May 12, 2011

Questions without notice – Reform of Infrastructure Planning and Financing

Reform of Infrastructure Planning and Financing

Parliament House, Canberra

The Hon Anthony Albanese MP

Minister for Infrastructure & Transport

Leader of the House

Member for Grayndler

12 May 2011

Ms OWENS (Member of Parramatta) – My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. What are the government’s initiatives to reform infrastructure planning and financing in Australia? How have these reforms been received and what is the government’s response?

Mr ALBANESE – I thank the member for Parramatta for her question. Indeed, Labor set up Infrastructure Australia in 2008. It was one of our first pieces of legislation to overhaul the way that our nation plans and finances major infrastructure. The Coalition, who are now bagging the initiative, did that at the time too.

The shadow minister for infrastructure said at the time:

“I am concerned about the establishment of Infrastructure Australia. It is going to be a bureaucratic body that is going to spend time doing the work that has already been done.”

That was their response in attempting to block this legislation Well, Infrastructure Australia has become world’s best practice. It has been copied in New Zealand, it has been copied in the UK and it has been copied, almost word for word, by the NSW government. We welcome the establishment of Infrastructure NSW and we look forward to Infrastructure NSW working with Infrastructure Australia.

Of course, the work of reform is never done, and that is why in the budget we announced a reform package to strengthen IA and promote private and superannuation investment: 40 per cent more funding for IA; strong leadership and budget independence that reflects their independent advice; improvements to governance and transparency; a national infrastructure construction schedule; a post-build evaluation framework; best practice demand forecasts; and an investment tax incentive—asked for years by the superannuation industry and the private sector and delivered by us—which will attract up to $25 billion of private sector investment to projects listed on the Infrastructure Australia priority list, encouraging the super industry to invest here in Australian infrastructure, not overseas.

It will deliver more infrastructure at less cost to the taxpayer.

These things are all good policy, and I flagged them when I went on the Sky program Australian Agenda on 3 April. I said that we would be boosting Infrastructure Australia’s capacity, reappointing its chair and making a number of reforms. The Australian reported, as they do, on that program. They reported on the front page the next day. So I was surprised 10 days later that the Leader of the Opposition discovered infrastructure and released a speech, which I read about in the Australian, again, under ‘Abbott’s cost-benefit vow on infrastructure’.

This is the same coalition leader who said that transport infrastructure is a state responsibility, full stop. It is the same Leader of the Opposition who said, when referring to engagement in urban infrastructure, that it was as silly as the state government having to “buy new tanks for the army”.

But Labor welcomes this new interest. You would think the Leader of the Opposition, having had three years to copy Labor’s policy, to reverse his opposition to infrastructure, would do it properly, but he did not. We know from the Canberra Times that he did not even inform the shadow minister for infrastructure and transport about what he was going to say. We know this because it was reported.

One of his own colleagues said:

“The shadow minister responsible for that particular portfolio was looking on in horror, completely unaware of what Tony was talking about.”

Another member of his team said: “Things like that have been happening all the time.”

We will see what happens tonight. Will it be more mindless negativity from the Leader of the Opposition? My prediction is more mindless negativity. What do you reckon? I think that is probably the case, because they have been out there trying to lower expectations all day.