Feb 13, 2008

Questions without notice – Infrastructure

Ms KING (2.49 p.m.)—My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Can the minister please outline the government’s commitment to infrastructure? How will this boost productivity and take the pressure off inflation?

Mr ALBANESE—Thank you, Mr Speaker. I do indeed have big task, and I thank the Prime Minister for the appointment. I thank the member for Ballarat for her question. A central part of the Prime Minister’s five-point plan to fight inflation and boost productivity is the creation of Infrastructure Australia. We must take a nationally coordinated approach to tackling infrastructure bottlenecks which are causing inflationary pressure. Infrastructure Australia will develop a strategic blueprint for our nation’s infrastructure and will drive investment where it is needed most.

Bottlenecks and urban congestion slow down our economy and create inflationary pressures—something the Reserve Bank has warned about on 20 separate occasions. Australia’s bandwidth lags at 25th amongst all developed economies. Too many working families are spending more time stuck in their cars on clogged freeways than they are able to spend with their children. In the areas of water, energy and land transport alone, CEDA has estimated that we have a $25 billion backlog. Infrastructure shortfalls are costing us 0.8 per cent of GDP, or some $8 billion.

So it is not surprising that key industry groups, such as the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group, CEDA, Engineers Australia and Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, have over a number of years called for the creation of a body that would coordinate and drive infrastructure provision from the national level. Infrastructure Australia will do just that. The government committed to creating a federal infrastructure department, and we have done that. The government committed to appointing a federal infrastructure minister, and on 3 December we did that. The government committed to creating Infrastructure Australia within the first 100 days of the election of a Rudd Labor government, and we have done that too.

On 20 December, the Prime Minister and other senior ministers sat down with their state and territory counterparts at COAG and decided to end the blame game when it came to infrastructure provision. They established the COAG infrastructure working group, which I chaired at its first meeting on 23 January, to collectively get together, to get results and end the blame game. On 21 January, cabinet agreed to the structure and functions of Infrastructure Australia. Next week I will introduce into the House the Infrastructure Australia bill and I call upon the opposition to support that legislation. Infrastructure Australia will not just draw upon expertise from the three levels of government; most significantly, it will involve the private sector front and centre. Five of the members of that advisory council will come from the private sector, including the chair.

Infrastructure Australia will conduct a comprehensive audit of our infrastructure capacity as we have now and our future needs. It will deliver an infrastructure priority list so that we can create a pipeline of projects. Critically, Infrastructure Australia will develop guidelines and principles for the assessment of public-private partnerships that are nationally consistent. It will provide advice about removing barriers and disincentives to investment in infrastructure and about policy and regulatory reforms so that our infrastructure networks are used efficiently. It will streamline planning and approval processes across Commonwealth and state jurisdictions. It will standardise tender documents and contracts to promote best practice procurement and to expedite decision making. Infrastructure Australia is an important economic reform that has been applauded by the business community because it will be able to drive investment in nationally significant infrastructure.