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Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Page: 11284

Mr HAYES (6:47 PM) —I enjoyed the contribution from the member for Goldstein. Apart from being a very active swimmer these days, he takes a little bit of licence in his contribution here. The member for Goldstein has been outlining a position he is concerned about, having been a senior member of the Howard government. A hallmark of that government was the regional rorts program, where local infrastructure was treated so abominably. That is what gave us the Beaudesert railway investment and the Tumbi Creek program—things that were wasted. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker Andrews, all the things that occurred under the regional rorts program were in marginal, coalition-held seats. We do not need people coming down here feigning indignation and giving excuses as to why they did not do it. The fact is that they did do various things. The hallmark of their administration when it came to infrastructure was to look at where we would put our money, and it had nothing to do with the forward planning of infrastructure, nothing to do with building communities but everything to do with trying to secure coalition seats.

The Australian Labor Party is a party that has always been about nation building. It is worthwhile acknowledging that Labor governments in the past have laid down the foundation of what we are now progressing here today. The post-war recovery period was led by the Chifley government with, for instance, the Snowy Mountains scheme in 1949. Throughout the seventies the Whitlam government provided practical infrastructure solutions to fixing our nation’s hospitals. In the mid-eighties through to the nineties the Hawke and Keating governments opened our economy up and made us more competitive. Keating’s Better Cities program introduced a broad-ranging strategy of reform that included innovative housing programs and a renewed focus on urban consolidations. That was the hallmark of what Labor achieved in office and that is what we are doing here today. That is in vast contrast to the previous Howard administration, which wasted the opportunities provided by former Labor governments. They consistently failed to invest in nation-building programs.

For too long our nation’s budgets were constructed short-sightedly, focusing on the next election and ignoring the big challenges facing the nation’s future. The previous government squandered the proceeds of the mining and resources boom and failed to invest properly in the future of this country. The Howard government wasted 11½ years of its time in office. It did squander a lot of the investment in our long-term needs and, quite frankly, the country is poorer for it. It is one thing to go out there under a regional rorts program and try to win office through things such as Tumbi Creek or the Beaudesert railway, which never actually functioned. These were opportunities but this is where this government was going, looking solely at election outcomes and not at the big ticket items, which are the nation’s future.

These bills before the House today certainly reiterate Labor’s commitment to being a party dedicated to nation building. It gives me some pleasure to be able to come in and support these measures here today because they are very pertinent to where I come from in south-west Sydney, and I will return to that aspect a little later on. I support these three bills: the Nation-building Funds Bill 2008, the Nation-building Funds (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2008 and the COAG Reform Fund Bill 2008.

The Nation-building Funds Bill 2008 is part of this package of three bills giving effect to three financial asset funds that were announced in the 2008-09 budget and now play a decisive part in the government’s Economic Security Strategy to strengthen the Australian economy in the face of this global financial crisis. On 14 October the Prime Minister, along with the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, announced that this government would be fast-tracking the nation’s building agenda to help shield Australia from the global financial crisis and will accelerate the implementation of the government’s three nation-building funds. The Commonwealth has also decided that it will bring forward its interim report on infrastructure in order to accelerate the government’s nation-building agenda. As a consequence the national infrastructure priority list will be crucial in determining the prosperity of the nation by identifying those priorities that we have now and into the future. It will be the basis for determining the funding allocations from the Building Australia Fund.

The government will establish three funds to meet its commitment to Australia’s future by investing in critical areas of infrastructure such as transport and communication, education and health. The nation-building fund will finance capital investment in critical infrastructure in transport and communications such as road, rail, urban transport, port facilities and broadband. The Education Investment Fund will finance capital investment in higher education, vocational education and training, as well as various research institutions. The Health and Hospitals Fund will finance capital investment in health infrastructure, such as the renewal and refurbishment of many of our hospitals, medical technology equipment, major medical research facilities and various projects.

The Nation-building Funds (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2008 deals with consequential matters relating to the establishment of these funds, including amendments required to the Future Fund Act 2006 and Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 and the repeal of the Higher Education Endowment Fund Act 2007. Importantly, these two bills facilitate acceleration to allow for interim arrangements to begin as early as possible. The third bill before us today is the COAG Reform Fund Bill. This will establish the COAG Reform Fund for the purposes of disbursing funds to the states and territories and will also be used to disburse funding provided for in future budgets for areas of specific reform. Where the Building Australia Fund, the Health and Hospitals Fund or the Education Investment Fund is used to finance projects by the states the moneys will be channelled from the nation-building fund to the state or territory via the COAG Reform Fund. The terms and conditions of the financial assistance to be granted will be set out in a series of agreements between the Commonwealth and the states and territories.

Through the Council of Australian Governments, the Rudd government has delivered on its promise to end the blame game and modernise the federation, to build the productive capacity of the economy and to deliver better services to all Australians. This is vastly different to ‘regional rorts’. As I stated earlier, this is a government of nation builders and is committed to this. These bills before the House are the beginning of a new era of investing in Australia’s future. Unlike the previous government, who found it easier to avoid leadership responsibilities and blame the states than to get on with the job, we are getting on with the job. They failed to invest in the nation’s future; we are investing in the nation’s future.

This government has no intention of simply hoarding a surplus for the sake of having a surplus; this government is committed to investing in Australia, and more importantly investing in Australians. That is what the surplus is there for. We are working to build a better future for everybody. We understand that this money is not ours—unlike the member for Goldstein, who lectured us about this a few moments ago. This money belongs to the Australian people and we have an obligation to invest in them and to strengthen their futures, and that is precisely what we are doing through these pieces of legislation.

This year the government will contribute a total of $12.6 billion to the Building Australia Fund for transport, communications, energy and water, and infrastructure, including proceeds from the T3 sale and the balance of the Communications Fund; a total of $8.7 billion to the Education Investment Fund for education infrastructure, including the balance of the Higher Education Endowment Fund; and $5 billion to the Health and Hospitals Fund, for health related infrastructure. These funds are not slush funds; these funds are there for the implementation of various worthwhile projects as they are identified. These proposals will always be subject to rigorous and independent evaluation by advisory bodies. Unlike the way we saw funds administered under the previous administration, the bodies that we have set up, particularly in relation to Infrastructure Australia, have leading business people on their boards, from the CEO down. Quite frankly, this demonstrates the level of independence as well as the serious rigour that these projects will be subject to in assessment. This is about transparency. More than just that, this is about making every effort to ensure that what we, as the Commonwealth, invest in is, in real terms, investing in the future of Australians.

Fast-tracking the nation-building agenda will help secure economic activity in the short term, but in the long term it is going to develop the financial and economic potential and the future of this nation, and that is what we are seeking to achieve. These funds are part of the government’s nation-building agenda to help shield Australians from the global financial crisis and will help meet Australia’s critical long-term infrastructure needs. Importantly, they will help strengthen the national economy and support Australian households during this time of global financial crisis.

Australia has substantial gaps in infrastructure that must be addressed if we are to continue to improve our productivity as well as our living standards, and there cannot be any argument about this. I would challenge anyone on the other side to argue against that. There are a couple of members from Queensland sitting at the table at the moment, and they will know about our mining industries up there. Those over in the west, where I have spent some time, particularly in Port Hedland, know the importance to the nation’s financial infrastructure of port facilities, and the same goes for rail—not the Bo Derek rail line—

Mr Hartsuyker —Beaudesert!

Mr HAYES —Beaudesert, sorry. I am obliged to the member for Cowper. I will correct the Hansard. But we are talking about significant rail infrastructure that, unlike that rail line, adds to our economic wellbeing and the ability of this country to produce and export. That is the economic growth that we need to be very much cognisant of as we look at infrastructure developments within this country. We need to ensure that we have proper, functioning port structures and heavy rail structures so that our producers, particularly in relation to minerals and resources, are able to compete on the world stage. With the growing pressures on commodity prices that we are now seeing, it is going to be absolutely critical for us as a nation exporting minerals and energy to have the most efficient lines of transportation to facilitate greater productivity as we go about exporting to the world from those areas where we have natural resources.

This government is using all its assets to identify the long-term infrastructure needs of this country, as I indicated earlier. I drew attention to the composition of the board of Infrastructure Australia. That is certainly a significant part of it. Residents in my electorate of Werriwa, out in the south-west of Sydney, know the significance of investing in infrastructure. It was very, very big leading up to the last election. It was very big because there was only one party that consistently throughout the election period promised infrastructure development for the south-west of Sydney, and that was the Labor Party. The Labor Party came out and said that they would do something that had been asked for time and time again—the expansion of the F5. It is a $140 million project. That was something so critical, and it clearly falls well within AusLink 2.

All those years that I was on the opposition benches, I asked questions of ministers about when they would do something for the south-west of Sydney. They did nothing. It was not until after Kevin Rudd made the announcement about investing in a $140 million project out in the south-west of Sydney that the then roads minister said, ‘Well, we’ll do the same.’ He took until two or three days later to come out and say that. That just shows the disdain of the then government for infrastructure development in the south-west of Sydney. Granted, it is a Labor electorate and has been for quite a period of time—and I am sure Gough Whitlam will see that it will stay a Labor electorate. But that just shows the contrast between the approaches: we could look at the area either as a marginal seat or we could look at what was going to be needed for the development of the area.

Over the next 20 years, Sydney is reportedly going to have a population in excess of five million people, I understand. Much of that growth between now and then—as a matter of fact, 20 per cent—will be found in the south-west of Sydney. The south-west of Sydney—Liverpool, Campbelltown, Leppington, Rossmore, Camden and all those areas—is very much the growth corridor of Sydney. It is where we are establishing our employment lands. It is why we would have a dedicated freight line which would be a more effective and efficient inland port. We are bringing container terminals through our intermodal terminals and, as a consequence, we are now establishing businesses along that rail and road corridor—new manufacturing and advanced engineering. They are jobs for the people I represent out there. We have a university which is now producing graphic designers and engineers, and just last week the Deputy Prime Minister opened a medical school. We will have our doctors being trained and, more importantly, our medical technology developments occurring out there.

These are things that we invest in now to achieve for the future. These are things that we must be dedicated to. Where we sit now, 12 months since the election, is in marked contrast. We are following through with our commitment to invest in this nation’s future, to develop these areas of opportunity, to give those people and those young families in the south-west the opportunity to have jobs in these employment lands that are being established. This is of very significant proportions, and quite frankly it is something that does take a government with nation-building abilities to construct.

In the limited time I have left, I would simply like to once again draw attention to how critical last week’s meeting with the nation’s mayors was. I hosted three local councils down here: Camden, Campbelltown and Liverpool. Those three councils were fortunate to get about $3.3 million to put into areas of their own local infrastructure priorities. In terms of the wider perspective, of the $300 million and looking to the future—(Time expired)