Jun 2, 2015

Matters of public importance – Infrastructure

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (15:13): ‘For an “infrastructure prime minister”, Tony Abbott’s efforts have been pathetic.'” They are not my words; they are the words of the business commentator Alan Kholer in a piece written immediately after this year’s budget. In another piece he said:

… the detail of the budget papers show a real decline in spending in the Infrastructure and Regional Development portfolio of 11.2 per cent between 2014-15 and 2018-19.

This budget has blown the lid on Tony Abbott’s big infrastructure con. After more than 18 months of broken promises, dodgy process and the magical infrastructure re-announcement tour, the figures are in. Infrastructure funding in this budget has been cut by $2 billion over this year and next, with a funding decline by 11.2 per cent over the forwards.

Let’s have a look at the real impact here: Victoria, $812 million cut; Queensland, $613 million cut; South Australia, $318 million cut, Tasmania, $31 million cut; ACT, $12 million cut—big iconic projects cut. The Pacific Highway was cut by $129 million in 2015-16, in what was previously promised in their own budget last year. The Bruce Highway: because they elected a Labor government, what was the response? Cut Bruce Highway funding by $93 million from what was previously promised last year.

There is nothing for public transport, nothing for high-speed rail and nothing for freight rail beyond the $300 million that we put in the 2013 budget for the inland rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne. The Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program—cut, with only $1 million of last year’s $48 million budget actually spent.

This is even with their own programs. They did come up with something new last year: the Bridges Renewal Program. But this year they cut it by $60 million! And if you want an example of mean-spirited stupidity that is dangerous, they cut the Seatbelts on Regional School Buses program by $1 million a year—cut! Talk about risk management! What a stupid decision for any government to make!

Last Friday, they decided that because Victoria had just eight per cent of infrastructure spending in the budget they would make an announcement. They pretended it was new. They were going to put $150 million into the Western Ring Road, known as the M80. The problem is that last year they cut it by $500 million. It is a great way to get new announcements: you cut $500 million in the 2014 budget, you put $150 million back and you say, ‘We are investing in infrastructure.’ Genius! Why didn’t we think of that? Absolutely extraordinary!

Today, the Prime Minister and other ministers stood up and spoke about the Midland Highway in Tasmania. They said, ‘We’re putting $400 million in.’ But there was $500 million in the budget before! That is less. They said they were funding irrigation, except they took that from rail freight in Tasmania in order to fund the irrigation program. There is nothing that they do that is not taking more, giving less and then claiming it is new. It is an extraordinary performance.

This is the same mob—

Mr Fletcher: What about the money you took off the F3 to M2? You never funded it Albo! You did nothing about it!

Mr ALBANESE: This moron raises the F3 to M2! Thank you—come in spinner! There was $405 million in the 2013 budget. The MOU was signed between myself and Minister Gay in June 2013. They changed the name to NorthConnex. It is not a new project; it is just a new name, son! It is the same project, begun and signed under us.

When we took office we were 20th in the OECD for investment in infrastructure. When we left office we were first. We doubled the roads budget, we increased the rail budget by more than 10 times and we committed more to urban public transport than all governments combined from Federation right through to 2007. What have those opposite done? In spite of the fact that Infrastructure Australia under them actually produced something at last—they produced something spooky about urban congestion and the cost to the national economy of not dealing with urban congestion—what did we see from the government? A complete refusal to invest in any urban public transport and a complete refusal to engage in our cities.

We actually embarrassed them into producing the State of Australian cities report for 2014. It had been produced in 2011, 2012 and 2013. It had been downloaded—the minister at the table knows what is coming!—three million times. So they put out a tender on AusTender. We found that on the website. It said it was going to be published just in time for Christmas—for the stockings!—on 15 December. It was printed—I have seen the cover of it. And yet what happened in Senate estimates?

Mr Briggs: If you had better leaks you would have got it!

Mr ALBANESE: You don’t think we’ve got it? It’s all about the timing, sunshine! They printed the State of Australian cities 2014 report, paid $11,000 for the printing of it and produced it. But it is now June, and where is it? At Senate estimates, the secretary of his department said that it was ‘collecting dust’ and that the minister has advised them not to release it. That is new research. Why? Because it probably mentions that they have to do something about urban congestion, they have to do something about public transport and they have to do something about planning in our cities, and that they should be funding the Cross River Rail, they should be funding the Melbourne Metro and that they should be making sure that Infrastructure Australia guides where the investment goes.

And yet what we have also seen in this budget—in spite of their promises—is that they have not listened to Infrastructure Australia. They funded the East West Link to the tune of $3 billion, with an advance payment of $1½ billion and with a cost-benefit analysis of 0.45. I will explain it: you pay a dollar and you get 45c back. It is not that complex. That is what the analysis showed—a dud project. They took money from projects like the Western Ring Road and from projects like the managed motorways program, that had a cost-benefit ratio of greater than five, and from the Melbourne Metro and put it into a dud project. Then they made an advance payment to the Victorian Napthine government to make their budget look better at a time when those opposite were cutting pensions, cutting education and cutting health and essential services. That is what they were responsible for.

So, they have learnt the lesson on Infrastructure Australia. They have finally produced a report that they have not released.

But now, in this budget, they have cut Infrastructure Australia’s funding in half from $15 million a year to $8 million a year across the forward estimates. That is why the Leader of the Opposition announced a proposal in the budget reply to restore Infrastructure Australia to the centre of government, to fund projects in the Infrastructure Australia priority list. Like the former Treasurer did, like the former Labor government did, look at where it is going to produce the best investment and that is what should be directed. And we even promise to consult with the opposition on Infrastructure Australia appointments.

This nation needs a government that not only talks about infrastructure but that actually builds infrastructure, that builds roads, that builds rail lines—not just reannounce old projects and pretend it is doing something while it is actually cutting funding.