Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Questions without Notice
I thank very much the member for Chisholm for her question because it goes to nation building for recovery and how we are doing better than most other countries in the world at present, despite having to deal with the worst economic global downturn in three quarters of a century, in part because the government took early and decisive action through our nation building for recovery program, our stimulus strategy and our investments in infrastructure. We have acted in a manner entirely consistent with the principles of conservative economic management by expanding the role of government when the private sector is in retreat and by contracting the role of government as the private sector recovers.
Furthermore, as we have outlined in the budget, we have a clear-cut plan for returning the budget to surplus consistent with the disciplines which were articulated by the Treasurer at the time. As a result of this action Australia is doing better than most other economies in the world with the strongest economic growth, the second lowest unemployment, the lowest debt, the lowest deficit of the major advanced economies and the only one so far to have remained out of recession.
Right now the government’s nation building for recovery plan is rolling out projects right across the country. I would like to inform the House that the latest available data shows that 25,000 major projects have commenced across Australia including 10,000 projects under the National School Pride program, 8,000 projects under the Primary Schools for the 21st Century program, 36,000 repair and maintenance projects for social housing, 2,000 new units of social housing, 150 road black spot projects as well as 2,500 community infrastructure projects right across the country.
We are also in the business of beginning to outline our arrangements for the National Broadband Network in Tasmania for three regional towns there. We also have large-scale projects in which we are investing such as some 60 road and rail projects worth $9.3 billion. In New South Wales there is the F5 widening in Sydney, the duplication of the Pacific Highway in northern New South Wales and the Hunter Valley rail track upgrade. In Victoria there is the upgrade of the Western Ring Road, completion of the Geelong Ring Road, and the upgrade of the rail track between Melbourne and Adelaide. In Queensland there is the Pacific Motorway upgrade and also the improvements on the Bruce Highway and the Ipswich Motorway. In WA there is the Great Northern Highway upgrade as well as the construction of the Bunbury Port Access Road and Outer Ring Road. In South Australia there are the Dukes Highway, the Northern Expressway and the Port Wakefield Road upgrades. In Tassie there is the Brighton Bypass upgrade and other targeted work on the Midland Highway. Up in the Territory there is the extension of Tiger Brennan Drive.
These are all important infrastructure projects for the nation because they are all about building long-term productivity growth. We are on about nation building for recovery and nation building for the future because, according to the OECD, infrastructure measures have a multiplier of some 0.9, higher than for government consumption and transfer to household measures. That is why our stimulus package is supporting over 200,000 Australian jobs. It has helped make Australia the fastest growing of all the advanced economies despite the difficulties of the global economic recession. Also the stimulus has represented the difference between following other advanced economies into recession and Australia’s unemployment going up by hundreds of thousands of people. The human and economic costs of that would have been formidable.
Our stimulus has proven to have a positive effect in also supporting business confidence. I have good news for the House and I am sure those opposite would welcome today’s good news as well. The National Australia Bank’s quarterly business survey showed an increase in business confidence of 20 points. This is the highest level since early 2002. The NAB say in the survey:
Not surprisingly, business judge the government’s actions as having had a positive impact on their plans—net balance plus 12, with significantly larger impacts on construction—net balance plus 28, with even larger impacts on residential infrastructure as well as retail and as well as wholesale.
Investing in infrastructure is an effective way of building our nation’s long-term productive capacity. As I have said repeatedly, this government believes in building a big Australia, which means we have got to be out there building the infrastructure of tomorrow as well. As CEDA said some time ago, simply addressing the existing backlog of infrastructure investment could increase GDP by 0.8 per cent and reduce the CPI by 3.2 per cent. The BCA had some things to say about this in recent years as well. The BCA report in 2005, remember, in relation to the previous government said:
There is at present no overarching stocktake, vision or strategy that enables governments to quantify, prioritise and deliver Australia’s future infrastructure needs.
Also let us not forget those 20 separate warnings from the Reserve Bank about infrastructure bottlenecks and skills constraints within the Australian economy—yet those opposite refused to take action, as if we were sleepwalking towards some of these major economic problems.
That is why the government have acted. We are nation building for recovery, nation building for the future, creating jobs and small businesses and apprenticeships today while building the nation-building infrastructure our country needs for tomorrow, but, critically, also setting up the country for long-term economic growth through productivity growth by investing in these capacity constraints which have historically plagued our economy—building our infrastructure and building up our skills base, becoming the great economic powerhouse of the future that Australians expect this government to lead this country towards.
My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. I refer him to his claim in parliament last week that the government has ‘announced, built, completed’ 32 large-scale projects since the 2007 election. I ask the minister: why did he claim stage 1 of the four-lane upgrade of the Bruce Highway through Gympie as one of those Labor projects, when the project was announced by former coalition transport minister John Anderson in 2004, was funded and built and completed under the coalition’s AusLink program and was officially opened by me on 5 October 2007, two months before the federal election?
Opposition members interjecting—
I thank the shadow minister for his question. I am pleased to get a question on infrastructure from that side of the House, because it has been over a year since we had a single question on any infrastructure from that side of the House. I am asked about the Bruce Highway and the investment in the Bruce Highway that this government is undertaking. The important initiative that we took in the budget was Cooroy to Curra, a road described by the shadow minister as the worst road in Australia.
I was asked about infrastructure spending and I am happy to respond because it is in fact very unusual for those opposite to try and run the duplicitous argument that they. On the one hand, we are spending too much on infrastructure—there is too much debt—but, on the other hand we are not doing enough. That is the tenet of the document. Indeed, the shadow minister said at the doors this morning that nothing could take away from the fact that Labor ‘is spending $5 billion less on road and rail than the coalition government had promised before the last election.’ He said that, instead of building more, we are actually building less. That is their argument. So now they are arguing that they would spend $5 billion more than they committed on road and rail transport infrastructure at the last election. What a joke. There is no person in the House who is more pleased to hear that than the finance minister, I assure you!
The fact is that what they actually committed to AusLink 2 in the last election was $22.3 billion. They committed $22.3 billion, they ran around and made promises for $31 billion, and they want to argue against our infrastructure program, saying that we are spending too much. They say the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow finance minister will wind it back, but at the same time they are arguing we should spend more. You cannot have it both ways. You have to make up your mind what projects you support and what projects you would wind back, as the Leader of the Opposition has said he would do and as the shadow finance minister has said she would do.