Thursday, 14 May 2009
Questions without Notice
Nation Building and Jobs Plan
My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Will the minister update the House on how the government is delivering new, improved nation-building transport infrastructure, including rail and road projects for the Hunter? How does this compare to the previous government’s approach to infrastructure?
I thank the member for Newcastle for her question. This morning I visited the Hunter with the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the member for Hunter and the Premier of New South Wales. There we visited a site where we saw the government’s nation-building plans in action. In the Hunter the government’s injection of $1.2 billion as part of its economic stimulus package last December is reaping real benefits in creating jobs today and in building the infrastructure that we need for tomorrow. One of those loop lines has already been opened, and today the Prime Minister turned the first sod on the first rail track on the main northern railway in the Hunter. This project itself will support some 150 of the 650 jobs that will be supported in the Hunter region.
On the way there, we passed through Maitland, a community that will benefit from our investment in the new Hunter expressway. This is a project that the coalition promised to deliver but never did. There is more chance of finding a mention of Malcolm Turnbull on the Peter Costello website than there is of finding some real activity from those opposite when it comes to the Hunter expressway—
Government members interjecting—
Yes, Mr Speaker. I ask you to ask the minister to withdraw his comments. As you asked me, Mr Speaker, to withdraw the comment in response to that, I suggest that you ask him to withdraw the initial comment.
Paterson’s curse is a purple flower. I did not know you were a shrinking violet, but I withdraw—unreservedly. If you want to actually look at what those opposite did, you can go to the ‘Nationals audit office’ report. The Nationals audit office is back. The Nationals audit office report on the delivery of projects on the AusLink national network makes terrific reading when it comes to their failure to deliver on their promises in the Hunter. It outlines how, in September 2005 in the AusLink agreement put up by the former government, the Howard government included funding for the project of some $382 million. It also outlines how the former government knew that in May 2005 the appropriate authorities had estimated the cost to be twice that: $765 million. What happened was that, as part of AusLink, they allocated $382 million and it just stayed there. It got reallocated and spent in other areas, not in the Hunter. They delivered nothing; through AusLink nothing was delivered. The majority of the money was set aside and allocated to other projects.
But, of course, because they did nothing—with what was happening to the global economy with increased costs for steel and concrete and with the growth and boom in our region—costs went up. In July 2007 there was a new estimate, all outlined in this report. The RTA revised the cost estimate of the project to $1.2 billion in 2007 dollars, an out-turn cost of between $1.5 billion and $1.7 billion. In Tuesday night’s budget, we allocated $1.65 billion—$1.45 billion from the Commonwealth and $200 million from New South Wales. The coalition knew about the revised cost. They knew about it, but in the heat of the 2007 election that counted for nothing. In November 2007, the then Prime Minister flew in to Williamtown air base and made a promise of $780 million for a project that they had been advised—
All this is outlined in the Australian National Audit Office report. It is there on the record. They knew at that stage the cost was $1.2 billion in 2007 dollars, with out-turn costs of between $1.5 billion and $1.7 billion, but they made this nothing promise that did not exist.
What you have to look at is what governments do in their budgets and what they do on the ground, not what they promise in the dying days of an election campaign, when they are walking out the door. The truth is they delivered nothing for the Hunter expressway. They delivered nothing for the people of the Hunter over 12 years. You know that it is consistent with their ideological approach, because their approach to nation-building infrastructure is that governments should get out of the way and that the market will sort it all out. That is essentially what they believe in their hearts. It is in their DNA, which is why you never hear about nation building from those opposite. The shadow Treasurer belled the cat when he said:
You know what the biggest investment in infrastructure is? Investing in people. Giving them tax cuts, helping them pay their bills everyday. Giving them a job. That’s what I call investing in infrastructure.
Those on this side of the House believe that investing in infrastructure is about allocating real money in budgets, making sure that real people are employed today so that we build the infrastructure that we need for tomorrow.