A Shorten Labor Government would invest $5 million to upgrade the historic Henson Park rugby league ground in Sydney’s Inner West, transforming it into a multi-purpose sporting facility that would also host major AFL matches.
The upgrade to the home of the Newtown Jets NSW Cup team would be part of a unique cross-code arrangement under which the ground would also be used for AFL by the Sydney Swans Reserves.
And in a critical breakthrough for women’s sport, the project would include construction of female change rooms, allowing Henson Park to host the GWS women’s AFLW team, a future Sydney Swans women’s team and the Cronulla Sharks NRL women’s team.
With professional sport increasingly dominated by elite national competitions and mega-stadiums, Federal Labor values that suburban sporting facilities continue to perform a vital role in our communities.
These smaller grounds not only facilitate participation in healthy physical activity for people of all ages, but also enrich communities by bringing neighbours together to support their local teams.
In recent years Henson Park has had great success in attracting big crowds for Newtown Jets matches by marketing itself to families seeking the experience of “old school’’ suburban football.
A Shorten Labor Government would focus on supporting community sporting infrastructure and, in particular, prioritise investment in facilities that encourage greater female participation in sport, such as female-friendly change rooms.
It is important that all levels of government work together to drive increasing participation in sport by women and girls and the provision of the right infrastructure is a critical part of that effort.
Federal Labor’s $5 million commitment to the Henson Park upgrade would be in addition to $2 million already allocated to the project by the Inner West Council, the Newtown Jets and the AFL NSW/ACT.
The upgrade will also allow the ground to host junior rugby league and AFL matches and coaching clinics for teams across Sydney’s Inner West.
This project is a winner all round – for the two major football codes, for female participation on sport and for the entire community of the Inner West.
- Upgrading the King George V Memorial Grandstand including change rooms, amenities, medical and umpiring facilities as well as spectator facilities and disability access.
- Constructing two additional change rooms, community meeting rooms and a gymnasium.
- Upgrading the broadcast, coaches’ boxes and officials’ facilities to facilitate television broadcast of games.
- Renewing the electronic scoreboard and public address system.
- Improved food and beverage facilities.
- Rebuilding the playing surface including new drainage, irrigation, returfing and a goal post system allowing for both AFL and Rugby League.
A Shorten Labor Government will deliver a $350,000 upgrade for Marrickville Golf Club to improve function facilities to accommodate a growing community.
The much loved Marrickville Golf Course is already under fire with plans by the Greens to cut the size of the course.
But speaking at a Save Marrickville Golf Course Rally on Sunday, Labor Member for Barton Linda Burney will announce that a Labor Government will provide funds to support the growth of this wonderful community organisation.
The Club and its facilities is a favourite spot for local residents. However, it is finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with the growing community.
The long awaited upgrades will include a new veranda and function space that will help the club cater for more functions and events, as well as additional sporting and community programs.
The investment will also support 20 jobs in the construction phase. The Club holds a special place in Linda Burney’s heart, having held a party for her supporters there in 2003.
The Member for Barton, Linda Burney, said:
“The Club and course goes to the very heart and soul of the character of Marrickville, and Labor will ensure it remains usable and accessible to our growing community This investment is integral to supporting the health and wellbeing of our local community.”
The Member for Grayndler, Anthony Albanese, said:
“Marrickville Golf Club is a community institution that has operated since the 1940s. It’s where people have birthdays and celebrations, where people walk, many with their dogs along the Cooks River waterfront to enjoy the open space which is so limited in the Inner West. I am proud that Federal Labor is working to support this community facility that people have enjoyed for generations.”
Federal, state and local Labor representatives from across the Inner West have joined together to oppose plans to cut the Marrickville Golf course in half from 18 to nine holes.
The proposal, put forward in a draft plan of management by officers at the Inner West Council, has been proposed and supported previously by Greens Party elected representatives.
Marrickville Golf Club is a community institution, built in the 1940s by volunteer labour, and is the largest single green space in Marrickville and Dulwich Hill.
The Club is the custodian of one of the most affordable and accessible golf courses in Australia.
The course is heavily used by the local community as both active and passive recreation space. Golfers, dog walkers, pedestrians, runners and bio-diversity volunteers all share the space currently.
For decades the Clubhouse has hosted community events, charity fundraisers and provided a base for sporting organisations and local services to hold their activities.
All this would be put at risk by cutting the course in half.
This would result in the Club becoming unviable and risks this precious community land being alienated and targeted for sell-off in the future.
Comments attributable to Linda Burney:
The Marrickville Golf Club and course goes to the very heart and soul of the character of Marrickville.
Comments attributable to Anthony Albanese:
This is much more than a golf club, it’s an important green haven in a densely populated area that is a focal point for the local community.
Comments attributable to Darcy Byrne:
The community already has ownership of this course with local people walking and running along it freely. Council’s role should be to support existing users by investing in the space, not seeking to snatch control of it.
Comments attributable to Jo Haylen:
I love walking with my family and our dog through the course and along the river. Let’s remember, it’s not Royal Melbourne! I will always support our community club at Marrickville and continue to work with them to improve the quality of green space and the river.
Federal Labor will invest $500,000 to help deliver new classrooms for Globe Wilkins Preschool in Marrickville.
This commitment, together with the $500,000 already announced by Jo Haylen and NSW Labor, means the plan to build four extra classrooms at the preschool can get underway.
Globe Wilkins Preschool is one of our nation’s finest preschools. Operated by the Inner West Council, it has received the Australian Childcare Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) Excellence Rating – the highest rating a service can achieve. It is also the only preschool in Sydney to have received it more than once.
The preschool has been based at Wilkins Public School for 20 years. While Wilkins Public has experienced a big increase in enrolments, the State Liberal Government has refused to provide the additional infrastructure the school needs to accommodate new students. It claims that the school has ‘available’ space – the same space used by the preschool.
Now the State Liberal Government has added to the uncertainly around Globe Wilkins’ future by trying to push ahead with a restricted tender for the preschool. This means we might see a private operator operating a private preschool on public land, and the closure of Globe Wilkins altogether.
The Deputy Labor Leader, Tanya Plibersek, said the extra $500,000 investment would help secure the preschool’s future.
“This funding is proof that education is a top priority for Labor. I am determined to see Globe Wilkins Preschool continue its history of excellence for many years to come,” Ms Plibersek said.
Jo Haylen the Member for Summer Hill welcomed the funding increase:
“This is a huge win for Globe Wilkins, who have fought tooth and nail to protect their beloved preschool.”
A Shorten Labor Government will guarantee access to subsidised preschool for all three and four year old Australian kids.
This would be the biggest ever investment in early childhood education in Australia.
Federal and State Labor Governments would partner to install shore power for cruise ships at the White Bay Cruise Terminal to eliminate fume emissions and reduce noise for residents of Balmain and Rozelle.
The $36 million cost would be shared 50-50, but would be recovered from cruise ship operators over time.
The White Bay Cruise Ship Terminal opened in 2013 to replace cruise ship facilities at Darling Harbour closed as part of the Barangaroo redevelopment.
Since then, residents of Balmain and Rozelle have expressed reasonable concerns about fumes, odours and noise caused by vessels running their engines to generate power.
In 2016, new Federal regulations requiring the use of low-sulphur fuel were introduced, but this has not eliminated the problem for the 4,000 residents who live in the vicinity.
While the NSW Berejiklian Government ruled out shore power in 2017, Labor would eliminate this nuisance once and for all by allowing vessels to connect to the Sydney power grid.
Federal Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese said residents had suffered for long enough.
“Shore power would improve amenity for residents, while also allowing the terminal to continue operating and providing much needed jobs in the tourism sector,’’ Mr Albanese said.
“When an electoral redistribution added Balmain to my electorate in 2016, I promised residents I would fight for shore power at White Bay. I’m pleased to say Labor would deliver on that promise.’’
NSW Labor Leader Michael Daley said: “Of course we want the terminal to keep operating, but in contrast to the Liberals and Nationals we will make sure the quality of life of the community in Balmain and Rozelle is looked after as well.
“The people of Rozelle and Balmain just want fairness and respect here. I’ve listened to them, which is why a Daley Labor Government will work with a Shorten Labor Government will deliver on shore power for cruise ships at White Bay.”
State Labor Candidate for Balmain Elly Howse said the commitment represented a victory for residents after five years of inaction by Greens MP Jamie Parker.
“While the Port Authority has been working with the community on noise mitigation, this will not reduce fumes and odours,’’ Ms Howse said.
“Allowing ships to connect to the power supply is the answer and only Labor will deliver this.’’
Bureaucratic delays from Sydney Trains that have already held up the completion of the Inner West Greenway project by at least a year are now putting the entire project in jeopardy.
The Greenway is a nearly six kilometre environmental and active transport route, running along the Inner West light rail line and linking the Cooks River with Iron Cove.
The long awaited project is being funded jointly by the Inner West Council and the NSW Government and requires consent from Sydney Trains for construction to commence.
For more than a year Sydney Trains have delayed giving consent to the project, despite it being substantially funded by the NSW Government and being a priority project of the Greater Sydney Commission.
Despite all necessary development applications having been lodged by Inner West Council in August 2018, they cannot be approved until Sydney Trains gives approval for the proposed works on their land.
This bureaucratic madness is now endangering the whole project.
Other State Government agencies are set to withdraw funding and construction timelines will blow out by more than 12 months if approval is not granted in the very near future.
Environmental conditions requiring protection of a micro-bat colony necessitate tunnelling to take place in a 3 month window at the end of 2019. This deadline will also not be met if approval is not granted and the tender process begun by the end of March.
Comments by Anthony Albanese:
Having fought so hard over many years to deliver funding for the Greenway it would be a tragedy for the Inner West to see the project fall over now because of bureaucratic inertia.
Linking active transport through walking and cycling to our public transport systems is a key part of sustainable urban design.
We understand that here in the Inner West our open, green spaces are precious and deserve investment.
Comments by Darcy Byrne:
Sydney trains are supposed to be collaborating with us, but instead they are stalling at every turn.
After more than a year of ridiculous red tape and bureaucratic delays, we can’t allow the whole Greenway project to be derailed by Sydney Trains.
Comments by Jo Haylen:
In the same week that NSW Labor announces $412 million for active transport including $4.5 million for the Greenway, Sydney Trains is threatening to hold the whole thing up with a bureaucratic bungle.
The Minister for Transport needs to intervene now to save the Greenway.
The restoration of the historic Dawn Fraser Baths has received a further boost with a $500,000 grant from Sport Australia.
The Community Sport Infrastructure Grant, obtained by the Inner West Council, follows a commitment made by Federal Labor of $2 million to save the pool – with the awarding of the grant that figure has reached $2.5 million.
More than 2000 applications were submitted for the grants program.
This latest funding is in addition to the $4.5 million already dedicated by the Council and the $1 million commitment from the NSW Labor Opposition.
Dawn Fraser Pool is loved by many Australians, but without an urgent heritage restoration the doors of the famous Baths were likely to close.
The $500,000 will allow delivery of upgrades to the lighting, access and amenities at the Baths.
Further components of the heritage restoration include:
- Raising the boardwalk, South Pavilion and Central Pavilion to overcome sea level rises
- Reconstruction of the South and Central Pavilions
- New bathroom and change rooms on the ground floor
- Storm water upgrades
- Refurbishment of the piers
Inner West Mayor, Darcy Byrne, welcomed the federal contribution to saving the Pool:
“The ongoing community campaign we have led to save Dawn Fraser Pool is really paying dividends. This grant, combined with further funds committed by Federal and State Labor will have us very close to being able to pay for the full heritage restoration.”
Elly Howse, Labor’s candidate for the NSW seat of Balmain said:
“With NSW Labor’s promise of an additional $1 million in funding, Dawnies is here to stay.”
Dawn Fraser Pool is used by residents, visitors, and students from local schools, it is an iconic Sydney attraction, sometimes called the Icebergs of the Inner West.
It is critical that we save Dawn Fraser Baths, which is an institution and a heritage icon.
Sport Australia is managed by The Minister for Sport, Bridget McKenzie, whom I thank for campaigning for further investment in this precious asset.
A Shorten Labor Government will restore urban rivers to their natural beauty – with a $200 million investment to ensure all Australians can benefit from the natural beauty of our waterways.
Australia’s the nation of the “great outdoors”, but for too long, our rivers, creeks and wetlands have been treated like industrial waste drains, ending up polluted, dirty and littered with shopping trolleys rather than being safe spaces for families, kids and school groups to visit.
That’s why Labor will engage state and local governments, local councils, community groups and local environmental organisations to bring urban waterways and habitat corridors back to health.
Local environmental action groups will be able to apply for small grants, benefitting our urban environment, creating jobs and also re-engaging, educating and mobilising local communities to act on local environmental protection.
Labor’s $200 million investment will unlock grant funding for projects to clean up our rivers including:
- Building wetlands to capture and clean and filter stormwater.
- Revegetation and tree planting along corridors.
- Citizen science and education programs along creeks and corridors, including bush kinder.
- Bird boxes and waste capture.
- Employment of indigenous rangers.
- Turning urban waterways back in to creeks and rivers again through changing hard surfaces back to natural surfaces (cement turned to river banks).
Community groups work hard to protect and revitalise their waterways – but it’s a day in, day out battle. This investment will give them the support and resources they sorely need.
Labor understands that local organisations with ‘boots on the ground’ are the most passionate and effective organisations in combating environmental degradation and promoting sustainability.
Despite the size of our urban environments, they are often still home to many species of wildlife, fish and birds. Reinvigorating these spaces will create new habitat for animals that have been struggling to find a home.
These rivers are the principal waterways to our oceans – that’s why this project is so important to intercept storm water waste and catch it before it makes it to the ocean.
Labor has a proud history of protecting our environment. To be good custodians of our country we need to make sure that we have sustainable and long term policies in place. This is why Labor has made progressive and sensible policies to act on climate change, large scale land clearing, to protect our oceans from over fishing and marine pollution and to clean up our rivers – whether they be in the Murray-Darling Basin or in the suburbs of our major cities.
In contrast, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government have consistently failed to provide federal environment programs that adequately address the urgent need for urban river rehabilitation.
Our cities were built around beautiful, natural rivers because they are a great opportunity to stay connected to nature. Labor will work to restore our urban rivers and river banks to health so that they are a place for local recreation and connection to nature, not an alternative to the rubbish tip.
Only Labor is serious about protecting the environment and making sure it’s there for future generations to enjoy – action on climate change, investing in the environment, and maintaining Australia’s status as the “great outdoors”.
While the battle is heating up in this excellent Test series between Australia and India, the action is even hotter for the Australian tourism industry.
The Swami Army is well and truly on the march as thousands of Indian cricket fans visit our country to catch the sporting action.
Of course, they bring with them an overwhelming love for cricket and their team, led imperiously by the brilliant Virat Kohli, but also, importantly for us, money to spend in our hotels, pubs and restaurants.
That means significant income for businesses and the creation of more jobs for Australians.
Already what has impressed so many of us this summer of cricket has been the high proportion of Indians here to enjoy the matches.
Many of the revellers are Australians of Indian decent, who, according to the 2016 census, make up about 2.8 per cent of the national population.
But thousands more will be tourists.
The 2017-18 International Tourism Snapshot showed India was by far our fastest growing market for international visitors.
While overall international tourism grew by six per cent, arrivals from India climbed by 20 per cent to 335,000.
Tourism Research Australia figures show Indian visitors stay in Australia for an average of 58 nights.
So over the rest of summer, as we watch the skills of Kohli, the awkward brilliance of Jasprit Bumrah or, hopefully, the emergence of new Australian heroes, we should also recognise the economic importance of sport-related tourism.
Of course, it will take time to assess the level of success of this year’s series.
But if last year’s Ashes Tour is any guide, Kohli, his team and their legion of supporters will provide a real boost to our economy.
According to research by independent consultancy firm IER 1.1 million people paid to attend an Ashes match last summer.
That included 30,608 international visitors.
IER found that the Ashes tour generated $114 million for the Victorian economy, $76.7 million for NSW, $60.7 million for South Australia, $36.5 million for Queensland, $16.9 million for Western Australia and $300,000 for Tasmania.
It’s no coincidence that Victoria gained the most benefit.
The state’s great and accessible stadiums, ability to attract and retain major sporting events and, above all, the sporting passion of Victorians, combine to ensure the state maximises the benefits of sporting tourism.
Indeed, after the Boxing Day Test is over and the cricket caravan moves to Sydney for the New Year Test, Melbourne will turn its sights to another big money spinner, the Australian Open Tennis.
In the 21st century, all Australian governments, along with the tourism industry, must work to exploit this growing tourism sector.
Increasing living standards, coupled with the availability of affordable airfares, mean people can afford to travel for sporting events like never before.
While that’s a benefit to our capital cities that host sporting events, the right marketing can spread the benefits.
Smart tourism operators in areas near to the locations of big sporting events market themselves to sport tourists, encouraging them to visit between tour events or after they have concluded.
And sporting tourism is not only about international tourism.
Australians are also increasingly willing to travel interstate for sporting events, particularly football matches.
Combining a sporting event with a short break gives them an opportunity to watch the game and also take in local tourism offerings.
With about a million Australians already working in tourism, our industry needs to be able to adapt to changing recreational patterns so we can extract full financial benefit.
In that context is good to see that Tourism Australia has been working with ESPN in India to link cricket broadcasts to tourism promotion.
ESPN has produced 22 videos which will be viewed by millions of people as they are broadcast during the match day coverage.
Tourism Australia has also collaborated with Indian T20 batsman Shikhar Dhawan to market Australian tourism to his 11 million social media followers.
That’s great work.
India is already Australia’s eighth largest inbound tourism market.
With a rapidly growing middle class courtesy of an ongoing economic transformation, there is much more potential.
We must tap that potential, hopefully at the same time as we reclaim the Border–Gavaskar Trophy.
This piece was first published in today’s edition of the Herald Sun.
Opinion Piece – Finding Common Ground in the National Interest – Future Building – The Australian Infrastructure Review
A LESSON IN LEADERSHIP
Let me begin with a quote:
“Infrastructure Partnerships Australia … has been fundamentally about using information and data to better inform the national infrastructure debate, allowing the sector and wider community to better discern infrastructure fact from fiction.”
Those, of course, were the words of someone who is very familiar to most people in this room: Brendan Lyon.
In his decade at the helm of IPA, Brendan took a nascent industry body and transformed it into one Australia’s most respected and effective public policy organisations.
Under the leadership of Brendan – and now Adrian Dwyer – IPA has more than fulfilled the mission expressed in the quote I opened with, and in so doing, highlighted the virtues of stable leadership.
To be sure, Federal politics could take a leaf out of IPA’s book.
Consider this: during Brendan’s ten-year tenure as CEO, there were six Prime Ministers.
And Adrian – who has only been in the role for a short period of time – is already onto his second Prime Minister, and second Infrastructure Minister.
While the comings and goings in Canberra have not been good for the nation’s body politic, the stability at the top of IPA has been a key to its success.
That stability has enabled the organisation to recruit professional, dedicated staff, to develop a strong policy platform and an extensive body of research, and to build trusting relationships, not only within the sector, but also within the corridors of power around the country.
I say these things knowing that we don’t always agree on everything.
Nor should we.
The long-term national interest is best served when we debate our differences and challenge each other’s ideas.
Any such debate needs to take place within a framework of civility and mutual respect.
Sadly, too much of our public discourse these days lacks those two basic elements.
The predicament facing modern democracies was best summed up by former President Barack Obama who, in his last speech in office, made the following observation:
“…in the course of a healthy debate, we’ll prioritise different goals, and the different means of reaching them. But without some common baseline of facts; without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent is making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, we’ll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible.”
Finding that elusive “common ground” is what makes forums like this so important.
IPA has managed to bring together some of Australia’s most senior political, public sector and business leaders to engage with each other and discuss the national reforms that will fix our infrastructure.
And the need to achieve a consensus around the way forward is more urgent than ever before, particularly after five years of policy drift and complacency at the national level.
Simply put, Australia is at a critical crossroads.
As noted in a report released just this week by the House of Representative’s Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities entitled ‘Building Up and Moving Out’:
“Australia is undergoing rapid change. Population growth, urbanisation, the ageing of the population and the transformation of the economy towards service and knowledge-based industries are causing profound changes in the urban and regional landscape.
“The outcome of these changes will depend on how they are managed.”
It is obvious that managing those demographic, spatial and technological changes will not be easy.
It will require national leadership with a clear, coherent vision of how we as a people can shape a better future rather than allow the forces I have just mentioned shape it for us.
There is, however, one more important ingredient to success.
Real leadership requires not only a vision and agenda for the future, but also the maturity to reach across the aisle and build bipartisanship wherever possible.
Overcoming the big infrastructure challenges facing Australia – be it in the areas of energy, telecommunications, water, and transport – will simply not be possible in a single parliamentary term or even the tenure of any one government.
Real reform takes time to deliver the desired change.
ENERGY POLICY IN DISARRAY
And if you want an example of where naked partisanship has wrecked a prevailing consensus in this country and harmed the national interest, one need look no further than energy policy.
In 2007, in what at the time was a major breakthrough, both sides of politics acknowledged that the most cost-effective way of reducing harmful emissions was to put a price on carbon. And both major parties went to the election that year committed to implementing an emission trading scheme.
Unfortunately, that consensus only held for two years before the denialists in the Coalition, and the purists in the Greens Political Party, tore it down.
Once in government the Coalition then proceeded to dismantle the market-based mechanism that was working – emissions were falling; investment in the energy of the future was increasing.
Since then we have witnessed a debate – mostly within the Government itself – that has plumbed new depths of the absurd, and no amount of spin and denial can conceal that sad reality.
We have even witnessed the so-called party of free markets arguing for new taxpayer-funded coal-fired power stations and for governments to have the power to order private companies to divest themselves of particular assets.
We have had the Emissions Intensity Scheme, the Clean Energy Target and various versions of the National Energy Guarantee – all proposed, considered and then rejected by the Party that proposed them it the first place.
As a result, our country is now in its fifth year without a coherent energy policy.
That’s five years without the regulatory certainty investors have rightly sought in order to make the investments that would have increased the supply of affordable, reliable electricity into the national grid.
Little wonder industry and households are now suffering under higher prices.
Then, when you thought the situation could not get more depressing, the Government has in recent weeks simply given up the charade of trying to have an energy policy.
It is now official: the Coalition’s policy is not to have a policy.
They have thrown their hands up in the air, admitting that governing is all too hard – and that’s despite Labor’s repeated offer to work with them to put in place measures that would be in the long term national interest.
Understandably, the Coalition’s capitulation to inertia has been condemned by the business community. In the words of the chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott:
“Without locking-in this overarching framework, investment uncertainty will continue to be unresolved and the national electricity market will remain unfit-for-purpose.”
There is now broad political agreement that the national government has a role to play in making our cities work better.
It is a consensus that was hard won.
Indeed, one of Tony Abbott’s first acts as Prime Minister was to abolish the Major Cities Unit and retreat from our cities.
He also disbanded the Urban Policy Forum, scrapped the annual State of Australian Cities report and cancelled all public transport projects not already under construction, including the Metro in Melbourne.
Thankfully, the Abbott years were only a temporary setback.
While his successors have accepted the principle of Federal involvement in building more productive, sustainable and liveable cities, their actions have lacked substance.
Take for example Malcolm Turnbull’s signature policy, City Deals. In the view of the bipartisan parliamentary report I referred to earlier, while the program “excited much interest”, it had delivered “limited results”.
We must and can do better.
And that starts with having the right processes.
That’s why I recently announced Labor’s commitment to replace City Deals with a City Partnerships program that will foster more genuine collaboration between the three levels of government.
To achieve this we will:
- Re-establish the Major Cities Unit within the independent Infrastructure Australia and task it with recommending and assessing the progress of City Partnerships.
- Establish an expert panel to update strategic planning guidelines for cities as well as develop guidelines for City Partnerships, in consultation with the Minister, which include benefits to the economy.
- Refresh the National Urban Policy, which I released as minister in the former Federal Labor government, to ensure City Partnerships align with its objectives in areas like sustainability and smart technology.
The challenges facing our cities are complex.
But if we are to unlock their potential, and the potential of those living in them, then we must take a holistic and strategic approach that is underpinned by evidence and good governance.
Another idea long championed by Labor that now enjoys bipartisan support is that of Infrastructure Australia and the need for an evidence-based approach to assessing the nation’s immediate and long term infrastructure needs.
This is another example of where the Coalition has adopted the principle but not the substance.
While it is true they retained Infrastructure Australia, it has been effectively sidelined.
The most recent example of this was their decision to strip it of its role in advising governments on how projects can best be financed.
The Coalition handed that responsibility over to their new Infrastructure Financing Unit, even though IPA, amongst others, bluntly told the Government that such a body was completely unnecessary.
More than 12 months later, and as predicted, the unit has not brought forward the delivery of a single new project.
That brings me to the broader issue of infrastructure financing.
It is here that the Coalition has been challenging the long standing political consensus and collective wisdom, seduced by the idea that you can build things for free; that you can essentially substitute “innovative” financing arrangements, such as value capture, public private partnerships and equity investments, for grant funding.
Don’t get me wrong. Labor readily accepts that these types of arrangements can play a role in closing the infrastructure funding gap. When we were last in office we employed innovative funding solutions to deliver a number of major projects including the Legacy Way road project in Brisbane; the NorthConnex road project and Moorebank Intermodal in Sydney; and the Gold Coast Light Rail.
If we win the coming Federal Election, we will join with the State Government to deliver South East Queensland’s number one infrastructure priority, Cross River Rail, via a public private partnership.
We understand that the private sector does have an important role to play in building public infrastructure. But governments cannot avoid the fact that they will have to stump up taxpayers’ dollars if they want projects to happen, particularly urban public transport projects.
As Infrastructure Partnerships Australia has pointed out: Commonwealth Government funding support is needed for infrastructure – Commonwealth financing is not.
“If the budget seeks to materially increase the pace, quality and scale of national infrastructure investment we respectfully submit that Government policy needs to return to real options, which include grant funding…”
The bottom line is that grant funding is vital – and less of it will less infrastructure.
That’s precisely what the Coalition is promising to deliver if re-elected.
As confirmed in the 2018 Budget Papers, Federal infrastructure grant funding will fall over the next four years to its lowest level since the early 2000s, declining from $8 billion in 2017-18 to $4.5 billion in 2021-22.
The independent Parliamentary Budget Office has concluded that grant funding, expressed as a proportion of GDP and based on current budget allocations, will halve over the next decade from 0.4 per cent to 0.2 per cent.
That’s a 50 per cent cut.
Alongside cutting grant funding going forward, the Government’s infrastructure program thus far has been plagued by project delays, missed deadlines and botched program rollouts.
Too often grand announcements are made then nothing happens.
Over its first four budgets, this Government has invested $4.7 billion less than it promised.
That’s a massive 20 per cent underspend.
Thanks to the Senate Estimates process, I can reveal that during the course of the last financial year 127 projects around the country were running behind schedule, largely the product of poor planning and inadequate project oversight.
Given the totality of the Coalition’s record, it is not surprising that over their time in office Australia has slipped from 18th to 28th on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index when it comes to the adequacy, quality and efficiency of our infrastructure.
That’s my take on where we stand today as a nation.
Given the events of recent weeks, and the resulting division, chaos and suspicion that now grips the Government benches, I am sad to say I cannot see the situation improving much, at least not in the short term.
FEDERAL LABOR’S APPROACH
To those who ask what a future Labor Government would do, I would point them to our record the last time we had the privilege of governing this great nation, as well as to the fact that if we are successful at the coming election you will have in me a minister that is experienced and a known quantity.
While prime ministers may have come and gone, there has been one fixture in the Federal Parliament over the past decade and that has been Labor’s infrastructure spokesman.
I have, in fact, held this portfolio for almost as long as Infrastructure Partnerships Australia has existed.
Alongside establishing institutions such as Infrastructure Australia and the Major Cities Unit to break the nexus between the three or four year electoral cycle and the much longer investment cycle, the former Federal Labor Government also:
- Restored national leadership via my appointment as Australia’s first ever Federal Infrastructure Minister and the creation of a Federal Infrastructure Department.
- Built and upgraded 7500 kilometres of road including completing the duplication of the Hume Highway, accelerating the upgrade of the Pacific Highway to dual carriageway, and improving the safety and flood immunity of hundreds of kilometres of the Bruce Highway;
- Rebuilt a third of the interstate rail freight network – some 4000 kilometres of track; and
- Committed more funding to urban rail infrastructure than all our predecessors since Federation combined.
Overall we more than doubled annual Federal infrastructure spending from $132 to $265 per Australian, taking Australia from 20th out of 25 OECD countries to number 1 when it came to investment in public infrastructure as a proportion of national income.
We did all that because of and in spite of the fact that our government was confronted with the most severe and far reaching global economic downturn since the Great Depression of 1929.
It’s this record that will provide the template for what we will do the next time.
In short, there will be two key elements to Labor’s infrastructure agenda for the nation.
Firstly, if we are to maximise its economic, social and environmental dividends, infrastructure policy must be right. That starts with a genuine commitment to a long term strategy based on an objective, evidence-based assessment of the nation’s infrastructure needs.
In practice that will involve returning Infrastructure Australia to the centre of the Government’s decision making process – and respecting its advice. To that end, we will provide it with the resources it needs to perform its core functions, including assessing projects, producing an infrastructure pipeline and recommending financing mechanisms.
The importance of having an effective Infrastructure Australia cannot be overstated.
While the quantity of available investment is important, so too is ensuring that taxpayers get value for money. It is imperative that funding go to projects that will fix an identified problem; projects where the planning has been done; projects offering the highest economic, social and environmental returns.
Simply put, the more zeros on a project’s price tag does not automatically mean the project is a better solution than a cheaper alternative.
Secondly, we will reverse the projected decline in Federal investment and provide real funding to the real projects that have been identified and properly assessed by a re-empowered Infrastructure Australia.
Not only will we proceed with all the new projects announced in 2018 Budget, we will add to them to create an even more ambitious capital works program, particularly in the area of urban public transport.
A future Federal Labor Government will invest in Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project. In Sydney we will partner with the State to build the Western Metro as well as ensure the new Western Sydney Airport is connected to the City’s passenger rail network from the day it opens.
Labor understands that as one of the most urbanised nations on the planet, Australia’s continued prosperity will largely depend on how successful we are at making our cities work better.
That demands investment in both their road and rail infrastructure.
On energy, we will end the years of policy confusion and establish a clear mechanism that will drive down emissions while providing the investment certainty that will led to lower electricity prices for businesses and households.
On communications, we will have a broadband network built on 21st Century fibre not 19thCentury copper, a network that will not only revolutionise the delivery of essential services such as health and education, but also unleash the growth potential of our regions.
That’s only for starters.
We will have much more to say about infrastructure between now and election day.
After all, Labor is the party of nation building.
Let me conclude by stating a truism: Good government is about planning and building for the future.
Indeed, in order to drive long-term economic growth, build inclusive communities and transit to a low carbon future, it is imperative that we get infrastructure policy right.
Achieving this will require collaboration between governments and with the private sector.
But above all, it will require bold thinking and long-term vision.
In short, Australia needs real leadership. Our long term national interest demands nothing less. I am confident that is precisely what the next Labor Government will deliver.
This piece first appeared in the annual publication Future Building – The Australian Infrastructure Review. It is based upon a speech to Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, delivered on September 21, 2018,.