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Tuesday, 10 December 2013
Page: 2228

Mr CHESTER (GippslandParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) (17:49): In joining this debate on the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013 I note the contribution by the people's choice for Leader of the Opposition, the member for Grayndler. He is right in what he said, on some occasions. It is a bit sad to see the member for Grayndler living in the past with almost a sense of denial that 7 September occurred. When I referred to the former minister being right, he did deal with me reasonably as the member for Gippsland when I came to him with issues relating to the Princes Highway and other infrastructure issues but he did always say no as well in relation to those issues. So it is not as though the former minister can claim any great credit for infrastructure development in Gippsland when the answer, although it was pleasantly given, was inevitably no when it came to extending the national network to include the Princes Highway east of Sale to the New South Wales border.

The former minister talked about the independent assessment process and keeping ministers out of evaluation for major infrastructure projects to avoid, as he described, rorting or inappropriate influence. But he conveniently overlooked his government's own record in its dying days in relation to the regional development association and the way it approved grants under Regional Development Australia for a sports complex on the outskirts of Melbourne, at Wyndham in the seat the former Prime Minister; for a swimming pool in Ringwood in the suburbs of Melbourne; and for the Penrith football club, again in the suburbs, this time in Sydney. There was a long list of projects approved by the former government under Regional Development Australia with no regional links whatsoever. So it is a bit rich for the former minister to come in here and make allegations and cast aspersions about a coalition government when his own government's record in relation to pork-barrelling and inappropriate use of regional funds had a long and chequered past.

The Australian people know that we have a big task to undertake here as the new government. They know that we are cleaning up the former government's mess, and they want us to get on with the job. So it is disappointing to listen to the former minister engaging in old battles dating back to the Howard era. He had to cast his mind right back—almost a decade—to find fault.

Ms MacTiernan interjecting

Mr CHESTER: My firecracker friend over here: just light the fuse and off she goes! It is almost like Groundhog Day—every time I stand up, I get the member for Perth!

The Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013 will help to meet the government's election commitment to make Infrastructure Australia a more independent, transparent expert advisory body by changing its governance structure and better clarifying its functions. The policy embodied in this bill was taken by the coalition to the election, and the coalition was rewarded with the majority vote of the Australian people. I call on those opposite to, rather than be obstructionist and oppose for the sake of opposition, recognise that on issues such as infrastructure the Australian people have clearly spoken and given us a mandate to proceed in a responsible and moderate manner.

The new Prime Minister has clearly indicated that he wants to be seen as an infrastructure Prime Minister, and one of the steps in delivering on the coalition's infrastructure promises to the Australian people is this bill before the House today. The government understands that investment in nationally significant infrastructure is central to growing Australia's productivity and to improving the living standards of Australians—not only Australians in the cities but also Australians in regional communities—now and in the future. There is a long list of projects that this government has committed itself to building in our term and beyond, if we are so fortunate at future elections as to be given the opportunity by the Australian people to govern again.

We have already made some significant commitments to a number of vital infrastructure projects right across the country, starting with $6.7 billion for the Bruce Highway in Deputy Speaker Vasta's own state. I am sure that he would be well aware of the issues confronting the Bruce Highway. In fact, last year I drove the Bruce Highway in the company of several members from the Liberal-National Party and the now Deputy Prime Minister. We took a firsthand look from Brisbane to Cairns; we drove the whole road and had a look at the issues confronting communities up there, including the productivity, social and economic concerns which go with having a highway which is not up to standard. The new coalition government has undertaken to spend $6 billion on the Bruce Highway project alone.

There is $5.6 billion to finally finish the duplication of the Pacific Highway. I know, from campaigning during the election with candidates—at that stage they were candidates; they are now the new members—for Page and Lyne, and with the continuing member for Cowper, how important the Pacific Highway is to people in communities near the highway. There is a great need to improve the links between Sydney and the South-East Queensland growth corridor. There is also: $1.5 billion to WestConnex in Sydney; $1.5 billion to the East-West Link in Melbourne; another billion dollars to continue the Gateway Motorway upgrade in Brisbane; $615 million for the Swan Valley Bypass; $686 million to the Gateway WA project; $400 million for the Midland Highway in Tasmania; and $500 million for the north-south corridor in Adelaide. On top of all that, other funding has been committed to projects such as Roads to Recovery and the regional Bridges to Renewal program. These are areas where this government is committed to investing in the critical infrastructure which will really make a difference to people's lives and also make a difference to the economic productivity of the Australian nation. We are looking to create jobs for people right throughout Australia—not just in our cities but also throughout our regional communities.

We do intend that Infrastructure Australia will play a role in assisting all levels of government to plan for the longer term investment in infrastructure which will be required into the future. I take exception to the member for Grayndler's comments at the end of his contribution in which he suggested that it sounded as though we may as well abolish Infrastructure Australia. That is not the intent of the coalition. We believe that Infrastructure Australia has done some good work, and we want to strengthen its independence through improved processes and a more traditional, board-like structure. We believe that Infrastructure Australia will go on to deliver even better results for the Australian people.

In the five years since Infrastructure Australia was created it has become evident to members on this side of the chamber—and, clearly, others may have a different view—that the current structure does not provide the degree of independence and transparency needed to give the best advice to government about the infrastructure priorities which will reverse Australia's productivity slide. I am not one of those people who ever stand in this place and suggest that the former government, in which the member for Grayndler was a senior minister, did nothing. I would never stand in this place and suggest that, because I think members come to this place with the full intention of delivering for their communities: they want to make a difference. I believe that the member for Grayndler, when he was the minister for infrastructure and minister for transport undertook some good reforms and did strive to deliver for the Australian nation. But that does not mean that a new government cannot come to office and seek to make improvements. That is what the coalition is endeavouring to do with this legislation.

This bill will establish Infrastructure Australia as a separate statutory authority under the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act. The bill will give Infrastructure Australia the capacity to be more independent and to strengthen the work it does in partnership with the Commonwealth government, other levels of government and the broader Australian community. The bill will see the Infrastructure Australia authority as led by a CEO responsible to their board rather than, as in the current structure, responsible to the minister—which we believe is again a great improvement in the independence that Infrastructure Australia now has from the government.

There are things about infrastructure on which we agree with the opposition. We agree that there needs to be a more integrated and broader approach—a more holistic approach—to making sure that all the infrastructure fits together better, and I think that the member for Grayndler made that point well. The new government recognises that Australia needs improved long-term planning for infrastructure investment which is based on robust, evidentiary assessments of our future needs. To achieve this goal the government has tasked Infrastructure Australia with: undertaking new, five-yearly, evidence based audits of our infrastructure asset base; developing top-down priority lists at national and state levels; developing a 15-year infrastructure plan; evaluating both economic and social infrastructure proposals; and publishing the justification for prioritisation, including cost-benefit analysis.

I cannot go past the point made in the chamber by the Minister for Communications, who noted the failure of the previous government to undertake a proper cost-benefit analysis of the National Broadband Network. This coalition government, which does aim to invest heavily in the future infrastructure that Australia will require, is determined to deliver value for money to Australian taxpayers. We will be regularly publishing cost-benefit analyses, as the former Labor government failed to do.

From my perspective, in the seat of Gippsland you will not be surprised to hear there is a long list of infrastructure requirements that I will be aspiring to deliver over the course of this parliament and beyond. Every member comes to this place seeking to make a difference in their community and secure a fair share of government funding for critical infrastructure and new services. I will be working with the new minister, the assistant minister and other senior colleagues on a range of projects I will be hoping to fund in partnership with state and local governments.

These projects will be like the East Bairnsdale Enabling Infrastructure Improvement Project, to which the coalition committed $1 million during the election campaign. This is a very good flood mitigation project that seeks to resolve a complex drainage problem that exists in Bairnsdale's industrial precinct. For those not familiar with the Bairnsdale area, the project we are talking about is at the rear of Patties Foods, which bought Four'N Twenty pies. It is a business we are very proud of in Gippsland. It started out 45 years ago when the Rijs family, an immigrant family, came to Australia and started their own cake shop. Now, 45 years later, they are responsible for a business that turns over $250 million per year. That is an extraordinary success story.

We have a plan to work in partnership on the first stage of that project. The new federal government is putting in $1 million, the state government is making a major contribution and Patties Foods is also contributing to the project. This will assist future residential and industrial growth in the Bairnsdale area, but it will also benefit the Gippsland Lakes by reducing the nutrient run-off into our Ramsar listed wetlands, which are so important for the tourism industry in the greater Gippsland region.

In addition to that, during the election campaign the coalition, through Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, announced that we would partner with the Victorian state government on an $11 million safety upgrade on the Princes Highway East. This work will allow for the construction of three new overtaking lanes between Nowa Nowa and Orbost. These overtaking lanes will provide more opportunities for safer transport in our region. I mentioned previously that the Princes Highway, east of Sale, currently does not qualify for federal funding. It is one of those issues I have been working on with the former minister and with the current minister. In that the Princes Highway is recognised as a road on a national network, until Sale, it has been the beneficiary of $140 million of federal funding over the past five years and $35 million of state funding. But the highway from Sale all the way virtually to Sydney does not receive federal funding. I think this is a problem and I will be working with the new member for Eden-Monaro and other members who are interested in the road to try to improve safety. This may be through off-network projects in partnership with the Commonwealth, or seeing whether we can get the status of the road changed. It is an issue for us. The road has a high accident rate. Tragically, many fatalities occur on that stretch of road and there are also many accidents, where people are seriously injured. I will be working with the new minister, with the new member for Eden-Monaro and with the New South Wales and Victorian state ministers on efforts to upgrade the Princes Highway, not just to Sale but right through my electorate and all the way up the south-east coast of Australia, through the seat of Eden-Monaro.

I would like to mention one other infrastructure project that I am very keen to see progressed in this term of government. The Victorian coalition government is carrying out the first stage of the Macalister Irrigation District 2030 plan. This plan has been around for a long time. It is basically an attempt to modernise irrigation infrastructure that has been allowed, through decades, to deteriorate to the extent that it does not meet modern needs. These planned upgrades include channel automation projects, outlet rationalisation and construction of a balancing storage that will support the return of more than 12,000 megalitres of water a year to productive use.

For members who do not live in rural seats, talking about irrigation upgrades and 12,000 megalitres might not sound particularly important. But 12,000 megalitres per year means more wealth created in regional communities. It means greater productive capacity for the Macalister Irrigation District. It means that milk production can be boosted by in the order of 24 million litres per year. So it is a critical infrastructure project and one that the previous federal government failed to invest in in any way, shape or form. The previous state Labor government failed to invest in it. So I am very proud to see that the Victorian coalition government is going to start this project with $16 million over the first three years. It will be a challenge in the future for any Commonwealth government, whether it be a Labor or coalition government, to work with my community to invest in critical infrastructure like the Macalister Irrigation District 2030 plan.

I thank the House.