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- Start of Business
- PRIME MINISTER
- HIGHER EDUCATION SUPPORT AMENDMENT (2009 BUDGET MEASURES) BILL 2009
- SOCIAL SECURITY AND OTHER LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (AUSTRALIAN APPRENTICES) BILL 2009
- HEALTH INSURANCE AMENDMENT (EXTENDED MEDICARE SAFETY NET) BILL 2009
- PRIVATE HEALTH INSURANCE (NATIONAL JOINT REPLACEMENT REGISTER LEVY) BILL 2009
- CARBON POLLUTION REDUCTION SCHEME AMENDMENT (HOUSEHOLD ASSISTANCE) BILL 2009
- TAX LAWS AMENDMENT (MEDICARE LEVY AND MEDICARE LEVY SURCHARGE) BILL 2009
- INTERNATIONAL MONETARY AGREEMENTS AMENDMENT (FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE) BILL 2009
- VETERANS’ AFFAIRS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (BUDGET MEASURES) BILL 2009
- SOCIAL SECURITY AMENDMENT (TRAINING INCENTIVES) BILL 2009
- CAR DEALERSHIP FINANCING GUARANTEE APPROPRIATION BILL 2009
- FAMILY ASSISTANCE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (CHILD CARE) BILL 2009
SOCIAL SECURITY AND FAMILY ASSISTANCE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (2009 BUDGET MEASURES) BILL 2009
FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2009
- NATION BUILDING PROGRAM (NATIONAL LAND TRANSPORT) AMENDMENT BILL 2009
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(SPEAKER, The, Rudd, Kevin, MP)
Nation Building and Jobs Plan
(Turnbull, Malcolm, MP, Rudd, Kevin, MP)
(Zappia, Tony, MP, Swan, Wayne, MP)
(Bishop, Julie, MP, Rudd, Kevin, MP)
(Sidebottom, Sid, MP, Gillard, Julia, MP)
(Hockey, Joe, MP, Swan, Wayne, MP)
(Neumann, Shayne, MP, Tanner, Lindsay, MP)
(Smith, Anthony, MP, Swan, Wayne, MP)
(Price, Roger, MP, Garrett, Peter, MP)
(Smith, Anthony, MP, Swan, Wayne, MP)
(Turnour, Jim, MP, Snowdon, Warren, MP)
Queensland and New South Wales Floods
(Oakeshott, Rob, MP, Rudd, Kevin, MP)
Murray-Darling River System
(Champion, Nick, MP, Rudd, Kevin, MP)
(Truss, Warren, MP, Swan, Wayne, MP)
(Hall, Jill, MP, Roxon, Nicola, MP)
(Hunt, Gregory, MP, Garrett, Peter, MP)
International Regional Engagement
(Bevis, Arch, MP, Smith, Stephen, MP)
(Morrison, Scott, MP)
(Ripoll, Bernie, MP, Burke, Tony, MP)
- QUESTIONS TO THE SPEAKER
- MR TONY LEVY
- QUESTIONS TO THE SPEAKER
- MINISTERIAL STATEMENTS
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- Start of Business
- Petition: Medicare
- Holt Electorate: Diabetes
- Mayo Electorate: Defence
- Page Electorate: Dairy Industry
- Melbourne Ports Electorate: Indian Students
- Greenway Electorate: Railway Station Staffing
- Northlakes High School
- Club Captain James Peryman
- Hearing Services: Cochlear Implants
APPROPRIATION BILL (NO. 1) 2009-2010
APPROPRIATION BILL (NO. 2) 2009-2010
APPROPRIATION (PARLIAMENTARY DEPARTMENTS) BILL (NO. 1) 2009-2010
QUESTIONS IN WRITING
(Southcott, Dr Andrew, MP, Swan, Wayne, MP)
(Southcott, Dr Andrew, MP, Swan, Wayne, MP)
(Southcott, Dr Andrew, MP, Swan, Wayne, MP)
(Southcott, Dr Andrew, MP, Swan, Wayne, MP)
Salt Ash Air Weapons Range
(Baldwin, Robert, MP, Fitzgibbon, Joel, MP)
(Ciobo, Steven, MP, Griffin, Alan, MP)
Thursday, 28 May 2009
Mr TRUSS (Leader of the Nationals) (12:34 PM) —The Nation Building Program (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2009 reinforces what we already know about the Rudd Labor government: it is all about spin. It has certainly been about debt, spending, unemployment and running an economy into the ground, but fundamentally it has been about spin. We are all amazed that this government has managed to blow a budget surplus of more than $20 billion and turn it into an astonishing $58 billion deficit in just 18 months. We already know that Australia is facing a gross debt of at least $315 billion, or around $15,000 for every man, woman and child in the country. And of course that $315 billion does not include the $40 billion that is going to have to be borrowed for the broadband fantasy or the $60 billion for projects that have been referred to by the government in its Nation Building Program, for which additional money is required. We do not know how much we are up for with the Ruddbank or for defence commitments and any number of other spending initiatives that the government may be intending to take between now and the time when that debt peaks. We also know that a very large proportion of this debt is due not to revenue downturns but to reckless spending decisions that the government has taken.
But what is worst of all is that there is no plan to repay this money. Labor has no idea where the funds are going to come from to repay the spending spree that has been going on in recent times. We all know that there is really only one plan: to spend, spend, spend and then rely on the next coalition government to pay it off. It took 10 years to pay off the last debt. How long is it going to take to pay off the current one?
Labor often criticises the coalition for not having spent enough when in government. The Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government is a frequent offender in this regard, saying, ‘We are spending where the previous government didn’t spend.’ What the minister for infrastructure needs to remember is that when we were in government we were paying for what Labor spent the last time it was in government. The key issue is not so much how much you can spend in a day but how much you can actually pay for.
In fact, there are many things that the previous coalition government would have loved to have done—worthwhile projects we would have liked to have pursued—but we could not because we had an interest and redemption bill to pay on the previous government’s mismanagement. Of course, the next coalition government is going to face similar difficulties. No-one believes that any Labor government will ever retire debt. The reality is that the next coalition government will also not be able to spend as much as we would like on roads, rail and other things because we will be paying off debt. But that is not something that Labor should be boasting about; they should be ashamed of the fact that they will leave behind such a deficit for future governments and future generations to repay. To be out there boasting about how much is going to be spent, when all of that money is going to have to be borrowed, much of it from overseas, so that these projects can proceed, is only telling a very small proportion of the story. There are potholes that will not be filled in the future because of the expenditure that is going on today. When you buy a new car, you get the pleasure out of the purchase of that car, but you cannot afford to buy another one until you have paid off the one you have. You spend the next few years going without other things because you are paying off your car. This kind of simple lesson in household budgeting seems to have been lost on the incumbents on the government benches.
The government uses a lot of rhetoric and spin to talk about the work that it has been doing—the so-called revolutionary processes and the biggest spending program in history—all of which is essentially empty spin. Infrastructure Australia, for instance, is not the first to have some kind of a process to assess projects on their merits. Infrastructure Australia is not the first to have transparent opportunities for public input into assessing road projects and making decisions about infrastructure expenditure. AusLink was established to achieve those sorts of objectives. It involved consultation with the states. The community even had opportunities to make suggestions about projects which should be considered, and that entire process was undertaken in a fair and appropriate manner. If there is some suggestion that there was a coalition conspiracy about the projects that were funded, I would remind you that all of the state governments were Labor for a fair proportion of that time and they were actively involved as partners in this process and were generally co-funders. So, in reality, there has always been an open and transparent process. In fact, a stark change in the way in which this government is dealing with issues is that the processes of Infrastructure Australia are clearly not open and transparent. They are not available for public scrutiny. None of the documents are going to be released. We saw the spectacle during Senate estimates yesterday of the minister flatly refusing to provide any of the data that might support the choices that the government has made in relation to the funding announcements. I am going to talk more about that later.
This legislation is another example of where spin is actually triumphing over economic sustainability. It is an example of spin to cover up economic incompetence. The key element of this bill is a name change. That is right; it is just a name change. It is changing the name of AusLink to the Nation Building Program. It is remarkable that the government would consider using the resources of the public purse, the time needed to draft legislation and the priority given in parliament to what is essentially a piece of spin-doctoring. It is perhaps not surprising, though, because the government think that using the time of this place for a rebranding exercise, to change the name of something that was a great success but is also linked to the previous government, is a worthwhile activity. The government are trying to wipe out the memory of AusLink. AusLink, in the hearts of Australians, is associated with the previous government, and we cannot have anything good that the people love find its way through a Labor government. So they changed the name. This has been a successful program and its name is being changed for no other reason than it was associated with the previous government.
During the election campaign Labor were quite happy to talk about projects that were going to be funded under AusLink and AusLink 2. They allowed the word to pass their lips on hundreds of occasions during the election campaign, but when they came into office they started choking on the word. So we started seeing new descriptions of the program that everyone knew was AusLink 2. First they started talking about a ‘building Australia program’. Those words were attached to projects in December 2008, but on 5 February 2009 in a COAG communique AusLink was turned into the Nation Building Program. That is the term that the George Orwell robots in the minister’s office have settled on, and that is why we have this bill of spin and the rewriting of history. It says so much about the government that they consider this legislation a priority to be brought on in budget week.
The bill is designed to encourage the error and create the myth that nation building is something unique to Labor. It is not. We see the Prime Minister running around with his helmet on and the tractors starting up behind him while the television cameras are in sight. That is the kind of thing we are getting—spin and the image but no substance. The commitment to infrastructure lies with those who have delivered it over the years and delivered the sound economic management to be able to build things and pay for them—namely, the coalition. I remind members of the Labor Party that infrastructure spending in Australia boomed during the years of the coalition government. In spite of what you may hear the minister say during question time about us having done nothing in government, the reality is that, according to the engineering construction activity index published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in constant 2007 dollar terms infrastructure spending increased from $21 billion in 1996 to over $56 billion by 2007. Put another way, infrastructure spending in Australia rose from just under three per cent of GDP in 1996 to nearly 5½ per cent of GDP in 2007.
So much for Labor’s claims that infrastructure spending declined under the coalition. It is true that, in the early years of government, the task of repaying the debt consumed resources that might otherwise have been spent on road funding. But when AusLink was introduced there was a massive increase in road funding. For the first time we had a national plan which dealt with infrastructure requirements in the years ahead, a plan which schematically dealt with the corridors around the country, identified the task and looked at the best way to deal with it, whether it be road or rail—and there was a significant increase in expenditure at that time. It was the coalition, not Labor, that established AusLink. It was the coalition, not Labor, that developed Australia’s first national land transport plan since Federation. It was the coalition, not Labor, that massively increased expenditure on upgrading road and rail.
Under AusLink the coalition government spent more on nation building than any other Commonwealth government since Federation. In terms of AusLink 2, the former coalition government, in 2007-08, pledged to invest $31 billion in transport infrastructure. Labor have never matched this. They are committing less money over the next five years on transport infrastructure than the coalition had pledged over the same period. In 2009-10, Labor will spend nearly $1.5 billion less on transport than in 2008-09. There are two key points here. Firstly, the Labor Party say they have a huge program on road and rail infrastructure. The truth is that they will spend less on road and rail over the next six years than the coalition had committed—less, not more. This program represents a reduction in expenditure on road and rail from what the coalition had committed. Secondly, the government are talking about an increase in expenditure to deal with a recession, and they say we need to have some kind of stimulus program. They are actually going to spend $1.5 billion less in 2009-10 than has been allocated this year. So the whole of what Labor are talking about is empty spin.
Mr Laurie Ferguson interjecting—
Mr TRUSS —I am opposed to the cuts in expenditure on road funding that Labor have introduced—and I will explain why I am opposed to that as we go further. The key element of Labor’s proposal was the idea that Infrastructure Australia would transparently assess projects on their merits. Sir Rod Eddington was appointed, with a group of mates, to make these assessments and deliver advice to the government on which projects should be funded. But they will not tell us what any of this advice was. They will not release any of the documents. They will not release any of the data. In fact the only thing we have from Infrastructure Australia is a list of 97 projects last year—and now we have Labor’s national infrastructure priority report of 2009.
But Labor have not chosen the projects on their list that are identified as ones to be funded. Some of those projects are included, but other projects that merely have potential have been funded—they have been brought forward. And other projects that are on none of the lists have been funded. In fact the government have now publicly admitted that they chose the projects. The Infrastructure Australia exercise was completely irrelevant. It was a waste of taxpayers’ money and a waste of the resources of people who meaningfully made contributions to the assessment process. Their advice was simply ignored. Labor had already made up their minds which projects were going to be funded. Many of the projects appeared on Labor’s election promises list and were therefore somehow immune from Infrastructure Australia’s processes. Are they being funded on the basis of their merits—or not? It sounds like the Better Regions Program to me—the Better Regions rort—under which Labor’s election promises are being funded whether or not they have any merit. No-one other than Labor candidates could even apply for this particular scheme—and won’t I be looking forward to the Auditor-General’s report into this program! I hope the Auditor-General will also do a report into the Infrastructure Australia process, because it too has been designed to cover up the facts rather than expose them.
We have a list of projects that have been announced. It is in fact Labor’s list. It is not Infrastructure Australia’s list at all. These are projects that Labor have chosen. The list includes some projects which Labor had committed to but the coalition had not. It does not include some projects that we had committed to but Labor had not. It commits to some projects that both sides of politics had committed to. If the government want to make decisions about which projects are going to be funded, they should be honest about it and say they are making all the decisions for their own political reasons. Don’t try and blame Sir Rod Eddington or someone else and try to pretend there is some kind of open process when clearly it has not been there.
I will now discuss some of the specific projects that are being funded by the government. There are two projects that have been brought forward on the government’s claim that they are shovel ready. This is part of the government’s problem: they have all these grand ideas but none of the projects are ready to start. Not only do they not have the money; they do not have the engineering plans, and the planning process has not been gone through. So some of these projects are years and years away. Indeed, many of the projects in this budget go out for more than a decade before they are actually funded. So much for them being a stimulus package.
But there are two projects that are genuinely shovel ready. One of them is the F3 extension to Branxton in the Hunter Valley. That is genuinely ready because the previous government had spent $109 million getting it genuinely ready. We purchased the land and got the design process underway, and it was ready to go. Indeed, the member for Hunter was very supportive of this project before the last election. But on the very day after the election he withdrew his support and the project was put on hold for 18 months. Here is a project that was shovel ready 18 months ago and Labor did nothing. Instead they commissioned a new study, a new report, on the traffic needs of the Hunter.
I do not know what has happened to that study—it has not seen the light yet—but they are going ahead with the project that we had ready to go. All Labor have done with this project is delay it for 18 months, by which time the cost has gone up further. So it was ready, all right, but give the credit where it was due: it was shovel ready because the previous government had got it shovel ready. But, of course, we cannot have the previous government being given too much credit for it, so it is not going to be called the F3 to Branxton anymore. In a new piece of spin, it is now going to be called the Hunter Expressway so somebody might think that it is actually a different project from the one that they held up for 18 months.
The second project that was genuinely shovel ready is the 12-kilometre Cooroy to Curra section of the Bruce Highway. That is shovel ready because the Queensland government got it shovel ready because it is the road that goes around the Traveston Crossing dam. We all hope the Traveston Crossing dam will not be built and that the Commonwealth will have the good sense to honour its environmental responsibilities and stop the project. But, if it goes ahead, nine kilometres of the Bruce Highway will be flooded. Nine kilometres will go under water by 2011, so if the government does not start building this road now there will be a nine-kilometre gap in the national highway that you will have to traverse by boat. That is why this project is shovel ready. In fact, the Queensland Minister for Main Roads said before the last state election that they were going to pay for the whole road themselves. The Queensland government intended to build this, to actually fund it—and they had the money there to fund it. The Commonwealth government has been conned into funding a project that the Queensland government intended to pay for, and it is trying to make some kind of a virtue of it.
The second thing that the minister often says is that they are doing it when the previous government did not do it. Again, let me make this point absolutely clear: it was the previous government that got the four-lane highway up to Cooroy; it was the previous government that significantly upgraded the existing road, including the work that is being done through Gympie at the present time; and it was the previous government that did the design work to get it to the stage where, with a route identified, the project can proceed. That had not been done by previous Labor state governments, but we did all the work to get it to that stage. This is a project that is shovel ready because it is a part of a dam scheme that the state government had already developed.
I will also make some comments about the quite appalling way in which the minister and the Prime Minister have tried to make out that this is some kind of compassionate program. He referred to the 13 people who have been killed on this section of road over recent years. There have in fact been 54 lives lost between Cooroy and Curra over that period, only 13 of them on this section, and very few, if any, since the road was upgraded in 2006. A significant amount of money was spent on safety improvements on that section of the road, including a centre fence, because this section had been laid with a stone mastic service which proved to be unsafe in wet times. Most of the accidents and fatalities that have been referred to have in fact been on a section of road that has subsequently been repaired, so if they actually want to fix the places where people are dying at the present time they should choose other sections. Indeed, there was a serious accident earlier this week—the news report said ‘mother critical’—but it was not on the section where the Prime Minister has been out with his hard hat on, pretending that they are doing this to deal with the safety problems on the road.
Let me say that there are safety problems on all sections of this road—it all needs to be fixed— and it is reasonable that this section be considered in that context. However, the government has not solved the safety problems on the Cooroy to Curra section by building this section of road. The most dangerous sections still remain to be done. So I call on the government to honour the coalition’s commitment made at the last election to complete this section by 2020. Put forward the necessary funding to make sure there will be an ongoing program so that this ‘death’ highway can in fact be rebuilt.
There are many other projects of this nature that remain on the list, but key Labor election promises remain unfulfilled. Labor’s pledge to allocate $840 million for a dedicated freight line between Strathfield and Gosford, dealing with one of the most serious rail freight bottlenecks on the east coast, remains delayed for another study. We are still waiting for Labor to duplicate the Western Highway from Bacchus Marsh to the South Australian border, as it promised, and for Labor to honour its commitment for $2½ billion for the missing link from the Gateway Motorway to Nudgee in north Brisbane.
We need to look at some of the other projects that are being funded. It is quite interesting that the government is going to spend significant funding on the Pacific Highway, as did the coalition. However, Labor has made a significant change. Previously, this project was jointly funded by the New South Wales and Commonwealth governments—it was a 50-50 project. The Commonwealth is now going to pick up the full cost of the Pacific Highway, letting New South Wales off their 50 per cent of the cost. That is a $5 billion plus gift to the bankrupt New South Wales Labor government. Instead of paying their share, they are being let off the hook. Look at some of the other projects that are on this list, such as the proposal to do a $91 million study on the Sydney West Metro. The actual cost of this project will be about $6 billion. There is a $20 million study for the Brisbane inner-city rail. That project is going to cost about $14 billion. Labor cannot pretend they are actually building these things; they are just studying—so we are going to have a study-led recovery.
What about the increased expenditure on the Ipswich Motorway? This is because the cost of the scheme has blown out of all proportion. There is $365 million for the Gold Coast railway, and that is only a possible equity contribution, with no guarantee the project is even going to go ahead. It is described only as a possible equity contribution, so who knows whether we will get any real benefit from that as well. The Darwin port and the Oakajee port also require significant investments by other parties. And if anyone had any idea that perhaps this was some kind of genuine and honest process they only have to look at the Adelaide O-Bahn project. It was announced as a priority project, but it was not even requested by the South Australian government. It was never on the short list that was published by IA in December last year, and yet it is being funded. When it was announced, the minister in South Australia was honest enough to say, ‘Well, that’s a nice surprise; we didn’t even ask for it’—and yet it is supposed to be such a magnificent priority. This is the hypocrisy of the way this government has been behaving. It is addicted to spin.
In the few minutes that are still available to me I want to deal with some of the other features of the bill which again demonstrate some disturbing trends. It is clear that Labor is firing another bullet in its war against regional Australia in this legislation. We already know that most of the $8.4 billion for new projects, funded from the former government’s surplus, will be spent on urban passenger transport projects. There is a significant shift in funding in what the government has announced away from road and rail projects, especially in regional areas, to urban public transport.
This bill modifies part 6 of the principal act, the AusLink (National Land Transport) Act 2005, to enact a basic change to what was known as AusLink strategic regional projects. Members may recall that the AusLink Strategic Regional Program was designed to assist state and local governments to build better transport networks, and to support industry, tourism and economic development. The purpose of the strategic regional program was to foster partnerships and to develop networks to upgrade infrastructure related projects in areas off the National Land Transport Network. Around $469 million went to fund projects under the strategic regional program between 2004 and 2007, and there are many very worthwhile projects around the nation that benefited from that funding. That is going to change because the government want to amend section 55 of the act to remove all references to ‘regional’ and simply rename the strategic regional initiative to become a nation-building program for off-network projects. In other words, the key characteristic of the strategic regional program will cease to exist and funding will be available for urban Australia. You have got regional strategic roads program funding and now it is going to be spent in the cities. This is a clear shift in the priorities of the Labor Party and it will be opposed by the coalition. Clearly, Labor have identified a long list of projects that they intend to fund with this money and $762.5 million, or 86 per cent of what is to be available, has been set aside to fund their election promises. Many of these promises were made for areas that could not be funded under the strategic regional program because they did not meet the guidelines, so Labor are getting rid of the program so they can fund ill-thought-out, ill-considered and ill-valued projects that were simply Labor Party election stunts. This amendment clears the legislative path to use these significant funds for transport related infrastructure away from regional Australia.
There is a second element of major change which we will oppose. I refer to the changes to the Black Spot Program, a very successful program that has saved many lives. The then Bureau of Transport Economics estimated that by 2007 the Black Spot Program had saved at least 130 lives and prevented 6,000 serious accidents by upgrading 4,200 dangerous sites on state and local roads. This was a coalition initiative. We had to restore it after Labor had abolished the program. The government allocated $30 million in 2008-09 and $60 million in 2009-10 to extend its coverage. This is on top of the government’s announcement in December 2008 that it would more than double the Black Spot Program funding for 2008-09 from $50 million to $110 million. So it is pleasing that this Labor government has not done what the previous Labor government did and abolish the program but has indeed committed some additional funding. We welcome that. However, what Labor is now doing is proposing to change the very nature of the Black Spot Program so the benefits will not flow in the future to projects in local communities, to the roads and streets where there have been accidents. In fact, the black spot funding is now going to be available to be spent on the national network, so it will be subsumed into the highway system.
I accept that there are dangerous spots on our highways, but there is a very substantial funding program that provides support for upgrading the highways. We should not be taking away money from projects for local streets and roads to spend it on the national highway network. I wonder whether we will see any money left for the local roads. I wonder whether it is all now going to go on one or two projects for the national highway that would take all this money away. So we will be opposing that element of the bill and will be putting forward an amendment to keep the black spot funding for areas off the National Land Transport Network. They can be in either city or country, as they are now, but the funding should not be allocated into an area which is already funded in substantial quantities through other programs.
This bill is all about government spin and, unfortunately, Labor are attempting to rewrite history to take out of the public’s memory some of the excellent work that the previous government did with road and rail funding. In particular, well-known names like AusLink are to disappear so that any association with the projects of the previous government can be written away. That is just typical of the way in which Labor governments behave: it is all spin. It is all about TV images and 30-second spots on the news. It is all spin and there is no substance. (Time expired)