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Wednesday, 13 May 2009
Page: 3665

Mrs HULL (1:10 PM) —I rise to follow the shadow minister for sustainable development and cities. The issues he referred to over the period of his contribution were expansive, and I congratulate him for covering so many areas that we would all like to cover. The Nation-building Funds Amendment Bill 2009 is required to give effect to the infrastructure spending in the government’s budget announced last evening. It is intended to redirect the $2.5 billion that was set aside for the EIF to the Clean Energy Initiative, announced in the budget. I am told, and we are led to believe, that will encourage further research and innovation in clean energy generation and low-emission technologies.

I wonder exactly just how relevant and reflective that will be in delivering job creation projects across Australia. When I say, ‘delivering job creation projects across Australia’, I primarily would like to speak about the opportunities lost in this budget to deliver job creation across rural and regional Australia. Whilst other speakers have covered a whole host of issues, and I have listened very carefully to them, I too would like to cover issues I see as being important and which may have been overlooked. If they were overlooked, as per the infrastructure needs of regional areas, then we can pretty much guarantee that those regional areas will be overlooked even when these funds are directed away from one fund and into another clean energy fund. I know there are many projects out there involving clean energy initiatives, and I am hopeful that they will be looked at on merit rather than in relation to the electoral value they might have in a particular member’s seat at the time.

I have had concerns generally about infrastructure requirements in regional Australia since the announcement of the $22 billion so-called Building Infrastructure Fund. The previous government had the same fund, and in fact had more money in their fund than the current government has in its fund. When the Rudd government took this fund forward and looked at the projects, it developed a bureaucracy to determine how the investments put up for funding would create jobs and provide sustainability and economic growth—all of those good things that you require in order to kick-start the country and to assist in getting us through some of the challenges we have.

I looked at the Infrastructure Australia list of projects on the website. I wanted to see where projects in my electorate sat and whether or not there was a clear understanding of the jobs that would have been created in the region if any the projects had received support. Wagga Wagga is the largest inland city in New South Wales and it is a major hub in my electorate. Many of the services are in that one area, and there is a hub-and-spoke effect out to the regional communities that it supports and assists. A lot of employment opportunities emanate out of those areas and they support infrastructure right across the electorate.

I have some very proactive councils. There is an intercouncil agreement between Albury City Council, Griffith City Council and Wagga Wagga City Council. They have come together not to compete with each other but to be formidable regional promoters and to position themselves clearly as a region that is relevant to the nation’s future. When I looked at the Wagga Wagga project and the Griffith City Council project—and they came out of the three regional cities combination—I saw the Bomen rail and road intermodal hub. It would be an excellent project. It was costed out. The application went to Infrastructure Australia. Wagga Wagga City Council costed out their involvement in that project. It would be a $30 million project. Wagga Wagga City Council were looking at putting in almost $4 million. That rail-road intermodal hub would have created significant numbers of jobs and ensured that we got product to port in the most effective way possible. Then you could have started to build distribution centres right in rural and regional Australia.

There was also the Ross Road project in Griffith. The last government said it would provide $10 million for the Ross Road development project. Yes, it was an election promise and, no, we were not elected. But, of course, I will still pursue that project because it would be valuable and deserves funding. I looked at what that project would do in the heart of the MIA, where there is the most extensive horticulture production area. There are major industries—De Bortoli and Cassella wineries—that have significant exports. There is SunRice, which up until the drought years was the largest exporter from the port of Melbourne. You have to have essential infrastructure to create jobs, solve production issues and make us efficient and effective at what we do. These projects went to Infrastructure Australia and missed out, as many other thousands of projects across Australia did. I recognise that. But I am concerned about the electorate that I represent, and I know the disappointment that many people would have felt at this budget. Knowing that it was a tough budget, we all understood that not everybody could get funded.

I was most disappointed about this. I looked at two rail projects. One would have got B-doubles out of the main street of Griffith. There are 150 B-double vehicle movements per day in the CBD. That was a project proposed for Griffith. It stands to reason that in such a highly productive area we needed to solve this massive safety problem and efficiency problem. There would be efficiencies gained with the Bomen rail-road intermodal hub. It would be situated directly on the Sydney to Melbourne rail line. There is already an industrial park. It is focused on environmentally sustainable industry. It has biofuels. It has best-practice industrial development. It has Vinidex, which is a magnificent, environmentally friendly company that turns waste into active and productive reusable products. It is a tremendous, large-scale industrial park that is primarily focused on environmentally friendly outcomes. It desperately needs that rail corridor and intermodal status.

I looked at what was funded in the budget and at the regional rail express. I congratulate those on the Werribee to Sunshine, Victoria, rail line project. Obviously it was something that they wanted. But when I looked at what the project involved—that is, extension of platforms, other capital works to enable eight-car trains to operate on the Geelong and Bacchus Marsh lines, a new station, duplication of existing tracks et cetera—I wondered what the correlation in jobs, outcome, production et cetera on such a massive spend in that area would be. As I said, I am not complaining about that, because everyone deserves their own funding, but most of this funding has gone to urban and metropolitan projects. I found that really disappointing in the rail infrastructure program.

Then I looked at the Wagga Wagga Airport expansion. We have a significant airport that is looking at expanding. We would like to include a business centre at the Wagga Wagga Airport and build a centre of national aviation significance out there. That would all be to capture jobs. It would back onto private investment. It would back onto the investment by Regional Express Airlines whose heart is in the country, whose home is in Wagga Wagga and who have ports elsewhere across Australia. They have invested a huge amount of their own dollars to have a pilot training centre at the airport. When you have people coming in with private investment looking to build the centre, to build aviation credibility, to solve the shortage of pilots across Australia et cetera and you see that private money stacked up time and time again, you would think that the government would want to develop and assist those communities in rural and regional Australia to be relevant in future Australian growth and prosperity.

I was sitting here in the House last night looking at the Brisbane inner city rail feasibility study and the works in Perth in Western Australia and I wondered: when do rural and regional people ever get recognised? When does our relevance ever come to the fore? I am concerned about the way in which the money is being allocated. I was concerned to read an article by Adele Ferguson in the Australian today. She alludes to the fact that, after going through thousands of projects, Infrastructure Australia, which is headed by Rod Eddington, had identified a list of 100 projects. That article in the Australian today states:

To that end, IA identified a list of 100 projects in December with a view to creating a short list of priority projects in time for the budget. The deal was that the Government would take IA’s advice seriously, rather than do what politicians usually do—spend the money on projects that run through certain electorates—

and everyone is guilty of that. It continues:

The global financial crisis was always going to put the squeeze on the Government’s nation-building plan. That’s why it is surprising that the Government has ignored some of IA’s priority projects to do its own thing.

She goes on to say that the $488 million Bruce Highway project in Queensland and the $339 million port project in Western Australia are two projects that failed to appear on IA’s short list. They did appear on IA’s other list, but they certainly did not make the short list. Exactly what is taking place when these projects are being determined? These properly costed proposals from rural and regional areas that demonstrate their job creation capacity, their future nation-building capacity, how they will serve the nation and how they will position regional Australia to be relevant in the nation’s future just got passed over. This is terribly concerning.

I am confused by having this bill come up today that clearly focuses on just moving one fund to another to focus on this clean energy initiative. I do wonder—and I am very sceptical—how much of the funding in this bill will filter out to rural and regional Australia, will actually deliver benefits to those people who are also entitled to share in the nation-building programs. I am concerned and really disappointed to say that I can hardly see in this budget any sharing with rural and regional areas, not just in my electorate but in many other electorates as well. That will not stop us as members from trying to get our share of recognition. We will always keep coming back for more. We are always going to ask for more—I am certainly always going to ask for more. I can tell that many members on the other side of the House will also be back to ask for funding for the good projects in their electorates that could have been funded this time but did not get funded. I am sure they will come back for more for rural and regional areas as well.

Long hail and let us rail for rural and regional Australia. We are relevant in the scheme of things. We need to have the support of every agency, department and decision maker possible. We should not have to constantly overcome hurdles; we should have projects that can assist us to be relevant in this nation’s future building.