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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 446

Senator LUDLAM (2:13 PM) —My question is to Senator Conroy, the Minister representing the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Given the tangible economic and social benefits to people in need offered by public transport and cycling infrastructure and the extremely overburdened or non-existent public transport systems on our city fringes and in our regional towns, can the minister explain why the government’s economic stimulus package contains no funding streams or appropriations for public transport?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —Thank you, Senator Ludlam. Being asked to answer a negative is always an entertaining challenge. Let us be clear. The government has focused its priority on schools; it has focused its priority on infrastructure for roads; it has focused its challenge on consumption and helping Australian families. No-one is suggesting that in the upcoming budget none of these issues could be addressed. But this is a very specific package that is designed to alleviate the pressure on the economy and try and support 90,000 jobs. That is the challenge. That is what is before you. We have put forward a stimulus package based on all of the evidence around the world, as six of our major trading partners are sliding into or already in recession. To stop Australia sliding into recession, as on current forecasts, this package will stimulate the economy, it will deliver jobs and it will deliver protection for families. For all of those in this chamber—

Senator Ludlam —Mr President, I raise a point of order. The question that was directed to the minister was why public transport specifically had been left out of the package. I would appreciate an answer to that question.

Senator CONROY —This is about what is needed urgently in this country to address a recession. Buses, last time I checked, travelled on roads; railway crossings usually have trains going across them. These are measures that deal with aspects of public transport. But let us be clear that this is a package that delivers immediate stimulus to address the very specific problems that have emerged in the last few months, and particularly with the IMF’s forecasts over the last few days. We have put in place a stimulus package— (Time expired)

Senator LUDLAM —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The Senate is fairly familiar with the minister’s brief on the overall justification for the package. I am interested, given that the stimulus package invests $6 billion to fast-track 20,000 units of public housing, in what planning the government is doing—it may not be doing any—to ensure that the new housing is well served by public transport and does not strand low-income people in car dependent and congested communities.

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I am not quite sure how relevant that was to the primary question, because that was about housing, and I am not actually sure that I have carriage of public housing questions. So I would defer the question to my colleague. But, from the information I have to hand for you, stage 1 of this new initiative will fund the construction of around 2,300 dwellings that are already planned and approved, with construction to commence this financial year. The government anticipates that around 15,000 dwellings will be ready for occupancy by the end of 2010, with the remainder to be available by the end of 2012.

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Bob Brown is on his feet.

Senator Sherry interjecting—

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Sherry and Senator Macdonald, I am waiting to hear from Senator Bob Brown.

Senator Bob Brown —Mr President, I raise a point of order. The question was very clearly about public transport facilitation at this housing, and the minister should address that question.

The PRESIDENT —The minister has 12 seconds left to answer the supplementary question.

Senator CONROY —I am quite specifically talking about a question that revolves around public housing and transport, and I am giving information very, very specifically and dealing very relevantly with a question that combines— (Time expired)

Senator LUDLAM —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given that immediately buying more buses and trains made in Australia would get jobs into the transit manufacturing sector and the cycling sector and address the urgent demand for public transport, when can we expect an announcement of a government plan for the transit manufacturing sector?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I have to say I am not sure that the premise of that question is actually factually correct, Senator Ludlam. I do not have a lot of experience in ordering buses, trains and carriages, but I do understand there is a fair amount of lag time involved. Let me be clear: I do not think the premise of your question is accurate, because you do have to place these orders and they have to be slotted in behind existing orders. So I do not think the premise is correct. But we are committed to addressing the short-term needs of the economy, as have been exposed by the IMF report, which shows the international economy is plunging into a recession at breathtaking speed. Our response is about maximising the chance of supporting 90,000 jobs in Australia and working in the current environment— (Time expired)