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Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Page: 11638

Mr NEUMANN (12:49 PM) —On 13 May this year, in the Treasurer’s budget speech, he outlined to the House that the Rudd Labor government would establish three funds: the Building Australia Fund, which would receive an initial allocation of $20 billion; the Health and Hospitals Fund, which would finance health infrastructure with key priorities including expenditure on hospitals, medical technology equipment and medical research facilities and projects, and that would receive an allocation of $10 million. That was about reversing the decline in public funding for the health and hospital system in Australia which happened under the Howard government and which the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare so eloquently and categorically set forth in their report in about October last year. Also a third fund was established, the Education Investment Fund, which would finance capital investment in higher education and vocational education and training. That received an initial allocation of $11 billion, including $6 billion from the Higher Education Endowment Fund.

The Treasurer set out very clearly what the Rudd Labor government was about. It was about nation building for our future—a new age for Australia’s long-term infrastructure needs in terms of roads, rail, ports, high-speed broadband, schools, TAFE colleges and also hospitals and medical facilities. These particular funds will make a big impact in my electorate and would have made a big impact in my electorate if the Howard coalition government had had the foresight to establish similar funds.

The Prime Minister said that we would bring forward the establishment of these funds and interim reports on infrastructure projects by early December 2008. The government has already committed $26 billion for future capital investment in infrastructure, higher and vocational education and health, and that is about reinvigorating the economy. It is about modernising our infrastructure, making sure our schools, both private and public, and our hospitals and medical facilities are of 21st century standard.

I was pleased when the government established Infrastructure Australia, an independent statutory council, and appointed Sir Rod Eddington to look into and supervise our infrastructure reforms and to make recommendations in relation to policy in specific projects. We did have, of course, that 1,200-page report from the ANAO which talked about how the Regional Partnerships program was rorted under the previous coalition government. What we need is an independent body to consider the adequacy, capacity, conditions and merits of applications to improve infrastructure funding sought by councils, by states and by other bodies. I am pleased that we are establishing an infrastructure audit which we have called the national infrastructure audit. We are establishing a priority list to guide investment, both public and private, and, of course, to guide policy decisions which are made by governments at all levels but particularly by the Australian national government.

If the Building Australia Fund had been established some years ago it would have recommended some tremendous changes in terms of infrastructure in South-East Queensland, where my electorate of Blair is located. Every day I see, and the people in my electorate see, the failure of the Howard government with respect to road infrastructure in the local area. We only have to look at the fact that Ipswich Motorway should have been upgraded, should have been widened and should have had service roads upon it. None of that was done by the Howard coalition government—and my predecessor opposed it being done. Ipswich Motorway is a clear demonstration of why the Building Australia Fund is so necessary and so important, as are the Warrego Highway and the Cunningham Highway.

Recently I had cause to meet with Mr Warren Pitt, the Queensland Minister for Main Roads and Local Government, and discuss with him the state of those highways. Mr Pitt outlined to me the failures of the coalition government with respect to money which was allocated for the maintenance and improvement of those roads. We have reversed decisions in relation to funding for the Warrego Highway so that there is sufficient money being allocated by the federal government to improve and maintain roads which are really part of the national highway system, such as the Warrego Highway. When you consider what Infrastructure Australia might have recommended if it had existed or what might have happened if money had been available under the Building Australia Fund—a fund which had been established during that time—you can imagine what a difference it might have made for the 100,000 people in my electorate who use the Ipswich Motorway and other roads every day of their lives.

The Education Investment Fund is also being established. That will finance capital improvements in higher education and vocational education and training. That will make a big difference in my electorate. One of the big projects in my electorate which I am hopeful will be funded under the EIF is a project which the University of Queensland is undertaking. There are two University of Queensland campuses within my electorate—the Ipswich campus, which has a particular focus on health and health research, and the Gatton campus, which has a focus on agriculture, horticulture and veterinary science. The University of Queensland has a vet school located in St Lucia, which seems to be a strange place to have a vet school. But the school needs to maintain American and UK standards for accreditation so that the vets who go through that school are able to practice across the Americas and across the whole of Europe, so it needs a world-class facility in South-East Queensland which is up to standard.

The University of Queensland, in their wisdom, have decided that it is appropriate to locate the new School of Veterinary Science at their Gatton campus and have submitted an application for funding under the old Higher Education Endowment Fund, which of course has been subsumed into the Education Investment Fund. I am pleased that they got through stage 1 and they are now at stage 2. I have had meetings with Trevor Grigg, Deputy Vice-Chancellor International and Development, and recently met with Professor Roger Swift at Gatton to dicuss how the project is going. The grant application that has been submitted is for $47.2 million towards the $95.8 million required to construct new facilities for the School of Veterinary Science at the University of Queensland Gatton campus.

This is the sort of project which I hope will make a big difference, and it should receive funding in this regard. It is about establishing a centre for advanced animal science and other existing animal production and research facilities. This will be done in collaboration with the CSIRO, the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries and leading national and international scientists. This will create what the experts tell me will be the pre-eminent animal science and health facility in Australia. It deserves funding; it deserves to get to the final stage and be funded. It will make a difference not just in my electorate, not just in South-East Queensland and not just in Queensland but also across Australia and internationally. It will obviously be dedicated to protecting the health and welfare of animals and to enhancing the productivity of the Australian livestock industry and will of course improve our nation’s biosecurity. So I am really advocating strongly that this particular facility receive funding.

The proposal involves three new buildings and a major renovation of the existing buildings on the site to provide modern infrastructure and resources. As I said, these new facilities are required to ensure the school meets national and international accreditation standards and maintains what historically has been its outstanding international teaching and research reputation. So I commend the project to the fund. I think it deserves funding and I certainly will be advocating strongly as the federal member for Blair that that particular project continue and receive federal funding. I have spoken to Steve Jones, Mayor of the Lockyer Valley Regional Council, about this particular project. I think it deserves funding.

I will finish very shortly, and I want to finish on this particular note. We have in the Lockyer Valley a need for a teaching hospital which unites the two small hospitals of Laidley and Gatton. I was on the local health council for many years and I have visited those facilities. Amalgamating those two facilities would be the sort of project that deserves funding under the Health and Hospitals Fund.

Finally I have to say, in terms of our infrastructure, that the national broadband network is vital for my area. The government investment of up to $4.7 billion will make a big difference, because tragically the Howard government, under their fixed wireless type proposal, did not take into consideration the fact that we actually have hills and valleys in the federal electorate of Blair. I got a map from Geoscience Australia to have a look at. It might surprise those opposite to learn that most of Ipswich did not get the kind of coverage of broadband that is necessary. That is a major provincial city in South-East Queensland. A lot of the Lockyer Valley and a lot of the Fassifern Valley were not covered.

This funding under this investment will make a huge difference in my electorate. I thank the federal government for the commitment they have made to infrastructure in my area such as the Ipswich Motorway and other projects. I urge them to fund the relocation of the school of veterinary sciences to the Gatton campus and to bring broadband to the Lockyer Valley in its entirety, to the Fassifern Valley and to the city of Ipswich. That will make a big difference to the kids of Ipswich, the businesses of Ipswich and the people of Ipswich. I commend these bills—the Nation-building Funds Bill 2008, the Nation-building Funds (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2008 and the COAG Reform Fund Bill 2008—to the House.