Browsing articles in "Shadow Ministerial Hansard"
May 31, 2017

Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2017-2018 – Consideration in Detail

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (16:05): Infrastructure Partnerships Australia have said that the budget ‘confirms the cut to real budgeted capital funding to its lowest level in more than a decade, using a mix of underspend, reprofiling and narrative to cover this substantial drop in real capital expenditure’. That is not people in the Labor Party saying that; that is the peak industry body on infrastructure for Australia. That is what they are having to say, and I assure you, Minister, that what they say in private is less polite than that. They have contempt for what this government has done. The funding is cut in the current year by some $1.6 billion. Last year the budget papers indicated that there would be $9.2 billion expended in the current year. The actual fact is $7.6 billion. Inconveniently for the government, they produce budget papers with figures on them. The budget papers indicated across the forwards that that declines to $4.2 billion in 2020-21.

Budget Paper No. 2 has a story to tell. There is only one new investment mentioned—$13.8 million for the Far North Collector Road near Nowra. I acknowledge that that is a new project. It is the only new funded project in this entire budget over the next four years—one road. There is nothing for the Nowra bridge but this Far North Collector Road does get $13.8 million. If you look at the details, it is a mix of a return of some funding that was cut in previous budgets, such as Infrastructure Australia.

Let us look at the Infrastructure Investment Program. For Victorian infrastructure investments, page 134 indicates that there will be zero, zero, zero and zero. When you look at the Infrastructure Investment Program offsets, it shows a $1,631.6 billion cut in the year 2020-21. Let us look at Keys2Drive. I acknowledge that the government has put funding in that it threatened to cut. It is a good thing that that program has continued.

Let us look at other funding in the budget. Supplementary local roads funding for South Australia has been put in—again something the government threatened to cut—but there is no new investment. When you look at other programs, including the Bruce Highway, it clearly indicates that there are zero additional dollars. That is all from existing funds. At a time when the economy needs support for infrastructure this is an appalling budget. The government will spend less next year than this year on the Bruce Highway. For the Pacific Highway this current financial year the allocation is $1.37 billion and next year it is $710.1 million. Again that is less.

The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport raised the quite farcical National Rail Program. It is a big announcement—a $10 billion program—unfortunately, there is not a cent while they are still in government in this term. There is not one cent because there is not a dollar this year, not a dollar next year and not a dollar the year after. For the next three years, there is not a dollar of new investment for national rail. Then, in 2019-20, there is $200 million. In 2020-21, there is $400 million. So I acknowledge that they have established this program. Unfortunately, it is not for this generation. You could walk the length of the country until a dollar comes on track. It is pathetic. In this budget as well, Victoria will receive eight per cent of the national infrastructure budget. Once again, the government is punishing Victorians for having the temerity to vote in a Labor government.

(Time expired)

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (16:54): I rise as the shadow minister—and the minister elect, the way this government is going. I can answer the question from the member opposite, which was, ‘What will the impact be of the $10 billion national rail fund?’ The answer is zip, because there are zero dollars this year, zero dollars next year and zero dollars the year after. You do not announce a program for the next term in your first term and pretend that it is real. Then, when it is actually funded, the first year is $200 million and the next is $400 million. It is a great example of the illusion that is this government’s budget—an illusion that includes the Bruce Highway. Here are the figures—they are on page 133 of Budget Paper No. 2—on the Bruce Highway. It says:

The Government will provide $908.6 million over seven years from 2016-17 for infrastructure projects including—

And it includes the Bruce Highway projects. It says:

The cost of this measure with the exception of the Far North Collector Road will be met from within the existing resources of the Infrastructure Investment Programme.

There it is in black and white: there is not an extra dollar for these infrastructure projects—not one dollar—apart from the Far North Collector Road. That is on page 133 of Budget Paper No. 2.

Of course, before the budget we saw the establishment of the Infrastructure Financing Unit. That has now been renamed the ‘Infrastructure and Project Financing Agency’, perhaps because those opposite worked out that the acronym was not the best. Eventually, they worked that through. That is the minister’s contribution: working out that that was a bad acronym. But the fact is that the industry thinks it is totally unnecessary. This is what the industry said:

iii. We cannot identify any currently proposed infrastructure projects which are commercially viable and not already attracting finance; therefore we cannot see how the IFU will increase the pace of infrastructure project delivery;

vii. Commonwealth debt or equity investments provide an illusory benefit to the budget’s bottom line, but the Commonwealth is also taking equity or … risk on complex projects – meaning that risky investments’ in marginal projects will likely never be repaid;

1. The IFU should not be established.

That is what was said. And what this government did was take $17 million out of the construction budget administered by the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development to fund bureaucrats at the high end in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. They actually reduced the money that was intended for road and rail infrastructure in order to fund this unit. That is a solution looking for a problem. There is not a lack of financing available in this country for good infrastructure projects; what there is a lack of is a pipeline of projects and proper planning for projects.

One of those projects in which there is not a problem is the Cross River Rail. On 30 April 2013 I received a letter from Scott Emerson, the then minister in Campbell Newman’s government. Campbell Newman confirmed on TV on Monday night that this was a project that was absolutely ready to go and that the details had been sorted out thanks to Infrastructure Australia and thanks to negotiations between the two levels of government. There was a five-point plan, confirmed in writing minister to minister by Mr Emerson. The letter said:

the Project will be delivered largely through an availability payment Public Private Partnership;

It goes on about equal capital contributions of $750 million each. It goes on about funding the availability payment stream for the PPP component of the project on a 50-50 basis for the duration of the concession period. It committed the Queensland government to funding rail operating expenses for the project. It said:

the project will be delivered through a PPP commercial vehicle and financed by private sector equity and debt.

That is exactly what some of those opposite, who think they have discovered these things called ‘value capture’ and ‘public-private partnerships’, do not seem to understand—that it was happening and it got stopped in the 2014 budget, just like the funding and agreements for the Melbourne Metro got stopped before that budget. It is quite farcical that the government has established this unit, which will not be able to achieve anything at all, and is establishing a rail fund asking for bids when projects that were approved by Infrastructure Australia five years ago and funded in a budget four years ago remain unfunded due to this government’s intransigence.

(Time expired)

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (17:21): I rise to question again the gap between the rhetoric and the reality from this government when it comes to actual investment in infrastructure. One of the things the government continually does is speak about the 2013-14 budget. I have news for the government: Wayne Swan delivered that budget. That was not a budget delivered by the current government, but it adds in that figure as if it was when it was in government.

This time around, any analysis shows a $7.4 billion cut in actual infrastructure investment over the forward estimates. Yet the rhetoric of the government is about $75 billion. Well, sometimes it is. In the government’s own glossy produced as part of the budget papers, it says it is $70 billion in infrastructure commitments. Then if you go through and have a look at the details you see $1.2 billion committed to the Perth Freight Link. But then the same $1.2 billion is listed for the Metronet rail project. That is on page 10 of the budget glossy document. However, on page 8 it says there will be $700 million going towards the Metronet rail project. So it is not clear from the budget papers themselves whether it is $700 million or $1.2 billion. And then there is the same $1.2 billion double-counted for the Perth Freight Link project.

It is a bit like the Victorian circumstances where you have $1 billion and then there is $3 billion committed to the East West Link but it is the same money. It is the same contribution—the advance payment that was made from the Commonwealth to Victoria of $1.5 billion as a result of its 2014 budget. There was, further up in Queensland, $13.6 billion allegedly allocated but $844 million for the new Bruce Highway project, and we just heard from the minister that that is new money; that is a reallocation of existing funding. You see that pattern repeated throughout the budget.

Let’s look at actuals for Victoria for 2017-18 through to 2020-21. There is $791.2 million, then $568 million, then $606.3 million and then $280.7 million over the life of this budget. For Queensland $2,049 million goes down to $1,874 million, then to $1,866 million and then down to $1.652 billion in 2021. South Australia begin with $759.2 million. Then in 2018-19 they will get $434 million. In 2019-20 they will get $349.5 million. In 2020-21, they will get $95.2 million—that is the entire Commonwealth contribution for South Australian infrastructure.

Then you see the great fiddles of the Inland Rail project being off-budget.

A government member interjecting

Mr ALBANESE: I do support the project. We provided on-budget funding. We did not provide a fix or a fiddle, pretending that it would happen. This government has stopped the project 38 kilometres short of the port, thereby reducing the cost of the actual construction of the project. Then, what they do with this project is have it all funded off budget. There is not a dollar of on-budget funding, even though John Anderson’s report said that expected revenue over 50 years will not cover the initial capital investment. John Anderson said that it needed on-budget investment. That was the report to the government. It has been totally ignored. Then, we know that what they are counting is not the Inland Rail revenue; it is revenue from the whole of the ARTC. So, as a fix, they are using the profits that are made from the Hunter Valley rail network to pretend that that is the way that you finance this project. If this were a private sector operation, people would go to jail, but you, as a government entity—

Government members interjecting

Mr ALBANESE: It would! This is a corruption of the public financing of taxpayers, and that is why—

(Time expired)

May 30, 2017

Grievance Debate – WestConnex

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (18:14): Back in 2012, the experts at Infrastructure New South Wales sat down to take a look at the major challenges facing Sydney’s transport network. They later produced a report about their deliberations. Under the headline ‘First things first’, the experts, chaired by Nick Greiner, a former Premier of New South Wales, said the greatest transport challenge facing Sydney was rapid growth around Port Botany and the Sydney Airport. The Infrastructure New South Wales report said:

With growth forecast to continue, investment is urgently needed in landside infrastructure to allow access to these gateways.

It was identified access to the Port of Botany as the No. 1 priority. The advice could not have been clearer. The other imperative was access to the central business district of Sydney. It was these two requirements—access for freight to the port in particular and for cars to the CBD—that led to the beginning of what was termed the WestConnex project.

What we have today with the WestConnex project, five years later, is a very different project. It is one which will not go to the port. It will not meet the very challenges that were identified as the reason for its existence. This is the worst example of planning that I have seen for a major infrastructure project. What you need to do with infrastructure is to get the plans right first, go through the community consultation process and the environmental approvals and then have funding provided. What we have with this project is literally a government which is making it up as they go along. This is a project where they literally started digging tunnels before they knew where the tunnels were coming up—an extraordinary proposition. It is a project which began with a cost of some $10 billion which has now blown out to $17 billion, which is now leading to calls for further extensions of the road network.

In the 2014 budget of the Abbott government, the one where they cut funding for every public transport project that was not under construction, there was money handed out. It was handed out as advance payments for projects that had not been through planning proposals and had not been through the Infrastructure Australia process. That included the WestConnex project, where the $1.5 billion in grant funding has already all been paid—every single dollar of it—even though the project will not be concluded until into the 2020s.

In government, we instituted a process whereby you would have milestone payments. That is the concept that you have to actually build something and achieve the milestones that have been set in order for state governments to then be rewarded with payments from the federal government. But what we saw with this project was $750 million forwarded as an advance payment. We also then saw $2 billion made available as a loan to the New South Wales government, even though the New South Wales government has got substantial revenue from the sale of essential public assets in New South Wales. This is what the Auditor-General had to say about the project. I will quote from the report released last year as a result of representations that I had made asking for an audit into the financing processes of this project. He wrote:

The WestConnex project had not proceeded fully through the established processes to assess the merits of nationally significant infrastructure investments prior to Australian Government funding being committed. This situation was identified in departmental advice to decision makers prior to decisions being taken.

So there we have the Audit Office saying that ministers ignored the advice. With regard to the milestone payments, the Audit Office found that they changed what the milestones were in order to justify the payments being made.

We also saw the ongoing complete failure of community consultation. The residents of Haberfield, St Peters, Ashfield, Leichhardt and Rozelle all tell the same story. Take just one example—that of Vince Crow, a long-time resident of Haberfield. In June 2014 Mr Crow received two letters from a representative of the WestConnex Delivery Authority. Both were delivered on the same day. The first letter said, ‘We’re going to need to buy your property,’ and the second letter, signed by the same gentleman, said, ‘We don’t need to buy your property.’ There was absolute uncertainty for this resident. The pattern of inaccuracy, unprofessionalism and miscommunication has been repeated across my community ever since. About 180 properties have already been acquired out of a total of more than 400. Indeed, there is the extraordinary circumstance whereby the New South Wales government kept secret from the community for more than two years the report they received in 2014 about compensation that people who were having their homes acquired were due.

Across my community, residents have had to fight to protect public parks and sporting fields. Ashfield Park, Easton Park in Rozelle and Blackmore Oval in Leichhardt were all defended by the local community. I made representation about all of those public parks because open space is at a premium. Worst was to come with the idea that you would create a dive site next to the Leichhardt campus of the Sydney Secondary College. This was right next to the one oval that that overcrowded campus has. It was proposed to have a convoy of trucks rolling in and out of the worksite past school classroom windows. Fortunately, the New South Wales minister, Stuart Ayres, who I approached about this, intervened and it has been ruled out as a proposal. At the same time students in schools like St Peters Public School have had to put up with the demolition of homes right near the school. This had a real impact on them. Haberfield Public School students and teachers are very worried about the impact of the project on Haberfield.

You would think, given the extent of disruption, that senior people in the New South Wales bureaucracy would be concerned about this. The Greater Sydney Commission has responsibility for planning in greater Sydney. In August 2016 the chair of the commission, Lucy Turnbull, was interviewed on ABC radio and was asked to comment on the fact that houses were being demolished in Haberfield to make way for WestConnex. The chair of the commission said, ‘I’m not aware that there are houses going to be demolished at Haberfield.’ At that very time dozens of houses, which were heritage listed in a heritage listed suburb, had already been demolished. There is complete contempt for these local residents.

Delivering major infrastructure projects is never easy. I support good infrastructure, public transport as well as good road infrastructure, but you have to get the planning right. You also have to acknowledge that, in our growing global cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, the key to dealing with urban congestion is public transport, not more and more road infrastructure. You must get the planning right, you must consult properly with the community and you must bring the community with you. In the words of the 18th century American statesman Benjamin Franklin, ‘If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.’ The WestConnex project has now been set up under a separate authority so freedom of information laws and the normal accountability of a government agency do not apply in New South Wales. This is an example of avoiding bringing the community with an infrastructure project rather than having proper consultation.

May 24, 2017

Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2017-2018 – Second Reading

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (17:11): It was the former US President Harry Truman who once noted that, ‘It is men and women who make history, not the other way around.’ Truman said:

Progress occurs when courageous, skilful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.

The great, former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating had a similar view. Keating said:

The great changes in civilisation and society have been wrought by deeply held beliefs and passion rather than by a process of rational deduction.

In the history of Australia, it has always been the Australian Labor Party, driven by our beliefs and our passion, which has changed this country for the better. We built universal health care; the coalition opposed it. We delivered access to university for all, based on merit, not the individual’s bank balance; the coalition opposed it. We created compulsory superannuation, providing for the first time the prospect of a dignified retirement for all Australians, and those opposite opposed it. Indeed, while Labor’s concern was dignity for all in retirement, the coalition’s view is best summed up by the member for Warringah, who once described compulsory superannuation as:

… one of the biggest con jobs ever foisted by a government on the Australian people.

Labor built the Snowy Mountains scheme; those opposite opposed it. Labor established Infrastructure Australia; those opposite opposed it. Labor created the National Broadband Network; those opposite opposed it. Indeed, the Liberal leader at the time ordered his shadow minister to demolish it. Of course, that was the member for Warringah and the member for Wentworth. The current Prime Minister is now pretending to support the NBN, but he made an absolute hash of the project. He is delivering a copper based, second-rate broadband rather than the fibre based, high-speed broadband our nation needs to remain globally competitive in the 21st century.

The origin of these nation-building Labor reforms, along with countless others, has been the philosophical touchstone of the Australian people. The idea that we all deserve a fair go is Labor’s guiding light. It is the notion that, whatever our gender, age, colour, background or sexuality, we all deserve a fair go.

By contrast, the Liberal and National parties have, for the entirety of their existence, devoted themselves to resisting change and entrenching privilege. Their philosophical touchtone is not the fair go; it is the law of the jungle. Fundamentally, they have been on the wrong side of history on so many issues. For them it is the law of the jungle. They do not want progress. It jars with their sense of entitlement. They do not want fairness, because it means less for their friends at the top end of town. They see economic growth as an end in itself. We see economic growth as a means to lift living standards, create opportunity and spread fairness.

Budget 2017 is confirmation that the Labor Party is leading from opposition. This is the budget of ideological retreat where the coalition is desperately seeking to narrow the rhetorical difference between itself and Labor. They have changed the rhetoric but they have not changed their lack of conviction. They say that they embrace needs based education funding, but they are cutting investment by $22.3 billion over the next decade according to their own documents. They say they support Medicare, but the budget locked in billions of dollars in cuts and maintained the freeze on the Medicare rebate in the short term. They say they understand the importance of infrastructure investment, yet the budget cuts it by $1.6 billion in this financial year alone, with annual investment to fall off a cliff over the next four years to $4.2 billion. Of course, they say they support the NBN. Yet we know that in the last week they have purchased some 15 million metres of copper wire—not fibre, copper; technology of the last century or perhaps even the century before.

The fact is they talk the talk but they never walk the walk. It is just like Malcolm Turnbull’s attitude towards public transport. He loves taking selfies on trains, trams and buses. He just will not fund trains, trams and buses.

In that context, people should be cynical about the coalition’s claimed conversion to a position of support for universal health care in this country. We know that Gough Whitlam created Medibank after the coalition opposed it not once but twice, requiring a double dissolution election in 1974 and a joint sitting to create Medibank. As soon as Malcolm Fraser was appointed as the Prime Minister after the 1975 election he of course tore down Medibank. It took Bob Hawke in 1983 to reintroduce universal health care by creating Medicare. This is what the new Liberal leader, John Howard, who is the icon of those opposite, said about it in 1988: ‘Australia’s health care system is in a shambles. The real villain is Labor’s doctrinaire commitment to a universal government health insurance system, Medicare.’ We know that, given any opportunity, they will undermine universal health care, because it contrasts with their concept of entrenching privilege rather than creating opportunity.

The same principle applies to infrastructure investment in this budget. In the weeks leading up to 9 May, the government sought to convince people it would invest in infrastructure. They went out there and created a distinction between good debt and bad debt. We heard hints of major new spending initiatives. But on budget day the cupboard was bare. They cut funding. Infrastructure Partnerships Australia is a peak representative body for the infrastructure sector in this country. The organisation is apolitical, but it is a passionate advocate for increased infrastructure development. After four years of coalition inaction on nation building, the IPA has lost patience with this mob, exposing the fact that the budget cuts federal infrastructure funding by $7.4 billion over the forward estimates. In its post-budget commentary it said: ‘Foremost, the budget confirms the cut to real budgeted capital funding to its lowest level in more than a decade, using a mix of underspend, reprofiling and narrative to cover this substantial drop in real capital expenditure.’

That industry assessment comes as the Prime Minister wanders around the country claiming that he is interested in infrastructure. If you look at the budget figures, you see that just a year ago they promised $9.2 billion in the current financial year. This year’s budget papers revealed that the actual spend is $7.6 billion, representing a cut to investment in major road projects like the Bruce Highway and the Pacific Highway, a cut to the Black Spot Program, a cut to the heavy vehicle safety program and a cut to their own Bridges Renewal Program. More than two years ago, the government announced their Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, but they are yet to allocate a single dollar to a single project. In this budget, they have created a new NAIF, the ‘no actual infrastructure fund’. In fact, the only new on-budget infrastructure project over the next four years anywhere in the country is $13.8 million for the Far North Collector Road near the New South Wales town of Nowra in the marginal seat of Gilmore. This is a project that hardly anyone had ever heard of until budget night. This is what the local paper, the South Coast Register, said in its editorial of 17 May:

Interestingly the announcement in the budget was the first many of us had ever heard of the Northern Collector Road.

… former Mayor Joanna Gash never mentioned a Northern Collector Road.

Meanwhile, they do nothing about the Nowra Bridge, which is the issue that they need to address in that particular part of Australia.

Right across Australia we saw cuts. For example, in Victoria, home to one in four Australians, they continue to receive less than 10 per cent of the national infrastructure budget. In Budget Paper No. 2. it says, under ‘Infrastructure Investment Program—Victorian infrastructure investments’, there is zero this year, zero next year, zero the year after, zero the year after, and zero the year after that. Why they included that table in Budget Paper No. 2, quite frankly, is beyond me. They should have just pretended that Victoria did not exist, because that, essentially, is what they have done. Indeed, funding for ongoing projects in Victoria goes from a paltry $800 million this current year, representing under 10 per cent of the budget, to $280 million in 2020-21. That is from a position where we have already seen infrastructure investment per Victorian halved, from $201 per year under the former federal Labor government to $92 under the current government.

There is also no investment to tackle one of the most serious impediments to economic growth in our nation, traffic congestion in our cities. In spite of the government’s rhetoric, there is no new funding for public transport. Instead, we have a grand announcement of a $10 billion National Rail Program. The problem is that there is no money this year, there is no money next year, there is no money the year after, and then, the year after that, $200 million trickles down. So there is not a single dollar for a new project between now and four years time. The fact is that this budget failed by producing no funding for the Melbourne Metro, no funding for Western Sydney Rail, no funding for AdeLINK in Adelaide and no funding for Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project. Indeed, the budget included nothing for cities. In spite of the rhetoric of this government, City Deals got not a single dollar. All that we have is a matching of Labor commitments for Townsville stadium, UTAS in Launceston, and an obscure Western Sydney deal with a paltry amount of funding attached.

When it comes to freight rail, they have attached more than $8 billion of so-called equity to the Inland Rail line, but the government said themselves, in a report by John Anderson, that it will not return the capital investment for more than 50 years. How can this investment be off budget? We know that the line will stop 38 kilometres short of the port of Brisbane. Now we have the Inland Rail stopping short of the port of Brisbane and not going to the port of Melbourne either, just like the Perth Freight Link project did not go to the port of Fremantle and WestConnex goes nowhere near Port Botany, Sydney, which was the basis of the project.

Respected journalist Michael Pascoe said about the budget:

Morrison has got away with rehashing Hockey’s infrastructure PR trick—think of a big number and keep adding years until you reach it.

Wake up, people! Spread over 10 years, the Commonwealth is only offering $7.5 billion a year, much of it already in Hockey’s numbers and a fair swag of that dating from Labor government commitments.

You can get away with spin only for so long. The government continue to count the 2013 budget as if they were in government at the time of that budget. The fact is that is not the case.

Then we have the Infrastructure Financing Unit. This is a solution looking for a problem. There is not a lack of available capital in this country; there is a lack of government support and a lack of proper planning for infrastructure in this country. Former US President John F Kennedy once noted that things do not just happen but are made to happen. Labor made infrastructure happen in this country. We invested in freight, we invested in roads and we invested in public transport. The fact is that this government has failed when it comes to infrastructure. What this country needs is what Paul Keating once described as the two key elements of leadership—imagination and courage—and it will get that only from a Labor government.

May 22, 2017

Private Members’ Business – Infrastructure

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12:11): I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises that:

(a) Australia’s cities require investment and leadership from the Government to deal with a number of pressing challenges, especially urban congestion;

(b) Infrastructure Australia has estimated that urban congestion will cost $53 billion in lost productivity by 2031 if left unaddressed; and

(c) public transport is essential for the realisation of the vision of 30 minute cities;

(2) notes that a number of factors contribute to the worsening of urban congestion, including:

(a) Australia’s transition to a knowledge intensive economy, which means employment opportunities continue to cluster in the CBDs of our cities;

(b) high house prices that have seen key workers, single person households and families on very low and middle incomes struggle to find homes close to work, resulting in drive-in drive-out suburbs in nearly all capital cities; and

(c) the rapid growth of Australia’s cities, which will see the four largest capitals—Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth—increase their population by 46 per cent and Adelaide, Canberra, Hobart and Darwin increase their population by nearly 30 per cent by 2031; and

(3) calls on the Government to:

(a) use evidence-based policy to support investment in the infrastructure that is required to reduce urban congestion in Australia’s cities; and

(b) use the upcoming budget to provide investment for public transport projects listed by Infrastructure Australia as priorities, some of which have suffered funding cuts under the Coalition Government, including the Metro Trains Melbourne, the Cross River Rail, Western Sydney Rail, the Gawler rail line upgrade, and the AdeLINK tram network.

Our nation’s cities are at a crossroad. Poised for rapid population growth in coming decades, our four largest capitals—Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth—will increase their population by 46 per cent. Adelaide, Canberra, Hobart and Darwin will increase their population by nearly 30 per cent by 2031.

We know that Australia’s transition to a knowledge intensive economy has seen jobs be based in the CBDs of our cities. That has meant that it is harder for key workers, single-person households and families on low and middle incomes to find homes close to work, resulting in drive-in, drive-out suburbs in nearly all capital cities. Infrastructure Australia has told us that urban congestion will cost $53 billion in lost productivity by 2031, if left unaddressed.

We need leadership from the government to deal with these pressing challenges, to improve public transport and to make sure that jobs are created close to where people live. But this is a government that is not matching its rhetoric with reality. It says it understands the importance of infrastructure investment, yet the budget cuts it by $1.6 billion in this financial year alone, with investment to fall off a cliff over the next four years, from a projected $9.2 billion this year, in the government’s own projections, down to $4.2 billion in 2020-21.

It is the same with public transport. Malcolm Turnbull loves taking selfies on trains, trams and buses; he just will not fund them with any new investment. The fact is that this year’s budget does not have a single dollar of new investment for urban public transport. There is no investment in the Cross River Rail project in Brisbane, Adelaide’s AdeLINK, Western Sydney Rail or the Melbourne Metro. Indeed, despite making up 25 per cent of the nation’s population, Victoria will receive no new money from the Commonwealth over the forwards for its infrastructure investment program. The budget papers themselves show zero, zero, zero, zero, zero for the years 2016-17 to 2020-21 for infrastructure investment for Victoria. This government has contempt for Victorians, exemplified by its approach to Victorian infrastructure.

In addition, there has been a big deal made about the so-called City Deals program, but there isn’t a single dollar in the 2017 budget to make this a reality. The city deals so far are deals in Townsville and Launceston, which are simply an attempt to dress up belated matching of ALP commitments to the Townsville stadium and the University of Tasmania. In Western Sydney, the government is trying to retrofit an election announcement with substance that does not exist and no clear funding to actually get there. The City of Blacktown has actually been excluded from the City Deals process even though they will grow by 200,000 additional people from 2011 to 2036.

City Deals, when done right, provide an opportunity, in particular, for local government to work together with other levels and encourage the economic growth of a region. This government is not doing that. They have established this absurd infrastructure financing unit in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. This is a solution looking for a problem. There is no lack of financing from the private sector or from superannuation funds for good infrastructure projects. There certainly is no lack of innovative financing, which is how projects like the Gold Coast light rail project was funded with support from Infrastructure Australia. This sidelines Infrastructure Australia from the process and completely creates this bureaucracy whereby the private sector are wondering what it will do. Infrastructure Partnerships Australia said:

…the Budget confirms the cut to ‘real’ budgeted capital funding to its lowest level in more than a decade—using a mix of underspend, re-profiling and narrative to cover this substantial drop in real capital expenditure.

The fact is that this government has abandoned cities at a time when they require leadership and investment from the Commonwealth to ensure their ongoing productivity, sustainability and liveability. This budget means it is a lost opportunity, because the coalition government simply are not up to the task of providing leadership for this century.

May 22, 2017

Statements by Member – Public Transport

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (16:14): The New South Wales government’s planned privatisation of inner-west bus services will result in worse, not better, transport for commuters across the region.

As the member for Grayndler and the shadow minister for transport, I will fight alongside the public to prevent this privatisation—which Luke Foley’s Labor Party is of course opposed to—from proceeding. The sell-off of services will lead to jobs being lost, routes being cut, fares increasing and service levels dropping. Hundreds of thousands of people in the inner west, including workers, students and pensioners, depend heavily on public bus services. Any cuts to these services will have a real impact on their lives. The government claims that after their sell-off the routes and prices will not change, but we know that private bus services only operate anywhere in Sydney with massive public subsidies.

Transport Minister Constance seems to think that he can justify this privatisation by crudely denigrating the bus drivers, but the commuters of the inner west know that these drivers do an excellent job in difficult conditions. I pay tribute to the drivers on the 412 and 423, my local bus drivers. Mr Constance has launched this attack on the inner west for purely partisan purposes. The Premier needs to intervene and step in before the minister does any more damage.

May 10, 2017

Matters of Public Importance – Budget

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (15:56): In the words of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, the peak industry body, this budget confirms the cut to real budgeted capital funding to its lowest level in more than a decade, using a mix of underspend, reprofiling and narrative to cover this substantial drop in real capital expenditure. They are onto them, less than 24 hours later. This is what Michael Pascoe had to say:

Morrison has got away with rehashing Hockey’s infrastructure PR trick—think of a big number and keep adding years until you reach it.

Wake up, people! Spread over 10 years, the Commonwealth is only offering $7.5 billion a year, much of it already in Hockey’s numbers and a fair swag of that dating from Labor government commitments. It’s less than what the state of New South Wales invests annually.

When you actually look at the budget figures you get a different story: you get that this year alone there is a $1.6 billion cut in infrastructure funding, from the $9.2 billion they set in last year’s budget. Last night, that figure for this year is now $7.6 billion. It drops to $6.2 billion, it drops to $5.1 billion and then it drops off the cliff to $4.2 billion. This is a government that is failing completely on infrastructure. They set up this Infrastructure Financing Unit in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to find a solution to a problem that does not exist. There is plenty of capital available in this country—in superannuation funds, in the private sector—for projects that stack up. However, this government has actually cut the infrastructure funding from the Infrastructure Investment program in order to fund this new bureaucracy in the Prime Minister’s office.

When you look at the budget—I follow the member for Gilmore—and you look at infrastructure investment programs and new investments, normally there are pages and pages of them. Last night there was one! One project: the far North Collector Road in the marginal seat of Gilmore—$13.8 million. I have to say, we thought it might have been in Collector, but it is not. It is this little local road near Nowra that they are funding in order to show that that is their only priority. The only road or rail line in the country that is actually receiving a cash payment from this government as a result of last night’s budget is that one. The rest of it is smoke and mirrors. Where projects for Victoria previously had $1.45 billion in the budget, the government has given them $1 billion and expects them to be grateful. That is a cut of half a billion dollars. It is there in the budget papers at item 134, ‘Victorian infrastructure investments’. I will read out the five-year plan: zero, zero, zero, zero, zero. That is what Victoria gets out of last night’s budget.

The Bruce Highway was mentioned by the previous speaker. It is all existing funding, with not one extra dollar. The Treasurer had the hide to name all these rail projects last night but not deliver a single dollar for any of them. There was not a dollar for AdeLINK, not a dollar for Cross River Rail, not a dollar for Brisbane Metro, not a dollar for Melbourne Metro and not a dollar for Western Sydney Rail. It was a con. They came in here, mentioning projects and saying, ‘There’s this $10 billion fund.’ But you look at the budget. There is nothing this year for this fund, there is nothing next year and nothing the year after, and the year after that there is $200 million, of which not a single dollar flows before the next election—not one dollar. This is a con. Projects like Cross River Rail and Melbourne Metro were already approved by Infrastructure Australia. We had money in the budget for those projects, and then we see ‘Investing in our cities’ in the glossy. Only Townsville, Launceston and Western Sydney are mentioned—no other cities. Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth—

Ms Chesters interjecting

Mr ALBANESE: Bendigo? Nothing whatsoever. It is just a complete con. This is a government that does not have a plan for infrastructure; it just has one big con.

May 10, 2017

Questions without notice – Budget

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (15:02): My question is to the Prime Minister. Does last night’s budget confirm that in this financial year federal infrastructure funding has been cut by $1.6 billion to $7.6 billion and will continue to fall to $4.2 billion by 2021? Is this why the peak industry body, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, have said the budget cuts real budgeted capital funding to its lowest level in more than a decade, using a mix of underspend, reprofiling and narrative to cover this substantial drop in real capital expenditure? (Time expired)

Mar 28, 2017

Hansard – Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Amendment (Polar Code) Bill 2017 – 2nd Reading Speech

1990 song of the same name. In this song, my former ministerial colleague Peter Garrett sings, ‘There must be one place left in the world where the water’s real and clean.’ Antarctica is indeed the last great wilderness, and we need to keep that way. While mankind has a footprint in the ice continent and while climate change looms as a serious threat, decades of international cooperation have protected the ice continent from much of the environmental degradation that we see in other parts of the world. While that is partly to do with isolation and extreme weather conditions, it is nonetheless a wonderful thing.

The legislation before us today is the latest step in that process of international cooperation to protect not just Antarctica but also the northern Arctic region. It amends the existing Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983 to incorporate Australia’s obligations under the new international code for ships operating in polar waters, which is also known as the Polar Code. The Polar Code was developed by the International Maritime Organization, which is the United Nations agency responsible for improving maritime safety and preventing pollution. It came into operation on 1 January this year. The code is not perfect—indeed, moves are already afoot to strengthen it further—but the opposition will support this bill because it is an important step forward. Protection of the environment is a responsibility that we all share. The Polar Code sets out minimum mandatory requirements for the design, construction, operation and manning of vessels that operate in Arctic and Antarctic waters. Its creation amended the safety related provisions in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea and the environmental protections in the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships.

Under the changes in this bill, all large vessels operating in polar waters will need to hold a Polar Ship Certificate. To be certified, a vessel will need to undergo a survey to check it meets the requirements of the code. Certification will be conducted by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and will cover a vessel’s structure, fittings, machinery, electronics, communications and navigation equipment as well as its fire safety and lifesaving capacity. The code also toughens rules on the discharge in polar waters of oil, noxious liquid substances, sewage and garbage. In particular, it provides for fines of up to $360,000 for the discharge of sewage within three nautical miles of an ice shelf or fast ice. In addition to the bill before us, the government also proposes to amend the marine orders of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to ensure the code is properly implemented.

In practical terms, these changes will affect very few Australian vessels. The Aurora Australis, which is the government’s Antarctic research and resupply ship, will definitely need to comply, as will the vessel that replaces it in 2020. However, it is expected that growing international trade will increase the number of vessels passing through polar areas. For example, it is expected that by 2020 about 15 per cent of China’s trade, worth about $500 billion, will pass through the Arctic. As trade increases around the globe, it is critical that the international community stays ahead of the regulatory game. Just one major accident could have dire consequences for the pristine environment.

As a former transport minister, I have seen firsthand the kind of damage that can be caused by maritime accidents, particularly those involving the release of oil. In 2010, I inspected the site of an accident on the Great Barrier Reef involving the Shen Neng 1, which hit the reef off Rockhampton and cut a swathe through the coral, causing damage and leaving authorities with a significant bill to clean up the resulting oil spill. But that was, of course, in Australian waters. One of the great risks of accidents in polar areas is isolation. Because of that isolation, clean-up operations are much more difficult as well as much more costly. In the event of an accident in these areas, it can take a long time to get clean-up crews in place. That is why we need tougher standards for polar areas. We need to do everything possible to reduce the likelihood of accidents.

While there is broad support for the new code internationally, there is also an acceptance that more needs to be done to protect our polar regions. Indeed, a select committee of the British parliament has called for another wave of reform to toughen even the measures we are putting in place today. The committee’s 2015 report points out that black carbon, heavy fuel oils and discharged ballast water all pose threats to the Arctic environment and that these issues need to be addressed as the code evolves. Likewise, John Kaltenstein, marine policy analyst with Friends of the Earth, warns:

The Polar Code doesn’t do nearly enough to tackle substantial risks posed by shipping: use of noxious heavy fuel oil in the Arctic, vessels operating with inadequate ice-strengthening and structural stability, and disturbances of wildlife, to name a few.

Some of the issues that the next wave of reform should examine include further toughening of the minimum structural requirement for ships and the fact that the code applies only to ships with a gross tonnage of more than 500 tonnes, meaning it excludes fishing boats. As well, while the code covers management of ballast water and antifouling paint, complying with these provisions is voluntary. It also allows for food to be thrown overboard as little as 12 nautical miles from the ice, which, for example, is not allowed to happen—not surprisingly—in the Mediterranean Sea.

These are the types of issues that are already on our forward agenda, and I say to the current government that, whilst it is in government—for the next short while—we on this side of the House are prepared to cooperate on any of these matters. The New Zealand government has produced a proposal for phase 2 of the code. This is a great place to start the next wave of reform, and I congratulate the New Zealand government, now led by Bill English, on its initiative and on showing leadership in this area—as New Zealand has on many maritime issues.

Australia has an excellent record when it comes to protecting the Antarctic. It is something that we should be proud of. We were one of the founding signatories to the Antarctic Treaty in 1959, which placed restrictions on activities in the southern continent other than scientific research. More recently, the Hawke Labor government played a leading role in the development of the 1991 Madrid protocol, which imposed a 50-year ban on mining, prospecting and exploration in Antarctica. That initiative showed extraordinary vision by the Hawke Labor government at a time when this was not front and centre of the national political debate. It is a great example of the responsibility that we, as policymakers, have to look to not just immediate concerns but our responsibility to look after the aspirations of future generations and to ensure that the planet that future generations inherit is in better condition than the one that we inherited. It is possible for that to happen, but it will not happen just by accident. It requires vision and it requires political determination and, when it came to Antarctica, the Hawke Labor government certainly showed that. So we come to this issue with strong credentials and a demonstrated willingness to take a reformist role. That is as it should be. This parliament has a responsibility to future generations to continue to play a central role in the protection of Antarctica, and I commend this bill to the House.

Mar 28, 2017

Hansard – Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2016-2017, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2016-2017 – 2nd Reading Speech

The 2016-17 budget was an opportunity for the Prime Minister and his Treasurer to put their personal stamp on the administration of this nation. After the chaos, conflict and disappointment of the Abbott Prime Ministership, banished by his own party members, here was a chance to turn the page. In my own area of infrastructure it was a chance for the coalition to bridge the huge gap between its soaring rhetoric on infrastructure and the everyday reality of cuts, delays and nondelivery.

In particular, I think people had a great deal of hope that the prime ministership of Malcolm Turnbull would lead to a reversal of the Abbott government’s attitude towards urban policy and public transport. It was hoped that the member for Wentworth, who enjoyed taking selfies on trains and trams, might actually fund them. But of course that has not happened. The budget’s opening bid was a $1 billion cut to infrastructure investment allocated in previous budgets—no new money for public transport or roads and nothing for cities policies. Indeed, there was a cut of $18 million of funding that was intended to build infrastructure in order to fund a television propaganda campaign that falsely claimed ahead of last year’s election campaign that the government was increasing infrastructure investment.

Actually, what we know is that under the first two years of the coalition government, infrastructure investment fell by 20 per cent. The Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that quarterly public-sector investment in infrastructure under this government has been lower in all of their 12 quarters since they gained office than any single quarter under the previous Labor government’s first budget after 2008. Each one of their 12 quarters has been lower than the 21 quarters in which Labor was in office. Let us look at the context of that. Firstly, you had the resources sector moving from the investment phase to the production phase, which means that you had a drop-off in private sector infrastructure investment. Secondly, you have the economic circumstances of record low interest rates and a Reserve Bank that, because of those low interest rates, has identified a risk in that those low interest rates have led to increased speculation in the housing market. The Reserve Bank of Australia, no less—both the current governor, Philip Lowe, and his predecessor, Glenn Stevens—as well as, of course, former Treasury Secretary Ken Henry and others, have all called for increases in infrastructure investment, and yet the government has stubbornly ignored this advice. We were promised cranes in the sky and bulldozers on the ground by the Abbott government, which we have not seen. We have not seen bulldozers, just clouds of bulldust in terms of the rhetoric of the Abbott government and now the Turnbull government. The only hole that this government has dug has been the one in which they buried the prime ministership of the member for Warringah.

Indeed, we hear, endlessly, this government proclaim that it has a $50 billion infrastructure program. But, of course, that is not true. The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development noted at Senate estimates that the program is worth $34 billion over the first five years and then $8 billion at some unspecified time in the future. It is not just that; it is that they are not actually even spending the money that has been allocated—last year, $1 billion less than the funding that was actually in the previous government—and they have underspent, which means a slowdown in the rollout of projects like the Pacific Highway and the Bruce Highway. What we have seen from this government is cuts to projects, delays to projects and deferrals of projects. Cuts to all public transport projects that were ready to go, like the Melbourne Metro and the Cross River Rail project. Delays to the commencement of projects, like Adelaide’s upgrade of the South Road and the M80 project in Melbourne. Quite often what we have seen is an extraordinary propensity to rename projects and then pretend that they are new, whether it be the F3 to M2 in Sydney, renamed as NorthConnex, or the Swan Valley Bypass, renamed as NorthLink, a new name does not make it a new project. We have seen a government running around the country not investing in the infrastructure that is needed.

This is the sort of appropriation where you should have seen investment in projects that are ready to go that would boost productivity. One example is the Port Botany rail link. Port Botany has had an upgrade through the Southern Sydney Freight Line, but it stops at Mascot. The bit between Mascot and Port Botany has to be completed. At the moment, you can have only one train in and one train out. If a train is going out from Port Botany, then the train bringing in freight to the port has to wait until that train has gone through the system—an absurdity in 2017. When we were in office, the more than $1 billion we invested in the Southern Sydney Freight Line was aimed at upgrading the capacity of the port and upgrading the rail network. The Moorebank Intermodal Terminal, which will begin actual construction in the next fortnight, is a vital project to get trucks off Sydney’s roads and to increase the productive capacity of Sydney, New South Wales and the nation. And yet this government has failed to complete that project—an absolute no-brainer. The Cross River Rail project in Brisbane was approved by Infrastructure Australia in 2012, funded by federal Labor in 2013 and cancelled by the incoming coalition government, and four years later the government still says, ‘We need more information,’ even though it went through a very rigorous process of Infrastructure Australia’s assessment.

You would think that, if there is a project the National Party could support, it is inland rail. If only we had a sleeper laid every time they mentioned inland rail, the project would be up and running now. Warren Truss, the former transport minister, said on 28 August 2013 that construction would start ‘within three years’. It is now into the fourth year and still we have not seen any construction. Indeed, the new minister, Darren Chester, Mr Truss’s replacement, said to the Australian Logistics Council on 8 March 2017:

… my challenge in this term of government is to build momentum on this project and make its development inevitable.

So they have gone from, ‘Construction is going to commence in 2016,’ to saying in 2017 that they just want it to be inevitable down the track. This is a government that simply cannot do it properly.

It is not just rail. Look at their dud toll roads. We had the East West Link delivering 45c return for every dollar invested. An advance payment of $1½ billion was made and was criticised by the Australian National Audit Office. The government committed exactly the same mistake and received exactly the same criticism from the Australian National Audit Office over the WestConnex project, where, again, advance payments were made. Milestones were changed to suit payments after the milestone had already been reached. The project was supposed to reach a milestone in order to receive a payment. When it did not reach that, the New South Wales government said, ‘We’ll just change what the milestone is to something that has already been achieved and, therefore, justify the payment being made.’ The proposal for the Sydney Secondary College at Leichhardt, in my electorate, to be turned into a construction dive site still remains. The school’s one oval, which serves 1,000 students at Leichhardt and is right next to the tram sheds, is to be turned into a major construction site. This is an absurd proposal which would damage the educational capacity of that school. The government would never think about doing it at one of the wealthier private schools in my electorate, but Leichhardt high school is fair game. There has been no consultation with parents or the school community. Indeed, a letter delivered to the suburbs of Leichhardt and Lilyfield was how residents first found out about it—and, indeed, how I, as the federal member, was first informed about that. I have had productive meetings with the minister, Stuart Ayres, about making sure that that proposal goes off the table. But at this stage it is still there, which is similar to the lack of proper consultation and the concern that parents have had at St Peters Public School, at Haberfield Public School, and at a range of schools, institutions and community groups around the inner west.

But, in terms of funding, the most extraordinary thing is that the letter to the suburbs of Leichhardt and Lilyfield indicated that the government would consult about the final route of the project. That might not seem unusual, except for the fact that they have started building the tunnel. They have literally started building a tunnel without knowing where it is coming up and without knowing what the route of the tunnel will be. You could not make this up. This is a $16.7 billion project that has blown out—the original costing was $10 billion—by $6.7 billion, and they do not know where it is going.

Then we have in Perth the Perth Freight Link, a project rejected by the people of Western Australia just a couple of weeks ago. It was a project that was supposed to take freight to the port, except that it did not go to the port; it stopped three kilometres short of the port. The route goes through the Beeliar Wetlands. It is a project that simply does not stack up and one where the government’s response has been to threaten the $1.2 billion of funding for the people of Western Australia to have proper infrastructure in terms of roads and, of course, the vital Metronet project to expand public transport.

When it comes to cities, in spite of the fact that there was a change of prime ministership and allegedly a change of policy, we have no replacement for the Major Cities Unit, no return to the producing of State of Australian cities reports, a City Deals process that is just matching commitments to previous commitments made by Labor to build the new stadium in Townsville and in Tasmania around the University of Tasmania, and, in Western Sydney, a vague commitment of a small amount of money without any proper engagement with the local community.

Could I say in conclusion that this record stands in stark contrast to when we were in office, when we doubled the roads budget, we increased the rail budget by more than 10 times, we built or rebuilt 7,500 kilometres of roads and 4,000 kilometres of railways, we delivered the nation’s first aviation white paper, we created Infrastructure Australia.

Feb 28, 2017

Hansard – Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus Savings and Child Care Reform) Bill 2017 – Second Reading

I rise to oppose the omnibus saving bill and to support the amendment moved by the member for Jagajaga. When the history of the Abbott and Turnbull governments is written, their record will be one of unceasing attacks on those Australians who have the lowest incomes. Whenever this government feels that it is losing control of the agenda, it makes a show of targeting people on welfare. It operates on the motto, ‘When in trouble, attacked the poor’. Consider the Centrelink debacle, the refusal to stand up for penalty rates, the pension changes that took place in January and the mothership of cruelty under this government—the 2014 budget. The bill before us is the latest example. It is an attempt to sneak through many of the unfair changes from the 2014 budget, changes that were not only rejected by Australians overwhelmingly but changes that cost Tony Abbott the prime ministership.

The impact of the cuts and punitive measures in this bill would be felt right across the country, including in my electorate of Grayndler. Young people, new parents, low- and middle-income families, pensioners and elderly migrants—these are the people who will pay the price for the government’s economic policies. Those opposite know that there is a human cost to these cuts, but it is a cost they wilfully ignore. They would rather give big businesses a $50 billion tax cut than help single mothers keep food on the table. They would rather withhold financial support for unemployed young people than crack down on big corporate tax evaders. And if anyone has the courage to complain, as has happened to people in my electorate of Grayndler, then government vilifies them and attacks them. No wonder this government is in such trouble. No wonder the member for Warringah is stalking the Prime Minister.

Labor will never turn our backs on vulnerable people. For us, it is a fundamental principle that it is the role of government to maintain a fair social safety net. You judge a society not by how it looks after its billionaires, but by how it looks after its battlers. We also believe as an article of faith that the government owes basic respect to all of our citizens, wherever they live, however they vote and whatever their bank balance.

This bill targets families. It contains cuts to family tax benefits—cuts that will leave a typical family on $60,000 around $750 a year worse off. One and a half million families will be worse off through the loss off their end-of-year supplements. That is $726 a year per child each year for Family Tax Benefits Part A and $354 per family each for Family Tax Benefit Part B. On top of that, single-parent families will lose their Family Tax Benefit Part B entirely when their youngest child turns 16. A single-parent family on $60,000 with a 17-year-old child in high school will be around $3,300 a year worse off. Just think about that: a family on $60,000 a year being $3,300 worse off. Overall the cuts in this measure would affect at least 4000 families in my electorate of Grayndler.

This bill targets parents. It has in it cuts to paid parental leave. Some 70,000 new mums with a median income of $62,000 would be $5,600 worse off on average. As an example, a retail worker who gets eight weeks’ paid leave from her employer will only have access to 12 weeks from the government instead of 18 weeks. This new mother would have 20 weeks of paid leave at home instead of 26 weeks, a loss of some $4,030 in support.

This bill targets pensioners, scrapping the energy supplement—a billion-dollar cut to pensioners, people with disability, carers and Newstart recipients. Scrapping the energy supplement to new pensioners will be a cut of $14.10 per fortnight to single pensioners, or some $365 a year. Pensioner couples will be $21.20 a fortnight worse off, or around $550 a year worse off. This bill also targets young people, with a five-week wait for Newstart, forcing young people under 25 to live off absolutely nothing for five weeks before they can access income support. How are these people supposed to afford food? How are they supposed to afford shelter? How are they supposed to survive during that period? The government does not have an answer to that. These are draconian measures put up by a government that simply does not understand that not everyone has a rich mum and dad to look after them. A lot of people in those circumstances are out there surviving by themselves and to cut them off from all income is just extraordinary.

There are cuts to young people between the ages of 22 and 24 by pushing them onto a lower youth allowance—a cut of around $48 a week, or almost 2½ thousand dollars a year. How are they supposed to travel to search for work or a job interview with no income? Those opposite have no answers. If the government were serious about the welfare of young unemployed people, it would invest in them—invest in their education and invest in their training to make them job-ready. It would embrace its responsibility to act in a positive manner to help people find their way into work so they can become productive members of the community. This would be good not just for the individuals but for the economy because the earlier you intervene to provide that support the sooner people will be earning income, contributing tax and boosting the national economy, but, instead, the government has a punitive approach, a narrow-minded approach, a short-sighted approach and an ineffective approach. Those opposite say that people can just survive by getting money off their parents. They just do not get it. This is the nation of the fair go and we must simply not allow the accidental circumstances of a young person’s birth to prevent them from achieving their potential.

The bill also targets migrant pensioners. It cuts the pensions of around 190,000 migrant pensioners by limiting the amount of time they can spend overseas and still get their full pension, from 26 weeks to six weeks. Across my electorate in places like Marrickville, where I live, there are a lot of Greeks who came here post the Second World War, have worked their whole life and go back to see relatives. In Leichhardt and Haberfield, you have the Italian community. In Petersham you have the Portuguese community. In Ashfield is the Chinese community. In all of those areas there are substantial numbers of pensioners from migrant backgrounds. They are proud Australian citizens, but they still honour the heritage of their birth. They help care for loved ones, visit relatives and maintain cultural ties.

The government’s lack of care for low-income earners is made worse by its disturbing response to criticism. Earlier this year, I did a press conference in my electorate. I stood up with two people who were impacted by the government’s Centrelink debacle, where they sent out robo-letters to people threatening them with action unless they paid money back. In many cases it was just wrong. There were people like Tony Barbar in my electorate who was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. He went on sick leave from his employment while he was receiving chemotherapy. He survived, and in January 2011 he went back to work. He is an honest young man in his twenties who contracted cancer and dealt with it, and as soon as he could he went back to work because that is the ethic in his family. In the lead-up to Christmas he received a debt letter from Centrelink informing him that he owed over 4½ thousand dollars. After these issues were raised publicly, the truth is that the government reduced his debt to just $400 from the 4½ thousand dollars.

Another constituent of mine is Curtis Dickson from Leichhardt. He received Austudy while he was at university from 2007 to 2012. In the lead-up to Christmas, Curtis received notice that Centrelink believed he had been incorrectly reporting his earnings during the period and he needed to repay $750. That is simply not true. Now his debt has been reduced to zero. He had no debt whatsoever, and yet the response of the government was for the staff of Minister Christian Porter to go up to the gallery here and brief out wrongly that Curtis had voluntarily contacted Centrelink and that he did not receive a debt letter or a notice. They just lied about it. They lied about his personal details. They broke common decency, if not the law—and perhaps the law—by releasing those details. They released a photo to The Australian newspaper, an old Facebook photo, of him next to a Labor candidate in a state election, thereby suggesting somehow that he was unworthy because, at one stage, he may have handed out material, apparently, for a Labor candidate in a state election. They attacked his character in the most vicious way. They bullied and victimised people because they had the courage to stand up over the injustice that this government was seeking to repair.

The fact is that the opposition does believe there is a need for budget repair. Under this government the debt, in terms of the budget deficit, has tripled. Net debt has climbed substantially. That is why the opposition has put forward alternative savings measures: changes to the capital gains tax discount and negative gearing, and a genuine crackdown on tax evasion. We are prepared to be constructive—we have shown that with previous legislation. What we are not prepared to do is to simply sit back and be silent while these changes that target vulnerable people go through. What we are not prepared to do is to walk away from the principle that a nation is only as good as the way in which it treats its most vulnerable citizens.

We must do better. We can do better than this mean-spirited legislation which shows that they did not get the lessons of 2014. That is why they are being rejected by the Australian people. The penalty rates changes are only the latest in the attack on people that we see represented by this legislation. The bill is flawed and should be rejected.


Contact Anthony

(02) 9564 3588 Electorate Office


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