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Wednesday, 18 March 2009
Page: 3122


Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) (4:34 PM) —I am very pleased to make a contribution to this debate on the matter of public importance that was raised by my parliamentary colleague the member for Lyne. The member for Lyne has, in his short time in this place, been a very strong advocate for the mid-North Coast region—as a minister, can I say perhaps a bit too strong from time to time in terms of his never-ending pursuit to address the needs of his community. Whilst we will not always agree, there is no question about his genuineness or that of the member for New England and the member for Kennedy in being advocates for their local communities.

The MPI debate gives me an opportunity to outline some of the measures which the government is pursuing in the area of regional development. If you go to the electorate of Lyne today, you will literally see hundreds of workers—at its peak there will be more than 1,000 workers—on the Pacific Highway, being employed and contributing to an increase in the nation’s productivity, contributing to better safety for road users on the Pacific Highway and contributing to an improvement in the amenity, both for local residents of the electorate of Lyne but particularly for residents of New South Wales and the east coast who travel along the Pacific Highway, whether they be commuters or industry carrying freight. The investment in the upgrade of the Pacific Highway is part of the $8.4 billion that the Rudd government is contributing to regional highways and country roads over a six-year period—over 50 per cent more than the previous government spent in the same time frame.

It is not limited to the Pacific Highway. We are contributing some $2.2 billion for the Bruce Highway. Record funding has also enabled work to be accelerated by up to 12 months on 46 key projects around the nation. In regional Australia, these fast-track projects include the Townsville Port Access Road, the Ballina and Alstonville bypasses, the new Perth-Bunbury Highway, the Hume Highway and stage 4 of the Geelong Ring Road. Just this week, we are rolling out announcements about our record funding to local government for local roads—some $1.75 billion over five years. We are eliminating hundreds of dangerous black spots on regional and local roads, including providing more than $1 million to remove four black spots in the member for Lyne’s electorate. Today I announced more than $800,000 to fix black spots in the member for Calare’s electorate and more than half a million dollars to fix black spots in the member for Cowper’s electorate.

But it is not just roads. We are also seeing the largest ever investment in rail by the Commonwealth government—some $3.2 billion. That includes a $1.2 billion injection announced in December. All of this investment is in regional Australia, and this funding is delivering results already. It is not just the direct funding, in terms of the construction of roads and rail; it is the multiplier effect that occurs as a result of this investment—for example, the concrete railway sleepers that are now being built in Austrak’s Geelong and Wagga Wagga factories. The Geelong factory employs 50 locals; Wagga Wagga, 65 locals. New dual-gauge concrete sleepers will continue rolling out of Rocla’s Grafton sleeper factory. This is a factory that employs around 60 locals. Sleepers will also be rolling out of Rocla’s factory in Mittagong, which employs 60 locals. This is all as a result of the government’s record investment in rail.

We have also revitalised the attitude towards spending in regional Australia when it comes to community infrastructure. We know about the discredited Regional Partnerships scheme, which funded—to the tune of more than a million dollars—the ethanol plant at Gunnedah that simply did not exist. It funded cheese factories that had closed down. It funded railways in Western Australia that had burnt down. We know that Regional Partnerships was a completely discredited scheme. It was a scheme where funding was based upon not a road map but a political map. Those opposite, who are the alternative government—they might not act like it, but they are the alternative government of the nation—have not changed.

The National Party’s Senator Barnaby Joyce was recently flirting with the idea of running for the lower house. He raised a number of electorates that he might run for and one of them was the electorate of the member for New England. He told the Northern Daily Leader on 20 January of this year:

Tony has the capacity to get himself into a position, to make (a decision), to pick a side.

If he’s not part of any team then he gets no deliveries.

That was the attitude of Senator Joyce: if you are not part of the National Party, you do not get any funding for your electorate. This government does not have that attitude. This government has the attitude that funding is based upon need and that people, regardless of who their representative is or where they live in Australia, deserve government support. That is why, as part of the community infrastructure program, we have provided funding of $3.9 million in the electorate of New England, including $1.295 million to the Tamworth Regional Council for practical programs that will create jobs, boost local economies and improve the amenities in Tamworth, in Glen Innes, in Liverpool Plains, in Guyra and in Walcha.

Similarly, we have provided funding of $1.1 million in the electorate of Lyne, providing good projects for the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council: improving disability access at North Haven surf club, improving disability access at Lake Cathie reserve, upgrading Comboyne tennis courts, upgrading the Rocks Ferry Reserve at Wauchope, constructing a coastal stairway at Port Macquarie, upgrading utilities in Timbertown at Wauchope and providing $311,000 to complete the construction of the walkway and cycleway at North Haven. All of these projects are good projects that create local jobs, stimulate the local economy and can be rolled out straightaway. More importantly, these are projects that were not chosen on a political basis by people in a minister’s office in Canberra; these are projects that were put forward by elected local representatives through local governments around the nation. That includes not one or two but every one of the 565 local councils around Australia, contributing some 3,600 community infrastructure projects around the nation, which is a major benefit.

Today I have announced $10.4 million for 155 local infrastructure projects in regional Victorian communities, including Warrnambool, Mildura, Echuca, Wangaratta, Portland, Port Fairy, Ararat, Benalla and Mansfield—all in coalition electorates: Wannon, Mallee, Indi, McMillan and Murray. I have also announced some $3.8 million for Hunter communities today. The fact is that this is a government that is investing record funds in regional communities—as you would be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott. Since Federation, there has never been a program that has been as transparent and that has delivered across the board for local government as this program has. This is a good program.

What is extraordinary is that the opposition, which voted against this community infrastructure program—whether it be the member for Gippsland, the member for Maranoa, the member for La Trobe, the member for Paterson, the member for Canning, the member for Tangney, the member for Bowman, the member for Bradfield or the member for Wannon, and others—all write asking for support for funding for particular projects in their electorates, under a program that they voted against and do not support. It is absolutely extraordinary. The hypocrisy is absolutely incredible. People would remember my reference to the member for Gippsland, who attacked the package, calling it ‘a very low-quality spend of taxpayers’ money’ on the doors of this parliament, but in his electorate he had a very different approach. Regardless of that, the good people of Gippsland should not suffer because of a bad representative, and they will not under this government. We have delivered. This week we announced some $6.2 million for Gippsland community infrastructure. There is some $700,000 to upgrade the Lucknow Indoor Sports Centre, $500,000 for the Newborough Leisure Centre upgrade and $158,000 to refurbish the Warragul Drill Hall. All of these projects are good projects that, if it were left to the local members from the Liberal Party and the National Party, would not be happening—much to their shame.

This week we also announced some $9.5 million for 164 ready-to-go local infrastructure projects across Western Australia’s regions, including Hopetoun, Kalgoorlie, Broome, Fitzroy Crossing and Marble Bar—all good projects. It is within that framework as well that we have established Regional Development Australia. The parliamentary secretary has ensured, after proper consultation, that we actually do consult local communities on economic development and on a framework that is much more than just sorting out grants, such as the way that led to the discredited Regional Partnerships program. We need to do much better when it comes to genuinely involving local communities in regional Australia.

I think the best example of how out of touch those opposite are is when the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the National Party were invited to attend the Australian Council of Local Government. More than 400 mayors travelled from around Australia to meet with the cabinet, the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and other senior ministers. It was an extraordinary occasion. It was very constructive. Regardless of people’s political origins or how they voted in federal or state elections, they came to that meeting with a spirit of goodwill and a spirit of partnership. What we saw there was the Commonwealth treating people with respect. People got access to senior ministers to put their case about their local communities, but the opposition at a senior level could not be bothered fronting up. The fact is that this government will continue to represent all Australians, regardless of where they live. We will continue to be the true representative of regional Australia.