May 26, 2010

Question without notice – Budget

Mr ADAMS (4:08 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. How is the government delivering on its transport infrastructure commitments? Why is it important that funding is provided to fulfil infrastructure commitments?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —I thank the member for Lyons for his question. Of course, he has a great deal of interest in infrastructure because we are providing some $190 million for the upgrading of the Midland Highway in his electorate. That is part of the major road and rail infrastructure being provided by this government. Some $20 billion worth of projects commence this year—$20 billion. We have doubled the roads budget and we have quadrupled the rail budget.

I am asked also about the importance of providing funds for commitments, and indeed that is important. In last week’s budget, once again we provided all the funds there for the $37 billion nation-building plan. It is all set out. It is all part of memorandums of understanding with the states and territories governments. But some other members of parliament have been running around the country making commitments about infrastructure development. Indeed, on the Midland Highway, the Leader of the Opposition travelled to Launceston on 18 February, just three months ago. There he said—it was written down, fully scripted and, one would think, the gospel truth, because it was there in writing, in this speech:

… a future federal government will spend the $400 million that will be needed …

So I looked at the statement from Andrew Robb, the shadow finance minister, who put forward all the funding commitments, and I looked for Midland Highway in the release last week: nothing, not a cent. But he is not alone. The member for Dickson made a commitment—actually in Dickson, not the Gold Coast!—again, when the Leader of the Opposition visited, on 28 April: $10 million for on- and off-ramps on the Bruce Highway in his electorate, at Murrumba Downs. So I looked for that commitment. Again, nothing—nothing there whatsoever, again an unfunded promise.

I have a deep interest in the Pacific Highway, because we are providing $3.1 billion to fix up the Pacific Highway, and I noted that the member for Cowper, in spite of the fact that we are funding the Kempsey bypass, we are funding the Woolgoolga to Arrawarra upgrade—with both of those constructions commencing this year—has said we are not doing enough.

Mr Truss —Funded by the previous government.

Mr ALBANESE —Indeed, he said the Kempsey bypass was funded by the previous government. You fool! It was a part of the Nation Building Program—

The SPEAKER —Order! The minister will withdraw.

Mr ALBANESE —through the—

The SPEAKER —Order! The minister will withdraw! Order!

Mr ALBANESE —I withdraw—through the Building Australia Fund that the opposition opposed. The fact is that the member for Cowper called the Coffs Harbour bypass ‘the most urgent infrastructure priority in Australia’, so I expected funding for that to be there—not a zack.

There is the Princes Highway down in Gilmore. The member for Gilmore said on 28 April that a coalition government would provide the $20 million for the Princes Highway to be upgraded, and said that what is needed is ‘extraordinary funding’. She repeated the commitment outside parliament today. But last week, when the coalition had to put down what they are actually providing money for—because it takes money to build roads and railways and ports—there was nothing there from the shadow finance minister. I looked at the media release on Thursday, 20 May from the shadow minister for finance and, in small writing right down the bottom, it said:

“In view of—

and he went on about figures—

… any other past commitments have been discontinued,” said Mr Robb.

So they are out there making these commitments, and, to be fair, they have got funding in there for the Toowoomba bypass—$280 million for a $1.5 billion project; the bypass that has become a footpath—but there is nothing else. There is not a single delivery of a single infrastructure commitment from those opposite.

We have been out there today talking to regional Australia about these breaches of faith, about how the gospel truth is not quite gospel when it comes to those opposite. It gets better. The shadow minister for transport has put out a release in response. He says:

… the Coalition would meet its promises on road and rail funding, and they have all been allowed for within planned funding levels.

Wait for this:

“Most of the Coalition promises—

‘most’, we are not sure which ones; some of them are just completely dismissed—

referred to today by Mr Albanese relate, in whole or in part, to funding to flow outside the current forward estimates and under the funding envelope for future AusLink national transport plans,” Mr Truss said.

So they are not commitments for 2010; they are not commitments for 2013; they are commitments for their second or third term in office. There is confidence for you.

He went on. Here is fiscal responsibility for you, National Party style. Mr Truss said:

Other projects involve relatively small amounts of money—

well, nothing that I mentioned will cost under $20 mil—

and can easily be funded under the banner of the existing $26 billion—

it is $37 billion, by the way—

transport construction budget.

So they are saying they will fund these small amounts some time down the track. They need to say what projects they will cut. They need to say which highways will not go ahead, which road upgrades will not go ahead, which rail projects will not go ahead and which port infrastructure will not go ahead. They have been caught out completely by the duplicitous nature of the way they have put this forward. They are prepared to say one thing in their electorate but another thing when it comes to actually stumping up the funds. The fact is that they are a desperate opposition. They are a divided rabble. We see from here that they are a threat to our economic security. What we need in infrastructure development is certainty on funding. With that release today, the shadow minister for transport has brought into question the funding agreements with states and territories for every transport project in the country. They are a threat to economic security.

We know, because of the actions of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition—not rebuked by the Leader of the Opposition—that they are also a threat to our national security. They are a threat to national security and a threat to the economy. They are a huge risk to this country. That is why we have just seen this pathetic attempt at a suspension. There has been no build-up; we have just seen the Julie Bishop defence strategy. That was all it was. I wonder whether she will come to the microphone and give a personal explanation, because that is what decency and integrity demand that she do.

Mr Rudd —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.