisholm in speaking about the impact on jobs of the Toyota closure. I note that the Prime Minister has spoken about the need to reinvigorate the Victorian economy and about infrastructure. I have a suggestion: do not cut the $3 billion that has been allocated to the Melbourne metro project. This project was recommended by Infrastructure Australia and will create jobs. The regional rail link project had more than 3½ thousand at its peak working directly on the project, thereby keeping the Victorian economy going in recent times. As that reaches completion, the Melbourne metro project needs to be stepped up. This is a vital project for Victoria and indeed for the nation, one that will boost jobs and boost productivity. It is a part of what a government would be interested in doing if it were serious about infrastructure and dealing with urban congestion. When the former Labor government came to office, Australia was ranked 20th out of 25 OECD countries for investment in infrastructure. The latest figures show that in both 2012 and 2011, we were ranked first in the OECD. That was the inheritance those opposite received when they got into government. To deliver on infrastructure, you actually have to invest, not just talk. (Time expired)

Dec 10, 2013

Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (17:19): Building the right infrastructure in the right location at the right time is critical to national economic development and productivity. To secure the productivity gains that drive jobs growth you have to invest in roads, ports, railway lines and airports. Most importantly, you need to ignore the electoral map. If you make the right strategic investments the resulting productivity gains benefit every Australian—not just the communities in which you have delivered the infrastructure. It is my experience that many elected representatives dealing with infrastructure struggle with the need to take a long-term, non-partisan view. Some representatives make decisions that are based on their political interests rather than the national interest. Others, like former Prime Minister John Howard, simply ignore infrastructure spending and blame the states when anyone complains about infrastructure bottlenecks. That approach, of course, helps no-one.

Labor took a very different approach when we were elected in 2007. In line with our proud heritage we focused on nation-building. I argued in the lead-up to that election that the challenge for infrastructure was to delink the infrastructure investments cycle—which was, by definition, long-term—from the electoral cycle, which is much more short term. Infrastructure Australia was specifically designed as a vehicle to do just that.

I am here today to oppose the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill because it is a blatant coalition attempt to re-establish the old link between the political process and the delivery of infrastructure. This bill gives the Minister for Infrastructure the right to interfere with Infrastructure Australia’s considerations by nominating pet projects for assessment. It would also allow the minister to ignore entire classes of infrastructure investment, such as public transport.

I note that Minister Truss, in his contribution to this debate, claimed that the legislation was designed to increase Infrastructure Australia’s independence. Having opposed the very creation of Infrastructure Australia, in recent times the coalition have argued that they would increase its independence and strengthen it. The fact is that this legislation does exactly the opposite. It reopens the door to pork-barrelling and the short-sighted approach of the past. It can only have two outcomes: lowering growth of economic productivity and, as a consequence, reducing growth in employment.

I, of course, have seen this approach before. Minister Truss hails from the National Party—the party of the pork-barrel; the party that has always been preoccupied with supporting funding for its own electorates rather than having a broader view of the national interest. When the coalition were last in government, they had no infrastructure policy. I was the first ever infrastructure minister to represent this nation. They simply refused to invest in anything other than regional roads—except for pet projects such as regional road programs that funded Campbell Parade at Bondi Beach in the member for Wentworth’s electorate. There was no coordination of infrastructure provision. They made it up as they went along.

In fact, the Howard government’s idea of regional infrastructure provision was the Regional Partnerships scheme, found by auditors to have been rorted by the government. Who could forget the $600,000 grant to keep struggling Queensland company Beaudesert Rail afloat, against the advice of corporate administrators. There was the $426,962 given under the dairy assistance program to the Indigo Cheese factory in the electorate of Indi, which, of course, did not produce any output. Indeed, the company shut down in March 2007. Three months later, the government paid the company a further $22,135 instalment on its grant because its standards of oversight were so poor that grant recipients did not have to produce anything to continue to qualify for money. No wonder the Australian National Audit Office investigation into Regional Partnerships found that it had fallen short of an acceptable standard of public administration. That is why I was very cynical about the coalition’s rhetoric, and, unfortunately, that cynicism has come to fruition in the form of this bill.

Labor came to office determined to create a system whereby infrastructure needs would be independently assessed and where elected representatives could make decisions based on evidence about a project’s potential to lift productivity, not on the basis of their electoral strategy. When we created Infrastructure Australia in 2008, we asked it to conduct the first ever national audit of infrastructure needs in Australia’s history. We also asked it to advise on approaches to infrastructure policy. It did that at arm’s length from government and that national audit provided the basis for funding.

One of its key early findings was the development of a formula for an integrated policy approach to provision of infrastructure. It identified seven priority themes which it recommended needed to be addressed as a whole, in preference to the piecemeal approach of the past. These principles were prioritised. The first of the principles was, indeed, the development of a more extensive, accessible and globally competitive National Broadband Network. Infrastructure Australia described the importance of better broadband as ‘almost impossible to overstate’. The second principle was the consolidation of a national energy market. The third was competitive international gateways like ports and airports, including the creation of a national ports’ strategy. The fourth was the development of a national freight network. The fifth was transforming cities with effective roads and public transport. The sixth was the provision of essential infrastructure for Indigenous communities. And the seventh was adaptable and secure water supplies.

Members opposite should take note of this list. It reminds us that infrastructure comes in many forms, many of which are interdependent. That is why you need to have an integrated approach without Infrastructure Australia being directed to look just at a specific project or to not look at other projects. Take the National Broadband Network. It is not just a communications infrastructure vehicle; it also has an impact on the way that cities function. It has an impact on transport. If people can telework from home, it reduces urban congestion. That is why you need to have this integrated plan, not the cherry-picking approach that would result if this legislation is carried.

Infrastructure Australia argued that, if you wanted to improve the functioning of our nation, you needed to cover every angle, not just building roads or clearing port bottlenecks. To get maximum productivity growth, you need to adopt a holistic approach, including the functioning of our cities and regional communities, and you need to address every element critical to the infrastructure equation. Let me quote from Infrastructure Australia’s December 2008 report to the Council of Australian Governments:

In delivering this new national approach, Infrastructure Australia has not sought to predetermine any particular infrastructure outcome or solution. Rather, it has created a broad framework that was used for assessing any investment or actions.

This advice sums up the point that I am making—that adequate infrastructure provision requires a flexible approach that does not pick favourite modes of infrastructure but simply uses objective evidence to choose the best outcomes.

Labor did not give itself the ability to interfere in Infrastructure Australia. It also did not give itself the power to even direct Infrastructure Australia about what projects it could or could not consider. We asked only for evidence so that we could make evidence based decisions. As at the 2013 election, the former Labor government had allocated funding for all of the 15 Infrastructure Australia priority projects—every single one. In the same Infrastructure Australia report to COAG that I mentioned a moment ago, its chairman, Sir Rod Eddington, wrote that his organisation’s formation represented a new level of leadership on infrastructure:

It introduces a bold new approach to identifying, planning, funding and implementing infrastructure of national significance across Australia. It also introduces rigorous and robust economic analysis of infrastructure investments prior to government decision-making.

And yet Sir Rod Eddington was not even consulted about this legislation before it was introduced into the parliament. That is a fact.

This brings me to the proposed changes in the bill. Under the bill before us, Minister Truss wants to give himself very specific powers: to set time frames and the scope of audits and evaluations; to direct which matters can and cannot be considered; to order Infrastructure Australia to evaluate particular projects nominated by him; to confer tax loss concessions upon projects without reference to Infrastructure Australia; to sack members of the council of Infrastructure Australia for the ill-defined crime of misbehaviour; and to rethink the representation of state and territory governments that are currently represented on the Infrastructure Australia Council.

All of these changes are retrograde steps. Governments which give themselves poorly defined rights to sack people are in fact giving themselves the power to dispose of advisers whose advice does not suit their political line. I am deeply concerned about the bill’s provision allowing the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development to order Infrastructure Australia not to consider classes of infrastructure when it assesses the relative merits of infrastructure projects.

This provision goes to the very heart of the design of Infrastructure Australia. It will dismantle IA’s ability to give governments advice on the full range of infrastructure investment which is required to drive productivity gains and create jobs for future generations. I fear the motivation for this move is rooted in the coalition’s inexplicable and, frankly, irresponsible refusal to invest any Commonwealth funds in urban passenger rail. Our cities are congested. The Australasian Railway Association estimates that traffic congestion is costing our nation $15 billion a year and says the costs will increase unless governments take real action now to unclog our cities. An essential element of the solution to congestion is greater use of public transport. That is why in government Labor allocated money for a range of projects recommended by Infrastructure Australia, including Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project and the Melbourne Metro. In this year’s budget, $715 million was allocated for the Cross River Rail project and $3 billion for the Melbourne Metro.

Our view is that the Commonwealth needs to help states invest in urban public transport and that this investment will ease congestion and lift urban productivity. We consulted with both the Queensland and the Victorian governments on those assessments. They were found by Infrastructure Australia to be nationally significant projects. Indeed, funding for planning money for both of those projects was previously allocated, the planning was done, the projects stacked up, and yet the coalition have a view that the Commonwealth should just fund urban and regional roads and that there should be no funding for urban public transport.

The problem there is the definition of ‘nationally significant’ projects, which is why the assistant minister could not answer the question that he was asked today in parliament. The fact is that, during the term of the former Howard government, as he would be aware, the coalition government shied away from funding urban roads as well as urban rail. The Howard government funded a total of $300 million in Sydney infrastructure over 12 years. It completely vacated the field. The problem with the approach of the Prime Minister, who says, ‘The Commonwealth should stick to its knitting and invest in roads,’ is that it ignores the fact that, historically, the National Party, while they have held the transport portfolios, have also not invested in urban roads, either. They have not invested in our cities. And, as the most urbanised country on the planet, the fact is that there is a direct link between investing in our cities and growth in our regions. We need to do both and we need to have a national approach to it—something that those opposite do not seem to understand. Labor in fact doubled the roads budget, compared with the Howard government’s record.

The current government’s roads-only policy is an affront to everything we know about effective provision of infrastructure. As I mentioned earlier, when outlining Infrastructure Australia’s seven themes, you cannot drive productivity without taking an integrated approach and you cannot take an integrated approach unless you have Commonwealth leadership. A piecemeal approach, with projects as determined by the minister, without looking at alternative options, which this bill will allow, will reintroduce the very problem that Infrastructure Australia was created to overcome. This bill is proof that the coalition simply does not understand nation building.

It will take us back to the bad old days when infrastructure provision was not an integrated process but a recipe for pork-barrelling. When it comes to policy, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If you are already making a good pudding it makes no sense to change the ingredients.

Thanks to the recommendations of Infrastructure Australia, here are some of the projects that the previous Labor government delivered: the Hunter Expressway, which will be opened in coming months; major upgrading of the Pacific Highway, worth $7.9 billion, through works including the Bulahdelah Bypass, the Kempsey Bypass and the Ballina Bypass, all opened by Labor; and the Bruce Highway, with funding of $5.7 billion, including work on what the now transport minister describes as the worst road in Australia, the Cooroy to Curra section of the Bruce Highway. Minister Truss would know that because it is in his electorate. He just did not fix it during the 12 years in which he was part of the government. It took a Labor government to deliver this project. We delivered Victoria’s Regional Rail Link, again, something that the now Prime Minister seemed to be totally ignorant of, when he said in his interview where he declared that no funding for public transport would be forthcoming from a government he led: ‘We don’t do public transport projects; we don’t do them.’ There he was sitting in a studio in Melbourne, the site of the largest ever Commonwealth investment in an urban public transport project, the Regional Rail Link, a project in which today there are 3½ thousand Victorians in work, and which will benefit Melbourne, Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat but, most importantly, the national economy by improving productivity.

South Australia’s Noarlunga to Seaford Rail Extension project has been opened. The Gold Coast Rapid Transit project is significantly increasing the productivity of the Gold Coast. Infrastructure Australia operated in conjunction with the Major Cities Unit, and that has already been abolished by the new government as one of their first acts coming in—’No, we don’t want to be involved in cities.’ It recommended projects like the Perth Citylink project. The new member for Perth, the former member for Perth and I went to the opening just prior to the election. It is an exciting project that has transformed Perth as a major international city by uniting the city’s CBD with the Northbridge precinct. It is an exciting project boosting productivity, boosting sustainability and boosting livability in Perth. Brisbane’s Moreton Bay rail line was first promised in the Queensland parliament in 1895; delivered, though, by the former Labor government and set to be opened next year. Both projects are exciting projects and important projects.

In line with the principles for effective delivery of infrastructure, IA also produced major reports for COAG which led to important microeconomic reform, a national port strategy adopted for the first time, a national land freight strategy and a strategy to improve delivery of infrastructure to Indigenous communities. An integrated approach to infrastructure delivery also requires consultation with industry—a hallmark of Infrastructure Australia’s approach and something that industry welcomed. This was acknowledged by Ports Australia chief, David Anderson, in 2011 when he said the government was to be complimented for making a serious endeavour to develop a nationally based approach to port planning and regulation. Mr Anderson said:

The National Ports Strategy is based on the simple but effective premise that our ports will develop long term plans that will be out there for all stakeholders to view and own and that this approach will drive processes to ensure that port land and its associated freight precincts and road and rail corridors are appropriately developed and protected.

Governments that close their ears to impartial expert advice are letting down the nation. Infrastructure Australia also played a role in advising about the national transport regulators. That microeconomic reform will benefit the national economy by $30 billion over 20 years, and yet, under the approach envisaged in this legislation before the House, that will end.

Let me come to transparency. I note that the minister has said that this bill is about greater transparency, but it makes the minister the gatekeeper for publication of information via his powers to direct IA’s activities. Under existing arrangements, IA routinely published the outcomes of its considerations, providing important information to inform the public debate and sending clear signals to the investment community. If the coalition had paid any attention at all they would know that rhetoric such as ‘We’ll produce an annual report to the parliament’ already happens. There is already an annual report to the parliament and to the Council of Australian Governments. It is published on its website. Because we do not direct Infrastructure Australia on what they can look at, there are recommendations that, frankly, I do not support as the former minister. There is a recommendation, for example, about putting a toll on the Pacific Highway. I do not support that. I do not think that is viable. But it is appropriate that where you have an independent, at arm’s-length body making recommendations, from time to time there will be disagreements and governments will take different positions. That is what the Infrastructure Australia process is all about: challenging governments at the national level and at the state level to lift their game and to do better when it comes to infrastructure provision and delivery.

The changes proposed in this bill, giving the minister the ability to block the publication of project evaluations, make a mockery of transparency. On what possible basis is that acceptable from those who, in opposition, spoke about transparency? There is a provision in this legislation to block the publication of project evaluations. That is something that simply does not exist at the moment.

The minister made clear in his contribution to this debate that he wants IA to conduct more of its own research on the economic benefit of infrastructure proposals rather than rely upon work originating from state governments. Infrastructure Australia now makes assessments of the work that state governments have done. Those opposite were talking earlier in their rhetoric across the chamber about the East-West Link in Victoria, for example. The only published BCR on the East-West Link found a benefit-cost ratio of 0.5.

Mr Briggs: So you’re against it.

Mr ALBANESE: That is what the Eddington study found—0.5—and yet they will not publish any of it. You get the childish statement across the chamber from the assistant minister, saying, ‘So you’re against it.’ That is not what I said. What I said very clearly was: publish the economics of this project; let it be seen transparently—

Mr Briggs: In the middle of a tender process.

Mr ALBANESE: Those opposite say, ‘In the middle of the tender process.’ That is the whole point. You find out if it is viable before you go to tender and before you provide funding for it. The assistant minister across the chamber has a lot to learn.

I note the minister does not propose, however, to lift Infrastructure Australia’s funding at all—there is no suggestion of that—and yet they are going to replace the existing IA council with an IA board and bring it under the auspices of the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997. Bodies that exist under this act cost more to run. It places obligations on reporting and compliance that are currently done by the department. He does not actually understand that is the process. IA in terms of its financial operations operates with the department for reporting and compliance requirements. That reduces the cost. Yet Infrastructure Australia will be asked to do more with fewer resources.

On top of this, the minister in this legislation proposes sacking the entire Infrastructure Australia council and creating a new board structure to which new people will be appointed, one would assume political appointees. One would assume that that is why that is occurring. It is just like the creation of the new CEO position as opposed to the Infrastructure Australia Coordinator. One assumes it is an attempt to create a system whereby the minister will be able, in the time-honoured fashion of the coalition, to appoint political cronies.

Mr Briggs: It is appointed by the board.

Mr ALBANESE: Yes, but you appoint the board. The fact is that the only person with any political background on the Infrastructure Australia council is Mark Birrell, a former minister in the Kennett government who was appointed by the former Labor government cabinet on merit. That is why we did not have a situation whereby we engaged in the sort of interference that will occur under this system. We have seen these motives before.

As I explained earlier, the Prime Minister refuses to invest in urban passenger rail, preferring to invest exclusively in roads. But even his proposed investment in roads ignores the Infrastructure Australia process. He said that the East-West project had been through a recommendation by Infrastructure Australia. That is not the case. He said it repeatedly and it is simply not true that it was recommended and on the Infrastructure Australia priority list. The WestConnex project in Sydney also has potential but it is yet to have finalisation of its route and finalisation of any costings being done. That needs to be done before federal government money is confirmed. You need to have those processes. With regard to Adelaide’s Darlington Interchange project, which was raised today, the coalition say they have got $500 million for that project. Well, where is the other $800-900 million that the project will cost coming from? With regard to the South Road upgrade, the Torrens to Torrens section has been recommended by Infrastructure Australia as the priority, an area in which preconstruction work has already commenced but will not be able to continue without federal government funding if it is withdrawn.

The fact is that this legislation is contemptuous of the evidence based approach of Infrastructure Australia. It is far more attuned to the electoral map than the national interest. If you are a nation builder, the only map you look at when thinking about infrastructure is the national map. The member for Gippsland would know full well that I as a minister dealt well with him. He was a good representative of his local community, and his claims were dealt with on their merits. If you have a look at where our road funding went, at the end of our government something like three-quarters of the funding that had been allocated had actually gone to coalition seats; three dollars in every four as the most conservative assessment that you could make. We made assessments based on the national interest. That has always been Labor’s way, with the transnational railway, the Snowy Mountains Scheme, the NBN and national strategies for ports, shipping and aviation. You need to have an integrated approach, one that is blind to modes of infrastructure, one that puts efficiency first, one whose aim is productivity and jobs. The coalition has never understood this concept in the past, and this bill shows that nothing has changed. This bill is short-sighted and it will take this nation backwards. It would be more honest if they just abolished Infrastructure Australia and the whole process.

 

Dec 9, 2013

High Speed Rail Planning Authority Bill 2013 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10:03): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to be introducing the first private member’s bill of the 44th Parliament.

Nation building requires forward thinking.

Governments that take nation building seriously look well beyond the electoral cycle to contemplate the big infrastructure projects that will benefit future generations.

For many years now, it has been suggested that Australia should develop a high-speed rail line linking Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

That’s why I commissioned a study in two parts that involved extensive consultation with industry, including international operators of high-speed rail as well as significant community input to maximise the effectiveness of the study.

It was completed in two parts so that transparency could be maximised. It was published in full, including the business case for the project, consideration of environmental issues, projections of patronage, proposed route, proposed stations and proposed time lines. There are detailed maps available, indeed, whereby people can see exactly what the proposed route is.

It found that high-speed rail down the east coast of Australia is a viable proposition but that it does face challenges.

It is a nation-building project—a track covering 1,748km and passing through four major cities.

It is visionary, requiring consideration of where our society and its transport needs will be decades from now.

High-speed rail will almost certainly run up against political hurdles. It would be delivered over decades under the stewardship of multiple parliaments in Canberra and the other four jurisdictions involved.

It would also be an engineering challenge, requiring at least 80km of tunnels, including 67km in Sydney alone.

Despite all these challenges, high-speed rail also has huge potential, particularly if we consider where our society is headed over coming decades. We can anticipate that an increasing population and the growing need for a carbon constrained economy will drive the economics of this project ever more positively over time.

The study I released in April this year, which I commissioned as minister, found that high-speed rail would return, for the Sydney to Melbourne section, $2.15 in economic benefit for every dollar invested. It would be a major regional economic development initiative.

A challenge of this scale needs serious forward planning.

The first step is to begin to secure the corridor.

That is why this bill seeks parliament’s support for the High-Speed Rail Planning Authority.

This bill will establish the structure across governments to ensure we maintain the momentum generated by the recent strategic studies.

The bill would establish the High-Speed Rail Planning Authority as a vehicle for long-term Commonwealth leadership to progress this project. This is critical. Without Commonwealth leadership, high-speed rail will never happen.

The Commonwealth has to bring together the state governments, local councils, landholders, potential private sector investors and others to guarantee a cross-jurisdictional approach. And we need to develop that process now.

Inaction now means years will pass and, by the time market conditions shift to the point of supporting high-speed rail, the complex challenges I listed before could have grown insurmountable.

I am hopeful, therefore, that this bill will win support across this parliament—given the rhetoric of people across this parliament.

Planning is not a political issue. It is just common sense.

I must say I had been concerned about the future of high-speed rail given the decision of the Prime Minister in November to wind up the High-Speed Rail Advisory Group. The members of this committee included former Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer, Business Council of Australia Chief Executive, Jennifer Westacott, and Australasian Railway Association chief executive, Bryan Nye. It was chaired by the deputy secretary of my former department, Lyn O’Connell. The aim of this private member’s bill—to formally create a planning authority—is in accordance with its recommendations.

Last year Mr Fischer told The Border Mail the link would be ‘a huge leap forward’ for decentralisation and that long-term planning was vital to prevent the corridor from being absorbed by urban sprawl.

I agree.

It would be a shame to lose the momentum from the major strategic studies of the last three years.

That momentum has built up over successive phases.

Under this private member’s bill, an 11-person high-speed rail authority would bring together all affected states as well as rail and engineering experts to progress planning and, critically, focus on the corridor. The 11 members of the board are outlined in the bill. They would include:

one member from each of the states affected—Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory;

one member representing the Local Government Association;

one member nominated by the Australasian Railway Association; and

five members appointed by the minister for infrastructure on the basis of qualifications or expertise—

to make sure that you got that engineering expertise on the authority.

The authority’s roles would include consideration of:

land use planning relating to the corridor;

safety;

measures to minimise environmental impact; and

public consultation.

The states, councils and landholders along the possible route have a very direct interest in ensuring that, if this project is viable, an orderly process is in place to bring it to fruition.

Big ideas do not happen without leadership.

If we do not start planning now, our lack of foresight could ensure high-speed rail cannot happen.

High-speed rail exists in every continent other than Australia and Antarctica. It is globally recognised as an extremely effective mode of transport and a driver of economic productivity.

Society is always changing.

What might seem unlikely now could be a necessity in the future, particularly when we consider the need to reduce carbon emissions to deal the effects of climate change.

It might seem convenient now to just take a wait-and-see approach—to sit on this idea for a few years.

But I am into nation building and nation building requires planning.

Earlier I referred to the high-speed rail study phase 2 report, which I released on 11 April this year.

It said population and employment growth along the east coast of Australia in coming years would challenge the capacity of our existing modes of transport.

Travel on the east coast of Australia was forecast to grow about 1.8 per cent per year over the next two decades and to increase by 60 per cent by 2035.

The report said that east coast trips will double from 152 million trips in 2009 to 355 million trips in 2065. It is simply not possible to accommodate that growth on existing road and existing air links. That is why we need to make sure that we act now by setting up this authority.

The report found that once the line was fully operational from 2065 across the Brisbane to Melbourne corridor, high-speed rail could carry approximately 84 million passengers each year.

People would be able to travel from Melbourne to Sydney in less than three hours—the same duration of an express trip from Sydney to Brisbane.

The report found the optimal staging would involve building the Sydney to Melbourne line first, starting with the Sydney to Canberra corridor.

Later, building would continue from Canberra to Melbourne, Newcastle to Sydney, Brisbane to the Gold Coast and the Gold Coast to Newcastle.

The entire project would cost $114 billion in 2012 dollars.

The report found that fares would produce only a small investment return and that governments would need to fund most of the capital costs.

However, over time, the system could generate sufficient revenue to meet operating costs without ongoing public subsidy. And that is important.

Conclusion

High-speed rail represents a major challenge for our country.

Although there is a significant cost involved, it does have the potential to revolutionise travel in this country and to reduce carbon emissions.

And I am not just talking about travel between the big state capitals.

Consider the benefits to the regions through which the train would travel.

Consider the jobs involved in construction, the boost to tourism and to opening up dozens of communities to fast, easy high-speed transport.

Vision is important in governing nations.

Nation builders need the ability to both anticipate and create the future.

To those who are doubtful as to whether high speed rail will ever go ahead I would urge you to look long and hard at this bill.

If we do not act now, we are closing off options for future generations.

It is another way we can look at the precautionary principle.

I support this legislation. It is consistent with the reports and the independent advisory council recommendations. I commend the bill to the House.

Contact Anthony

(02) 9564 3588 Electorate Office

Email: A.Albanese.MP@aph.gov.au

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