Nov 30, 2016

Ministerial Statement – Infrastructure

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:57): Early on in his infrastructure statement to parliament last Thursday, the Prime Minister said something that I agree with. He said:

If Australia is to ride the wave of opportunity that the 21st century offers, we need better infrastructure.

From there, the speech went downhill. What we heard was that he had a plan; he was going to do a study; there was going to be an examination; he was going to have a committee to look after the reports that had already been done by a committee. What we did not have in an infrastructure statement for the parliament was, of course, any attachment of legislation to it or any appropriation from the budget—because there was not a project named; there was not a project advanced; there was not a dollar announced. I do not know why you would give an infrastructure statement to the parliament that does not announce any infrastructure, that does not have anything of substance in it whatsoever.

This comes at a time where infrastructure investment in this country is in freefall. The context here is the resources sector going from the investment phase to the production phase. At that time, because of the decline in infrastructure investment associated with the resources sector, what you should have had—when combined with the fact that capital is almost free and when the government earlier this year could have borrowed for infrastructure at long-term rates, at a rate of under two per cent per annum—is the government stepping in and ramping up that investment, because we know that there is a need.

The member for Chifley just spoke about the M9. Why didn’t the government use last Thursday to announce funding for the M9? They did not even announce funding for planning for the M9, for preservation of the corridor, for getting the environmental approvals—nothing came from last week’s announcement. This comes when public infrastructure investment has fallen by 20 per cent in the government’s first two years. It also comes when the government continues to say that it is going to spend $50 billion on infrastructure in the forward estimates. It is just not true. Indeed, they are not even spending what they said they would spend in the budget papers of 2014. For example, in the last financial year the government did not spend $8 billion in 2015-16; they spent $5½ billion. When you take into account the fact that there was a $490 million payment to Western Australia to compensate for the GST, it is a $3 billion underspend on what they said they would do, or 35 per cent. This follows a $1 billion underspend the year before.

At this year’s election campaign, we put forward a comprehensive plan for infrastructure investment: the Cross River Rail in Brisbane, Melbourne Metro, Adelaide light rail, Perth Metronet and Western Sydney Rail. We put forward a comprehensive plan. We put forward and have advanced in this parliament again the need for a high-speed rail authority to advance that proposal. The coalition just offered more cuts. The Prime Minister likes to ride on trains and trams and take photos on them. We want him to actually fund them, not just take photos on them. He spruiks city deals and yet all that does is match our commitments to UTAS in Northern Tasmania and match the commitments that we made to the stadium and regeneration of the City of Townsville. The vague promise in Western Sydney is, frankly, a pittance compared to what is required in Western Sydney. He said in last Thursday’s statement that he is going to develop a freight strategy. There is one. It was done by Infrastructure Australia just after they did their national port strategy. It complements the two things together. Yet they cannot even fund the final section of the Port Botany rail freight plan. Through the Australian Rail Track Corporation, it can be funded off-budget, and they can fix the loop around South-West Sydney for a total of just under $200 million so that the freight corridor can be brought into the 21st century, where it should be. At the moment, for the last section between Mascot and the port, it is one way, so you cannot have trains going in and out to the port. If a train is going out, a train cannot go in. It is a two-way corridor with a one-way road. It is completely absurd. And yet they cannot do that.

If you look at the smallest programs, like the Black Spot Program, there was a 55 per cent underspend last year; the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program had a 65 per cent underspend on what was put in the budget; and the Bridges Renewal Program was 40 per cent down on what was promised. Last week I was reminded of their 2014 budget when they spent $70,000 making a video about the 2014 infrastructure investment plan. The video has been taken down because it is so embarrassing because none of it has happened. Then, during this year in the lead-up to the election, they took $18 million that was allocated to build roads, rail lines, ports and infrastructure and they spent it on TV ads to tell people what they did not have and what they were not getting.

The truth is that people need to hold this government to account. When it comes to Badgerys Creek airport, there is the circumstance whereby people get information from a website about flights based upon some theory. It is not based upon any flight paths that have been worked out. The government says that it can follow Labor’s announcement of ensuring there are no flights over communities at night—and nor should there be. That is the advantage of the planning protections that were put in place around the Badgerys Creek site 30 years ago. That is why it is perfectly able to ensure that flights do not go over any communities at night from the second airport. The government should not have that contradicted by some bureaucrats on sites that are out of date. They need to get on top of that and they need to get on top of proper community consultation for that vital piece of infrastructure, not just for Western Sydney but also for the national economy.

This government needs to match up its rhetoric with reality. They need to start investing. They need to have proper consultation. They need to have proper infrastructure plans. They need to restore respect to Infrastructure Australia and put it at the heart of infrastructure development.