Apr 27, 2007

Labor – Australia’s Nation Building Party – Speech to ALP National Conferenc

Labor – Australia’s Nation Building Party

Speech to ALP National Conference

Anthony Albanese MP

Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Water

Manager of Opposition Business

27 April 2007

Labor has always been Australia’s nation building Party.

No other area better demonstrates policy failure and the inability to secure our future prosperity than the Howard Government’s approach to infrastructure.

Infrastructure planning and spending is not keeping pace with economic activity or the population that drives it. After 11 years, the Howard Government doesn’t have a national integrated strategy for infrastructure, and we have inconsistent and overlapping regulations.

The Business Council of Australia has found that we have a $90 billion infrastructure deficit. This comes in spite of the estimate by ANZ’s Saul Eslake that, over the last 4 years, the Federal budget has received an additional $263 billion in tax revenue over its original estimates because of the resources boom.

In 2004 Australia was ranked 20th out of 25 OECD countries for its spending on public infrastructure as a proportion of GDP.

There is a fundamental difference between Labor under Kevin Rudd and the tired, conservative Government of John Howard. The Howard Government sees infrastructure merely as a cost, Labor sees infrastructure as an investment.

The infrastructure deficit in transport, energy, telecommunications and water is a threat to the future prosperity of the nation.

This Platform provides for a coordinated approach to planning and investment of nationally significant infrastructure.

Federal Labor will establish Infrastructure Australia, a Commonwealth Statutory Authority to coordinate the planning, regulation and development of infrastructure. Infrastructure Australia will ensure there is a coordinated and objective approach to infrastructure provision involving all three tiers of government and key stakeholders.

Infrastructure Australia will be charged with undertaking an audit to assess the adequacy, capacity and condition of Australia’s infrastructure assets. And the results of this important audit will be used to develop a National Infrastructure Priority List.

Labor is already meeting the nation’s infrastructure challenges. We are taking immediate action to address the worsening water crisis and to ensure there is sustainable water supply across the nation.

Labor has already committed to invest in water infrastructure, including the Queensland Western Corridor Water Recycling Scheme; Western Australia’s Gnangara Mound Aquifer Recharge Project; the Harvey Water Piping Project south of Perth; South Australia’s desalination plant to take pressure off the Murray; and the Goldfields Superpipe for Bendigo and Ballarat.

Just last month, Labor announced we would build a new national broadband network in partnership with the private sector that would deliver a minimum speed of 12 megabits per second for 98 per cent of Australians. That is over 40 times faster than most current internet speeds.

And we will ensure the remaining two per cent of Australians, in regional and remote areas, have improved services. We will have a competitive assessment of proposals to roll out an open access fibre-to-the-node broadband network. And we will put in place regulatory reforms to facilitate the roll out of the broadband network.

We will use existing government investments in communications to provide a public equity investment in a joint equity venture of up to $4.7 billion in the new broadband network. This would include drawing on the $2 billion Communications Fund and the Future Fund’s 17 per cent share in Telstra.

The Howard Government is out of ideas, out of touch, and out of time. So much so, they criticised our proposal, claiming that Labor was raiding the Future Fund to pay for broadband infrastructure.

Delegates, ask yourselves, if the future is not about broadband and improved communications infrastructure, what is it about? Broadband is essential for our future. It is critical to improving business efficiency and providing educational opportunity. Broadband creates new markets and new jobs. It is about a creative, smart future for our nation.

Delegates, only a Rudd Labor Government has a plan for Australia’s future. Delegates, only a Government stuck in the past would criticise this proposal.

And where many of us live, our urban infrastructure is critical. The challenge of climate change means we must go further than ever before in promoting sustainability in our homes, our neighbourhoods and across our cities.

In December last year Kevin Rudd announced the Major Cities Program to boost investment in major Australian cities – the key drivers of our national economy.

The withdrawal of the Commonwealth from any involvement in our cities has been irresponsible.

Labor has a proud history of engagement in our cities, most recently with the “Better Cities” program.

This Platform provides a comprehensive approach to sustainable cities. The Platform outlines a comprehensive National Housing Strategy to challenge poverty and exclusion in our urban and regional communities.

Australia is one of the most heavily urbanised countries on earth and the development of our cities desperately needs the involvement of the Commonwealth. Insufficient planning and investment in city infrastructure cuts economic growth and limits our quality of life.

Labor understands there is a substantial productivity benefit from more efficient and accessible cities, which must remain globally competitive without compromising their liveability.

With this Chapter, I’m also moving the reception of the Report of the Inquiry into the Financing and Provision of Australian Infrastructure.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Chair of the Inquiry, Steve Heffernan and the Committee members for their outstanding efforts. They produced a comprehensive report, including a number of recommendations which the have been adopted in this ALP Platform. Complex issues relating to the financing of infrastructure in Australia were thoroughly explored by the committee.

They received numerous submissions, undertook extensive consultations Australia wide, examined innovations here and abroad, and drew on international expertise.

In relation to financing options including the merits of public versus private infrastructure financing and provision, it was concluded that irrespective of what the financing options are used, it is imperative that there is adequate accountability and transparency. Labor agrees with the Inquiry’s core principles that we don’t ideologically support or reject particular forms of financing including Public-Private Partnerships.

We advocate the sensible evaluation of infrastructure projects against potential financing options to determine the most appropriate procurement method.

Labor in Government will review existing policy to facilitate greater involvement by superannuation funds in financing and delivering infrastructure.

There is a natural synergy for superannuation funds to play a greater role in infrastructure financing given the long term nature of the investments and the security that it provides. If we do not increase opportunities in Australia, superannuation funds will increasingly invest off-shore.

This approach builds on Labor’s proud history as the Party that introduced the compulsory superannuation system in 1987.

Labor’s common sense approach to infrastructure means that, in the long run, the best strategy to be able to meet the challenges of an ageing population is to boost productivity.

In conclusion, the message I have today is that a Rudd Labor government will get Australia moving again.

We will provide the national leadership that is required on infrastructure.

We’ll develop a coherent plan to develop our infrastructure and make Australia competitive again and dynamic into the future.

Infrastructure issues transcend jurisdictions and infrastructure types and so require planning and policy coordination.

Infrastructure Australia will make sure that we get the process right.

And it will see an end to National Party pork barrelling which has dominated so much infrastructure spending rather than identifying our urgent priorities in the interest of the nation.

The four key areas that have been identified – transport, energy, communications, and water – are all critical.

Labor’s nation building agenda provides the vision and ambition that is necessary to lock in Australia’s future prosperity and unlock this nation’s great potential.