Oct 24, 2018

Matters of Public Importance – Infrastructure – Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (15:11): This week, the Prime Minister went into his party room, and he spoke about how they couldn’t do the hokey-pokey. They couldn’t move to the left or the right, and it reminded me of Reservoir Dogs. It reminded me of the scene with Mr Blonde and Marvin. There’s Mr Blonde torturing Marvin, like this government’s torturing the Australian people, and in the background is playing Stuck In The Middle With You, by Stealers Wheel:

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,

Here I am, stuck in the middle with you

That’s this Prime Minister, a Prime Minister who’s incapable of moving to the left and incapable of moving to the right.

They’re incapable of having an energy policy. They’re incapable. Even when they put funding in the budget for infrastructure projects, guess what? They don’t announce them. They just sit there. We rely upon not the Treasurer on budget night to announce projects but the good burghers of the Herald Sun to announce important projects like the Rockhampton Ring Road, the Mackay Ring Road stage 2, Cairns southern access stage 5 or the Linkfield Road overpass, in the member for Dickson’s electorate. It goes between Dickson and Petrie.

Guess what? We’ve already announced funding for that project. We’ve already announced it in conjunction with the Queensland state government.

Western Sydney rail—there’s an idea. The Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, announced funding for that at the New South Wales ALP conference in June. The North-South Corridor in Adelaide—we’ve already seen projects like Torrens to Torrens open recently and new projects that we announced in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

What’s in common with all of those projects is that Labor has been out there, once again, leading from opposition when it comes to infrastructure. The Adelaide tram extensions—when we proposed support for AdeLINK in the lead-up to the 2016 election and in the lead-up to the South Australian state election last year, continually, those opposite dismissed that program.

And then they have the city deal fund. The city deal fund, so-called, is projects in Geelong and in Darwin: Darwin, $100 million; Geelong, $150 million. We know what they are. We know what the projects are, but they won’t actually announce them, in terms of Geelong, until after the Victorian state election.

When it comes to infrastructure policy, the government are all about the politics and not substance. That’s why they have sidelined Infrastructure Australia—a system established so that you could have business cases submitted, a proper assessment and then government decisions made on the basis of that objective evidence, rather than on the basis of the electoral map. What they did when they came to office was cut funds from projects that had been approved by Infrastructure Australia, such as the Cross River Rail project in Brisbane and the Melbourne metro project, and funded projects, some of which—Perth Freight Link, for example—even state governments didn’t know what they were for or where they went to. You had projects that had been on the list, like the East West Link, which had a cost-benefit of 45c return for every dollar invested. They moved funding away from projects that had been through a process and gave it to projects that hadn’t.

When you look at the actual investment of this government, in the 2017-18 budget there’s some $7.2 billion. That declines over the forward estimates to $4.5 billion in 2021-22. It’s 4.5; it was 7.2. That’s less. There are cuts each and every year. Indeed, over the decade—the Parliamentary Budget Office has independently analysed it—infrastructure investment will decline by half, from 0.4 per cent of GDP to 0.2 per cent over that period. What’s more, even when they do make announcements on budget night, they don’t actually deliver them. In the first four years, the difference between what was announced on budget night and what was actually invested in projects like black spots, Western Sydney road infrastructure, and the heavy vehicle safety program was $4.7 billion.

It’s not surprising that they don’t know what they’re doing. We’ve had five infrastructure ministers over the last five years. We’ve had countless urban infrastructure ministers. They come and they go. I can’t even keep count of them all. Most of them disappear from the parliament. On this side of the House, we’ve had one shadow infrastructure minister during that time. The fact is that the mob opposite have denied communities investment over five years. What that does is: if you don’t have a pipeline of projects, it’s a drag on economic productivity, it’s a drag on jobs, and it has an impact on economic growth in the medium and long term.

The government will say that they do have some projects. They’ll say that they’re investing off-budget in projects like Inland Rail. When the Inland Rail project was first assessed, by the ARTC, it wasn’t intended that the concept of ‘inland’ be taken quite so literally. This is a project that doesn’t go to a port anywhere. It doesn’t go to Brisbane. It doesn’t go to Melbourne. You’ll have double-decker trains that will stop at Acacia Ridge and will then have to be put onto trucks and carried—I’m not quite sure how they’ll get to the port. They did that, of course, to distort the economics of the project, because the most expensive bit of a project is that which goes through urban areas, through the city of Brisbane. That distortion is very much there.

The government also say, ‘We’ve got money for the Melbourne airport link.’ Now, everyone knows that public transport projects are beneficial to the national economy. What they don’t do is make money. What they don’t do is produce fare revenue that’s higher than the maintenance and operating costs. On average, it’s between 20 and 25 per cent. So the benefit to the national economy is indirect. But those opposite would have you think that not only will the Melbourne Airport rail link not produce a return in terms of operating and maintenance costs, it won’t even begin to pay back the original capital. If you’re going to have an equity investment, that’s what it has to do. That’s what commerce 1A suggests needs to happen. That’s what the head of the ARTC, for example, John Fullerton, has said before Senate estimates, just won’t happen, in terms of a return on capital on the Inland Rail. So those opposite are looking for false ways in which to pretend that they’re investing, when it won’t actually happen.

When it comes to high-speed rail, of course, there’s a billion and a half they’re going to announce for a high-speed rail project somewhere—or faster rail, whatever that means—rather than actually getting serious about high-speed rail down the east coast of Australia. The fact is that those opposite are so divided that they’re incapable of action. The only thing that’s worse than a government that is doing the wrong thing is a government that’s actually doing nothing. We see it in this chamber with the failure to back up their own legislation with speakers. We see it with their failure to actually get out there and announce projects that have been announced months ago by the Herald Sun and were included in the budget in six months time. Perhaps it’s the case that what they have is investing in the never-never, in 10 and 15 years time, because for a lot of their projects that’s exactly what they have done. They have no vision on infrastructure and they have no investment.

(Time expired)