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Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Page: 11293

Mr CRAIG THOMSON (7:28 PM) —It is a little sad when you listen to the contributions coming from those opposite, particularly the last contribution, from the Leader of the National Party. It is a bit like listening to an old episode of The Muppet Show. You have the cranky old men sitting in the corner talking about the golden age that was there before and how it was all wonderful in their time, that it was just a terrific time then. This is one of the problems we have with the opposition: they are obsessed with the past. The Australian public, on 24 November last year, actually voted for the future. One of the key reasons was that they voted for a party that was actually going to be a nation-building party, not a party obsessed with the past or obsessed with regional rorts and those sorts of things but a party that was going to build Australia and make sure we could unlock the capacity constraints of the economy that were affecting inflation. It is a pretty simple and basic economic message—one that the Reserve Bank tried to give to the opposition 20 times when they were in government: that capacity constraints were a problem and were causing inflation. But it is also fairly basic economics that, if you provide stimulus to the economy in terms of putting in more money, you create more jobs and growth. I think the Leader of the National Party needs to brush up on his schoolboy economics. He obviously did not attend those classes.

It is little wonder that they have problems in relation to glorifying the past and were going on as to how wonderful it was. We have a Leader of the Opposition who would claim credit for the sun coming up every morning; he seems to claim credit for everything else that can possibly happen. Of course, we know that by the time the sun has set in the evening he has changed his mind in terms of policy position at least once or twice, so it is understandable that the opposition feel they are locked in the past and not quite sure where they are going with the leader that they have.

It is also the height of hypocrisy for the leader of the National Party—the party that is responsible for regional rorts—to talk about this fund being a slush fund. I can remember last year one coalition member boasting about a regional grant of around $1.7 million. It was not a member of the Nationals and it was not a seat in the regions of outer metropolitan Sydney; in fact, the $1.7 million that I am talking about went to Bondi. Yes, Bondi is where that $1.7 million went. It was one of the biggest regional rorts that there was. I suppose Bondi might be a prime location for the agricultural practice of latte harvesting! For the opposition to lecture us about slush funds is the absolute height of hypocrisy.

The purpose of these bills is to establish the Building Australia Fund, the Education Investment Fund and the Health and Hospital Fund which will finance improvements in critical economic infrastructure, transport, communications, higher education, vocational education and training, research and health. The funds are also part of the government’s Economic Security Strategy to strengthen the Australian economy in the face of the global financial crisis. The Nation-building Funds Bill 2008 establishes the Building Australia Fund to finance capital investments in critical economic infrastructure as well as in transport and communications such as road, rail, urban transport, port facilities and broadband. The Education Investment Fund is to finance capital investments in higher education, vocational education and training and research institutions. The Health and Hospital Fund is to finance capital investments in health infrastructure.

These bills will fast-track the nation-building agenda, securing economic activity in the short-term and expanding growth potential in the medium to long term. The funds, part of the Economic Security Strategy, will help strengthen the national economy and support Australian households during the global financial crisis. All stakeholders agree Australia has substantial gaps in infrastructure that must be addressed if we are to continue to improve productivity and living standards. No-one opposite has suggested that there are not major and substantial infrastructure gaps that need to be addressed.

While the implementation of the funds and the assessment of spending proposals are being accelerated, the proposals will still be subject, however, to rigorous evaluation. The funds are part of the nation-building agenda to help shield Australians from the global financial crisis. The Prime Minister and the government have taken decisive and early action to protect the Australian economy from the global financial crisis, which started in the United States and has affected every other continent across the world. Globally, more than 25 banks have failed or been bailed out, the US and Europe are on the verge of recession and growth in China is slowing down.

This Australian economy is sound but is not immune from the global slowdown and the real possibility of a global recession and the flow-on effects that would have for Australia. There are no easy solutions or quick fixes to the global financial crisis. This is going to be a long, drawn-out crisis which will have a real impact on Australia leading to slow economic growth and increased unemployment. That is why our Prime Minister has taken decisive and early action to protect the economy and all Australians from this crisis. The Rudd government has injected $10.4 billion as part of the Economic Security Strategy to stimulate economic activity and to protect vulnerable groups in our society, especially pensioners, carers, disabled people and low-income families.

On the Central Coast we have worked out that families, carers and pensioners will receive $122 million. That is $122 million coming into our local area aimed at working families, carers and pensioners. It is also a shot in the arm for local business. I will be a little indulgent here and say that on this occasion I would like to repeat my call to those on the Central Coast: if they are going to spend the money then spend it on the Central Coast and make sure the money stays there and helps our local economy grow. Retail is the second-largest industry on the Central Coast providing the majority of jobs and we need to make sure that those local jobs are protected and our unique Central Coast lifestyle is protected. This economic package helps to do that, particularly if people buy locally.

Fast-tracking the nation-building agenda can secure economic activity in the short-term and expand growth potential in the medium to long-term. Spending proposals will be subject to rigorous evaluation by independent advisory bodies. Spending from the funds will depend on the macroeconomic conditions. This will include advice from the Loan Council. These funds will help meet Australia’s critical long-term infrastructure needs and will assist in addressing Australia’s immediate challenges in response to the global financial crisis. The government is using a number of sources to identify the long-term infrastructure needs of Australia, including the work being undertaken by Infrastructure Australia. Where funds are used to finance projects with the states, they will be channelled through a new Council of Australian Governments Reform Fund. The funds are part of the government’s nation-building agenda to help shield Australians from the global financial crisis. The government has announced the funds are to be established from 1 January 2009.

Infrastructure is a large part of this government’s agenda. In my electorate of Dobell there have already been major infrastructure commitments and real money going into the local infrastructure needs of the Central Coast—in particular, $80.3 million for what is known as the ‘missing link pipeline’ between the Mangrove Creek and Mardi dams. This is a vital bit of infrastructure that should have been built years ago. We have on the Central Coast two dams: a large storage dam that is outside the catchment area and a small dam near the coast, which is where all the rain falls. In the height of the drought the Central Coast had its water supply fall as low as 12 per cent. We were close to running out of water. But the Rudd government came along and said, ‘This is infrastructure that should have been built years ago; we are committing to this infrastructure to link these two dams so that water can be pumped from the area where the rain falls to the large storage dam in the hinterlands.’

The prognosis for the Central Coast water supply following this commitment is tremendous. It is estimated that if we have average rainfall then, five years after the pipeline is completed, the water supply levels on the Central Coast will be up to 80 per cent. That is up from around 12 to 13 per cent at the height of the drought up to 80 per cent, securing the water supply of the Central Coast. There has also been work done on what the water supply would be if we were in drought conditions, as we have been. In those circumstances, this bit of vital infrastructure would still make such an improvement that the water supply in five years would go to 55 per cent. Again, it is a great improvement on the 12 or 13 per cent that we fell to at the height of the drought. If those on the other side say that this is a waste of money or a slush fund then I would like them to come along and say that to the people of the Central Coast. We had level 4 water restrictions. People could not water their gardens or wash their cars. They were worried about whether the water was actually going to run out.

The Labor Party, the Rudd government, made this investment in vital local infrastructure on the Central Coast, and to call this a slush fund and to imply that this is bad spending is the height of arrogance and something that would absolutely cause people on the Central Coast to be very, very angry, because on the Central Coast we have had an example of a regional rort. We had the former government take a decision based on political expediency rather than building infrastructure. That was the infamous dredging of the creek Tumbi Umbi. In the end, we had a Senate inquiry about this. There was no process at all involved in the money—$1.3 million, from recollection—that went for the dredging of Tumbi Creek. Of course, it took so long for the money to actually flow through and the dredging to be able to start that in the meantime we actually had some rain, which washed out the creek, and there was no need for the dredging to take place. So those on the other side who want to talk about rorts and slush funds just need to come to the Central Coast and look at what the Rudd government has promised in relation to the Mangrove to Mardi pipeline—real infrastructure having a real effect on our water supply—and compare that to a couple of years ago and the Tumbi Creek dredging fiasco of the former government. The contrast is stark.

Another bit of vital infrastructure in relation to health that was promised at the last election for my electorate is the super GP clinic. It is worth mentioning that again today because this is real infrastructure that affects the way in which people live. In my electorate we have had a great influx of new people who have moved to the Central Coast, largely from Western Sydney. But what we have not had is infrastructure. We have not had planning, because the former government was not concerned about that at all. Consequently, one of the areas in which we have had a deficit in what has been provided is health. It is with some great pride that we can talk about the super GP clinic that has been promised here and this bit of legislation that we are talking about today and the money that it is putting into health. In the whole of my electorate we are down to just over 80 doctors. We had a situation last year—and it has slightly improved this year—where there was one medical doctor for every 1,900 patients. Most of the doctors on the Central Coast have their books closed so if you are not already a patient there you are not going to get seen to. But a Rudd government promise to put a super GP clinic there is going to make a small but effective change in making medical services available to people on the Central Coast. There are areas of new growth on the Central Coast with over 16,000 people and no GP clinics whatsoever, and this government promised in the last election that they would make sure that they were putting proper infrastructure into these areas.

On top of this investment the federal government announced last Tuesday the $300 million local infrastructure fund. It was a historic meeting between the national government and over 400 of the nation’s mayors and shire presidents. In my area we have two councils. We have the Wyong Shire Council and the Gosford shire council. Together those two councils took away over $300 million—sorry, $3 million. They would have been very happy with $300 million but they are also very happy with the $3 million that they were able to take away. I would like to share with the House a couple of quotes from the Mayor of Wyong, Bob Graham. And, before talking about the quotes from Mayor Graham, I should point out that the last time the New South Wales government was a Liberal coalition government Mr Graham actually sat on the coalition side in parliament as a member of that government. He was happy to say about the federal government’s local council infrastructure funds:

I was straight on the phone to the other councillors to get them fired up about what it could be spent on.

It’s fantastic news for Wyong shire.

We have a series of community projects we are keen to get on with involving a number of facilities which the council will discuss.

He knew straightaway that the infrastructure issues that they had not been able to deal with for so long were now going to get done—the sporting fields and facilities would get lights. All those sorts of projects that for too long they had not been able to do they were going to be able to bring forward, not only building local infrastructure but providing local jobs on the Central Coast. Mayor Graham also made some comments about Mr Rudd’s energy and his memory. He said:

He was quite au fait with our area and we talked about growth and transport.

He also spoke about the energy with which Mr Rudd went about the day and the commitments that he gave local councils for their local infrastructure. This is not some Labor Party hack. This is not some Labor mayor who was there. This is a person who sat in the last New South Wales Liberal government as a member of the Liberal Party. He, like everyone in my area, can immediately see the difference between the Rudd government in its commitment to nation building, its commitment to local infrastructure, and the previous government’s pathetic efforts in its nation-building projects. Quite frankly, what the former government did was sit and fiddle while the money came in, frittering it away on regional partnership rorts like the creek at Tumbi Umbi rather than looking at unlocking capacity constraints in the economy and at building infrastructure projects that are nation building and that are going to have long-lasting effects for this country.

Mayor Graham has an intimate understanding of the problems that the Central Coast faces in terms of infrastructure neglect. Through years of work he really understands the coast, its people and their aspirations for the area. He also pointed out to the local paper that the infrastructure funds came on top of an additional $2.37 million funding that the Wyong council will be receiving in the second quarterly investment of the financial assistance scheme.

It is very important that we have a government that understands that, if Australia is to succeed and prosper in an increasingly competitive global economy, reforming the way we govern is essential. We must make sure that investments in terms of infrastructure are made at both the national level and also at the local level. We need to bring forward these infrastructure investments so that they continue to stimulate the economy and we must make sure that the vital projects continue to be fulfilled. The Howard government had an election cycle strategy in the decisions that they made when they had their hands on the wheel. Their Regional Partnership rorts were about votes that they thought they could get in the area, not about nation building. We now have a government of nation builders. For too long the Central Coast felt it was ignored in terms of infrastructure development. We felt like we were the poor cousins of Sydney.

Mr Price —Not anymore.

Mr CRAIG THOMSON —That is right. That has changed.Under the Rudd government we are receiving real infrastructure both national and local. I commend this bill to the House. Time expired.

Debate (on motion by Mr Pearce) adjourned.