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Wednesday, 18 March 2015
Page: 2894

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:40): I welcome many of the recommendations that are contained in this report on infrastructure planning and development by the Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications. I am glad that there is bipartisan support for a rigorous, evidence based approach to the delivery of new roads, railway lines and other critical infrastructure.

During the period of the former government, we created Infrastructure Australia, which delivered the nation's first evidence based process for infrastructure planning. It was given the role of breaking the nexus between the political cycle, which is by definition short term, and the infrastructure investment cycle, which is much more long term. It did that by assessing the business cases of the projects competing for Commonwealth funding and by being transparent in publishing those business cases. The creation of Infrastructure Australia was perhaps the most important development in this policy area for decades.

The problem with this government is that, whilst its committee members are supporting that process, its actions are undermining that very process that was established. The government introduced legislation which would have completely undermined Infrastructure Australia's independence, and the House of Representatives carried it; but they could not get it through the Senate. It then acted to ensure that Michael Deegan, the head of Infrastructure Australia, left that position in February 2014, and it did not fill that vacancy for more than a year, thus showing its contempt for those processes.

But, worst of all, in the Abbott government's first budget, there is not a single project that was approved by the government which had been through the Infrastructure Australia process. There is not one. It did not have many new projects. As you are aware, Mr Deputy Speaker, there were projects like Gateway WA in your electorate, which was funded and well underway with 2,000 workers on site and under construction when, during the Western Australian Senate by-election, government ministers travelling to Perth were pretending that somehow this was a new project. In other cases, projects like the Swan Valley Bypass was renamed NorthLink WA, and the F3 to M2 renamed NorthConnex, and the government pretended both those projects were new projects. A new name does not make it a new project. In other cases, the government has cut back funding for projects that were recommended by Infrastructure Australia—projects such as the Cross River Rail project in Brisbane, the Melbourne Metro Rail Project and the M80 Ring Road project in Melbourne—in order to fund projects that had not been through the IA process. These are projects such as the East West Link in Melbourne, WestConnex and the Perth Freight Link—prior to the federal election in 2013, no-one in my department had even received any request from the WA government for such a project.

What they did, though, was cut money from projects that had been approved and been through proper processes and funded projects that we now know—in the case of East West Link, the worst example—do not stack up. East West Link has a cost-benefit analysis of 0.45, or 45c returned for every dollar invested. In order to fund that, they took money from the managed motorways projects such as the Monash Freeway managed motorway in Melbourne that has a BCR of above five—it is above five—and the M80, which has a positive analysis as well. It is one thing to talk about proper process, but it is another thing to engage in it—and this government has completely failed when it comes to engaging.

There are very positive things in this report, such as the call to capture all costs and benefits of infrastructure proposals, including wider economic benefits. Value capture of new infrastructure projects is something that can lift the value of those projects and paint a true picture of the wider benefits of investment in infrastructure. An example of that was the announcement made by Luke Foley, the leader of the New South Wales Labor Party, last Friday when he and I attended Badgerys Creek, the site for Sydney's second airport. He indicated that value capture should be built into the arrangements around the lease of the second airport so that a railway line can be built.

You need public transport to make that airport function properly. You need it now and not decades into the future—just as the roads need to be built. Once you do that you get better outcomes. The Baird government, of course, criticised that, but there is no difference between this and the developer contributions that are put in place for new housing to provide those basic infrastructure services, such as water and electricity. It does need to be factored in. Once it is, infrastructure can be painted in the right light.

This report is an important contribution to the debate. It is also important for what is not in it, and for what is contained in the dissenting report. The dissenting report goes through the distinction between what the government has said it would do and what it has actually done. It goes through the importance of having a cost-benefit analysis of all projects with a value above $100 million and of that being a transparent process. That is nothing more and nothing less than what the government promised it would do prior to its election in 2013.

The dissenting report also calls for Commonwealth investment in public transport. That is absolutely common sense. The Prime Minister has this bizarre world view that the Commonwealth should not invest in public transport. The government justifies that by saying that the states run the public transport network. Yes they do, but they also run the road networks in Perth and Sydney and Melbourne and Brisbane. So it is an absurd distinction. The Prime Minister, in his book, Battlelines, had this to say:

Mostly, there just aren't enough people wanting to go from a particular place to a particular destination at a particular time to justify any vehicle larger than a car, and cars need roads.

This is a bizarre world view about our modern global cities, which need public transport investment as well as roads. By not investing in public transport, there is a distortion of the market, and you will see over a period of time a failure of Australian state governments to invest as well.

There are also important recommendations in the dissenting report about cooperation and corridor protection. There is nowhere where this is more important than in the high-speed rail issue. I was in Albury on Monday with our candidate for Albury in the state election, Ross Jackson, promoting high-speed rail. High-speed rail will transform those regional cities along the route as well as having benefits for intercity capital transport, with three hours between Sydney and Melbourne and Sydney and Brisbane. There is broad support for it, which is why I gave evidence before this committee inquiry about my private member's bill. My High Speed Rail Planning Authority Bill should be carried by the parliament; it is in line with the recommendations of the advisory group that included Tim Fischer, Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council of Australia and Bryan Nye from the Australasian Railway Association.

This is the sort of visionary project that Australians want to see progressed by the government. It cannot occur over the short term, but over the long term it will have an enormous benefit. A cost-benefit analysis showed $2.15 of benefit between Sydney and Melbourne for every dollar invested—a lot better than the East West Link which this government still says should proceed, despite the fact that the evidence is in. I commend many of the committee's recommendations but I particularly commend the dissenting report. (Time expired)

Debate adjourned.