May 24, 2010

Question without notice – Rail infrastructure

Ms SAFFIN (3:41 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Why has the government prioritised upgrading the national rail freight network? How will this benefit regional Australia? How is this investment being received?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —I thank the member for Page for her question and indeed for her welcome back to the electorate of Page last week, where I announced community infrastructure projects in Grafton and Kyogle. Later that day I was in Parkes, announcing a project in Moree. The member for Parkes chose a different path. He was in Moree in the morning, but he left before we made the announcement giving grants in Moree.

An opposition member—He didn’t hear you were coming.

Mr ALBANESE —He did hear I was coming. I rang him, as I always do.

The Rudd government’s third budget injected an additional $1 billion into the Australian Rail Track Corporation. Last Thursday I visited Broken Hill, a place where investment and jobs are welcomed. As result of our record investment, we will see re-railing and re-sleepering from Broken Hill to Parkes in the east and re-railing from Broken Hill to Whyalla in the west, not only creating jobs directly in construction but also creating jobs in manufacturing. Overall, 600 jobs will be created, through that project, in regional Australia. We have now more than quadrupled our investment in rail. It has been welcomed in other parts of regional Australia as well, where two-thirds of our $37 billion nation-building infrastructure investment is going. We are creating jobs, strengthening local communities and building the transport infrastructure that will secure our prosperity for the long term.

After this announcement last Tuesday, I waited with some anticipation for the opposition leader’s budget reply. I must say I was somewhat disappointed. I waited because I thought we were going to get a considered, well thought out, well-structured, gospel truth statement from the opposition leader. We did get that. After he had been part of a government that presided over an infrastructure deficit and ignored 20 warnings from the Reserve Bank, the number of mentions of infrastructure made by the Leader of the Opposition in the opposition’s budget reply speech was exactly zero. I thought, ‘Given that he’s flicked it to the shadow Treasurer, we might get something of substance about infrastructure, dealing with capacity constraints and growing productivity from the shadow Treasurer in the National Press Club speech.’

The shadow treasurer did manage to mention infrastructure during his National Press Club debacle. He did at least get to it. He made four comments about infrastructure. The first thing he said was that he had what he thought was a new idea: he would actually get an incoming government to undertake an audit of Australia’s infrastructure needs. Sound familiar? Done—done by the Rudd government, done by Infrastructure Australia. The first thing they did was an audit of Australia’s infrastructure. They reported to the Council of Australian Governments in December 2008—tick, done.

I go to the second thing that the shadow treasurer said. He said they would ‘better utilise existing infrastructure’. If he had actually read the report, he could have read page 28 and the chapter on—wait for it—better use of existing infrastructure. Done. He had a third position in this great announcement, having done nothing for 12 years. He said they would look at access in terms of infrastructure. He could have gone to section 2.4A, ‘Open access to infrastructure’, in the audit report.

Then he said a fourth thing. He said they would work with the private sector to help address the infrastructure deficit that the Howard government had left behind. He could have gone to pages 72, 73 and 74, the whole chapter about financing of infrastructure, including how you mobilise private-sector infrastructure financing. Or he could have welcomed the changes that we made in the budget to provide incentives for private investment in corporate bonds for infrastructure—in the budget on Tuesday night, ignored by those opposite. But instead we got absolutely no new ideas, no new initiatives and no alternative proposals.

When the pass-the-parcel game ended with the member for Goldstein finally making a statement, it was plain to see that there is no funding for the promises that the coalition has been making locally in electorates right around the country. We know from the finance minister’s answer that they have got a disclaimer: disregard all previous comments; all previous commitments are not worth anything. They are worth as much as a statement from the Leader of the Opposition. So no funding for the members for Gippsland, Gilmore, Wide Bay, Maranoa and Dickson. They have all been out there promising major infrastructure spending and we now know that that is all gone.

There is one thing that was in the statement. Members would recall that during the last sitting week I made a statement about the commitment by one of the former ministers for infrastructure to the Toowoomba bypass. I informed the House that that was worth $1.75 billion. How do we know it is worth $1.75 billion? Because after the member for Groom promised in his first election campaign that he would deliver on this and mentioned it in his first speech, they did nothing about it until 2006. Then they set up an inquiry to look at costings of this road, the Toowoomba bypass. It was their costings that costed it at $1.75 billion, yet in the document they have allowed $280 million. The bypass has become a footpath. You cannot build the Toowoomba bypass for $280 million. You are treating the Australian people like mugs. Those opposite could not walk away completely from their commitment so they came up with $280 million. Phony Tony and his colleagues are treating the Australian public like mugs. They say one thing in their electorate but they do something else when they come here.

Mr Randall —Mr Speaker—

The SPEAKER —Order! In expectation of the point of order from the member for Canning, the Leader of the House will refer to members by their parliamentary titles.

Mr ALBANESE —I will indeed, Mr Speaker. On Wednesday of this week I was due to debate the fourth shadow minister for infrastructure at the National Press Club. This is a bloke who never misses an opportunity—he does not have an office in Parliament House; he lives at Sky News, in the studios. But he will not debate me about infrastructure at the National Press Club because they are simply unaccountable.

Mr Hockey —Swanny won’t debate me either.

Mr ALBANESE —I wouldn’t raise the National Press Club if I were you, Joe. I wouldn’t raise it, mate. It is a nightmare.

The SPEAKER —Order! The minister should refer his remarks through the chair and refer to members by their titles.

Mr Tuckey —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. The point is relevance but it is also outrage. It is time that this little idiot carried on like a minister of the Crown—

The SPEAKER —The member for O’Connor will resume his seat. There is no point of order on outrage. On relevance, whilst the minister is being relevant to the question, I would expect that he is now getting to a conclusion.

Mr ALBANESE —To assist the shadow treasurer and the latest shadow minister for infrastructure, I table the Infrastructure Australia audit already done and reported to COAG.

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