Feb 13, 2017

Private Members’ Business – Northern Australia Beef Roads Program

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (17:04): As always with members of the government with private members’ business, this is a self-congratulatory motion, but it is somewhat misplaced. The Northern Australia Beef Roads Program typifies this government when it comes to building infrastructure: an announcement with much fanfare followed by little action on the ground.

The program was announced in June 2015, when Tony Abbott was the Prime Minister. However, not a single actual project was announced until 16 months later, in October 2016, after the election campaign when, essentially, this program was used for election announcements. Then, 15 priority projects were announced with only half the funding—some $56 million—that was originally announced, and, as we stand here today, in 2017, not a single project from this program that was announced in 2015 has begun. It has taken two years, and not a hole has been dug for any project under this program.

This stands at a time when, just last week, the Reserve Bank Governor, Philip Lowe, again reiterated the need for investment in infrastructure. The previous speaker, the member for Durack, spoke about the fantasy of the government’s so-called $50 billion program. But the answers in Senate estimates indicate that that program is, in fact, only $34 billion, with $8 billion in the future at some unspecified time. Indeed, the Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that for every single one of the 12 quarters that the coalition have been in office, public sector infrastructure investment has been less than for every one of the 21 quarters that the former Labor government spent in office, from the time of our first budget in 2008. We did not just make announcements; we actually went ahead and did it.

Our total commitment to Northern Australia over that time was some $5.5 billion. Some $500 per person was spent in Northern Australia on an annual basis. The Bruce Highway upgrade, the Cape York package, the Kennedy Highway upgrade and the Peak Downs Highway upgrade are all in Queensland.

In the Northern Territory, there was the community, beef and mining road package, and the highways package, including the widening of the Victoria, Barkly and Stuart highways. There was the regional roads productivity package; some $90 million in the Northern Territory alone. There was the Tiger Brennan Drive upgrade, the Great Northern Highway upgrade in northern Western Australia, the Dampier Highway duplication, and, of course, the North West Coastal Highway.

So we did not just talk about infrastructure in Northern Australia. We got on with the business of ensuring that it happened. As it is, you can see there has been an underspend on a project like the Bruce Highway, where the government has wound back the spending that it allocated, if you look at the forwards from the 2014 budget.

What we need to do is make sure that we step up infrastructure investment, particularly in the context of the resources sector moving from the investment to the production phase. Of course, the member who represents the area around Gladstone will know full well that the investments we made in roads in his region—in terms of access to the port and other projects at and around Gladstone—were significant after years of neglect under the Howard government. What I want is for the government to match its rhetoric with actual investment on the ground that will lay the groundwork for future economic growth.