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Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Page: 11242

Ms REA (2:26 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister update the House on the government’s infrastructure investment under the Nation Building and Jobs Plan?

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for her question. It goes to the whole question: how do we build long-term productivity growth? That in turn goes to: how do we invest in productive infrastructure in the future as well? Having peaked in the June quarter, the government’s stimulus strategy is rapidly rolling out projects across the country. Of the shovel-ready infrastructure projects, around 50,000 such projects, worth more than $25 billion, have already been approved. Most of the remaining stimulus is investment in infrastructure, which will expand, of course, the productive capacity of the economy. Now is the time for us all to be investing in our nation’s future infrastructure needs, because the Australian economy is currently below capacity as a result of the global recession.

Again, according to CEDA analysis, simply addressing existing backlogs in infrastructure investment could increase GDP by 0.8 per cent and reduce CPI by 3.2 per cent. That is why in the budget we were proud to announce $22 billion worth of investment in economic infrastructure through our nation-building funds. That is our approach when it comes to nation building for the future and nation building for recovery.

I would note that I thought those opposite had a consistent policy when it came to infrastructure, but it seems, alas, they do not. The Leader of the Opposition, in the lead-up to the budget, said he wanted the government to fund infrastructure. In fact, he said:

We have never argued about investing in infrastructure. We support investing in infrastructure …

He went on to say:

If you want to spend government money … spend it on infrastructure.

Then we had the shadow Treasurer say, not long after, that the infrastructure investments in the 2009-10 budget were ‘terrific’. He said:

… for example take infrastructure. $22 billion on infrastructure, terrific, that’s great.

That was the shadow Treasurer on 13 May 2009. In fact, the shadow Treasurer went on to say that it is good for funding to be spent on infrastructure now. I quote him again:

… I think it’s good to have some money spent on infrastructure now …

But I inform the House that the coalition has once again changed its tune. Surprise, surprise, surprise! The masters of political opportunism, presumably driven also by the tactics unit in the leader’s office, have in fact done a 180 on this one as well.

I note that yesterday a report was tabled in the Senate by the Senate Economics References Committee on the government’s economic stimulus initiatives. I understand that the majority report, delivered by the chair, Senator Eggleston, and supported by coalition members of the committee, called for the government to commission an urgent further report but then asked for that further report to provide recommendations on the feasibility of reducing, postponing, recalibrating the remaining discretionary funding on a project-by-project basis. This is very interesting indeed because it follows recent statements, I am advised, by the Leader of the Opposition—I think on Adelaide radio—where he said these infrastructure projects in which we are investing would now have to be reviewed. Am I right in also saying that Senator Coonan had something to say to the same effect?

So now we have, on the one hand, them saying, ‘Whatever you invest in infrastructure is terrific.’ On the other hand, we now have them in the Senate saying, ‘No, that’s not. We should actually roll this back and we should actually reduce and postpone projects.’ The Leader of the Opposition is saying they have to be reviewed one by one. Senator Coonan is saying the same. So here is the moment of truth: which ones? Which projects? Which states? What categories? Once again those opposite delay, as they have done in the debate with the Deputy Prime Minister on schools. They come in each day and say, through the member for Sturt, ‘Oh, there’s been some waste here. There’s a problem there.’ But, asked this question: which school project would they actually can, we hear a deafening silence. We hear it also in terms of the local government infrastructure projects which have been supported by the minister for infrastructure. But we see this here again in the statement adopted by the majority report in the Senate yesterday.

The bottom line is that this nation has needed stimulus investment because we have managed to produce the fastest growing economy of the advanced economies in the last 12 months, the only major advanced economy not to have gone into recession, with the lowest debt, the lowest deficit. Can I say to those opposite: that is what we have achieved and we have achieved it because we have rolled our sleeves up and got into the business of supporting this economy and then, secondly, invested in long-term infrastructure and capacity building as well. That is our plan. We wait, as I am sure the finance minister does, for that list of projects which must come forth between now and election eve—whenever that might be—that you will be cutting. In which part of Australia will you be cutting those projects? Which road? Which school? Which university? Which hospital? Which medical research institute? Which projects? You can run but ultimately you cannot hide.

The SPEAKER —On any day in this House we have members from a number of communities throughout Australia, but today I would like to indicate to members that we have a representative group of members of the Marysville Victoria community. They are here in Parliament House to discuss matters to do with the rehabilitation of their community. On behalf of the House I extend a very sincere welcome and wish them all the best in the rebuilding of Marysville.