Parliamentary speeches

Infrastructure in the national interest

July 29, 2019

Three terms in, the coalition government can't look at infrastructure through the prism of the national interest. Everything they say and everything they do about infrastructure is about the cheapest of politics. In fact, we have seen a little bit of that in the contributions of the two Opposition Whips today. The member for Boothby had 10 minutes but didn't articulate any vision of the role that infrastructure will really play in boosting productivity and liveability. It was a very narrow focus on issues affecting her electorate. Of course, that's important, but that's not the sole way in which this government or any decent national government should look at infrastructure. Similarly, it was very interesting to hear about the boosts that his marginal electorate has got courtesy of this government, but that doesn't tell us—well, in fact, it does tell us quite a bit about this government's attitude to nation-building infrastructure and its lack of any vision for boosting productivity and liveability, particularly in our big cities.

We on this side of the House know and have known for some time that the infrastructure cycle has to be separated from the electoral cycle, not driven by it, which is, in fact, the approach of members opposite. We saw that last week in the gutting of the Building Australia Fund, which could and should be a drive for doing just that: getting projects running that have been properly assessed which serve the national interest, not simply the passing concern of members of this government.

I do acknowledge, though, that there has been some progress in the three terms of this government from Tony Abbott, the former member for Warringah, who famously refused to fund urban public transport. Now, over the last six years, some very bad things have been done which have damaged Australians and damaged the Australian economy, but I think this refusal to fund projects like the Cross River Rail and Melbourne Metro have damaged productivity in Australia more than anything else and have set us back so far. I am pleased that the government under Prime Minister Morrison has moved away from this, but I remain disappointed that so much of this movement has been at a rhetorical level, as my friend the member for Ballarat made clear in her contribution.

As in so many other areas, when it comes to infrastructure, the rhetoric of this government is unmasked by the reality. Take again the $100 billion claim that the members opposite like spruiking. For one, it isn't $100 billion, and in any event all of this investment is way out into the never-never, way beyond the forward estimates such that it's impossible to make any meaningful assessment of what it means or what it might mean for Australia's productivity or for our communities, be they in the cities or the regions.

Again, if we look at our record in government compared to the current government, we saw great progress under Minister Albanese, lifting infrastructure investment, particularly public infrastructure investment, right up the rankings and transforming peoples' quality of life, transforming the sustainability of our communities and boosting our economy, whereas we slide backwards with the underinvestment and politicised neglect of this government. Now, more than almost any time in our recent history since the GFC, we need productive infrastructure investment. It's not us that is saying it; it's the Governor of the Reserve Bank, and pretty much every reputable economist. Now is the time to be investing in projects which are ready to go, based on proper assessments and based on cooperative arrangements. These are the things the government isn't interested in. They talk about congestion-busting and, as you would be well aware, Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou, congestion happens in Melbourne too. Congestion even happens in Melbourne's north and west, where there has been a paltry investment by this government.

The member for Boothby is from South Australia. I did note that, in the lead-up to the last election, 17 of the 18 road projects committed to by the government were in coalition seats. In Adelaide, the picture was starker—seven of eight were in the electorates of Sturt and Boothby. This is a government which is only concerned to boost congestion when they think it will boost their electoral prospects and that simply is not good enough. It is not good enough for Australians, it is not good enough for my constituents or yours, Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou, and it's not good enough for any vision of how our economy should function. I could go on about the difference between my electorate and that of the member for Boothby in terms of investment but perhaps I've already made the point.

What I do want to say in the time available to me is that busting congestion is a critical piece of our productivity puzzle. It should deserve better treatment than that which it is being given by this government. We need a national urban policy framework within which to situate it. We need infrastructure to be supported based on need, based on business cases, not on political convenience. We need a government that is not simply interested in looking in the mirror and liking what it sees. We need a government that is prepared to always act in the national interest when it comes to infrastructure.