Parliamentary speeches

Morrison Government's failure to manage City Deals

October 26, 2020

I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises that the Government has failed to manage critical infrastructure within the City Deals program;

(2) notes that the Government:

   (a) will spend $4 billion more on the Western Sydney City Deal project, Sydney Metro-Western Sydney Airport;

   (b) has tried to disguise the $4 billion increase in cost as a 'fast track' when, in fact, the funding timeline and the scope from St Marys to the Western Sydney Aerotropolis via Western Sydney International has not changed;

   (c) has shifted responsibility for land acquisition to the NSW Government; and

   (d) failed to action a 2017 Infrastructure Australia report to strategically plan and acquire critical rail corridors which would have resulted in significant savings; and

(3) further notes the abject failure of this Government to:

   (a) acquire land that delivers value for money to the Australian taxpayer, as evidenced by the Leppington Triangle purchase; and

   (b) learn the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic and invest in critical social infrastructure within City Deals.

The record of the Morrison government reflects the approach that its leader has taken. His focus on marketing in place of policy has led to a long series of announcements that have not been matched by delivery. Nowhere is this more clear than when it comes to infrastructure and to cities. Nowhere is this more clear than when it comes to the Western Sydney Airport and the city deal there.

In the last week we've heard a litany of dodgy deals—luxury watches for Australia Post executives, six-figure tax advice for the chair of our corporate watchdog and the Leppington Triangle purchase. There has been all of this, but no movement on a national anticorruption watchdog, even though we've learnt that the Attorney-General has had ready since last December draft legislation to establish this commission. To be fair, the Prime Minister has acted on one of these scandals. He has a zero-tolerance approach to Cartier watches. When it comes to systemic issues, he has taken a vow of silence. Spending $19,000 on accessories warrants prime ministerial intervention, but not a $30 million gift to billionaire landowners—a purchase that is the subject of the most scathing ANAO report that I have read. His deputy still calls this purchase a bargain. The Prime Minister is all about presentation and never concerned with substance. The issues here go beyond allegations of impropriety, serious as they are.

We must continue to focus on the first principles of policy-making and implementation. In Labor we know that better cities and better suburbs mean better lives for the majority of Australians. It's that simple. The people of Western Sydney deserve a better deal from this city deal. They also deserve a bigger say in how it has been structured. Labor sees City Deals as a means to bring together the three levels of government in partnership with the private sector and, critically, the community in order to achieve shared objectives. For the Morrison government it's just a ribbon to wrap around a project that they were going to do anyway.

Already we are seeing the consequences of this confused and top-down approach, such as almost doubling the cost of the Sydney Metro Western Sydney Airport rail line. Back in 2015 the Commonwealth and New South Wales governments announced a joint Western Sydney rail needs scoping study. Its outcomes report recommended the protection of the land corridor and also said that value-sharing mechanisms should be in place and communicated to landowners before confirming station locations. A separate Infrastructure Australia report in 2017 said, 'Failure to appropriately protect corridors could hold substantial costs and risks for governments,' and, 'Corridor protection requires immediate action by governments'—immediate. But what has the government done to action the recommendations from these reports? Nothing.

Surely it says everything about the priorities of this government that it dresses up a $4 billion cost blow-out as a fast-track, passing over the inconvenient truth that it is no such thing because the time line and the scope of the project remain unchanged. Sadly, this is just one example of a short-term focus on political advantage, short-changing the Australian community when it comes to infrastructure.

The experience of the pandemic has shown us much about how our cities work and our future infrastructure needs, but the Morrison government has not been paying attention. Opportunities to invest in social infrastructure have been missed. We have a Deputy Prime Minister who is still defending the indefensible over the Leppington Triangle and a minister for cities who rivals his Prime Minister with his announcement mania. This lack of focus is holding us back and selling us short in Western Sydney and right around the nation.

Elsewhere in the world, national governments have been supporting bold thinking, reshaping cities for COVID normal and for our post-COVID lives. That we haven't is little short of a grace. Big changes in how we work, how we consume, how we get about and how we live our lives have to be factored into policy-making to build resilience and to shape our recovery towards the future that we want to see. Of course, it's much too early to speak with confidence about what behavioural changes will endure, but we must recognise the changes that have taken place to seize the opportunities they present and to manage the risks.

Something else has happened during the pandemic. For the first time in a very long time trust in politics has increased. We can't afford to let this dissipate, so let's get moving on that national integrity commission. Let's get to the bottom of what has happened with the Leppington Triangle purchase and all the other questionable dealings and examples of poor governance connected to this project and other decisions of the Morrison government. Also let's bring the people of Western Sydney closer to these decisions about their community and their future.