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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 1066

Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (20:44): I rise with a grievance on behalf of the people of Bennelong, a grievance that lies central to nearly every complaint I have received from my constituents: the lack of planning, the lack of infrastructure and the lack of policy direction. Yet to address our future needs we first must understand our history: where we have come from and what we have learnt along the way.

Australia is justly proud of the legend of the digger: the bravest of men who have come from amongst us in times of peril, courageous in the face of fire and fair dinkum heroes. As we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin, we remember the courage they showed to preserve our freedom and our liberty. There have been other heroes: from those first settlers, willing or not, and those who were imposed upon and suffered every tragedy of a battlefield but who now welcome us to their country. The early pioneers survived the harshest of conditions and built our first great industry. After waves of conflict came good times, riding the sheep's back, and then enormous growth stimulated by immigrants seeking a better life from the devastation of Europe. 'She'll be right' and 'the lucky country' were accurate descriptions of our state of affairs: freedom assured by our willingness to fight for it and opportunities created and converted through hard work. Our luck has improved with mineral assets found coinciding with unprecedented demand and the world's most populous states becoming great economic powers, conveniently located in our region. You cannot beat good luck.

We have liberty, we have wealth and we have established a reputation as a loyal ally beyond question and as a trustworthy and honourable trading partner, despite recent aberrant behaviour. What is the next battle, and where will we find our next goldmine? When there are no wars, and when we have mined and exported our last ounce of luck, what will we have built with our hard-fought freedom and wealth from good fortune to preserve our way of life for future generations?

Courage in the face of fire must now be replaced with the courage to develop a vision for a great future: the courage to dream, to stimulate imagination and to unite all Australians to this purpose. This capacity will define our future heroes. One of the truisms of life is that the only constant is change, and so our next war is that very challenge—to deal with change, to value our freedoms, to be the trustees and custodians of our great wealth and to develop and realise our opportunities.

The next war is the battle of opportunity not to be lost. Our greatest challenge is to have the courage to dream, to imagine and to commit to the development of vision for a greater future. It is not good enough just to save—that would result in denying our potential. It would be disrespectful to our heroes to waste our liberty and not to realise all that our freedom can achieve. To plunder our wealth that has arrived through good fortune and hard work would be the ultimate insult to anyone who has ever tended a flock, dug a hole or built a dam.

The former member for Bennelong and Prime Minister John Howard once said that our country needs people of broad life experience who have the capacity to develop policies, because government should be won by the presentation of superior policies and government should only be retained as a result of the delivery of those policies. With the responsibility of our wealth, our liberty and our people, plans must be developed through a process of unrestrained imagination—great vision that is tested and scrutinised through the most rigorous processes but protected from those enemies within who would prioritise their own personal gain.

Australia has never had a national plan of development. Our growth has been random and ad hoc. Without a plan we have recently arrived at the confounding situation where Sydney has the second highest land prices in the world, second to Hong Kong, when our nation's single greatest asset is land—we still have boundless plains to share. Without a plan of settlement we have living costs in our major cities that are amongst the highest in the world, and congestion to match. My electorate of Bennelong is a perfect example of inappropriate amounts of high-density housing coupled with an absolute lack of infrastructure development. We once had the highest standards of living for the highest numbers of people—indeed a commonwealth. This has been eroded to a point where the cost-of-living increases are the inverse of our quality of life. Productivity and international competitiveness eroded; our true potential stifled—what to do?

A real estate developer evaluates a green site. When it stacks up, they will secure the site, build infrastructure, subdivide and sell. Wealth will have been created for the individual and opportunities for productivity for the community. Some developers will take risks and many will fail, proportionate to that risk. Experienced developers will be more conservative and spend more time and resources in evaluating the potential of a site, resulting in more certainty of wealth generation.

Where are the green sites prime for such development on a national scale? How much wealth can be created? How much will it cost? And how can this be achieved without imprisoning us in debt? What investment is required in infrastructure to be the catalyst not only for wealth creation but to provide the pressure release valve for cost-of-living pressures in our major cities whilst creating productivity and improving our quality of life?

When our two major cities form the fourth busiest air corridor in the world, yet are still linked only by a single track of rail and two lanes of highway in some parts, alarm bells should be ringing. This represents a national infrastructure deficit of serious proportions stifling our country's potential. It is clear that with no comprehensive strategic plan and no commitment to infrastructure this war will be lost.

When last considered, very fast trains were dismissed because of the likelihood of operational losses. Is that it? Is that the extent of thorough debate, when a government meets before a barbecue with butchers paper and pencils? This attitude is penny wise but pound foolish. Imagine if the same approach had been taken with the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The £6.2 million cost was not viewed as a profit-making exercise, yet the billions of dollars in land value uplift and productivity increases have repaid that investment many times over. It is a matter of historical record that the bridge was completed during the depths of the Great Depression. What do we need now during the heights of our mining boom?

What would happen if very fast trains were considered in full, if collateral benefits were weighed against the cost of a ticket? What is the development potential of the tract of land between Sydney and Melbourne? What infrastructure could be contemplated to increase land values in Albury, Goulburn, Gundagai and Wagga to provide infinite growth to our regions and relief from housing cost pressures in our major cities? What impact on productivity would development in this region have, and what wealth would be created? Should special interest groups be empowered to block such initiatives for their own personal gain?

The final judgment on our performance in dealing with our opportunities gained on battlefields of freedom and wealth gains from good fortune and hard work by previous generations is the path that we now choose. It is imperative that we master-plan our nation's development with a vision towards the next 50 to 100 years, not a policy that only sees as far as the next election. Ill-conceived projects hastily implemented that encumber future generations with debt should gain the harshest judgment. It is not good enough for us to simply sit, content with the spoils of those who confronted the hardship of a pioneer and had the courage to bring their all to that challenge. This is not worthy of those who risked all on the battlefield, made the perilous trip over oceans, found a way across the mountains or perished in total commitment, like Burke and Wills. We owe them action to grow our nation, to prove that their inspiration is alive in our veins to confront our own modern challenges.

It is time to face this next foe with the same courage, this time armed with vision from a liberated imagination and a future greater than the one envisaged by those who did not dare to dream. Perhaps we can embrace that future whilst riding on the back of a very fast train, opening up our boundless plains for industry, for jobs, facilitating growth and productivity. Then we would have made our own luck, and she would be all right.