Feb 15, 2017

Matters of public importance – Infrastructure

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (15:18): We just saw, writ large in question time, the government’s incompetence when it comes to infrastructure. Here we have a major investment in infrastructure in Perth, just weeks before the state election is due to be held, on 11 March, and they do not know two important facts. One is that they do not know that the Perth Freight Link project does not even go to the port. It stops three kilometres short. This is a $1.2 billion investment in freight transport infrastructure to a port, but it does not get there; it stops three kilometres short and vehicles will have to go through the suburbs of Fremantle in order to get the freight to the port. But it is worse than that because it is a road near a port that is at full capacity. We know that the port will be at full capacity in 2022, which is why the outer harbour is so important. The new port is what is critical if we are going to deal with exports and imports in the west. That is why during the election campaign we committed to fund the planning for that port project. That is what Mark McGowan is doing—planning for infrastructure for the future.

Of course, this is nothing new for the people of Western Australia. When we were in government, we engaged in the largest ever road project in Western Australia, the Gateway WA project. It was promised, funded and built on our watch, and yet those opposite came along at the end to the ribbon cutting, having opposed the nation-building program and the economic stimulus, and tried to suggest that they had something to do with it. It is not just that. When you land at Perth and leave the airport, the first road you go on is the Great Eastern Highway. It was widened and upgraded by Labor. If rather than east you go west, you will hit the work that is taking place on the Swan Valley Bypass, which is now called NorthLink under this government. Giving a road a new name does not make it a new road. It is the Swan Valley Bypass and it was funded by the former Labor government.

We understand that to deal with urban congestion you do not just need roads; you need rail lines as well. We invested in the Perth City Link project. It was promised, funded, built and opened under federal Labor. Those opposite talk about value capture. This project is a great example of value capture in action. You use the area where the road has been built to build the railway underneath and then you develop on top, to reunite the Perth CBD with the Northbridge entertainment precinct. It is a great example of Labor vision, Labor being engaged in urban policy and Labor being engaged in making our cities more productive, more sustainable and more livable.

We are not just engaged in cities, of course. We did the Great Northern Highway, the North West Coastal Highway, the work around Port Hedland, the work in Kalgoorlie, the Esperance port access road and the work around Bunbury—all delivered as part of the $6.9 billion that we put into Western Australia. We took investment from the Howard government’s $92 per Western Australian to $261 per Western Australian—we tripled the infrastructure investment, because we understood that transport infrastructure was critical.

But of course we also did the National Broadband Network. We also did the support for hospitals. We also did the support for every school in Western Australia, because we understood that that was important.

At the last election there was a battle that will be played out on 11 March, which is: do you put money into a road to a port that is at full capacity, a road that does not even get to the port, or do you build rail infrastructure that will truly build on the legacy of Labor? That is the legacy that built the Mandurah rail link and the legacy that built the link up to the north, up towards Joondalup. Do you engage in that infrastructure investment? That is what is critical. WA Labor have made it clear that their commitment is to building the Morley-Ellenbrook line, building the Yanchep line, building the Byford line, commencing the circle line linking the suburbs, starting to fix level crossings and, of course, completing the Forrestfield to airport line. That is an example: $500 million was ripped out of the budget in 2014; two years later, in order to compensate for the GST, some funding is put back, and they pretend it is new!

The fact is that what we have seen under this government in Western Australia is symptomatic of their approach everywhere. Yesterday, there was a report into the funding of WestConnex in Sydney that followed the funding of the East West Link in Melbourne. In all these cases, commitments had been made; money was taken away from public transport projects like the Melbourne metro and Cross River Rail in Brisbane, and taken away from projects like the M80 in Melbourne that had been approved by Infrastructure Australia, and forwarded as advanced payments for projects that had no business case and that were not ready to proceed. And we wonder why it is having a negative impact in terms of the economy!

What we see from the Australian Bureau of Statistics are remarkable figures. The Australian Bureau of Statistics figures in this graph, where the red is Labor and the blue is the coalition, show that, for every single one of the 12 quarters that the coalition has been in office, public sector infrastructure investment has been less than in any single one of the 21 quarters where Labor was in government, from the time of our first budget in the June 2008 quarter right through to September 2013. Indeed, in their first two years in office, what we saw was a drop in infrastructure investment of some 20 per cent. And they stand up and speak about the $50 billion fantasy that they have; they stood up at the 2014 budget and said: ‘Going forward, we have a $50 billion plan.’ There is just one problem there, which is that budget papers get produced and show how much investment is actually occurring. And what we know is that up to 2019-20 the investment is $34 billion, and beyond that it is $8 billion at some unforeseen time, booked into the future. What we know is that there have actually been cuts each and every year to projects like the Pacific Highway and the Bruce Highway. When you compare what they themselves said they would spend with what actual spend is, last financial year the underspend was something like $1.2 billion.

This comes at a time when the resources sector is moving from the investment phase to the production phase. The Reserve Bank governor, last Thursday night, warned again on, and called for, investment in infrastructure. We have record low interest rates. We have a demand that is there, with a massive need for infrastructure, particularly in dealing with the challenges of urban congestion, and in dealing with the challenges of freight—projects like finishing off the freight line from Mascot to Port Botany; that is an absolute no-brainer, but they will not even proceed with that.

What we see from this government is all politics and no substance. They have abandoned the processes of Infrastructure Australia, they have cut funding for Infrastructure Australia, and they have not listened to what Infrastructure Australia has had to say. They have ministers who cannot even agree on who is in charge of what particular issue or project. This failure comes at a time where infrastructure is one of the keys to growth and to future jobs. If it is in the right projects, it boosts productivity and returns to government. That is why this government stands condemned, whether it be in Western Australia or any other state or territory in the nation, for simply failing when it comes to infrastructure.

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