Oct 22, 2009

Question without notice – Transport

Question without notice – Transport

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

22 October 2009

Mr RIPOLL (2:54 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Would the minister update the House on the rollout of the nation-building program and how this investment is supporting jobs and business within the construction industry?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —I thank the member for Oxley for his question. I note that in a continent such as ours, which has a small population spread across a vast area, transport infrastructure is absolutely vital to our economic performance. Under the government’s nation-building program we have more than doubled the federal roads budget and we have more than quadrupled the investment in rail. A majority of this funding has been allocated to regional and rural Australia. Today I can confirm that work has started on yet another rail project, the $56 million upgrade of the line between the New South Wales border and the Brisbane suburb of Acacia Ridge, funded from the economic stimulus—an important project that will support 120 jobs and improve the overall efficiency of the interstate network. The start of this project means that construction work which is now underway has ticked over the $9 billion mark, including the Brighton bypass down in Tassie, the northern expressway in Adelaide, the Western Ring Road in Melbourne, the Ipswich Motorway upgrade and the upgrade of the Hunter Valley rail network. In addition to that work which is now underway, we have completed 32 large-scale infrastructure projects within our first two years in office—32 projects announced, built, completed.

As well as building the road and rail infrastructure vital to our long-term economic prosperity, this investment has helped to shield the national economy from the full impact of the global economic downturn. Indeed, the Australian Constructors Association and the Australian Industry Group have noted this in their report released today. In a media release headed ‘Tough conditions forecast for engineering and commercial construction’, which I table, they remind the House that we are certainly not out of the woods yet, that there are still major challenges occurring because of the downturn, particularly in commercial construction. Their survey found that Australia’s construction companies are predicting an eight per cent fall in the total value of engineering and commercial construction work for the current financial year, followed by a further decline in 2010-2011. Indeed, the President of the Constructors Association, Wal King, said this:

“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 …

Heather Ridout, the CEO of the Australian Industry Group, said in her statement:

… there should be no confusion about the need to proceed with the “big planned economic infrastructure investments”.

Industry has been saying repeatedly that we are filling the void that was created by 12 years of neglect of major infrastructure. That is why I would say to the opposition—particularly to the opposition leader and Senator Coonan, the shadow finance minister, who have drawn into question the government’s infrastructure proposals—that they should actually sit down with the business community, analyse what is actually going on in the real world economy and support this government’s ongoing infrastructure investment which is supporting jobs today and building the infrastructure that we will need for our long-term prosperity.