Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (17:11): It was the former US President Harry Truman who once noted that, ‘It is men and women who make history, not the other way around.’ Truman said:
Progress occurs when courageous, skilful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.
The great, former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating had a similar view. Keating said:
The great changes in civilisation and society have been wrought by deeply held beliefs and passion rather than by a process of rational deduction.
In the history of Australia, it has always been the Australian Labor Party, driven by our beliefs and our passion, which has changed this country for the better. We built universal health care; the coalition opposed it. We delivered access to university for all, based on merit, not the individual’s bank balance; the coalition opposed it. We created compulsory superannuation, providing for the first time the prospect of a dignified retirement for all Australians, and those opposite opposed it. Indeed, while Labor’s concern was dignity for all in retirement, the coalition’s view is best summed up by the member for Warringah, who once described compulsory superannuation as:
… one of the biggest con jobs ever foisted by a government on the Australian people.
Labor built the Snowy Mountains scheme; those opposite opposed it. Labor established Infrastructure Australia; those opposite opposed it. Labor created the National Broadband Network; those opposite opposed it. Indeed, the Liberal leader at the time ordered his shadow minister to demolish it. Of course, that was the member for Warringah and the member for Wentworth. The current Prime Minister is now pretending to support the NBN, but he made an absolute hash of the project. He is delivering a copper based, second-rate broadband rather than the fibre based, high-speed broadband our nation needs to remain globally competitive in the 21st century.
The origin of these nation-building Labor reforms, along with countless others, has been the philosophical touchstone of the Australian people. The idea that we all deserve a fair go is Labor’s guiding light. It is the notion that, whatever our gender, age, colour, background or sexuality, we all deserve a fair go.
By contrast, the Liberal and National parties have, for the entirety of their existence, devoted themselves to resisting change and entrenching privilege. Their philosophical touchtone is not the fair go; it is the law of the jungle. Fundamentally, they have been on the wrong side of history on so many issues. For them it is the law of the jungle. They do not want progress. It jars with their sense of entitlement. They do not want fairness, because it means less for their friends at the top end of town. They see economic growth as an end in itself. We see economic growth as a means to lift living standards, create opportunity and spread fairness.
Budget 2017 is confirmation that the Labor Party is leading from opposition. This is the budget of ideological retreat where the coalition is desperately seeking to narrow the rhetorical difference between itself and Labor. They have changed the rhetoric but they have not changed their lack of conviction. They say that they embrace needs based education funding, but they are cutting investment by $22.3 billion over the next decade according to their own documents. They say they support Medicare, but the budget locked in billions of dollars in cuts and maintained the freeze on the Medicare rebate in the short term. They say they understand the importance of infrastructure investment, yet the budget cuts it by $1.6 billion in this financial year alone, with annual investment to fall off a cliff over the next four years to $4.2 billion. Of course, they say they support the NBN. Yet we know that in the last week they have purchased some 15 million metres of copper wire—not fibre, copper; technology of the last century or perhaps even the century before.
The fact is they talk the talk but they never walk the walk. It is just like Malcolm Turnbull’s attitude towards public transport. He loves taking selfies on trains, trams and buses. He just will not fund trains, trams and buses.
In that context, people should be cynical about the coalition’s claimed conversion to a position of support for universal health care in this country. We know that Gough Whitlam created Medibank after the coalition opposed it not once but twice, requiring a double dissolution election in 1974 and a joint sitting to create Medibank. As soon as Malcolm Fraser was appointed as the Prime Minister after the 1975 election he of course tore down Medibank. It took Bob Hawke in 1983 to reintroduce universal health care by creating Medicare. This is what the new Liberal leader, John Howard, who is the icon of those opposite, said about it in 1988: ‘Australia’s health care system is in a shambles. The real villain is Labor’s doctrinaire commitment to a universal government health insurance system, Medicare.’ We know that, given any opportunity, they will undermine universal health care, because it contrasts with their concept of entrenching privilege rather than creating opportunity.
The same principle applies to infrastructure investment in this budget. In the weeks leading up to 9 May, the government sought to convince people it would invest in infrastructure. They went out there and created a distinction between good debt and bad debt. We heard hints of major new spending initiatives. But on budget day the cupboard was bare. They cut funding. Infrastructure Partnerships Australia is a peak representative body for the infrastructure sector in this country. The organisation is apolitical, but it is a passionate advocate for increased infrastructure development. After four years of coalition inaction on nation building, the IPA has lost patience with this mob, exposing the fact that the budget cuts federal infrastructure funding by $7.4 billion over the forward estimates. In its post-budget commentary it said: ‘Foremost, the budget confirms the cut to real budgeted capital funding to its lowest level in more than a decade, using a mix of underspend, reprofiling and narrative to cover this substantial drop in real capital expenditure.’
That industry assessment comes as the Prime Minister wanders around the country claiming that he is interested in infrastructure. If you look at the budget figures, you see that just a year ago they promised $9.2 billion in the current financial year. This year’s budget papers revealed that the actual spend is $7.6 billion, representing a cut to investment in major road projects like the Bruce Highway and the Pacific Highway, a cut to the Black Spot Program, a cut to the heavy vehicle safety program and a cut to their own Bridges Renewal Program. More than two years ago, the government announced their Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, but they are yet to allocate a single dollar to a single project. In this budget, they have created a new NAIF, the ‘no actual infrastructure fund’. In fact, the only new on-budget infrastructure project over the next four years anywhere in the country is $13.8 million for the Far North Collector Road near the New South Wales town of Nowra in the marginal seat of Gilmore. This is a project that hardly anyone had ever heard of until budget night. This is what the local paper, the South Coast Register, said in its editorial of 17 May:
Interestingly the announcement in the budget was the first many of us had ever heard of the Northern Collector Road.
… former Mayor Joanna Gash never mentioned a Northern Collector Road.
Meanwhile, they do nothing about the Nowra Bridge, which is the issue that they need to address in that particular part of Australia.
Right across Australia we saw cuts. For example, in Victoria, home to one in four Australians, they continue to receive less than 10 per cent of the national infrastructure budget. In Budget Paper No. 2. it says, under ‘Infrastructure Investment Program—Victorian infrastructure investments’, there is zero this year, zero next year, zero the year after, zero the year after, and zero the year after that. Why they included that table in Budget Paper No. 2, quite frankly, is beyond me. They should have just pretended that Victoria did not exist, because that, essentially, is what they have done. Indeed, funding for ongoing projects in Victoria goes from a paltry $800 million this current year, representing under 10 per cent of the budget, to $280 million in 2020-21. That is from a position where we have already seen infrastructure investment per Victorian halved, from $201 per year under the former federal Labor government to $92 under the current government.
There is also no investment to tackle one of the most serious impediments to economic growth in our nation, traffic congestion in our cities. In spite of the government’s rhetoric, there is no new funding for public transport. Instead, we have a grand announcement of a $10 billion National Rail Program. The problem is that there is no money this year, there is no money next year, there is no money the year after, and then, the year after that, $200 million trickles down. So there is not a single dollar for a new project between now and four years time. The fact is that this budget failed by producing no funding for the Melbourne Metro, no funding for Western Sydney Rail, no funding for AdeLINK in Adelaide and no funding for Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project. Indeed, the budget included nothing for cities. In spite of the rhetoric of this government, City Deals got not a single dollar. All that we have is a matching of Labor commitments for Townsville stadium, UTAS in Launceston, and an obscure Western Sydney deal with a paltry amount of funding attached.
When it comes to freight rail, they have attached more than $8 billion of so-called equity to the Inland Rail line, but the government said themselves, in a report by John Anderson, that it will not return the capital investment for more than 50 years. How can this investment be off budget? We know that the line will stop 38 kilometres short of the port of Brisbane. Now we have the Inland Rail stopping short of the port of Brisbane and not going to the port of Melbourne either, just like the Perth Freight Link project did not go to the port of Fremantle and WestConnex goes nowhere near Port Botany, Sydney, which was the basis of the project.
Respected journalist Michael Pascoe said about the budget:
Morrison has got away with rehashing Hockey’s infrastructure PR trick—think of a big number and keep adding years until you reach it.
Wake up, people! Spread over 10 years, the Commonwealth is only offering $7.5 billion a year, much of it already in Hockey’s numbers and a fair swag of that dating from Labor government commitments.
You can get away with spin only for so long. The government continue to count the 2013 budget as if they were in government at the time of that budget. The fact is that is not the case.
Then we have the Infrastructure Financing Unit. This is a solution looking for a problem. There is not a lack of available capital in this country; there is a lack of government support and a lack of proper planning for infrastructure in this country. Former US President John F Kennedy once noted that things do not just happen but are made to happen. Labor made infrastructure happen in this country. We invested in freight, we invested in roads and we invested in public transport. The fact is that this government has failed when it comes to infrastructure. What this country needs is what Paul Keating once described as the two key elements of leadership—imagination and courage—and it will get that only from a Labor government.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.