Feb 11, 2016

Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2015-2016, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2015-2016 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:42): Let me take you back a bit more than two years, to the 2013 election campaign. This government, we were told, would be the infrastructure government. There would be cranes in the sky and bulldozers working on major projects within a year of the election. Two years later, the only thing we have seen in the sky from this government is the helicopter of the former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop.

Mr Frydenberg: You never saw that. You only saw a photo of her landing.

Mr ALBANESE: And the only bulldozer we have seen, in terms of holes being dug, is the one they used to bury Tony Abbott’s prime ministership. We have seen no projects built under this government.

Mr Nikolic: What about the Midland Highway in Tasmania?

Mr ALBANESE: What we have seen is a magical infrastructure re-announcement tour where the government has gone around the country promoting—

Mr Nikolic: What about the Blue Derby mountain bike trails?

Mr ALBANESE: Are you going to hold these clowns to order, Mr Deputy Speaker?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Broadbent ): I think you can look after yourself.

Mr ALBANESE: I can indeed, and I note that it is fair game in this chamber from this point on. The fact is that the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that public investment in infrastructure is down by 20 per cent when you compare the September 2015 quarter with the September 2013 quarter.

Of the government’s three big-ticket items when it comes to roads, the East West Link, as we know from the audits that have taken place and from the business case that was prepared for that project, would have produced 45c of benefit for every dollar of taxpayers’ money. It is like the government going to an individual taxpayer and saying, ‘You give me $100 and I’ll give you $45 back next time I see you’—an extraordinary proposition. Of course, we know that $1½ billion was pre-paid in order to prop up the Victorian state government budget but with a consequential negative impact on the Commonwealth budget—an extraordinary proposition. The Perth Freight Link has been knocked over in the courts because it was a project that was done on the run, where the WA minister responsible indicated that there was no business case and no planning had been done that was worthy of any public scrutiny, and where the courts have determined that the approvals were made incorrectly because the route goes through a wetland in Perth and simply is not ready to be approved in an appropriate way. WestConnex, in Sydney, is a project that began with a $10 billion price tag and is now priced at $16.8 billion. Again, advance payments have been made with respect to that project. Some $2.75 billion has been forwarded to New South Wales. It is quite an extraordinary proposition.

We have had a range of ministers responsible whom I have seen off as the shadow minister. One of the new ministers has been given the title of minister for major projects. He should be called the minister for Labor projects because NorthConnex, the Pacific Highway, the Bruce Highway, the Gateway Upgrade North, NorthLink WA, the Perth Airport gateway, the North-South Road Corridor, the Midland Highway in Tasmania and the Inland Rail project are all projects that were funded and begun under the former Labor government.

What we have seen from the government from time to time is that, extraordinarily, it has given projects new names. The Swan Valley Bypass, for example, has become NorthLink WA. The F3 to M2 project in New South Wales has become NorthConnex. They are the same projects. Giving them a new name does not make them new projects, but the government has pretended that they are. Among the projects, just in New South Wales, that have been re-announced by the government as part of its magical infrastructure re-announcement tour, Pacific Highway projects were re-announced on 8 January, 21 March, 17 September and 22 December 2014, and 26 March, 1 April and 28 April 2015. The F3 to M2 was re-announced as NorthConnex on 15 March 2014. The Hunter Expressway was re-announced at its opening—the government pretending that it had anything to do with it at all—on 21 March 2014. The Great Western Highway was re-announced on 10 July 2014. The northern Sydney freight upgrade was re-announced on 28 November 2013. The Moorebank Intermodal was re-announced on 13 December 2013. The Port Botany upgrade program was re-announced on 13 May 2014. The Port Botany rail line was re-announced on 7 March 2014. These projects were commenced and under construction. Indeed, in the minister’s state of Victoria, the Regional Rail Link was actually opposed as part of the economic stimulus plan by those opposite, and yet the government has pretended that it was somehow responsible.

We know that what occurred when the government came to office was that Tony Abbott, the former Prime Minister, and the government cancelled funding for every single public transport project that was not already under construction, including the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail line and the Tonsley Park upgrade in South Australia. The Gawler line electrification was stopped halfway through. These are all cuts that were made. Cuts were also made, of course, to road projects—projects like the M80 in Victoria and the Midland Highway in Tasmania, which was cut by $100 million.

Mr Frydenberg: What about the East West Link?

Mr ALBANESE: The minister opposite appears to be not embarrassed, as he should be, by the performance on the East West Link, but he raises it. He should look at the Auditor-General’s assessment of that project or look at the cost-benefit analysis, because the government did provide that $1½ billion advance payment as part of $3 billion that they committed to a project that would return 45c for every dollar invested—but that, of course, was not new money. That was money that was cut from the Melbourne Metro, some $3 billion; from the M80, $500 million; and from the Managed Motorways Program. More than $70 million was cut from that program. That is a great example of what the government have done on infrastructure, because they cut the program and then went back and announced the Monash Freeway managed motorways project in a splash, as if it were new, a year and a half after they cut it in their 2014 budget.

What those projects had in common was that they had all been approved by Infrastructure Australia. This government has funded projects that were promised during the election campaign but cut projects that would actually produce productivity benefits in order to do so. As a result, because they have not proceeded—projects like Perth Freight Link and other projects that they talked up—you have seen that 20 per cent decline in infrastructure investment.

It is extraordinary that the new Minister for Territories, Local Government and Major Projects told the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects yesterday:

If our cities are pretty good by world standards, then, why is there a need for federal government involvement in cities policy? After all, previous attempts at such involvement-the grand schemes of the Whitlam years, for example, or the ‘cities unit’ Anthony Albanese created as Minister for Infrastructure-have not made much difference.

The fact is that federal involvement in our cities does make a difference. I thought that when the Turnbull coup against Tony Abbott occurred last year—against the elected Prime Minister—and a minister for cities was appointed, in Jamie Briggs, it was a good signal and I welcomed it. Unfortunately, Jamie Briggs was given no department, no major cities unit and no real job to do, just a title. They have not even bothered to replace him in the two months since he has gone, and it would appear that there is no real difference when it comes to their policies.

It is extraordinary that rather than building new infrastructure and having a program of their own to go out there and promote in this election campaign, they have actually cut the infrastructure budget by $18 million and reallocated that money to an advertising campaign. It is breathtaking in its boldness. They have said in Senate estimates that it will include newspapers and TV with state and even regionally based television ads. It will cover 88 projects, most of which will be projects that were funded and which began under the former Labor government. Having presided over a 20 per cent decline in infrastructure investment, the government will now cut funding even further to fund spin. If you cannot deliver actual infrastructure projects, deliver propaganda. That is the policy of this government. It takes a special kind of arrogance to cut investment to the bone and then cut it even further so that you can pretend that you have made no cuts. No doubt in the member for Petrie’s electorate they will pretend that they had anything to do with the Moreton Bay regional rail line that was, of course, funded by the former government. It was promised in 2010. The funding clicked in and construction began in 2012. The government have, to their credit, supported Badgerys Creek as Sydney’s second airport. That is an important project that will create jobs for Western Sydney. They need to make sure that they get it right. This is an opportunity to have world’s best practice in terms of the environment, the amenity and the boost that it will provide for employment in Western Sydney. It can be done in a way that is sensitive to environmental concerns and minimises the impact on the local community, and they need to make sure that they do that.

The truth is that you cannot have an airport on day one without also having a rail line on day one. The government should be funding that rail line, not just roads. But when it comes to rail, this is a Prime Minister who wants to ride on trams and trains—and take selfies on trams and trains—but not fund trains, buses and trams. This is government by selfie. The fact is that the government has to fund public transport, it has to get serious about urban policy and cities policy and it has to restore Infrastructure Australia’s independence. There is an opportunity with the reshuffle to do just that, but this government is so internally chaotic that it seems incapable of doing so.