Sep 29, 2011

Labor – A tradition of nation building

Address to McKell Institute Luncheon – Labor – A tradition of nation building

Sydney

The Hon Anthony Albanese MP

Minister for Infrastructure & Transport

Leader of the House

Member for Grayndler

29 September 2011

INTRODUCTION

History shows us the power of vision, backed by analysis, in winning the battle of ideas.

Indeed the Australia nation — particularly New South Wales — is founded on just this.

In the early 19th century we saw that great visionary, Lachlan Macquarie, appoint deserving freed convicts to positions of responsibility, despite fierce opposition from both England and free settlers.

Later, it was two New South Welshmen who helped change Australia forever, when Sir Henry Parkes and Sir Edmund Barton promoted a vision of uniting our country under a federation.

And it was the Premier of New South Wales, William McKell, who worked with the great Labor Prime Minister, Ben Chifley to promote the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electricity Scheme.

This enormous undertaking was so opposed by the then Opposition leader Robert Menzies that he boycotted its opening.

Yet it has created a legacy of sustainable infrastructure that is unsurpassed to this day.

Sir William McKell was a remarkable Labor man who slipped effortlessly from boilermaker to MP to Premier and then to Governor General, following Sir Isaac Isaacs as the second Australian to ever have that honour.

 

How appropriate that we celebrate his life and his legacy with a new Institute because there could be few Labor men with better credentials.

  • Born in September 1891, three months after the brand new Labor Party elected the first 35 members to the NSW Legislative Assembly.
  • Prominent in the Redfern branch at the age of 19 when Jim McGowen formed Labor’s first government in 1910.
  • Premier as the party celebrated its 50th birthday in 1941.
  • Governor General as the nation celebrated its 50th birthday in 1951.

In all, a great Australian, one steeped in the best of the Labor Party tradition.

I am therefore deeply honoured to be the first Australian Minister invited to speak at the McKell Institute.

LEADER OF THE HOUSE AND THE ECONOMY

While I intend talking to you today about the great reform program we have under way in my portfolio of infrastructure and transport, let me briefly slip on my Leader of the House hat.

Despite our minority status, our legislative program in the House of Representatives continues to pass through the parliament

At last count, 195 Government bills had passed through the House of Representatives, compared to just 108 Bills in the entire first year of the Howard Government.

The Opposition has not managed to stop one single Bill.

We have achieved this by developing constructive, respectful relationships with the cross-benchers from the outset.

Major reforms have been passed that include the structural separation of Telstra, the NBN, national health reform, cyclone and flood reconstruction, plain packaging for tobacco and improvements to higher education. And of course, our Budget measures.

The success of this approach can be seen with the multi-party committee to fix a price on carbon, which was chaired by the Prime Minister and included representatives from the Greens Party and key Independents.

The Coalition were invited to participate, but as we have become accustomed, just said no.

So, despite the noise from the Opposition, the Parliament is functioning well.

Something else to celebrate is the strength of our economy.

I’ve just flown in from Mexico this morning and as happens every time I travel overseas, the Australian economy was both praised and envied.

You will all have heard the news that my friend and colleague, Wayne Swan, was recently named World’s Best Treasurer for his stewardship of the Australian economy.

In fact our stimulus package, which warded off recession, has received accolades from economists around the world.

Former World Bank chief economist and Nobel medal winner Joseph Stiglitz said:

“It was, I think, the best designed stimulus program in the world and you should be happy that in fact it worked in exactly the way it was designed to work.”

The IMF recently highlighted our strong fiscal position saying: “In Australia, gross and net debt are among the lowest in the advanced countries.”

What that has meant for the Australian economy is that while the advanced world shed 30 million jobs, there are now 740,000 more Australians in work than before the GFC began.

We expect to create another 500,000 jobs over the next two years.

It is worth pausing to remind you what the Opposition said of the stimulus package and prospects for the economy.

In early 2008, Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey told the ABC: “I firmly believe we are heading into a recession.”

In February 2009, Tony Abbott said: “I think what we are going to get is massive debt and deep recession.”

So what we faced during that difficult time from the economic leadership of the Opposition is pretty much what we’re getting tody – relentless negativity and a focus on short term politics.

I believe that that this is symptomatic of the great divide in Australian politics.

A divide where Labor is committed to tackling long term challenges not just for the economy, but for a cleaner environment and for a fairer society.

Labor sees a stronger economy as a way of creating opportunity so that all Australians can enjoy a better education, a rewarding job, better health and a longer life.

Throughout history, Labor has fought for the long term.

As we’ve seen with the carbon debate, the reforms we have pursued often don’t make us immediately popular but they do create a fairer, more sustainable, more prosperous nation.

The sort of tough reforms we saw under Hawke and Keating that set us up for years of productivity growth.

No one would dispute that Medicare and superannuation have been in the long term national interest.

This focus on the long term is why I am attracted to the nation building agenda of infrastructure development.

TRANSPORT INFRASTRUCTURE

So let me turn now to my own portfolio and run off some key achievements.

The creation of Infrastructure Australia.

It is breaking the nexus between the short term-ism of the political cycle and the long term vision necessary for the infrastructure investment cycle.

Since its creation in 2008, IA has conducted a national audit of our infrastructure needs and has prepared a priority pipeline of projects to guide future funding.

It has also created national strategies for our ports and freight corridors.

Infrastructure UK, formed in 2009, is based largely on our own IA, and of course we have seen the NSW Government establish its own hybrid model.

But good projects don’t get you far without funding.

Our investment can be best summarised in one statement: our Nation Building program is the largest ever Commonwealth investment in Australia’s transport infrastructure — $36 billion over the six years to 2013-14.

We have doubled the roads Budget.

We are rebuilding 1/3 of the interstate rail network.

We have committed more to urban passenger rail than all other Commonwealth Government combined, since Federation.

Three weeks ago I announced a package of reforms, with the full backing of both the unions and industry that will see the revival of Australian shipping.

We have seen the number of Australian flagged ships drop from 55 in 1995, to 22 this year.

Without action, in a few short years, we would have no Australian flagged ships on our coast.

This follows our development of a long term strategy for aviation through the White Paper, ¨Flight Path to the Future¨.

Through COAG, we’ve secured a deal to cut the number of transport regulators from 23 to three with projected economic benefits of $30 billion over the next 20 years.

No Government in the years since Federation has been able to achieve this much-overdue reform – putting an end to a myriad of costly and confusing rules covering our roads, rail and coastal waters.

NEW SOUTH WALES – MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS

I want to touch on what the Federal government is doing when it comes to transport infrastructure for New South Wales.

I read in the Sunday Telegraph this week that the NSW Premier says NSW got ¨less than $100 million from the first Infrastructure Australia handout in 2009¨.

This is a bizarre statement. It is untrue and the NSW Premier knows it is untrue.

It is an odd way to develop a constructive relationship with the Commonwealth.

In fact one in every three federal transport dollars goes to NSW totalling over $12 billion.

This investment ranges from the $1.45 billion in the Hunter Expressway; the $900 million to finish the duplication of the Hume Highway; to our billion dollar investment to improve freight rail in and around the Sydney basin.

All these upgrades will improve travel times, reduce congestion and make the movement of people and goods more efficient.

I want to touch quickly on two projects in particular, the Pacific Highway and the funding we have towards rail infrastructure in Sydney.

PACIFIC HIGHWAY

The need to finish the duplication of the Pacific Highway is a no-brainer.

It is a long overdue upgrade which will vastly improve road safety and will make the movement of commuters and freight much more efficient.

The last Federal Budget saw an additional $1 billion delivered to progress this important work.

This now brings our investment in this road to $4.1 billion over seven years – the largest investment in any one road in Australia.

Compare that to the $1.3 billion the Howard Government spent on it during its entire twelve years in office.

There is no doubt there is more to be done.

And we need to work in genuine partnership with the NSW Government to achieve this.

I was encouraged by the additional $463 million the NSW Government put into their most recent Budget to further progress this work.

That was a positive step in the right direction.

But our $4.1 billion still stands in stark contrast to the $1 billion the NSW Government now has allocated.

INVESTMENT IN RAIL

This leads me to the next topic, the more than $1 billion the Federal Government has allocated to get freight rail moving in this State.

This is another area in which we need to work in partnership.

Our funding is for the Northern Sydney Freight Corridor, rail access into and within Port Botany, and the development a potential Intermodal Terminal at Moorebank.

All much needed and long overdue projects.

Right now, we have passenger and freight trains crammed onto the one network throughout the majority of the Sydney Basin.

This is leading to delays, irregular scheduling and overcrowding of the network.

The figures show that freight capacity north of Sydney will be at maximum in less than five years.

That is why we have allocated $840 million toward untangling the freight and passenger rail network from North Strathfield to Gosford.

But I am concerned about how slow this pressing work is progressing.

Our $840 million has been on the table for four years.

An Inter Governmental Agreement has been drafted and is with the NSW Government to sign up to.

It has been with them for close to six months now.

Our funding is on the table and we want to get on with the job.

I strongly urge the NSW Government to agree to the work scope set out so that we can start this work as soon as possible.

MOOREBANK INTERMODAL

We are also in close discussion with the New South Wales Government on developing the proposed Moorebank Intermodal Terminal.

This site is capable of handling 1800 metre long interstate trains.

It’s near the M5, M7, the South Sydney Freight Line and Port Botany.

Again, this is a project with clear potential to raise productivity in the freight task facing New South Wales.

It will take a million trucks off the already crowded M5.

A win for motorists and the environment.

Subject to environmental assessments and the needed planning approvals, this project could greatly assist Sydney.

HIGH SPEED RAIL

Recently I released the results of the first stage of detailed work into a high speed rail network for the east coast of Australia.

There is still a great deal of work to be done, but early research shows high speed rail could connect almost 65 percent of Australians and attract up to 54 million passengers a year.

Imagine the possibilities for NSW.

With operating speeds of up to 350 kilometres per hour, inter-city non-stop running times could be approximately three hours between Brisbane and Sydney and Sydney and Melbourne.

The journey from Newcastle to Sydney’s CBD would be cut from a stressful two hour car trip to a 40 minute train ride.

This would bring cities like Newcastle and Sydney closer together for work, education, leisure and tourism.

The second, more detailed part of this study is due around the middle of next year.

CONCLUSION

As you can see, the Gillard Labor Government has a long term vision for Australia.

We have a busy agenda.

Sir Edmund Barton famously said before federation that “creating a nation requires the will of the people”.

I’d argue that to fulfil the will of the people, every decision must be backed by sound policy.

That’s why I welcome this new repository of research, investigation and thoughtful conversation.

Let me finish by quoting McKell himself.

I mentioned earlier that Robert Menzies, as Federal Opposition Leader, chose to boycott the opening of the Snowy Scheme so strongly championed by Premier McKell.

In fact, the scheme had also been fiercely opposed by the Victorian and South Australian Premiers.

So when the by now Governor General McKell launched the scheme in 1949 at Prime Minister Chifley’s invitation, it was a personally triumphant moment.

Standing alongside Chifley, he said rather poetically to the assembled 5,000 guests:

“I was born not far from this spot. I have sat by the Snowy at Jindabyne and watched the clear Snowy waters flowing and heard the Snowy say ‘I can work for Australia’.”

I am sure the McKell Institute will also do just that – thank you.