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Tuesday, 25 May 2010
Page: 4028

Ms McKEW (Parliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) (8:22 PM) —I am pleased to speak to Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2010-2011 and related bills tonight in three respects: my portfolio responsibilities as parliamentary secretary for regional development, my own electorate of Bennelong and the country as a whole.

When it comes to the infrastructure portfolio, the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government and the Treasurer have delivered a strong and responsible investment in nation building infrastructure. It is an investment that will expand our productive capacity as a nation and put us in a position to capitalise on the opportunities that become available as the global economy recovers. The first big ticket item in the infrastructure portfolio is our $1 billion investment in the government owned Australian Rail Track Corporation to upgrade the interstate rail freight network. These projects will increase freight movement by rail and reduce travel times along three key corridors: Brisbane to Melbourne, Melbourne to Adelaide, and Sydney to Perth. We expect these projects to create 1,500 jobs in regional Australia.

I am also particularly pleased to see the commitment of $70.7 million to complete detailed planning on an intermodal terminal precinct in Moorebank, in Sydney’s south-west. I speak to many audiences across the country about the importance of integrated transport planning. Certainly the terminal at Moorebank shows this government’s rock-solid commitment to integrated transport infrastructure. Moorebank will improve the movement of freight to and within the Sydney basin, which in turn flows on into an improvement in national productivity. It will also help clear existing bottlenecks and reduce urban congestion by taking more trucks off the road. We certainly anticipate that the staged redevelopment of the Moorebank terminal will commence in 2013.

The other big ticket item in infrastructure is our commitment to a $5.6 billion 10-year infrastructure fund to commence from 2012, with an initial contribution of $700 million from the Commonwealth. As the minister has explained, funding will be distributed in a way that recognises the infrastructure pressures on resource rich states, particularly Queensland and Western Australia. This is a fairer way of distributing the wealth from our nation’s mineral resources. Importantly, the new fund will make infrastructure spending a permanent feature of Commonwealth and state budgets. In the meanwhile, Infrastructure Australia will continue to advise on national infrastructure priorities to inform both private investors and governments.

As stimulus programs subside and the $36 billion Nation Building Program unfolds over six years, we in the Rudd government certainly have our eyes firmly fixed on the future. We are building the physical and the human infrastructure needed to grow our economy. We need infrastructure to support a modern health and hospital system and we are boosting superannuation to 12 per cent by putting our national savings on a much stronger footing.

Importantly, the budget boosts productivity growth. Again, as the Minister for Finance and Deregulation and others have explained many times in this place and outside, productivity growth is a key determinant to our future prosperity. This was confirmed again in the recent report by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics and its inquiry into productivity growth, chaired by the member for Dobell. The report makes the very pertinent observation that favourable commodity prices, while they may improve our per capita income, are not necessarily linked with productivity growth. In fact, our productivity growth declined through the resources boom—and this was documented in the report—by 0.4 per cent from 2003. As a responsible government, the Rudd government is acting to secure the sort of long-term economic growth that will maintain and improve our standards of living. In his forward to the Standing Committee on Economics report, the member for Dobell made another very important observation: He wrote:

Income and productivity growth will occur in firms that embrace technological change and achieve technical efficiency.

He continued:

… in order to secure long-term economic growth Australia will need to focus on improvements in the technical efficiency of firms and their utilisation of technological advances.

I notice on the speakers list that the member for Cook is down to speak after me on these bills. Up until early this year, I think he was a member of the house economics committee. He would have taken part in many of the public hearings into the committee’s inquiry into productivity growth. So I am anticipating his explanation as to how productivity growth will benefit from abandoning the technological change and efficiencies on offer from a national broadband network.

I was in Maroochydore only late that week, launching the local Regional Development Australia Sunshine Coast committee. In areas like the Sunshine coast and, indeed, all around regional Australia, the NBN is the piece of infrastructure with perhaps the greatest potential to transform Australia’s regions. The ability to live on the coast or in the hinterland and telecommute is a dream that will become that much easier with universal access to high-speed broadband. I think we can only begin to grasp the transformative effect that a truly wired Australia will have, particularly on the delivery of better health, education and skills training. It was interesting to hear the member for New England provide his endorsement for a national broadband as well. It is, in my mind, absolutely essential infrastructure.

Regrettably, the opposition has said it will scrap the roll out of the NBN—this most important piece of infrastructure. So I look forward to how they will explain this to people across Australia, particularly to people in the regions and to many of my constituents in the IT industry, in the global economic corridor that is Macquarie Park. But there you go—what is a little inconsistency from the opposition? It is the same Leader of the Opposition who wrote a book saying that the best teachers need to be paid more, and then said that he will axe the program which will do just that—of course, that is Labor’s $42 million Smarter Schools program—that is, if the Leader of the Opposition manages to make the transition and become Prime Minister. This is the same opposition leader whose coalition economic principles talk up the importance of school based apprenticeships and traineeships but decides to cut trade training centres and schools.

Debate interrupted.