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Tuesday, 14 October 2008
Page: 8964

Ms LIVERMORE (2:53 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Will the minister advise the House on the importance of nation building in strengthening our economy in response to the global financial crisis? Has there been any opposition expressed to the government’s economic strategy?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —I thank the member for Capricornia for her question and acknowledge her long-term interest in infrastructure development, particularly in regional Queensland. Certainly an important part of the Prime Minister’s announcement today was the bringing forward of the Rudd government’s nation-building agenda. This is an important component of our long-term economic response strategy. Accordingly, the government has asked Infrastructure Australia to bring forward its interim national priority list to COAG by December, and today of course has also announced bring-forwards re the announcements about our long-term education infrastructure investment fund and our long-term health infrastructure investment fund.

This will assist the government in making key decisions on allocations from the Building Australia Fund, enabling work to commence in 2009. We have already set aside for the Building Australia Fund some $12.6 billion, with further contributions to be expected from future surpluses. Actions to remove infrastructure bottlenecks will strengthen our economy and secure economic activity in the short term. Over the medium to longer term, infrastructure investment will expand our economy’s growth potential. Of course, the Reserve Bank warned on 20 separate occasions about capacity constraints in the economy.

In addition to this, we are also rolling out the Commonwealth’s biggest ever investment in road and rail lines—some $26 billion over the next six years. In our first budget, we also got work started. We brought forward some half a billion dollars for projects that were not scheduled to start until next year, projects such as the Ballina bypass in the electorate of Page in New South Wales and the Townsville port access road in Queensland, which will have an impact on the electorate of Herbert and the electorate of Dawson. There is also the new Perth to Bunbury highway in Western Australia, the Northern Expressway in Adelaide and the West Gate Bridge in Melbourne. In all of these projects there are currently bulldozers and construction workers out there tackling bottlenecks because of the foresight in the first Rudd government budget.

A strong economy is the best defence in dealing with a global economic downturn, but I am asked: has there been any opposition to this strategy expressed? Of course, there has been a range of opposition expressed. The shadow minister for finance last week sought to redefine the meaning of ‘infrastructure’ when he told listeners to 2UE:

You know what the biggest investment in infrastructure is? Investing in people. Giving them tax cuts, helping them pay their bills everyday. Giving them a job. That’s what I call investing in infrastructure.

So we ignore it for 12 years, then when there is action on nation-building infrastructure we try to redefine what is meant by infrastructure!

You might have thought, therefore, that there would be support for the package that the Prime Minister announced today, which will give benefit to pensioners, carers, disability support pensioners, recipients of family tax benefit A and working families. You would think that there would be bipartisan support out there, but the Leader of the Nationals in the Senate has blown that away as well, because on 2GB on 14 October, today, about an hour ago—it pays to keep attention on what those opposite are saying on 2UE and 2GB—Senator Joyce said this: ‘I do have a concern that if you pay people lump sums it can end up against the wall.’ So much for the bipartisanship for those working families, pensioners and carers under financial pressure that those opposite have told us they are so concerned about. The bipartisanship could not last a minute. At the same time as the Leader of the Opposition was standing up expressing bipartisan support, the Leader of the Nationals in the Senate was on radio in Sydney tearing it down—just like those in the Senate are determined to tear down our surplus. The problem with those opposite is that they are only consistent in their inconsistency. They cannot maintain a consistent economic position, and a consistent economic position is absolutely critical, particularly in times of global financial uncertainty.