Oct 20, 2016

Bills – Infrastructure and Regional Development Portfolio

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10:31): We certainly will need to have some discussion, because the nature of the matter under consideration that is before the House is to approve an appropriation for infrastructure. The context for this is that the previous two years appropriations for infrastructure have certainly not been delivered. Last year there was a gap of some $1 billion between what was anticipated to be spent in the 2014 budget and what actually happened. But that looks pretty good compared with the performance in the last financial year, 2015-16, which shows that, in spite of the fact that the government committed, with all of its rhetoric, to spend some $8 billion on infrastructure, the actual figure—the final budget outcome for 2015-16—is just $5.5 billion. The $5.5 billion of course includes the one-off payment, in rounded figures, of $500 million to WA as compensation for the GST. What we are left with, essentially, is a $3 billion gap between what the government said it would spend and what the government has actually invested. That is because this is a government that simply has no idea when it comes to nation building.

When the government came into office, they cut funds from projects that were ready to go in order to fund projects that had no prospect, in some cases, of going anywhere. There is a gap between rhetoric and reality. To be fair to the cabinet minister, his junior minister this week—his errand boy, if you like—made a statement about the $50 billion of expenditure, once again, that was expected. Whereas, year on year, up to the end of the decade, the figure is $30 billion, not $50 billion. When the government uses these big figures, they are talking about the never-never. When we look at what is actually happening, we see three categories: the first is projects that were stopped but that were ready to go and that had been approved by Infrastructure Australia, that were in the budget—projects like the Cross River Rail and the Melbourne Metro Rail Project.

The second category are those that were delayed because of government incompetence—projects like the latest section of the M80, which began just this month. The funding was actually in the budget in 2013 but was cut in 2014. Another project is the South Road in Adelaide, where the government said, ‘No, we’re not going to do Torrens to Torrens; we’ll do Darlington first’—except Darlington was not ready and Torrens to Torrens was underway. So they stopped work on that South Road. Then there is the Perth Airport road link. There was $500 million in the budget in 2013 for public transport projects in Perth. That was cut in 2014 and then put in. More remarkably, projects have simply been slowed. Estimates show the Pacific Highway cut by $129 million; the Bruce Highway cut by $94 million; Gateway North cut by $54 million; Perth Freight Link cut by $88 million; Adelaide South Road cut by $92 million; Goodwood and Torrens Junction rail project cut by $232 million—cut from an IA approved project that was underway and stopped by this government; Black Spots cut by $34 million; bridge renewal cut by $24 million; and heavy vehicle cut by $26 million.

This is a government that does not actually have a plan for jobs and growth. If it did, infrastructure would be at the centre of it—but that is not what we see.

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10:56): I wish to raise three issues with this contribution. One is: how is it that, during the election campaign that we have just had, the coalition committed to 78 road projects—76 of which were in coalition electorates? How does that fit with a fair analysis and distribution of funds for projects? They added up to about $800 million. Most of them were very small projects which would have been suited to local or state government, but they were clearly political commitments that were made.

Secondly, I refer to the 2016-17 budget and Budget Paper No. 1, page 538 and table 15, which goes to the projected expenditures. I note that, when it comes to rail transport, the projected expenditure for 2019-20 is a very round figure. Indeed, it is the most round figure the minister would be aware of—zero. How does the complete withdrawal of the Commonwealth from public transport projects fit with the government being so very good at turning up to those projects after their completion? Just weeks ago I was with the minister for major projects at the Redcliffe rail opening, which was funded by the federal Labor government when we were in office and the Queensland Labor government, and which received a funding cut for a portion of it back in 2014. I was there for the Regional Rail Link opening of the new stations at Tarneit and Wyndham Vale, in the electorate of Lalor, and the government was quite happy to go to that opening as well. The government, who opposed the Gold Coast Light Rail project, was happy to go to the opening of that, of course. How is it that the government, despite its change in rhetoric—and I acknowledge the difference in rhetoric between Prime Minister Turnbull and former Prime Minister Abbott—has made no change to funding of projects like the Cross River Rail, Adelaide light rail, Perth Metronet and other significant urban infrastructure projects which require Commonwealth support?

The third issue I go to is that of planning. The member for Shortland has outlined the audit office finding with regard to the East West Link. As to the Perth Freight Link, I am wondering where the minister is up to with funding of that project because in the past he has said that the whole project has to proceed, otherwise it will not be eligible for Commonwealth funding, and yet the Liberal state government has wound that back to essentially the Roe 8 project. That is a project that has previously been rejected because it goes through a wetland and does not really lead anywhere. What we need is funding of the outer harbour.

The third project is WestConnex. The minister would be aware that the scope and nature of that project has changed almost on a weekly basis. Lucy Turnbull, the person in charge of planning in Sydney and who gave an oration last night about planning in Sydney, was unaware that acquisitions were occurring in Haberfield, where whole blocks of heritage listed homes have been demolished. We have a tunnel there, but it is unclear where it is going to come out. A tunnel has begun. It is always a good idea to know where it is going to end before you start digging, but that is not the case here. How will the government ensure that planning is done right? Blackmore Oval in Leichhardt is under threat. There is a range of uncertainty when it comes to this project that is leading to legitimate community concern about this issue. How will the government ensure that in future it gets the planning done before the funding comes to make sure that we get the right outcomes?

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:12): I wish to raise issues of aviation and also of the Australian Rail Track Corporation. As the minister would be aware, Airservices Australia is largely funded by revenue from industry by charging airlines and aircraft operators for use of its en route terminal navigation and for its aviation rescue and firefighting services. The level of charges is based upon five-year forecasts prepared by Airservices on what it believes the activity levels will be. Airservices Australia does have its own board, of course, but the minister oversees and indeed recommends the appointment of that board.

Airservices Australia has announced a restructure program called Accelerate. Under that program, it is proposing to eliminate 900 jobs across the organisation. One in five people are being essentially eliminated from the workforce. More than 500 positions have been already gone and other staff are being moved to individual contracts.

From time to time, organisations should look to make efficiencies, but I seek an assurance from the minister that he is satisfied that the number of redundancies, which are particularly large at Airservices, will not have an impact on the fundamental job of Airservices, which is to look after aviation safety. Is the minister confident that Airservices have undertaken a proper risk management analysis of the impact of these significant cuts? Included in this, particularly, is an issue that the minister knows I raised with him personally after he took over the portfolio. The issue of the closure of firefighting services at some regional airports is certainly of concern to me because of the role that those firefighting services play not just at the airport but as an important part of the emergency services response in some of those regional communities. I ask the minister to rule out, essentially, the closure of these firefighting services.

Something else that concerns me when I see an organisation making such drastic cuts is whether it is being set up for privatisation. I ask the minister to rule out any proposal to privatise Airservices Australia—a proposal which is being supported by some in the commentariat who I think are not aware of the important role of Airservices Australia. If you move to a for-profit system with something like Airservices then you change the nature of the organisation, by its very definition, because it would be looking at different criteria. Essentially, it would be looking at producing a return, which I would find quite reprehensible and which we on this side of the chamber would not consider.

While he is at it, the minister might like also to rule out privatisation of the Australian Rail Track Corporation, which was considered in the last term of government. The ARTC, of course, provides the track, and then you have competition and private sector input on top of that. Where privatisation of rail services has occurred in places like the UK, there have been disastrous consequences for ongoing maintenance and provision. The ARTC is something that has enjoyed bipartisan support as a public entity, and I ask the minister to confirm that that is his — (Time expired)