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Thursday, 15 October 2015
Page: 7846


Senator CAROL BROWN (Tasmania) (16:30): At the request of Senator Moore, I move:

That the Senate notes the 20 per cent fall in public sector infrastructure spending under the Coalition Federal Government, and the Turnbull Government's need to catch-up on 2 lost years of support for public transport projects.

I rise to speak in support of this motion. The 20 per cent fall in public sector infrastructure spending that has occurred over the last two years and the complete absence of support for public transport projects will be the legacy of the former and self-appointed 'infrastructure Prime Minister', Mr Abbott.

It is now incumbent upon Mr Turnbull to take action to address his government's appalling track record on infrastructure investment. Instead of travelling across the country re-announcing and opening projects funded under the previous Labor government, it is time for Mr Truss and the coalition government to start to make a real investment in the public sector infrastructure that is critical to the future of our cities and regions. Instead of treating public transport as a selfie opportunity, it is time that Mr Turnbull and his government recognised public transport investment for the transformative opportunity it provides.

We on this side are determined to stop the old fights about roads versus public transport. Unlike those opposite, we are equally committed to both forms of transport. Critical infrastructure projects have been neglected for the last two years, with billions of dollars of government investment stripped away. These cuts to investment have come at a significant cost to our nation. Infrastructure investment is not simply about building roads, railways and ports; infrastructure investment is about building our nation, about boosting productivity and about generating economic activity. An important part of the economic activity generated by investment in infrastructure is, of course, the creation of jobs—not simply construction and engineering jobs for those involved in major projects but also jobs for generations to come in the industries and business that become more productive because of the existence of better roads, railways and ports.

Unlike those opposite, Labor understands that investment in critical infrastructure projects is at the cornerstone of the ambitious plans we must have for the cities and regions of our nation. Labor has articulated a plan for infrastructure that would transform the way we fund investment, which would shape the liveable cities and communities of the future. This plan stems from Labor's understanding of the need for investment in all forms of infrastructure to deliver jobs and productivity across our country.

Labor's infrastructure plan is in stark contrast this Liberal government's record on infrastructure. The most recent quarterly figures, released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on 30 September 2015, have confirmed exactly what Labor has been saying. They have confirmed that infrastructure investment under the coalition government is in freefall. These latest figures show that public sector infrastructure work—that is, works funded by federal, state and local governments—fell by 20.1 per cent in the June quarter 2015 compared with the last quarter of the Labor government in 2013. These figures expose as farcical Mr Abbott's claim that he was the 'infrastructure Prime Minister'. These figures should also send a clear message to Mr Turnbull that it is time to stop talking and tweeting about infrastructure and get on with the job of actually doing something. I am even happy to give Mr Turnbull a hand by pointing him in the right direction.

The first thing that Mr Turnbull should do is reverse the coalition government's cuts to critical infrastructure projects from around the country. He should start by immediately restoring the $4.5 billion cut from public transport projects—projects like the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane's Cross River Rail Link, Adelaide's Gawler line electrification and the $500 million that had been allocated by the former Labor government for heavy and light rail projects in Perth. All these projects were funded in Labor's 2013 federal budget.

When Labor left office, Infrastructure Australia had completed positive assessments of the Melbourne Metro and Cross River Rail projects and they were ready to get moving. I will just repeat that: when we left government, Infrastructure Australia had completed positive assessments of both those projects—the Melbourne Metro and the Cross River Rail projects—and they were ready. On being elected in September 2013, the Abbott government cancelled these projects.

We on this side know that the only reason these projects were cancelled was that Mr Abbott is ideologically opposed to federal funding for public transport projects. For two years federal funding of public transport ground to a halt. However, now Mr Turnbull has an opportunity to reverse these cuts and to show that there is actually some difference between him and Mr Abbott, the former Prime Minister. This is the opportunity for Mr Turnbull to show that there is a difference between him and Mr Abbott. It is an opportunity to show that changing the leader of the Liberal Party might actually change something.

We cannot help but know of Mr Turnbull's purported love of public transport, but it is time that Mr Turnbull put his money where his tweets are and invested in the public transport that is so critical to the future of our cities. We have long known that this type of public sector investment in infrastructure will be critical for our economy going forward, and yet those opposite have failed to take action—instead, moving us backwards.

Particularly in the last year, it has become blatantly clear that Australia needs to increase government investment in roads, railways and ports to drive economic activity, create jobs and lift economic productivity. This government investment is necessary as a result of the decline in construction activity in the resources sector as it moves from the construction to the production stage of its cycle. Good infrastructure will deliver tens of thousands of jobs. It will make life safer and communities more livable. It will connect our regions to our cities. This infrastructure investment is critical both to driving the national economy and to easing the traffic congestion that acts as a handbrake on productivity growth and reduces quality of life for millions of Australians.

We know that carefully planned and targeted investment in public transport and better roads in our nation's cities will ease congestion and assist those Australians living in drive-in, drive-out suburbs in outer metropolitan areas. And we know that investment in our critical road and rail projects will connect our regions and get our regional economies moving.

Apparently, however, these facts are something that those opposite do not know. Despite the grand and outlandish claims made by the then Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, and by Mr Truss, those opposite have failed to break ground on any infrastructure projects, excepting those that were funded by the previous Labor government.

Labor understands that infrastructure funding is an investment, not a cost. That is why Labor has announced an innovative approach to funding more infrastructure. This approach will include funding public transport projects in our major cities. A Shorten Labor government will transform the way infrastructure is funded in Australia, strengthening Infrastructure Australia to unlock tens of billions of dollars in capital investment for key projects in every state and creating tens of thousands of jobs.

Labor will elevate Infrastructure Australia to an active participant in the infrastructure market. This plan will mobilise private sector finance, Australia's superannuation industry and international investors to bring a national pipeline of investment online. Labor established Infrastructure Australia as an independent adviser on nation-building infrastructure, and we now propose to empower it to create more jobs, boost our productivity and improve our competitiveness.

Infrastructure Australia will be backed by a $10 billion financing facility that will give Infrastructure Australia the ability, as required, to deploy a combination of guarantees, loans or equity to jumpstart new projects. Labor will establish this facility through the proven process that established the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Labor's plan will leverage $10 billion of government-backed financing into tens of billions of dollars of private sector investment. Using a conservative analysis prepared by Public Infrastructure Partners Australia, which assumes no additional leverage, this $10 billion infrastructure investment will directly create approximately 26,000 jobs. In addition to this job creation of approximately 26,000 jobs, the analysis estimates that the infrastructure investment will add around $7.5 billion extra to our GDP every year.

Under Labor's infrastructure plan, an expert panel would also be appointed to determine a financing mandate and advise on the appropriate structure for the new facility. Labor has committed to establishing this expert panel within six months of coming to government. This will ensure that Infrastructure Australia operates to facilitate private sector investment with the strictest financial discipline, commercial rigour, credit-risk-assessment capacities and a commitment to nation building.

Unlike those opposite, who have attacked and ignored Infrastructure Australia—and I would have to say that this is contrary to the commitments that were given by the former Prime Minister—Labor believes that this organisation can play a critical role in driving major infrastructure investment.

As part of the announcement of Labor's infrastructure plan, an initial short list of 10 projects that Labor supports was identified. The initial list of projects that Labor will support includes the airport rail to Badgerys Creek, connecting the western and south lines; the Melbourne Metro; the Cross River Rail project in Brisbane; the G:link light rail on the Gold Coast; planning work on the Ipswich Motorway, Darra to Rocklea; Tasmania's Midland Highway; Perth public transport; the Gawler line electrification in Adelaide; and the Pacific and Bruce Highway packages—projects that have been underway for several years but need to be fast-tracked to completion.

These are projects that Infrastructure Australia have either assessed or projects that Labor will work with state governments to fast-track assessments for. These are critical projects for our nation, projects which have faced cuts and delays under the coalition government. This list of projects is our priority list, and it is just the start. Beyond these immediate priorities announced by Labor, Labor have also committed to working with state governments to encourage the development of an ongoing infrastructure project pipeline. Labor will develop a long-term pipeline for projects and ensure the steady movement of projects through the assessment, development and financing phases. By establishing an independent, funded project broker, Labor will provide new and greater certainty to investors as well as creating a powerful incentive for state governments to propose and approve projects. Infrastructure Australia will be at the centre of capital investment, driving results that are in the national interest. Labor's plan proposes an exciting breakthrough in the way in which we fund infrastructure in Australia.

I am particularly elated that the Midland Highway in my home state of Tasmania is included in the list of priority projects, as I am sure you would be that the South Australian project is included, Mr Acting Deputy President Gallacher. The Midland Highway is a 176-kilometre road which connects Hobart and Launceston. Labor's commitment to restoring the full $500 million to the upgrade of the Midland Highway will have significant benefits to the many towns and communities along the highway and those who travel across the state. This is exactly the type of critical infrastructure our nation must be investing in. This infrastructure will improve the quality of life for Tasmanians and will improve the opportunity for businesses to conduct their activities more efficiently and generate much-needed jobs.

In government, Labor committed $500 million to the Midland Highway updates and signed a partnership agreement with every council in the Midlands to progressively upgrade the highway. The Tasmanian Liberal senators, and the three amigos—Mr Whiteley, Mr Nikolic and Mr Hutchinson—in the other place have made much of their investment in the upgrade of the Midland Highway; however, you will never hear them admit that they cut funding from the upgrade. The Liberals announced a $400 million funding commitment, promising to duplicate the entire 176-kilometre highway, which of course they then had to scale back, finally admitting that $400 million was nowhere near enough for a duplication of the highway. So they finally scaled back that commitment to a series of safety upgrades and, in doing so, with their commitment of $400 million, tried to slide away from the fact that there was a commitment there already for $500 million. So they cut $100 million from the project—$100 million that Labor will now restore. You do not hear Mr Whiteley, Mr Nikolic, Mr Hutchinson or the Tasmanian Liberal senators here talk about the fact that they cut $100 million or that they walked away from their promise to duplicate the entire 176-kilometre highway. No, you will not hear that here and you will not hear it in the other house from the Tasmanian Liberal representatives.

This funding is for much-needed safety work for the Midlands. Those opposite, as I have said, cut it, with no-one from the Liberal Party in the House of Representatives or the Senate putting up any fight to keep that $100 million for the project. The fact that they cut $100 million from the project to improve safety for Tasmanian motorists and their families is something they seem to miss out when they grandstand about their investment on the Midland Highway. There is a lot of grandstanding but also a lot of very convenient memory lapses when it comes down to what they have done.

The Labor Party absolutely condemn what the federal government have done in their funding of public transport and the fact that 20 per cent of investment in public transport has— (Time expired)