Sep 4, 2008

Questions without Notice – Infrastructure


4 September 2008

Mr BIDGOOD (2.35 pm)—My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Has the minister received any representations from members regarding infrastructure funding?

Mr ALBANESE—I thank the member for Dawson for his question and for his acknowledgement that nation-building infrastructure is critical for his electorate, and, indeed, that is why it is at the heart of the Rudd government’s economic reforms.

If you actually listened to those opposite and their attitudes towards infrastructure and towards the budget surplus and if you analysed what they did in the Senate, you would think that they had no regard at all for infrastructure. We have heard allegations that these funds are not real, that they are not important and that it does not matter whether we make that long-term infrastructure investment.

But, whilst they say that through their spokespeople in the parliament and whilst they act on that in the Senate by undermining the budget surplus, what they do as local members is very different.

I have a folder here with 103 submissions from many of the members of the opposition frontbench. Thirty-five coalition MPs have made submissions to me about infrastructure spending—more than half of their frontbench.

That indeed is what you would expect local members to do about infrastructure. Many members on this side of the House are also making submissions about infrastructure spending.

I am asked to give some examples. You will be pleased that I am not going to go through all 103, but—

Mr Hockey—Mr Speaker, on a point of order: I ask the minister to table the documents.

SPEAKER—Order! The member for North Sydney will resume his seat.

Mr ALBANESE—I have a letter from the member for Groom. The member for Groom asks for $700 million as the first step in a multi-billion dollar project. I wonder what this project is. Well, the member for Groom has been keen on this project for some time because he promised it in his first speech.

Mr Ian Macfarlane—Mr Speaker, on a point of order: I ask the minister to table my letter.

Mr ALBANESE—The member for Groom mentioned this in 1998—and you can all look on the website because first speeches are easy to find—and he promised that it would be finished by 2005. That was in his first speech, but he did nothing while he was a senior cabinet minister. He waited for the Rudd government to come to office and then he wrote me a letter. Congratulations! And I table the letter.

But there is more. The member for Flinders wrote to me supporting the creation of a community infrastructure fund and put forward seven pages of projects worth $266.92 million. But there is more—

Mr Hockey—Table it!

Mr ALBANESE—You just be patient.

Honourable members interjecting—

SPEAKER—Order! The minister will resume his seat. The House will proceed when it comes to order.

Mr ALBANESE—The more trouble that they are in, the louder they yell.

SPEAKER—The minister will come to his response.

Mr ALBANESE—I got a letter from the member for Paterson asking for $20 million—

Mr Baldwin—No, I want one billion!

Mr ALBANESE—He has now upped it to a billion. The member for Paterson asked for $20 million ‘to fund coalition election commitments.’ That is a beauty!

Mr Baldwin—Mr Speaker, on a point of order: I do not request that he table the letter, I demand he table it as well as the request from the member for Hunter—

SPEAKER—The member for Paterson will resume his seat. The minister.

Mr ALBANESE—Those requests are from long-term members who could have acted on this in government.

But you do not have to be around for a long time to ask for money from our long-term infrastructure fund, because the member for Gippsland, who has sat in this House for seven days, wants $140 million—$20 million a day. That is his sitting fee! That is the National Party for you. That is an extraordinary effort. But we know—

An opposition member—What is your point, Albo?

Mr ALBANESE—You will get the point; it’s coming, sunshine!

The fact is that for 12 long years—and indeed since the election, so for almost 13 years—we have heard those opposite say, ‘Public transport is solely a state responsibility; it has nothing to do with us.’ There was no engagement with urban policy and no engagement with cities. We heard it for 12 years—no engagement with public transport.

And yet the member for Cowan has written asking for funding for a mass transit solution for Perth’s northern suburbs. He asks for funding for buses, for light rail and for rail. Not just that, remember how day after day they said the BAF did not matter and Infrastructure Australia did not matter?

Well, they are not just asking; they are pleading. I will read from the member for Cowan’s letter. It states, ‘As federal transport minister I implore you to support this proposal through funding from the Infrastructure Australia Fund.’ Imploring!

Mr Simpkins—Mr Speaker, on a point of order: I ask the minister to table the letter, but I also—

SPEAKER—The member for Cowan will resume his seat—and I remind him of his status in the House today. Minister.

Mr ALBANESE—What we see from the coalition is that in one chamber—the Senate—they are voting against our surplus, voting to reduce the amount of funds that can be used on the Building Australia Fund, and in this House member after member asking—pleading—for expenditure from the Building Australia Fund.

In one chamber they knock it down and in the other they are pleading for funding. Well, they cannot have it both ways.

The total funding requests in this folder is a conservative $6.9 billion. That is what they are asking for. But in the other chamber they are ripping out $6.2 billion.

What they need to do is to put the principles that they espouse in this correspondence and the principles that they talk about in their electorates about the importance of infrastructure funding into practice and a vote for our measures, vote for the surplus, and support the government’s long-term infrastructure agenda.

Mr Hockey—Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I ask the Leader of the House to show some courage and table the documents.

SPEAKER—Order! The member for North Sydney knows that, under the standing orders, he is only able to ask for the minister to table any documents that the minister has read from.