Feb 26, 2015

Adjournment – Tony Abbott’s magical infrastructure re-announcement tour

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10:48): When a government comes to the parliament seeking funding for the forthcoming year, it is appropriate that we consider that government’s performance in the year that has just passed. Today I want to address my comments on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2014-15 and related bills to the Abbott government’s performance in the critical area of infrastructure delivery. This is of course critical to drive economic productivity and drive jobs growth, but the Abbott government is getting it wrong. It is getting it wrong because it has abandoned proper processes that we established through Infrastructure Australia.

That can be illustrated in the fact that, when the infrastructure coordinator left his position on 7 February 2014, one could have anticipated that that position would have been filled just a month or two later. We are now more than a year on and no-one has been appointed to be in charge of Infrastructure Australia. That compares with our performance in government. The parliament first sat in February 2008. Within four months we had passed the Infrastructure Australia legislation, created the body, appointed the advisory council, appointed the infrastructure coordinator and established an office. By the end of that year they had done a national audit of infrastructure and produced infrastructure priority lists on the basis of receiving and conducting proper cost-benefit analysis.

In a year, this government has abandoned proper processes and there is nowhere that that is illustrated more than in Victoria’s East West Link project. In the last budget, the government allocated $3 billion for this project. They took funding from projects that had had proper assessments and cost-benefit analysis and had been recommended by Infrastructure Australia, including the Melbourne Metro project, where $3 billion had been allocated—an essential project for dealing with congestion on the rail network in the growing city of Melbourne. They took money from the upgrade of the M80 project in Melbourne and they took money from Managed Motorways program.

When we look at the cost-benefit analysis—which we can now do, because it has been published by the Victorian Andrews government—we know that the cost-benefit analysis is that there is 45c benefit for every dollar invested, with a BCR of 0.45. That is absolutely pathetic and a fact that shows that the project is simply a dud. And yet money taken from projects, including the Managed Motorways project, had a BCR above $5—or more than $5 for every dollar that was invested was a return in terms of productivity. That shows perhaps more than any other how this government has simply got it wrong, and it is no wonder that the Australian National Office of Audit is investigating the East West Link debacle.

In a letter to me dated February 5, the Auditor-General, Ian McPhee, wrote that the probe would examine what advice the government received on the East West Link and whether it had put in place sound governance arrangements in relation to the funding. In his letter, Mr McPhee wrote that scheduling the audit would require adjustment to its existing audit program. He said:

I have done this in view of the considerable commitment of Commonwealth Government funding made towards the project and the importance of the processes established at Commonwealth level to assess the merits of nationally significant infrastructure investments.

The coalition came to government with two commitments on infrastructure: firstly, there would be proper published cost-benefit analysis of all projects above a value of $100 million—they abandoned that; the second commitment was that they would make payments based upon milestones, on actual construction, and they have abandoned that as well.

A billion and a half dollars are sitting in the Victorian government’s bank account paid last financial year for a project for which a hole has not been dug. Similarly, half a billion dollars are sitting in the New South Wales government’s bank account from last year, 2013-14, for which a hole has not been dug on the WestConnex project, and $2 billion for the WestConnex project was made available in the form of a concessional loan to the state government. Again, this is before a proper analysis has been done of the project, before the project has begun, and this is a project that has been criticised by the New South Wales auditor in a damning report that was published recently.

The fact is that the promises that the government made on infrastructure have been treated like plates at a Greek wedding—smashed—just like all of their promises about education and health and that there would be no cuts to the ABC and no cuts to pension. It is no wonder that 39 of the Prime Minister’s colleagues voted for an empty chair rather than him during the last sitting week. As the member for Longman can attest: anyone who points out the gap between the promises and reality cops a mouthful of Prime Ministerial scorn.

The Prime Minister is rapidly transforming himself into the political equivalent of a Monty Python skit. Deceit is bad enough, but Australians must be also tiring of this government’s pitiful attempts to hide its deceit by pretending it is delivering new infrastructure. Day after day, week after week, we see the minister for infrastructure and his junior offsider, the member for Mayo, donning hard hats and announcing what they pretend are new initiatives in an attempt to create the impression of activity.

The problem is that almost all of those projects were funded by the previous Labor government. When we took office in 2007, Australia was 20th among OECD nations in terms of investment in infrastructure. When we left office, we were first. We doubled the roads budget and built or upgraded 7,500 kilometres of road; and we rebuilt a third of the national rail freight network—4,000 kilometres of it.

We had a comprehensive, properly analysed infrastructure program that addressed the infrastructure spending deficit of the former Howard government. When we left office, work was underway right around this country. What they have done is embark on a magical infrastructure re-announcement tour, going around the country sometimes pretending that projects are new such as the Majura Parkway, which has been underway for many years.

Sometimes they announce a new name for an old project and therefore pretending that it is new, so the F3 to M2 link became NorthConnex; and the Swan Valley Bypass became NorthLink. A new name does not make it a new project—funding was underway for those projects.

I think it is worthwhile going through just some of the projects that have been re-announced: NorthConnex in Sydney, included in the 2013 budget and with an intergovernmental agreement for $405 million from each level of government signed by me and the New South Wales minister in June 2013, and re-announced by the government with a new name, pretending that the project is new; the Northern Sydney Freight Corridor upgrade, $840 million, announced on 7 December 2011 at Hornsby train station with the then New South Wales Premier, Barry O’Farrell—we were there for the beginning of that project, which has been underway for years—and re-announced by the government in November 2013, and re-announced again earlier this month; the Port Botany rail upgrade, of which the first stage was completed and the second stage commenced in 2012, re-announced on several occasions in 2013 and 2014; the M80 project in Melbourne, commenced early in 2009 and re-announced by this government, which did not make a big announcement about the cut to funding for that project, on 16 October 2013; the Western Highway duplication between Ballarat and Stawell, announced in 2009, funded in the 2013 budget and re-announced by this government on 29 September 2014; the Clyde Road duplication, funded in the 2013 budget and re-announced on 21 February 2014; the Princes Highway East duplication, funded in the 2013 budget and re-announced by this government on 22 January 2015; the Princes Highway West duplication, funded in the 2013 budget and re-announced on 15 December 2014; the Ballarat freight hub, funded in the 2013 budget and re-announced on 13 May 2014; in Queensland, the Gateway North upgrade, the second stage of which was funded in the 2013 budget and re-announced on 30 January 2014; the Warrego Highway upgrade, funded in the 2013 budget and re-announced on 9 October 2014; the Pacific Motorway, funded in the 2010 budget, re-announced on 31 October 2013 and re-announced again on 7 March 2014; Legacy Way, just about completed, construction having commenced in 2011, but re-announced as if it were new in January 2014 and re-announced again in April; Townsville Ring Road, funded in the 2012 budget and re-announced on 22 December last year; the Cape York infrastructure package, funded in the 2013 budget and re-announced on 17 January 2014; Perth City Link, announced in 2009, commenced in 2011, just about completed, but re-announced by this government in December 2013; the Great Northern Highway, funded in the 2013 budget and re-announced on 13 December 2013; the North West Coastal Highway, funded in 2013 and re-announced on 16 December 2013; the Swan Valley Bypass, renamed by the government and re-announced on 29 January 2014, even though it was funded in the 2013 budget; the Tonkin Highway and Leach Highway upgrades, funded in 2013 and re-announced on 6 February 2014; the Esperance Port Access Corridor project, for which WA Minister Troy Buswell and I turned the first sod and began construction in May 2012, re-announced in February 2014; the Midland Highway, for which $500 million was included in the 2013 budget, re-announced by the government on 23 October 2013 but with $100 million less; in Tasmania, the North-South rail line, the North East road package, the Freight Rail Revitalisation, the Brooker Highway, the Huon Highway and the Tasman Highway, all funded in the 2013 budget, all re-announced as if they were new on 3 February 2014 and then re-announced again on 22 May 2014; in the Northern Territory, Tiger Brennan Drive, Central Arnhem Road and the Regional Roads Productivity Package, all announced in the 2012 and 2013 budgets and re-announced by the government; and, of course, the Torrens to Torrens project on South Road in South Australia, funded in the 2013 budget and re-announced by this government, along with APY Lands upgrades, the Goodwood to Torrens project and the Dukes Highway in South Australia. This is a fraud committed by the government, who do not have any projects or infrastructure agenda of their own and therefore seek to mislead the Australian public about their construction schedule on infrastructure. (Time expired)