May 13, 2015

Transcript of press conference – Canberra

Subjects: Budget 2015, infrastructure cuts, East-West Link, Infrastructure Australia, Coalition Magical Mystery Infrastructure Reannouncement Tour

ANTHONY ALBANESE: All economists and indeed the business community know that one of the big challenges for our nation is that as investment in the mining sector drops off, what needs to step up to fill that gap is investment in infrastructure.

That’s the key to securing long term economic growth, boosting productivity, boosting employment and boosting living standards. And we know that it’s necessary.

This Government was elected with a lot of rhetoric about infrastructure but no action. What we saw in the latest figures that were released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in April should have been a wakeup call to this government when it was developing this Budget that they released last night.

It showed a drop-off in infrastructure construction activity from quarter December 2013 to quarter December 2014 of some 17.3% in spending on infrastructure for the public sector. That is a massive decline that has occurred on the Abbott Government’s watch. So we should have seen that reversed last night.

Instead of that, we’ve seen the opposite. There will be a further contraction in investment in infrastructure as a result of last night’s Budget. Last night’s Budget produced a $2 billion dollar cut over the next two years in what the Abbott Government itself had projected it would spend in last year’s Budget. A $2 billion cut. It also of course over not just the next couple of years but over the forwards and beyond, we’ve seen a mean spirited decision and a vindictive decision by this government to cut $3 billion in infrastructure investment for Victorians.

Victorians are being punished by the Abbott Government for voting Labor at the last state election. One of the reasons why they voted Labor was because the Napthine Government prioritised investing in the East West Link project, a project that we know would have produced 45 cents of benefit for every dollar that was invested.

And yet the Abbott Government clings onto this, making a farce of the statements prior to their election that they would make infrastructure investment based upon the recommendations of Infrastructure Australia and based upon proper cost-benefit analysis. With this government, it’s all politics and no serious policy.

They’ve also decided to gut Infrastructure Australia. Infrastructure Australia was scheduled for funding of $15 million per year. But by the end of the forward estimates it will receive just $8 million in funding – a decline to $11 million next year and down further and further each year. This is an extraordinary decision by the Government but it’s not surprising given they left Infrastructure Australia without a CEO for more than a year, given that Infrastructure Australia on its watch hasn’t put a single project on the priority list for investment.

This Government’s infrastructure policy is in tatters. And the consequences of this for the national economy are long term. What we saw last night was no new investment in the Pacific Highway. No new investment in the Bruce Highway in Queensland. No new investment at all in any public transport project anywhere in Australia. No new major projects.

In our last Budget the Labor Government  produced a booklet with documentation and maps of where the infrastructure projects were occurring. Last year the Abbott Government did the same thing. The problem was of course when people looked at the detail just about every project in their booklet was from the previous year’s Budget that had been funded in the 2013 Labor Budget. So this year they produced nothing.

This is the first time in over a decade that you’ve had a national Budget with no new major infrastructure projects anywhere in Australia. The Howard Government at its worst at least came up with one or two new projects to put some bells and whistles on even though infrastructure investment declined under them.

This Government has given up the infrastructure agenda just one year after they were caught out with their magical mystery infrastructure reannouncement tour, which they took right around the country pretending that old projects were somehow new.