Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (13:17): I congratulate the member for Indi on her motion before this parliament. The standard of representation of Indi has increased substantially since the last federal election.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—Sitting suspended from 13:17 to 13:32
Mr ALBANESE: When it comes to regional infrastructure, this government has failed dismally. The National Broadband Network is absolutely critical at overcoming the tyranny of distance that Australia has been disadvantaged by. That is why the rollout of the NBN fibre-to-the-premises was so important and at the core of overcoming regional disadvantage. If businesses can set up in Tamworth, in Bendigo and in Toowoomba and have the same access to international markets as companies based in the CBDs of Sydney and Melbourne, then the other advantages in regional Australia will kick in to grow jobs and to grow those regional economies.
Just yesterday, on Sunday, the Regional Rail Link began for commuters in Victoria. If you want an example of nation-building infrastructure empowering regional communities, this is it. It is of great benefit to Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong as well as commuters in Melbourne. It has created 15,000 jobs. It will add 54,000 to the capacity of the Victorian rail network. It is the first new rail line in Victoria for passengers in 80 years. In our 2013-14 budget, Labor invested $1.6 billion in rail. Compare that with what the Abbott government is doing: by 2017-18 it will reduce rail spending by 80 per cent.
If you look at roads, the investment in the Pacific Highway has continued to decline under the Abbott government. In Labor’s last year in office, we committed $1 billion as part of our $7.6 billion commitment. In last year’s budget, the government committed to spend $672 million in the coming 2015-16 financial year, but the budget papers show a cut on their own figures of $129 million for that year. With the Bruce Highway in Queensland, successive coalition governments at the state and federal level have cut funding rather than invested. The Howard government, over 12 years, spent only $1.3 billion. If you compare that with the former Labor government, we invested $5.7 billion over half the time. That is why this budget’s disappointing cut of $93 million, based on their own figures for the Bruce Highway and what was promised last year in 2015-16, is so disappointing.
Similarly, for the inland rail project, we had already invested $600 million to upgrade parts of the existing track that will be a part of this project and we allocated a further $300 million in the 2013 budget. Not a single dollar, indeed, not a cent, has been added to that vital project. Importantly, projects like the Murray Basin Rail Project, which would standardise the rail line from Mildura to Victoria’s major ports, has received $200 million from the Victorian government in funding, but nothing from the Nationals or from the coalition. If you look at the investment that we put into the ARTC it was so important over our period in government. What is this government’s response? They want to privatise and flog off the network, which will mean the freight rail in regional, rural and agricultural communities in particular simply will not receive the investment. High-speed rail has a future not only for travel between our capital cities but is also particularly important for regional centres such as Albury-Wodonga, Wagga Wagga, Grafton, Newcastle and Shepparton. And yet, under this government, they have shelved the high-speed rail authority that was planned to make sure that this route, and this future nation-building project, was turned into a reality.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.