Parliamentary speeches

Urban Congestion Fund

December 02, 2019

Just over 18 months ago the Morrison government—or it might have still been the Turnbull government then; it's easy to forget, isn't it?—announced the Urban Congestion Fund with great fanfare. And what's happened since? They've talked a huge game about busting congestion and getting commuters home sooner and safer, but this is all a political exercise—an exercise in which the rhetoric is not matched by reality. To be fair, the approach of the current government is a marked improvement on the government led by Tony Abbott, which can be best described as congestion boosting through his failure to fund much-needed urban public transport and his comprehensive retreat from national responsibility for urban policy, despite its critical importance to our productivity and, of course, to how people live their lives.

In question time today we heard, I think, a really effective illustration of this gap between the rhetoric of the government and the reality. We heard it in the contribution of Minister Tudge in response to a Dorothy Dixer. To those of us on our side of the House it was very clear that the minister was talking only to himself; the backbench were completely disengaged. To be fair, he was amusing himself—so I'll give him that—but no-one else was listening. The one simple reason for this is that there is very little worth talking about when it comes to the federal government's performance in the Urban Congestion Fund.

We on this side of the House remember—and I'm surprised that members opposite haven't touched on this—that in the first year of its operation not a cent was spent. I will correct myself—actually, some moneys were spent. Nothing was spent on actual infrastructure projects—perhaps a homage to the NAIF, the no actual infrastructure fund—on the congestion-busting projects that we've been hearing about from members opposite, but $16.9 million was signed off on by Minister Cormann for taxpayer funded pre-election advertising. So there was $17 million on advertising and not a cent on congestion. What a damning indictment of this government and this minister, and what an accurate description of the political priorities of Prime Minister Morrison. Everything he does is about politics—nothing about policy outcomes.

That's why I am so pleased that the member for Mackellar has brought forward this motion—because it gives us an opportunity to talk about the Urban Congestion Fund as it is, not as government members imagine it to be. Australians now know that Prime Minister Morrison is much more concerned about spending money on ads to try to make his government look better than he is in investing in infrastructure to improve our lives. Despite the rhetoric of government members, congestion is getting worse. Commuters in Sydney are experiencing a massive 71-minute average journey to and from work each day. For people in my town of Melbourne, it is an average of 65 minutes. Infrastructure Australia predicts road congestion costs in all our major cities will more than double by 2031. Infrastructure Australia's report on crowding and congestion states that in 2016 congestion cost $8 billion and that this is forecast to grow $15.7 billion by 2031. Importantly, it states: 'Notwithstanding current investment in extra capacity, the performance of Sydney’s transport network is not keeping pace.'

The member for Lindsay, in her contribution, talked about the considered approach the government has been taking—considered! In Senate estimates the department listed their Urban Congestion Fund projects and funding profiles, and the member for Lilley noted the striking resemblance between funding contributions and government-held seats in Brisbane. Actually, this is one thing that I share in common with the member for Mackellar. Scullin and Mackellar are both very hard to find in this table. The common theme: they are not marginal seats. This is not an assessment based on need. This is an assessment based purely on politics.

It would be nice to know precisely how Urban Congestion Fund projects are selected by the government. But, of course, we don't know. The department, at estimates, suggested there is a process the government may follow. An official stated:

… we've provided broad advice on urban congestion pinch points. Government took this and other information and took a decision. That will apply to all projects. Some were election commitments, which are obviously a matter for government.

I think this says it all. Scott Morrison's and Alan Tudge's urban congestion infrastructure program is a political document, not an economic plan; it's disgraceful to suggest otherwise. It's holding back our productivity and constraining people's lives in the suburbs.