Feb 8, 2017

Committees Infrastructure, Transport and Cities Committee Report

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12:36): This 230-page report is a significant piece of work by the Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities, and the 13 recommendations contained in it are generally sound. They cover a range of areas, including value capture, high-speed rail, smart infrastructure, joint procurement and city deals. However, the upbeat tone of the report also highlights a gap that is there between what the members of the committee think should happen and what is actually happening under this government.

On value capture, you would think, frankly, that this was something new. That is nonsense. That is how the underground was built in London in the 19th century. That is how road and rail projects have functioned for such a long period of time, and it has become an excuse for the government to not fund projects. The Melbourne metro project and Cross River Rail both have value capture in them—that was a part of the Infrastructure Australia deliberations way back in 2012 when they were included on the priority list. That is why they were funded in the 2013 budget by the former Labor government. Funding was to come from the federal government, the state government and the private sector on the basis of, in the Cross River Rail’s case, the uplift value around Woolloongabba Station in Brisbane, and, in Melbourne metro’s case, the uplift value around the key points there. That would allow for higher densities around those rail stations.

There is nothing new in this at all. Nothing. But what you have is a whole lot of rhetoric from the government at the same time that we are actually seeing cuts to infrastructure investment. One figure above all is very stark in demonstrating that: for each of the 12 quarters that the Abbott and Turnbull governments have been in office—for every single one of them—public sector infrastructure investment, as demonstrated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, is less than every single quarter of the 21 between June 2008—that is after the first Labor government budget in May 2008—right through to September 2013. Those are 12 quarters with less investment than any single one of the 21 quarters when Labor was in office. There is a stark contrast between the attitudes of an actual nation-building government and a government that comes up with excuses and, frankly, policy proposals in value capture that have been around for 200 years and pretends that somehow it is something new and a panacea for these issues.

The last speaker, the member for Gilmore, was saying that the federal government should be the government that captures the value and coordinates everything. Well, the truth is that, under our system of Federation, state governments have responsibility for planning—that is the way it works—and local governments exist as entities only under the auspices of state governments. This is perhaps well meaning but not in terms of actual outcomes we are seeing on the ground.

The government again, yesterday in question time, was speaking about the so-called $50 billion infrastructure plan that was announced in the 2014 budget. It is a nonsense! The answers to the Senate committee by the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development show that the infrastructure program is worth $34 billion, not $50 billion, between 2014-15 and 2018-19. So there is one year left at the end there—2019-20. Perhaps they might argue that that is where the catch-up is going to occur, except the $8 billion has been allocated onwards—that is, from 2019-20 right through to the never-never. In some cases, it literally is the never-never. Take projects like the Bruce Highway, for example. It was a 10-year plan, so the figures that are included there are for right up until 2024-25.

Since the mining boom has moved from the investment to the production phase and there has been a drop-off in that private sector infrastructure investment associated with the resources sector, this should have been a time when public sector investment was stepping up to fill that gap to create employment and to provide a skilled workforce to keep the economy going. But what we have seen is the opposite. It is not surprising, because what we have seen is public transport projects stopped and new road projects announced in their place. There have not been very many; there have been only four or five road projects. As an example of this, the East West Link has not happened in Melbourne. They took money away from the Melbourne Metro and the M80 Ring Road project in Melbourne to fund the East West Link that never happened. Therefore, the investment has dropped off.

In Brisbane they took money away from the Cross River Rail and have not put it back into anything. In Perth they have the Perth Freight Link project, for which they have allocated over a billion dollars of Commonwealth money, but they have not dug a hole yet. That was announced in the 2014 budget. It is a road that will go through wetlands and destroy them. It is a road that has been rejected time and time again by environmental assessments in Western Australia. It has required special intervention from the government to overturn all those proper processes. It is a road that allegedly is supposed to fix the freight problems in Western Australia, but it will not actually go to the port of Fremantle. It will stop three kilometres short of the port. What is more, that is a port that the government reports all indicate will be at full capacity by 2022. Therefore, planning has to happen now for the outer harbour and for how freight will get to and from the outer harbour.

We have had from this government a series of attempts to capture projects that were already underway and pretend that they had something to do with them, as well as a slowdown in projects on the Pacific Highway and Bruce Highway. In the case of the Swan Valley bypass in Western Australia the name was changed to NorthLink and in Sydney the F3 to M2 connection’s name was changed to NorthConnex. A new name does not make it a new project. They were projects that were already funded in the budget, so what we have seen is simply less.

What we have also seen is proper processes break down: Infrastructure Australia being sidelined, the Major Cities Unit being abolished, the national freight strategy being ignored, the National Ports Strategy being ignored and the priorities that are there for urban public transport being ignored. With Badgerys Creek airport, the government knows, and common sense tells you, to build in rail from day one when the airport opens. The government says, ‘Yes, that is a good idea.’ It is just not funding it and not progressing it.

On high-speed rail, one of the report’s recommendations, recommendation 2, says:

The Committee recommends that state and federal governments consider appropriate coordination arrangements, including if and when a planning authority is required to progress high speed rail.

I will give you a big tip: there is a private member’s bill before the parliament in my name right now to establish a high-speed rail authority, as recommended by the proper processes that were established prior to 2013. They should get on and do that. High-speed rail is a game changer. It is a game changer for regional Australia and a game changer for the national economy. It is something that would really change the dynamics. It should be given support and it should be progressed. It cannot happen short term, but you need to get the planning right to make sure that it is progressed. This government is not doing that, and it should progress the recommendations in this report. (Time expired).