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Tuesday, 14 June 2005
Page: 126

Mr CAMERON THOMPSON (5:45 PM) —It is a pleasure to speak in the debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2005-2006 in the Main Committee. This has been a fulsome debate. Every year when debate on the appropriation legislation rolls around, members rush to take their place because it gives you an opportunity to speak in broad terms about the direction of the government, of our community, the options that lie before us, the future of our great nation and the way in which the government, through this budget, is positioning our country for that future. Obviously, the opposition want to put their case as well as to the direction in which they believe we should be going.

This occasion is an opportunity for us to take a look at the whole picture because the great depth and breadth of the issues that have been addressed in reform by the Howard government is now pretty much all encompassing. The government has made efforts in practically every sphere of government endeavour to reform the ways in which we go about our activities to create a stronger natural current for the benefit of Australians, and we have done that right across the board. It is worth while at this time reviewing some of the basic numbers, which have come into very sharp focus in recent times. We hear continually from the Prime Minister and the Treasurer the runs on the board which have been achieved by the government over the period since 1996 when it won government. When you look at the basic indicators, the question of the often repeated 14 per cent increase in real wages is felt every day in the hip pocket of average Australians. Across the board, certainly in the vote at the last election, there was a clear indication that people had experienced improvement in their real circumstances and that it was a real experience which had been noted by Australians. That is a very positive thing and is something that people have given the government a tick for. A lot of the reputation that the government has built for economic management comes down to a figure such as that.

Also, the family payments which the government make indicate that a family with two children, earning up to $46,000, is not paying any net tax at all. That is significant. Basically, a structural reform of our society has occurred over the period of the Howard government. It has not been a big bang type of reform but gradual reform where we have gone from a situation where, if you were in a family, you would feel part of a threatened species to a situation where families now really can feel that there is a government policy that cares for them, is focused on their needs and is determined to build a better case over time going forward. This budget focuses on those issues and once again delivers real benefits for Australians through the tax cuts which the government has been determined to implement despite the opposition of the Labor Party. Why they are opposing them I have no idea. Instead of fulminating and frothing at the mouth about things they object to and instead of, in a knee-jerk reaction, criticising steps that the government had taken, if members opposite stood back for a moment and spent their time focusing on their reform objectives and what it is they would like to see happen, perhaps we would currently be having a much more comprehensive and meaningful debate.

I was very interested in some of the things that the member for Port Adelaide had to say. But, by and large, inflated rhetoric attacking the government on one small point or another really does not go to the core of the matter when the situation for Australians has improved so much over this period. One thing that has become apparent is that the alternative range of policies that Australians could look to from the opposition have become lost—I do not know whether it is in the fog of war or what it is. It appears there is no direction being offered from the opposition benches. At the moment, people are naturally looking to the government for innovation, and it is good that a constant stream of improved policies are being put forward. As I said, we have the proposal for the tax cuts and we have the industrial relations reforms. These are important new initiatives, but we also have a good track record in both those areas.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you must remember the absurd claims that were made by members opposite about the reforms on the waterfront that were made some time ago by this government. All kinds of emotive language was adopted by members opposite and there were claims that what was being sought by the government simply could not be delivered. They said the container rates just could not happen, that they were a physical impossibility. Of course, they have all happened and, as a result of that process, we have a much more efficient waterfront across Australia.

Mr Danby —Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek to intervene.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Wilkie)—Is the member for Blair willing to take a question?

Mr CAMERON THOMPSON —No. The series of reforms that the government have undertaken have resulted in very predictable scaremongering and ridicule from members opposite. We had the claim, firstly, that they were going to roll back the GST. Of course, it never happened. No roll-back of the GST was ever offered by the members opposite; it all came to a crashing halt. The scaremongering about the GST was followed by the same sort of scaremongering about the waterfront. If we had stayed with the Labor proposals on the waterfront, we would have had a series of never-ending reviews that would have resulted in the same pathetic lack of outcomes that we saw year after year under the Labor government. Of course, it took the coalition government to attack those big issues and to deliver the outcomes that Australians have found, from their own experience, to be absolutely worth while and worth the trouble. The discredited sloganeering that we saw during that period from members opposite has made them lose a lot of credibility. As I said, people in Australia are looking forward to the opposition finally sitting down and developing some real policies as opposed to just a series of slogans.

We have seen the same kind of performance over Medicare. When the Minister for Health and Ageing says that the coalition government is the best friend that Medicare has ever had he gets a head nod these days from Australians. He has achieved a situation where the government through its track record has delivered real improvements in Medicare, unlike the illusory proposals from members opposite. And the problem is that when they do come forward with a proposal they face a basic lack of credibility, which does them no credit at all.

One current issue that I think is in fact the burning issue that affects Australians in my neck of the woods, in south-east Queensland, is the question of infrastructure. Infrastructure is a basic government responsibility. We have obligations to provide the infrastructure needed so business can get about its activities. We do it through reforming the tax system, through reforming industrial relations and through reforming the waterfront. But, at the end of the day, we also need the cranes, the conveyor belts, the roads, the rail, the bridges and all those kinds of things to be able to operate.

In Queensland we have come to an impasse in relation to infrastructure. This has obviously been documented in the case of Peter Beattie’s navy—that great number of ships anchored off Dalrymple Bay and going nowhere. Those ships are sitting out there, waiting and waiting, when we have real new opportunities for coal exports. Yet our ports, Dalrymple Bay in particular, are incapable of delivering the kind of throughput that we desperately need to earn those export dollars to address issues such as the current account deficit and to make those dollar incomes to improve employment opportunities for Australians. We need that infrastructure to be able to deliver those outcomes.

In my own neck of the woods the most interesting and challenging question has been in relation to the Ipswich Motorway, which has, through a series of failed Labor government initiatives over the years, had bandaids applied to it. We have never had an outcome which achieves the long-term vision of moving traffic through this region effectively. In fact, back in 1994 the then Queensland roads minister, David Hamill, and his Labor federal colleague Laurie Brereton opened the last upgrade of the Ipswich Motorway. When they did that in 1994 they opened a road which had all the merging points on the wrong side of the road. They trumpeted at the time that they were opening a road for the future. Yet today I have constituents writing to me saying, ‘Why didn’t the incoming coalition government just two years later begin the work to upgrade that road again?’ Isn’t it incredible that two governments—the state government and the federal Labor government—in 1994 could have trumpeted and proclaimed the construction of a road that had a time horizon of two years, that was capable of dealing with traffic for two years? Incredible.

Of course, there was no initiative from the state government to upgrade that road and the proposal for them to upgrade that road never came forward until 2001. When they did propose in 2001 to upgrade the road, what did we have? We had a proposal to upgrade and nothing else. Despite the fact that consultants did say it would be a worthwhile proposition to look at alternatives—a bypass of the road instead—there was nothing done in relation to that kind of alternative. In the end what was presented was yet another Labor Party bandaid proposing that we dig up this road after 7½ years and produce a road which would for a very short time be able to cope with the traffic. That is what I call a very substandard outcome.

To its credit, the federal coalition government took a different point of view. The coalition government has taken the view that what we need is a long-term outcome. That is, after all, what is written in the documents of AusLink and its predecessor. It has always been the case that if you are going to build a national highway you look to a 20-year time frame. So it is totally incomprehensible to me how the state government could ever suggest a road which would fail at the moment of its completion as a solution to the problems on the Ipswich Motorway. I suppose they think: ‘That is what we did the time before—back in 1994 when we completed that totally inadequate and failed project. Let’s just repeat the exercise.’

One of the objectives they were seeking in doing that was to ensure that the Commonwealth government would pick up the tab for the construction of that road and also, when it had immediately failed, the pressure would come back on again to upgrade it to, say, eight lanes or to provide the bypass at that time. What was being prepared by the state government was not a proposal to solve the traffic problems of south-east Queensland but a proposal to ambush the Commonwealth and to try to extract money from the Commonwealth to save state government expenditure. However, the Commonwealth in responding to this has come up with a very effective proposal to create the bypass, which has now been the subject of a feasibility study.

This is also the proposal that the Commonwealth put up during the recent election campaign, which resulted in swings in my seat, in the areas most affected by the motorway, of between 10 and 16 per cent to me. In the seat of Ryan we had nine per cent swings in the booths in areas most affected by that motorway. I think they were the strongest swings anywhere in the electorate of Ryan. There were swings right across the board that basically endorsed this proposal. What the Commonwealth was proposing at that time, and has continued to propose right through to today, is much more effective because it does not involve digging up the existing road. It is an incredible thing that, at the same time as they are considering this project, half the state government is out there directing the lion’s share of growth in south-east Queensland into this area served by the Ipswich Motorway. The other half of the state government is running around planning to spend up until at least 2010 digging up the only road that goes there.

This is an example of planning under the state government: half the state government is looking to develop all this area, build it up and make sure that it is the focus for growth in south-east Queensland, and the other half is ensuring that for five, six or who knows how many years it will be impossible to travel there because there will be so much disruption on the motorway due to construction gangs and alternative routes. The state government has tried to claim that it has a network of service roads that it will develop over time and that it will build them one at a time so that all the traffic will be able to find its way around these various diversions to the places that it wants to go to. You just have to review some of those notes and you see they are planning to implement, for a start, traffic lights. People who at the moment come to a grinding halt along the motorway just because of traffic snarls would be thrilled, I am sure, to countenance the state government’s proposal to also impose traffic lights. There would be hold-ups on that road 24/7 if you had traffic lights as well. Not only would they occur at peak hour, but freight operators in the middle of the night would find themselves being held up by serious traffic delays.

That is another point: in this same crazy scheme the state government are proposing to divert a whole lot of traffic onto another road where there is a low bridge. I do not know if they have noticed—it has not really occurred to them, I suppose—that there are B-doubles going down this road, as it is a B-double route. When they get to the low bridge they are going to have to divert around it, and so we are going to wind up with this heavy freight—these B-doubles—tracking down Brisbane Terrace, a little suburban street where a lot of the yards do not have fences. It would be incredible if you were out there with your kid playing with a ball and the dog and along came a B-double. It is an incredible example of state government incompetence—absolute incompetence.

The notion that this is an effective plan is something that the state government, as recently as last weekend, trumpeted in the paper in full page ads. They are trying to maintain that there is some advantage for locals in having their whole road dug up until at least 2010—and if you read the review that has been done by engineers you will see it will probably be for much longer. That is a bad idea. The people who use the road know right now that it is very difficult to use. The Commonwealth through its proposal is seeking to ensure that the disruption on that road is minimised during the construction process—that we have the lion’s share of our construction on the greenfield site and that we undertake the bits that are necessary first to complete that road and to make sure that we have an effective bypass.

All up, what we wind up with then is a separation of the through traffic from the local traffic. We wind up with a total of two routes so that we have network redundancy and if there is a hold-up on one of them the traffic can divert to the other. These are all logical ideas that, unfortunately, the incompetents in the state main roads department just cannot get their heads around. It is incredible to me, because this is the same department that under the coalition government from 1996 built from scratch the entire Pacific Motorway—the entire M1 project to the Gold Coast—in four years. Yet this same group has taken four years merely to install a group of electronic billboards to direct traffic through this incredible imbroglio.

I have no faith at all in anything that the state government plans. What I have faith in is the clear vision that the Commonwealth has articulated in building a bypass. We are seeking to divert trucks from the centre of Brisbane, to create a separate route for traffic. This is the only long-term vision, the only option that provides a long-term solution for south-east Queensland. That is the question of infrastructure. That separates the vision of the Commonwealth, of the coalition, from the incompetence of the Labor state government in absolute stark, black-and-white contrast. (Time expired)