May 25, 2011

Setting the record straight on Sydney’s roads – Opinion – The Australian

In recent days there has been a serious level of misreporting based on the assertions of unnamed sources regard my motivations as Federal Infrastructure Minister when it comes to tackling Sydney’s infrastructure challenges.

I am taking this opportunity to set the record straight.

I love Sydney. No ifs. No buts. No maybes.

And I’m proud to be part of the Gillard Labor Government which actually believes that Federal Governments can make a difference by investing and building infrastructure across the suburbs of our major cities.

We have our sleeves rolled up and want to work with the NSW Government and the private sector to improve Sydney’s transport infrastructure.

So far, Federal Labor has allocated $3.5 billion for transport projects in Sydney alone. This is part of the $12.1 billion we’re investing in NSW – one in every three infrastructure dollars goes to NSW, their fair share per person.

There is no such thing as a quick fix for the city’s transport issues. Sensationalist headlines and politicisation will not fix them. Considered policy making, investment, cooperation between governments, as well as engagement with the private sector is what is required.

We’re investing almost $1 billion to detangle the freight and passenger rail network coming in from the north of Sydney. The Memorandum of Understanding is awaiting NSW Government approval so work can begin this year.

We’re widening the F5 close to Campbelltown. We’re upgrading rail infrastructure around Port Botany. We’re investing in the proposed intermodal terminal at Moorebank which could take a million trucks off the M5.

We’ve allocated funds for planning for a future M4 and M5 expansion. This is in recognition of the fact that you need to get the planning for major infrastructure right.

We’ve allocated the federal funds for the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link. This is an important part of fulfilling Parramatta’s role as Sydney’s second CBD and will take pressure off the main western line, providing enormous benefits for Western Sydney.

Compare our record to that of the Coalition. They had twelve years in office with record tax revenues and only ever invested in one Sydney project, $350 million towards the construction of the M7.

The Gillard Labor Government has already committed ten times as much.

What’s now on offer from Mr Abbott and the Coalition is nothing. Zero dollars. They have a clear record of leaving Sydney in the lurch.

Mr Abbott has never made one commitment to a single transport project in Sydney. He’s not interested in urban policy or improving our cities. In his own words, “transport infrastructure is a state responsibility” and the provision of Federal funding for such projects is as silly as “…the State Government having to buy new tanks for the army”.

He’s just interested in opposition for opposition’s sake. That’s simply not good enough.

Building better infrastructure for our cities is the economically responsible thing to do.

When we took office, the Coalition had neglected Australia’s major cities for twelve long years. Their transport investment stopped at the borders of our cities.

We knew we needed to change this and focus on real national productivity. That’s why we set up Infrastructure Australia to critically and independently assess the nation’s infrastructure priorities. When public funds are used, projects need to stack up. The work of Infrastructure Australia plays a crucial role in making sure this is the case.

They are also looking at private financing options including for the F3 to Sydney Orbital and the M5 East projects.

They have undertaken cost-benefit analysis of projects and have also been at the forefront of micro-economic reform to advance the nation building agenda which Australia requires to secure of future prosperity. Their first piece of work was to have adopted uniform national guidelines for Public Private Partnerships.

If imitation is the greatest form of flattery then the decision of the O’Farrell Government to replicate the Infrastructure Australia model through the creation of Infrastructure NSW is a high complement indeed.

As the most urbanised country on the planet we must have a framework in place for our cities. That’s why we have developed and released a National Urban Policy. Not because it’s easy, not because it’s without risks, but because it’s necessary. Cities are home to three out of every four Australians. Our cities produce 80 percent of our national wealth.

The Commonwealth is working hand in hand with the States and Territories through COAG in this area. By next January, all of our capital cities will have in place strategic plans to show how they will meet a nationally agreed set of criteria. This is a condition of future Commonwealth infrastructure investment.

We are determined to make all our major cities more productive, sustainable and liveable.