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Thursday, 19 June 2014
Page: 6683

Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (11:16): As is always the case with the Abbott government, never take note of the names and terms they use; think of the ones they are hiding from view. Or, in stark terms, when it comes to the Abbott government, do not focus on the smoke; focus on the reality that it is about to burn you. Only the Abbott government could attempt to—in this case, with this legislation—create a virtue out of asset recycling when and hide from view the thing they do not want you to see. The Asset Recycling Fund Bill 2014 is designed to coax—or, as some have said in this debate, bribe—state governments to sell assets to get their hands on federal funds. The government will not provide the funds on a needs basis but rather will do it only on the basis that state governments will do this to their own constituencies.

Instead of being up-front and telling people that this is a pro-privatisation measure, the Abbott government has turned green and embraced the concept of recycling—which is not surprising; since they have assumed office they have been re-using Labor government infrastructure announcements and rebranding them as Abbott government ones. And now they are taking things further, but they are being consistent. Not content to break their own promises, the Abbott government is trying to get state governments to breach faith with their own constituencies and privatise assets that those state governments did not get a mandate for. They are trying to get other governments to make unpalatable decisions on behalf of the Abbott government, which is what is happening in New South Wales. In New South Wales we have a government that is now proposing to sell the poles and wires—electricity assets—that exist in that state. We previously had a premier who made numerous public comments recently against privatisation of the distribution of poles and wires in New South Wales. But a few months later we get a new Premier, a new face and a redefinition of the term 'commitment'. The new Premier, Mike Baird, is brandishing New South Wales treasury analysis suggesting that New South Wales's regulated prices are higher than in the jurisdictions where poles and wires have been privatised. Yet that does not necessarily put a spotlight on something within that analysis, and that is that a lot of investment has been made in New South Wales to bring ageing assets into the 21st century to ensure that they can deliver on electricity in the way that modern consumers are using and demanding electricity supply, and at a quality that they can use.

What they should be focused on is the analysis work that is being done in some jurisdictions in Australia where privatisation has occurred. For example, last week there was an article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Sean Nicholls and Brian Robins. Brian Robins is someone who has been following energy issues for well over a decade, so he speaks with a degree of experience and expertise. He focuses on South Australia. The article says:

… the state's retail electricity market was deregulated after household electricity bills soared almost 24 per cent.

Today, South Australians are burdened with among the highest electricity bills on earth, ranked only behind Germany and Denmark according to a 2012 report.

The average annual South Australian bill is now $2335, compared with $1960 in NSW and Victoria, figures from the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) showed …

It is important to note that. And here is the bad news. I think there will be some suggestions about the future of electricity pricing in New South Wales, and we have to see whether or not reality will bear out. But it is the electricity consumer who is the loser, no matter the ownership model. And I would not necessarily be racing to embrace privatisation if I were concerned about electricity pricing. I understand that the New South Wales Nationals are concerned about this, and they will rightly be concerned about this going into the election, because their constituencies are rightly concerned about it.

Why are we seeing this in New South Wales? We are seeing it because the New South Wales government is having to foot the bill in part for supporting a project that some are worried will turn out to be a white elephant, and that is the development of Badgerys Creek airport in Western Sydney. Importantly, this New South Wales government work is being done to support yet another breach by the Prime Minister. You might recall that in January 2013 he said that he had absolutely no plans for a second airport at Badgerys Creek. It did not take him too long to commit a breach of faith with the New South Wales people and the Australian people in committing to this project soon after getting into government. I do not recall either the member for Macarthur or the member for Lindsay or any of the candidates we stood against in Western Sydney displaying pamphlets saying that they were committed to Badgerys Creek airport. If anything, they rightly shook their fists at the notion of this airport and said that they would not support it. But now we have a government saying that that is exactly what they are going to do.

The interesting thing is that this government, making out that they are big and strong about these things, made a decision on Badgerys Creek airport but will never mention the actual term 'Badgerys Creek airport' because it is such a contentious issue in our region. It is, in fact, as I have dubbed elsewhere, an airport that dare not speak its name. The only time that the Prime Minister has ever used the term 'Badgerys Creek airport' was when he was before TheDaily Telegraph at their Champions of the West dinner. As I have also remarked upon, talking tough in front of TheDaily Telegraph is like driving an ice cream van through a sweaty neighbourhood. It is not the hardest job in the world, particularly when TheDaily Telegraph has been championing it. What was interesting that night was that—

Mr Chester interjecting

Mr HUSIC: You get the concept, Member for Gippsland. It looks like you have had a few ice creams, like me!

But certainly that evening, as I have remarked upon elsewhere, the Prime Minister in talking about Badgerys Creek airport said that he did not want to see burden without benefit. So even the Prime Minister recognises that this this going to be a problem. The government's idea of the benefit is to build three roads, which the member for Mayo has described as a Western Sydney economic project. If you build three roads, amazingly you have an economic project in Western Sydney even though some of the details have not even been put on the table properly. For example, some of those roads have to be built anyway for the south-west growth centre that is going to house a city the size of Canberra—300,000 people. When you look at the program itself, one of the key projects, the new east-west motorway, at a total of $1 billion does not even have an end date put to it. We have been given a rather loose commitment that it will be completed before the airport opens in 2022. This is exactly the type of problem we have with infrastructure planning in this country—we have these loosely made commitments and not much evidence to back them up.

In the case of Badgerys Creek airport, one of the things we are being told is a big seller is jobs. Yet at a meeting that the Deputy Prime Minister convened and then did not show up for, to talk about Badgerys Creek airport, we found out from departmental officials the 60,000 jobs figure being mooted by the Prime Minister and his acolytes is not even true. It is going to be only 5,000 because 5,000 jobs flow from a single runway airport such as is going to exist at Badgerys. Frankly, we are being made commitments about benefits that are not in reality going to be delivered and we are going to be the worse for it. I will come to that in a moment.

There are concerns that Badgerys will become an expensive, costly waste of taxpayers' funds. People have looked at where second airports have been built in jurisdictions either here in Australia or overseas. Here, Avalon Airport is struggling to exist. It was opened with much fanfare. There was a lot of retail presence there. I am now led to believe that all it has is a food-and-coffee outlet. Qantas has reduced its presence there. Avalon has been able to assume only 1.7 per cent of air traffic from Tullamarine. So there are concerns about Avalon.

If you look overseas to Canada, when Mirabel airport near Montreal was built it was promised that it would carry the load of the other airport that exists in Montreal that was built in the 1970s. It has turned out to be an airport no-one wants to use. It is 50 kilometres north of Montreal and was supposed to replace Dorval airport, an airport that was only 20 kilometres from the centre of Montreal. An article that Ean Higgins wrote for the Australian on 9 May said:

Mirabel died a slow, drawn-out death as a passenger airport …

Yet we are going to commit billions of dollars to Badgerys.

Looking to other parts of the world, there is the Ciudad Real Central Airport, for example, previously known as the Don Quijote Airport, in South Madrid. Like Mirabel, it is now a ghost airport. They are airports that are not delivering, and yet we have committed billions of dollars to similar airports. It has now prompted analysts here in Australia—for example, a transport and infrastructure analyst with Deutsche Bank, Cameron McDonald—to say that the federal government's plans for Badgerys are pretty vague. Cameron McDonald said:

"We don't even know what sort of airport is going to be built."

…   …   …

"I question some of the numbers—how you make billions of dollars for investing in Badgerys …

…   …   …

Even if Badgerys Creek did better, McDonald said, and got about 2 per cent of Kingsford Smith’s 38 million passengers, that equated to only 760,000 passengers a year.

"You put up, say, $1.5bn for a runway and a basic terminal.

"It’s not going to be a very lucrative business."

So my issue is that we have seen infrastructure that is not what Western Sydney wants; it is stuff that eastern Sydney needs to see happen. We are told we are getting it because we want it and that it is based on community research—and this is intriguing—that Labor did when we were in government. A number of MPs from Western Sydney, me included, asked then Prime Minister Gillard how you could conduct community research on a project that we did not support and it was party policy not to support. We did it anyway. Then—surprise, surprise!—the federal Abbott government got its hands on documents that were part of a cabinet process some time later. Questions have to be asked about how the Abbott government got that material and how it is relying upon it. I think that is a serious breach of cabinet process and there need to be questions asked about how the Abbott government has just felt free to use this material.

To come back to the point, we are committing billions to a project that is going to suck up dollars that will not be available for other things that Western Sydney needs. Those opposite are cutting health infrastructure spending for things that we need. We cannot get those but we can have an airport. If you ask any other Western Sydney resident what their infrastructure needs are, they will not be asking for an airport because they do not believe it is in the interests of Western Sydney residents to have that airport when they have other infrastructure needs.

No-one has had a serious look at unshackling the existing investment around Sydney airport. For instance, no-one is seriously looking at Sydney Airport's flight movements that have been restricted and restricted for quite some time. No-one is seriously looking at lifting the movements per hour from 80 to 85. One of the arguments is that the roads around the airport will not allow that to occur. Well, if that is the case why do we have a federal government committing billions to roads on the other side of the city instead of looking at what would make Sydney airport work better by freeing the land-based transport around the airport to accommodate an increase in the availability of flights within Sydney? No-one has actually looked at it, yet we are going to commit billions, and the people of Western Sydney will not actually get the infrastructure that they need. They will get it on the basis of what others are claiming they need. We are just going to repeat the Canadian experience of wasting billions on an asset 50 kilometres away instead of supporting what the markets want. And this is being championed, not by people in our area but by people outside it. Again, I do not think that it is in the interests of the area.

In time there may be support amongst parties for this airport, but my view is that I will take the position of sticking up for the people of our area because I think they have been dudded for long enough. We have wanted infrastructure where the city continues to grow and where it is not supported with proper infrastructure. But then no government is prepared to, in effect, retro fit suburbs that have already been built with new infrastructure. Or, if that retro fit is put forward, it is again consigning infrastructure dollars in a way that will divert from the needs of people where they actually do require better infrastructure.

Certainly, I think that this government is going to make a series of mistakes that will be very costly, and the people of Western Sydney will be paying for them.