Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (17:10): Investment in infrastructure is of course the key to lifting economic productivity in this country. Just as inadequate infrastructure impedes economic growth, traffic congestion needlessly complicates life for people as they move around their communities. Inadequate highways mean road safety issues come to the fore. A failure to have efficient freight systems, whether by rail or by road and intermodal transport, is a handbrake on productivity.
So that is why every year at budget time I look forward to announcements of new nation-building projects like roads and railway lines or port infrastructure. The first step on budget night is always to look for the summary booklet from the department of infrastructure—or, as it used to be called, the department of transport. Last year, indeed, the booklet helped greatly to identify the re-announcements of the government, because you could go to the page on the Pacific Highway or the Bruce Highway and look at the projects. You could look at, say, the May 2013 budget on the Bruce Highway, then go to next year’s and it was exactly the same. It showed that there were not new projects on either the Bruce Highway or the Pacific Highway from the government.
This year, they just did not bother. They did not bother to produce any documentation about infrastructure on budget night. Why? Because there were no new public transport projects. That is not surprising, given that they cut all the funding for public transport in last year’s budget. There were no new major road projects anywhere in the country; not a single new project funded in this budget for freight rail anywhere in the country; nothing for ports or intermodal infrastructure; nothing for high-speed rail. Indeed, this budget cuts infrastructure funding by $2 billion over the next two years. That is a $2 billion cut, compared with the 2014 budget—compared with what they said they would do just one year ago.
It is no wonder that business commentator Alan Kohler wrote in the Business Spectator of 20 May that any suggestion that this government is an infrastructure government is nothing more than spin. Mr Kohler wrote this: ‘In fact, the detail of the Budget papers show a real decline in spending in the Infrastructure and Regional Development portfolio of 11.2 per cent between 2014-15 and 2018-19.’ An 11.2 per cent decline over that period! It is no wonder that Mr Kohler has described the government’s record on infrastructure as ‘pathetic’.
This is the worst possible time to cut infrastructure investment. Our economy is in a state of transition as we move away from the resources boom. According to the ABS, private sector investment fell by some 12.4 per cent between the December quarter 2013 and the December quarter 2014. In the same period, public sector investment on infrastructure fell by 17.3 per cent from the December quarter 2013 to the December quarter 2014. In these circumstances a responsible government would have stepped up to the plate and lifted infrastructure investment. The government tries to get around these facts and today the Deputy Prime Minister tried again. The analysis of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia shows that Commonwealth investment in infrastructure will fall from 1.55 per cent of the budget to 1.47 per cent across the forward estimates.
Last Friday we saw exactly how big the challenge was. Infrastructure Australia produced its update of the 2008 national infrastructure audit. This audit found that, without action, traffic congestion would escalate the cost to $53 billion by 2031. It found that public transport use will double over the next 20 years. So what is the government’s response to these challenges? They withdraw all investment in public transport. The Regional Rail Link project that will open next month is the largest ever federal investment in an urban public transport project, making an enormous difference not just to the Melbourne suburban rail network but to Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo. When it opens it will add an extra 54,000 commuter seats a day and will take thousands of cars off the roads. Labor funded projects such as the Gold Coast light rail. The member opposite, the member for Moncrieff, would be very familiar with it. Now he is a strong supporter of it—not at the time but he now supports it. It opened last year. It has had five million people travel on it in less than a year.
We also funded the Moreton Bay rail line in Brisbane, which is under construction, and allocated billions of dollars of investment for projects like the Melbourne metro and the Cross River Rail project. At the same time, we doubled the roads budget. We invested in important freight projects. The member for Parkes spoke about the inland rail project. The government have not added a dollar, not a cent, in their first two budgets for that project. Every single dollar of the $300 million was allocated by the former federal Labor government. Indeed, our rollout was faster and the government have spent less than we would have over its first two years in government.
We need to invest in both roads and rail. All of the experts know that that is the case. We need to engage in cities and urban policy. We cannot have a situation whereby the Commonwealth simply says that it is the business of someone else to deal with these issues, when 80 per cent of Australians live in our cities and when our cities produce more than 80 per cent of GDP. In his 1972 election campaign speech, Gough Whitlam said:
A national government which has nothing to say about cities has nothing relevant or enduring to say about the nation or the nation’s future.
Yet this government has shut down the Major Cities Unit. The next State of Australian Cities report was due in 2014. The government said it would produce it but in fact it has not been published. We know that the Department of Infrastructure signed an $11,000 contract with a printing agency for the 2014 report and the contract stipulated—it is available on the government website—that the report would be published on 15 December last year. So it obviously had to be printed prior to the publication of the report. Where is it? It cost $11,000 and it has not appeared. It has just disappeared. Maybe it had something in it that was slightly critical. We do not know. We do know that for the first three years three million full copies were downloaded of this report, such is the wont for information on urban policy in cities. We do know that there is a demand there. We know the government has repeatedly, at each and every estimates, said that it would produce it. We know that it has been produced and printed and paid for. But it has just disappeared.
The government have also undermined the Infrastructure Australia process. Its key adviser on infrastructure, Infrastructure Australia, has of course been sidelined from the funding decisions that have been made by the government. They have not funded a single Infrastructure Australia priority project since they came into office. They said there would be a cost benefit analysis for projects costing over $100 million. There has been none. When the East West Link cost-benefit analysis was actually exposed by the incoming Victorian state government, it showed there was a cost benefit of 0.45 or 45c benefit for every dollar that was invested.
Yet this government stubbornly says, ‘That’s where the money should go’—not to remove level crossings, not for the M80 project, not for the Melbourne metro project, not for the West Gate project but for a project that simply does not stack up.
This year’s budget shows that the funding of Infrastructure Australia has been slashed from $15 million this year to $8.8 billion by 2018-19—in real terms, cut by more than half. That is an absurd proposition. They are ignoring Infrastructure Australia. They are ignoring cost-benefit analyses and they simply do not have credibility when it comes to the decisions that are being made, including the vindictive decision that is in this budget and which the papers show. These budget papers show that Victoria, with 25 per cent of Australia’s population, will get eight per cent of the infrastructure investment contribution from the Commonwealth. If this Prime Minister thinks that Victorians will cop being punished because they voted for a Labor government last year, then he will find out what the response is come the next federal election because no group, no state or territory would cop that sort of behaviour from a federal government.
That is why the Leader of the Opposition in his budget reply made it clear that a Labor government will give Infrastructure Australia the status it deserves at the centre of government. We will act on expert advice, as we did previously. We will also make sure that there is proper consultation, including with the opposition, on key appointments to the organisation.
If you want an example of mean-spirited decisions that make no sense there is one that stood out to me in the budget, because it is a separate line item: the regional school buses program. That program is about getting seatbelts in school buses that operate in regional areas. Do you know how much it cost? It was $1 million—$1 million that was cut by those opposite. It makes absolutely no sense, whatsoever, to engage in that sort of cut. The managed motorways fund, which funds better infrastructure, smart infrastructure, using better signalling systems to make better use of roads that are there, was cut in last year’s budget—in terms of the Monash Freeway—with no new allocations. Labor’s successful Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program was cut, with only $1 million of last year’s $48 million that was budgeted actually spent. The government has even cut funding to its own Bridges Renewal Program by $60 million. An extraordinary proposition.
Then we move to the ideological section of this budget. On page 132 of Budget Paper No. 2, they say, in terms of shipping, that the reforms are aimed at ‘better aligning employment conditions for ships based in Australia with international standards’. Can you imagine explicitly saying, in black and white, that you want Third World wages and conditions for Australians who work on ships?
We know it is not just the shipping sector where they want to move to Work Choices on water. They also want Work Choices in the sky by abolishing cabotage that ensures only Australian based airlines can operate in our domestic industry, as occurs everywhere in the world. There is nowhere in the world where Qantas can say, ‘I want to operate in your domestic routes’—not in the United States of America or in Europe or anywhere else. And yet, that is what they are proposing to open up.
Last year’s budget shocked Australians with its savagery, but this year’s budget is no better. In infrastructure and transport it reveals the government’s inability to deal with the challenges ahead. This nation needs an adult government prepared to invest in nation building. This country needs leadership on infrastructure. It needs nation building, it needs vision and it needs a Labor government.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.