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Monday, 17 March 2008
Page: 1977

Mr IAN MACFARLANE (4:12 PM) —I rise today to talk about infrastructure, an issue not only close to my heart and close to the people that I represent in the beautiful region of Groom but also close to the hearts of all Australians. When we talk about infrastructure, we talk about issues in relation to not only motor vehicles but also transport of heavy goods and produce both to and from regional areas. My electorate has one of the busiest freight corridors in Australia. In fact, any truck travelling to western or central western Queensland, to the Northern Territory or to northern or north-western New South Wales travels through the main street of my city. That is an issue I will come back to later.

It is essential to provide substantial funding for infrastructure projects. Whilst the Labor Party are currently dishonestly claiming that the Howard government failed to spend adequately on infrastructure, particularly on roads, they are themselves preparing to spend less than half of what we had planned to spend. My understanding is that during the election campaign the Labor Party promised a figure somewhere south of $15.5 billion for roads and infrastructure. Of course, they have already made an abominable decision in relation to Ipswich Road—a road which I travel on frequently. I suggest to the member for Banks that he takes the opportunity to travel on that road sometime between seven and nine o’clock in the morning. If he misses that time, due to the fact that he needs to travel up to Queensland, then he should travel on that road anytime after 3.30 in the afternoon until six o’clock. It is basically a car park.

This highly political decision of the Rudd Labor government to circumvent what has been a detailed investigation of that road can only leave the problems that we see now as problems of the future. In fact, the Labor government’s decision to extend that road by only two lanes will see the people of Ipswich, people who have already faced major traffic delays during peak hours, continue to see delays. The six-lane proposal will be at capacity by the time it is completed. As part of our nearly $30 billion commitment to the people of Australia in AusLink 2, we would have solved that problem with, firstly, a four-lane highway bypassing Ipswich Road followed, in one order or another, by the expansion of Ipswich Road to six lanes and the further expansion of the bypass to eight lanes, thus giving the people of Ipswich, Darling Downs and Warwick a 14-lane alternative to what the Labor Party is currently proposing. These sorts of short-sighted infrastructure decisions heavily weighted by political expediency would be avoided were Infrastructure Australia to do its job.

What we are seeing with this organisation in the first instance is, of course, another review. As we have seen from the Labor Party, anytime a decision needs to be made, the first thing they do is have a review. The second thing they do is review that review—and we assume that comes after the review—and decide as a government whether they accept the outcome of the review. It is essential for Australia’s future economic growth and for the curtailing of inflation, which we hear so much about from the Treasurer—he does not seem to understand completely what is going on—that there be no delay on infrastructure investment in Australia and that when we do see investment in infrastructure it does not become bogged down in layers of bureaucracy. Infrastructure needs to be built in Australia; no-one would argue with that. We do not want it to be a lucky dip of projects that may or may not proceed, as we have seen already with Ipswich Road. We need to see a process where state and federal governments and a combination of communities make soundly based decisions. I do not know how this infrastructure committee is going to work. I guess that highlights my trepidation. But what I do know is that already, before we have even seen the committee formed in its final format, we have seen political decisions made and people in regional Australia, in this case regional Queensland, being asked to pay the price of that.

The Labor Party says that this legislation, the Infrastructure Australia Bill 2008, is a significant step in moving forward with infrastructure development in Australia et cetera, ad nauseam while, as I said, trying to suggest, by using some dodgy figures put together before AusLink 1 became fully operational, that we as a government underspent on infrastructure and they as a government are going to spend significantly more. In fact, as I have suggested already, we were planning to spend over $29 billion, taking into account the $22-and-a-bit billion that was announced in last year’s May budget and the further $7 billion in additional funding that we outlined during the election campaign—all fully costed by Treasury. So there you have nearly $30 billion in AusLink alone compared with Labor’s suggested promise of $15.5 billion. We need to have some rationale brought to this whole area. We need to see the sorts of things that we did with AusLink, where we systematically worked through infrastructure needs to ensure there was connection, in both an economic and a community sense, between those areas in Australia that needed better roads.

I mentioned in my opening comments some of the issues that Toowoomba is facing with its second range crossing. The idea of this crossing has been around for a long time and it was one of my goals as the member for Groom, which includes Toowoomba and the Darling Downs, to ensure that that crossing was built. Yet, after successfully ensuring that some $40 million was spent on both land acquisitions and some geological work, including the drilling of a pilot tunnel, and the promise by the then Howard government that it would spend $700 million during AusLink 2 and complete the project in the following AusLink program, we have seen this project completely ignored by the Rudd Labor government. This is a second example of a poor decision-making process by a government which claims that it will ensure that infrastructure is built in Australia in a timely way.

Both the people of Ipswich, now represented by Labor members, and the people of Toowoomba and the Darling Downs could well wonder what they are going to get out of this infrastructure proposal. In fact, they could also wonder whether or not there will be anything of any substance delivered to the regional areas. This case is in Queensland, but the same issue can be raised in virtually every part of Australia.

We do not want to see the Labor government introduce a system which in some way relieves the state Labor governments, which have made a complete mess of infrastructure funding, of their responsibilities in this area. We do not want to see a ‘get out of jail free’ card given to state governments which have continually made abominable decisions in relation to infrastructure and which, unless they are brought into line, will continue to ignore the infrastructure needs, particularly in the resource sector. There is no better example of that than the problems in coal transportation in Queensland. A government owned corporation in the form of Queensland Rail is severely undercapitalised by the treasury of that state, unable to run trains effectively and handicapped, I know, by a historical decision to run a three feet six inch gauge. At the same time, it is much more handicapped by the fact that it is unable to make the investments to triplicate range crossings to get access and it is unable to make the proper investment in locos and carriages in one of the booming industries in Australia—the coal industry. It is an industry which I know the Labor Party has its reservations about, but it is one which the coalition supports absolutely. It is an industry which currently finds itself hogtied by a state Labor government unable to spend the sort of capital we need it to spend.

In establishing this bill, we would hope that the Labor Party actually places some focus and sincerity on this issue and moves away from the political decision making which is such a hallmark of state Labor governments and, as we have seen already, of this Rudd Labor government. We need to see the infrastructure investment in Australia made on the basis that it is actually going to deliver outcomes. We do not need another review. We do not need governments to press the pause button and decide whether or not they are going to build things that have been plainly obvious in their requirement. We do not need to see the people of Toowoomba subjected to another 10-year wait to know whether or not they will get a range crossing which will take B-double vehicles out of the main street of Toowoomba and away from their homes, schools and shops and ensure that Toowoomba is treated in the same way as every other major city in Australia.

What we want to see from this new body that is being established under this proposed act is a systematic program to ensure that people in Toowoomba, people in Ipswich, people in Sydney, people in western New South Wales and people in every part of Australia will in fact be able to have some certainty that they will get the infrastructure that they need while at the same time the companies that invest billions and billions of dollars in resource projects in Australia will have the opportunity and certainty that their product will be able to be exported. If this is just another layer of bureaucracy, so there will be another layer of delay in the operation of the building of infrastructure in Australia, then Australia will pay an economic penalty that will last not for decades but in fact for tens of decades. I share the concerns expressed by the shadow minister for infrastructure, transport and local government when this bill was first admitted to the House. I have concerns that the Labor Party has no understanding of the needs of people in regional areas. I hope that, as we progress through this government’s actions, the sorts of dreadful decisions that we have seen made about Ipswich Road and the Toowoomba range crossing will not be replicated by this new body.