Mar 13, 2008

Questions without Notice – Economy


March 13 2008

Mr RIPOLL (2.39 p.m.)—My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Would the minister advise the House about Australia’s infrastructure bottlenecks and their impact on inflation? What is the Rudd government doing to fix these problems?

Mr ALBANESE—I thank the member for Oxley for his question, because it is widely recognised by economists that capacity constraints in our economy do contribute to inflation and do slow growth. I note, however, that in a speech yesterday the shadow Treasurer told CEDA that infrastructure bottlenecks ‘have little to do with inflation’. Why would the shadow Treasurer say that? So desperate is the shadow Treasurer to distance himself from the inflation legacy that the Howard government left—the highest level in 16 years, caused by inaction on productivity issues such as infrastructure and skills—that he is prepared to argue that this is not an issue with regard to inflation at all. We have a shadow Treasurer who is simply in denial, and this shows just how out of touch the opposition is, because, whether it be a need for dedicated freight lines or tackling urban congestion or delays at ports, all of these do have an impact on economic—

Mr Hockey—Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The minister was asked a question about infrastructure; he was not asked to give a character assessment of a member of the opposition.

The SPEAKER—Order! The minister will be relevant to the question.

Mr ALBANESE—The question, of course, asked about Australia’s infrastructure bottlenecks and their impact on inflation. Those on this side of the House think there is an impact on inflation. Those on that side of the House are not only in denial about the linkage; they object to it even being spoken about.

Let us have a look at who does recognise that there is a link between these two economic facts: Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, the Business Council of Australia, CEDA, the Australian Industry Group and Engineers Australia. All of these groups have called for the national coordination of infrastructure planning and development. So many people are singing the same tune but the coalition are simply in denial and not listening. They are not even listening to themselves. The member for Barker gave an interesting speech in the parliament yesterday about Infrastructure Australia. Of course, I always pay attention to what those opposite say on legislation, because from time to time it is pretty clear there is no discipline in terms of them getting their speaking notes checked by those who run the opposition—well, who knows who runs the opposition at the current time. This is what the member for Barker said yesterday in parliament about infrastructure:

Infrastructure Australia is not actually an original idea. It was the Howard government that in 1996 conceived the idea of a national infrastructure council.

And I thought to myself, as someone who was elected to this great chamber in 1996: I cannot recall any legislation about Infrastructure Australia being created by those opposite; I cannot recall any motions in the parliament about these issues. I cannot recall it because they did not even bother to have an infrastructure minister or an infrastructure department, let alone an infrastructure council. I went back and had a look at what their pre-1996 election statement said. John Howard said this:

I have been struck by the need to improve the coordination of infrastructure policy at the Commonwealth-state level.

So they identified the issue in 1996. They are claiming credit for our legislation in 2008, saying they thought of it in 1996; they just did not get around to introducing it into the parliament—not in 1997, ‘98, ‘99, 2000, ‘01, ‘02, ‘03, ‘04, ‘05, ‘06 or ‘07. Not in any of those years did they get around to introducing the legislation into the parliament.

They sat on their hands and they did nothing. They sat on their hands in spite of the fact that every year budget submissions were made by the business community calling for national coordination of infrastructure and despite the fact that on 20 separate occasions the Reserve Bank of Australia called for coordination of infrastructure. We have done more for advancing the cause of national coordination of infrastructure in 100 days than they did in 12 years. Now they say, very interestingly, that Infrastructure Australia—the body chaired by Sir Rod Eddington, which will coordinate the three tiers of government and have direct private sector representation to coordinate our national infrastructure—is just setting up a committee. It just shows how out of touch they are. They have lost their way. They have no idea what they stand for. They are trying to claim credit for the initiatives that are taking place under the Rudd Labor government after 12 years of neglect of these issues, because they have simply been in denial.