Australian alumni, ladies and gentlemen.
I am honoured to be leading Australia’s Parliamentary Delegation to India.
My Parliamentary colleagues and I are delighted to be here this evening for the launch of the Australian Alumni Association of India’s new website.
This event tonight is a recognition of the growing strength and unity of the Australian alumni community in India.
I congratulate the pioneers of Australian Alumni Association chapters in Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and New Delhi.
Your efforts, commitment, creativity and enthusiasm for this endeavour are greatly appreciated.
More than 2.5 million international students have studied in Australia in the last fifty years.
At the end of June 2017 there were more than 59,000 Indian students studying in Australia, an increase of 10 per cent since the previous year.
This has made education our second largest export to India by value.
There are good reasons for this.
Australia provides quality education and an enriching cultural experience.
Our institutions are world-class.
Six Australian universities are ranked in the world’s top 100 universities according to the QS World University Rankings.
But it is the quality of life while you are studying in Australia which is the secret formula that sets us apart from other study destinations.
I am so pleased that so many of you are keen to share your experiences of studying, living and working in Australia.
You have become Australia’s most effective Ambassadors.
As the Shadow Minister for Tourism I know that no advertising campaign for Australia can compete with a personal endorsement from a graduate who has spent time in our wonderful country.
You are now part of our extended Australian family. So on behalf of my colleagues and the Australian Government I say a big thank you.
Thank you for choosing Australia originally, but particularly for ensuring that the personal connection is a lifetime one.
The launch tonight of the AAA’s website will help to connect you with each other and to Australia.
I strongly encourage you to register and to spread the word to other members of our extended Australian alumni family.
Speech to Australian Airports Association – ‘On safety, vigilance is everything’ – Parliament House, Canberra
Let me start by congratulating the Australian Airports Association and the NZ Airports Association for staging Airport Safety Week.
In Parliament, every MP and Senator has a very clear understanding of our collective responsibility as regulators of aviation safety.
Aviation safety is indeed a matter of life or death.
That’s why we take a bipartisan approach.
We understand that when it comes to aviation, our responsibility is to the safety of the 169 million passengers who fly around Australia and New Zealand each year.
To secure the highest possible levels of a safety, it is critical that we work in partnership with all groups – airlines, pilots and crew, air-traffic controllers, unions and, importantly, the 359 airports in our two countries and their staff.
That’s why it is gratifying to see events such as Airport Safety Week.
This event provides an excellent example of how your industry doesn’t offer platitudes about safety, but takes serious concrete steps to promote it and to remind all industry participants of the need for constant vigilance.
This is illustrated by the short video on the Australian Airports Association website promoting Airport Safety Week.
It speaks of the practical issues that people who work around airports should keep in mind for their own safety, and for that of the travelling public.
These include managing fatigue by taking proper breaks, ensuring you have the appropriate equipment and clothing and reporting any issue of concern to supervisors.
These are simple matters.
But when you think about it, the simplest of safety lapses in and around airports can have disastrous consequences.
There’s very little margin for error. That’s why I commend your organisations for your proactive approach.
Yours is the sort of diligence we aim to emulate in Government.
That was certainly the aim of the former Labor Government, which I was proud to serve as Minister for Transport.
We took a reformist approach which was evidence based, with the development of Australia’s first ever aviation White Paper to guide the industry’s future growth.
It included specific measures aimed at addressing skill shortages, lifting investment and improving planning.
We strengthened the independence of the industry’s safety regulator – the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) – by creating a board of experts to set the organisation’s long-term strategic direction.
The changes, which came with a 30 per cent budget increase, equipped CASA with the necessary legal powers to expand its surveillance program and deal decisively with safety breaches.
We also enshrined the Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s independence when it came to investigating accidents by establishing it as a separate statutory agency, with a full-time chief commissioner and two part-time commissioners.
We introduced random drug and alcohol testing across the industry.
One of the greatest challenges we faced over those six years was the rising threat of terrorism, an issue that continues to dominate the thinking of regulators around the world.
In doing so, we faced conflicting needs.
The first was to make aircraft and passengers as safe as possible.
The second was to expedite movement of aircraft, people and goods through our airports.
Of course, safety was and always must be the overriding imperative.
But we did our best to work with the airlines, the airports and their employees to deliver the required levels of security without unnecessary imposts on travellers.
We rolled out the latest security technology at our major airports including next-generation body scanners, multi-view x-ray machines and bottle scanners capable of detecting liquid-based explosives.
We also increased policing, improved cargo screening, worked internationally to promote greater co-operation and tightened arrangements around the Aviation Security Identification Card Scheme.
The Labor Government also focused heavily on regional aviation infrastructure, investing $260 million on new and upgraded airport facilities in recognition of the increasing demand for air travel between our capital cities and regional centres.
In the years since 2013 we’ve continued to work with the current Government in a constructive manner.
That is as it should be.
The old saying goes that it is better to be safe than sorry.
But it is just as important to resist complacency.
It doesn’t matter how many times our safety systems work when a single failure can lead to catastrophe.
That reminds me of a lesson about complacency from the world of shipping.
A journalist once asked a ship’s captain if he was confident that his newly launched vessel was safe.
The Captain said: “In all my experience I have never been in an accident of any sort worth speaking about.’’
He continued: “I never saw a wreck and have never been wrecked, nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort.
“I will say that I cannot imagine any condition which could cause a ship to founder.
“I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel.’’
His name was Edward John Smith.
He was the Captain of the Titanic.
A reminder that we should be ever vigilant and never complacent.
Speech to the Hong Kong 20: Developments and Opportunities Business Forum – Hong Kong and its Lessons for Australia – Doltone House, Sydney
The year 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region under the “one country, two systems” formula. And in the two decades since that momentous event the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ has continued to successfully blend Eastern culture with Western values.
To be sure, it’s impossible not to be impressed by what one sees and feels in Hong Kong. And I say that having experienced it for myself when I visited in 2015.
Because of its openness, dynamism and vitality, this metropolis has transformed itself into an international financial, shipping and commercial centre. Whereas half a century ago manufacturing was at the heart of the City’s economy, the service sector now accounts for 93 per cent of Hong Kong’s GDP.
As noted by the territory’s former Financial Secretary:
“The ‘Made in Hong Kong’ label has been replaced by ‘Financed in …’, ‘Designed in …’, ‘Conceptualised in …’ and ‘Made by Hong Kong’.”
Today, Hong Kong is home to the world’s 6th largest stock market. It boasts the world’s 4th largest shipping register, and its international airport is the world’s busiest airfreight hub.
Above all, it is a magnet for people with imagination, vision and big ideas.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE
For proof of this you need only look at the major infrastructure they are building, projects that when completed will further drive Hong Kong’s economic development and link it more closely with the mainland.
They include an expansion of Hong Kong International Airport with the construction of a third runway on 650 hectares of reclaimed land and a mega 29 kilometre bridge connecting Hong Kong with the western part of the Pearl River Delta region.
Then there are the rail projects that Mr Leong’s MTR Corporation is delivering.
Firstly, a new cross-boundary Express Rail Link that will plug Hong Kong into China’s 16,000 kilometre High Speed Rail network and secure the territory’s position as the southern gateway to the mainland. Once commissioned towards the end of next year, this link will, for example, cut travel times between Hong Kong and Guangzhou in half.
Secondly, in line with the Government’s policy of using rail as the backbone of Hong Kong’s transport system, MTR is currently expanding the rail network by 25 per cent, with new and extended lines having been commissioned in just the last two years – and there are more to come.
By 2021, the network will consist of more than 270 kilometres of track serving neighbourhoods where 70 per cent of the population live.
The Hong Kong authorities get it.
To make a modern city work you need to invest in rail infrastructure.
Such an investment is not only one of the most effective ways of reducing congestion and averting gridlock; it also delivers significant environmental spin-offs and helps prevent people and communities becoming socially isolated and economically disadvantaged.
But building rail lines is expensive.
And here again there are lessons we can learn from our Hong Kong friends.
MTR has pioneered the use of “innovative” financing. Their “rail plus property” business model allows them to fund rail upgrades from the revenue stream derived from developing the land around and the airspace over stations for housing and commercial activities such as shopping malls and offices.
I am not suggesting that this model can simply be replicated here in Australia. However I do believe that we have the intellectual capacity amongst both our policy makers and investment community to successfully adapt the principles that underpin it to develop a distinctly Australian approach to financing the infrastructure needs of Australian cities.
One project where such an approach could be applied is the much-needed Western Sydney Rail Link via the Western Sydney Airport. Indeed, given much of the corridor along which the line would run is greenfield government-owned land, this project offers the greatest opportunity to test the potential of value capture within an Australian setting.
That’s why I have been so insistent that this vital piece infrastructure needs to be built alongside the residential and industrial developments that are planned instead of retrofitted after that growth has occurred, most likely at significantly greater cost to the taxpayer.
As Peter Newman, professor of sustainability at Perth’s Curtin University, has said:
“If you want to get money for the private sector you have to run it as a redevelopment project rather than as a transport project.”
BUILDING LIVEABLE, SUSTAINABLE CITIES MATTER
As well as delivering the public transport infrastructure that’s key to Hong Kong’s economic productivity, MTR under Mr Leong’s leadership is also focussed on “creating communities”.
Quality of life matters.
And that brings me to urban policy more broadly.
A productive, efficient economy that produces jobs and prosperity is vital. But equally, we also want a richer society – one that takes full account of the human elements of city life.
This is a view shared by the Hong Kong Government.
In the words of one of its senior officials:
“…we need to continue thinking as an international city, living as an international city, learning as an international city, and enjoying the high-quality lifestyle of an international city. Only then, can we expect to nurture, to attract and to retain the best talent and to continue providing the opportunities that they expect.
“One good example is our approach to developing key areas of Hong Kong. The development-first approach has been instilled with a new mindset of people-first development.”
As a metropolis with very limited land resources, Hong Kong faces a particular challenge fulfilling the growing aspirations of its 7.3 million residents for more living space and a better quality of life. But as I have seen firsthand, Hong Kong is meeting this challenge head on, and in doing so is playing a leading role in driving the transformation of the global built environment.
The Government’s cutting-edge approach to balanced development is embodied in its “Hong Kong 2030+: Towards a Planning Vision and Strategy Transcending 2030”, a vision-driven, pragmatic and action-oriented plan. It covers various aspects of the built environment, from land use planning to building design to the use of the latest energy-saving technology.
Importantly, the plan also recognises that preserving and creating green space, as well as places to enjoy cultural, sporting and leisure activities, is an integral part of a liveable metropolis.
And a good example of where this plan is already reshaping the city is taking place around one of Hong Kong’s best-known and most valuable natural resources: Victoria Harbour.
Indeed, there is one thing that Sydney and Hong Kong definitely have in common: both have the good fortune of being founded on harbours that are unique in terms of their size and beauty. Victoria Harbour is a natural wonder that puts Hong Kong among the world’s great waterfront cities – and is a source of pride for the city’s residents.
And the $3.5 billion redevelopment of West Kowloon will make it even more accessible to locals and tourists alike. The site is being converted into a world-class creative and cultural hub called “City Park”.
As well as green space, this new district will feature 17 arts and cultural venues, including a museum of contemporary visual culture and several performing arts and concert halls.
Once completed, you will be able to stroll along piazzas, take in an open air performance, or simply relax and enjoy stunning views of Hong Kong at one of the many cafes and restaurants. All of this within walking distance of the West Kowloon terminus of the new Express Rail Link that I mentioned earlier.
GATEWAY TO MAINLAND CHINA AND BEYOND
I want to conclude today by emphasising that Australia has extensive and deep social, political and economic links with Hong Kong. We have long recognised Hong Kong’s importance and acknowledged its extraordinary success at navigating the many challenges it has confronted over the past two decades, from the Asian financial crisis to the SARS epidemic to the global financial crisis.
As well as being Australia’s 5th most important source of total foreign investment, Hong Kong is our 15th largest market for goods exports – and an important market for our services.
What’s more, more Australians are living in Hong Kong than any place in the world, outside of Australia and – of course – London.
For our business community, Hong Kong is an important bridge into greater China and the wider Asian region. That’s why over 600 Australian companies from a diverse range of industries including information technology, banking, accounting, legal and retail do business in Hong Kong, with many of them basing their regional headquarters in the territory.
For Australian companies it makes total sense to have a presence in the heart of the Asian region in what is the Asian Century.
Consider this one fact: between now and 2040, the world will need $118 trillion of new infrastructure to keep pace with population growth and urbanisation, with more than half of that need coming from Asian countries alone.
Without a doubt, this will offer immense commercial opportunities for Australian architects, engineers, construction firms, financiers and the resources companies that dig up the raw materials necessary to build the railways, roads, ports, power plants, telecommunication networks, dams and housing that will be required over the coming decades.
It is now up to us to grasp those opportunities.
Simply put, we need to adopt the imagination, boldness and entrepreneurial spirit that has long characterised the Hong Kong people and business community. Indeed, there is an old Chinese proverb that should guide our national efforts in the decades ahead. Roughly translated, it tells us: Do not be afraid of a long road to success only be afraid of a shortage of ambition.
FRIDAY, 8 SEPTEMBER, 2017
Speech to Queensland ALP Business Forum – Building Queensland’s Future – Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre
Good government is about planning and building for the future.
Indeed, in the highly competitive, globalised world of the 21st Century, the prices consumers pay, the profits businesses make, the quality of life people enjoy and the export income that’s generated will more than ever depend on the adequacy and quality of a nation’s roads, railways, sea and air ports, electricity grids, and telecommunication networks.
Simply put, infrastructure matters.
And that truism is even more apt if you are wanting to exploit the economic potential and connect the communities of a vast, decentralised and fast-growing state like Queensland.
But those very characteristics of this state make infrastructure provision particularly challenging for any Queensland government.
As we all know, Queensland is a big place – bigger than the UK, Germany, France and Italy combined. And unlike the other states in the Commonwealth, its population is far more dispersed, with more than half of Queenslanders living outside of metropolitan Brisbane.
On top of that the state’s population will continue to grow at a faster rate than Australia overall. In the ten years to 2016 Queensland’s population grew by 21 per cent to 4.85 million people. By the early 2030s, 6.5 million people – or more than one in five Australians – will be calling Queensland home.
The bottom line is this: while it is of course the responsibility of the State Government to take the lead when it comes to identifying Queensland’s long-term infrastructure needs, it is also the case that modernising the state’s infrastructure is ultimately a task too big for them alone to achieve.
It will require a partnership between the state and the private sector.
And it will require a national government that’s prepared to play its part.
RECORD OF THE ABBOTT/TURNBULL GOVERNMENT
Unfortunately, in recent years Federal infrastructure investment has been in decline.
In 2016-17 alone, the Turnbull Government slashed the Federal infrastructure budget by $1.6 billion, with almost a quarter of that cut falling on the state of Queensland.
They cut funding for major road projects, including the Bruce Highway Upgrade.
They cut funding for fixing dangerous blackspots on local roads.
And they even cut funding for building new roadside facilities such as rest stops for truck drivers.
And despite all their spin in the lead up to this year’s budget about “good” debt versus “bad” debt, that downward trend is set to continue.
Over the next four years, Federal infrastructure grant funding – the money that goes to the states, territories and local government to deliver major road and rail projects – will fall from $8 billion this financial year to $4.2 billion in 2020-21.
In the words of the peak industry body, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia:
“…the Budget confirms the cut to ‘real’ budgeted capital funding to its lowest level in more than a decade – using a mix of underspend, re-profiling and narrative to cover this substantial drop in real capital expenditure.”
The fact is Federal grant funding is vital – and less of it will mean less infrastructure.
But it gets worse.
According the independent Parliamentary Budget Office, Federal investment in the nation’s transport infrastructure, expressed as a proportion of GDP, will drop from 0.4 per cent to 0.2 per cent over the coming decade.
That’s a 50 per cent cut.
At a time when the investment phase of the mining boom is winding down, the current government should be building national capacity. Instead, they are cutting investment in the infrastructure that would do precisely that.
INFRASTRUCTURE FINANCING UNIT
However, the Prime Minister thinks he has found the silver bullet that will more than make up for the cuts he is making to the traditional sources of Federal infrastructure funding – namely, the creation of the Infrastructure Financing Unit within his own Department.
According to the Department’s website:
“The new agency will work with Commonwealth Agencies, the private sector, states and territories on funding and financing opportunities such as public private partnerships, concessional loans, equity injections and value capture.”
But this new bureaucracy is a solution to a problem that does not exist.
Firstly, it duplicates what already exists at a Federal level. Infrastructure Australia already has the legislative mandate to advise government on how projects can best be financed.
Secondly, public private partnerships, value capture and equity injections are not new. The fact is state governments, together with the private sector, have long been pioneers in the development and implementation of these types of so-called “innovative” financing arrangements.
What’s more, the former Federal Labor Government also made use of such arrangements to deliver major projects such as Northconnex and the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal in Sydney, as well as Legacy Way here in Brisbane and the Gold Coast Light Rail.
And under the agreement I struck with the former Queensland LNP Government back in 2013, a combination of innovative financing arrangements – together with traditional grant funding – was to be used to deliver the Melbourne Metro and Cross River Rail.
For the reasons I have just outlined, the next Federal Labor Government will abolish the IFU and redirect the resulting savings into Infrastructure Australia. This will in part be used to re-establish the Major Cities Unit to drive policies that will improve the productivity, sustainability and liveability of our nation’s urban communities.
Another concern I have about this Government’s decision to withdraw public investment and make the private sector do more of the heavy lifting when it comes to infrastructure provision is the effect it will have upon what gets built in this country.
If whether or not a commercial return can be realised is the sole or even the primary criterion by which the merits of proposed projects are judged, than we will inevitably see a distortion in the infrastructure market away for urban passenger rail and towards toll roads.
The fact is public transport does not produce an immediate commercial return.
That’s why, when governments are weighing up roads against rail, they need to consider the full range of benefits rail delivers including those benefits that are not relevant to private investors such as its economic, social and environmental spin-offs.
For example, rail helps tackle traffic congestion which in turn lifts national productivity. And as well as reducing carbon emissions, putting freight on the back of trains makes our roads safer by take trucks off them.
So yes, the private sector does have an important role to play in closing the infrastructure funding gap.
But governments cannot avoid the fact that they will have to invest directly if they want projects, particularly urban passenger rail projects, to happen.
CROSS RIVER RAIL
And that brings me back to Cross River Rail.
In Federal Labor’s last Budget in 2013 we announced that we had reached an agreement with the then Queensland LNP Government to deliver the project in partnership with the private sector.
The deal was done – a fact publicly confirmed by former Premier Campbell Newman earlier this year.
This of course followed Infrastructure Australia’s approval of it in 2012 as a ‘ready to go’, nationally significant project and significant planning work by the Bligh Labor Government.
Cross River Rail was then and remains today a no brainer.
As well as creating almost 8000 jobs during its construction, this new piece of rail infrastructure will:
- Ease traffic congestion by taking up to 18,500 cars a day off the major arterial roads;
- Increase network reliability;
- Improve access to the CBD;
- Allow for more frequent services on all suburban lines, including to and from the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast; and
- Ensure South East Queenslanders can get to and from work quicker.
Without transformative projects like Cross River Rail, the economic cost of traffic congestion here in Brisbane and across the South East Corner will increase almost five-fold to $9.2 billion a year by 2031.
Yet four years after withdrawing every dollar of Federal funding from the project and redirecting that money to new toll roads in Sydney and Melbourne, the current Federal Coalition Government continues to make excuses as to why they won’t contribute anything toward it.
And earlier today I exposed yet another one these excuses as the dishonest distraction it always was.
For more than two years Malcolm Turnbull and his ministers have repeatedly claimed that the Queensland Government’s business case was deficient because it did not adequately detail if and how innovative financing arrangements such as value capture could be used to deliver the project.
However, Infrastructure Australia has never needed this information.
And we know this because Infrastructure Australia has told us so.
In response to a question posed by a Labor Senator during the most recent Senate Estimates hearings about the need for business cases to fully consider value capture opportunities, Infrastructure Australia responded:
Infrastructure Australia does not take account of funding sources, including value capture, in its economic evaluation of project business cases.
They could not have been clearer.
The reality is, while Malcolm Turnbull likes taking selfies on trains, tram and buses, his policy towards Federal funding of public transport projects remains exactly the same as his predecessor’s.
By contrast the Palaszczuk Labor Government is providing the leadership Queenslanders want when it comes to public transport infrastructure.
In particular, I welcome their decision to simply get on with the job of building this new rail line – and to go it alone if necessary.
Another area of infrastructure where the Palaszczuk Labor Government is filling the void created by a complete lack of leadership from the Turnbull Government is energy.
I am pleased to report that despite the dysfunctionality and policy inertia that currently characterises the nation’s capital – a combination that has directly led to escalating energy prices – the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well here in Queensland.
Earlier this week I had the opportunity to see that spirit firsthand and meet some of the people building this nation’s energy future with strong encouragement from and the active support of Premier Palaszczuk and her ministers.
Firstly, I visited Genex’s Kidston Solar Project located 280 kilometres north west of Townsville on the site of the now abandoned Kidston Gold Mine.
Stage 1, which involves the installation of 537,000 photovoltaic cells mounted on a tracking system that follows the sun across the sky, is already under construction.
Once commissioned early next year, this facility will generate 50 MW, enough electricity to power more than 26,000 homes.
The second stage will involve the construction of a 250 MW pumped storage hydro project and an additional solar project with a generation capacity of 270 MW, which will make it the largest solar farm in Australia. More important, this integration of solar and pumped storage will provide stability to the grid and a pathway to the 24/7 supply of renewables.
The second place I visited will soon become the site of the Kennedy Energy Park. Located outside of Hughenden, this ground-breaking project will combine solar, wind and battery storage to create renewable energy on a scale comparable to the State’s large coal-fired plants like Tarong and Stanwell – that’s is enough electricity to power up to 1 million homes.
Without a doubt, it is a site of some of the world’s best wind and solar resources.
While both projects have been strongly backed by the Palaszczuk Labor Government, it is also worth noting that both might have withered on the vine if not for the financial support of the Clean Energy Corporation (CFC) and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). Established by the former Federal Labor Government, these are two national institutions which the current Federal Government has repeatedly tried to abolish.
A FUTURE FEDERAL LABOR GOVERNMENT
Lastly, for those wondering what to expect on infrastructure from the next Federal Labor Government, I would simply point them to our record between 2007 and 2013.
During that period we restored national leadership through the appointment of Australia’s first ever Federal Infrastructure Minister and the creation of a Federal Infrastructure Department. We ended the Commonwealth’s self-imposed exile from our cities and re-engaged with state, territories and local government on urban policy.
We established Infrastructure Australia to break the link between the three or four year electoral cycle and the investment cycle, and bring a strategic, objective, and evidence-based approach to the assessment of projects and the nation’s longer-term infrastructure needs.
And when we return to government we will restore its independence and will listen to its advice.
When it came to actual investment, the former Labor Government doubled the roads budget, increased investment in rail ten-fold and committed more to urban public transport than all our predecessors since Federation combined.
Here in Queensland we more than doubled annual spending from $143 to $314 per Queenslander.
In South East Queensland alone, we committed $6.3 billion to major infrastructure projects – more than what the Howard Government had spent across the whole of the State.
As part of this unprecedented capital works program we upgraded the major roads connecting Brisbane to Ipswich in the west – a $2.5 billion investment in the Ipswich Motorway; Brisbane to the Gold Coast in the south – a $455 million investment in the Pacific Motorway; and Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast in the north – a $195 million investment in the Bruce Highway.
In particular, you may be interested to know that the upgrade of the Ipswich Motorway remains South East Queensland’s largest ever Federally-funded road project.
We also cooperated with the Queensland Government to fix congested sections of the Gateway Motorway, and construct a new interchange at the intersection between Mains and Kessels Roads.
And as I mentioned earlier, we partnered with the private sector and Brisbane City Council to deliver the $1.5 billion Legacy Way.
Beyond Brisbane and the South East Corner, we made an unprecedented $5.7 billion investment in upgrading the State’s most important regional road: the Bruce Highway. That was four times what our predecessors invested over 12 long years of neglect.
In fact, two-thirds of the infrastructure investment we made in Queensland went into the State’s rural and regional communities.
In short, the next Federal Labor Government – like the last one – will follow the example set by our great nation building predecessors – visionaries such as Andrew Fisher who gave us the transcontinental railway; Ben Chifley who turned the Snowy Hydro dream into a reality; and Gough Whitlam who transformed the outer suburbs of our cities.
Labor will plan and build for our nation’s future.
That’s what Labor Governments do.
On 17 October, Australia will celebrate the centenary of the opening of the transcontinental railway.
This nation building project, the vision of Labor Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, connected our east and west coasts in 1917 after five years of construction.
In many ways the completion of the line marked Australia’s coming of age.
It opened up new and previously uncontemplated opportunities for travel, trade and economic development.
As Fisher said in Port Augusta when construction commenced, the best thing the Parliament could do for posterity in those early years of nationhood was to open up Australia by building railways and ports.
He said: “Of that Parliament, the people who live afterwards would say that it made easier the road and lighter the load, and enabled them to progress by honest industry.”
Andrew Fisher was right.
Over the past 150 years, rail has done more to promote economic development and commerce than any other technology.
In 2017, when we can fly to the other side of the world in a day, it would be tempting to write off rail as a quaint relic of the past.
But that would be a mistake.
Today, right around the globe, rail’s influence is growing, not declining.
It continues to underpin industrial growth, particularly in the developing nations of the Asian and African continents.
It is a central component of China’s multi-billion dollar Belt and Road initiative, which will link a huge economic zone connecting Asia, Europe and Africa.
In America, new lines are under construction in California and Texas.
And across Europe, Asia and North America, governments are investing billions of dollars in High Speed Rail lines as a genuine alternative to air and road travel.
Rail also maintains its importance in Australia, handling half of the domestic freight task.
That task grew by 50 per cent in the decade to 2016 and is forecast to grow by another 26 per cent by 2026.
Likewise, passenger rail stands as a potent weapon in the battle against traffic congestion in our cities, which is eroding our quality of life and acting as a hand brake on national productivity and economic growth.
Rail also offers huge opportunities in terms of regional development, both through freight projects like Inland Rail and the most visionary project of all – High Speed Rail down Australia’s eastern coast.
My message is that the future of rail is bright …,
…. as long as we make the necessary investment to maintain and expand our rail systems.
To set the scene, let me offer a brief overview of this year’s Federal Budget.
Pre-Budget posturing about the difference between good and bad debt raised hopes within the sector that the Budget would include an increase in infrastructure investment.
It did not.
The Government cut $1.6 billion from the infrastructure budget in the year to June 30 this year.
And over the Forward Estimates investment will decline every year from $7.6 billion in 2016-17 to $4.2 billion by 2020-21.
Analysis of long-term trends by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office shows that over the next decade, Commonwealth investment in transport infrastructure, expressed as a proportion of GDP, will fall from 0.4 per cent to 0.2 per cent.
That’s cutting it in half.
At a time when the investment stage of the mining boom is winding down, our government should be building national capacity.
Instead, it is cutting investment.
In its Budget response, the infrastructure sector’s peak representative body, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, warned that the Budget would take real, budgeted capital funding of infrastructure to its lowest level in more than a decade.
The organisation also accused the Government of trying to hide its cuts with a mixture of “underspending, re-profiling and narrative’’.
That was a polite way of saying the Government is making things up.
The decline in funding can be traced to a major policy shift away from provision of federal infrastructure grants to the states.
Instead, the Government proposes to seek more private investment for public projects using what it describes as innovative financing arrangements like value capture and availability payments.
To that end, it has created an Infrastructure Financing Agency within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
It ought to be noted here that value capture, equity funding and availability payments are not new.
As you know, they’ve been around for decades.
They were used by the former Federal Labor Government on a range of projects, including Northconnex in Sydney, the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal, Legacy Way in Brisbane and the Gold Coast Light Rail project.
Such innovative mechanisms were also included in the former Labor Government’s 2013 agreements with the Victorian and Queensland Governments to deliver the Melbourne Metro and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail.
The Coalition scrapped both when it came to office.
The IFU is not needed.
It is a solution looking for a problem that does not exist.
It will duplicate the existing role of Infrastructure Australia, which already has the legislative mandate to advise on financing arrangements.
Infrastructure Australia’s job is to assess business cases of projects.
If they stack up, it has the capacity to work with states or private sector proponents on financing options. That’s happened before and it can happen again.
Creation of the IFU also downplays the considerable financing expertise that exists in state governments, which have traditionally handled such matters.
Prior to the Budget, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia told the Government not to create the IFU.
Instead, it called on the government to stop cutting infrastructure grants to the states.
A Labor Government will abolish the IFU.
We’ll direct its funding back to Infrastructure Australia, including re-establishing the Major Cities Unit to drive policy aimed at improving the productivity, sustainability and liveability of the nation’s cities.
In recent months the Prime Minister has said many times that he wants state government proposals for public transport projects to incorporate value capture.
However, using the Senate Budget Estimates process, the Opposition has confirmed that, despite this requirement, Infrastructure Australia has not considered value capture in any of its assessments of projects on its Infrastructure Priority List.
So we have a situation where the Prime Minister is publicly rejecting projects like Brisbane’s Cross River Rail because he wants value capture, when Infrastructure Australia’s assessment processes don’t even examine value capture.
I am also aware that despite that fact, Infrastructure Australia wrote to the Queensland Government on May 19 this year complaining that the business case it produced for the Cross River Rail project address issues of value capture.
It’s hard to see why they would be asking for information on value capture if it is not relevant to their assessment of the project’s business case.
This makes me wonder whether all of the Government’s talk about value capture is just a smokescreen from a government that is not prepared to invest in public transport projects.
Another concern about the new approach toward less public investment and more private investment is the effect it will have upon what gets built in this country.
It will distort the infrastructure market towards toll roads and away from urban passenger rail.
This is because toll roads generate commercial rates of return.
Public transport is a more difficult proposition for the private sector because it does not produce immediate commercial rates of return.
When weighing up roads against rail, we need to consider the full range of public benefits provided by rail including public benefits that are not relevant to private investors.
Rail helps tackle traffic congestion and thereby lifts productivity.
Trains, whether they carry freight or people, take trucks off the road and reduce overall carbon emissions.
He is a real-life example of the outcomes of this policy distortion.
Fairfax Media has established that the NSW Coalition Government ordered its bureaucrats to ignore rail as an option when considering ways to tackle traffic congestion and improving commuting times between Sydney and Wollongong.
This instruction left the bureaucrats with one option – constructing the F6 Motorway and putting a toll on it.
But documents obtained by Fairfax included a Transport Department paper headed “Failure in Critical Options Analysis’’ which attacked the toll road idea on the basis that a rail option would be cheaper.
It said completing the Maldon to Dombarton freight line would remove coal trains from the existing Illawarra line, freeing up space for passenger trains.
This, combined with construction of the Thirroul Rail tunnel between Waterfall and Wollongong, would reduce travelling time from Wollongong to Central Station by a third to 60 minutes.
Yet the NSW Government deliberately shut off the rail option.
This is absurd.
The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics tells us that traffic congestion is costing the nation $16 billion a year in lost productivity.
We won’t tackle this problem simply by building more toll roads.
We could get cars off the roads by investing in public transport, particularly in new suburbs not currently served by trains.
We could get even more trucks off the road by proceeding with freight rail projects like the Port Botany Freight Line duplication between Mascot and the Port.
Labor supports the proposed Inland Rail Link between Brisbane and Melbourne.
In Government, we invested $600 million upgrading parts of the existing rail network that will form part of the Inland Rail route.
And in the 2013 Budget, we allocated $300 million to complete the detailed planning and get the project under way.
But in 2017, I am concerned the Government is jeopardising Inland Rail by refusing to commit the necessary grant funding to make it a reality.
When it took office in 2013, the Coalition appointed former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson to prepare an implementation study.
The resulting report noted that even over 50 years of operation of Inland Rail, revenues will not be sufficient to cover its construction costs.
Mr Anderson wrote: “Hence, a substantial public funding contribution is required to deliver Inland Rail.’’
But the Government ignored Mr Anderson.
Its proposal to fund this project is based entirely on an equity injection into the Australian Rail Track Corporation, with no grant funding.
For equity funding arrangements to work, a project must be able to stand on its own and generate a return to the Budget.
However media organisation Crikey recently reported that when it asked the Government how Inland Rail could make a return to the Budget, it was told the existence of such a return was not based on Inland Rail as a discrete entity, but on “returns for equity for ARTC as a whole rather than for the Inland Rail project’’.
This was a critical admission.
It tells us the Government is cooking the books to make Inland Rail stack up.
Unwilling to provide the required component of direct grant funding as per Mr Anderson’s advice; the Government is asking all users of the ARTC’s freight rail system to subsidise Inland Rail.
That is a fiddle.
My other concern is the fact that on current planning, Inland Rail will stop 38km from the Port of Brisbane, at Acacia Ridge.
Getting the planning right on rail requires us to think well ahead.
That includes taking steps to prevent future rail corridors being built out by urban sprawl.
I found myself nodding in agreement recently when I read Infrastructure Australia’s report urging governments to act now to protect corridors for seven projects on Infrastructure Australia’s priority list.
Those projects included High Speed Rail down the east coast, the Outer Sydney Orbital, Outer Melbourne Ring, Western Sydney Airport Rail Line, Western Sydney Freight Line, Hunter Valley Freight Line, and Port of Brisbane Freight Line.
Infrastructure Australia said that if these corridors were protected now, we could save taxpayers up to $11 billion by avoiding cost overruns, delays and community disruption when projects are being delivered.
The report said:
If we protect infrastructure corridors we will reduce project costs and especially minimise the need for underground tunnelling, where the cost to government and therefore taxpayers can be up to ten times higher than it would have been.
Infrastructure Australia’s report represents common sense.
The former Labor Government tried to preserve the corridor for the proposed High Speed Rail Line between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.
In 2013, having established via a feasibility study that the project would return $2.50 for every dollar invested, we appointed an independent expert panel to recommend the best way to proceed.
That panel included the Business Council of Australia’s Jennifer Westacott, former Deputy Prime Minister Tom Fischer and the late Bryan Nye from the ARA.
The panel recommended we move quickly to protect the corridor.
Accordingly, we allocated $54 million in the 2013 Budget to create a High Speed Authority to preserve the corridor and progress the project.
Unfortunately, the incoming Coalition Government scrapped that plan.
This was incredibly short-sighted.
Infrastructure planning requires that governments think in the long-term.
It’s not just about cutting ribbons at opening ceremonies for new projects. Part of the job includes putting in the detailed work today to make tomorrow’s projects possible.
If we fail to act on securing the High Speed Rail corridor, the project will, over time, become unviable.
If we fail to secure corridors for freight rail projects, we risk increasing the future cost of delivery to the point where these important projects become unviable.
We should establish a High Speed Rail Authority to secure the corridor and advance planning. We should also invite expressions of interest from international companies with relevant expertise in building and operating High Speed Rail.
More broadly, we should take Infrastructure Australia’s advice and consider corridor preservation for all projects in the Infrastructure Australia Priority List.
We should do this in a spirit of bipartisanship.
For those who wonder what approach a Labor Government would take on freight rail, I simply point our record in Government between 2007 and 2013.
We rebuilt over a third of the network – 3,800 kilometres of existing track – and laid 235 kilometres of new track.
Our work cut travel times along the Melbourne to Brisbane corridor by six hours, and between Perth and the east coast by nine hours.
We separated freight and passenger rail lines by delivering the Southern Sydney Freight Line – a dedicated freight line between Macarthur and Chullora that provides access for up to five freight trains per hour in each direction and, for the first time, 24-hour access to Port Botany through southern Sydney.
Likewise we invested $840 million towards the $1.1 billion Northern Sydney Freight Corridor project, delivering a dedicated line between North Strathfield and Gosford, which will take up to 200,000 trucks off the roads a year.
We upgraded the Port Botany Rail Line increasing the number of containers that can be transported along the line from 700,000 to around 1 million a year.
With Port Botany freight expected to grow at 7 per cent per annum, we put in place the Moorebank Intermodal project, which will generate more than $11 billion in economic benefits.
The former Labor Government also reformed transport regulation.
We replaced 23 separate state, territory and Federal agencies that previously regulated heavy vehicles, rail safety and maritime safety, along with their costly and confusing array of regulations, with just three national regulators each administering one set of modern, nationwide laws.
That reform will boost national income by up to $30 billion over the next 20 years.
A logical next step in micro-economic reform is to streamline procurement of rolling stock to boost the domestic rail manufacturing and maintenance industry, which employs almost 20,000 Australians and contributes $1.75 billion to the national economy annually.
Under current arrangements states are doing their own thing on procurement, with 36 different train models in our public transport fleet, many being purchased overseas.
For example, NSW recently placed a $1.7 billion order for new Waratah trains with a Chinese manufacturer, and their new $2.3 billion intercity trains are to be built in Korea.
Surely it would better to standardise the rolling stock platform used in this country instead of designing a new model each time a government decides to acquire new trains or trams.
With governments nationwide planning to spend more than $46 billion on new urban rail infrastructure and rolling stock, our goal must be to keep as much of that investment that we can here in Australia.
If we do that we can improve rail capacity while also boosting jobs growth.
The time has come for a serious examination of the merits of establishing a national public transport authority in which the Commonwealth partners with the states to maximise opportunities for local manufacturers and suppliers.
When things go off the rails in any undertaking, I’ve always found it is useful to return to first principles.
So let me offer an actual policy solution to the problem of attracting more private investment into public infrastructure projects.
Back in 2008, I had the great privilege of taking the legislation that created Infrastructure Australia through the House of Representatives.
In my second Reading speech on the legislation, I made a comment that is just as relevant today.
Infrastructure investment needs to be determined objectively and according to long-term need, not short-term political interests, thereby creating an environment conducive to greater private investment in public infrastructure.
So nation-building requires not only foresight, but a more national co-ordinated approach to infrastructure reform and investment – something the business community has long championed.
Businesses don’t want advice from politicians about how to finance major investments.
What they want is bipartisan commitment to a pipeline of projects that have been assessed and embraced on the basis of need, not politics.
They want a predictable roll out of projects on the basis of need so that a change of government in Canberra does not mean properly assessed projects are dumped and replaced with other projects for which there is no commercial case.
That was the whole idea behind the creation of Infrastructure Australia.
It’s disappointing that the current government has found itself unable to stick by such principles.
But the bottom line here is that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
We’ve already got a model for a better way to go about nation building.
We should just use it.
‘Positive politics in the age of disruption’ – Address to 34th Annual Earle Page Political Lecture, University of New England
Thank you for the honour of giving the Earle Page Political Lecture for 2017.
Here I am as a former Labor Deputy Prime Minister, in New England, the seat of the current Deputy Prime Minister and National Party Leader, Barnaby Joyce, giving a lecture named after Country Party Leader Sir Earle Page who rose to be Prime Minister, even if just for three weeks.
It struck me that my very presence giving this lecture could be seen as a metaphor for what is my theme – positive politics in the age of disruption.
We certainly live in a period where politics as usual has been turned on its head.
Traditional allegiances are far less entrenched.
In the United States, we’ve seen the rise of President Donald Trump.
In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn is within reach of becoming Prime Minister.
In France, Emmanuel Macron has been swept into office, winning an enviable majority of seats.
Time and again we have seen orthodoxy abandoned in favour of candidates and platforms of the right, left and centre.
But what these movements have in common is they have tapped into an increasing dissatisfaction with the outcomes of economic globalisation.
This is despite the substantial benefits we’ve seen accrue from globalisation, which has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty.
Products in Australia once considered luxury items are now available much more widely.
When I was a child we had a home phone, unlike many of our neighbours in our public housing community.
We had an honesty system in place, with a money box next to it, for people to deposit a coin for its use.
Now in Australia there are more mobile phones than people.
Plane travel is five times more affordable than it was 20 years ago.
Australians have never been better educated and we are living longer.
But the simple fact is that some have benefited from globalisation more than others.
And the consequences of this are broad reaching, with many turning to ballot boxes at election time to express their resentment.
The current political shake-up can be traced in an immediate sense to the Global Financial Crisis.
Millions of people lost their jobs, many their homes, because of a series of events for which they were not responsible.
By and large those who were responsible escaped comparatively unscathed.
It was a stark demonstration of the inequality of power distribution in society.
It led to a critique of neo-liberal economics and a recognition that without government intervention, markets can create bad outcomes and almost always create unequal outcomes.
Unpredictable election outcomes and expressions of dissatisfaction with the prevailing order exemplified by Brexit have been described as politics in the age of disruption.
This has led many active participants and commentators to be negative about the future.
I think this assessment is wrong. And self-defeating.
In our pursuit of change it can feel like every time we take one step forward, it’s followed by two steps back.
But as Barack Obama once said, ‘if you’re walking down the right path, and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.’
Tonight I will argue that in the words of musician Ian Dury, there are indeed “reasons to be cheerful’’.
Of course there are many across the political spectrum who define present circumstances negatively by romanticising the past.
For progressives who, by definition, believe in the better instincts of humanity, this is very much a contradictory trait.
I have been in many debates with people who have asserted with despair: “Labor isn’t what it used to be”.
My response is that it is true that we no longer support the White Australia Policy; it is true that we are now moving towards equal representation for women; and it is also true that we now support equal rights regardless of sexuality.
Political parties evolve with society and my argument tonight is that over time that change is progressive.
This approach is consistent with a faith in humanity.
Progressives consistently fail to celebrate our victories.
Sometimes this is because we have already moved on to the next challenge.
If you’re about defending existing power relationships in society, you don’t have that issue.
You celebrate the past almost by definition.
To inspire the next generation, including students at this university, we should seek to understand the past, celebrate the gains of the present, and both anticipate and create the future.
Social change doesn’t just happen.
It is made to happen.
I believe that an analysis which is optimistic about future prospects is a pre-condition for inspiring that positive change.
THE RISE OF NEGATIVE POLITICS
In Australia, it is fair to say that recent years have seen an increase in negative politics on a superficial level.
We’ve had changes of Prime Minister, with two replaced in the first term after their election.
The question is: will this instability become a permanent feature of the political landscape?
There is no doubt that the pace of the media is having an impact.
Complex issues cannot be addressed in 140 characters.
The immediacy of online news websites means that no one wants to miss a big event so detailed discussion of ideas is reduced to political power plays.
It makes a mature discussion of challenges more difficult.
This can advantage the Opposition, but a plan to get into government does not equate to a plan to govern, as we saw with Tony Abbott.
Labor has been determined to not repeat this mistake and has worked hard on comprehensive policy plans.
Bill Shorten deserves credit for leading from Opposition on difficult issues such as reform to negative gearing and capital gains tax to improve housing affordability.
The Australian people are desperate for an end to disruption.
I believe that is why Malcolm Turnbull’s ascension to the Prime Ministership was welcomed so strongly.
His statement that he would treat the population like adults and move to less divisive political leadership appealed to a public that had been exhausted by what it perceived as consistently negative politics.
It was indeed positive politics in the age of disruption.
Unfortunately it has become all too clear that the internal compromises he made to secure support have led to the current disappointment.
Both major parties clearly have a vested interest in renewing faith in mainstream politics.
I want to outline some of the long term challenges that Australia faces, which, if we can work through as a nation, will be critical in changing politics in Australia for the better.
I would argue that these are consistent with the politics of the last century, which has seen the promotion of progressive ideas that are seen as radical at first, then accepted over time as a result of community support.
Medicare, compulsory superannuation and expanding access to education are fundamental issues that were fought strongly by the forces of reaction but are now cemented as part of the Australian ethos.
When governments attempt to attack the Australian consensus and wind back the gains of the past, as the 2014 Budget did, they meet strident opposition.
Nowhere is this stronger than in social policy.
Whilst there is more to be done, removing much of the discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity and sexuality has already made a fundamental difference.
The first woman elected to the House of Representative from NSW was my predecessor as the Member for Grayndler, Jeannette McHugh, in 1983.
Think about that for a moment.
Not a single woman from this, our most populous state, in 83 years.
Since then 107 women have been elected to the House of Representatives across Australia and, at the last election, we elected the first Indigenous woman in Linda Burney.
The refusal to offer an apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people eventually was overwhelmed.
Kevin Rudd’s apology will go down as an important step in reconciliation and certainly the finest moment in the Parliament so far this century.
In my first term in 1998 I introduced a Private Members Bill to give same-sex partners access to their superannuation.
It was blocked from a debate or vote.
I found out later that some colleagues from interstate assumed I was gay, for the simple reasoning that it would explain why I was raising the issue.
A decade later the Labor Government removed 84 areas of discrimination in legislation against same-sex couples in numerous areas including immigration, health and education.
This was largely uncontroversial and received bipartisan support.
And the unfinished business of marriage equality now has a majority of support both inside and outside the Parliament.
The recent Budget saw the Coalition adopt some of the central principles at least rhetorically, that have been advanced by Labor in recent years.
While the change of rhetoric is welcome, what is also required is a change of substance.
This included an acceptance that Australians see Medicare as the central component of the provision of universal health care.
That school funding should be needs based.
That the NDIS is critical reform.
That infrastructure investment in our regions and cities which boosts economic productivity is “good debt”.
This is a start – and motivations have been rightly questioned – but while words can be positive, it is of course actions that really count.
It does seem to me that stating that these principles have been broadly accepted at least in the rhetorical sense, should be a source of pride for those who have been long term advocates for these positions.
And it certainly does not mean that there are not arguments to be had about the sincerity of this broad adoption, let alone the practical implementation of those principles.
The principle of universal health care needs to be supported by the Medicare Rebate and hospital funding being improved.
The principle of needs-based education funding must be supported by resourcing to allow the “full Gonski” to be delivered.
And we need to enhance the role of early childhood education in realising the potential of our younger generations.
The principle of infrastructure development needs to be supported by real investment, not the cuts that were in this year’s Budget.
The rhetorical acceptance of these previously contested positions such as needs-based education funding, should facilitate a focus on how to achieve these objectives.
Moving on from old arguments should also permit greater consideration of the long term challenges which face Australia.
Tonight I want to discuss just a few of these: infrastructure including the National Broadband Network; climate change; and inequality.
On infrastructure the Government raised expectations prior to the Budget by accepting what economists, the Reserve Bank, the Business Council of Australia and Labor have been saying for some time.
That borrowing for productivity boosting infrastructure is sound economic policy.
This is particularly the case given the context of the resources sector moving from the construction to the production phase, low interest rates and the high infrastructure deficit.
We know that in the short term infrastructure creates jobs and generates economic activity.
In the long term, infrastructure boosts productivity, producing revenue for the Government and a return to the national economy.
The former Labor Government doubled the roads budget, increased the rail budget more than tenfold and invested more in public transport than all previous Governments since Federation.
Our major reform was the creation of the independent advisory group, Infrastructure Australia to ensure the right projects were funded with the right financing and proper planning.
This region benefited greatly from the Hunter Expressway, a $1.7 billion investment which was a central component of the economic stimulus plan
The New England Highway, benefited from $40 million of upgrades to sections both north and south of Armidale.
It is often said of politicians that “they need to get out more”, and when it comes to regional infrastructure that is true.
Tony Windsor and I drove the Highway to the Bolivia Hill Blackspot which, once visited, ensured that funding flowed for it, as well as for the Tenterfield Bypass.
We also invested in Roads to Recovery, the Black Spot Program and upgraded the Livestock Selling Complex here in Armidale, to make it safer for truck drivers and workers.
Right across the country there are good examples of projects that connect people and freight to regional centres.
The Inland Rail Project is one which has bipartisan support.
While we were in Government, $900 million was allocated to upgrade existing track and secure the corridor, following on from our landmark study.
The recent Budget committed substantial funding to the ARTC for the project, but every dollar of it as equity funding.
This contradicts former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson’s review which found that it would not produce a return on capital for 50 years.
I am concerned that the need for grant funding has been ignored and that this will undermine the project in the future, as will the fact that current plans have it stopping at Acacia Ridge, some 38 kilometres short of the Port of Brisbane.
Projects should be transparent about their finances.
The economic development of regional centres such as Parkes along the route, the pressure taken off the coastal routes and the safety, environmental and economic benefits of replacing heavy vehicle movements with rail all combine to mean that Inland Rail deserves support.
It will fail if its financing is based upon false premises and there is not transparency.
Passenger rail is another significant priority for regional communities.
The Regional Rail Link, in Victoria, allows commuters from Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong rapid access to Melbourne on a new rail line that is separate from the existing Melbourne passenger train network.
The Regional Rail Link was the largest ever Commonwealth investment in a public transport project.
The big game changer is the proposed High Speed Rail Link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.
This project demonstrates that carefully targeted Commonwealth investment can make a real difference when it comes to strengthening links between cities and regions, lifting productivity for both.
It could transform the economies of those regional centres along the route including Lismore, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, Goulburn, Wagga Wagga, Albury and Shepparton.
It is positive that the Government has recognised rhetorically that there is a role for the Commonwealth in investing in regions AND cities, in road AND rail, and in moving freight AND people.
However, by creating an Infrastructure Financing Unit in the Prime Minister’s Department, it has sidelined Infrastructure Australia. Its insistence that projects must produce a commercial return means that the market will be distorted to fund just toll roads.
This will have a devastating impact on regional Australia, as demonstrated by last week’s absurd proposition that the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility be used to fund toll roads in Far North Queensland.
The Infrastructure Australia model is important because it is designed to break the nexus between the short term political cycle and the long term infrastructure investment cycle.
Long term investment certainty is required for visionary projects that will make a real difference to our future prosperity.
The Western Sydney Airport is an example of a project that could not proceed without bipartisan support.
This project is not only important for the economic transformation of Western Sydney; it is critical for regional NSW to have continued access to Sydney for its people and its produce.
Of course in the Digital Age, the easiest way to overcome the tyranny of distance which disadvantages our regions is access to a 21st century National Broadband Network.
That means fibre to the premise, not copper.
Right here in Armidale was the first mainland community to receive the rollout of the NBN.
If a business here in Armidale can have the same access to markets and customers as a business based in Sydney or the world, it moves from a position of locational disadvantage, to one of advantage due to lower overhead costs.
The same advantage applies for this outstanding university.
High-speed broadband is essential for uploads, not just downloads.
It is also about more than enhancing productivity.
It is about the provision of health and education services.
But it is also an enabler for creating opportunity and equity.
This makes it an essential component of economic and social policy for the future.
Climate change is our biggest intergenerational challenge.
Right now we have an opportunity with the Finkel Review to draw a line in the sand and move forward in a bipartisan way.
While the Government has agreed to 49 of the 50 energy suggestions in the Review, it hasn’t yet reached a decision on a Clean Energy Target.
To be clear, this is not our preferred path forward – that is for an Emissions Intensity Scheme.
But Australians need the current policy paralysis in the energy sector to come to an end and we will work with the Government to achieve this.
Since the price on carbon was abolished, wholesale energy costs have doubled.
The policy uncertainty has stifled investment, undermined the national energy market and is hurting vulnerable Australians who cannot afford to pay their energy bills.
Alan Finkel himself, the Chief Scientist of Australia, has said that putting a Clean Energy Target framework in place would see investment restart, pollution reduce, job opportunities increase, and a reduction in wholesale power prices.
These are all great outcomes.
The fact is most Australians understand the arguments for action.
The world is moving toward a low-emissions future.
Three quarters of Australia’s coal and gas-generation are already operating beyond their design life.
With Australia’s capacity for innovation and our abundant natural resources we should be a world leader in renewable energy.
This policy area exemplifies the need for a consensus about at least the framework moving forward.
It is the poorest people in our communities who bear the brunt of our most significant challenges.
This includes those challenges I have raised – the provision of infrastructure, digital connectivity, the impact of climate change and the transition to renewable energy.
As governments develop policy solutions, we must consider equity issues, or else political disenfranchisement across our nation will only deepen.
The fact is inequality in Australia is at a 75-year high.
An Oxfam Report recently found that the two wealthiest Australians own more than the poorest 20 per cent of the population.
And, at a time when real wages are falling and the Reserve Bank Governor has said that we need to increase wages, we’ve seen cuts to penalty rates actually reduce the real wages of some of our most poorly paid.
The former RBA Governor, Bernie Fraser, has referred to a “danger point’’ where the gap between the rich and poor could grow so much it would have “awful’’ far reaching consequences.
There is a spatial dimension to inequality in Australia.
Research conducted by the Parliamentary Library found that out of the bottom 10 electorates for total personal median income, nine of these were regional.
All nine of the electorates with the highest median income were urban, within short distances to CBDs.
I’m also concerned that we face a very real scenario in a number of communities across Australia where the only way for young people to own their home is to inherit one.
The latest Census data shows lower home ownership rates and a decrease in the number of people who have paid off their mortgage.
Rental stress is also a growing problem.
The percentage of households now paying more than 30 per cent of their income in rent has also increased, rising from 10.4 per cent to 11.5 per cent.
Successful societies are inclusive.
You should not be able to judge an individual’s economic status by their postcode.
Given this picture of inequality in Australia, it is tempting for some to turn to negative politics and blame a group, or particular policies, for an individual’s lived experience falling short of their expectations.
Such an approach is short sighted.
It is the easy choice, not the right choice.
There’s another way forward.
Politics at its best offers hope not fear, and aims to lift people up.
We need to ensure that as our nation’s wealth grows, the benefits are shared more equally.
The common aspiration that we share, that our children may enjoy greater opportunity and quality of life than we had, with a natural environment at least as good as we enjoyed, is not too much to ask.
Those of us who are concerned that the age of disruption could lead to a downward spiral of respect for our institutions and capacity to deliver real solutions to challenges, have a responsibility to engage positively to avert such a scenario.
We must secure outcomes in the national interest.
That includes real needs-based funding for education, investment in infrastructure and the digital economy, regional economic development and strong and decisive action on climate change.
We must continue to be the land of opportunity.
If we deal with these challenges we can create a more positive political culture and indeed give people “reasons to be cheerful”.
‘Investing in the national interest’ – Speech to Australian Financial Review National Infrastructure Summit, Sofitel Sydney
A policy-based debate on infrastructure is an important discussion to have at any time.
But right now, it is more important than ever.
Real Commonwealth investment in infrastructure is falling off a cliff, despite increasing demand for better railway lines, roads and ports.
Our cities are choked by traffic congestion. It costs us $16.5 billion a year.
Our exporters need better access to our ports to get their goods to market.
And our regional communities need investment to drive growth and job generation.
Labor’s solution is sensible Commonwealth investment in projects positively assessed by Infrastructure Australia.
We want to work with the states and, where possible, the private sector, to deliver productivity enhancing projects that will underpin future prosperity.
The Turnbull Government is taking a different approach.
That approach is based on cutting Commonwealth investment, pretending the private sector will somehow make up for the cuts and hiding its cuts and inaction behind a veil of rhetoric about concepts like good debt versus bad debt, innovative financing models, value capture and City Deals.
Some of these concepts are worthy of examination.
But none of them are new.
And none of them can replace a core requirement – actual Commonwealth investment.
My message today is simple.
Anyone who pretends that clever financing arrangements or value capture will meet Australia’s current and future infrastructure needs without significant Commonwealth investment is kidding themselves.
In taking this approach, the Turnbull Government is ensuring that the infrastructure deficit becomes worse.
Our nation needs a Government prepared to invest in infrastructure in the national interest.
I’m not the first to call out the Turnbull Government.
The peak lobby group for the infrastructure sector, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, last month issued a devastating critique of the 2017 infrastructure Budget.
Responding to the Government’s absurd claim that it has increased infrastructure investment, the IPA 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, re-profiling and narrative to cover this substantial drop in real capital expenditure.
I know that two Government Ministers and an Assistant Minister addressed this forum yesterday.
Today, let’s deal in facts.
It’s a fact that the Budget cut infrastructure outlays by $1.6 billon this financial year alone compared with its own 2016 Budget figures.
It’s a fact that investment will collapse each and every year over the forward estimates period from the promised $9.2 billion in the 2016 Budget to $4.2 billion by 2020-21.
It’s a fact the only new project being funded on Budget over the next four years is the $13.8 million Far North Collector Road near Nowra in the marginal Liberal seat of Gilmore.
It’s a fact that the Budget did not include one new dollar of public transport investment.
It’s a fact that the Government’s $10 billion National Rail Fund, offered by Mr Turnbull as a way to fund urban rail, won’t produce a dollar this year.
Not next year.
Not even the year after that.
It’s a fact that there is no shortage of private capital available in this nation for investment in good infrastructure projects.
But, as the IPA has pointed out, financial wizardry alone won’t be enough to unlock that private sector investment.
The fact is that with interest rates at record lows, there has never been a better time for actual Commonwealth investment.
This is reinforced by the resources sector moving from the investment to the production phase.
That is a fact.
Prior to the Budget I was heartened by a shift in the Government’s rhetoric on infrastructure.
Suddenly, after years of attacking all debt as evil, the Coalition seemed to accept that it can make sense to borrow to fund good projects that boost productivity.
Labor and the business community have been making that point for years.
And in the past 12 months, Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe has repeatedly called for increased Commonwealth infrastructure investment.
But, when the Budget finally appeared, it was a bit like the last visit of Halley’s Comet to our part of the solar system.
Lots of hype, but ultimately disappointing.
The Commonwealth should be working with the states and the private sector to deliver infrastructure.
Instead Mr Turnbull is withholding actual investment and offering long-established concepts like value capture and innovative financing mechanisms as if they were somehow new.
Value capture, for example, was used to build the London Underground.
It has also been widely used in Australia, predominantly by local government in the delivery of affordable housing and community infrastructure.
REINVENTING THE WHEEL
What the Budget did include was funding for the proposed Infrastructure Financing Unit within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
The IFU’s job will be to work with the private sector to broker innovative financing arrangements for private investment in public infrastructure.
The IFU is a solution looking for a problem that does not exist.
It will replicate the role of Infrastructure Australia, which already possesses the capacity and the legislative mandate to involve itself in financing.
In its pre-budget submission, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia implored the Government not to create the agency.
We cannot identify any currently proposed infrastructure projects which are commercially viable and not already attracting finance.
Therefore we cannot see how the IFU will increase the pace of project delivery.
Commonwealth Government funding support is needed for infrastructure. Commonwealth financing is not.’’
The IPA represents the nation’s big infrastructure investors.
They ought to know what will give them the comfort they need to invest.
But Mr Turnbull thinks he knows better.
His approach also assumes the states have no financing expertise.
That smacks of arrogance.
Infrastructure is part of the core business of state governments.
That’s why the former Federal Labor Government worked with the Victorian and Queensland governments to seal innovative agreements to deliver the Melbourne Metro and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project.
Value capture and availability payments were integral to these arrangements.
They were hammered out with help from Infrastructure Australia, but scrapped when the Coalition took office.
Similar co-operation between the public and private sectors produced Northconnex in Sydney, the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal, Legacy Way in Brisbane and the Gold Coast Light Rail project.
Indeed, the Infrastructure Australia legislation is very explicit about its mandate to advise on financing projects.
Part 2, Section 5, of the Infrastructure Australia Act 2008 states that Infrastructure Australia has the function of providing advice on “mechanisms for financing investment in infrastructure.’’
The NSW Coalition Government’s Transport and Infrastructure Minister, Andrew Constance, recently told the Australian Financial Review that states want investment, not new processes.
“We are keen to see real money on the table,’’ Mr Constance has said.
“We are not wanting to treat Canberra as an untapped line of credit … we would prefer to see real money going into our well assessed pipeline of projects that work.’’
The Grattan Institute’s infrastructure expert Marion Terrill is also unclear about the purpose of the IFU.
Ms Terrill has told the Australian Financial Review:
I just don’t see what problem (the IFU) solves.
Working out what are the problems and developing proposals to address them and selecting the best one of those – all of that is a state government job, not a Commonwealth job.
Let me say again – the IFU is a solution looking for a problem.
It is simply not needed.
It’s an attempt to reinvent the wheel from a Prime Minister who seems to imagine he is still in the investment banking business.
Today I announce that a Shorten Labor Government will abolish the IFU.
We’ll reallocate its budget to Infrastructure Australia to enhance its core roles of project assessment, development of a project pipeline and provision of financing advice.
This is consistent with the announcement of an enhanced role for Infrastructure Australia which Bill Shorten announced at the Brisbane Media Club during the last term and which Labor took to the election.
Labor recognises that a mix of direct investment, private financing, and risk mitigation are needed and that Infrastructure Australia is the appropriate body to provide that advice.
This reallocation of funding will also be used to re-establish the Major Cities Unit in Infrastructure Australia to drive Commonwealth policies to boost the productivity, sustainability and liveability of the nation’s cities.
Another key Budget announcement was the $8.4 billion equity injection for the Australian Rail Track Corporation to deliver the Inland Rail link.
The allocation is off-budget. This means it must produce a return to taxpayers.
But this is another con.
To get this project happening, the Government needs to provide grant funding.
That was the explicit advice of former Coalition Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson in the implementation study he prepared for the Government for the project in 2015.
Mr Anderson warned that Inland Rail’s operating revenue over 50 years would not be enough to cover construction costs.
“Hence,’’ Mr Anderson wrote, “a substantial public funding contribution is required to deliver Inland Rail.
Mr Anderson was ignored.
Let me stress at this point that Labor supports Inland Rail.
In Government, we invested $600 million upgrading sections of existing railway lines that will be part of the project.
We also allocated $300 million in our last Budget to finalise the route and complete the necessary planning and pre-construction work.
But four years later I’m concerned about the course the Government is taking on Inland Rail.
The Government has not been transparent about its financing of the project.
Crikey journalist Bernard Keane reported that the Government had said the project would stand up based on “returns for equity for ARTC as a whole rather than for the Inland Rail project’’.
This is important.
As this audience would know, projects cannot be considered as equity injections which are off Budget unless it is determined they will provide a commercial return to taxpayers.
But in the case of Inland Rail, the equity injection into the ARTC is justified on the basis of all of the ARTC’s freight activities, not upon expectations of the Inland Rail project itself.
In other words, Inland Rail, on its current funding model, doesn’t stack up.
My second concern about Inland Rail is practical.
Despite being in Government for four years, the Coalition has not addressed the major impediment to the success of Inland Rail.
I’m referring to the fact that on current planning the line will stop 38km short of the Port of Brisbane, at Acacia Ridge.
It’s a bit like the failed Perth Freight Link, which would have stopped 3km short of the Port of Fremantle.
Or like Sydney’s Westconnex, which was originally proposed to take trucks to Port Botany but which goes nowhere near Port Botany.
If the Government is serious about Inland Rail, it needs to get the planning right.
One of the biggest economic challenges facing our nation is traffic congestion in our cities.
If we do nothing, traffic congestion will cost the nation $53 billion a year by 2031.
We need to address congestion by building better roads and better public transport.
Prior to the 2013 election, the former Labor Government allocated significant investment for public transport projects around the nation including the Melbourne Metro and the Cross River Rail Project.
But incoming Prime Minister Tony Abbott scrapped the lot in 2013.
Since 2015, Mr Turnbull has presented himself as an advocate for public transport, at least in rhetorical terms.
But he has failed to allocate any new money for public transport.
Mr Turnbull likes to take selfies as he rides on trains, trams and buses.
But he won’t invest in trains, trams or buses.
Just a couple of weeks ago the Queensland Government announced it would go it alone on the much-needed Cross River Rail project to provide the Brisbane CBD with a second crossing of the Brisbane River.
Mr Turnbull has refused to invest in the project, claiming Infrastructure Australia has not yet approved its business case.
The fact is that Infrastructure Australia approved the business case in 2012 and named Cross River Rail the nation’s top infrastructure priority.
Mr Turnbull is simply stalling.
He tells us Cross River Rail could be funded from the new National Rail Fund.
However, as I mentioned earlier, the fund will produce no money this year.
No money next year.
And no money the year after that.
This fund is not a serious investment vehicle.
It’s a political fix.
Given that four out of five Australians live in cities, there is a strong case for Commonwealth involvement in urban policy more broadly.
Federal Governments need to work with states and local government in areas like planning, urban renewal and with regard to that BBQ stopper, housing affordability.
The former Labor Government did just that.
We created the Major Cities Unit to research the issues facing urban Australia and work with the government on policy solutions.
Tony Abbott abolished the unit in 2013 and withdrew from the urban policy space.
Just as with public transport, Mr Turnbull took over from Mr Abbott talking about how he would re-engage with cities.
But he has failed to act beyond proposing what he describes as City Deals.
City Deals emerged in the United Kingdom as vehicles for co-operation between national and local government over shared economic development goals.
Under the UK model, the two levels of government employ regulatory reform and joint investment to boost economic activity.
Critically, if the process works and results in increased tax revenue to the national government, some of those receipts come back to the councils for investment in other productivity enhancing projects.
It is central to the design of these agreements that they include very clear financial incentives for councils to think outside the square.
Mr Turnbull’s City Deals bear little resemblance to the UK model.
Take a look at the Townsville City Deal.
Its text purports to establish agreement over shared economic goals that are presented as new but, in fact, are as old as Castle Hill, which overlooks Townsville.
For example, the document identifies the fact that Townsville ought to be seen as the industrial capital of North Queensland.
That’s been recognised for more than a century.
It says Townsville is a key centre for the defence sector.
It has been for many decades.
It says that the Townsville Port is a key piece of economic infrastructure.
That’s not news. It’s a motherhood statement.
Getting all levels of government to sign up to motherhood statements is not reform.
It is a repackaging of the self-evident.
The only initiative within the Townsville City Deal is Commonwealth investment in construction of a new rugby league stadium close to the Townsville CBD as headquarters for the North Queensland Cowboys rugby league team.
This is a great project that will boost the local economy.
At the beginning of last year, Labor committed to invest in the new stadium.
The Coalition, unwilling at that time to offer money, instead offered a City Deal, which it finalised more than six months after the election to provide political cover for its matching of Labor’s commitment.
In the same way, the Government offered a City Deal for Western Sydney during the election campaign after failing to match Labor’s commitment to invest in the Western Sydney Rail project.
It also offered a City Deal for Launceston in response to Labor’s plan to invest in an expansion of the University of Tasmania campus in Launceston.
It seems that wherever the Government wants to play catch up to Labor, which has continued to provide leadership from Opposition, it raises the concept of a City Deal.
Once again, the Government is substituting style over substance.
BUDGET – WESTERN SYDNEY AIRPORT
Before I wind up, let me give the Government credit where it is due by restating Labor’s support for the Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek.
It is a good thing that the Government has decided to build the Western Sydney Airport itself after the Sydney Airport Corporation’s decision to pass up on its option to build the airport.
Building a major new airport is so politically fraught that it will never be achieved without bipartisanship.
Labor sees the construction of the new airport as an opportunity to transform Western Sydney.
But to make that a reality, the airport needs to be connected to the Sydney rail network from the day it opens.
The Government’s plan to leave a hole under the airport for construction of a train station at some undisclosed time in the future makes no sense.
It lacks ambition.
That’s why Bill Shorten and I announced in April that a Labor Government would provide initial funding to work the NSW State Government to get the project started.
It’s also why last week, in his NSW Budget response, Labor Leader Luke Foley backed that idea and also proposed the creation of a Western Sydney Airport Authority to ensure the Commonwealth, the NSW Government and affected councils work together to maximise the benefit to the local community of job creation, skills development and proper regional economic planning.
An old Chinese Proverb says that talk doesn’t cook rice.
In the same way, talk doesn’t build railway lines.
Talk doesn’t build roads.
It doesn’t tackle the traffic congestion that makes it hard for parents to get home from work in time to play with their children.
And talk doesn’t provide private infrastructure investors with the certainty they need to decide to risk shareholders’ money on major projects.
When it comes to infrastructure investment in Australia, we need real investment in real projects that will produce real productivity gains.
Speech to Cross River Rail community forum – ‘Delivering Brisbane’s public transport needs’ at Coorparoo School of Arts and Memorial Hall
As one of the most urbanised nations on the planet, Australia’s continued prosperity in the competitive, globalised world of the 21st century will largely depend on how successful we are at making our cities work better. After all, they generate 80 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
But right now, here in Brisbane and across the south-east corner, the roads are becoming gridlocked, with Infrastructure Australia forecasting that in the absence of real action the economic cost of this traffic congestion within the region will increase almost five-fold to $9.2 billion a year by 2031.
On top of that, the city’s buses are more crowded than ever and its passenger rail network is near capacity.
And this is the situation even before we get to the challenges that lie ahead, such as population growth.
Indeed, over the next few decades the population of South-East Queensland is projected to increase by 2.2 million people. By the early 2030s, 5.5 million people – or almost one in six Australians – will be calling this part of our country home.
Managing that population growth will not be easy.
But one thing is certain: a failure to plan and build the infrastructure that will be needed will leave many people and communities socially isolated and economically disadvantaged. And that would inevitably harm the productivity and performance of the Australian economy.
Regrettably, while the current Prime Minister’s rhetoric may differ from that of his predecessor, his Government nonetheless continues to ignore the needs of the four out of five Australians who live in our cities.
The 2017 Federal Budget delivered no new policy initiatives and no new investment in our urban infrastructure, most notably public transport.
To the contrary, as a result of last month’s Budget, Federal infrastructure grant funding – the money that goes to the states, territories and local government to deliver major road and rail projects – will fall to its lowest level in more than a decade.
It will go from the originally promised $9.2 billion this financial year to $4.2 billion in 2020-21.
But you don’t have to take my word for it.
In the assessment of the peak industry body Infrastructure Partnerships Australia:
“…the Budget confirms the cut to ‘real’ budgeted capital funding to its lowest level in more than a decade – using a mix of underspend, re-profiling and narrative to cover this substantial drop in real capital expenditure.”
The fact is Federal grant funding is vital – and less of it will mean less infrastructure.
The former Federal Labor Government understood this. That’s why we more than doubled annual spending from $143 to $314 per Queenslander.
In South East Queensland alone, we committed $6.3 billion to major infrastructure projects – more than what the Howard Government had spent across the whole of the State over a similar period of time.
As part of this unprecedented capital works program we upgraded the major roads connecting Brisbane to Ipswich in the west – a $2.5 billion investment in the Ipswich Motorway; Brisbane to the Gold Coast in the south – a $455 million investment in the Pacific Motorway; and Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast in the north – a $195 million investment in the Bruce Highway.
You may be interested to know that the upgrade and widening of the Ipswich Motorway remains South East Queensland’s largest ever Federally-funded road project.
We also cooperated with the Queensland Government to fix congested sections of the Gateway Motorway, and construct a new interchange at the intersection between Mains and Kessels Roads in Macgregor. And we partnered with the private sector and Brisbane City Council to deliver the $1.5 billion Legacy Way.
But equally importantly, Labor also understood that if we are to build productive, sustainable and liveable cities where communities can grow and prosper, the national government needs to invest in both their road and rail infrastructure. That’s why as well as doubling the roads budget, we committed more to urban public transport infrastructure than all our predecessors since Federation combined.
And South East Queensland was one the biggest beneficiaries of that commitment.
Together with the State and the Moreton Bay Regional Council we built the Moreton Bay Rail Link, a rail line first mooted more than a century ago in 1895. And Federal grant funding was vital to getting the Gold Coast Light Rail off the drawing board and up and running. It has transformed the way people get around the Coast.
And then there was Cross River Rail.
In our last Budget in 2013 we announced that together with the Queensland Government – then led by Campbell Newman – we had agreed on an innovative funding solution that would have allowed this project to be delivered in partnership with the private sector. Both levels of government had committed $715 million in grant funding.
The deal was done – a fact publicly confirmed by Campbell Newman as recently as last month.
This of course followed Infrastructure Australia’s approval of the project in 2012 as a ‘ready to go’, nationally significant project.
Yet upon being elected, the current Coalition Government – led at the time by Tony Abbott – withdrew every dollar of Federal funding for the project.
It was Mr Abbott who had said previously: “It’s important that we stick to our knitting, and the Commonwealth’s knitting when it comes to funding infrastructure is roads”.
That funding was redirected to new toll roads in Sydney and Melbourne.
Four years later, the need to deliver Cross River Rail has only grown more urgent.
That is a view shared by the experts within the independent Infrastructure Australia.
According to their latest Infrastructure Priority List, which was released in February: “The current rail connection into and through Brisbane’s CBD is expected to reach capacity by the early to mid-2020s, while parts of the road and bus network are close to or at capacity.”
Cross River Rail is a no brainer.
Given the existing Merivale Bridge is reaching capacity, a second rail crossing of the Brisbane River is urgently needed.
Continued delay will only inhibit economic growth right across South East Queensland and undermine the international competitiveness of the region’s businesses.
As well as creating almost 8000 jobs during its construction, Cross River Rail will:
- Relieve the bottleneck in the inner city and boost the capacity of the entire South East Queensland rail network, allowing for more frequent services on all suburban lines;
- Take up to 18,500 cars a day off the major arterial roads; and
- Improve access to important public facilities such as hospitals, universities and sporting venues.
In short, this new piece of rail infrastructure will ease traffic congestion, increase network reliability, improve access to the CBD, and allow people to get to work and home again quicker.
That’s why I welcome the Palaszczuk Labor Government’s recent Budget and their decision to simply get on with the job of building this new rail line – and to go it alone if necessary.
However, not everyone in Canberra was pleased with this decision.
The Leader of National Party, and man likely to soon be the new Minister for Infrastructure, Barnaby Joyce, ranted against the Queensland Government’s decision to fund the project. In the words of Mr Joyce: “What we did hear in the Queensland budget was a lot about Cross River Rail. For the Labor Party, it was always a budget for inner suburban Brisbane.”
What a bizarre and ignorant statement.
The fact is Cross River Rail will benefit the entire South East Corner. In particular, it will provide more peak hour train services into Brisbane from both the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast.
Here’s the bottom line: Malcolm Turnbull likes taking selfies on trains, tram and buses. But he refuses to invest in trains, trams or buses – a failure that will only lead to more gridlock, worsening congestion and a poorer quality of life in our cities.
Again, like with so many issues, while the Coalition may have adopted Labor’s rhetoric they are not prepared to make the investment that is required.
This country needs real national leadership – and when it comes to nation building infrastructure such as Cross River Rail only Labor has a proven track of delivering just that.
Before I turn to the substance of my speech I want to take this opportunity to recognise and pay tribute to the extraordinary response from local councils across Queensland to the devastation wrought earlier this year by Cyclone Debbie.
Your quick and effective actions ensured that your local communities were able to get back on their feet as quickly as humanly possible.
I know Queenslanders are no strangers to wild weather – but each time they are tested they prove their resilience and willingness to come together to support each other and rebuild their communities.
In 2017, local government is more than ever about far more than collecting the rubbish, fixing pot holes, trimming the grass along footpaths, and catching stray cats and dogs.
In hundreds of different ways, you and your colleagues help build our civil identity, shape the physical character of our suburbs and regional communities, and contribute to the economic development of our country.
Local government is not simply an adjunct to state and territory governments.
PARTNERING WITH LOCAL GOVERNMENT
That’s why the former Federal Labor Government – in which I had the privilege of serving as Local Government Minister – was so committed to partnering with the local government sector to address the challenges confronting our nation, which at the time included the most severe global economic downturn since the Great Depression.
This commitment to a new partnership between the national government and local government was epitomised by our decision to convene the Australian Council of Local Government. This annual event brought mayors, shire presidents and councillors from around the country to the nation’s capital, giving them direct access to ministers and their senior bureaucrats.
For the first time, local government had a real voice in Commonwealth policy-making.
Unfortunately the Coalition never appreciated the importance of this two-way consultative forum, often deriding it as a “talk-fest”. In government, they have simply refused to reconvene it.
That refusal has and will continue to lead to poorer policy outcomes for local communities and the nation as a whole.
The fact is local government is the front line in our democracy.
And you will no doubt be pleased to know that Essential Research’s most recent “Trust in Institutions” poll found that local government was once again by far the most trusted tier of politics.
That’s not surprising.
For one thing, you are directly responsible for many of the services that people use and rely on every day of the week. Indeed, local government is involved in many of the most personal moments in our lives: celebrating marriages at the town hall or in the local park, looking after our children in child care, getting approval to build our dream home, and even becoming an Australian citizen at a council ceremony.
Therefore, it is a serious oversight that the founding document of our democracy – the Constitution – does not acknowledge the role of local government nor fully reflect the modern structure of government in Australia.
In government we sought to rectify this anomaly.
In May 2013, the then Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus introduced a bill into the House of Representatives that would have sought the agreement of the Australian people, via a referendum, to make a modest, common sense change to our Constitution.
Based on advice from an expert panel led by the former Chief Justice of the NSW Supreme Court, the Hon. James Spigelman, the proposed change would have inserted into the Constitution a clear statement that the Commonwealth can grant financial assistance to local government to help them pay for local services and infrastructure.
What’s more, constitutional recognition would also help prevent state and territory governments running rough shod over the views of local communities when it comes to council amalgamations and re-organisations – as we have most recently witnessed in my home state of NSW.
Sadly, over the past four years, this long overdue reform has been left to wither on the vine.
For our part, Labor has long championed constitutional recognition of local government as Australia’s third sphere of government. And while acknowledging it has been twice rejected at a referendum due to a lack of bipartisan support, we are firmly of the view that the time has come for this issue to again be put before the Australian people for their consideration.
INVESTING IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT
In addition to partnering with local government, the former Federal Labor Government was also committed to investing in it. And that investment was not just in the services they deliver, but equally importantly, in their efforts to create strong, diversified local economies.
You simply can’t have a strong national economy if you don’t have strong local economies.
Local government is an important economic actor.
Not only does local government directly employ almost 200,000 Australians; you also play a significant role in maintaining and building the infrastructure our nation needs.
For one thing, you are responsible for the upkeep of more than 650,000 kilometres of the nation’s roads, upon which tens of billions of dollars of economic activity flow.
All up, local government’s total asset stock is worth almost $250 billion.
To help maintain and upgrade this vital infrastructure, we established as part of our highly successful Economic Stimulus Plan the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program – the biggest ever Federal investment in local government’s community and economic infrastructure.
This $1.1 billion program delivered some 5000 small and larger scale projects such as new and upgraded public libraries, community centres, child cares facilities, parks and sporting facilities. And at time when they were most needed, it created thousands of jobs and helped to keep Australia out of recessions.
Importantly, every local government authority received funding and every one of them determined where the money was spent, based on an assessment of what the priorities of their local communities were.
On top of that we increased Financial Assistance Grants (FAGs) – an initiative first put in place by the Whitlam Labor Government – by 20 per cent. And we boosted funding for the Roads to Recovery program substantially.
In contrast to this record investment, the current Coalition Government has abolished the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program, and ripped nearly $1 billion out of the budgets of local governments nationwide through their three-year freeze on the indexation of Financial Assistance Grants.
The figure for Queensland is almost $200 million.
This is a permanent funding cut, one that has meant that local governments around Australia have been forced to reduce services, increase fees and put off much needed capital works. This cut has been particularly hard on rural councils and shires due to their smaller rate bases.
But the cuts don’t stop there.
As result of last month’s Federal Budget, Federal infrastructure grant funding – the money that goes to the states, territories and local government to deliver major road and rail projects – will fall off a cliff over the next four years.
It will collapse from $7.6 billion this financial year to $4.2 billion in 2020-21.
In the assessment of the peak industry body Infrastructure Partnerships Australia:
“…the Budget confirms the cut to ‘real’ budgeted capital funding to its lowest level in more than a decade – using a mix of underspend, re-profiling and narrative to cover this substantial drop in real capital expenditure.”
Federal grant funding is vital – and less of it will mean less infrastructure.
Indeed, the record levels of grant funding under the former Labor Government allowed us to partner with the Queensland Government, the private sector and Brisbane City Council to deliver the $1.5 billion Legacy Way road project. It also allowed us to partner with the Queensland Government and the Moreton Bay Regional Council to build the long-talked about Moreton Bay Rail Link.
And the provision of Federal grant funding was vital to getting the proposed Gold Coast Light Rail off the ground in partnership with the State Government, the private sector and the Gold Coast City Council. This $1.2 billion piece of infrastructure has transformed the way people get around the Coast.
So yes, while the private sector has a role to play in closing the infrastructure funding gap, governments cannot avoid the fact that they will have to stump up taxpayers’ dollars if they want projects, particularly urban public transport projects, to happen.
There is no magic pudding or silver bullet.
Lastly, I just want to touch on the current state of urban policy.
As one of the most urbanised nations on the planet, we understood that Australia’s continued prosperity would largely depend on how successful we are at making our cities and large regional centres work better.
Importantly, our approach to building more productive, sustainable and liveable urban communities involved investing in both their road and rail infrastructure. That is why we doubled the roads budget and committed more funding to urban public transport infrastructure than all our predecessors since Federation combined.
In addition, we:
- Created the Major Cities Unit;
- Established the National Planning Taskforce;
- Required state and territory governments to have strategic plans for their capital cities as a condition of future Federal infrastructure funding;
- Commissioned an annual State of the Cities report.
In short, the former Federal Labor Government ended the Commonwealth’s self-imposed exile from our urban communities and re-engaged with the states, territories and local government.
Regrettably, one of the first acts of the current Coalition Government upon being elected was to abolish the Major Cities Unit and again retreat from our cities. In the eyes of the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the challenges confronting our cities were someone else’s problems to fix.
Now while the current Prime Minister’s rhetoric may differ from that of his predecessor, his Government nonetheless continues to ignore the planning needs of the four out of five Australians who live in our cities. The 2017 Federal Budget delivered no new policy initiatives and no new investment in our urban infrastructure, most notably public transport.
Instead it has sought to mask its inaction with vague promises about City Deals.
City Deals originate from the United Kingdom as vehicles for co-operation between national and local government on shared economic development goals. The national government delivers infrastructure funding based on these shared objectives and shares any resulting revenue increases with the councils.
Mr Turnbull’s City Deals bear little resemblance to the UK model.
Indeed, the three City Deals proposed in during the 2016 Federal election – Townsville, Launceston and Western Sydney – all came in response to actual infrastructure investment commitments made by the Labor Party.
In their current form, City Deals are a political fix, not serious urban policy.
I just want to conclude by saying that my passion for local government goes right back to my first job in politics, working for Tom Uren, the architect of the Whitlam Labor Government’s urban development agenda, and later Local Government Minister in the Hawke Labor Government.
And that passion has not waned in the years since.
Importantly, I want to thank everyone in this room for being willing to stand up, to put in the time and effort to represent your communities. I can assure you that I will continue doing everything I can to support what is an indispensable part of our political system – our local governments.
Just the other week in Perth I spoke at a conference about the pace of technological change.
We know that change can improve our lives and we know it frees us from certain kinds of labour.
But, of course, change has no conscience.
It does not care or even consider its impact on people.
And this is where we come in.
The fact is that governments, business leaders like you, and industry leaders such as Google have such an important role to play when it comes to making sure people continue to have access to the opportunities they need to stay ahead in a fast-paced world.
So congratulations for thinking ahead. I want to recognize the hard work of Google, the NSW Business Chamber, the Leichhardt & Annandale Business Chamber and the Balmain Rozelle Chamber of Commerce in organising today’s training session.
It is a pleasure to be here in Balmain – the old, industrial working heart of the inner west.
I grew up near here, in Camperdown.
Like many of you I have observed Balmain and Camperdown transform over the decades.
In many ways these suburbs are emblematic of our nation’s economic transformation from industrial to knowledge-intensive and skills-based.
Old workers cottages now sell for well over $1 million.
Warehouses have been filled in with designer apartments.
And our local businesses are increasingly diverse.
They reflect the assortment of needs each person in our community has.
But of course a number of local businesses have endured the test of time and I want to acknowledge one, in particular; the iconic Brays Books on Darling Street.
I remember the emergence of e-books. Many said then bookshops were dead.
However in the US independent booksellers are thriving and here, in Australia, book sales have picked up since 2015.
The simple fact is, reading an e-book isn’t the same as a physical book.
And that’s one of the reasons why bookshops are still here.
But it’s also because businesses like Brays Books adapt to change.
Brays today has Facebook, Twitter and a blog.
And I know the inner west is home to many businesses that have popped up inside people’s houses.
These business owners are creative. They are responsive to technological change and determined to succeed.
And with higher internet uptake in our area than any place in Australia, online presence and accessibility is crucial for our businesses.
What’s more, the benefits that come with the conversion of White Bay and Glebe Island into a technology hub must also not be lost.
I will continue to advocate for government action to achieve this.
ROLE OF THE COMMONWEALTH
The Commonwealth should be doing everything in its power to support the development of small business.
After all they underpin both the economy of places like Balmain, but also the nation.
We should be investing in creativity and leading the way internationally when it comes to small businesses.
But of course politics can get in the way of the basic realities that confront us and affect the way we live.
Let’s take the NBN for example.
Labor had a plan for high-speed, fibre-to-the-premise, broadband for Australia.
We were determined to do it once, do it right and do it with fibre.
We had funded it, and we were building it.
The Coalition, in contrast, always had another plan.
First Tony Abbott appointed Malcolm Turnbull as Shadow Minister for Communications saying, “Who better to hold the government to account here than Malcolm Turnbull … who has the technical expertise and business experience to entirely demolish the government on this issue.”
Then, after the Coalition was elected in 2013 it declared the NBN could not be funded off Budget.
Sometime after that the Coalition changed its rhetoric – adopting the principle, but none of the substance, abandoning fibre-to-the-premise for its significantly inferior hybrid model.
The result is Fraudband, not high speed Broadband.
And earlier this month it has been revealed that Malcolm Turnbull has purchased 15 million metres of copper wire for his second rate network.
Fifteen million metres.
Enough to wrap around Australia.
They have increased the cost and decreased the speed.
Our businesses need better than this from the Commonwealth.
They need reliable, fast broadband so that they can be connected to this increasingly technological world.
In some ways, today’s children are already being schooled to think differently from previous generations.
They are already experts in coping with change, because during their short lives, it has been a constant.
For example, anyone who uses a computer knows the software is constantly upgraded and updated, requiring us to amend our habits when it comes to simple functions like creating and sending documents.
While many older people find that frustrating, for young people it is a natural part of life.
In the future workforce, jobs will evolve in the same way.
The role you take on one year could evolve considerably in a very short time to something that looks quite different.
While today’s young people are already thinking in more flexible ways, I worry about older people losing their jobs now and in the next few years.
I worry about their ability to reskill, both in terms of personal mindset and in terms of the opportunities that will be available to them.
In particular, I worry about what will become of low-skilled workers who occupy the jobs that will be eliminated first.
And that’s why today’s Digital Skills Workshop is so critical.
It encourages business owners and leaders like you to not only continue to adapt, but also to come together and talk to each other about the change we face.
I look forward to continuing to work with you in my capacity as the Member for Grayndler and wish you all the best.