Oct 26, 2009

Question without notice – Infrastructure

Question without notice – Infrastructure

Parliament House, Canberra

The Hon Anthony Albanese MP

The Minister for Infrastructure, Transport

Regional Development and Local Government

Leader of the House

Member for Grayndler

26 October 2009

Mr RAGUSE (2:33 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Will the minister outline to the House the importance of the infrastructure investment and the reform agenda being pursued by the Rudd government? How has this been welcomed by the business community?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —I thank the member for his question and for his ongoing interest in infrastructure development. Indeed, I welcome the report that was released today by the Business Council of Australia because what it does is remind me and the Australian people that the Rudd government and the business community are talking the same language. Both of us recognise the importance of infrastructure development to our future economic prosperity. Indeed, infrastructure investment has been important in the short-term in insulating the Australian economy from the worst of the impacts of the global financial crisis. That was emphasised also in a report released just last week by the Australian Constructors Association and the Australian Industry Group. The president of the ACA, Wal King, said:

Encouragingly, the survey results indicate that the Government’s infrastructure stimulus measures and the number of large government-supported programs in the pipeline have avoided a larger downturn in activity.

Importantly, the results indicate that infrastructure work will remain at high levels. Indeed, 70 per cent of the government stimulus package is in infrastructure. That includes rail and road but it also includes the initial $4.7 billion investment in the National Broadband Network, the $3.5 billion investment in energy infrastructure through the Clean Energy Initiative, the $16.2 billion investment in education infrastructure and the $6 billion investment in our housing infrastructure program. The largest growth in social housing in Australia’s history is occurring right now.

We also have a longer-term investment, when it comes to infrastructure development, with the $36 billion we have allocated in road and rail infrastructure through the Nation Building Program—some $9.3 billion is under way right now. We have completed 32 large-scale projects within our first two years in office. The last budget saw the first ever significant federal investment in ports with the new proposed port at Okajee in Western Australia and of course Darwin port. It also saw $4.6 billion invested in urban public transport, which is very important not just for dealing with our economic future but also for dealing with the challenge of climate change. We are spending more on rail infrastructure in just 12 months than the previous government spent in 12 long years. During the Howard years, public investment in the nation’s infrastructure, as a proportion of national income, fell by close to 20 per cent.

But of course it is not just about investment; it is also about policy and regulatory reform. COAG has already approved nationally consistent public-private partnership guidelines. Infrastructure Australia is developing for COAG a national port strategy and a national freight strategy. COAG has already agreed to an integrated single-layer approvals process for major projects. The Australian Transport Council, in two weeks time, will be meeting to finalise the regulatory reform agenda that will go to COAG in December, creating a single national regulator for heavy vehicles, for rail and for maritime—a reform agenda too hard for over a century. We have been able to achieve it in just two years. We are re-engaging in cities policy through the creation of the Major Cities Unit. We look forward to continuing to work with the business community. We recognise that not everything has been done and that there is a lot more work to do, but we are getting on with the job. We have put in place a framework to ensure that infrastructure development will remain at the heart of the government’s economic policy.