Chairman and distinguished guests.
It is a tremendous honour to be here tonight.
Three years ago now, in 2014, I last visited Singapore to attend the World Cities Summit.
There I had the privilege to hear from leaders across the world, including Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who spoke about the challenges of rapid urbanisation.
Across the Asia-Pacific, including in Australia, our cities are growing at an exponential rate.
How well we manage this growth will, in part, depend on how we use the many examples of best practice that exist across our region.
I have always been fascinated by Singapore.
It provides a global model for urban policy, particularly when it comes to public transport.
In fact, Mercer’s 2017 Quality of Living Survey ranks Singapore first for best city infrastructure.
Singapore is also leading the world when it comes to urban greenery.
Well on its way to achieving its vision of a City in a Garden, Singapore ranked first in a recent study on urban tree density.
Just this afternoon in a briefing on your National Broadband Network, it reinforced to me why a Fibre To The Home model with universal access is best practice and sees Singapore ranked 1st in the world for high speed broadband.
Your delivery model is almost identical to that which the Government I served in Australia began after our election in 2007.
There is much Australia can learn from Singapore.
AUSTRALIA – SINGAPORE RELATIONSHIP
Australia and Singapore have long had an excellent relationship.
This was reinforced in October last year when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addressed our Parliament.
Singapore is our fifth largest trading partner and our largest trade and investment partner in south-east Asia.
The Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement plays a significant role in facilitating this.
Currently an update to this agreement is undergoing domestic treaty processes both here in Singapore and in Australia.
It provides a framework for bilateral investments.
The update also increases the recognition of a number of Australian qualifications, providing more opportunities for Australian workers in the areas of education, law, e-commerce, telecommunications and professional services.
Our cities are at a turning point.
The nature of our investment now will shape the cities of tomorrow.
Tackling the immense challenge of climate change through sustainable development is pivotal.
Just like in Singapore, Australian cities face the very serious issue of heatwaves.
In our cities, particularly the outer suburbs, which tend to be further away from coastlines, the Heat Island Effect means residents, especially the very young and elderly, are extremely vulnerable.
Urban canopy plays a critical role in reducing heat.
But a holistic strategy is also needed to ensure long-term change, which Singapore has considered through its water strategy, efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and its use of technology to ensure energy efficiency.
OUR GLOBAL CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY
Last year in Quito at the Habitat III conference a New Urban Agenda was adopted with a specific focus on sustainable development.
Government participation in multi-lateral forums such as these is important.
Singapore has long been active in this space.
In his national statement at Habitat III, Mr Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development said:
“We believe that the unique conditions and needs of each country should be recognised. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach for all cities and all states, there is room for us to work together to share best practices and support each other to implement the New Urban Agenda.”
I, too, hold this view and believe we should all take interest in how countries around the world adapt and change.
This is particularly the case in such a transformative time as the 21st century.
When it comes to technology, we only ever move forward.
Access to data has transformed our capacity to understand the functioning of cities.
But it’s how we use this data that determines just how ‘smart’ our cities really are.
I understand Singapore is developing its digital twin called Virtual Singapore.
A 3D model and data platform of the whole city-state, it will be used for everything from testing how new traffic technology might work to simulating disasters.
As our cities expand, we also need to be innovative about how we build infrastructure, and how we finance it.
This is critical in Australia as each city faces its own infrastructure challenges but must grapple with the fact resources are limited.
Singapore, Asia’s infrastructure hub, has taken a leading role in the region bringing together expertise, building talent and sharing best practice.
In closing, I would like to thank you again for your warm welcome here in Singapore.
Singapore has demonstrated itself to be an exemplar when it comes to urban policy.
When governments invest in urban development we create cities that are diverse and vibrant places, rich in human experience.
I look forward to learning more on issues of sustainable development, innovation and infrastructure in the coming days.
GETTING THE PLANNING RIGHT FOR THE WESTERN SYDNEY AIRPORT
It’s great to be here today to see the level of interest in the development of the Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek.
It’s has taken decades to achieve the political bipartisanship necessary to get this important project under way.
That’s a credit to people on both sides of politics.
Bipartisanship has cleared the way for governments, councils, businesses and communities to contemplate the massive economic opportunities that come with the construction of an airport.
That’s why today is so important.
When it comes to the Western Sydney Airport, we must get the planning right.
It is critical to the national economy.
As the 2012 joint study into Sydney’s aviation needs found, Sydney Airport is constrained by its land mass.
It is one half and one third of the size of the Melbourne and Brisbane airports respectively.
Sydney Airport is the nation’s busiest airport in terms of passenger movements yet it sits on the smallest land area for a major airport. Indeed, the Badgerys’ Creek site is almost twice the size of KSA.
Four out of 10 aircraft that travel in this country pass through Sydney Airport, so a delay at Kingsford Smith has huge knock-on effects across the nation.
When KSA sneezes, the rest of the nation catches the flu.
The Western Sydney Airport will offer great new options for travellers and airlines, while boosting tourism.
But if we get the planning right, the airport will provide unprecedented opportunities for airlines and aviation-related companies to expand in the vicinity of Badgerys Creek.
That means jobs – high value jobs for the people of Western Sydney, an area that has been crying out for new employment opportunities.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The task ahead is not just to build a runway and an aircraft terminal.
That’s only half the job.
We must extract maximum community benefit from this project by making it a catalyst for development of thousands of jobs across a range of industries.
We need to create an aviation precinct so successful that it transforms the entire region.
We must consider the Badgerys Creek site not as Sydney’s second airport, but as the airport for Western Sydney.
We want the Western Sydney Airport to be so successful that its success unleashes waves of prosperity across a range of sectors including research, tourism, education, advanced manufacturing, logistics and residential development.
We must develop an aerotropolis.
And at the same time, we must ensure the airport is developed to world’s best practice in terms of environmental impact and that the impact on residents in its vicinity is minimised.
None of this will be easy.
But if we get it right, the possibilities are substantial.
THE CASE FOR BADGERYS
The case for the construction of the Western Sydney Airport has been established beyond doubt.
We know that Kingsford Smith Airport is near full capacity.
According to the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, the Western Sydney Airport is expected to handle five million passengers in its first year of operation, rising to 10 million passengers a year within five years, 37 million a year by 2050 and 82 million a year by 2063.
It is also estimated that if we fail to build the airport, the NSW economy will lose $17.5 billion a year in gross state product by 2060.
In the process, we would forgo the creation of 57,000 jobs in NSW and nearly 78,000 nationally by 2060.
When I was younger, air travel was the province of the rich.
Working people travelled by air only to attend weddings or funerals, or to do their one off backpacking trip to Europe, the USA or Asia.
But in the 21st century, relatively low airfares and increasing disposable incomes have combined to drive huge demand for air travel.
In 1988 I saved up for the big trip to Europe.
The airfare was $1900 return to London with Qantas. Today, almost three decades later, it is possible to get a cheaper fare.
If only house prices had a similar story.
Patronage nationally is expected to double in the next two decades. Then double again by 2060.
Today, national sporting codes are thriving as a direct result of the reduction in the cost of air travel.
Western Sydney is home to 2.2 million people or almost 10% of Australia’s population. This will grow to over 3 million by the 2030’s.
Without a Western Sydney Airport, residents will continue to have to travel to Kingsford Smith Airport for their aviation needs, clogging roads that are already heavily congested, particularly around peak hours.
It can take longer for commuters to get to Mascot than they spend in the air travelling to Melbourne or Brisbane – and the taxi fare can be more than the airfare.
Anyone who has cause to use the existing airport would know it is already frequently subject to gridlock.
That’s bad for commuters and bad for the economy.
The case for the Airport is further strengthened by the research into its anticipated effects on the economy of Western Sydney.
It will create 11,000 construction jobs in the building stage. There will be 9000 direct jobs associated with the completed airport, plus thousands of indirect jobs to be created in the region.
In terms of enhancing aviation and giving Western Sydney a significant economic injection, this project is vital.
Often, public consultation about major projects goes no further than addressing contentious issues like noise and traffic.
While we must understand and engage with community concern on these issues, the employment opportunities at Badgerys Creek also demand genuine and intense community engagement.
The conversation must begin now about how we can ensure that as many of the new jobs as possible can be filled by people from Western Sydney.
It’s not just jobs building the airport; it’s jobs building the associated road and rail infrastructure and then it’s ongoing jobs created by the airport as a catalyst.
Some of those jobs are underway with the associated road construction. Others are some time off when skills and apprenticeships will look different from today’s training and employment pathways.
These jobs should have a training component which provide transferable skills for local young people and re-skilling opportunities for mature age workers.
We need to collaborate on a jobs and skills plan that provides a skilled workforce capable of contributing on this and future projects.
This effort should engage the entire community including councils, business groups, schools and universities, TAFE, unions and others.
For example, we know that during the construction stage, there will be strong demand for builders, electricians and the full range of tradespeople required to deliver such a large project.
We need to act now to consider how we can maximise access to these jobs for people from Western Sydney.
The project should result in hundreds of young people from Western Sydney being engaged on the construction site as apprentices, learning the skills that will set them up for long-term careers.
At his speech at the National Press Club Labor Leader Bill Shorten pointed the way, committing a future Labor Government to ensuring 10 per cent of the workforce on Commonwealth-funded infrastructure projects should be apprentices.
The Western Sydney Airport is the perfect opportunity to apply this principle.
We need to think now about the extent to which schools and TAFEs in Western Sydney are equipped to prepare today’s young people for the apprenticeship opportunities that beckon.
Likewise, we must think now about what industries have potential to flourish once the airport begins operations and the skills required to ensure their long-term profitability and competitiveness.
Given the changing nature of work, we must ask ourselves what skills will be required to fill those jobs.
We must collaborate with TAFE colleges and the University of Western Sydney to encourage them to focus more heavily on those skills.
I want to see the establishment of a Centre for Aviation Excellence near the airport.
It could involve government and private sector investment in innovation and skills development. Science, technology, engineering and maths should be integrated into the centre, including into the apprenticeships of the future.
That’s just one idea.
But it’s a reminder of the core proposition that must be our guiding light over the next two decades.
We are not just building an airport, but building a better future for Western Sydney.
I see many people here today who are already thinking in this direction.
On Tuesday I spent time with western suburbs-based company Celestino and Penrith Mayor John Thain and his team to discuss the 2500 hectare Sydney Science Park in Luddenham just north of the Airport site.
This is an exciting development which is encouraged by the Airport that will provide 12,000 jobs for the region.
It is a visionary project as a centre for innovation, education and research that will also have 3400 dwellings on site.
It goes beyond the concept of simply providing jobs, to being a whole-of-community-approach that will be productive, liveable and sustainable.
It will encompass the smartest buildings in Australia with the highest green star rating possible.
A deal has already been done with Catholic education to provide for Australia’s first K-12 STEM school in the country, which will accommodate 2000 students.
This is exactly the sort of project that exemplifies the multitude of business opportunities associated with the Airport.
Given that 300,000 people commute away from Western Sydney for work and the youth of Western Sydney have aspirations to live and work locally, the Sydney Science Park is precisely the sort of development driven by rail access and the airport that will shift economic activity and employment closer to where people live.
GETTING IT DONE
Delivering the Western Sydney Airport project has been needlessly complicated by the former Howard Government’s decision to give the Sydney Airports Corporation the first right of refusal over construction and operation of the airport.
This was part of the deal to lease Kingsford Smith Airport.
It was not a part of the original consideration, and it is up to others to justify this provision.
Nonetheless, the current Coalition Government is delivering on its contractual obligation to negotiate with SACL, as it should.
This is a commercial negotiation.
Having been involved in commercial negotiations while in government, I know it will be unhelpful for me to provide commentary on what should happen at this point.
Instead, let me be crystal clear.
Federal Labor strongly supports the Government securing maximum public benefit on price, design and operating parameters.
I note that the Government said in December that SACL had four months to decide whether to exercise its option over this project.
I urge the Government to press on and resolve this matter as soon as possible.
If SACL chooses not to exercise its option, Labor would support the Government pursuing other options, such as forming a company to build the airport itself.
That company could later be sold to a private operator.
This model is similar to that is being used to deliver the Moorebank Intermodal project established by the former Labor Government.
AN AEROTROPOLIS NEEDS RAIL
While Federal Labor supports the development of the new airport, bipartisanship should not preclude differences of opinion, particularly on planning issues that are critical to the airport’s success.
Labor welcomes the Government’s 2014 decision to begin upgrading roads around the site.
However, I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the Government is unwilling to guarantee the airport will be connected to Sydney passenger rail network from the day it opens.
On current planning, construction of the Western Sydney Airport would include provision for the retrofitting of a passenger rail link at some unspecified time in the future.
We’ve heard vague plans about a rail connection, but no details or firm commitments.
That’s not good enough.
This lack of resolve threatens to limit the potential of the project.
If we expect people to use this airport, it should be accessible by public transport.
But there are strong economic reasons for a rail link.
It would allow us to maximise opportunities to access value capture to help pay for construction.
The airport operator will have an opportunity to develop a world-class piece of infrastructure.
Frankly even if the Airport was not being built, north-south connections for Western Sydney make sense.
The station to the north of the Airport would be located at the Science Park I have mentioned.
If the Airport is connected to rail from day one, the benefit of that connection can be reflected in the operator’s lease negotiations with other businesses.
There is no time for delay.
We need to commit to rail now, so that these economic benefits are factored into negotiations at the earliest possible stage.
The most obvious option of a rail link is an extension of the existing passenger line from Leppington through to the western line near St Marys via Badgerys Creek.
This would allow passengers as well as workers at the airport and associated businesses easier access and complete a loop line around Sydney, improving public transport services throughout the region.
Indeed, completion of the loop would be necessary even without the development of the airport.
The existence of the rail link would also increase land values of the nearby state-owned employment lands.
We’ve heard a lot of talk about value capture recently.
But there have been few examples of its utilisation.
The Western Sydney Airport looms as a perfect candidate.
It simple. The amount of value captured – and the benefit to the public purse and the quality of the project – will be higher with a rail connection than without one.
Beyond the contractual implications that come with a rail connection, the experts tell us that the development of an aerotropolis is all but impossible without public transport.
John Kasarda is the Director of the Business School at the University of North Carolina.
In some circles he is known as the Father of the Aerotropolis because of his extensive work in the economics of airport development.
In a report published for the NSW Business Council published in 2015, Dr Kasarda insisted that the success of an aerotropolis depended on good surface transport.
Dr Kasarda describes surface transport as the “the skeleton’’ upon which muscle can attach and grow around airports.
He also links the quality of surface transport to the willingness of private sector to invest, noting that airports which successfully minimise last-mile costs are more attractive to investors looking to minimise risk.
Similarly, a report by David Klingberg, the CEO of David Lock Associates, also describes improved rail capacity as critical to the development of the aerotropolis model.
Mr Klingberg points out that the lack of a rail connection to the Western Sydney Airport would make it difficult for people to move between it and the Sydney CBD and the existing Kingsford Smith airport.
Mr Klingberg’s advice is simple: “It needs to be done once – and done properly’’.
Building a Western Sydney Airport that is ready for connection to rail some time far off into the future will limit the success of this important project.
It will limit job creation.
Western Sydney needs a world-class airport – not a second-rate facility that fails to realise its potential because governments lacked the vision to invest in the infrastructure required to support its growth.
While there is substantial road construction taking place associated with the Airport, there is a need to plan for future economic growth.
The construction of the M9 or outer ring road has been identified by planners as necessary infrastructure for Western Sydney.
It would connect the region directly with the Central Coast and Illawarra and allow for productivity benefits by being located outside the existing M7 motorway.
Infrastructure Australia identified its importance as a national project.
The planning and pre-construction work should be progressed in the 2017 Budget.
Thanks to the vision of the Hawke Labor Government in securing the Badgerys Creek site in 1986 and limiting surrounding development, the airport will be located well away from residential development.
However, aircraft still make noise.
It is important we engage very closely with surrounding communities to develop a world-class noise mitigation plan, including the creation of a night time no-fly zone.
Last year, Bill Shorten and I announced Labor’s plan for a no-fly zone between 11pm and 6am.
It will be possible to ensure simultaneous operations for take offs and landings to the south-west of the runway, stopping flights over residential communities at night.
I’m pleased to say the Government, after initially rejecting this idea, has embraced it.
That’s another example of bi-partisanship in the public interest. This project is simply too important to be compromised by political posturing.
We can also reduce noise through innovative design.
In 2003 sound engineers at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport noticed a significant reduction in aircraft noise each autumn, when farmers began ploughing their fields.
Convinced the furrows were absorbing noise, the airport hired a landscaper to replicate the effect all year round by digging 150 symmetrical furrows in a nearby 32ha site green belt known as the Buitenschot Land Park.
It looks not unlike the design of a radio or recording studio.
Since the park opened a few years ago, aircraft noise has dropped by half, with noise hitting the furrows and then being bounced toward the sky.
And in a double pay-off for the community, the park has become a popular recreational area, featuring bikeways and walking tracks.
That’s the kind of thinking we need at Badgerys Creek.
We are working with a Greenfields site here. There will be no excuse not to embrace world-class design principles.
Equally, the process of consulting the local community must also be world-class.
Let me leave you today by pointing out a significant challenge related to the airport that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
Aircraft need aviation fuel. A Boeing 747, for example, requires 12 litres of fuel per kilometer travelled.
There are only two possible ways to get aviation fuel to Western Sydney.
One is by using trucks, which will add to traffic congestion. The other is by building a pipeline.
This is a serious issue and it needs to be confronted now, in consultation with the community.
There’s an old saying that if you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
It reminds me of a concept put forward by the US time management expert Alan Lakein, who once wrote:
Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.
In 2017, we owe it to future Australians get the planning right for the Western Sydney Airport.
We have bipartisanship.
We have the vision.
What we need now is the resolve to turn that vision into reality.
Speech to the Tom Uren Memorial Foundation for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons – Sydney
Australia must play its part in abolishing nuclear weapons
In 1961 John F Kennedy told the United Nations:
Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.
It is incredible to think that almost six decades on, this threat still exists.
We must continue to dedicate ourselves to eliminating this threat.
Every nation has a responsibility to work for a world free of nuclear weapons.
Australia is no exception.
That is why the work of ICAN in Australia and around the world, in helping to progress the disarmament agenda, is so important.
I come to this debate with the benefit of the testimony of a man who saw the horror of nuclear weapons first hand.
Tom Uren was imprisoned in a POW camp on the island of Omuta on 9 August 1945.
Just after 11am, the US detonated an atomic bomb over the city of Nagasaki about 80km away.
Estimates of the death toll ranged between 40,000 and 80,000.
That’s men, women and children. Nuclear weapons don’t discriminate.
Tom witnessed the explosion.
He later said:
It reminded me of those beautiful crimson skies of sunsets in Central Australia, but magnified about 10 times stronger, and it’s vividly … it’s never left me.
As you know, in October last year, the United Nations adopted a resolution to convene a UN conference in 2017 to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons.
One hundred and twenty-three nations voted in favour of this resolution.
What is disappointing and unacceptable is that that Australia was not one of the countries that voted in favour of this resolution.
ICAN is right to herald this resolution as a potential breakthrough, after decades of paralysis in multilateral nuclear disarmament efforts.
Thanks to leaders like Tom Uren, Bruce Childs and Robert Tickner, the Labor Party has a proud tradition of advocacy for disarmament.
People like Melissa Parke and many others have tried to build on that legacy and maintain that struggle.
The Labor Party’s platform affirms our belief, committing our party to work toward the end of nuclear weapons and supporting the negotiation of a global treaty banning such weapons.
It says Labor will encourage the pursuit of further substantial reductions of nuclear arsenals and promote the development of processes to bring all nuclear armed states into the disarmament process.
As a non-nuclear armed nation and a good international citizen, Australian can make a significant contribution to promoting disarmament, the reduction of nuclear stockpiles and the responsible use of nuclear technology.
Indeed, our nation has a proud history of activism on the international stage, including in efforts to ban chemical and biological weapons and land mines.
We have now reached a time where an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations are ready to outlaw nuclear weapons, just as the world outlawed chemical and biological weapons and land mines.
There is no reason why we should not be providing leadership in the effort to ban nuclear weapons.
Australia must play our part.
Malcolm Turnbull should commit to attending the 2017 negotiating conference.
If Australia fails to participate, this will tarnish our international reputation as a disarmament supporter and, in doing so, fail to act to promote safety in our world.
So tonight, let us all recommit ourselves to supporting the work of ICAN and to seizing the present opportunity to make real progress towards a world free of nuclear weapons.
I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land on which we meet and pay respects to elders past and present.
On behalf of Bill Shorten and the entire the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, I wish the Australian Chinese community a happy and prosperous Chinese New Year.
This year we celebrate the Year of the Rooster. The Year of the Rooster is associated with a hard working mentality, courage, talent, humour and honesty – I hope you and your family and friends enjoy these qualities in abundance.
Tonight, as we savour the colour and spectacle, the flavours and magic of this celebration.
We join each other in putting aside the regrets and sadness of the old year just passed and we look forward with optimism and hope to a new year of greater health and happiness for the people we love.
In doing so, Australians everywhere are celebrating more than the beginning of a new year.
We celebrate the continuation of an old and continuing friendship between Australia and China.
A relationship that was established and set in stone by the ‘father’ of Australia-China relations, Gough Whitlam.
And we celebrate all of you, the people who have made it possible.
There’s an old Chinese proverb we like to quote in the Labor Party:
“When you go to the well to draw water, remember who dug the well”.
Tonight – we celebrate the bravery, creativity and hard work of all who have gone before us.
The Chinese community has a fascinating chapter in our Australian story. Each and every one of you has a story. A story told in your families. A story of working hard, taking risks, building communities and making sacrifices so your children can enjoy a better future.
We celebrate the marvellous contributions Chinese Australians have made to our great nation. In every facet and field of our national life we are a better, bigger, bolder and a smarter country because of the contribution you and your fellow Chinese Australians have made.
Chinese New Year is also a time for all Australians to celebrate the gifts the Chinese community has given us and also a time for us all to rejoice in the rich success of the multicultural society we have built together.
Citizens serving our community, contributing to the common good and making the country we live in a better place.
I trust that each and every one of you will celebrate Chinese New Year with a family feast, along with many sweets, gifts and fireworks.
May the Year of the Rooster bring good fortune and good health to you all.
Best wishes for the year of the rooster – Gōng xǐ fā cái, Jī nián dà jí.
Happy Year of the Rooster.
On Friday when I got to Sydney Airport, a Labor supporter stopped me and said I must be glad to be home for the weekend after such a big sitting week in Canberra.
“Actually, I’m going to Dubbo to address the Country Labor Conference”, I told him.
“That’s Tiger Country,’’ he responded. “You won’t win many votes there”.
With respect, he is wrong.
At a time of economic change and political realignment in Australia and abroad, rural and regional Australia is a place of opportunity for the Australian Labor Party.
The Orange Byelection demonstrated how the Coalition base feels it has been betrayed by its leadership.
We must take the ball up and challenge the Nationals in the Bush.
Seeking to advance Labor representation in the regions is of course in our political interest.
But more importantly, it’s in the interest of those fine Australians who live in regional Australia.
Growing our regional cities and towns is also in the interests of those who live in our capital cities.
If population growth continues to be concentrated, then the pressure on liveability in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in particular will cause significant stress.
Growth in regional Australia must be a central component of national economic, social and environmental policy.
And it has always fallen to Labor to provide that national leadership.
No issue has exemplified the need for Labor to step up more than the fiasco over the Backpacker Tax.
The 2015 budget saw a grand announcement by the Government to impose a 32.5 per cent tax on backpackers.
No consultation with farmers.
No consultation with the tourism sector.
No economic modelling or weighing the benefits of extra revenue against the likely impact on labour supply.
And no defence of regional Australia by the National Party.
For 18 months, in spite of farmers warning they weren’t planting crops because they would not have people to pick them, the uncertainty continued.
The sight of mangoes rotting on the ground was a graphic illustration of the Nationals and their city Tory masters’ betrayal of regional Australia.
Over the past month the Backpacker Tax has become the Backtracker Tax as they sought to justify the devastating impacts of their own arrogance and incompetence.
When Labor argued for a lower rate, they sought to hide behind economic nationalism by saying Australian workers would be paying higher taxes than backpackers.
They seem to have forgotten that Labor tripled the income tax free threshold to $18,200 and took a million people out of the tax system.
The overwhelming number of backpackers earn less than this and would pay the Backpacker Tax from the first dollar earned.
Then they even tried to argue that this 2015 Joe Hockey Budget measure was somehow not their initiative.
This after the Coalition had argued for more than a year that 32.5% was good for the economy.
Eventually the pressure got to them as they were mugged by reality as backpacker numbers went into freefall.
They then argued for 19 per cent.
Then they argued again for 32.5 per cent.
Then back down again to 15 per cent.
Then back up again to 32.5 per cent.
Finally, they did a deal with the Greens political Party for 15 per cent, but with a discount and new spending commitments that defeated the very purpose of the tax to begin with.
During this whole debacle, farmers and regional tourism operators couldn’t rely upon the National Party to stand up for their interests.
They certainly couldn’t rely on the Liberal Party.
They couldn’t even rely on the National Farmers Federation.
Only Labor stood up for their interests.
I want to pay tribute to the courage, determination and sheer tenacity of my mate Joel Fitzgibbon on this issue.
When Joel sees rural and regional communities under siege, he’s like a dog with a bone in defence of their interests.
There is no-one in our show I’d rather have next to me in the political trenches.
The regions can also rely on Justine Elliot, who has beaten the Nationals not once; not twice; not even three times; but five times.
They can rely on Mike Kelly, who took a term off chilling out in Eden Monaro before storming back into Parliament this year as the representative of the south-eastern corner of our great state. Great to have you back!
They can rely upon Meryl Swanson who has returned Paterson to the Labor fold.
They can rely upon Stephen Jones who now has the honour of being the Member for Whitlam and is out there every day advocating for regional services and regional communications.
Then there’s Sam Dastyari, Doug Cameron, Jenny McAllister and Deborah O’Neill – our energetic Senate team who travel the State working with branch members, unions and community members and taking local issues to Canberra.
They have been an effective voice for those in National and Liberal electorates whose local members let them down.
Farmers in particular have had to rely upon Fitzy and others to stand up for them.
One thing everyone knows about farmers is that they never throw anything away.
That must be why the National Party is still around. Farmers must be hoping that one day they might serve some useful purpose.
Barnaby Joyce is a bit like one of those old dinged-up paddock-basher cars you see on so many farms.
A bit of fun for the kids, makes a lot of noise… but no good at getting you anywhere.
Barnaby Joyce and his colleagues have sold out the bush.
And not just on Backpacker Tax.
On cuts to health;
Cuts to education;
Cuts to pensions;
Cuts to rail and road funding;
Cuts to road maintenance grants to councils;
In fact, his mate Mike Baird has sacked councils and left communities without elected representation for 18 months.
They’ve failed to progress the Inland Rail project.
Done nothing on High Speed Rail.
Ignored climate change.
And now Barnaby Joyce wants to ignore the Murray Darling Basin Plan, brokered by the former Labor Government to end more than a century of interstate conflict over water.
But perhaps worst of all, Barnaby is selling out the future of the bush by giving it 19th century, copper based Fraudband unfit for the challenges of the 21st century.
My message today is that Labor must capitalize on our opponent’s manifest failures.
The Nationals have left the door ajar.
It’s up to us to bash the door down and pile on through.
I look around this room today and I see people up to that very task.
To capitalize, we must remember that Labor is always at our best when we develop policies that target the aspirations of average Australians, wherever they live.
If you listened to our political opponents, whose creed in based on self-interest, you would think that the only thing to which Australians aspire is material wealth.
We all need to pay our bills.
But the fundamental aspiration of average Australians, wherever we live, is to build a society where our children will have better opportunities in life than we had.
We want access to decent health services.
Good schools and vocational training opportunities.
The ability to get ahead.
Australians don’t want a free ride. But they do want a fair go.
In 2016, Labor is better placed to meet these aspirations than our opponents.
We are the party of the fair go.
We created universal health care in this country.
We opened up the nation’s universities to all.
We created the social safety net.
The trade union representatives in this room have devoted their lives to ensuring that workers get treated with respect and they get a fair share for their labour.
Most importantly, we reject the conservative view that if government would just get out of the way and let the market rip, everything will be OK.
We believe government has a role in intervening to ensure that economic growth and prosperity is shared.
It is in our national economic interest to develop the potential of all Australians, wherever they live.
Entrenched inequality not only hurts individuals, it hurts our national economic growth.
The tyranny of distance has always made it difficult to achieve equity for the bush.
But technology is offering us opportunities to re-imagine rural and regional Australia in ways that enhance equity and promote prosperity.
Infrastructure investment and fibre based broadband is the key.
It is an essential component of decentralization of economic activity.
Infrastructure such as High Speed Rail for passengers and Inland Rail for freight will boost our regions.
High speed broadband boosts service delivery and connects rural and regional businesses to the global marketplace, which is critical as our nation looks beyond the mining sector for future job creation.
We hear pious rhetoric from Malcolm Turnbull about innovation and agility in the 21st century.
But there’s a huge gap between the rhetoric and reality.
His fraudband is slower and costs more.
Industries such as food production and advanced manufacturing offer real opportunities for jobs growth in regional Australia.
But these industries won’t prosper using 19th century copper-based tele-communications in the 21st century.
They won’t prosper without access to a trained workforce or without the railways, road and port infrastructure to get their products to market.
Yet this vision-free government is under-investing in education, trashing the vocational training sector and cutting infrastructure investment – down 20 per cent in its first two years in office.
That’s not the road to prosperity.
But to our opponents, the future is a foreign country.
Their ambition is to win elections to occupy office and prevent progress.
They want to leave the future to look after itself while they protect the contemporary interests of their donors from the top end of town.
But Labor is the party of the future.
So it is important that we ensure our policy platform addresses the future.
How we will create the jobs of the future.
How we will build better cities and regions.
How we will strengthen communities.
And how we will advance equity so we can deliver prosperity with fairness.
If we are serious about re-imagining our regions, we need to accept that unchecked climate change is a threat to our economic future as well as our natural environment.
We need to tackle it front on, not pretend it does not exist, as is the approach of our political opponents.
It would be a mistake to think that people in our regions support Barnaby Joyce’s denial of the existence of climate change.
Farmers see its effects every day.
That’s why last week the National Farmers Federation, previously reticent about recognizing climate change, shifted its policy to one of acceptance of the problem and the role of farmers in tackling it.
The NFF’s new president, Fiona Simpson, spent last week in Canberra unsuccessfully begging the Nationals to join her in the 21st century.
So the Nationals are now isolated on climate change in their own political heartland.
The shift reminds me of a phenomenon I have watched with amusement for my entire political life.
Labor is the party of progress.
We are always arguing for change to take our nation forward, while our opponents focus is on tearing down the gains of the past.
The problem conservatives face is that facts and public opinion always catch up with them and force them to face reality.
On issue after issue, Labor has taken positions and spent years being criticized by conservatives, until they finally accept and embrace our positions.
So it is with climate change.
Barnaby Joyce is not a farmer. He is an accountant – a populist snake oil merchant in the mould of his hero Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
Farmers have abandoned Mr Joyce on climate change because they know he is wrong in his denial and refusal to think beyond his immediate political interests.
TAKING IT UP
I’m up for taking the ball up to Nationals and other conservative forces in the regions.
We need to expose people like George Christensen for the frauds that they are.
And when I say exposed I don’t mean like on the front page of the Good Weekend – which once seen, can never be unseen.
One of the last votes in the House of Representatives on Thursday night was consideration of a Senate proposal for a Royal Commission into the banks and financial services sector.
It had Labor support.
It had the unanimous support of the crossbench.
George Christensen had declared publicly all week he would cross the floor and support a Royal Commission.
The proposal failed 75-74.
George Christensen – a lion in Mackay, but a mouse in Canberra.
Faced with a choice between the few bank executives on the top floor of CBD towers, and the many in regional Australia who have been victims of bad financial practices, George and his colleagues went with the top end of town – they always do.
So let’s redouble our efforts to be the voice for regional Australia, in this the NSW Branch of our great Party’s 125th year.
In that first election in 1891, Labor won a quarter of the seats including many in the bush.
Our values are the ones that will resonate in regional Australia, as more realise that conservatives’ values are not in their interests.
Only Labor will stand up for them.
Of support for jobs.
Opposition to the abuse of 457 visas to take Australian jobs.
Of support for decent working conditions which have been won by the trade union movement.
Of opposition to the attacks on penalty rates.
Support for every child in every school on the basis of need.
Support for TAFE.
Opposition to the shonky training providers.
Support for universal health care through Medicare.
Opposition to the privatisation of our hospitals and our health system.
Support for investing in infrastructure including High Speed Rail, Inland Rail and a fibre based NBN.
Support for completing the full duplication of the Pacific Highway, that they have slowed down.
Support for local roads funding.
Opposition to forced council amalgamations.
The entire team in Canberra led by Bill Shorten is committed to winning the next election and the key to that objective is winning in regional Australia.
We need a Government that truly represents the interests of all Australians, not just those with views of Sydney Harbour.
We need a Government that shares the values of the outstanding people in this room – you are here because you care about your community.
You want the next generation to have more opportunities than this one has, not less.
You care about the many, not just the few.
With your efforts, Labor can form a Government after the next election – one that makes you proud.
Let’s all commit ourselves to taking the ball up to our opponents every day, as if it’s the first ball return from a Grand Final kick off.
Australia is a truly remarkable country.
Its vastness. Its unique natural landscapes. The extraordinary history, which dates back more than 50,000 years. Australia is a country like no other.
Tim Winton, in his book Island Home, reflects on this.
He says, “It’s good for the spirit, to be reminded as an individual or a community that there will always be something bigger, older, richer and more complex than ourselves to consider.”
You could hire a caravan, as many people do. Spend a year traversing Australia, but not come close to seeing all there is to see.
We’re still learning about our ancient country too.
Just the other week, I read an article about how a toilet break led to the discovery of a 49,000-year-old Aboriginal site in outback South Australia.
This find of artefacts and bones revealed that humans settled in inland Australia 10,000 years earlier than previously believed.
What a discovery.
Tourism has been a great beneficiary of the myriad of experiences that Australia offers.
In turn, our nation has profited immensely.
Tourism employs more than 1 million Australians and contributes $107 billion to the economy.
Every dollar spent on tourism generates another 92 cents in other parts of the economy.
Since the election, I’ve held a number of roundtables across the nation.
I’ve met with tourism operators in the Top End of Darwin and tropical Cairns.
I’ve met people in the Red Centre, Alice Springs as well as Big Rig town Roma and central western NSW in Orange.
At each of these, the ‘ask’ from operators has been simple.
We need more from the Federal Government. More support. More leadership. More investment.
TOURISM IN AUSTRALIA TODAY
Tourism has been recognised by Deloitte as one of five super growth sectors.
That’s because it represents three percent of Australia’s GDP.
Domestic tourism, additionally, makes up 75 percent of the total direct tourism GDP.
People are overwhelmingly choosing Australia as their tourist destination.
International visitor numbers in Australia are rising.
In the twelve months to August 2016, ABS overseas arrivals figures show that nearly eight million international visitors came to Australia.
Incredibly, this is a 10.9 per cent increase over the previous year.
We’ve seen record growth of over 20 per cent from China, Japan and South Korea, and 17.4 per cent from the USA.
We have a real opportunity at hand.
It just needs the industry and governments to work together to ensure tourism maintains its place as a super-growth sector well into the future.
INFRASTRUCTURE IS KEY
There’s a reason why I hold the Tourism portfolio in addition to Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development.
This decision ensures a focus on cross-portfolio and agency cooperation and engagement.
It provides a strategic advantage for the tourism sector, by linking it with interdependent areas of government.
It also means tourism has a seat at the Cabinet table.
And you certainly wouldn’t see the sector treated as an after-thought as the current Government has done.
We take tourism seriously.
We also understand that ensuring the right infrastructure is in place is essential to growing tourism.
Our airports and public transport systems have a significant impact on whether or not people enjoy their stay in Australia.
Regardless of whether you are an international visitor from Guangzhou in China or a domestic tourist from Bundarra in northern New South Wales; our bus, train, tram and ferry networks should be easy to navigate.
This includes in our two biggest cities; Sydney and Melbourne.
One million visitors used public transport last year in Australia.
The fact is international cities need world class public transport.
Think of the signature international examples: New York Subway, the Paris Metro and the London Tube.
We should be on that list.
The national government needs to invest in public transport.
That’s why, at the election, Labor committed to projects in each major city, including a rail link to Western Sydney’s airport from day one, the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail, Perth METRONET, Hobart’s urban regeneration and Adelaide’s AdeLINK.
Our airports need to be part of this focus on infrastructure.
After all, airports are the first experience anyone has in Australia unless, of course, you’ve come by cruise ship.
Currently our four largest cities are all undergoing aviation expansion, with plans for new runways in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
Sydney will have a whole new airport.
But there’s more that can be done.
For instance Cairns Airport has plans to expand. It is the sort of project that could make a good candidate for Federal Government concessional finance.
At the election we put forward our plan for a $1 billion Northern Australia Tourism Infrastructure Fund. It was to back projects like this.
Along with our major capital airports’ physical expansion, there are increasing opportunities for other airports to host international flights. Recently we’ve seen Canberra open up its airport for international flights to and from Singapore and New Zealand.
We’ve seen it at Cairns, Townsville and the Sunshine Coast. This month, Cathay Pacific has picked up freight from Wellcamp Airport near Toowoomba and taken it directly to Hong Kong.
And in the future we could include international flights to and from airports at Avalon, Newcastle and Hobart.
The spectacular growth of the cruise shipping industry – including local and international cruises – is also creating demand for expanded infrastructure in our harbours and ports.
We need to ensure we’re in the position to respond to this.
PRODUCTIVE, SUSTAINABLE AND LIVEABLE CITIES
It could well be my bias, having lived there my whole life, but Sydney is one of the greatest urban landscapes in Australia.
From time to time I’ll take the Manly ferry, which for about $7, or less if you’re a student, child or senior, gives you the best vantage point of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.
If you’re lucky, as I have been once or twice, you’ll even see dolphins race the ferry towards Manly.
Australia offers diverse tourism experiences.
That’s why making sure our cities are productive, sustainable and liveable is critical.
It’s not just because it makes a difference to the lives of people who live there, but it also shapes the tourist experience.
I often talk about the concept of a 30-minute city.
In 2014 at the National Press Club I released Labor’s ten point plan to achieve this.
It recognises the need to create employment centres outside CBDs, protect our urban environment, address the issue of housing affordability and ensure our cities have integrated public and active transport systems.
But it is also relevant to tourism because we have so much to showcase in our cities beyond their CBDs.
For instance, in Werribee, outside Melbourne, you can go to the Open Range Zoo.
And of course outside our CBDs you can find fantastic restaurants embedded in suburbs – a testimony to our success as a multicultural nation.
We should be making it easier for tourists in our cities to spend money in the suburbs to further grow the economy of these areas.
People come to Australia because they want a different experience.
This is particularly the case for Chinese tourists and Australia has seen faster arrivals growth from China than any other market.
The rise of the middle class means that Chinese tourists are spending $8.9 billion here in Australia, which is almost 25 percent of spending by all foreign visitors.
We’re seen as a premier destination, and why wouldn’t we be?
We appeal to people of all ages, including millennial visitors who make up a third of those who come from China.
Perhaps some of you will be familiar with the 2014 lavender bear craze.
Bobby the Bear is produced at Bridestowe Lavender Farm in Tasmania, achieved international status after Chinese model Zhang Xinyu posted a picture of herself with the bear on her social media accounts.
Following this newfound stardom, the owner of the estate, unable to keep up with demand, was forced to ration buyers to only one bear each.
The fact is social media, advancements in technology, and people’s connectedness with the world, means people have all the information they need at their fingertips.
On Instagram, you can search a place before you even go to see what sort of experiences people have had.
We need to be keeping up to date with these advancements. We need to be innovative and, most of all, we need to be competitive.
PMC INCREASE/ BACKPACKER TAX
This issue of competitiveness is at the heart of Labor’s position on the backpacker tax and Passenger Movement Charge increase.
The truth is, the Coalition has treated the tourism sector with contempt.
We took to the election, as did the Coalition, a commitment to not increase the Passenger Movement Charge.
We stuck by our promise – they back flipped.
Just weeks before the Coalition made this announcement; the Minister for Tourism told the Parliament that previous increases in the Passenger Movement Charge were, “choking the golden goose that is Australia’s tourism industry.”
What an incredible turnaround in such a short space of time.
The Government’s proposal to increase the Passenger Movement Charge is an example of bad policy that has been created on the run, without economic modelling or consultation.
Australia already has the second highest Passenger Movement Charge after the UK.
And if you actually take into account short haul sectors, Australia’s Passenger Movement Charge is higher than the UK.
What’s more, the PMC raises nearly $1 billion each year.
According to TTF, this is $750 million more than it costs to provide passenger facilitation services at our international gateways.
It’s not like tourism already isn’t playing its part in contributing to the economy.
Instead of taxing tourism more we should be looking at ways to grow the sector.
We took the Working Holidaymaker Reform Package to a Senate Inquiry because we wanted to make sure there was an opportunity for consultation.
We listened to the industry.
You rejected the Passenger Movement Charge increase, which our position rightly reflects.
The only other comment I want to make is that at the election we actually released a policy.
We put forward our plan for tourism, which looked at urban and regional areas.
We flagged proposals deserving of investment. We set out a plan for the Great Barrier Reef.
We spoke about visa reform and we spoke about Indigenous tourism opportunities.
We also said we would invest in marketing, research, skills and training.
We have enormous opportunity to grow the tourism industry in Australia.
Industry representatives, like the Tourism and Transport Forum play a critical role in making sure your voice is heard at a national level.
It’s also been good to see such a united response to the Government’s attack on the sector.
I will certainly continue to put the case for national leadership and investment in tourism, and I look forward to working with all of you over the next term of Parliament.
We meet at an important time in the evolution of the national economy.
Australia is continuing its move out of the investment stage of the mining boom.
We need to create new industries.
And we need to stimulate existing sectors to secure the new jobs necessary to maintain or improve living standards.
Standing in our way is an infrastructure deficit built up over many years of inadequate investment, particularly during the Howard era, when windfall tax gains driven by the mining boom were squandered on middle class welfare rather than Nation Building.
Addressing this infrastructure deficit is critical if we are to reshape our economy.
The new Australian industries of the future will go nowhere without the railways, roads and ports they will need to get their products to market.
Similarly, no business, new or existing, will thrive in the 21st century as long as it is shackled by a 19th Century copper-based communication system.
It is important that we make the right investment calls now.
It’s about jobs for the future.
My message tonight is that now is the time for the Commonwealth to lift infrastructure investment right across the nation.
There are two reasons.
The first is that if we choose the right projects – those that provide a return to the public – we can extract productivity gains that will allow us to get more out of existing resources.
Those gains will also set up new waves of growth into the future.
But there is also a short-term imperative.
You don’t create entire new industries overnight.
During this period of economic transition, we must seek to maintain economic activity and sustain employment.
Government investment in the right infrastructure projects will do just that.
Of course, for decades governments have used public works to drive economic growth.
An example is the former Labor Government’s use of economic stimulus in response to the Global Financial Crisis.
Our investment kept Australians employed and kept our nation out of the recession that caused so much misery overseas.
It came in a period when we were already lifting infrastructure investment to make up for the deficit we inherited from the Howard era.
During our six years in office, the former Labor Government increased per capita infrastructure investment from $132 to $225.
When Labor took Government in 2007, Australia was 20th on a list of OECD nations in terms of infrastructure investment as a proportion of GDP.
When we left office, Australia was 1st.
But times have changed.
The difference between then and now is that current options for economic stimulus are more limited given our very low interest rates.
Indeed, in recent speeches two Reserve Bank Governors – the incumbent Philip Lowe and his predecessor Glenn Stevens – have warned that the effectiveness of monetary policy as a means of economic stimulus is limited in current circumstances.
Both have stressed that the Government should consider borrowing to fund good infrastructure projects that provide a solid public benefit in return for the investment.
That’s why it is disappointing that the current Federal Government has significantly reduced infrastructure investment since it took office.
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show total public sector investment fell 20 per cent in the Government’s first two years in office.
More recent figures confirm the downward trend.
In its 2014 Budget the Government committed to $8 billion in infrastructure investment in the 2015-16 financial year.
It even spent public money producing an extravagant propaganda video pointing to its Budget as evidence of record investment.
But the facts have caught up with the rhetoric.
The Final Budget Outcome document for 2015-16 shows the Government invested $5.5 billion on infrastructure – $2.5 billion less than planned.
And that included a $490 payment to the Western Australian Government as compensation for movements in the carve-up of GST.
In the previous financial year, the Government underspent its Budget by $1 billion.
So it is clear then that whatever the Government says it is going to spend, it is having great difficulty getting the money out the door.
Whether the cuts are being made by choice or because of incompetence, the outcome is the same – the Government is failing to step up to the task of economic stimulus.
Fancy videos and press releases don’t create jobs or economic activity.
You need to actually invest, not just talk about it.
This Government’s reduction in investment has been achieved via a combination of scrapping, delaying and slowing down projects.
Scrapping, delaying and slowing.
It scrapped all public transport projects not underway when it took office, including the Melbourne Metro and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project.
It delayed commencement of projects like the M80 in Melbourne and Adelaide’s South Road.
It slowed investment in the ongoing Bruce and Pacific Highway upgrades.
Instead of scrapping, delaying and slowing, Australia needs to initiate, bring forward and speed up infrastructure development.
THE WRONG PROJECTS
I mentioned earlier that former reserve Bank chairman Glenn Stevens had advocated consideration of increased government infrastructure investment on what he called “the right projects’’.
Mr Stevens was correct to make that distinction.
In politics there is always a temptation for governments to invest on the basis of the electoral map, rather than according to which projects provide the greatest benefit to the entire economy.
But the good news is that a process exists to allow us to identify good projects.
When the former Labor Government took office in 2007, we created Infrastructure Australia.
Its task is to assess infrastructure proposals and advise the Government about which projects provide the greatest return for the investment.
By the time we left Government in 2013, IA had conducted rigorous analysis of most major projects on the infrastructure landscape.
It had determined which projects were the right projects and the order in which they should be delivered.
However, the incoming Coalition Government ignored the IA priority list.
It scrapped the public transport projects Labor had funded, including those which had been positively assessed by Infrastructure Australia and declared ready to go.
And it redirected that funding to proposed toll roads which had not been properly assessed and were not ready to go.
One of those was Melbourne’s scrapped East West Link proposal, which would have produced only 45 cents benefit for every dollar invested.
Backing bad projects makes no sense.
Rapid population growth is continuing to drive strong demand for housing in this country, particularly in the outer suburbs of our major cities, where housing is affordable.
At the same time, employment growth is strengthening in and around CBDs of our major cities.
As a result, more and more Australians are facing longer commuting trips and traffic congestion is acting as a hand brake on economic growth.
Indeed, Infrastructure Australia has warned that without government action now, traffic congestion will cost the nation $53 billion a year by 2031 in lost productivity.
We must act.
It’s not just about the economy.
It’s also about the Australian quality of life.
It’s a tragedy that many working parents spend more time in their cars traveling to and from work than they spend at home playing with their kids.
Part of the answer is increased investment in public transport.
We need to build the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail Link, AdeLINK, the Perth METRONET and the extension of the Sydney rail network to the proposed Badgerys Creek Airport.
We also need better roads, particularly in outer suburban areas.
We have an opportunity to get ahead of the game here; to guide development in ways that work for the community.
That is why in the election campaign, Labor committed to work with developers and the NSW Government to upgrade Appin Road in Western Sydney.
This is another example of getting ahead of the game – delivering the infrastructure before the congestion develops.
I’m pleased to say that the Government has adopted this initiative.
Let me turn to the broader issue of urban policy.
Four out of five Australians live in cities.
That’s why for many years Labor has held the strong view that there is a role for the Commonwealth in working with states to promote urban productivity, sustainability and liveability.
In Government we focused heavily on urban policy, creating a Major Cities Unit and working with other levels of government to provide policy leadership on issues including planning, active travel and urban design as well as direct investment.
We allocated more money to urban public transport than all previous Commonwealth governments combined.
It’s a shame that when the Coalition took office, Tony Abbott abandoned cities policy.
However, his successor, Malcolm Turnbull, says he is interested in cities.
He has proposed the creation of UK-style City Deals to enhance co-operation on urban development between different levels of government.
However, I am concerned that so far, we are yet to see exactly what the Prime Minister is talking about when he mentions City Deals.
The three announced so far – for Townsville, Launceston and Western Sydney – are light on detail.
Indeed, all were announced after Labor came up with specific investment proposals for infrastructure in those cities.
City Deals could provide a genuine opportunity to achieve better outcomes.
But only if they are done properly.
If they are simply used as a mechanism to cover up for policy shortcomings, they won’t work.
The critical component in City Deals is local engagement.
Yet in the case of the Western Sydney proposal, for example, local councils in the area have not even been consulted on the plans.
Commenting on City Deals earlier this year Ken Morrison from the Property Council said:
We want to see City Deals implemented in Australia, but the deals must be based on rigor. We don’t want to see quick deals, we want to see good deals that draw out the economic strengths and potential of a city and drive change where it is needed. Both sides of politics must resist the temptation to turn City Deals into a ‘pork barrel’ or a prize to be awarded to marginal seats.
I fear this is occurring.
Rather than engaging in a matching funding exercise, the Government should be focusing on proper process, using international best practice as its guide.
Let me finish on a note of optimism.
I’ve got great faith in this country and its ability to be successful in a highly competitive world.
We are a lucky country.
We have been blessed with mineral resources that have helped sustain economic prosperity and rising living standards.
We have high living standards, including good health and education systems.
We have fantastic natural resources which boost our quality of life and make our nation attractive to visitors from around the world.
And across a range of fields, we have skilled, creative people with the ability to innovate and take the nation forward.
But to take full advantage of all of these positives, we need to ensure our infrastructure is fit for purpose.
We must take a mature approach to investing in the national interest.
That requires all levels of government to work together and with the private sector to ensure that the investment of today creates the prosperity of tomorrow.
Speech to National Growth Areas Alliance Conference – Growing Our Outer Suburbs for the Future – Wanneroo
I grew up in the heart of urban industrial Sydney.
Workers’ cottages lined narrow streets and warehouses hummed with activity as they spat out packed crates of textiles, biscuits, flour and other products onto the streets ready for delivery.
In recent decades, much of this neighbourhood that I know so well has changed.
Warehouses have been converted, cafes have popped up and traffic crawls its way down Parramatta Road.
Yet each and every time I drive down Pyrmont Bridge Road, Camperdown, past the home in which I grew up, I feel an overwhelming sense of familiarity.
I, like every other person, have been shaped by place.
And place is shaped by people.
Socrates, as early as the 5th century BC, made this connection between the power of place and strength of community.
He said: By far the greatest and most admirable form of wisdom is that needed to plan and beautify cities and human communities.
Today this wisdom is required more than ever before.
The decisions we make, as architects, planners and governments matter.
They shape place and people.
Our cities are in a state of change, rapidly growing outward.
But the question is, can we plan for this growth, or must we always be responding?
Infrastructure is the key to this puzzle.
Instead of sitting back to see where the houses go up, we should be using infrastructure to guide growth in our outer suburbs.
The National Growth Areas Alliance over the past year has campaigned tirelessly for just this – a ‘”fair go for outer suburbs’’ – and I congratulate you on this campaign.
Each of our capitals has its own geography, history and growth challenges.
In that context, NGAA’s thoughtful work to nominate the best value projects in the outer suburbs was something we took note of and acted on during the recent election.
Local government is the closest level of government to people, and it is well placed to understand local priorities for managing growth.
In Sydney there is an opportunity around the new Western Sydney Airport.
A rail line should connect the airport to the existing network from day one of the new airport opening.
But this isn’t just about the airport.
It’s about connecting Sydney’s fastest growing areas in the northwest and southwest to job opportunities around the new airport, the nearby employment lands, and to back in initiatives like the Sydney Science Park.
We also committed to fixing Appin Road and working with the private sector to open up new residential opportunities in that corridor.
In Melbourne, our key commitment was the Metro.
This is critical, because increasing capacity on the inner Melbourne loop will allow many more train services from outer Melbourne in places like Frankston.
We also prioritised key NGAA priorities to the north of Melbourne – including Bridge Inn Road at Mernda, addressing capacity constraints at Craigieburn Road and O’Herns Road.
In addition we added to the Victorian Government’s earlier commitment to Thompsons Road.
In Government we invested $1.43 billion on the M80.
The Coalition cut that on coming to office, and we committed to finishing the job we had begun.
We also committed to increase capacity on the Monash Freeway. In Brisbane we committed to the Cross River Rail, which will facilitate greater carrying capacity from the existing outer parts of the Brisbane network.
This in turn will also take pressure off roads.
We also committed to the M1 Pacific Motorway-Gateway merge project, and the Rocklea to Darra section of the Ipswich Motorway to remove bottlenecks around Brisbane.
Perth is predicted to have seven of the ten most congested corridors in the nation by 2031.
Labor backed the METRONET project, which will extend the existing heavy rail network to outer Perth areas, including north of Yanchep and south to Byford.
We also proposed funding for overpasses to the north of Perth – on Wanneroo Rd and the Roe Highway.
To the south of Perth we added Armadale Rd Bridge – a key element of the ConnectSouth project, connecting Cockburn and Armadale.
This would facilitate new economic activity in a fast-growing area.
In Adelaide, we committed to finish the Gawler electrification by restoring funding to the project that the Coalition cut in 2014.
And in Hobart we committed to a Greater Hobart Transport Plan that addresses emerging congestion, including a new bus interchange and a revamped ferry pier to connect the city with the eastern shore.
My job, over the next term of Parliament is to fight for this critical investment in infrastructure.
Your job is to ensure your voice, and the voices of the many millions of people you represent, continue to be an unavoidable part of the Government’s deliberation.
OUR CITIES TODAY
Four out of every five Australians live in cities.
By 2031 our four largest capitals – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth – will have increased by 46 per cent.
Adelaide, Canberra, Hobart and Darwin are expected to grow by nearly 30 per cent.
Australia’s transformation to a knowledge intensive economy has seen the CBDs of our cities become the heart of the nation’s productivity.
This has exacerbated the issue of urban congestion, which Infrastructure Australia says will cost the nation $53 billion in lost productivity by 2031 if left unchecked.
Australia’s rapid growth in urban population, coupled with the growing challenge of housing affordability, has meant people in our outer suburbs are wearing the brunt of these challenges.
Increasingly, people are being forced to work in or near the city and commute to drive-in, drive-out suburbs where they can find a house but can’t find a job.
We know this is taking a toll on the nation’s economy in terms of lost productivity.
But what we don’t always recognise is the way this permeates the everyday lives of people living in our cities.
It is so much harder to spend time with your family, go for a walk, get odd jobs done, if you are spending more than three hours a day commuting.
It’s a tragedy that many parents spend more time in their cars driving to and from work than they spend at home playing with their kids.
There’s also another issue at hand.
Our sprawling development patterns have resulted in significant fragmentation as we struggle to grow our cities in a compact way.
This too often means our outer suburbs are left without the infrastructure and community facilities they need.
INVESTING IN OUR OUTER SUBURBS
I’m sure I’m not the only person here to have read Lisa Pryor’s recent piece on Australia’s urban experience in The New York Times.
In this Pryor said:
The passion for well-designed communities needs to be directed outward instead of inward, geographically and in spirit. We need to let go of some of our resources; we need to learn to share.
I couldn’t agree more.
By achieving this we unlock the enormous potential of our outer suburbs.
Melbourne’s Regional Rail Link is the perfect example of investing in outer suburbs prior to people living there.
It included new stations at Tarneit and Wyndham Vale.
I am proud of the fact that this was the largest ever federal investment in an urban public transport project.
Effectively, it untangles the lines used by Melbourne’s suburban railway lines from those used by regional services to and from Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong.
It has added 54,000 seats and saves the Victorian economy $300 million a year.
We built this project in anticipation of future growth in Melbourne’s outer suburbs.
It’s an approach that should be applied to each of our cities.
Right now, Western Sydney is crying out for the same type of investment.
Western Sydney has more people living in the region than Adelaide and Perth combined.
It is a city in and of itself, which is why I can’t understand why governments won’t commit to resourcing it as such.
This includes ensuring the rail line to Western Sydney’s airport is ready to go from day one of its opening.
It’s basic commonsense.
We have an opportunity to get this project right; to ensure people have access to the employment opportunities that come with an aerotropolis.
This is important because when we put all our talk of productivity and the economy to the side, we need to remember that when we lift an area, we also lift its people.
This equally applies to the issue of drive-in drive-out suburbs, which I mentioned earlier.
Business as usual won’t work as a strategy for dealing with this challenge.
We need to think of new ways to ensure people don’t need to spend as long commuting to and from work.
Part of this involves improving both public transport and its facilities in these locations.
During the election we committed to a Park and Ride Access Fund in Melbourne to boost car parking capacity at high- use train stations.
We also wanted to make sure funding would be available for new stations where demand growth is expected.
In Sydney, we committed to commuter parking at Schofields Station.
In the scheme of things, these are relatively small investments, but we know they make a practical difference.
Another way to reduce the distance people commute is to create alternate hubs of economic activity across a city.
In my 2014 speech to the National Press Club I spoke about the concept of the 30-minute city.
This is the simple idea that most of people’s day to day work, educational, shopping or recreational activities should be located within 30 minutes walking, cycling or public commuting from their homes.
Our outer suburbs should be vibrant, lively places, not dormitories where people simply rest between commutes.
These two strategies would go part of the way to addressing this challenge.
CITY DEALS City Deals provide an opportunity for investment in our outer suburbs, but only if they are done properly.
The British examples show the potential that exists when all levels of government work together to encourage the economic growth of a region.
Part of this arrangement is that local governments receive support from the national government in recognition that such local investment produces a return to Federal revenue.
That’s why local governments must be at the core of this equation and engaged from day one.
Commenting on City Deals earlier this year Ken Morrison from the Property Council said:
We want to see City Deals implemented in Australia, but the deals must be based on rigour. We don’t want to see quick deals, we want to see good deals that draw out the economic strengths and potential of a city and drive change where it is needed. Both sides of politics must resist the temptation to turn City Deals into a ‘pork barrel’ or a prize to be awarded to marginal seats.
I fear this is occurring.
Rather than engaging in a matching funding exercise, the Government should be focusing on proper process, using international best practice as its guide.
We should be using best practice to guide all infrastructure investment.
Smart, evidence-based decisions on investment is the most effective way to ensure positive outcomes in our cities, particularly our outer suburbs.
Earlier this year I announced Labor’s plan to broaden the role of Infrastructure Australia in two ways.
As well as looking at the economic benefits of proposals through cost-benefit analyses, we said the Government should require projects to address two new criteria.
First, proponents should show what provision for smart infrastructure has been included to ensure maximum benefit is achieved from any investment.
Secondly, projects should be required to include in their design measures that improve their sustainability, including provision for active transport where appropriate.
In some cases this is already occurring.
Water companies, like Queensland Urban Utilities and Yarra Valley Water, are maximizing the potential of their assets by using smart technology including drones and software like TaKaDu.
And Melbourne’s Regional Rail Link has provision for active transport at the new stations where secure bike lockers are available.
However, rapid growth in our cities’ populations is taking a toll on Australia’s unique natural assets and agricultural lands.
So is climate change.
We should be including as much green space as possible in city plans.
Not only do we know that this makes people happier and healthier, but it also offsets some of the worst effects of climate change.
Heat waves are a serious challenge facing Australia.
In outer suburbs, which tend to be further away from coastlines, the Heat Island Effect means residents in these areas, especially the very young and elderly, are at risk.
Many local governments are already taking a leading role in tackling this issue.
The City of Melbourne is working to lift tree canopy from 22 percent in all public places to 40 percent by 2040.
Similarly, the City of Sydney’s urban forest is aiming to grow its urban forest by 50% by 2030.
By ensuring our growth areas have parks, open space and water features we not only build more attractive places to live, but more resilient cities.
Internationally, cities are grappling with this issue of sustainable development.
Many of you will be aware of the 100 Resilient Cities Network pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation.
As part of this cities apply to join and develop resilience strategies.
These strategies aim to prepare cities for the challenges of the future, so they are more productive, sustainable and liveable. One such is example is Berkeley in the United States.
It’s one of many cities in the San Francisco Bay Area, a region which is expected to grow by two million residents over the next 25 years.
Berkeley’s biggest challenge is ensuring the seismic safety of its buildings and that residents are equipped to respond to earthquakes.
However at the same time, the city is also looking at innovative ways to mitigate the effects of climate change, with a focus on water management.
Berkeley is also looking to play a role across the region in partnership with other nearby cities.
The city is also assessing the feasibility of using groundwater sources as back-up water supply and capturing stormwater.
In addition Berkeley is hoping to change behaviour by developing rainwater catchment incentive programs for residents and businesses.
The city will also look at access to reclaimed water for street cleaning and other uses.
In Australia, we have an opportunity to consider how to best use our natural resources in green field development.
Water should be at the heart of this strategy.
We should be making sure all new developments include water sensitive design.
It’s more economical, and has huge environmental benefit.
Melbourne, too, has developed a resilience strategy through the Rockefeller Foundation.
Issues of sustainability are at the heart of Melbourne’s strategy.
The city aims to create a healthier environment by enabling its natural assets and ecosystems to thrive, whilst accommodating its growing population.
This is critical because Melbourne is particularly dependent on its food basin.
Forty-one percent of Melbourne’s fresh produce is currently grown within 100 kilometres of the city.
However, as Melbourne expands, the consequent loss of agricultural land could reduce this figure to 18 percent by 2050.
The city’s resilience strategy includes a series of actions to ensure Melbourne meets its objective.
It’s great to see Melbourne leading the way with such a holistic approach to building resilience.
Of course, resilience goes further than issues of sustainability.
It is also about how cities function as a whole, including socially and economically.
In an age with so much technological advancement, the onus is on government to ensure communities are connected to each other.
This is critical to tackling inequality.
And, that’s one of the reasons why the NBN, fibre to the home and business, is so important.
There is no excuse for Government not being able to connect our cities and towns to high speed broadband in this day and age.
Fast Internet provides employment flexibility, access to education and training as well as health services.
Successful cities are inclusive cities.
I don’t want to live in a city where you can tell a person’s wealth based on their postcode.
We need to remember as we develop greenfield sites that we are building more than just houses.
We’re building communities.
If we’re serious about addressing issues of inequity we need to ensure people can access the benefits that come from living in cities.
This includes public transport, jobs and education.
But it also includes safe neighbourhoods with footpaths and plenty of parks and green spaces.
Failing to achieve this can have a serious impact on our cities.
Concentrations of disadvantage alter the character of our cities.
Clearly, across the world, significant numbers of people feel excluded.
They feel that the mainstream political and economic systems are failing them.
Many factors are involved.
One way we can help to address this trend is to ensure our cities are inclusive and cohesive.
When communities don’t have access to jobs and when people experience increasing inequality it is hard for them to see the benefits of globalization.
The consequence is less cohesive communities.
Many of our cities are at a crossroad.
It is up to us to decide what sort of place we want to create.
We can create places of opportunity, but we need governments that are prepared to work together.
There is certainly a role for the Federal Government to step up and provide leadership and investment in our growth areas.
But that will only be successful if that leadership is in partnership with local government.
For my part I will continue to work with you.
Our track record shows this is not mere words, it will be backed by deeds.
Address to Australian Local Government Association Local Roads and Transport Congress – Nation Building as Economic Stimulus -Toowoomba, QLD
I’m pleased once again to have the opportunity to address the Australian Local Government Association’s annual Roads and Transport Congress.
This is an important event.
Governments come and go, but the need for the construction and maintenance of an efficient system of roads is ever-present.
While much of the media discourse about roads concerns major highways funded by the states and the Commonwealth, local roads are central to the everyday life of Australians.
They are, as your president has described them, the capillaries of our communities, linking our homes, schools, farms and businesses.
Everyone here would have travelled on local roads to get to this congress today.
Ensuring our roads are properly maintained and that new road construction keeps pace with development is critical for two key reasons.
The first is road safety.
But it is also about the economy.
If roads are fit for purpose and kept in good condition, they facilitate the easy passage of goods and people throughout communities.
That can boost productivity, leading to economic and jobs growth.
Indeed, if we are serious in our desire to ensure there are jobs for our children and grandchildren, we must accept that we have a responsibility to keep our road system in good shape.
So thanks for holding this congress each year to keep the spotlight on this important issue.
FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE GRANTS
Let me start today with the words on everyone’s lips – Financial Assistance Grants.
It’s no news to anyone here that councils rely heavily on Financial Assistance Grants for road maintenance and construction.
That’s why the current Federal Government’s decision in its 2014 Budget to freeze indexation of those grants until 2017-18 was such a poor decision.
This cut reduced council budgets by $925 million over three years.
Small and regional councils have been the hardest hit.
They rely on Financial Assistance Grants more than bigger councils with larger rates bases and other sources of income.
Like your organisation, I opposed the cut when it was announced in the 2014 Budget.
I worried about the effect of the cuts on construction and maintenance of local roads and other council services.
Having read ALGA’s 2016-17 Budget submission, it is now clear these concerns have been realised.
Councils all over the nation have informed ALGA that the cuts have required them to postpone infrastructure works, lift fees for services or simply reduce council activity.
The submission confirms that small rural councils have been hardest hit.
Let me quote from it:
A number of rural councils (including West Wimmera, Wodonga and Toowong in Victoria; Collie in WA; and South Burnett in Queensland) have informed ALGA that as a result of the FAGS freeze they will be forced to postpone infrastructure work, look at substantial increases in the fees for services such as kindergartens; to reduce hours of operation of council facilities and look at possible rates increases.
It is clear that the cuts have not only affected road construction and maintenance, but have forced councils to reduce other services.
As well as having real practical implications, the cuts also represent a quite cynical move by the Commonwealth to outsource its cuts to other levels of government.
I say that is cynical because it’s not the Federal Government that has to account to ratepayers for the cuts.
When someone has a problem with a pothole or worries about snakes hiding in the long grass in a local park, it’s not the local Federal MP that gets the call.
It is the local councillor.
It’s you who are being held accountable for cuts that were imposed upon your communities.
ROADS TO RECOVERY
I am pleased that in June of 2015, the Labor Party was able to work with the Government to restore some of the funding via a boost to the Roads to Recovery Program.
As you will recall, in 2014 the Government proposed lifting a freeze on indexation of fuel excise.
After its 2014 Budget, it exercised its right to begin collecting the extra money.
However, that decision had to be approved by the Senate.
Had that approval not been given, the extra money collected would have been returned to fuel companies – not to road users who had paid it.
Instead, Labor delivered a compromise whereby the changes could proceed as long as the extra revenue was allocated to councils for spending on roads for the first two years.
It was distributed through the existing Roads to Recovery program.
That was a measure Labor insisted upon.
While the Roads to Recovery funding was no doubt welcome, I note the comments of your president, Troy Pickard, in the program for today’s event.
But the additional tied infrastructure funding cannot offset the general purpose funding foregone due to the indexation freeze on FAGs.
INFRASTRUCTURE AND THE ECONOMY
Let me turn to infrastructure investment more broadly.
At a time when the mining boom is moving from its construction phase to production, it makes sense for the Commonwealth to increase infrastructure investment.
In the short term, increased investment provides ongoing economic activity and jobs in construction and related industries.
And in the medium to long term, increased investment boosts productivity and supports future economic and jobs growth.
That’s why the former Labor Government invested heavily in railways, roads, ports and other critical infrastructure.
We doubled the roads budget and built or upgraded 7000km of road.
We rebuilt more than a third of the national rail network and allocated more investment to public transport than all other previous Commonwealth governments combined.
We had several motives, including a need to address under-investment by the former Howard Government.
We understood the importance of infrastructure investment to drive economic activity in the face of the global economic crisis.
But we could also see the writing on the wall in terms of the decline of the investment stage of the mining boom.
It was clear that as private sector investment dropped off, the jobs growth of the future would have to shift to other areas of the economy.
Governments have an important role in that transition.
They need to invest in capacity.
They need to ensure that our transport and communications infrastructure is able to support the needs of new industries and businesses.
The requirement for capacity building is even more urgent in 2016.
Both sides of politics are on the same page when it comes to the need for innovation to create the industries of the future.
But support for innovation to create new industries must also come with investment in the railways, roads and ports that those industries will require if they are to thrive and produce jobs.
This also includes provision of 21st century, fibre-based high speed broadband, which is particularly important for rural and regional Australia.
In 2016, we need a strong and forward looking infrastructure program.
The case for greater investment is even more compelling when you consider that interest rates are extremely low.
Indeed, both former Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens and his successor Philip Lowe have recently noted that there is only so much they can do with monetary policy to stimulate the economy.
Both have advocated infrastructure investment for economic stimulus, provided the projects built offer returns to the public.
The current Federal Government’s rhetoric suggests that it understands the economic need for increased infrastructure investment.
But there’s a growing gap between the rhetoric and the reality.
In the lead-up to this year’s Federal election the Government cut its actual investment on infrastructure to fund an advertising campaign claiming it was delivering record investment.
But the facts tell a different story.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has found that in the first two years under the current government, total public sector infrastructure investment fell by 20 percent.
More recent figures show that the decline in investment is ongoing at the federal level.
In every quarter since the Government was elected, the public sector has invested less than the amount that was invested in the September quarter of 2013.
In its 2014 Budget, the Government said it would invest $8 billion on transport infrastructure in 2015-16.
But the Final Budget Outcome document shows its actual expenditure on transport infrastructure in 2015-16 was only $5.5 billion.
And that included a $490 million payment to the Western Australian Government as GST compensation.
That means all up, the Government cut its planned infrastructure investment by nearly $3 billion over what it promised.
That’s about 35 per cent.
The Government’s excuse for this huge underspend is that some projects have been re-phased and moved into future financial years.
But that was the excuse in the previous year, when it underspent its planned investment by $1 billion.
The truth is that the Government has reduced investment.
It has done this via a combination of scrapping some projects, postponing the commencement of others and slowing the pace of ongoing major projects like the upgrades of the Bruce and Pacific Highways.
The cuts to roads include important programs that support the work of councils.
Take last financial year.
Actual spending on the Black Spots program was 55 per cent less than the 2014 Budget forecast.
Actual spending on the Government’s own Bridges Renewal program was down 40 percent on the forecast.
Investment in the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity program was down 70 per cent on the 2014 forecast.
These programs are of particular importance to local governments, particularly those in rural and regional Australia.
Let’s take the Bridges Renewal Program which I know is of real assistance to smaller councils because it improves bridges while also generating local economic activity.
The 40 per cent cut in actual spending in 2015-16 over what was forecast in 2014 represents $25 million.
That’s $25 million that should have been being invested in rural and regional Australia in 2015-16.
That’s $25 million that should be stimulating local economy right now: creating jobs; driving local demand; keeping things moving.
I’m surprised by this lethargy.
If the Government was actually delivering on its bridges program, Black Spots and the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity program, the investment might go some way toward helping councils deal with the impact of the cuts to Financial Assistance Grants.
It’s not enough just to talk about the jobs of the future.
Serious governments invest the jobs of the future by building the infrastructure that will make those jobs real.
In Australia at this stage of our development, that has to include significant investment in public transport and better roads to address traffic congestion.
In cities all over Australia, traffic congestion is eating away at economic productivity and damaging our quality of life.
According to Infrastructure Australia, traffic congestion will cost the nation $53 billion in lost productivity each year unless we take action now.
We need to invest.
And we need to do it now.
Traffic congestion not only erodes economic productivity and acts as a hand brake on jobs growth.
It is also eroding the Australian quality of life and keeping people on the road when they should be in their communities or their homes.
It’s a tragedy that many Australian parents spend more time in their cars travelling to and from work than they spend at home playing with their kids.
We also need to invest in roads, including local roads in rural and regional areas.
And from my perspective, the best way to do that is to work with local councils.
That’s an approach Labor has taken for many years now.
We see investment in communities, whether in roads or other community projects, as a partnership with local government.
Here in Queensland this partnership delivered some great outcomes.
The former Labor Government worked with the Gold Coast City Council and the State Government to deliver the highly successful Gold Coast Light Rail.
We worked with the Moreton Bay Regional Council and the State Government on the Redcliffe Peninsula Rail Link, which opened in September, connecting the Redcliffe Peninsula to the Brisbane suburban rail network.
We also partnered with the Brisbane City Council on Legacy Way, an important road project delivered without a state government contribution.
Let me finish up by restating my firm view that local government should be recognised in the Australian Constitution.
Allowing local government to exist purely in state legislation means it is subject to the political whims of the state government of the day.
We’ve seen this from the ongoing process of forced amalgamations in NSW, which have left communities without accountable local representation for two years.
Communities feel angry and betrayed.
And people’s voices are not heard.
Be assured that a future Labor Government will pick up where we left off on this issue.
We’ll also return to an orderly, evidence-based approach to infrastructure investment, working with other levels of government in partnership.
During the election campaign we proposed significant investment right across the nation.
We offered support for public transport and better roads.
But we also backed important freight rail projects including Inland Rail and the Port Botany Freight Line.
I’m strongly of the view that infrastructure investment is the key to future prosperity.
It’s no good just talking about it.
You need to invest in the right projects based on evidence of economic return.
Then you need to roll up your sleeves and get on with it.
Let me start by expressing my condolences for the dreadful accident at Dreamworld earlier this week.
This event has shocked the whole nation.
It’s a tragedy for the families of those who lost their lives and for the entire Gold Coast community.
Over coming weeks the relevant authorities will work their way through the factors surrounding the accident.
But for now, the priority remains helping the families of the victims.
Many of you will have travelled here on the Gold Coast Light Rail.
This was a transformative project for the Gold Coast.
It shows what governments can do when they work together – local state and federal.
Patronage grew by 16 per cent in its second year of operation to 21,000 trips a day.
The State Labor Government is getting on with the second stage, which will connect the line to the heavy rail system at Helensvale.
It’s due for completion in time for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Gold Coast Light Rail is proof positive that when governments provide public transport that is convenient,
Australians will use it.
That’s an important lesson for the entire nation.
That’s because in 2016 traffic congestion is one of the biggest problems facing this country.
In cities right across Australia, traffic congestion is eroding people’s quality of life.
But it is also eroding productivity and putting a hand brake on the economic growth needed to create jobs for our children.
Indeed, Infrastructure Australia has warned that unless we act now, traffic congestion will cost the economy $53 billion a year from 2031.
That’s why projects like the Gold Coast Light Rail are so important.
We need more public transport and we need it soon.
We need all levels of government on the same page on this important issue, because it’s not just about public convenience, as important as that is.
As Bill Clinton once said: It’s the economy, stupid.
That was what was in the mind of the former Labor Government in 2009 when we decided to get behind light rail here on the coast.
We realised Gold Coast Light Rail would not only provide a great asset for travellers, but that it would also boost the local economy.
In the process, the project would help drive national economic growth.
And that’s how it panned out.
In 2016 our nation continues to seek ways to sustain growth in the wake of the decline of the investment stage of the mining boom.
We need new ideas, new industries.
But to support those new industries, we need railways, roads, ports and other infrastructure.
If we invest in these nation building projects, the construction and other activity will help support and sustain growth.
It’s not just me saying that.
Former Reserve Bank of Australia chairman Glenn Stevens and his successor Philip Lowe have both made the point that there is only so much they can do to stimulate the economy by reducing interest rates.
Both have noted there is a role for infrastructure investment as valuable tool in broader economic policy.
That is why it is so disappointing that the Turnbull Government is sitting on its hands when it comes to new infrastructure projects, particularly public transport projects.
Indeed, if the current government had its way, there would be no Gold Coast Light Rail.
Under the Opposition leadership of Malcolm Turnbull, they voted against commonwealth funding for the Gold Coast Light Rail back in 2009.
Of course, that did not stop local Coalition MPs elbowing each other out of the way to be photographed by the media riding the first service on launch day.
That’s the way it is with this government: They are happy to ride on trains; they just don’t want to fund trains.
It’s pleasing that the commonwealth is now providing funding for Stage II using savings made in the construction of another Labor initiative, the Moreton Bay Rail Link.
But the sad fact is that this investment is a one-off.
The Turnbull Government has not invested a dollar on any new public transport initiative.
It’s also a fact that Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show total public sector infrastructure investment fell by 20 per cent in the Coalition’s first two years in office.
But it gets worse.
In the 2015-16 financial year, the Turnbull Government cut infrastructure investment by nearly $3 billion, or more than 35 per cent, over what it had promised in its 2014 budget.
Incidentally, that cut included the $18 million cut from funding allocated for actual infrastructure projects to fund a pre-election propaganda blitz.
Rather than using this public money to build things, they spent it on television and newspaper advertisements saying they were delivering record investment.
That kind of deception is Orwellian.
It’s also bad for the economy and bad for jobs.
These facts highlight the chasm between the Federal Government’s rhetoric on infrastructure and the reality of its performance.
The existence of this gap is ironic when you consider the way in which the Prime Minister seeks to promote himself as a public transport enthusiast.
When he was stalking Tony Abbott for the Liberal Party leadership throughout the first nine months of 2015, Mr Turnbull frequently posted photographs of himself riding on trains, trams and buses.
He did this because he knew Australians were dismayed by Tony Abbott’s blanket refusal to fund public transport anywhere in the country.
But since he ousted Mr Abbott, Mr Turnbull has taken on his predecessor’s peculiar policy toward public transport.
He still enjoys being photographed on trains.
Indeed, just a few weeks ago he sought credit for the opening of the Moreton Bay Rail Link to Redcliffe even though, once again, his party opposed the project when the state and federal Labor governments funded the line.
CROSS RIVER RAIL
Federal Government inaction is also evident in Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project.
This is one of the most urgent infrastructure projects in the country.
If we don’t build a second rail crossing of the Brisbane River in the next few years, the existing Merivale Bridge will reach full capacity.
The moment that happens, the bottleneck will be a drain on economic and job growth in Brisbane and Queensland.
The project should be underway right now.
Back in 2013, the then Federal Labor Government actually reached agreement with the then Newman
Coalition Government to build Cross River Rail.
Infrastructure Australia had assessed the project and declared it ready to go in 2012.
But at the last minute, the Newman Government backflipped.
And as soon as Mr Abbott became Prime Minister, he withdrew the Commonwealth funding offer, along with funding for each and every public transport project in the nation that was not already under way.
The Moreton Bay Rail Link was underway, so it escaped the Abbott axe.
The history of this project makes a mockery of Mr Turnbull’s refusal during the recent federal election campaign to commit to reinstating the funding that Mr Abbott cut.
Cross River Rail should be well under construction by now.
CUTS ARE EVERYWHERE
The Federal Government has also cut funding for a range of other important Queensland projects.
In the 2015-16 Budget, funding for the ongoing Bruce Highway upgrade was cut by $94 million over what was promised in 2014.
Funding for the Gateway North project fell by $50 million, the same amount cut from the Coalition’s pet project – the second crossing of the Toowoomba Range.
Programs including Black Spots, and bridges renewal were also cut.
The Government has also cut financial assistance grants to councils, which are usually used for road maintenance, by $199 million over three years.
What this nation needs is a bipartisan approach to infrastructure investment.
Building the railways, roads and other infrastructure needed to support our needs and also to create jobs and growth are critically important.
They should be beyond politics.
That is why the former Labor Federal Government created Infrastructure Australia in 2008.
Its independent experts are outside the political system.
They assess projects on the basis of whether they are actually needed, whether they will provide a productivity return to the community and how they fit in with existing assets.
Politicians should always be making investment decisions. We are accountable at the ballot box.
But we should make those decisions on the basis of expert advice.
We know from the current Government’s experience that when you ignore the expert advice, you can end up making huge mistakes.
Back in the 2014 Budget, the Coalition funded the proposed East-West Link in Melbourne without consulting Infrastructure Australia.
It later emerged that the project would have returned only 45 cents for every dollar invested.
The project was a dud.
And during this year’s federal election campaign, Mr Turnbull announced about $850 million for 78 new transport projects around the nation.
Seventy-six of these projects were in seats held by the Coalition at the time of the election.
Most of these projects were small – small enough that they would normally be delivered by state or local government.
For example, Mr Turnbull found $1 million to upgrade a road in the Hunter Valley community of Gresford used for an annual Billy Cart race.
That’s not nation building.
It is crude pork barrelling.
Imagine if Mr Turnbull has used that $850 million for a transformative project that would boost national productivity and economy growth, a project like Cross River Rail, for example.
It’s time for all political parties to accept that the delivery of infrastructure is a central part of economic policy.
We also need to listen to the experts about which projects will have the greatest economic benefit.
We need to commit to a pipeline of projects based on the expert advice and be ambitious enough to actually commit the funds to make them happen.
That’s how you produce growth.
It’s how you produce jobs.
In previous years, we always had the mining sector to sustain construction.
But it’s over as mining has moved to the production phase.
It’s time for all governments to step up to their role in driving economic growth.
To do that, we have to put aside the politics and self-interest and think about the future – both short term and long term.
In the short term, we need to invest in infrastructure to sustain economic activity.
If we choose the right projects, we’ll also be serving the long term by ensuring that in coming decades, our nation has infrastructure that is fit for the purpose of supporting ongoing jobs and growth.
I’ve heard a lot of people complaining in recent years about how today’s Australians should not be leaving a legacy of debt for future generations.
But it is just as important that we don’t leave future generations an infrastructure deficit.
Our population is growing rapidly.
We need to accept our duty to leave future generations with an economy capable of generating jobs for all Australians.
That includes communications.
Earlier this week I visited Roma to participate in the Australian Regional Tourism Network summit.
I enjoyed the opportunity to rub shoulders with people from all over rural and regional Australia who are doing everything they can to promote tourism in their communities.
Understandably, much of the focus was on marketing.
I spoke to many people.
The issue that was most frequently raised was the inadequacy of the Federal Government’s broadband service, not just when it came to their businesses, but also their daily lives.
It is beyond me how a Federal Government that runs on a mantra of jobs and growth could be so blind to the importance of communication in driving jobs and growth.
I’m all for innovation.
But the bottom line here is that in the 21st century, Australia won’t be able to capitalise on our innovation unless we have world-class broadband.
In the 21st century, world-class broadband is as important to the success of a business as roads.
Indeed, fibre to the home and business ought to be considered a basic utility, like water, electricity or sewerage.
It saddens me to watch the current Government delivering 19th century copper-based technology that, within a very short time, will have to be torn out and brought up to date to keep our nation internationally competitive.
Based on the feedback I get as I travel the country, Australians are saddened too.
Let me conclude by giving you a brief rundown of where Federal Labor is at with regard to individual projects here in Queensland.
I remain very proud of the record of the former Labor Federal Government in which I was proud to have served as Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.
Projects we delivered included $5.7 billion for the Bruce Highway over six years.
That followed an investment of only $1.3 billion by the former Howard Government over 12 years.
That’s four times as much in half the time.
There was also Legacy Way, investment on the Pacific Motorway, the Ipswich Motorway, the Warrego Highway and the Townsville Ring Road.
We also started planning for a high-speed rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.
Unfortunately, while Labor got the ball rolling on High Speed Rail, the current government has dropped the ball completely on this visionary project.
In this year’s election campaign we presented a comprehensive infrastructure policy.
It included investment for Cross River Rail, the merge between the M1 and the Gateway Motorway, the final stage of the Ipswich Motorway upgrade, the Gladstone Port Access Road and a new stadium in Townsville.
And we proposed the creation of a $10 billion infrastructure financing facility designed to encourage more private investment in public infrastructure.
We also had a comprehensive policy for improving the productivity, sustainability and liveability of Australian Cities, backed up by our strong support for public transport but also covering areas like urban design and active travel.
Brisbane and the Gold Coast are international cities.
But with growth has come pressures, including traffic congestion.
It is a privilege to make decisions that that have made material differences to people’s lives.
Backing Gold Coast Light Rail was one of them.
Next time you take a ride on the light rail, look around you.
Without light rail, just about every adult on the tram would be driving their car to get to where they were going.
And just like you, they would be stuck in traffic.