Mr KATTER (Kennedy) (14:26): My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. Is the minister aware that an RACQ bulletin on 9 May 2011 shows that the Mackay-Cairns highway was closed 334 times in 2010? As a result of this, bananas, pawpaws and myriad other crops are at risk, and tourism, mining and cattle fare even worse. In the light of not a single cent in the budget being allocated to facilitate access to the North’s treasure trove of riches, can the minister assure the House he will redress with a second southern access corridor the current unfairness of travel from Cairns Airport to Innisfail taking two hours while from Brisbane to Surfers Paradise it takes only 50 minutes? That was the result of $25 billion in one case and $1 billion in the other. Finally, will the minister endeavour to secure $60 million in matching grants for an alternative highway 1 route—namely, Cairns, Ravenshoe, Charters Towers and Rockhampton?
Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (14:27): I thank the member for Kennedy for his question. I am pleased to get a question on infrastructure from that side of the House even if it is from an Independent, because I cannot get one from the opposition over there, although I do note the shadow Treasurer’s support for infrastructure where, perhaps, it will help roads to his farm up in North Queensland.
The SPEAKER: Order! The minister will go to the question.
Mr ALBANESE: I have had very productive discussions with the member for Kennedy on the infrastructure challenges facing North Queensland. I have visited with him places such as Karumba and Ingham, and indeed the site of the fantastic Ironsley River bridge, which was talked about for decades but fixed by this government as part of the economic stimulus plan. Indeed I will be back in Cloncurry with the member for Kennedy next Thursday, travelling with him through his electorate and looking at these infrastructure challenges firsthand. I can say to the member for Kennedy that Tuesday night’s budget did in fact confirm transport infrastructure spending for Queensland of some $8.5 billion under the Nation Building Program—more than double what the former government did. Indeed it is more in half the time than they delivered in 12 years. The member referred to the Bruce Highway. The Bruce Highway is on the national network and it is consequently our primary funding priority for this region. We are now investing some $2.8 billion in the highway—$2.8 billion from us, $1.2 billion from those over that side of the House.
Mr Ewen Jones interjecting—
Mr ALBANESE: And I thank the member for Herbert for his glowing endorsement when he acknowledged that this side of the House has delivered more than the former government did when it comes to the Bruce Highway.
We are committed to improving road infrastructure in Northern Queensland. The McEwen Highway is of course an inland alternative to the Bruce. The member for Kennedy rightly points out it could be an important alternative freight route. As the member knows, Infrastructure Australia is currently developing a national freight strategy to look at these very issues. I know that the infrastructure coordinator, Michael Deegan, has travelled firsthand to this region to look at these issues, not just in terms of roads but also the energy issues, the water issues and the challenges facing this part of Far North Queensland. As part of the national freight strategy, they are consulting industry, the Queensland government and other stakeholders on the most effective freight routes. They will then provide advice on priorities and feasibilities.
Also, as the member knows, we have established the Regional Infrastructure Fund to do just that—to give regional Australia their fair share back from the mining boom. One of the themes of our budget was everyone getting a fair share from the mining boom, spreading opportunity. We take our commitment to regional Australia very seriously indeed.
I look forward to continuing to have dialogue with the Treasurer and the member for Kennedy. I look forward to seeing the member for Kennedy next week and to having a very pleasant chopper ride with him—in a confined space; lucky they give you earmuffs on the helicopter! But I look forward to that just next week.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.