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Thursday, 12 May 2011
Page: 3870

Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (15:25): I appreciate members from both sides of the chamber staying to support this matter of public importance, because it is important and it is urgent. This is a matter in time in public policy where we have a great opportunity for state and federal governments to work together on many projects. We have a great threat at the moment where party politics can get in the way of the opportunity and we have an inability as a consequence to achieve the outcomes for this country that we might otherwise achieve.

I start with the good news. Six months ago Australia voted. A tight result was the consequence. The father of the House is obviously passionate about this topic, but a tight result was the outcome federally of the last election. Some tough negotiations happened. It was wound up with a bit of a longish speech at the time and a power-sharing arrangement was what occurred federally as a consequence. Over 80 commitments were agreed to over this period. A lot of work has gone into these over the last six months in getting the structures right and now we are starting to see from last Tuesday night some of the funding commitments, particularly in regional Australia, that are occurring as a consequence. Some of the long-term structural changes for future parliaments regardless of their political persuasion that will remain embedded as a consequence of this are a regional development department that is now back in place, a subcommittee of cabinet that now reviews all aspects of decision making on behalf of the regions and, importantly for this motion and for relationships between the Commonwealth of Australia and the states, real funding going into the Regional Development Australia network.

Fifty RDA committees are now in place around Australia. They are all doing good work strategically on behalf of their communities and, importantly, this structure is the meeting place between the Commonwealth and the states. The regional development arm of New South Wales is essentially the same regional development arm as of the Commonwealth. That has been important as of the last six months. What was a frustration before that was that real funding was not attached to this meeting place. That is now there and it empowers local communities and regions to get on with the job of community building. That is the good news and hopefully the good example for this debate of the power of cooperation that can achieve real results in building more productive and more resilient communities and getting better results with taxpayers' money. State and federal governments, therefore, regardless of political persuasion, can work together. The consensus structure that is now here to stay will, over time, deliver significant outcomes, mostly around the fact that there has been agreement and cooperation between the Commonwealth and the states, and because party politics has been put in the back pocket.

Now for the warning bells. We have seen in today's news some expression of concern, surprise and shock by the new New South Wales Liberal Premier that the $1 billion of extra money allocated to the Pacific Highway from the Commonwealth in Tuesday night's budget may be under threat. This Commonwealth commitment of an extra $1 billion—$750 million of new money and $250 million-odd that has been moved from a project in Sydney, with the agreement I understand of New South Wales, across to the Pacific Highway project—has significantly boosted the Commonwealth commitment to the Pacific Highway project, from $3.1 billion in its lifetime to $4.1 billion. That is about a 30 per cent increase we have achieved—

Mr Ruddock interjecting

Mr OAKESHOTT: I think you are agreeing with me. Thank you, Father of the House, for agreeing with my point. We have seen a 30 per cent increase in the commitment from the Commonwealth for the construction of the Pacific Highway project.

Mr Ruddock interjecting

Mr Albanese interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Berowra and the minister will not have a discussion across the table. The member for Lyne has the call. The member for Berowra knows much better.

Mr OAKESHOTT: This $1 billion of extra and new money into the Pacific Highway project does lay down a challenge. It reaches out to New South Wales to match that commitment in what has been traditionally a fifty-fifty funding agreement for what is a very important nation-building project. The challenge is there for the New South Wales government in its first budget after campaigning heavily on this issue, visiting sites such as the site of the Clybucca bus crash and making plenty of noise that it would commit to a 2016 completion date. It will not get there unless it matches the funding that was in the Commonwealth budget. Unless an extra $2 billion goes into this project, the Pacific Highway dual carriageway will not be completed by 2016.

We can bang on like the member for Berowra is banging on about party politics and about the conflict between the Commonwealth and the state or we can focus on getting the job done. I would hope the member for Berowra, like all members in this parliament, wants to focus on getting the job done. It is that simple. This project can go in one of two directions: it can be a cooperative project that does have a real chance of completion by 2016, making a more efficient road, a safer road and a road that contributes to productivity in this nation, or it can be an ongoing squabble about funding. I would hope this place works closely with other chambers—in particular for this project New South Wales—to focus on the state and national interest in completing the job.

Here is the rub: in my view, cooperation in public policy beats conflict every time. Personally, I have done all that I can at my level to ensure full completion of this project by 2016. We should not sneeze at $1 billion of extra money. I have read comments over the last 48 hours from members of this chamber who are local members on this highway not only sneezing at this money—

Ms Saffin interjecting

Mr OAKESHOTT: I know the member for Page is not, but there are some who are really trying to bag this project and the money going in. They should be focusing on the importance of this money to getting the job done.

The New South Wales government has a challenge—I hope it takes it up and commits. It campaigned on it and if it is going to fulfil its promise of completion by 2016 it has to match the Commonwealth commitment; otherwise, a significant broken promise will have taken place in New South Wales. I reach out to Barry O'Farrell to do the deal—let us get this project done. Through cooperation, let us do what former governments—state and federal, Labor and Liberal—have failed to achieve. The Regional Development Australia model of cooperation that I began my speech with is the answer. The Pacific Highway can be an example of similar and further cooperation. If not, the message and the big warning bell for this chamber is that this will be the start of a significant threat to public policy and the national interest. In Tuesday night's budget, we saw for the first time a separate regional Australia document. There is a great deal of money coming down the pipe from the Commonwealth largely to state assets, whether it be for infrastructure, hospital projects or education projects. If the Pacific Highway is the first part of an ongoing game that goes on between the Commonwealth and the states, between Labor and Liberal, it will be the greatest threat to nation building in this country. I would hope—

Opposition members interjecting

Mr OAKESHOTT: I hear nothing but confirmation of my argument. I hope that this is a parliament that, regardless of minority status or otherwise, is focused on the national interest, cooperation and partnerships. This is a test for federal Labor, as it is a test for New South Wales Liberal. Their political positioning must come second to state and national outcomes. It is being done as an example through the Regional Development Australia network. I think that is a good example for us to hang our hat on and to try and exemplify in other areas of public policy. But it is, as of today, under threat in regard to the Pacific Highway, despite the $1 billion of extra money in Tuesday night's budget. As I said before, of greater concern is the significant partnership projects, particularly those in health and education, that are coming quickly down the pipe and that we must work on sensibly and together. So, yes, I think it is there for all to see: federal Labor gain power by a millimetre and the New South Wales Liberals gain power by a mile. But my request to the House today, which I hope gets support, is to get over it and to get on with it. This is too important a moment to lose. Building a better, stronger and more resilient nation and building better, stronger and more resilient regions is the best path for both parties. It is the only path that will maximise the value of taxpayers' money, because the other path is one of squabbling and conflict and of achieving a lesser outcome for taxpayers' money.

I put this request to the House in relation to good examples where the states and the Commonwealth can do it: they can work together when they want to. Labor and Liberal can work together—we all can. Greens and Independents can also work together when they want to.

Mr McCormack interjecting

Mr OAKESHOTT: Even the Nationals and the Greens do at times come together to work together. They do it when they want to. The mining and farming conflict is an area where the Nationals and the Greens quite often take similar positions, and they do so for the right reasons on many of the issues at stake in that very difficult public policy area. So it can be done if we want it to be done.

I hope the Pacific Highway funding commitment made on Tuesday night is not under threat. I hope the focus is on the election commitments of both federal Labor and the state Liberals to try and complete this project by 2016. The $1 billion of extra money in Tuesday night's budget is the start of that commitment at a Commonwealth level, and it is now stump-up time for the new New South Wales government to at least match that if we are going to get to 2016. Today's comments in the paper are of concern if New South Wales will not match that money and 2016 will not be delivered. There is an opportunity for everyone to speak in this debate—

Opposition members interjecting

Mr OAKESHOTT: If I heard what I think I just heard, Mr Deputy Speaker, the federal coalition would put more money into the Pacific Highway. Is that the commitment?

Opposition members interjecting

Mr OAKESHOTT: I think I just heard a commitment from the federal coalition to put in more money than $1 billion, and I look forward to the contribution of other speakers to either confirm or reject that—$1 billion is good money; it should be welcome money. And we should be welcoming New South Wales to commit similar money to get the job done. That is a simple request. There are examples in other areas of government. There are opportunities or threats in other areas of public policy, and the Pacific Highway project is the first test. I hope we focus on the opportunities, I hope we push for cooperation and I hope we keep the focus on the national interest.