May 22, 2017

Private Members’ Business – Infrastructure

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12:11): I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises that:

(a) Australia’s cities require investment and leadership from the Government to deal with a number of pressing challenges, especially urban congestion;

(b) Infrastructure Australia has estimated that urban congestion will cost $53 billion in lost productivity by 2031 if left unaddressed; and

(c) public transport is essential for the realisation of the vision of 30 minute cities;

(2) notes that a number of factors contribute to the worsening of urban congestion, including:

(a) Australia’s transition to a knowledge intensive economy, which means employment opportunities continue to cluster in the CBDs of our cities;

(b) high house prices that have seen key workers, single person households and families on very low and middle incomes struggle to find homes close to work, resulting in drive-in drive-out suburbs in nearly all capital cities; and

(c) the rapid growth of Australia’s cities, which will see the four largest capitals—Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth—increase their population by 46 per cent and Adelaide, Canberra, Hobart and Darwin increase their population by nearly 30 per cent by 2031; and

(3) calls on the Government to:

(a) use evidence-based policy to support investment in the infrastructure that is required to reduce urban congestion in Australia’s cities; and

(b) use the upcoming budget to provide investment for public transport projects listed by Infrastructure Australia as priorities, some of which have suffered funding cuts under the Coalition Government, including the Metro Trains Melbourne, the Cross River Rail, Western Sydney Rail, the Gawler rail line upgrade, and the AdeLINK tram network.

Our nation’s cities are at a crossroad. Poised for rapid population growth in coming decades, our four largest capitals—Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth—will increase their population by 46 per cent. Adelaide, Canberra, Hobart and Darwin will increase their population by nearly 30 per cent by 2031.

We know that Australia’s transition to a knowledge intensive economy has seen jobs be based in the CBDs of our cities. That has meant that it is harder for key workers, single-person households and families on low and middle incomes to find homes close to work, resulting in drive-in, drive-out suburbs in nearly all capital cities. Infrastructure Australia has told us that urban congestion will cost $53 billion in lost productivity by 2031, if left unaddressed.

We need leadership from the government to deal with these pressing challenges, to improve public transport and to make sure that jobs are created close to where people live. But this is a government that is not matching its rhetoric with reality. It says it understands the importance of infrastructure investment, yet the budget cuts it by $1.6 billion in this financial year alone, with investment to fall off a cliff over the next four years, from a projected $9.2 billion this year, in the government’s own projections, down to $4.2 billion in 2020-21.

It is the same with public transport. Malcolm Turnbull loves taking selfies on trains, trams and buses; he just will not fund them with any new investment. The fact is that this year’s budget does not have a single dollar of new investment for urban public transport. There is no investment in the Cross River Rail project in Brisbane, Adelaide’s AdeLINK, Western Sydney Rail or the Melbourne Metro. Indeed, despite making up 25 per cent of the nation’s population, Victoria will receive no new money from the Commonwealth over the forwards for its infrastructure investment program. The budget papers themselves show zero, zero, zero, zero, zero for the years 2016-17 to 2020-21 for infrastructure investment for Victoria. This government has contempt for Victorians, exemplified by its approach to Victorian infrastructure.

In addition, there has been a big deal made about the so-called City Deals program, but there isn’t a single dollar in the 2017 budget to make this a reality. The city deals so far are deals in Townsville and Launceston, which are simply an attempt to dress up belated matching of ALP commitments to the Townsville stadium and the University of Tasmania. In Western Sydney, the government is trying to retrofit an election announcement with substance that does not exist and no clear funding to actually get there. The City of Blacktown has actually been excluded from the City Deals process even though they will grow by 200,000 additional people from 2011 to 2036.

City Deals, when done right, provide an opportunity, in particular, for local government to work together with other levels and encourage the economic growth of a region. This government is not doing that. They have established this absurd infrastructure financing unit in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. This is a solution looking for a problem. There is no lack of financing from the private sector or from superannuation funds for good infrastructure projects. There certainly is no lack of innovative financing, which is how projects like the Gold Coast light rail project was funded with support from Infrastructure Australia. This sidelines Infrastructure Australia from the process and completely creates this bureaucracy whereby the private sector are wondering what it will do. Infrastructure Partnerships Australia said:

…the Budget confirms the cut to ‘real’ budgeted capital funding to its lowest level in more than a decade—using a mix of underspend, re-profiling and narrative to cover this substantial drop in real capital expenditure.

The fact is that this government has abandoned cities at a time when they require leadership and investment from the Commonwealth to ensure their ongoing productivity, sustainability and liveability. This budget means it is a lost opportunity, because the coalition government simply are not up to the task of providing leadership for this century.