Jun 15, 2010

Question without notice – Infrastructure

Mr BIDGOOD (2:30 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Why is the resource super profits tax important to ensuring Australia has the infrastructure capacity that it needs to grow, and is the minister aware of any comments about the need to secure a fairer funding share for regional communities?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —I thank the member for Dawson for his question. Indeed, the Regional Infrastructure Fund, which has been announced as part of the government’s tax reform proposals, will ensure that the government can deliver the infrastructure that Australia needs. Without this investment in infrastructure, we know that the constraints will continue. We know that there were major constraints on our export capacity during the previous mining boom. We know because the Reserve Bank warned on 20 separate occasions about skills and infrastructure constraining growth in our economy. The Regional Infrastructure Fund is aimed at promoting development and jobs in mining communities, supporting our resource and export capacity, and tackling those capacity constraints. Importantly, this fund will also ensure that communities, such as those based around Mackay, get a fair share.

We know that, at the moment, if anything symbolises the failure of the connection between infrastructure and our resource growth, it is the fact that many working Australians travel over 4,000 kilometres to get to work. If people think that that is good economically, if people think that that is good in terms of efficiency or, more importantly perhaps, if people think that that has good social outcomes, then they indeed have rocks in their head that should be mined! Because we know that these constraints are simply unacceptable. And you do not have to take the government’s position on that; the Minerals Council warned that the private sector cannot invest and grow when they said:

… too often governments in the past have abrogated their responsibility to local communities and thus constrained the investment that private sector has wanted to make.

They used one example, that of the Hunter Valley. The Minerals Council have calculated that Australia lost some $2 billion in revenue due to the failure to have the appropriate rail and port infrastructure in place—$2 billion over just a five-year period.

Some, of course, do not agree with the Minerals Council, and one of those is the Leader of the Opposition, who last week, in response to the announcement about the Regional Infrastructure Fund, stated that it was the job of the private sector to do this infrastructure development. Of course, much of this infrastructure development does not relate directly to the profits of individual companies, and there are constraints and impacts on communities as a result of that. A good example is Mackay—and I am amazed that the Leader of the Opposition did not take a good look at the CBD of Mackay when he visited the electorate of Dawson just last week. If he had, he would know that there are significant problems with B-doubles going on roads that are also used by the communities who live in Mackay. There is a real issue with the ring-road in Mackay. It is the sort of project which could be eligible for funding under the Regional Infrastructure Fund.

Those opposite are all over the shop, because, whilst the Leader of the Opposition is stating that he opposes this, just yesterday the Leader of the Nationals said, ‘Much of our nation’s wealth is produced in the regions; we want a fair share of that to return to the regions,’ and in April Senator Barnaby Joyce said, ‘We have to acknowledge that infrastructure spending has to occur in the regions.’ They have been out there in individual electorates calling for infrastructure spending in our regions—and yet, when there is a precise, clear proposal to deliver just that, they are against it. They are also against the boost to superannuation and they are of course against the cut in company tax.

We have a clear position, which is that infrastructure development cannot be left behind like it was during the first mining boom, because not only is it a constraint on our economic growth but it also has a devastating impact on the communities where that growth is occurring.