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Wednesday, 13 May 2009
Page: 3648

Mr DREYFUS (11:52 AM) —I rise to support the Nation-building Funds Amendment Bill 2009. I think it is important that the context for this legislation and indeed the context for the budget that the Treasurer delivered last night be considered. We are experiencing the deepest global recession since the Great Depression and there are a few basic facts to be considered. The world economy will contract by 1.5 per cent. Other advanced economies are in deep recession. Australia is in recession. The economy will contract by 0.5 per cent in 2009-10. Unemployment is going to rise and the terms of trade are to fall significantly.

The reason I start with those basic facts is that it is not possible or appropriate to approach legislation like this without considering the economic context that gives rise to the legislation and to the framing of the budget. This budget is about choices and priorities. Far from this bill exemplifying something wrong, as the member for Goldstein attempted to say, about the approach that the government has taken to the framing of this budget, this bill exemplifies the very stark contrast between the opposition and the government in relation to dealing with the economic crisis, difficulties and challenges that the government and the country are confronting.

The Treasurer has delivered a budget that is designed to support jobs now and deliver the investments to increase Australia’s productive capacity for future prosperity. I listened with care to the speech that was given on this bill by the Liberal infrastructure spokesman, the member for Goldstein, today. What was striking about it was that not once did the member for Goldstein talk about jobs. Indeed, the member for Goldstein spent the 15 minutes for which he spoke talking about debt and attempting to create the impression of confusion, lack of coherence or recklessness—those were the words that he repeated over and over in his speech. We had to wait until the very end of the member for Goldstein’s speech to hear the economic context this budget consideration is about, not about debt or creating some spectre of confusion, but rather a response to a crisis. We had to wait until the last minute of the member for Goldstein’s speech to hear him use the word ‘crisis’, when he spoke of ‘enabling us to rebound out of this crisis’. The starting point for considering legislation such as this is the economic context—it is the fact that there is a global economic crisis. That is why I start my speech by referring to that economic crisis, because it is that which gives rise to the decisions that are reflected in this budget.

It seems that those opposite are having a great deal of difficulty in facing up to the economic challenges confronting the nation. Only last week we heard from the shadow Treasurer, the member for North Sydney, who, extraordinarily, said: ‘It is inconceivable that we could have such a deterioration of employment in such a short time.’ It is not inconceivable—because it is in fact happening. The response of those opposite would appear to be one of disbelief in the economic events that are unfolding across the world, which are having a far worse effect on other developed economies than has yet been experienced in Australia. We hope that, as a result of the decisions that are reflected in this budget, that will continue to be the case. But for those opposite the deterioration of employment, and apparently many other economic events, is inconceivable.

We are yet to hear even the slightest level of coherence in any response by those opposite to this budget or to the economic decisions that have been taken by this government in recent months. Indeed, one would have to say that the response of those opposite to the present economic crisis is eerily reminiscent of the response of conservative governments in the 1920s and 1930s, including—

Mr Katter —Hear, hear—absolutely correct. History repeating itself.

Mr DREYFUS —It is always nice to have agreement from the member for Kennedy. It is eerily reminiscent of the response of conservative governments in the 1920s and 1930s—conservative governments, including in this country, which wanted to cut taxes, reduce government spending and allow wages to fall to, as they would have put it, ‘clear the labour market’. It appears that the conservatives on the other side of this House want to leave it to the market to sort out this crisis. They want to leave it to the market to do its worst to working families. That is not the response of this government; the response of this government is a coherent one which recognises a role for government and for economic stimulus and, in particular, recognises that economic stimulus can and should be delivered through infrastructure spending.

This government understands the need to invest in infrastructure to improve our productive capacity. Again, it was striking, if not a little puzzling, to hear the member for Goldstein referring to ‘the lost 18 months when major infrastructure spending could have been committed to’. That is what the member for Goldstein said, apparently forgetting that after almost 12 years in government the record of the former government was one of near complete failure to invest in the infrastructure of this country at a time, indeed, of boom economic conditions.

It needs to be recognised by those opposite—and indeed many of the commentators are recognising this—that Australia’s fiscal response to this economic crisis has been heavily tilted in favour of investment spending. That has been confirmed by the OECD economic outlook interim report, released in March 2009, which said that the Australian fiscal response had been tilted in favour of investment spending to a much greater degree than in any other OECD economy. Under this budget, the government will deliver further infrastructure spending to protect jobs now and to build our economy for the future. It is worth mentioning a few examples of that. In relation to rail, $4.6 billion will be spent on more efficient metropolitan rail networks, which will deliver significant economic and social benefits through less road congestion, lower greenhouse gas emissions and faster travel times for commuters. It is worth mentioning the $3.4 billion which will be spent for the Network 1 road freight corridor linking Melbourne and Cairns and the $389 million for port infrastructure to improve access to global markets for our export industries. These projects and others like them at a national level will reduce economic inefficiencies caused by the failure of the former government to invest adequately in the infrastructure platforms that Australia needs to build our future prosperity.

I will now go to the local level, because there is no doubt of the worth in my electorate of the economic stimulus package and the infrastructure programs that have been announced and are being embarked on. There is no doubt in my electorate about this government’s commitment to education. I will start with the first announcements that were made about larger buildings in schools under the Building the Education Revolution program. Schools in my electorate have received almost $22 million in funding under round 1. It is worth bearing in mind that those opposite in this House—the Liberal Party and the National Party—are opposed to this program. They are opposed to the construction of new buildings in every single primary school across Australia. They are opposed to the construction of new buildings in primary schools in my electorate, but the students, parents and teachers—the entire community—of my electorate have no doubt about the worth of that infrastructure spending or about the commitment of this government to education.

I should mention also the local infrastructure spending that is being delivered in my electorate through local councils. On Monday last week we announced that the City of Greater Dandenong has been given $7.27 million for a complete reconstruction of the Noble Park Swim Centre. No-one in my community is in any doubt about the worth of that kind of infrastructure spending. This is a pool which was built some 50 years ago, and very little has been done to it since that time. It is very much an important centre for community activity. It is much loved and is well used and it will be rebuilt in its entirety as a result of infrastructure funding that has been made available by this Labor government.

Another of the councils in my electorate, the City of Kingston, has been given $2.97 million for the substantial improvement of an equally valuable existing facility: the Kingston Heath Soccer Complex. Through that improvement and rebuilding work, the usefulness of that facility to the community will increase.

There are other programs that are worth mentioning that demonstrate the commitment of this government to providing infrastructure funding. This infrastructure funding not only provides an immediate economic stimulus, which is an approach to the management of the economy that is accepted by governments of developed countries across the world, but also provides valuable infrastructure that will serve our country in the future.

In last night’s budget, it was announced that funding will be made available for the Altona-Laverton precinct, which is on the western side of Melbourne, and, connected to it in a functional sense, the Dandenong intermodal terminal, which is in my electorate in south-east Melbourne. That is a very important project. It demonstrates a commitment to planning, to foresight, to thinking for the long term about the urban infrastructure and the transport infrastructure of Melbourne. It looks at the long term in relation to possible projects such as the expansion and development of the port of Hastings, a project which recognises the growth constraints and limitations that are faced by the port of Melbourne. Part of that long-term thinking involves developing a Dandenong intermodal terminal, which is a project that is already being worked on by the state Department of Transport, partnering with the Commonwealth government and the private sector on the development of what will be a Melbourne freight terminal network. It is going to involve the enhancement of rail connectivity to the Somerton and Laverton-Altona intermodal terminals, the port of Melbourne and a new Melbourne freight terminal in the Dandenong area. This is not in any—

Mr Katter —What is exported through those areas?

Mr DREYFUS —I am asked by the member for Kennedy what is exported through these areas. The port of Melbourne is recognised to be Australia’s largest port in terms of freight. It has reached its limits—

Mr Katter —Importing, but not exporting.

Mr DREYFUS —Exporting as well as importing. The Port of Hastings, of course, is very important for exporting as well. The manufacturing products that are exported from the very large manufacturing centres in my electorate, both in Dandenong South and Braeside—to answer the member for Kennedy’s question—use the port facilities in Melbourne. In the next decades when the Port of Hastings is expanded they will no doubt be able to use the facilities of the Port of Hastings as well. This is long-range planning. The government is showing its commitment to forming relationships with private enterprise and with state governments to ensure infrastructure is well planned and provided for.

There are other aspects of this budget which demonstrate the government’s commitment to providing economic stimulus and at the same time useful infrastructure for Australia. I could speak of the Clean Energy Initiative, which shows how the bill that is presently before the House, like the budget as a whole, is about priorities. The Labor government understands the need for Australia to shift to a low-carbon-pollution economy, to help build an economy with green jobs for the future. We see in the Clean Energy Initiative a commitment of $2 billion for carbon capture and storage and clean coal. Carbon capture and storage demonstration projects will support the development of industrial scale use of carbon capture and storage technology in Australia. There should be no doubt about the commitment of this government to using infrastructure funding, economic stimulus funding, for this kind of purpose.

The budget also contains renewable energy projects, which includes $1.5 billion for up to four large-scale solar electricity generation projects and $465 million to establish Renewables Australia, which is an independent body which is to be set up to support leading-edge renewable technology resources. Those two initiatives will help to ensure that 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity supply will come from renewable energy by 2020. Concentration on building those renewable sources is a key part of a response to climate change. Those are initiatives that build on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, legislation for which is now being considered; the $500 million Renewable Energy Fund to develop, commercialise and deploy renewable energy in Australia; $150 million for solar and clean energy resources; and more than $500 million for the Solar Cities, National Solar Schools and Green Precincts initiatives.

It would seem from the response of those opposite—as indeed it would seem from their response to the budget as a whole—that they are unable to consider the full economic context in which this bill and the budget measures as a whole have been framed. Those opposite, it seems, cannot lift their eyes beyond the government benches, where they would like to be. They cannot look beyond this House to the wider world—indeed, to beyond our shores—where there is a global economic crisis occurring that is affecting the Australian economy and will continue to affect the Australian economy. The government is engaging in prompt and decisive action on the effects of the global economic crisis on Australia. This bill is part of that response. I commend the bill to the House.