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Wednesday, 13 May 2009
Page: 3656

Ms GEORGE (12:31 PM) —It is always a difficult challenge to follow the member for Kennedy. There is much in what he said that I share concern about, and I am pleased that the member for Kennedy, like the member for Throsby, has in mind other major important national infrastructure projects that we hope one day will see the light of day. But at this point of time we are debating the commitments that the government made in terms of giving priority to the major national projects that have been recommended by an independent statutory authority.

I think the member for Isaacs was right about this debate on this bill: we have to consider the economic context in which these commitments are being made. And shame on the opposition for their huge emphasis on the issue of debt rather than understanding that the nation needs major productive investment in infrastructure to address precisely the impact of the recession on our nation. We are not immune from it. And, very importantly for regions like mine that are very reliant on the trade exposed sectors—particularly in coal and steel—those impacts are being very severely felt. This government’s main objective, as has been stated repeatedly, is to do whatever we can to protect the jobs of today while building the productive capacity of the nation’s economy into the future—a task which was beyond the wit of the Howard government for the 12 years that it was in office.

Very importantly, the government has made a substantial investment as part of the long and proud history of Labor governments investing in important nation-building projects. The Nation-building Funds Amendment Bill 2009 gives effect to the commitment that was announced by the Treasurer last night. I certainly beg to differ with the member for Kennedy; of course you have to describe it as nation building, because the $22 billion has been allocated to build the transport, communications, energy, education and health infrastructure that this nation desperately needs to ensure a healthy and vibrant economy into the future.

It was because the former Howard government was asleep at the wheel—and did nothing in a fundamentally important way to tackle the constraints on economic growth that were so obvious in all the bottlenecks around the nation—that we moved very quickly, through the infrastructure minister, to think about planning, financing and building vital economic infrastructure for our nation. I think it was one of the greatest achievements in the early days of our government to introduce the legislation to create the independent statutory authority, Infrastructure Australia. That legislation was presented to this parliament in our first 100 days. And I think it is a great achievement that in a very short period of historic time—12 months or so—Infrastructure Australia has undertaken the first ever economic audit of the nation’s key economic infrastructure.

Last night we saw the end result of an assessment process that looked at more than 1,000 possible projects. The fact that 1,000 projects were submitted to Infrastructure Australia for consideration surely highlights the huge deficit in investment in infrastructure that we had under the former government. I am delighted that through our Nation-building Funds Amendment Bill 2009 we will give effect to very important infrastructure projects. There will be $4.6 billion invested in improving metropolitan rail networks in six major cities. I sat with the now Leader of the Opposition on the environment standing committee of the House of Representatives, and we produced a very important report called Sustainable Cities. We did not have the courtesy of a response from the Howard government to the recommendations in that report but I think everyone on that committee understood the importance of investment in public rail networks. And, finally, $4.6 billion will see six major cities being able to address the very important issue of rail networks. A further $3.4 billion will be invested in Australia’s busiest freight route—the links between Melbourne and Cairns—and key roads feeding into that national highway also get a substantial boost in the announced priorities of yesterday evening.

Three hundred and eighty-nine million dollars is allocated to lifting the export capacity in two of our ports—one in Western Australia and one in the Northern Territory. I was particularly interested because I think this is a critical element of nation building, and I was interested to the extent that my colleague the member for Cunningham has taken the lead in getting community support and an analysis of what we believe will be a very important rail freight link for the Illawarra region, known as the Maldon-Dombarton rail freight link. Of course, in the 12 years of the Howard government there was no mention of what we might do to expand the export capacity of the port at Port Kembla, nor any consideration of the important road and rail linkages that would need to be provided to ensure a bright future for that region and a meaningful economic investment. It was only this government, in the lead-up to the election, that committed itself to a prefeasibility study, which has been worked on. Like the member for Kennedy, we cannot have every project funded immediately, but my understanding is that Infrastructure Australia will continue to consider projects of national significance, and it is certainly our intention to do what we can to provide the arguments in support of projects that we believe will be of lasting benefit to the Illawarra region.

The member for Isaacs indicated in his contribution that we have to acknowledge that this is the third tranche of the government’s economic stimulus strategy, and my region has benefited enormously from the investments we have made to date. In the first round of the community infrastructure funds, the three local councils received $3.3 million for a range of infrastructure projects. In my electorate there were nine projects funded. On the boundaries of the Wollongong City Council and in the electorate of Throsby, there are important upgrades for Dapto plaza and for sporting facilities, with commitments to upgrade lighting at Reed Park and Darcy Wentworth Park. The Shellharbour local government area will receive almost $900,000, again for a very important community project, the Myimbarr Community Park. Seven projects in the Kiama local government area will be funded.

Last week we were very lucky to have the Parliamentary Secretary for Government Service Delivery come to announce even more funding—another $5.2 million for our region. Shellharbour City Council is receiving $2.3 million for a much overdue upgrade of the streetscape and the business centre at Albion Park, and the Wollongong City Council will get $2.9 million for the Blue Mile project. Although it is a little bit out of my area, let me say that even though the member for Gilmore, along with her colleagues, voted against our economic stimulus package I was pleased that she came to the announcement of $4 million for Shoalhaven City Council for a youth centre in Ulladulla dedicated to the memory of two young men from that area who tragically perished in the Bali bombings.

So in the order of $8.5 million has been provided and invested in local community infrastructure that will not only improve the amenity for the people that we represent but, very importantly, provide a stimulus for sustaining and wherever possible creating employment opportunities. On top of that, Illawarra has been designated as one of seven priority regions because of our high rates of unemployment, and already both the member for Cunningham and I have been meeting with a range of groups to progress further funding to address the unemployment issue. Some of those projects will no doubt be infrastructure projects that will be available under the announced jobs fund. So that is going to be very, very welcome.

On top of that, within this bill, there is the Education Investment Fund. I want to particularly mention the enormous contribution that the commitment to Building the Education Revolution is having in my electorate, as the member for Isaacs pointed out for his electorate too. Last night we were delighted to hear that the University of Wollongong was to receive $43.8 million for a state-of-the-art building for our renowned Institute for Innovative Materials in Wollongong. That comes on top of an earlier commitment of $38 million to build for this nation the first-ever tertiary institute known as the SMART Infrastructure Facility, which I think is going to be of enormous benefit, attracting academics under the one roof to focus on methodologies and the science of infrastructure development and funding. So one university alone in our region will receive $82 million in the space of a few months. I know from the vice-chancellor that last night’s announcement will immediately lead to about 200 jobs in the construction phase and probably 100 to 150 sustainable jobs, apart from attracting the brightest minds to our region with the prospect of commercialisation of the wonderful innovations and technologies that are being developed at the university.

For my local TAFE, the Shellharbour TAFE—good on you, folks—there is $6½ million. You are a great institute and we are going to develop a top rate children’s services facility at that campus. That is going to be of great benefit to school leavers in the Shellharbour area, where we suffer high rates of youth unemployment, because, as people would be aware, if you are undertaking a diploma course in children’s services the government will waive the state training fee. I could not be more happy about that.

This comes on top of almost $50 million that we have announced in the last couple of weeks for 23 schools—10 in my electorate, 13 in Cunningham; 23 schools—in those two electorates. That was for round 1, for 20 per cent of primary schools under the Primary Schools for the 21st Century program. I would imagine that somewhere in the order of $250 million all up will flow through rounds 2 and 3. So people need to realise that this investment in our university, in the Shellharbour TAFE last night and in our primary schools will, conservatively, inject $340 million into education infrastructure in the region of Illawarra that we represent. That is a huge investment. It is going to be a huge stimulus for local jobs, for local tradespeople, for local small businesses, for local suppliers, as well as leaving our schools in a state where they are better equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century. I want to place on record my acknowledgement of the enormous importance of that kind of stimulus through education that we are seeing in our region. It is interesting, the papers only think about infrastructure in terms of roads and railways. And yet, if I had said last night $340 million for a local road, it would have been front-page news. While $340 million into education infrastructure probably does not register to the same extent, we should understand that investment in infrastructure under this government goes way beyond just the traditional notions of road and rail.

Finally, I want to also indicate that I am very pleased that, in the context of this bill, we are going to substantially increase our investment in the clean energy and renewable sector. As members would be aware, I represent a region that is heavily reliant on coal and steel, but do not underestimate the intelligence of people in those industries about the need for this nation to move to a carbon constrained future. Because of our manufacturing expertise in the Illawarra, we are going to be very well placed as we move in that direction—that is, providing the know-how through our university and our technical skills and hopefully growing new orders for our steelworks, which will go to the heart of moving the economy into a more carbon constrained future and, with that, seizing the enormous opportunities that will come from the growth of the renewable energy sector. You cannot fail to recognise the enormous potential that is going to be created by the world moving in that direction, and we want to maximise the capacity for sustainable green jobs in our economy.

The Renewables Australia body will be at arm’s length from government and will be particularly focused on matters relating to the development, commercialisation and deployment of renewable energies. Let me just say, our university is doing wonderful things in solar technology, so they will be pleased to hear this announcement. It will give them some impetus to continue on in that work. We will invest in four new commercial scale solar flagship projects; the contribution that solar can make, among a raft of renewable technologies, is incredibly important. Very importantly for a region like Illawarra and other regions heavily reliant on coal, the commitment to the technological breakthrough in carbon capture and storage is very important. It is important to our nation’s economic wellbeing, it is important to our export trade and it is important for sustaining regional communities and regional employment. So I am very confident that we can protect the jobs of today, that we can begin to transform our industries so that they meet the challenges of a more carbon constrained future and that we can generate new green jobs into the future. The commitment to a 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020 is just the kind of impetus that sector needs.

In conclusion, full marks to the Treasurer, to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government and to the Minister for Education and Deputy Prime Minister. Well done in showing the community that despite the worst downturn we have seen in 75 years, this government will not be deterred from investing in the infrastructure vital to Australia’s long-term economic prosperity. The former government was asleep at the wheel; this government is determined to ensure that the productive investment that underpins our prosperity and underpins jobs is centre stage in this budget and in our commitment into the future. I hope that, despite the negative commentary we heard this morning from the member for Goldstein, the coalition is sensible enough to understand that this package is all about supporting jobs at a time when that support is needed most, as well as boosting productivity in the longer term. I am enormously proud that our second budget builds on Labor’s proud tradition and proud history of nation building. I commend the bill to the House.