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Tuesday, 24 June 2008
Page: 5733

Mr RIPOLL (2:58 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Would the minister outline the need for a strong surplus in order to invest in local government infrastructure?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —I thank the member for Oxley for his question. The Rudd government’s first budget was indeed centred on strengthening our economy by investing in national and local infrastructure. When it comes to local government funding, in the coming financial year the government will deliver $1.9 billion in financial assistance grants to Australia’s local governments. We will also provide $350 million in the coming year to local councils for the Roads to Recovery program, and our $512 million Housing Affordability Fund will provide grants mainly to local councils to fast-track housing approvals and to fund community infrastructure.

It was not surprising, therefore, that the Australian Local Government Association welcomed the budget and particularly the announced Building Australia Fund. The ALGA president, Paul Bell, said:

Local government welcomes this initiative as a sensible investment of budget surpluses that will stand Australia in good stead in the long term.

The role of local councils in maintaining local water, road, building and community infrastructure certainly cannot be underestimated. For example, local councils are responsible for some 657,000 kilometres of road across Australia. Often it is local government that will control the last kilometre from the highway to the port. That is critical in terms of dealing with our infrastructure bottlenecks. That is why the government has put local government at the heart of its nation-building agenda.

We have to engage all three tiers of government as well as the private sector in cooperation. That is what we are doing with the creation of Infrastructure Australia. That is why we appointed a nominee of local government, Professor Peter Newman, to the advisory council of Infrastructure Australia. It will help guide allocations from the government’s $20 billion Building Australia Fund.

But, of course, that fund is only possible because of the surplus and the good economic management of the budget produced by the Treasurer. The opposition are threatening to blow a $22 billion hole in that surplus. Every dollar that is taken away from the surplus is a dollar less to build the long-term future and to deal with capacity constraints in the economy. The threats of those opposite in opposing the government’s budget measures are a direct threat to the nation-building agenda that this government has. I call upon the opposition to show some economic responsibility. It is not too late; the Senate is still sitting. It is not too late to ensure that there is a change of heart and to pass the government’s responsible budget.