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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 5895


Ms SAFFIN (3:05 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Will the minister please update the House on the rollout of the government’s record investment in regional infrastructure and on how it is being received by regional representatives?


Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —I thank the member for Page for her question. More than $21 billion of the $35 billion we have set aside for transport infrastructure will be spent in regional and rural Australia. The member for Page will certainly be pleased—I am not quite so sure about the member for Cowper—that I have announced today that detailed engineering work will start this week on the $618 million Kempsey bypass. That will enable construction work to commence at the beginning of next year, creating some 450 direct jobs, as well as many indirect jobs, in Kempsey on the North Coast of New South Wales. I am asked about how the investment in regional Australia is being received. Certainly, a number of National Party representatives have had a say about this project—which they could not get around to doing in 12 long years—that it is long overdue. This is a direct piece of self-criticism from the National Party representatives, including the member for Cowper.

Regional representatives have also had a bit to say. The Vice-President of the National Farmers Federation has said:

Transport infrastructure investment, including road and port funding, is welcomed.

He said that in a statement that the NFF put out supporting this government’s record funding in regional Australia. I am asked about other representatives and what they had to say about our budget proposals and the record investment which is supporting jobs today and building the infrastructure that Australia needs for tomorrow.

I note that the Leader of the National Party was speaking at a New South Wales Nationals conference in Wagga Wagga last Friday. He is also the shadow minister for transport and I thought he might have a bit to say at that conference. Members will recall the amendment moved to the Nation Building Program legislation, when the parliament sat a couple of weeks ago, that would stop funding of black spots in regional communities. Remember that amendment which the opposition moved so that you could not have black spot funding on the national network? They all went to the photo opportunities in their electorates applauding the funding, yet they had voted against it being permitted under the Nation Building Program. I thought the Leader of the National Party might have a bit to say about how the opposition are taking on the government over this outrageous measure that they say the government has put in. I had a look at the speech and there are 2,600 words in it but transport is not mentioned, not even once. There is not one word from the shadow minister about transport. There is nothing about nation building or about infrastructure. He had nothing at all to say.

The Leader of the National Party was in Wagga Wagga at the conference and he would have known—and there would have been people from Wagga Wagga there, too, who would have known—that we are duplicating the Hume Highway by 2012, and that we are bringing forward record spending on the Hume Highway. I had a look at what was in the speech of the Leader of the National Party and he said a very interesting thing. He said:

We are increasingly seen as the party of regional Australia, grounded in the regions and taking forward regional expertise and ideas for consideration in Canberra and Macquarie Street.

That is an interesting perspective given that, when I was elected here in 1996 there were 18 Nationals in the parliament and now there are nine. Yet they argue that they are moving forward and are increasingly seen as the party of regional Australia.


Mr Oakeshott interjecting


Mr ALBANESE —I notice the member for Lyne having a good chuckle at the idea that the National Party are the party of regional Australia and that they are moving forward in Macquarie Street and in Canberra. The Leader of the National Party has become the Comical Ali of the Parliament. Remember Comical Ali as the US troops came into Baghdad? He said, ‘It’s okay, nothing’s happening. It’s okay, we’re going well.’ Comical Ali had this to say about the Americans, ‘We have destroyed their shovels. We have driven them back.’ Well, those opposite want to destroy the shovels of the government, those nation-building shovels that are being utilised throughout the country to build roads, to build rail and to build ports. Those opposite, in spite of their best efforts to stop the nation-building agenda of this government, will not succeed.

I must say that the Leader of the National Party perhaps listened to the leader of the coalition who said, on 20 May when he was in Adelaide, about the government’s nation-building agenda and I quote:

… everything will have to be reviewed. There’s no question about that.

What we see is those opposite drawing into question the nation-building agenda that the government has. The government will not be deterred. It will continue to support programs which support jobs today and which build the infrastructure that Australia needs for tomorrow.