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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 595


Ms JACKSON (3:24 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Will the minister outline to the House what additional funding the government has provided to improve rail, community infrastructure and create local jobs? Are there any threats to these plans?


Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —I thank the member for Hasluck for her question. At the COAG meeting chaired by the Prime Minister this morning, all state premiers and chief ministers agreed to sign up to the new nation-building program by 1 March—and I thank the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, who is here today, for being a part of that. They therefore will be eligible for funding under the government’s $150 million increase in road maintenance, available and intended to be spent this financial year for economic stimulus and to make our roads safer.

This program, the nation-building program from 2009-13, is the biggest road and rail investment program in the history of the Commonwealth. The investment is $27 billion, with the Commonwealth contributing $22.3 billion. It means that we can get on with the job of working together—the Commonwealth and the states and territories—to build our road and our rail network and to provide jobs and economic stimulus around the nation. And we are getting on with the job. I announced, through a media release earlier today, that construction work has now commenced on the 36 kilometre southern ydney freight line. That is a $309 million project. I have been asked about how many jobs. There are 500 direct jobs and 1,000 indirect jobs. This is a 36 kilometre dedicated freight line that will unclog the single largest bottleneck on New South Wales’s interstate rail network.

Last December, as part of our nation-building package, we announced an additional $1.2 billion through the ARTC for 17 rail projects to be rolled out across the country to enhance freight movement and to create local jobs. This will see freight times along the Melbourne to Brisbane corridor reduced from 37 hours to 26 hours—a 30 per cent improvement. Our largest investment is in the Hunter—$1 billion.


Mr Baldwin interjecting


Mr ALBANESE —This will directly employ—since you ask for the figures—650 people in the Hunter. That is 650 people, and it is supported by the member for Hunter, supported by the member for Charlton, supported by the member for Newcastle and supported by the member for Shortland. The member for Paterson, however, votes against jobs in his local community.

We are investing $125 million to replace old wood rail sleepers with new concrete rail sleepers in order to increase efficiency on the network, creating local jobs in factories and employing extra people right now as a result of our commitment in December. Those people are being employed in Geelong, in Wagga Wagga, in Grafton, in Mittagong—these are jobs for regional Australia. And we are not only doing it through road and rail; we are doing it through community infrastructure.

As COAG was meeting, there was also today the inaugural meeting of the steering committee of the Australian Council of Local Government. Regardless of political colour, background and ideology, it came together with an absolute consensus: that we need to get on with the job of nation building and providing jobs in local communities. Every single one of those mayors has welcomed our $800 million community infrastructure package—the package that those opposite voted against—with those local programs being delivered around the nation. They also agreed that local government will play its part in assisting the COAG agenda that was being debated at the same time, making sure that the development applications for local schools get fast tracked and that we get those jobs on the ground in those local communities. But much of that funding, of course, is in jeopardy due to the reckless attitude of those opposite—the reckless, opportunistic attitude of those opposite, who, at the same time as they were voting against it, were lobbying me around the corridors of the house yesterday, asking for programs in their electorates to be funded. That is the hypocrisy that we see from those opposite. We will see whether they support these programs put forward by local government in those communities.

Of course, they are confused. Their strategy is dazed and confused. Yesterday, the Manager of Opposition Business said this on 2UE: ‘We’re not blocking it; we’re voting against it.’ It got better. Today, on Sunrise, he said: ‘If it’s too good to be true when people receive all these handouts, it is not true. It is not real.’ Well, when the Senate passes a program of $950, they will know that it is real. I do not think the Manager of Opposition Business can ever make an interjection like that again. But it gets better, because, on radio 2UE on 5 February, he said this: ‘When somebody holds a gun to my head, you know, maybe it’s a bit silly, but I say, “Well, mate, pull the trigger.”’ I say this to the member for North Sydney: your leader has done it. Your leader has done it to everyone along the front bench and along the back bench by opposing community infrastructure, by opposing nation building, by opposing jobs in local communities. That is exactly what the Leader of the Opposition has done, because he is not interested in nation building; he is just interested in himself.