May 22, 2018

Hansard – Matters of Public Importance: Budget – Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (15:28): There are two ways that you can invest in economic growth: you can invest in nation-building infrastructure, or you can invest in people through education and skills. When it comes to infrastructure, of course, this government does neither, and this budget of 2018 is a hoax. It is a triumph of spin over substance—not a dollar of new investment. When you look at Budget Paper No. 2, it’s there for all to see on page 137: ‘Infrastructure Investment Programme—Australian Capital Territory infrastructure investments’—zero, zero, zero, zero, zero. You go through the next table, ‘Major Project Business Case Fund’—zero, zero, zero, zero, zero. ‘New South Wales infrastructure investments’—the same. ‘Northern Territory infrastructure investments’—the same. ‘Outback Way’—the same. There is table after table. ‘Queensland infrastructure investments’—zero, zero, zero, zero, zero. ‘Roads of Strategic Importance’—zero. ‘South Australian infrastructure investments’—zero. Tasmania—zero. ‘Urban Congestion Fund’—zero. ‘Victorian infrastructure investments’—zero. Right across the board, what you have is no new investments—simply an allocation of money that was already in the budget.

And where has that allocation gone? In the next financial year, one per cent, $1 in every $100, of the new projects announced in the lead-up to the budget and on budget night are there with funding. Indeed, across the forward estimates it is 15 per cent of funding. More than 85 per cent of funding is there not for this term, not if you vote for the Turnbull government for another term, but if you vote for whoever’s in charge of the mob opposite for a term after that. It will be three terms into the future before 85 per cent of the funding flows. The fact is that we need infrastructure investment now. Congestion costs the nation some $16 billion a year right now.

But what we see at page 46 of Budget Paper No. 3 is the actual investment. It falls from $8 billion in 2017-18 across the forwards to $4.5 billion in 2021-22, a drop of almost half. That’s consistent with what the Parliamentary Budget Office found when they independently examined the budget papers after last year’s budget and warned that Commonwealth infrastructure investment over the next decade would halve from 0.4 per cent to 0.2 per cent. And it’s consistent also with the fact that if you compare this year’s budget across the forward estimates, if you compare it with last year, it is $2 billion less, which is what The Australian reports today based upon the work and analysis that is there in the budget papers themselves. And Infrastructure Partnerships Australia—the peak organisation that I addressed last week—certainly agrees. All of the sector is onto the con that these people have been engaged in: it is a budget of deceit.

In the lead-up to the election we saw a grand announcement about Western Sydney Rail—through Badgerys Creek Airport along the north-south corridor. How much is in the budget for construction? Zero. There was $50 million for a study. That’s all it got. There was a grand announcement and a promise of fifty-fifty funding into the future, but not a single dollar. Of course, we know not that there was not a single dollar in the budget for Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project—not one. It was identified by Infrastructure Australia way back in 2012 as the No. 1 project. It was funded in the budget in 2013, cut by this government in 2014, and remains cut—even though it’s a precondition for expanding the rail network in the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast as well as Brisbane. You need to do something about the capacity—just like the Melbourne Metro project is a precondition for expanding the rail network in Melbourne.

And there was another front page story—the airport rail link in Melbourne. But if you have a look at the budget papers, they say they’ll ‘have a chat to Victoria about an equity investment’. So it is off-budget funding. They think you can build infrastructure for free. The only way you can have off-budget funding of on infrastructure project is that it has to fulfil two criteria. The first criterion is that it has to have revenue—from people paying to go on the train, the toll road or whatever piece of infrastructure it is—that is higher than the maintenance cost. There isn’t a rail line in Australia—not one—that meets its operating and maintenance costs. That’s the nature of public transport. It’s an investment in our nation that boosts an economy, gets people to and from work and other activities, and produces a national economic dividend. It doesn’t produce an economic dividend to the owner of that particular piece of infrastructure, let alone be able to pay back the capital investment of a project that will cost more than $10 billion. So, once again, we have a big announcement leading to absolutely nothing—sham funding. As the Grattan Institute said:

If infrastructure projects are never going to make a commercial return, the government should stop pretending they will. And if they are worth building at all, the government should fund them transparently on-budget.

That’s exactly what any transport economist has said. That’s what everyone in the sector have said. And those opposite know that this is the case. Indeed, Mathias Cormann, the finance minister, argued this in the cabinet. When he was asked on Neil Mitchell’s radio program about this, he refused to defend this off-budget funding because he knew that it means that it simply won’t be real. The NAIF—the No Actual Infrastructure Fund—was established more than three years ago. It hasn’t got a single project in North Queensland, hasn’t got any major projects funded.

The IFU, remember that? They don’t think their acronyms through very well, this mob. The Infrastructure Financing Unit, established by the those opposite, was going to transform infrastructure investment and was going to mobilise all this private capital into projects. Guess what? Not a zac, not a road, not a railway line, nothing. And now it’s been transferred into the Department of Infrastructure.

The fact is that, even when they announce funding on budget night, the government don’t deliver. One out of every $5 that was announced in their first four budgets was never spent. There was a $4.7 billion gap between what they said on budget night 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 when you go back and look at what was actually invested. There were: underspends on roads, $2.7 billion; underspends on the Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan, $700 million; underspends on northern Australia roads—beef roads, black spots, heavy vehicle safety program. From time to time, you can have delays but, the fact is, every single one of this government’s programs has seen underspends every single year.

There is a better way. Labor showed the way last time and we will again with real investment in roads, real investment in public transport, real investment in nation-building infrastructure. We lifted infrastructure investment from $132 for every Australian up to $225. Australia went from 20th to first in advanced economies in the world in infrastructure investment as a proportion of GDP. We did it before and next term, when we’re on the Treasury benches, we’ll do it again. (Time expired)