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Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Page: 6192

Mr BILLSON (5:09 PM) —I have a couple of questions. I will start with local government. Minister, local government was told on 28 November that there was immediate cash available. I quote the Prime Minister:

By immediate, I mean immediate. Immediate means now. It’s ready to go now.

Yet the funding did not flow through until late February. Are you in a position to help with any cash-flow problems that may emerge in some councils because of that delay?

I have a question in relation to the decision to pull forward a quarter of the quarterly financial assistance grants payments for 2009-10, which was an initiative that no-one asked for. In Senate estimates, not one of your officials could point to anyone in local government who asked for this quarterly pull forward of the 2009-10 financial assistance grants payments. Minister, can you point to someone who thought that that was a good idea? Again, will you be in a position to help with any cash-flow problems that councils approach you with? Was this instead really about getting $480 million out of the deficit for 2009-10 and pulling it into this year?

On the topic of treating people thoughtfully, what are you going to do, Minister—and I know that you like a little bit of rough and tumble in politics—about the way in which area consultative committees have been treated, which is an abomination? They deserved some respect and the courtesy of the thanks of a grateful nation for more than a dozen years of work, and all they got was being told through some bureaucratic letter that they are likely to have their funding cease. They are being asked whether they are going to die on their sword and whether they have any cash left that can be clawed back. They deserve better than that.

These were not political appointments. They were local people with insights into their regional economy and into their training infrastructure. If you are not prepared to send a thankyou letter, have the member for Brand send one; have somebody send a thankyou letter. I spoke about this issue in the parliament. I have had emails from right across the continent of Australia saying, ‘Thank goodness somebody in Canberra is saying thank you for that contribution.’ You should lift your game and do the right thing by the area consultative committees, Minister. You know that that is not the way to treat people who have given service to this country. It is downright disrespectful. It is an abomination. They deserved better. If you want to fit them up with some other arrangement, that is a decision of government, but there is no excuse for treating people so appallingly and with the disrespect that you have displayed.

On the topic of building the nation, is that just rhetoric that provides no explanation, Minister? That seems to be what it is. The Frankston Bypass was a project that was not only shovel ready but had people of your political persuasion out there with shovels begging you, Minister, to make some of the money available. Infrastructure Australia thought it was worth putting some money into; the former Howard government were committed to a substantial amount of funding to make sure that we in the south-east and southern areas of Melbourne were not fitted up again in another betrayal by a Labor state government saying: ‘We’d love to give you a toll free road, but we’ve got no money. If you want it, it’s going have to be tolled.’ We are the only community in greater Melbourne that pays to use the arterial ring road. Minister, what is the explanation for you ignoring the needs of our community and ignoring the advice from Infrastructure Australia and instead having projects like the O-Bahn fall out of the sky and so concuss the transport minister in South Australia that he could not even explain why it was in the budget?

You have belled the cat today. We have learnt that all of this hoopla about Infrastructure Australia is nonsense when it does not suit the Labor government. We have heard from the member for Brand that the Premier, in a little sweetheart deal, was behind the Northbridge project. The member for Makin has made it clear that it was a purely political process that led to us getting the O-Bahn. This is not openness about infrastructure expenditure. Where do you get off, with this pea-and-thimble trip, in saying that depending on where the money comes from the rigour that is needed to judge the projects changes? What kind of funny money talk is that? The same level of scrutiny should be applied to everything. The fact that the same level of scrutiny is not applied to everything should be condemned and it shows what a fraud this is and how you are misusing the good people of Infrastructure Australia in terms of the evaluation of projects.

Talking about Infrastructure Australia, whatever happened to broadband? The broadband project—

Mr Albanese —Deputy Speaker Schultz, I rise on a point of order. I support a robust debate, but I am not going to be accused of fraud. He should withdraw.

Mr BILLSON —I withdraw. I meant that the process is a fraud, Minister. My apologies if it came out as though I meant that you were a fraud. I know that you are very genuine—except when it comes to the ACCs, but that is a discussion for another day. The process is a fraud, and it has been shown to be a fraud by this pea-and-thimble explanation that, depending on what pot of money it comes from, a whole different set of evaluation criteria is applied. This is taxpayers’ money. They deserve scrutiny and accountability wherever that money comes from and however you want to brand it. Talking about branding things, what about broadband and the $43 billion? I offered your party a way forward to a proper analysis of this project in the Senate.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr BILLSON —I will get to urban policy, because it is all over the shop. What about the interconnectedness? Can you explain why there are bits of work going on when it needs to be joined up? (Time expired)