Aug 14, 2015

Don’t tear down, build for the future – Opinion – Labor Hearld

While Tony Abbott is content to drag Australia into the past, Shadow Minister for Transport & Infrastructure Anthony Albanese charts Labor’s next steps for building the future of Australia.

Labor is the party of nation building. We built the transcontinental railway and the Snowy Mountains Scheme.

We understand that any government serious about developing the nation has to invest in productive infrastructure. Investing in infrastructure is an investment in the future and it’s also an investment in economic productivity – the essential ingredient needed to drive jobs growth.

I’m delighted that at the 47th National Conference Labor endorsed the refreshed Nation Building platform that will allow the next Labor government to build on strong record of the Rudd and Gillard governments.

So what’s Labor going to do?

The Labor platform endorsed at conference rejects Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s do-nothing approach and recommits the next federal Labor government to a nation building program in the grand Labor tradition.

Just as Gough Whitlam and Tom Uren dramatically improved life in cities with direct investment in public transport, roads, parks and sewerage, the next Labor government will tackle the big urban challenges of the 21st Century.

Perhaps the most serious of those challenges is the phenomenon of drive-in, drive-out suburbs, where housing is affordable but where jobs are scarce.

The arrival of the digital age has shifted the location of strongest job growth in this nation from manufacturing in the suburbs of our cities toward tech-heavy service industries in and around our central business districts.

This means more and more Australians can’t find a job near their suburban homes and face ever-lengthening commuting journeys.

It is a tragedy that many Australian parents spend more time in their cars commuting to and from work than they spend playing with their children.

While Tony Abbott has no answer to this problem beyond building more toll roads, Labor knows we can do better.

We in Labor understand the need for a properly integrated transport program including roads and rail.

We also know we can tackle the drive-in, drive-out suburbs issue with other policy approaches like promoting job growth in the suburbs, addressing housing affordability and lifting population density along existing urban rail corridors.

Labor’s new infrastructure platform underlines the difference between Labor and its political opponents.

Over the decades, Labor governments have built our nation up, while Tory governments have always sought to tear down our achievements and buck pass their responsibilities to states.

Indeed, you can sum up Tony Abbott’s entire approach to governing this nation in one sentence: While most governments dedicate themselves to building for the future, Tony Abbott’s obsession is in tearing down the gains of the past.

Armed with the new platform, the next Labor government will begin the rebuilding process.

We will:

  • Deliver a great public transport system that reduces traffic congestion on roads and also provides decent service to those who cannot afford motor vehicles.
  • Support construction of a second airport in Sydney to drive economic and jobs growth in western Sydney.
  • Provide commonwealth policy leadership and direct investment in cities, including attacking the problem of drive-in, drive-out suburbs.
  • Base big investment decisions on proper economic analysis via a re-energised Infrastructure Australia, which, as Bill Shorten said in his Budget reply speech this year, will be returned to the centre of government, where it belongs.
  • Work with state premiers as partners in progress, rather than seeking to pick fights with them as part of a new and counter-productive political blame game.

Let’s consider those commitments in the context of the Abbott Government’s greatest infrastructure hits, which include:

  • Slashing infrastructure spending including a $2b cut over the next two years in the 2015 Budget, with funding in:
  • Cutting Pacific Highway funding by $129m in 2015-6; and
  • Slashing Bruce Highway funding by $93m in 2015-6.
      • Victoria down $812m;
      • Queensland down $613m;
      • South Australia cut by $318m;
      • Tasmania cut by $31m;
      • the ACT down $12m; and
      • NSW down $43m.

 Abbott’s greatest hits are just rip-offs

While the cuts are bad enough, Mr Abbott has sought to conceal them with his magical infrastructure re-announcement tour.

Ever since they were elected, Abbott and the hapless Deputy Prime Minister of Australia Warren Truss have travelled the country re-announcing projects that were devised, commenced and, in some cases, fully delivered by the former Labor government.

This has been a clear attempt by the Government to mislead voters.

The Coalition is also dudding the states by refusing to invest in any state government infrastructure projects unless states fund their share by selling off public assets.

It is also punishing states with Labor governments, with the biggest infrastructure cuts coming in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia.

In Victoria, for example, the state is receiving only about 8 per cent of the commonwealth’s infrastructure spend, despite being home to 25 per cent of the national population.

Abbott is punishing Victorians because they had the temerity to vote Labor in the last state election.

This punitive approach is clearly a vindictive response to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ decision to cancel the proposed East-West Link – a dud of a project that would have returned a paltry 45c in public benefit for every dollar invested.

By throwing public money at the East-West Link instead of other worthier projects, Mr Abbott has confirmed his only interest in infrastructure investment is in shoring up his political position, even if it means ignoring expert advice and wasting public money.

He has also sidelined Infrastructure Australia, which the former Labor government created to provide independent analysis of the benefits of projects competing for public funding to ensure money was spent to provide maximum public benefit.

Optimising value of public infrastructure spending should be one of central aims for any government.

But it is not for Mr Abbott.

There is no issue too serious for Mr Abbott to show how small he is as a policy maker.

What’s their plan for the future? No trains, no buses, just roads.

But Mr Abbott’s biggest crime against common sense is his absurd refusal to invest in public transport in our congested cities.

As soon as he took office he cancelled all federal investment in public transport not subject to contracts – the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail Link, Adelaide’s Tonsley Park project and a $5m investment in public transport in Perth.

This is not surprising.

In his 2009 political manifesto Battlelines, Mr Abbott wrote:

Mostly there just aren’t enough people wanting to go from a particular place to a particular destination at a particular time to justify any vehicle larger than a car and cars need roads.

When I show that quote to overseas visitors, they think I am joking.

They can’t believe that any leader of any nation in 2015 could hold views more appropriate to the Dark Ages.

The problem is not that Mr Abbott wants to live in the past; it’s that that he wants the rest of us to go back there to keep him company.

This piece appeared today in The Labor Herald.