Feb 10, 2011

Question without notice – Australian natural disasters

Mr GIBBONS (2:38 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. What assistance is the government providing to rebuild roads, bridges, rail and other essential infrastructure following the recent natural disasters, not only in my electorate in Victoria but indeed right across Australia? How is this building being financed and how is this being received?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) —I thank the member for Bendigo for his question. Indeed, his electorate is one of those that has been impacted. In Victoria, over 65 arterial roads and more than 270 local roads have been closed due to flooding. Larger roads, such as the Calder and the Sturt highways have been cut off. I have been advised that many roads are still under water and damage is still being assessed. I have had a number of conversations with the Victorian transport minister, and yesterday I had another conversation with the Premier of Victoria, Mr Baillieu, as well about these issues.

Certainly, it is the case that the rebuilding will take time, but it will also cost money. It requires national leadership and a national approach. We on this side of the House have made the judgment that a national crisis and a national disaster require national leadership. That is what we have determined; that is our judgment. So we have to pay for it from somewhere.

We have paid for it with a $1.8 billion flood levy. We have also deferred some projects and, indeed, one of the deferrals that occurred was $20 million for the Princes Highway east in Gippsland. This was a road that was also impacted by some environmental assessments. We sat down with the respective state governments, identified projects that were potentially not going to be able to proceed and freed up that capacity. There is a limited amount of capital equipment in the country and there is a limited amount of skills. The priority is rebuilding those areas that have been affected.

I welcome the comments of the member for Gippsland, who said today or yesterday, ‘I think the people of Gippsland will understand the reason for it. There is a major rebuilding effort required right across Queensland and northern Victoria, so I think people understand the need for reprioritising of the government’s funding.’ I thank him for those comments. He was talking about the $20 million deferral of the Princes Highway east that the government announced, one of the nine projects that we have deferred.

I was surprised by the tone in the question asked before about the Bruce Highway because, consistent with that, obviously the member for Gippsland had seen the comments of the Leader of the Opposition on 18 January:

Let’s face it … the Government was going to have to focus on the urgent, unavoidable and necessary repair work, …

They called for deferrals to occur, then they opposed them. The leader of the National Party put out a media release opposing the deferrals of the Queensland projects that have been worked out with the Queensland government as being unable to proceed. But have a look at their detail, because they did not put them all back in. They put three back in the other day, and when they did that the Leader of the Opposition in his response spoke about capacity constraints in the economy as a reason for some of the other cuts that were made. I think that the inconsistency is there.

The fact is that we are still spending double the amount of money in half the time on the Bruce Highway than the previous government did. (Time expired)