Sep 22, 2008

Questions without Notice – Infrastructure


Mr BUTLER (Port Adelaide) (2:33 PM) —My question is to the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. How will infrastructure investment help to sustain the Australian economy in the face of global economic uncertainty? What views have been expressed about the importance of Australia’s engagement with key global economic leaders?

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —I thank the member for Port Adelaide for his question. Indeed, infrastructure investment is central to the government’s economic priorities. That is why we put $41 billion from the surplus into long-term infrastructure investment funds. Infrastructure investment helps put downward pressure on inflation and interest rates. It addresses capacity constraints and it lifts productivity. Recent global economic events are of concern, of course, to all Australians. It is important that we monitor the situation closely and do what we can to ensure that Australia and our financial institutions are well placed to withstand global changes and global conditions. The Prime Minister’s visit to the United States this week is part of this strategy.

It is quite extraordinary that the Leader of the Opposition has maintained his criticism of this visit, which shows just how opportunistic he really is. It is also a fact that the opposition leader is defined by his inconsistency. In April he thought it was important for him to visit the United States. He had this to say:

The security, the mortgages, the homes, the jobs of Australians depend in large measure on the international developments coming out of the United States of this credit crisis, so it was important for me as Shadow Treasurer to come here …

So, according to the opposition leader, it is important for him to visit and to have consultations with global economic institutions while he is shadow Treasurer, but the Prime Minister, who has got his hands on the levers of the Australian economy, is subject to criticism for having these very discussions. That opportunism is characteristic of the Leader of the Opposition. That is why, on the $6 billion black hole, it is either a big amount or a small amount. He is not sure about that, but he is sure it is a good amount for them to blow a hole through the budget. That is why he described the $41 billion infrastructure investment funds in his budget reply speech as ‘the greatest con of all’.

Mr Pyne interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE —That was the opposition leader’s statement. Today, as one of his expanded—

The SPEAKER —Order! The minister will resume his seat. There have been eight questions and eight responses. The member for Sturt has interjected through the eight responses. He is warned. I appreciate he might be excited but he will contain his excitement.

Mr ALBANESE —The member for Sturt is one of the opposition leader’s 32 members on the shadow ministry. They have 32 shadow ministers shadowing 30 ministers; two of them are shadowing each other—that is the only way that you can come up with that conclusion, but then again a few promises had to be made. I am asked about the attitude towards international consultations. The opposition leader certainly has not always been opposed to international travel. Just 10 days ago he was overseas, not meeting with global economic leaders but sitting in St Mark’s Square in Venice—

Mr Hockey —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. Unless the water has gone to the head of the leader of government business, I would ask you to bring him back to infrastructure. This is totally irrelevant.

The SPEAKER —Before ruling on the point of order, the Manager of Opposition Business, when he comes to the dispatch box and gets the call, should go straight to his point of order. I will listen closely to the minister. The minister will continue his response.

Mr ALBANESE —Far be it for an «Albanese» to criticise someone going to Italy. But then, do not be such a hypocrite that you come in here and criticise the Prime Minister for going to the United States to have discussions about global economic conditions.

Mr Hockey —Mr Speaker, on the point of order: how could this be relevant to the question that was asked about infrastructure?

The SPEAKER —The question went to comments about views of the importance of infrastructure investment. The minister will return to the question.

Mr ALBANESE —I was addressing the part of the question that went to international economic consultations and I was talking about that. But, of course, they are very sensitive over there. We know that, when it comes to consistency, the Leader of the Opposition just has not got it. What the merchant of Venice has got to understand is that, when your client is the Australian people, there is no substitute for substance. From merchant banker to merchant of Venice—that is what we have sitting in the opposition leader’s chair.