Parliamentary speeches

Matter of Public Importance - infrastructure

July 30, 2019

It's always a pleasure to follow Minister Tudge! On this occasion, as on many others, I've got to give him full marks for enthusiasm, but we cannot give him a pass for content. This seems to be everything that is wrong with the government's attitude to infrastructure. It's all about rhetoric but, when you scratch the surface, the reality exposes pretty much everything they say and everything that Minister Tudge has said. One of the things I found very interesting in his contribution was his series of references to 'commentators', because it seems that his main interest in being the minister for infrastructure is being the commentator on his own performance. He really enjoys this. And that's fair enough, because there are very few experts who are going to give him or his government any credit.

So I rise to support this matter of public importance today because the Morrison government—in particular, the minister—is failing to properly invest in infrastructure. This matters. It's holding back productivity growth in our economy, especially in our cities. The minister has that responsibility in his title, yet he fails to recognise, as does the Deputy Prime Minister, that taking action to meaningfully bust congestion in our cities is the best thing we can do to boost productivity growth. But, of course, this is about more than just productivity growth, as the member for Ballarat knows and all my colleagues understand; it's about the quality of life for too many Australians.

—Mr Tudge interjecting

After all the excitement you injected, Minister Tudge, I can understand that they are just taking on board what you said. The thing is, Minister, that, after you talked such a big game about infrastructure and busting congestion—busting congestion in marginal government-held seats, not in the north of Melbourne, not in the west of Melbourne and certainly not in Ballarat—during the election campaign, Australians remain concerned, and rightly so, by the government's reluctance to bring forward infrastructure investment to stimulate a sluggish economy and to bust congestion.

The minister today and in the media keeps banging on about his $100 billion figure, but funding as a percentage of GDP over the forward estimates has actually dropped. It has dropped, Minister. In fact, less than 30 per cent of the so-called $100 billion 10-year infrastructure program is budgeted for the next four years. This follows the dismal record of spending $5.1 billion or less on infrastructure than the government promised over the first six years. We are going backwards when it comes to infrastructure investment, under this minister. And today we are reminded that Australians are struggling with lengthy commute times. The government, despite its rhetoric, isn't helping. The HILDA data shows that Australians are spending on average 4.5 hours a week getting to and from work—an increase of 23 per cent since 2002. It's time for Minister Tudge to bring forward investment in infrastructure projects to stimulate the economy and actually bust congestion, rather than just talk about it in such a self-satisfied and offensive manner.

I did find it interesting earlier listening to the minister in question time talking up the North East Link. I was glad to hear you talk about the North East Link, Minister. It's a good project that was brought forward by the Andrews state Labor government—a $16 billion project. It's a $16 billion project, Minister. But the minister said in question time that his government's commitment to it is $1.8 billion—$1.8 billion towards a $16 billion project—yet the minister was in here gloating like he was personally responsible for the project. Minister, perhaps you should thank Daniel Andrews and Minister Allan for their work and for giving you something to talk about. But it's more than that with this minister and this government. Australians are deeply frustrated by the attitude of the government and the constant short-termism in the infrastructure debate.

Our establishment of Infrastructure Australia was a structural reform which could and should have broken the cycle—the problem in the cycle between the election cycle and the infrastructure cycle—but the government have ripped up this rule book, they've ripped up this consensus, such that as many as 39 of 45 of the congestion-busting projects the minister likes to talk about, announced during the campaign, are flowing to Liberal-held marginal seats. This will only be compounded by the gutting of the Building the Australia Fund. When it comes to infrastructure, this is a government that is only concerned with short-term political advantage, not about the national interest.

So it's time for the minister to stop congratulating himself. It's time for him to get on with the job of fixing up an institutional framework, a policy framework, that can get this right. The debate about infrastructure is too important to be politicised in this manner. It's too important to be reliant on the short-term fixes and the budget trickery of this government and this minister. It's time for a government that will actually take the infrastructure needs of Australia seriously.