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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 1109

Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (20:35): This evening I am delighted to rise to talk about the Gillard government's important investments in Western Australian infrastructure. It is particularly significant because a growing and booming state like WA, with a lot going on, really needs these critically important investments. The Gillard government is thinking carefully about the investments that need to be made.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of representing the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the Hon. Anthony Albanese, at an event to celebrate the commencement of the works on Perth City Link. The project is quite exciting and involves the sinking of approximately 300 metres of the city section of Perth's railway line, just west of the main Perth railway station. It is a great project in Perth because for too long our city has been divided by the central railway station and the railway line. The Gillard government is in fact paying the lion's share of the funding towards the project, or about $236 million. The state government is putting up nearly $100 million and the City of Perth has put together about $25 million.

I am really excited about this project because, when it is finished, we will be able connect Northbridge with the Perth central business district. For too many years, we have crossed the horseshoe bridge along the pedestrian walkway at the West Perth end and our city has been much the poorer for its division. We have had to travel around the city in order to cross it. By sinking the railway line, some 50,000 square metres of land will be freed up for urban development in our growing city. It is really going to transform the central part of Perth and make it, I think, more accessible and interesting for everyone. It will be easier to move around and there will be a lot more economic and social activity in our city centre. There will be new retail, food, commercial and residential facilities.

It is something that I think Perth has always needed so I am really pleased that the Gillard government is contributing the funds to this very important project. This is an idea that has been talked about for a very, very long time, and finally the work has commenced. I was very pleased to be able to put the ticket from the train that I caught to the commencement of works celebration into a little time capsule that will be opened in some 30 years time to celebrate and acknowledge the work on the sinking of our railway. The funding from the federal government means that this important project is now well on its way to becoming a reality.

The Gillard Labor government has a vision for Perth as modern and vibrant. It is a vision for a terrific metropolis befitting our status not only as the capital of the west but also as a growing and important city in the region. This project is typical of the federal government's historic decision to invest federal funding in modernising and extending our nation's public transport infrastructure. It is a national first—never before has a Commonwealth government invested in public transport infrastructure. Indeed, we have already committed more to this task than did all of our predecessors since Federation combined.

The federal Labor government is also investing in other important projects in Perth, including the upgrades of roads around the airport and nearby industrial estates, about $350 million; the widening of the Great Eastern Highway from Kooyong Road to Tonkin, about $280 million; and the upgrade of the interchange between the Great Eastern Highway and the Roe Highway. These are all critically important investments in infrastructure because our city is going gang busters; people are moving there in droves. There is a lot of coming and going and we really need to plan and grow for the future.

I am very proud, as a representative of WA in the Gillard government, that we are increasing to an unprecedented $3.7 billion our contribution, through the six-year—to 2013-14—Nation Building Program, to nation-building projects in my home state. This is because our government has a vision for WA and for Perth and are committed in particular to giving back to the hardworking people of Western Australia. This is in stark contrast to those opposite who I do not think have expressed a strong vision for WA. They have no plan to deal with our growing population and the demands placed on our infrastructure. That is because they have never had a commitment or a plan to make our cities more liveable.

Under the Howard government, Australia ranked 20th out of 25 OECD countries when it came to investing in public infrastructure as a proportion of national income. Public investment in the nation's infrastructure as a proportion of national income in fact fell by close to 20 per cent. A lack of investment cut almost one per cent off the annual growth of the nation. More than $2 billion was slashed from federal roads, and rail in this nation fared little better. I am very pleased to say that this Labor government cares about providing for Western Australia and the nation's future by investing in the infrastructure that we so desperately need.

As you would be aware, as has been highlighted in other debates today, one of the other important ways we have invested in infrastructure around the country is through the Building the Education Revolution program. I was very pleased last week to attend the Burbridge School in Koondoola for their BER opening. I was very pleased to meet with students and Ms Helen Macri, the principal of Burbridge, as well as Joanne Kriziotis, the deputy principal, and many members of the school community. What is special in terms of Burbridge is that the BER funding there was used to build what the school needed. Burbridge is a school for students with physical and intellectual disabilities, so it was great to see that they were able to build an independent living area. Critically, the school had been without a library. I find it quite shocking that any school in this country should be without a library. There is no reason why students with physical and intellectual disabilities should not have access to such facilities. But for too long students at this school did not. The school now has a library, so students can check books out. Parents can read to students at home, and there is a place that students can be read to within the school. It is particularly significant that for the first time Burbridge primary school has a library and an independent living centre, along with a fantastic undercover play and activity area. It is fantastic to see the impact the BER funding has had on schools around Western Australia, including in Perth's northern suburbs and in remote regions.

I was just reflecting with the principals from the Australian Primary Principals Association this evening that capital works funding like this does not come around every day. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for many of these schools. I have been delighted this evening to be able to talk about what a fantastic impact these investments have had on both government and private schools in Western Australia. There is not a bad story among them. They are all absolutely stoked with the facilities.

Ultimately, as I experienced at Burbridge, it is not about the bricks and mortar. It is not about the new buildings, the assembly halls and the classrooms. This investment in infrastructure for schools is about creating an environment in this country where we can shape young lives for the better, where our kids get the best chance they can for the future. That is what investment in all kinds of infrastructure around the country is about. It is not about the bricks and mortar, the bridges and the roads; it is actually about making life in local communities easier and better, improving our quality of life, so that we can get on with working, get on with learning and get on with living. I am very pleased and proud that they are the kinds of investments that the Gillard government is making.