Government offering no investment for urban public rail

merivale_bridge_with_train.jpgMr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (10:42): I move:

That this House notes that:

(1) as identified by Infrastructure Australia, we are an urban nation with four-fifths of our population and economic activity occurring in our cities;

(2) Australia's growing cities have a strategic need for greater public transport capacity to meet the growing transport task, ease urban road congestion and ensure improved national productivity;

(3) this urban transport task is a joint Australian and state government responsibility;

(4) recognising this, Labor in government invested $13 billion—more Commonwealth funding for public transport than all other governments since Federation—and this investment in urban transport projects, put forward and assessed through Infrastructure Australia, resulted in a significant boost to the strategic development of Australia's public transport network; and

(5) urban public transport projects including the Brisbane Cross River Rail project, the Perth Public Transport Package and the Tansley Park Public Transport Package in Adelaide are nationally significant projects and are not guaranteed to proceed without Australian Government funding.

The motion before the House today is of critical importance to all Australians. Despite our bush heritage, Australia is an urban nation—four-fifths of our population and our economy activity happens in our cities. Australia's cities produce about 80 per cent of our national wealth. Our great cities can continue to be our great strength, but only if we invest in them and get the policy settings right. Urban public transport is critical to the future of Australia's cities. Our quality of life, our economic productivity and how we deal with the challenges of the future—such as an ageing population, climate change and the growth of Asia—all rely on our ability to get these things right.

For more than 100 years the unyielding trend in Australia has been towards increasing urban density. Over the next two decades Australia's public transport usage will increase by one-third. In many of our cities—including Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane—we are already at capacity for the existing public transport network. As a national parliament, with responsibility for our national interest, we cannot turn our backs on this task. Nation-building infrastructure is a shared responsibility.

Labor has a proud record of nation-building and infrastructure. Labor recognised this responsibility and Labor did something about it. First, Labor set up Infrastructure Australia, an independent process to assess Australia's infrastructure needs— the very same body that the new government is trying to dilute and tear apart. The task of Infrastructure Australia has been to assess and rank those projects that could best contribute to our economic activity. In government Labor committed to urban public transport since 2007 more than all previous governments combined since Federation. Labor created the first ministry for infrastructure and ensured that that ministry was in parliament. The member for Grayndler was that first cabinet minister for infrastructure.

In 2011, Labor developed Australia's first ever national urban policy. In government, federal Labor committed $60 billion towards nation-building projects. This record investment went towards new, modern and well-planned transport infrastructure right across Australia. The critical point is that this investment included urban transport investment, which helped to make working people's lives easier, our businesses more competitive and the Australian economy more productive.

Given the size of the challenge, Australia is entitled to know what the views of the Prime Minister and the new government are on this great challenge in urban public transport. This is what the Prime Minister had to say quite recently: 'We have no history of funding urban rail and I think it is important that we stick to our knitting, and the Commonwealth's knitting when it comes to funding infrastructure is roads.' Where Labor had proposed to partner with the states to deliver nation-building urban rail projects, the Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, is focused on his knitting. He will not offer a cent in funding for urban public transport.

Contrast this with our approach: the arms-length Infrastructure Australia process, where economic productivity not political pork-barrelling was the centrepiece of decision making, has been the major criteria. It has seen 55 per cent of Infrastructure Australia's nation-building money going on urban rail, distributed on the basis of merit. In government, Labor strongly backed vital urban transport projects, including the Commonwealth's single largest investment in urban rail, the regional rail link in Melbourne. Since the election of the Abbott government, Commonwealth funding has been withdrawn from a number of important projects that were in the last federal budget. They were budgeted for and should be being delivered.

I will cite four important examples. The first is the Brisbane cross-river rail project. This is a tunnel under the Brisbane River that will deliver capacity of 17,000 additional passengers during peak times. That is needed because the existing rail bridge over the Brisbane River is about to run out of capacity. Going south, there is the Melbourne Metro, which would, according to the assessment by Infrastructure Australia, increase passenger capacity on Melbourne's urban rail network by a massive 30 per cent. In the west, there is the Perth airport link. This is designed to ease congestion around the busy Perth airport. Finally, there is an upgrade to Adelaide's Tonsley Park rail line. Labor worked with state governments over many years to progress these projects. Without these projects, Brisbane, for example, will grind to a halt in four or five years, with Melbourne being almost there right now.

These commitments followed Labor's investment in the Noarlunga line in South Australia, the Moreton Bay rail link, Gold Coast rapid transport and the regional rail link. Melbourne's regional rail link is a $4.8 billion project and landmark urban infrastructure that will remove major bottlenecks in Victoria's rail network by separating the metropolitan and regional tracks. The Commonwealth proposed contribution to the regional rail link is $3.225 billion. The state would match contributions in the order of $1.582 billion. The fact is that no cash-strapped state government can come up with nearly $5 billion in funding for a project of this scale. They cannot do it on their own and they cannot do it without significant Commonwealth support and backing.

Where Labor offered partnerships, the new Prime Minister offers nothing. Those opposite know that this hands-off approach—this sticking to the knitting—is a death knell for urban infrastructure. They know that state governments lack the financial leverage to get these massive urban infrastructure projects off the ground. The Abbott government's position is nothing less than economic vandalism. It is an abdication of responsibility and a failure of leadership for a Prime Minister who made so much in recent months about traffic congestion and about infrastructure. He made it an issue in the last election campaign. This approach, this withdrawal of funds, is nothing more than hypocrisy. I can only imagine the embarrassment of the new member for Lindsay. She must be deeply ashamed of the approach that is being taken by her Prime Minister and her Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development. Her government's view is: leave it to the states. But where does that leave rail commuters from Penrith or Emu Plains?

Instead of rising to this major challenge facing so many Australians, the coalition is pushing this matter off to state governments to address themselves. It is extraordinary. In effect, the coalition is saying, if you travel to work by public transport, your problems are none of the Abbott government's problems; you are on your own. Unlike roads, public transport does not attract private sector investment. It is a proposition purely for the public sector.

The problem of urban congestion in Australia's cities is in plain sight. I think roads are important, but roads alone are not the solution. We know that one loaded passenger train can carry the same capacity as a 10-lane highway. The coalition does not want to help pay for the solution. It is not just Labor saying these things; transport experts agree. There is no reasonable rationale for the Prime Minister's decision to abandon the Commonwealth's funding of urban public transport.

Australia's cities face unprecedented challenges to ensure that they improved their productivity, sustainability and liveability. One reason that Labor established Infrastructure Australia was to take the politics out of these critical infrastructure decisions. Prime Minister Abbott is in the process of putting the politics back. There is a bill before the House that will do exactly that. National Party ministers look on infrastructure budgets as an opportunity to spend up big and to pork barrel in their electorates. Urban public transport investment has always run a big second to their favoured road projects. We cannot sit by and let this happen yet again. There is no justification for abandoning the infrastructure needs of our cities; it is just a political choice made by those opposite. Prime Minister Abbott is turning his back on this great productivity challenge. The Prime Minister is turning his back on our great cities. Indeed, his promise in the recent election to be the 'Infrastructure Prime Minister' is turning out to be just as hollow as a unity ticket on education. He might just as easily have said: 'I want to be the Gonski Prime Minister.' I commend the motion to the House.