Feb 9, 2011

Question without notice – Australian natural disasters

Mr NEUMANN (3:06 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. What assistance is the government providing to rebuild Queensland following recent natural disasters, particularly in the Ipswich area? How is this rebuilding being financed and how has this been received?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) —I thank the member for Blair for his question. I certainly note that sections of the Ipswich Motorway were underwater and the road was closed for some 2½ days at the height of the floods. Fortunately, there has been no major damage to the road and work is back underway on the $2.5 billion upgrade of the Ipswich Motorway.

Around 70 per cent of Queensland’s road network was badly impacted during the floods. Some 150 major roads were cut. There have been some 2,000 workers out there around the clock making urgent repairs to ensure that Queensland can get moving again. All airports are now back up and running. All ports are back up and operational. All sections of the Bruce Highway, with some speed restrictions, have been re-opened from Brisbane right up to Cairns. Passenger train services in South-East Queensland are back up and running. The majority of the freight rail network, with the notable exception of the Toowoomba line and some in the north, is up and running.

This progress of course costs money, and you have to find the finances from somewhere. It also requires leadership, which requires putting the national interest first, above opportunistic political considerations. That is why this government has put together the $5.6 billion funding package to help with the recovery. It includes a $2 billion upfront payment to Queensland to help with the immediate clean-up and rebuilding efforts. We have taken action. We will rebuild infrastructure. We needed to prioritise those immediate needs.

Only weeks ago the opposition agreed with this. The shadow minister said on 18 January, ‘We want to be able as a nation to commit to more infrastructure but some of them are still a long way from starting, so maybe something can be done in the interim with the funding earmarked.’ The Leader of the Opposition said on the same day, ‘Let’s face it: the government is going to have to focus on the urgent, unavoidable and necessary repair work.’ That is precisely what we are doing. Those opposite continue to put their political interest ahead of the national interest. This is a time when Australians need a hand up. But the Leader of the Opposition has had his hand out for political donations to the Liberal Party and could not even answer the question—

Mr Pyne —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. We became very familiar with the ‘slag and bag’ from government ministers at the end of last year. I hope at the beginning of a new year you will call them to order and pull them into line.

The SPEAKER —I have indicated my desire that there be less debate in answers, but the standing orders still allow that. I say to the minister that he must relate his comments directly to the question.

Mr ALBANESE —Absolutely, Mr Speaker. Responses to the floods are a matter of one’s judgment as to whether one is prepared to put the national interest first. Those on this side of the House are doing just that. We will be doing that when we introduce the flood levy legislation tomorrow. I call upon those opposite to improve their judgment, which has been pretty poor of late, and get on with the business of assisting this government to help rebuild Queensland.