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Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Page: 6189

Mr ROBB (4:54 PM) —The infrastructure spending in the budget should have been the government’s first stimulus package, not the third, and for obvious reasons. When there is a financial crisis claimed to be the worst in 80 years, the way in which we spend every dollar is critical. We must get the most out of every dollar spent. We on this side of the House listened for 12 months or more before the last election to those opposite telling us they had a plan for infrastructure. We heard it ad nauseam. We heard that they had a deeply considered plan for infrastructure. Yet it took 18 months in government and seven months of the financial crisis before there was one decision. That decision took 2½ years and we were seven months into the financial crisis before we heard that they had a detailed, considered plan ready to put to the Australian people. They had already spent tens of billions of dollars on handouts before we saw one decision, and that was in this budget. Then, when we finally saw a decision, most of those projects had been under active consideration by the former government.

Mr Albanese —Is that right?

Mr ROBB —Yes, absolutely; that is right. Some were underway. These are decisions you have just taken.

What we needed in those critical times was to see spending on major infrastructure taking clear priority over reckless debt funded handouts, which preceded so much of the decision making and the spending. Even now there will only be $1.7 billion spent over the next 12 months on major infrastructure. And, in the following year, only $3.5 billion will be spent on major infrastructure. What a joke this is for a party that came to office, spruiked a plan for 12 months and then sat on their hands for another 18 months before they made any announcement whatsoever. Now they will only spend a bit over $5 billion in two years, having racked up a debt of $315 billion. I would like to know from the minister what sort of analysis has been undertaken of the job impact of the $1.7 billion that will be spent this year and the $3.5 billion that will be spent next year in regard to these major infrastructure projects.

The second issue I would like to raise is one previously raised by my honourable colleague. Last year we heard, again ad nauseam, that with these projects the government would, quite properly, place a huge priority on transparency. We heard criticisms of the former government, again ad nauseam, about a lack of transparency. This minister and the government opposite told us endlessly last year about transparency. They set up a process—Infrastructure Australia—which we supported, and I think it was a solid process. This minister told us about transparency ad nauseam. Then we have $8½ billion of taxpayers’ money being spent. We get another $600 million of state taxpayers’ money. We have a black hole of another $60 billion to fund the projects that were announced in the budget.

We had all of that money yet we have not seen one iota of detail of the cost-benefit analysis, or any of the assumptions that underlie that analysis, that was undertaken by Infrastructure Australia. It makes a mockery of what we heard for 12 months. This minister opposite lectured and lectured, ridiculed and lectured—we heard it ad nauseam—and he has not delivered one iota of detail on a cost-benefit analysis. The essence of assessing the work of any major project has to be what you will get back for the dollar. It is a question of how much return you will get. No-one has the ability to see whether politics has been played in all of this process. Why were some projects put ahead of other projects? Why were projects taken off the second list, where a lot of detail is still to be finished? Why was a project taken when it was not even included in Infrastructure Australia? We would like a sensible reason from the minister opposite as to why this government refuses to provide the fundamental details which will help the opposition, and more importantly the sector and the state governments and others, to make a proper assessment of whether this minister has played politics with major government funds.