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Thursday, 14 February 2008
Page: 394

Mr BUTLER (3:09 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. How will the government’s plans for Infrastructure Australia improve productivity in the transport sector?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —I thank the honourable member for Port Adelaide for his question. Building long-term productivity growth after years of decline is indeed a central priority of the Rudd government. Like few other areas, development of infrastructure has the capacity to boost the productive economy, to lift our living standards and to lock in our long-term prosperity. That is why infrastructure is a key element of the government’s five-point plan to fight inflation and to boost productivity. The government committed to establishing Infrastructure Australia to coordinate nationally significant infrastructure, including transport, water, energy and communications. Infrastructure Australia will develop a strategic blueprint for our nation’s infrastructure and it will drive investment where it is needed most. It is an unprecedented overhaul of the way that we think about infrastructure development in this nation.

This government makes no apologies for moving away from the ‘business as usual’ approach of the last 11½ years. The Reserve Bank warned on some 20 separate occasions that capacity constraints were creating inflationary pressures.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE —Those opposite should listen to what happens in parliament. The Treasurer has already tabled the 20 different warnings from the Reserve Bank about capacity constraints.

Opposition members—When?

Mr ALBANESE —They were tabled earlier today. I say that to help the opposition.

The SPEAKER —The interjectors will cease interjecting and the minister will ignore them.

Mr ALBANESE —I am surprised that they have not heard about these warnings because many of them were made at the House of Representatives economics committee hearings with the Reserve Bank Governor which are held twice a year. If they looked at Hansard they would see the warnings from the Reserve Bank of Australia about the capacity constraints and the problems that exist with skills and infrastructure. Twenty warnings on 20 separate occasions were ignored by those opposite. The Rudd Labor government is committed to putting in place structures that will fix the problem.

The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics estimates that urban congestion will cost nearly $20 billion by 2015. With the freight task set to double by 2020, the greatest impact will be in urban areas, particularly around our ports, our inner modal terminals and our distribution centres. However, a policy for moving goods will not work without a policy for moving people. It is motorists in their cars, much more than truckies in their cabs, that are clogging our cities. Whether it be road or rail carrying commuters or containers, the systems must work together to achieve the best outcomes for workers, businesses and exporters. Freight must be able to move seamlessly, not be slowed down when moving from the farm gate to the kitchen table and from the mines to the ports.

Transport will represent a significant element of the Infrastructure Australia work program. I have taken steps to ensure that there is early progress to advance a national transport reform agenda. I am working closely with my state and territory colleagues to drive national transport outcomes. I have written to the National Transport Commission requesting urgent advice on the development of a national policy framework and a national infrastructure plan for all modes. This work will dovetail the work of—

Mr Tuckey —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I draw your attention to the fact that statements are usually dealt with at the end of question time and they afford a member of the opposition the chance to respond. This is the standard practice of this House. I note some reference to the new program as accommodating statements. I would request that you tell the minister to come in here and give us answers, not statements.

The SPEAKER —I give the same response that I gave to the honourable member for North Sydney earlier on: the question was in order and the answer is relevant. If people peruse the old Hansards they will see that the former member for Scullin has made some remarks about ministerial statements. I refer honourable members to those remarks—as they might guide the feelings of the occupant of the chair! In fact, what is now happening is in order.

Mr ALBANESE —Thank you, Mr Speaker. We did not get any answers to questions from the minister for infrastructure in the Howard government because they did not have one. For 12 years they did not have one. We have a plan to address these issues through Infrastructure Australia. Transport is central to that task, and that task is central to fighting inflation and boosting productivity.