Parliamentary speeches

Cities and Urban Infrastructure

November 10, 2020

The portfolios we are discussing now, and this part of the budget that we are examining now, are incredibly important. They are so important to our short-term recovery, particularly when it comes to getting jobs up and running, as I know my colleague the shadow minister for housing will have touched upon and is passionate about, and indeed my colleague the member for Ballarat has touched upon in her contributions.

But these portfolios in this budget and in the previous budgets under this government sum up the government. There has been a relentless focus on announcements and a total failure to prioritise the delivery we need. That has mattered across the life of the government, but now it matters more than ever. I guess the thing we have to reflect upon is that this is the good bit when it comes to the government, because as we've seen in Senate estimates recently it's not just a failure to deliver when it comes to infrastructure that has characterised this government. It has been much, much worse than that, as we've seen most obviously in terms of the Leppington Triangle, where we've seen a 10-times overspend, which stands in stark contrast to the massive underinvestment in the communities that surround that project. Western Sydney is not getting a real city deal. When I think about my portfolio responsibilities—and I acknowledge that the Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure has been here, and I'm sure the Deputy Prime Minister can take on board the questions I direct to him—this is incredibly important. If we're serious about getting our recovery right, we've got to get our approach to cities policy and urban infrastructure right. That simply isn't happening. These budget papers sadly demonstrate it.

I hope that the minister can reflect on that and give us some better answers, particularly to the millions of Australians in outer suburban Australia who rely on a national government that takes the suburbs seriously, that looks at where people have been losing jobs through this recession and that looks at what we can do about it—again, in the short term by getting stimulus right, but also by shaping our cities to reflect the new realities. That's about making sure that we actually get our CBDs functioning, which isn't just about the Treasurer telling people to get back on the train and into the office; it's about thinking about how those regional economies are going to work. It's also about looking at the opportunities that exist right now to boost suburban and outer suburban retail and service sectors, where small-scale infrastructure projects—real city deals, the examples of which we are seeing right around the world—could be making an extraordinary difference to boost consumption, to build better neighbourhoods and to keep people working in terms that are their terms. It's about changing some of the issues.

The government talks a lot about congestion busting. This is a way that we can bust congestion other than that in advertising agencies. I should acknowledge that the one area where the government has overachieved—we've talked often, the member for Ballarat and I, on many occasions about the consistent record of underspending by the government in infrastructure, but they've never let the advertising industry down, particularly when it comes to the Urban Congestion Fund, where in the first year they managed to spend more on advertising than on so-called congestion busting projects. I guess maybe a focus for the next budget, Deputy Prime Minister, might be looking at the particular challenges of congestion and getting into and out of those advertising agencies that the government appears to be so fond of!

The government should instead be focused on some of the real challenges to congestion busting. I'm thinking particularly of the commuter car parks. I've seen an evolution of this project. I was pleased to see that there are at least one or two of them located in places other than government-held marginal seats. There was one indeed, in the initial proposal, in my electorate, in South Morang, but it seems to have mysteriously disappeared, which is very odd. Perhaps it's because the government didn't speak to anyone about this proposal—that they just thought it was the end of the train line. It had of course been extended by the Andrews Labor government, which is a government that takes the provision of urban infrastructure seriously. Again, South Morang has been wiped off the map, according to this government's agenda, but I can assure the Deputy Prime Minister that it still exists and that my constituents there would like more support to get out of congestion.

This comes back to some other issues. I note that the member for Nicholls talked about the voices of local government. Why have the voices of local government been cut out of the national cabinet? That comes to the heart of the question I want to ask: why are all the city deals running late? Why are the city deals for Melbourne—both of them—and the one for Brisbane yet to appear on anything other than a press release? There has been no progress whatsoever, and there is no vision from this government to involve those communities, through local government, in planning their future.