Oct 12, 2015

Next time you’re stuck in traffic, remember this – Opinion – Labor Hearld

Funding for roads and public transport has slowed down almost as much as peak hour commute times. Shadow Minister for Infrastructure Anthony Albanese outlines Labor’s plan to kickstart something better.

Former US President John F Kennedy once made an important observation about the nature of progress.

“Things do not happen,’’ Kennedy said. “They are made to happen.’’

Building a better and more productive society requires us exercise our will – to identify a problem, imagine a solution, and then take action to deliver that solution.

In Australia in 2015 we should consider Kennedy’s advice as we look for ways to boost economic growth in the wake of the decline of the mining boom.

One way we can make things happen is to make careful investments in productive infrastructure.

Good infrastructure investments boost productivity and generate economic activity.

And they create jobs – not just construction and engineering jobs for those involved in major projects; but also for generations to come in the industries and businesses that become more productive because of the existence of better roads, railways and ports.

While it is true that prosperity in the 21st century will depend on innovation, no economy, no matter how innovative, can thrive without infrastructure that is fit for purpose.

And no society can sustain high levels of growth and efficiency into the future unless current generations think ahead to the infrastructure requirements that are not yet apparent, but just over the horizon.

That’s why Labor Governments in this country have always focused heavily on nation-building.

Whether it was the transcontinental highway, the Snowy Mountains Scheme or the National Broadband Network, Labor has always looked ahead while our opponents have been stuck on the present or, more recently, shackled to the distant past.

Labor has announced a significant infrastructure program that continues our long tradition of nation-building.

In a speech in Brisbane to the Queensland Media Club, Bill Shorten unveiled a package that continues the Labor tradition and will make up for two years of Coalition inaction on nation-building.

That inaction was laid bare just last week when the Australian Bureau of Statistics released figures showing that public sector infrastructure investment fell 20.1 per cent in the June quarter compared with Labor’s last quarter in office.

A Shorten Labor Government will hit the ground running to address this decline.

We will create a $10 billion financing facility to facilitate significant investment in infrastructure.

Subject to IA’s analysis, Labor will use this facility to support nation-building projects around the country.

In particular we will follow up our record investment in public transport projects with support for the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross-River Rail project, Stage II of the Gold Coast Light Rail, the completion of Adelaide’s Gawler Line electrification and public transport projects in Perth.

We will also ensure that the new Badgerys Creek Airport, which is in its planning stages, will be connected to Sydney’s passenger rail network from the day it opens.

We will also continue to deliver the ongoing Pacific and Bruce highway upgrades, and support Tasmania’s Midland Highway upgrade and planning work for the Rocklea to Darra section of the Ipswich Motorway.

These are all great projects, most already in the investment pipeline of the former Labor Government, based on IA recommendations.

But they have been ignored by the Coalition, which has sidelined IA and gone its own way, abandoning public transport and reallocating funds to projects like Melbourne’s East-West Link and the Perth Freight Link which have not been the subject of proper cost-benefit analysis.

This makes no sense.

The former Labor Government created Infrastructure Australia to provide independent analysis of proposed infrastructure projects to ensure that public money was invested on the basis of value.

The next Labor Government will enhance IA’s role further to overcome the fact that private investors are often reluctant to invest in big infrastructure projects at the development stage because long lead times, high risk and high costs.

The model is similar to that used in the Clean Energy Finance Corporation which has attracted significant investment in renewable energy at a ratio of $2.20 for every dollar in government financing.

This approach will allow the government to use Infrastructure Australia to not only identify and assess major projects, but also to break through the funding barriers that have acted as a hand brake on private investment in infrastructure for too long.

Work will begin as soon as Labor elected, with appointment of an independent expert panel to determine the revised and enhanced structure of Infrastructure Australia and develop the rules around its mandate for financing projects.

One of Labor’s key goals with this program is to reduce traffic congestion which is sapping at productivity in our large cities.

An Infrastructure Australia update of its National Infrastructure Audit, released in April, warned that without action, traffic congestion will cost the nation $53 billion a year by 2031.

That $53 billion represents jobs that won’t be created unless governments come to terms with the problem, which, as well as damaging the economy, is damaging the quality of life of average Australians.

Infrastructure investment is required to improve the quality of life of those working families in drive-in, drive- out suburbs where people spend more time commuting than they spend at home with their families.

That’s why investment in public transport is so critical at this time in the nation’s history.

While former Prime Minister Tony Abbott simply refused to act, his successor Malcolm Turnbull says that he supports investment in public transport.

Indeed, while he was stalking Mr Abbott during his long-running leadership campaign, Mr Turnbull took to taking photographs of himself on trains and buses and posting them on social media to present himself as a man of the people.

But selfies are not enough.

Mr Turnbull should not only use public transport; he should fund public transport.

We want to work with state governments and the private sector to ensure that all Australians have access to affordable and reliable public transport, wherever they live in our great cities and towns.

We want Australians to spend less time in their cars, leaving them more time to play with their children, engage with their communities and enjoy recreation.

We don’t want a situation where Australians who can’t find work in their own district are inhibited from looking elsewhere because of a lack of public transport.

Labor’s new infrastructure policy is a blueprint for building a better nation.

It will provide jobs, boost economic productivity and allow us to get a handle on one of the most-serious social challenges facing our nation – the emergence of drive-in drive-out suburbs.

But above all, it will allow us to hand down a more-productive Australia to future generations, rather than cities mired in traffic gridlock.

It builds on Labor’s record when it comes to infrastructure. Labor understands that government’s role is to safeguard the present but both imagine and create a better future.

For the past two years, while our opponents have been talking about infrastructure but doing nothing, Labor has been developing our plan for better future.

The policies announced are the means to realise that vision.

This piece was originally published by the Labor Herald on 9 October 2015: https://www.laborherald.com.au/environment/transport/next-time-youre-stuck-in-traffic-remember-this/