Jun 28, 2017

Speech to Cross River Rail community forum – ‘Delivering Brisbane’s public transport needs’ at Coorparoo School of Arts and Memorial Hall

As one of the most urbanised nations on the planet, Australia’s continued prosperity in the competitive, globalised world of the 21st century will largely depend on how successful we are at making our cities work better.  After all, they generate 80 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

But right now, here in Brisbane and across the south-east corner, the roads are becoming gridlocked, with Infrastructure Australia forecasting that in the absence of real action the economic cost of this traffic congestion within the region will increase almost five-fold to $9.2 billion a year by 2031.

On top of that, the city’s buses are more crowded than ever and its passenger rail network is near capacity.

And this is the situation even before we get to the challenges that lie ahead, such as population growth.

Indeed, over the next few decades the population of South-East Queensland is projected to increase by 2.2 million people.  By the early 2030s, 5.5 million people – or almost one in six Australians – will be calling this part of our country home.

Managing that population growth will not be easy.

But one thing is certain: a failure to plan and build the infrastructure that will be needed will leave many people and communities socially isolated and economically disadvantaged.  And that would inevitably harm the productivity and performance of the Australian economy.

Regrettably, while the current Prime Minister’s rhetoric may differ from that of his predecessor, his Government nonetheless continues to ignore the needs of the four out of five Australians who live in our cities.

The 2017 Federal Budget delivered no new policy initiatives and no new investment in our urban infrastructure, most notably public transport.

To the contrary, as a result of last month’s Budget, Federal infrastructure grant funding – the money that goes to the states, territories and local government to deliver major road and rail projects – will fall to its lowest level in more than a decade.

It will go from the originally promised $9.2 billion this financial year to $4.2 billion in 2020-21.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.

In the assessment of the peak industry body Infrastructure Partnerships Australia:

“…the Budget confirms the cut to ‘real’ budgeted capital funding to its lowest level in more than a decade – using a mix of underspend, re-profiling and narrative to cover this substantial drop in real capital expenditure.”

The fact is Federal grant funding is vital – and less of it will mean less infrastructure.

The former Federal Labor Government understood this. That’s why we more than doubled annual spending from $143 to $314 per Queenslander.

In South East Queensland alone, we committed $6.3 billion to major infrastructure projects – more than what the Howard Government had spent across the whole of the State over a similar period of time.

As part of this unprecedented capital works program we upgraded the major roads connecting Brisbane to Ipswich in the west – a $2.5 billion investment in the Ipswich Motorway; Brisbane to the Gold Coast in the south – a $455 million investment in the Pacific Motorway; and Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast in the north – a $195 million investment in the Bruce Highway.

You may be interested to know that the upgrade and widening of the Ipswich Motorway remains South East Queensland’s largest ever Federally-funded road project.

We also cooperated with the Queensland Government to fix congested sections of the Gateway Motorway, and construct a new interchange at the intersection between Mains and Kessels Roads in Macgregor.  And we partnered with the private sector and Brisbane City Council to deliver the $1.5 billion Legacy Way.

But equally importantly, Labor also understood that if we are to build productive, sustainable and liveable cities where communities can grow and prosper, the national government needs to invest in both their road and rail infrastructure.  That’s why as well as doubling the roads budget, we committed more to urban public transport infrastructure than all our predecessors since Federation combined.

And South East Queensland was one the biggest beneficiaries of that commitment.

Together with the State and the Moreton Bay Regional Council we built the Moreton Bay Rail Link, a rail line first mooted more than a century ago in 1895.  And Federal grant funding was vital to getting the Gold Coast Light Rail off the drawing board and up and running.  It has transformed the way people get around the Coast.

And then there was Cross River Rail.

In our last Budget in 2013 we announced that together with the Queensland Government – then led by Campbell Newman – we had agreed on an innovative funding solution that would have allowed this project to be delivered in partnership with the private sector.  Both levels of government had committed $715 million in grant funding.

The deal was done – a fact publicly confirmed by Campbell Newman as recently as last month.

This of course followed Infrastructure Australia’s approval of the project in 2012 as a ‘ready to go’, nationally significant project.

Yet upon being elected, the current Coalition Government – led at the time by Tony Abbott – withdrew every dollar of Federal funding for the project.

It was Mr Abbott who had said previously: “It’s important that we stick to our knitting, and the Commonwealth’s knitting when it comes to funding infrastructure is roads”.

That funding was redirected to new toll roads in Sydney and Melbourne.

Four years later, the need to deliver Cross River Rail has only grown more urgent.

That is a view shared by the experts within the independent Infrastructure Australia.

According to their latest Infrastructure Priority List, which was released in February: “The current rail connection into and through Brisbane’s CBD is expected to reach capacity by the early to mid-2020s, while parts of the road and bus network are close to or at capacity.”

Cross River Rail is a no brainer.

Given the existing Merivale Bridge is reaching capacity, a second rail crossing of the Brisbane River is urgently needed.

Continued delay will only inhibit economic growth right across South East Queensland and undermine the international competitiveness of the region’s businesses.

As well as creating almost 8000 jobs during its construction, Cross River Rail will:

  • Relieve the bottleneck in the inner city and boost the capacity of the entire South East Queensland rail network, allowing for more frequent services on all suburban lines;
  • Take up to 18,500 cars a day off the major arterial roads; and
  • Improve access to important public facilities such as hospitals, universities and sporting venues.

In short, this new piece of rail infrastructure will ease traffic congestion, increase network reliability, improve access to the CBD, and allow people to get to work and home again quicker.

That’s why I welcome the Palaszczuk Labor Government’s recent Budget and their decision to simply get on with the job of building this new rail line – and to go it alone if necessary.

However, not everyone in Canberra was pleased with this decision.

The Leader of National Party, and man likely to soon be the new Minister for Infrastructure, Barnaby Joyce, ranted against the Queensland Government’s decision to fund the project.  In the words of Mr Joyce: “What we did hear in the Queensland budget was a lot about Cross River Rail.  For the Labor Party, it was always a budget for inner suburban Brisbane.”

What a bizarre and ignorant statement.

The fact is Cross River Rail will benefit the entire South East Corner.  In particular, it will provide more peak hour train services into Brisbane from both the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast.

Here’s the bottom line: Malcolm Turnbull likes taking selfies on trains, tram and buses.  But he refuses to invest in trains, trams or buses – a failure that will only lead to more gridlock, worsening congestion and a poorer quality of life in our cities.

Again, like with so many issues, while the Coalition may have adopted Labor’s rhetoric they are not prepared to make the investment that is required.

This country needs real national leadership – and when it comes to nation building infrastructure such as Cross River Rail only Labor has a proven track of delivering just that.