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Thursday, 9 February 2017
Page: 522


Senator SMITH (Western AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (15:50): Is that it? Is that the first contribution by the Labor Party this afternoon on their notice of motion in regard to a lack of investment in public transport infrastructure—they allege—by the Turnbull government? We did not hear one convincing bit of evidence. There was lots of rhetoric and lots of wishful thinking about the future of a possible Labor government in Western Australia. But there was nothing convincing in Senator Pratt's contribution this afternoon. I hope that other Labor senators will rise to the occasion and at least put their hearts into the motion that Senator Gallagher moved.

I am surprised, I have to confess, about Labor's choice of subject for this afternoon's motion. Here is Senator Sterle—it will be interesting to see Senator Sterle's contribution this afternoon. It will be interesting to see whether he is tempted to digress into the rhetoric of Mark McGowan and future Labor governments that they hope for.

I am very surprised at Labor's choice of a discussion topic this afternoon in the Australian Senate. I think it is very odd that the Australian Labor Party in this place would be looking to talk about public transport this week. I will be particularly interested if any Labor senators from Queensland are planning to take part in this afternoon's debate, given the week that the Labor government there has experienced, specifically in relation to public transport. The veracity of their claim around poor public transport infrastructure spending by the Turnbull government will be tested if there are any Labor senators from Queensland that participate in the debate this afternoon.

It is an odd choice of motion for another reason—and that one is a pretty simple one. The evidence just does not demonstrate a lack of investment in public transport by the Turnbull government. To accuse this government of the lack of care, concern or investment in public transport infrastructure requires one to live in a fantasy world because it is just not reflected in the reality. I will demonstrate that with not rhetoric but facts. Quite frankly, it is hard to think of a federal government that has done more for public transport infrastructure than the Turnbull government. That is not a difficult claim for someone like me to make.

Senator Sterle interjecting

Senator SMITH: Senator Sterle, I hope you will sit through my whole presentation because I am going to put the facts and the evidence on the table. That will be your challenge—to put the facts and the evidence on the table.

Senator Sterle: I am riveted, Deano!

Senator SMITH: This historical investment in public transport infrastructure has arisen in no small part because, after seemingly endless stuff-ups and delays under hopelessly incompetent Labor state governments, the community has developed an expectation now that the federal government will be involved. Now, if you will permit me to be brutally honest for a brief moment: that does not sit particularly well with my very, very strong federalist instincts. I think it is a bit rich for Labor state governments, in particular, to now expect the federal government to be doing their job for them, especially in the space of public transport.

I also note that this motion comes from Senator Gallagher, the former Chief Minister of the ACT, which is not a jurisdiction renowned for its exceptional public transport system. And I might add that, after some 16 years of unbroken Labor government, I find that deeply ironic. Of course, there is now a light rail project being constructed on the north side of Canberra. I can only hope for the sake of this city's residents it does not suffer the same usual problems of major projects managed—or, in this case, mismanaged—by Labor governments. It is also worth noting that the Turnbull government has provided $67 million to the ACT to assist with the construction of that project. Perhaps that might have slipped Senator Gallagher's mind when she presented the motion this afternoon.

Nonetheless, our system has evolved to the point where there is an expectation now that the federal government will be involved in funding public transport infrastructure projects. That being the case, this federal government has been more than willing to step up to support the development of public transport infrastructure. No matter which part of Australia you live in, there is ample evidence to back that up.

So let's look at the evidence—let's look at some of the facts. Between now and 2018-19, the Turnbull government is investing some $1.9 billion on urban passenger rail projects, despite the fact that it is primarily a state government responsibility. Let's look at South Australia, a jurisdiction also afflicted with a long-term Labor government so incompetent that it literally cannot keep the lights on. I send my greetings to those in South Australia who may be watching or listening to this debate, but, sadly, we cannot be confident that they are able to turn on their televisions and listen to their radios as a result of the incompetence. In South Australia, the Turnbull government is investing $43 million to extend the Tonsley rail line to the Flinders medical precinct. In the state of Queensland, this government has made a contribution of $95 million to stage two of the Gold Coast Light Rail extension project. That will see the line extended by 7.3 kilometres from the Gold Coast University Hospital to connect with the heavy rail network at the northern end of the Gold Coast, at Helensvale, with new stations at Parkwood and Parkwood East, and a new heavy rail/light rail interchange at Helensvale.

In South Australia, in Queensland, Senator Gallagher's motion that the Turnbull government is not investing in public transport infrastructure has proven to be wrong. Importantly, for Queenslanders and for others travelling to Australia for the Commonwealth Games, this public transport infrastructure will, of course, be very, very important. In addition to this, Queensland is also getting from the Turnbull government $10 million to further investigate urban regeneration opportunities and funding and financing options, and assess the integration of Cross River Rail with the council's Brisbane Metro Subway System. It is very, very clear that Queenslanders are benefiting from the Turnbull government's investment in public infrastructure.

Turning to New South Wales: through the asset recycling initiative the Turnbull government is contributing over $1.6 billion to the Sydney Metro, Australia's largest public transport initiative currently under construction, which, when completed, will be Australia's first fully-fledged rapid transit system. On top of this, in New South Wales there is $98.4 million for the Western Sydney rail upgrade, $78.3 million for the Parramatta Light Rail project and $26 million to support development of a rail link to the new Western Sydney Airport.

In Victoria, the Turnbull government is contributing $10 million to the development of the Melbourne Metro project, which includes five new underground rail stations. I know, Senator Rice, you would prefer people to walk! I know you prefer people to walk, but people need to get to work, they need to shift their families around they need to get jobs, and freights are important.

Senator Rice interjecting

Senator SMITH: I know you prefer people to walk or to sit under a tree.

In my own state of Western Australia—which is where Senator Pratt left her very, very modest contribution to the afternoon debate—the federal government is contributing $490 million to the Forrestfield-Airport rail link, which is an absolutely critical project for Perth and for the entire state of Western Australia. And I should point out that that construction work is well underway—it has already started; it is well underway—after careful planning and implementation of those plans. Of course, that money came as partial compensation for our low share of GST revenue.

Senator Sterle interjecting

Senator SMITH: Together with my Liberal colleagues in this place, I am very proud to have played a role in securing it—which brings me to an important point, Senator Sterle. Your challenge to Mark McGowan is to ask him what he is going to do about GST distribution. And what is Bill Shorten going to do about GST distribution? If the government changes, that issue falls heavily on what he is going to do. What is he going to do?

Senator Sterle: I would say probably a lot more than what Barnett has done.

Senator SMITH: Through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, I ask Senator Searle: what is Mark McGowan going to do about GST distribution? I think that is the answer—silence; nothing.

Senator Sterle: Do you want me to answer?

Senator SMITH: That is his big challenge. I will be watching closely, Senator Sterle; I will be watching very, very closely. It is worth noting that Bill Shorten has never revealed his own plan to address WA's GST shortfall. I suspect we all know why: he is utterly beholden to his Labor mates in South Australia, who continue to fight against sensible reform that would be in the interests of Western Australians and indeed, I argue, in the interests of Australia's economic productivity.

It is a marked contrast to the approach from WA Labor, which went to the last state election, in 2013, promising to build an airport station that was located a couple of kilometres from the airport terminal. I know you remember that, Senator Sterle.

Senator Sterle: No, I don't know what you are talking about.

Senator SMITH: You do remember that, don't you? A railway station that was not even located where the people are! This demonstrates a consistent problem with the WA Labor Party: they like to talk big. They have a nice, colourful map and a few logos for their projects, and the spin gets underway. They hoodwink Western Australian voters, and then of course, in the end, Western Australian voters are left with nothing. But scratch the surface and, time after time, they have the detail badly wrong. That is something that Western Australians will be bearing in mind as we approach the state election on Saturday, 11 March.

While on the subject of transport infrastructure in my home state of Western Australia, it would be remiss of me not to mention the brazenly irresponsible decision of the WA Labor Party to oppose Roe 8, which is a critical element of the Perth Freight Link project, in a cynical attempt to win a few preferences from the Australian Greens in advance of the election. The Labor Party has bought into this ridiculous notion that we have to make a choice between road and rail. That is simply a false choice. We need both. It will come as news to the Labor Party, but not everything can move around by rail alone. It is not a perfect solution. That is why Roe 8 and the recently announced Roe 9 tunnel are absolutely critical to meeting Perth's freight needs.

It is odd that the Labor Party are constantly talking about the need to create jobs—and they are right; job creation is critical in Western Australia—but they never want to actually build the road infrastructure that will deliver it. Instead, they want to get together with the Greens and pursue an ideological fetish for passenger rail. Roe 8 and Roe 9 are critical projects that will both help WA to diversify its economy and make it easier to export our goods to growing markets in Asia. Roe 8 and Roe 9 will remove nearly 7,000 heavy vehicles per day from Perth's southern urban arterial road network. This will make for a safer and more reliable road journey into and out of Fremantle. Together, they will also allow heavy vehicles and other road users to bypass the 14 sets of traffic lights now on the Leach Highway and Stock Road, creating a safer environment for all road users. Moreover, the project is anticipated to create 1,900 direct jobs, with a total on-site workforce of over 6½ thousand during the construction phase. This is something that WA Labor—

Senator Sterle: Bollocks!

Senator SMITH: You do not believe that any jobs will be created from the Roe 8 and Roe 9 projects? You do not believe that any jobs will be created?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Marshall ): Senator Sterle, on a point of order?

Senator Sterle: Senator Smith is misleading the Senate here. I agree jobs will be created, but nowhere near the make-believe figure that the WA Liberal government mentions.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you for that, but that is not a point of order. Resume your seat. Senator Smith, you have the call.

Senator SMITH: Thank you for paying attention to my contribution this afternoon, Senator Sterle; I do appreciate that. But job creation, of course, is very, very important to the Western Australian economy. With 1,900 direct jobs and almost 6½ thousand other jobs during the construction phases of Roe 8 and Roe 9, that has to be good news for Western Australians and for the Western Australian economy. It is a very confusing stance that WA Labor have. It is one taken simply because they have convinced themselves that there is more virtue in rail projects than there is in road projects, and that is just not true.

At the beginning of my contribution, I said that it was very curious that the Labor Party had chosen this week to raise the matter of public transport, given the problems currently being experienced by the Labor government in Queensland. I just want to have a look, briefly, at what has happened in recent times in Queensland. Since the second part of last year, it is fair to say that Queensland's passenger rail system has been a basket case—and that is probably putting it charitably. On 21 October last year, around 100 passenger rail services across south-east Queensland had to be cancelled due to a shortage of drivers. On Christmas Day, almost two-thirds of scheduled services had to be cancelled for the same reason. This left many people who were trying to spend Christmas Day with loved ones simply stranded.

These shortages occurred because of the bungled implementation of a new timetable, not due to a lack of investment from the Turnbull government. The federal government does not schedule train services. The federal government does not recruit train drivers. Passengers were not left stranded on rail station platforms across south-east Queensland on Christmas Day because of inaction on the part of the federal government. This is something that has occurred because of the manifest ineptitude of the Queensland state Labor government. I note that the minister for transport in that government finally fell on his sword earlier this week after a damning report into that disaster, and is it any wonder? Just listen to this:

There was also a 7 per cent drop in train crew productivity due to more restrictive crewing rules agreed between unions and QR's—

Queensland Rail's—

management.

The supply of qualified drivers declined by 4 per cent over the same period, reaching 471 drivers in December 2016, due to QR preferring to operate with a 5-10 per cent undersupply of crew, driven by a practice of providing overtime opportunities and restrictions on the ability to recruit externally.

So a sweetheart deal between the unions and Queensland Rail, a Queensland government body, limited the ability for new drivers to be recruited.

Of course, we all know which side of politics is beholden to the Australian trade union movement in our country—that is the Labor Party; no surprises. The report went on to recommend that negotiations with unions address the restrictive rules regarding continuous working time, meal breaks and rostering processes. I wonder what prospect there is that a Queensland Labor government which cannot survive without the political muscle supplied by its union allies will act on that very simple and clear recommendation? My fear is that Queensland commuters may be experiencing delays for some time to come, if they have to rely on the Labor Party to do the right thing and put the public interest before the unions' interests.

Of course, it is also the Turnbull government that has established the Smart Cities and Suburbs Program, and public transport is an absolutely critical element within that. This government recognises than an ad hoc approach to the development of cities is no longer viable. In today's economy, our cities must compete in order to grow and prosper. That competition should foster important collaboration. The government is combining smart policy, smart investment and smart technology to ensure our cities are more liveable, more productive and more prosperous. The Smart Cities Plan means more affordable housing, new jobs closer to homes, better transport and more liveable cities. To support the Smart Cities Plan, we announced $50 million to accelerate planning and development on major urban transport projects and the establishment of an Infrastructure Financing Unit to broker commercial deals with the private sector so that we can deliver more congestion-busting infrastructure sooner. This will make our cities more liveable through better coordination, integrated planning and targeted infrastructure investment. Smart Cities creates a shared vision for cities and a plan for governments, businesses and communities to coordinate their actions and investments to achieve agreed targets.

This motion before us is from the Labor Party, and so, in the very brief time available to me it would be remiss of me not to reflect on their record in government in this area. And I have to say that there is not a lot to say about Labor's record of investment in public transport infrastructure. Before and during the 2016 election campaign, the Labor Party committed to funding a number of urban rail projects through its $10 billion 'concrete bank' facility, with the balance apparently to come from the Building Australia Fund. However, that money is already fully allocated to other projects, and the Labor Party have not identified what projects they would cancel. So Labor's answer to public transport infrastructure is to make promises that cannot be funded, that cannot be honoured. I know what you're going to say, Senator Sterle: 'Here we go again—Senator Smith is right. This is history repeating itself. How does he know these things?' Because you and Labor oppositions think they can hoodwink the Australian community. When the Labor Party were last in government, of the $6.2 billion they allocated to urban transport in the 2013 budget, just $1.9 billion—30 per cent—was in the forward estimates. The remaining $4.3 billion was outside the budget estimates. That is standard operating procedure for the Labor Party in this place—talk projects up, promise voters the world and then keep kicking the can further down the road when it comes to the question of actually paying for things.

It is clear: the Turnbull government does have a plan for investment in public transport infrastructure in Queensland, in Victoria, in South Australia, in New South Wales and, indeed, in my own state of Western Australia. What is the contrast? What is the comparator? The Labor Party has no plan. When it did have a plan, those plans were unfunded, they were hollow commitments and they would have left Australians high and dry.