Sep 25, 2008

Questions without Notice – Infrastructure


Mr RAGUSE (Forde) (2:26 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Will the minister advise the House on reactions to the government’s nation-building agenda, and is the minister aware of any threats to the government’s efforts to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure?

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —I thank the member for Forde for his question. Indeed, the government’s nation-building agenda has received widespread support. That is not surprising, because we went to the election with a plan to have an infrastructure minister and infrastructure department, and we have done it. We had a mandate to introduce legislation to establish Infrastructure Australia, and we have done it. We had a mandate to establish the Building Australia Fund, and we have done it. We did this over a number of years in the lead-up to the November 2007 election. In that period we were surprised, frankly, that the opposition continued to ignore infrastructure, as they had for 12 long years. It is therefore not surprising that the government’s agenda, particularly the agenda of establishing nation-building funds in terms of infrastructure, education infrastructure and health infrastructure, has received such widespread support. We stated that our priorities would be rail, road, ports and broadband. Once again, that has received widespread support from the Australian business community. Just yesterday the International Monetary Fund released a report endorsing the government’s strong approach on these issues. That is why I was surprised that those opposite have learnt absolutely nothing during this process. In today’s Australian, on top of their attempt to trash our budget surplus, the new shadow minister for infrastructure—they did not bother having an infrastructure minister in government—has threatened to oppose the Building Australia Fund. He has threatened to oppose nation building—quite an extraordinary position.

They have come up with a whole range of reasons for that perhaps being the case. They have argued that there are some weaknesses in the Infrastructure Australia legislation. I remind them that they moved amendments in the Senate, which we rejected when they came back to the House, and then they folded their deck of cards and voted for Infrastructure Australia. They did that because of pressure from the business community, who want a nation-building agenda, but also because of pressure from people in their electorates, who want issues such as urban congestion addressed with support and national coordination from the federal government.

There is criticism about some of the arrangements that are made regarding the way that the fund will be managed. That is pretty extraordinary, too, because of course we have stated that the Future Fund Board of Guardians, which they set up, will manage the funds. We are currently finalising the arrangements to allow the fund to be set up by 1 January 2009.

Mr Robb —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance. The minister was asked about threats to the proper application of these funds. The minister has not addressed the prospect of this being an almighty Labor slush fund.

The SPEAKER —The member for Goldstein knows that the latter part of that was not a point of order and he is warned. The minister for infrastructure will respond to the question.

Mr ALBANESE —Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will quote from the Merchant of Venice: ‘I am not bound to please thee with my answer.’

The SPEAKER —The minister will address the question.

Mr ALBANESE —I certainly will, Mr Speaker. Those opposite need to understand that in threatening the Building Australia Fund they are threatening support for broadband access for Australians. They are threatening solutions to urban congestion. They are saying that they want parents to remain stuck in traffic jams rather than spend time at home with their kids. The fact is that their opportunism knows no bounds. In threatening to oppose these funds in such an extraordinary fashion, they are showing just how out of touch they are with their constituents in their electorates and also with the business community, with the Business Council of Australia, with the Australian Industry Group—with every other business organisation in this country that is supporting the Building Australia Fund and supporting the other long-term investment funds. They should wake up to themselves, get in touch with their electorates, get in touch with their business community and support Labor’s nation-building agenda.