May 30, 2017

Matters of public importance – Infrastructure

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (15:11): I will give the member for Bradfield credit for one thing: chutzpah! Coming in here, when Victoria is getting 8c in every dollar of the national infrastructure budget, when it got zero dollars this year, zero next year, zero the year after, zero the year after that and zero the year after that, right through to 2021, in this budget, he comes in here and speaks about Victorian infrastructure.

Of course this is a budget which cuts $1.6 billion from infrastructure investment this year. In last year’s budget they said it would be $9.2 billion; instead it is $7.6 billion, but after that it falls off the cliff: It is cut of $7.4 billion in actual infrastructure investment over the forward estimates, down to $4.2 billion. This is what the peak industry body, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, say: ‘The budget confirms the cuts to the real budget for capital funding to its lowest level in more than a decade, using a mix of underspend, reprofiling and narrative to cover this substantial drop in real capital expenditure.’

There is no new money in the budget—just cuts: cuts to road funding, cuts to the Black Spots Program, cuts to the Bridges Renewal Program, cuts to the Bruce Highway, cuts to the Pacific Highway. The fact is that this budget is a con. One of the biggest cons is their so-called national rail fund. This is a budget where they have tried to get the areas where they were behind Labor off the agenda, but when you look at the actual substance, it is not there. They know they have a problem on public transport—the fact that they cut public transport funding from every project that was not under construction. So what they said was, ‘We’ll create this $10 billion national rail fund.’ It sounds great, except when you look at the detail. Zero dollars this year; zero dollars next year; zero dollars the year after that; and $200 million the year after that. Not a single dollar between now and the next election.

Two years ago they created the NAIF. Zero dollars has gone out of the NAIF. It has just paid for the members of the board to float around and have meetings. In this budget they created another NAIF—the No Actual Infrastructure Fund. That is what they created in this budget, because there is only one new project in this entire budget over the forward estimates: the Far North Collector Road near Nowra—$13.8 million.

The local paper, the South Coast Register, said in their editorial that they had not even heard of this road. The government failed to fund the Nowra bridge—not a dollar. Have a look at the Cross River Rail project. It was approved by Infrastructure Australia in 2012 and funded in 2013. Last night I did an interview on a television program with a fellow called Campbell Newman—he used to be the Premier of Queensland. I said last night, ‘We were ready to go.’ Campbell Newman said: ‘Well, we were actually. I think the history of it is pretty accurate.’ It was ready to go way back when it was approved in 2012. It was funded in 2013 and it was cut in 2014. Now, all these years afterwards, those opposite say, ‘We still need more information.’ Well, here it is—a letter from Scott Emerson, Minister for Transport and Main Roads, signed on 30 April 2013. He was a minister in the Campbell Newman government. He said that he was writing to seek confirmation of the funding principles and that the project would be delivered through an ‘availability payment Public Private Partnership’. The letter states:

… construction period (2013/14 to 2019/20) … The contribution is estimated to be in the order of $715M each;

•   the Australian and Queensland Governments will fund the availability payment stream for the PPP component of the project on a 50:50 basis …

•   the Queensland Government will fund rail operating expenses for the Project; and

•   the project will be delivered through a PPP commercial vehicle and financed by private sector equity and debt.

It was ready to go. I seek leave to table that letter from Minister Emerson.

(Leave not granted)

Mr ALBANESE: They do not want to see the details of where it was ready to go. No wonder they are embarrassed by the fact that projects that were ready to go were stopped by the government. Years later, they are still prevaricating.

Let us have a look at Inland Rail. They had a little committee, chaired by John Anderson, which said this:

Hence a substantial public funding contribution is required to deliver Inland Rail.

So how is it that they are contributing to this project $8.3 billion of equity? You can only deliver equity injections rather than actual cash funding if a project is going to produce a return. Their own documents say it will not produce a return to capital in more than 50 years. So this is a fix by those opposite that is just embarrassing, because it does not stack up.

When we asked about this in Senate estimates last week, the secretary of the department indicated that the rate of returns on equity were for the ARTC, the Australian Rail Track Corporation, as a whole rather than for the Inland Rail project. So they are going to take the fact that the coal lines in particular in the Hunter Valley produce a return for the ARTC and roll that in and pretend the Inland Rail can be funded without a dollar contribution, because there is no cash contribution from those opposite. Then they reduce the costs by having an inland rail line that does not go anywhere, because it stops 38 kilometres short of the port. You are going to have these double-decker trains with two lots of containers stacked on them that are then going to be put on trucks to go through the most congested areas of the suburbs of Brisbane—just like the Perth Freight Link stopped three kilometres short of Fremantle port and the WestConnex project goes nowhere near the Port of Botany, which was the original idea of Infrastructure New South Wales under Nick Greiner.

The fact is that the government simply cannot get any infrastructure projects right. They have done all this with the idea of good debt, bad debt. The rhetoric in the lead-up to the budget was designed to create a smokescreen for the fact that they were actually going to cut funding. That is why they have established this so-called infrastructure financing unit in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. This is what the peak industry body have to say about that:

We cannot identify any currently proposed infrastructure projects which are commercially viable and not already attracting finance; therefore we cannot see how the IFU will increase the pace of infrastructure project delivery; …

Indeed, this is a solution looking for a problem, because there is not a lack of capital available in this country. We have almost $2 trillion in superannuation funds. We have private capital, from here and overseas, that is interested in investing in nation-building infrastructure. If you actually fund Infrastructure Australia properly—and get the projects right and establish the pipeline of projects—capital is available. But what this government has done is gut Infrastructure Australia and side-line it, establishing its own little unit in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. It is not nation building; this is empire building by those opposite—and by the Prime Minister in particular.

If you look at the details of the budget, you will see that there is no new money for cities, no new money for public transport, no new money for major road projects—no vision whatsoever from those opposite. The fact that you had Campbell Newman there last night conceding the fact that the reason the Cross River Rail Project is not now almost completed is because of the attitude of the former Prime Minister that is being carried on by the current Prime Minister. It is all rhetoric and no substance.

(Time expired)