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Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Page: 10

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) (1:13 PM) —I thank both Senator Bishop and Senator Allison for their contributions. I think Senator Bishop’s contribution ranged a long way wide of the very sensible amendments in the Navigation Amendment Bill 2004 which, from the short briefing I have had in relation to this, seem to seek to address issues raised particularly by the Victorian County Court decision of November 2003 and some related matters. But I cannot let my summing up go by without addressing the issues of transport planning in Australia that were raised by Senator Bishop. Having worked alongside the Minister for Transport and Regional Services and leader of The Nationals, John Anderson, in the development of the AusLink policy that was announced last year, when I was still in that portfolio, I would say that I only agree with Senator Bishop to a certain extent. The efficiency of the Australian economy and the efficiency with which we can deliver goods to our ports and then goods to the rest of the world, be they bulk goods or manufactures, comes down to having an integrated transport plan.

In fact, under the leadership of John Anderson, AusLink was the first serious attempt at creating a national transport plan that seeks to increase the efficiency of Australia’s transport system. It not only created a very comprehensive and sensible policy framework that sought significant new investments in rail and road infrastructure to make it as efficient as possible, but it also saw a significant increase in the Commonwealth’s investment in that infrastructure and took investment in road and rail on to a new five-year framework, recognising the fact that investments in major infrastructure are not things that naturally fit into a three- or four-year budget cycle. AusLink, for the first time, has put transport planning into a far more sensible and coherent structure but has also put it on a long-term and substantive funding structure. As I recall, the increase in funding for both rail and road projects was in the order of $12 billion over that period.

What you find—and I follow this debate closely because I regard Australia getting more goods out to the market as absolutely pivotal to addressing the current account deficit—is that the people of the world want to buy Australian goods, but a lot of these artificial barriers and constraints on the economy were created by a lack of good integrated transport policy planning in the past. You only need to look in Senator Mark Bishop’s home state of Western Australia and see the transport chaos that is being wreaked on that state by his comrade the minister for transport in Western Australia, Ms Alannah McTiernan, to see just how culpable that state government is. It is indicative of state governments around the country. I am sure you, Mr Acting Deputy President Brandis, as a Queenslander, and Senator Boswell, who is in the chamber, would know the sort of chaos that the Queensland government has put in place, with its lack of long-term planning around the south-east Queensland region and the lack of a plan that allows for the massive growth that is taking place around south-east Queensland and the greater Brisbane area and can see what that is doing to Queensland.

In Western Australia successive federal and state governments have funded a major link between the industrial areas out to the east of the airport and the port, linking the hinterland of Western Australia to the port of Fremantle through a major construction work known as the Roe Highway and the Fremantle Eastern Bypass, to effectively get large trucks out of suburban Fremantle. This project was funded by both political parties at the Commonwealth level, and it has been supported by previous administrations at the state level. It has been a bipartisan plan to build this long-needed link in Western Australia, and it really is emblematic of the problem we have with transport planning in Australia.

Previous state and federal governments put hundreds of millions of dollars into building this long link—some tens of kilometres linking Fremantle with the eastern hinterland—and getting it designed to make sure trucks can get into the port quickly and efficiently. From memory, if the Roe Highway project is completed—and it certainly will not be completed in the next four years, because the state Labor government has halted it—it would get rid of 24 sets of traffic lights for a truck moving from Midland and the east down to Fremantle. Any environmentally minded person would recognise that having a truck starting and stopping 24 times with a full load while heading to a port is an environmental disaster in terms of both greenhouse gas emissions and all of the other pollutants that get emitted every a time a truck puts its brakes on and has to go through a dozen gears to get back to normal speed. That is a disaster. What Western Australia has done after successive governments—

Senator McLucas —They won the election.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —It transcends the politics of an election, it really does. It is something that transcends this debate because it applies right across Australia. One day, when Senator McLucas is an ageing minister in a future Labor government, she will have to contend with this as well. Ultimately, if we do not get that conjunction of federal and state long-term planning right, then Australia will be held back, Queenslanders and Western Australians will be held back and all those other less important people in the rest of the states will also be held back. It is very important we get this right.

I use the example of this particular road in Western Australia because it is very clear in my mind and because it is emblematic of a problem that is replicated from Ipswich to Brisbane and in many areas of south-east Queensland. This road—the Commonwealth and state funded Roe Highway—has gone through stages 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, and it is creeping towards Fremantle. It is a magnificent piece of road infrastructure which really would transform the efficiency of that port and create great outcomes for the Australian economy, but for very short-sighted political reasons the state government decided to stop the road as it got to a key marginal seat.

Those of you who have seen The Truman Show, starring that magnificent comedian and actor Jim Carrey—and those of you who have not seen it, please go and see it—will remember Jim Carrey sitting with his mate on the edge of a beautiful piece of road throwing cans off the end of it. I always think of Roe Highway stage 7 as similar to that situation in The Truman Show. You have this road that just stops. If some sensible state government does not complete the link, future generations will always wonder why they have this magnificent road that just stops. To understand, they will have to look back at the politics of Western Australia of the last three or four years and the one marginal seat that got in the way of this great piece of infrastructure.

That is a reality around the country—we are going to have short-term political considerations. AusLink, I have to say, is the best opportunity we have to get past them. I tell Senator Bishop that I watched very closely when the previous opposition spokesman on transport, Martin Ferguson, was chasing me around the country when I was roads minister. He was promising whatever I promised and then adding 10 per cent to it. He kept on promising a national land transport plan and I was genuinely looking forward to it. In fact, I had a bit of trepidation because I thought that Martin Ferguson might actually come up with a land transport policy. We had put our heart and soul into AusLink. We had put a hell of a lot of money into it. Yet all that Mr Ferguson seemed to do was to follow me around. Wherever I promised to spend a bit of money on the Calder or the Ipswich Motorway, he would always come along to the same seat and promise to spend 10 per cent to 15 per cent more. He kept on promising a national land transport plan but it never came out during the election. I kept on asking the people in our campaign headquarters whether Martin Ferguson had released his policy yet, and the answer was always no. Nothing ever came out. It was just a mishmash of bandaids and electoral promises depending on which marginal seat he was visiting.

So it is slightly hypocritical of Senator Bishop to be talking about the lack of an integrated transport policy. The reality is that, under the leadership of John Anderson and this government, with AusLink we now have a substantial transport plan. It is not just about building more roads. It is about massively investing in rail infrastructure, catching up on massive underinvestments in both road and rail in past years and investing billions of dollars in links around our ports—and that will benefit shipping by improving the efficiency of shipping in and out of and around Australia.

The other thing AusLink does, as I said, is massively increase investment at the Commonwealth level. One of the simple things the states could do, rather than having a spat about who spends what on infrastructure, is simply agree in the next round of budgets to match the funding increases that the Commonwealth have put in through AusLink. That would be a good compact. I make that challenge today in the context of this speech in the second reading debate on the navigation bill: why don’t the states simply match the funding increases that the Commonwealth are putting into road and rail infrastructure through AusLink in the next five years? That would see a massive increase.

In Queensland, for example, we have increased funding by, from memory, 61 per cent. In Western Australia, we have increased funding by about 76 per cent. In Victoria, from memory, there has been just over a 100 per cent increase in road and rail spending by the Commonwealth. Quite frankly, if the states simply matched those AusLink increases, signed up to AusLink, stopped all their squabbling about the construction code and got some of this money onto the ground as quickly as possible then many of the constraints that are referred to in newspaper articles about the current account deficit could be abolished very quickly. To that extent, Senator Bishop, by raising the debate today, has done the country a service. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.