Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (19:49): Last weekend I attended the New South Wales ALP Country Labor conference, and I drove along the Pacific Highway from Port Macquarie to Foster, a beautiful part of the world. I had the opportunity to drive on the legacy of the investment made by the former Labor government in duplicating the Pacific Highway after years of inaction by the previous Howard government. We invested some $7.6 billion in the project over six years, compared with $1.3 billion by the Howard government over 12 years.
My journey was a stark reminder of the ineffectiveness of the National Party. According to the last census, the electorate of Lyne, which includes Foster, has the second lowest average income in the country. Just to its north is Cowper, the sixth poorest electorate in the country. One electorate further on is Page, the fifth poorest electorate in the country. It’s no coincidence that these are seats that have been taken for granted by the National Party. The fact is that they need better representation. The National Party currently have no plan for regional economic development.
Regional Australia does need a serious economic development plan, and Labor has one. It starts with an increase in infrastructure investment to end the years of coalition cuts. According to the independent Parliamentary Budget Office, if we stick with those opposite, federal infrastructure investment expressed as a percentage of GDP will halve from 0.4 to 0.2 per cent over the coming decade. Much of the focus of a Labor government would be investment in public transport in capital cities, but we must also address regional economic development. The nation must confront traffic congestion in those capital cities, but one of the ways we can do that is by encouraging the growth in our regional cities. Regional Australia has an important role to play. As well as improving transport in the capitals, Labor wants to empower regional centres so they prosper, so they can absorb some of the intense pressure of national population growth. The fact is that many Australians, including some of those newer to this country, are open to living in regional Australia if they can find jobs there. That’s why we invested in the NBN in regional Australia: to take away the tyranny of distance and to change it from a disadvantage to a comparative advantage for business to be located in regional centres which have lower overheads than businesses located in the CBDs of our capital cities.
Labor will also target regional jobs growth through infrastructure investment and via our city partnerships program. We want to work with councils, state governments, the private sector and regional development organisations to craft transformative economic development strategies appropriate to individual communities. What are the relative comparative advantages that particular regions can bring to provide the support of government to make sure that that growth in jobs happens?
We also want to improve road and rail links between capital cities and regional centres. For example, the high-speed rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra will see a city such as the one we’re in now, Canberra, or Newcastle being well under an hour from the CBD of Sydney. What that will do is improve the livability of those regional cities, but it will also improve the economic opportunity for businesses to be located there. In the same way, quicker access to Melbourne would drive increased jobs growth in cities like Ballarat and Bendigo.
Of course, regional Australia also requires, as my colleague the member for Whitlam has been relentlessly campaigning for, 21st century fibre based broadband. That is so important to providing opportunity, yet those opposite are happy for the people they represent in this parliament to struggle along with 19th century copper technology. Talk about a lack of ambition!
The fact is it will take a Labor government to energise regional Australia. We understand that regional Australians are hurting at the moment. They’re hurting due to the drought but also due to a lack of political support, in many cases, from those very people who they send to represent them in this House.
Question agreed to.
House adjourned at 19:54
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.