The European Union is Australia’s second-largest trading partner, and the largest source of foreign investment. All up, the total stock of European investment in Australia is more than $600 billion. Today, I want to take the opportunity in speaking to this motion to talk particularly about the impact on infrastructure and aviation.
The EU is Australia’s largest aviation market. Each year, more than 1.3 million Europeans visit Australia and more than a million Australians travel to Europe. When I was the minister, we signed the EU-Australia horizontal agreement on 29 April 2008. That entered into force in July 2009. This agreement replaced 16 outdated bilateral air services agreements and has allowed Australian and European airlines to offer more flights and a wider range of services at more competitive prices.
We need to continue, though, to work for a comprehensive Australia-EU air services agreement. That has been agreed to in the past, when Minister Tajani was the minister responsible for transport in the European union. He was very supportive of such an agreement. However, the bureaucracy in Brussels seemed to intervene at each stage and that put Australia at a disadvantage. We should continue to push for such a comprehensive agreement. Indeed, we had substantial benefit, I think, from our engagement with the European Union and infrastructure companies.
In November 2012 I hosted a delegation of Italian infrastructure and transport companies. That was led by the Italian Secretary of State, Mr Staffan de Mistura, and it was a very large delegation. They visited parliament here. Companies included Ansa do STES, Thella and Meramec. What we saw after meetings I held in Italy, France and Spain was an increased presence of these European infrastructure companies here in Australia. In some cases that is beneficial simply because it brings competition. In other cases, they bring specific required skills—for example, three is the South Road Super way project in Adelaide, which is an elevated roadway. The Italians, particularly, due to their topography, have an expertise in this. The company Rizzio de Escher was also part of the consortium that built this project. That was, at the time, the biggest project in the state’s history and opened in 2013.
Similarly, projects like Legacy Way in Brisbane benefitted from the fact that it was a consortia. BMD Construction, a local Queensland based company working in partnership with Thella from Italy and Action from Spain, built that $1.5 billion project, which opened in 2014. The Italian industrial group Saline, part of the consortia that are building the elevated sky train section of Sydney’s North West Rail Link, and German companies Hochstein and Ballinger Berger have a strong presence here in engineering and construction. And the French company Veolia has established itself, particularly in the water waste and transport sectors.
All of this bring skills and presence here in Australia but, importantly, for our overall economic future I have argued with the European companies that they can use Australia as a base into the Asia-Pacific region, with the certainty that is provided with our legal system, with the lifestyle that comes from senior executives basing themselves here in Australia. It is of great mutual benefit, this relationship between Australia and the European Union, and it should be strengthened into the future.