Sep 4, 2014

Matter of public importance – Abbott Government

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (15:14): I am pleased to move this matter of public importance today to speak about the year of broken promises from those opposite—broken promises on health, broken promises on education, broken promises on pensions, broken promises on the petrol tax and, this week, a broken promise on superannuation. The promises of the coalition are treated like plates at a Greek wedding: they are smashed at regular intervals; they are smashed one after the other.

Today I want to talk particularly about infrastructure, on which they said two fundamental things. The first was that, for projects with a value of about $100 million, there would be a proper cost-benefit analysis. The second was that there would be cranes in the sky and bulldozers in these new infrastructure projects that they allegedly were going to fund and create. Today we asked the Acting Prime Minister about these projects, and he could not name one. He could not name one—

Mrs Griggs: Five—he named five.

Dr Jensen: Five.

Mr ALBANESE: because there is not a single project commenced that was not in the May 2013 budget. Not one.

Dr Jensen: He named five. Five.

Mr ALBANESE: The crowd opposite says five. Well, one of the ones he named was the Torrens to Torrens project. Here I am, in this picture I am holding up, at the beginning of construction in August 2013! Another one was the east-west project, which those opposite thought was in South Australia! Many Melburnians would like it to be in South Australia, because in Melbourne it is about as popular as the Ebola virus. It has had no cost-benefit analysis. It is a project that is on the road to nowhere.

Those opposite could not name a single new project. In place of that is the magical infrastructure re-announcement tour: the Perth gateway project, North West Coastal Highway, Bolivia Hill, the Inland Railway, Tiger Brennan Drive. They are going around the country re-announcing projects that are already under construction. In terms of their imagination, you have to give them credit, because, for some of the re-announcements, they have come up with a new strategy: just give it a new name! So the F3 to M2 link, signed off on in June last year, has become NorthConnex. The Swan Valley bypass in Western Australia has become NorthLink. Giving it a new name does not make it a new project.

Those opposite stand here and they say they are not projects; the money was not real. But they go to opening after opening—the Hunter Expressway at the end of last year or, just a few weeks ago, the Gold Coast light rail project. It was opposed by the local member, Mr Ciobo, but he was happy to be on the first trip!

Mr Briggs interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE: The assistant minister for infrastructure, at the table, was happy to go to the opening of one of the Gateway North projects, even though they pretend that it is new. Sometimes they just forget!

The Treasurer this week stood up and said, ‘We’ve got this new investment, the Regional Rail Link.’ Seriously? Funded in 2009, at its peak more than 5,000 workers were employed as a result of that project. There are new stations at places like Footscray West, with new projects opened on the way to Ballarat, on the way to Bendigo, on the way to Geelong. But it is no wonder the government think it is new, because during the election campaign the Prime Minister said, ‘The federal government doesn’t fund public transport projects.’ Where did he say it? He was in Melbourne—a $3.225 billion investment.

The member for Petrie has tried to claim the Moreton Bay Rail Link as a new project as well. One of the classics, though, I think, Madam Speaker, is that as you go to the airport this evening you will pass the Majura Parkway. Now, every parliamentarian saw when construction started on that, but that has not stopped the government claiming that as a new project as well. Sometimes they pretend it is new where the funding is actually less, like the Midland Highway in Tasmania. They have ripped $100 million out of that, but they claim that it is somehow new money.

Of course, there was no new money in the budget for infrastructure. What the government did was ripped money out of projects that had been properly assessed and approved by Infrastructure Australia, like the Melbourne Metropolitan, and the Cross River Rail project in Brisbane. They took money from properly assessed projects and gave them to projects that had no cost-benefit analysis.

It is worse than that, because they made an advance payment of $1½ billion to the East West Link project. One of the alleged five new projects that the Acting Prime Minister named today, it is not only not in South Australia; it is also not under construction and it is not under contract—and the Victorian government is desperate to try and put it under contract. So those opposite gave $1½ billion to it. The infrastructure minister’s assistant said very clearly that they would make payments based on milestones. Here is a project, the second stage of which will not commence for at least two years, if ever, and they say they have paid $1½ billion in advance. They paid $2 billion in advance to WestConnex.

Mr Briggs: Are you against it?

Mr ALBANESE: This is why you do proper planning—

Mr Briggs: Are you against it? Are you against it?

Mr ALBANESE: Listen and you might learn something.

The SPEAKER: The assistant minister will desist.

Mr ALBANESE: Hear about one of my constituents, Vince Crow, of Haberfield. He got two letters signed by the senior project manager of WestConnex on 26 June 2014. He got two letters signed by the same bloke, in different envelopes. One of them said his home ‘needs to be acquired to construct the project’. The other letter, on the same day, says that it will not need to be acquired by the New South Wales government. That is why you do proper planning. That is why you make sure that you get it right.

In Western Australia, the WestConnex project has not even been approved by the WA government. They did not know anything about it and, when asked about it in their estimates process, the representative said that it was a project that simply was not up to scratch and they were not in a position to make any of the information available on that project. The former WA state MP in the chamber, I am sure, knows that that is the case.

Today we have new legislation introduced by the minister saying that there will be cost-benefit analysis for projects of more than $100 million. I thought, this could be pretty good; maybe they are getting it, except that when you look at the legislation you give the money first and then you have the cost-benefit analysis. It is for projects which have already received $100 million. The reason projects like the Hunter Expressway received funding, and Majura Parkway, was that we did that cost benefit analysis, it was published on the website—in the case of Majura Parkway a BCR above three, in the case of Hunter Expressway a BCR above four—we published it as a result of our process. Those opposite just do not get it.

The first they did when they came to office was to abolish the Major Cities Unit. Those opposite do not believe in integrated transport plans. What they have funded are projects—in the case of East West the best BCR that has been published is 0.8. What that means is that for every dollar invested you get 80c back. That is their view of proper analysis. What we have seen from those opposite is the withdrawal of public from public transport, a withdrawal of engagement in cities, the Urban Policy Forum has not met, a withdrawal of rail freight projects with not one new rail freight project announced in the budget for the first time since 2006.

Mr Briggs interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE: Inland rail was in the 2009 budget with $300 million to commence this year. They do not have a single new project under construction. They have no ideas and no plans.