Thursday, 28 August 2008
Questions without Notice
I thank the member for Flynn for his question. One of the critical challenges facing the government is rebuilding Australia’s infrastructure, a task for which the previous government effectively denied any responsibility. As a result, the Rudd government has inherited a situation of congested cities, dilapidated university infrastructure and third-rate broadband infrastructure.
The government are committed to playing our part in renewing this infrastructure across the country, to rebuilding the sinews and arteries of our nation’s economy and to delivering the future economic prosperity that we all aspire to. Therefore, as a centrepiece of the budget—which we are still struggling to get through this parliament—we have established three major infrastructure funds, with $41 billion to be funded from this year’s and next year’s surplus, to finance long-term infrastructure projects, to rebuild our dilapidated university infrastructure, to improve the transport efficiency of our cities, to lower business costs, to ensure that commuters can have shorter commutes and lower their petrol costs as a result of better transport infrastructure, to ensure that Australians will enjoy world-class, accessible, affordable broadband and to rebuild our public hospital system.
The opposition dismisses these funds as ‘slush funds’, in a complete denial of the facts and a complete denial of reality. The money in these funds will be managed by the Future Fund, with a board that was appointed by the then government and which we endorsed at the time. The moneys will be disbursed over the long term, and there will be options for future surpluses to be paid into the funds in due course. Decisions will be guided by expert, arms-length advice from independent bodies like Infrastructure Australia. They will be subject to the Council of Australian Governments and the Loan Council to ensure that state effort is maintained, that we do not allow the states to drop the ball in their efforts, and that the economy has the capacity to deliver.
I notice that over the last day or two the opposition have suddenly discovered an interest in jobs. It would be worth them noting that one of the key drivers of long-term employment opportunity is infrastructure. Infrastructure is central. If you want a small example, have a look at the beneficial impact that the Western Ring Road has had in the northern and western suburbs of Melbourne on employment opportunities in those regions. The Western Ring Road was constructed by the former Labor government—the Hawke and Keating government. I would also remind them that we live in a market economy, where employment goes up and down in individual companies. Some of us have long memories. Some of us remember things like the collapse of Ansett and the loss of 15,000 jobs because of the former Liberal government’s refusal to allow Singapore Airlines to take over Ansett. Some of us have long memories about some of the events that occurred under the former Liberal governments—National Textiles is another example. So, before you get too precious in pursuing these arguments, perhaps you should remember some of your own track records.
There has been a considerable amount of debate about the actions of the Liberal Party in the Senate in seeking to pursue their smash-and-grab raid on the government’s budget—particularly focused on the government’s efforts to ensure that the budget is putting downward pressure on interest rates. There is another crucially important dimension to this issue, and that is that they are raiding the infrastructure funds that the government is establishing to rebuild this nation’s infrastructure. The $6 billion or so that is in jeopardy as a result of the actions of the opposition in the Senate is $6 billion that cannot help to contribute to the building of the north-south bypass tunnel in Brisbane. It will not be available to contribute to the construction of the Footscray to Caulfield rail link in Melbourne. It will not be available to help in the construction of a world-class broadband network for regional Australia. It will not be available to help in the construction of new university facilities in this country.
This is the consequence of the actions of the Liberal Party in the Senate. These infrastructure funds, which are for long-term investment in infrastructure, will generate employment opportunities for Australians and generate long-term economic prosperity for our children. It is high time that the opposition rethought its approach and understood that it, too, has responsibilities for the future of this country and the future of our children and their economic opportunities, which are so dependent on our ability to have world-class infrastructure.