Investing in transport infrastructure not in Liberal's DNA

urban_transport.jpgMr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (18:36): I am very pleased to be in the debate tonight on the important issue of infrastructure, and transport infrastructure in particular. When it comes to land transport infrastructure, the government has not got off to a very good start. I do not blame the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development. He is probably a pretty good bloke, but he has got one of the toughest jobs in government. His job is to try and put some truth into the slogan that the Prime Minister is somehow going to be the 'infrastructure Prime Minister'. That is the toughest job in parliament because he does not have a lot to work with. One minute you have the government out there saying that everything that Labor have done in this space is a disaster, that in fact we have done nothing at all. The next minute you have members and the minister himself running around the country taking credit for Labor projects, reannouncing Labor projects and, best of all, cutting the ribbon on Labor projects.

We know that cutting is in the Liberal Party DNA. Quite clearly, infrastructure is not in the Liberal Party DNA at all, because you have to go a long way back in history before you can find a conservative Prime Minister who has been serious about investing in infrastructure. That is in stark contrast to Labor prime ministers, because history is resplendent with Labor prime ministers who have been committed to nation building and to improving the productive capacity of this country by investing in infrastructure. I have in mind the contribution made by Andrew Fisher, an early Labor Prime Minister, who was responsible for pushing through his cabinet and then through a very difficult parliament the proposition to build the transnational rail link. It was Andrew Fisher and a Labor government that ensured work could commence on the project and that we have a rail link to Perth today.

Move forward and have a look at one of our most famous icons, the Opera House in Sydney. We would not have had that Opera House, probably one of the most famous symbols in all of Australia and a critical piece of economic and cultural infrastructure, if it had not been pushed through the Labor caucus and the parliament by a former Labor Premier, Joe Cahill, who was also responsible for calling for the designs for a dedicated opera house in Sydney. I also have in mind a project that is oft debated in this House, and I know a new member of this place has a grandfather who had a very senior role in overseeing the building of this project, and that is the Snowy Mountains Hydro. Deputy Speaker Scott, you would know that if it had not been for the decision of the Chifley Labor government, the Snowy Mountains scheme would never have got off the ground. It was a key post-war nation-building infrastructure project conceived and made possible by a Labor caucus and a Labor Prime Minister.

I will go into some detail on the contributions of the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments. The National Broadband Network stands out. It is a testament to the importance and the popularity of the National Broadband Network that the coalition do not have it within them to say that they want to dismantle the project. They say that we will still have a National Broadband Network, but they are trying to dismantle it by stealth. I see that the member for Gellibrand is in the chamber tonight. I know that in a former life he had a key role in conceiving of the National Broadband Network and doing the hard policy work to ensure that it got off the ground. That is the calibre of the people we have in our caucus and the ideas we have when it comes to Labor governments and Labor members of parliament.

Let's contrast that with the performance of the Liberal Party in government. When Labor came into government in 2007 we were left with a massive infrastructure black hole—in the freight rail network, in our major interstate rail network, in our telecommunications infrastructure. I believe we had in the order of 19—was it 19?

Mr Watts: Yes.

Mr STEPHEN JONES: broadband plans over a period of 12 years. There had been lots of planning and lots of announcement, but not much in the way of improving the broadband in this country. Under the Howard government, infrastructure spending and infrastructure delivery was at all-time historic low. Tony Abbott was a senior minister in the government at that time, so we can only conclude that that is where he has got his lessons from because he has not had a very good start. What have we seen in the first six months? Prior to the election and immediately after it, we had the Prime Minister say that the Commonwealth should 'stick to its knitting' when it comes to investing in infrastructure. Well, it is all needles and no wool, because there is not a lot knitting going on at all.

We have seen significant cuts to infrastructure spending. Important, nation-building, critical economic transport infrastructure has been cancelled or put on hold. I have in mind the Melbourne Metro. The member for Deakin got up and spoke at great length about the importance of the road projects; he had nothing to say about rail networks within the broader Melbourne metropolitan area. As any transport planner knows, unless you look at these things as a system—that is, the interaction of the road network and the public transport systems—you are not to solve road congestion. All you are going to do is build new roads that will very quickly become parking lots because you have not dealt with the underlying systems issues. It is the same thing with Brisbane's Cross River Rail, Hobart's light rail, the Tonsley Park public transport project, the Perth public transport package, the Gawler rail line electrification, the Adelaide transport movement study and the Perth airport rail link. When the Prime Minister uses the word 'infrastructure' he obviously defines out of the concept of infrastructure anything to do with rail and urban public transport. As anybody who knows anything about transport infrastructure will tell you, if you try and deal with one mode of infrastructure in isolation from all the rest you are not going to solve transport issues.

There is a bit of focus on Western Australia at the moment, and it is appropriate in this debate that we have something to say about the government's plans for Western Australia. Unlike the Liberals and the National Party, Labor supports a proper mix of infrastructure spending. The Australasian Railway Association report, The value of action versus the cost of inaction,found that investing in rail over roads will get the same result in terms of freeing up congestion, and would cost 57 per cent less in Brisbane and 38 per cent less in Perth. So there you have expert opinion saying that investment in rail is the most cost-effective transport solution to reduce road congestion in Australia's two fastest-growing cities, Brisbane and Perth.

Is it any wonder that when the announcements were made about major road infrastructure projects in Melbourne and the WestConnex in Sydney that there was no cost-benefit analysis—a clear breach of pre-election promises? No cost-benefit analysis, and the reason there was no cost-benefit analysis is because they would not have liked the answer. The answer would have given them those sorts of cost differentials. Do not get me wrong; we support further investment by the Commonwealth into roads. In fact, in government Labor doubled the roads spending, but you need a mix of both. Infrastructure Australia has urged the government not to invest only in certain kinds of projects—a veiled warning to government not to ignore the importance of the rail sector. The expert advice from inside and outside government is clearly to avoid investing in roads to the exclusion of rail because we need a mix of both.

But what do you think the government's plan for Western Australian commuters is? Mr Abbott's plan for Western Australia is for them to spend more time in their cars, because that is the consequence of his policy. His cuts to important urban public transport projects have the consequence of ensuring that people spend more time in their cars. He is on target to deliver that by cutting $500 million from public transport projects in Perth—so that is exactly what they will be doing. There are Liberal senators who are so embarrassed by their own record after almost six months in government that they have been photoshopping photos of the Prime Minister out of their how-to-vote cards. They are photoshopping—removing his photo from their how-to-vote cards because they know that he is a net negative for them when it comes to facing the voters in Western Australia. We saw something very similar in the Griffith by-election.

Mr Chester: You did similar with Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd!

Mr STEPHEN JONES: I hear the member for Gippsland make some observations, and I am quite certain that when the voters go to the polls in Victoria later this year the very clear message from whoever the Premier of Victoria is this week that Tony Abbott will not be too welcome on the campaign trail.

Let's have a contrast: let's compare the record of the Liberal Party in government with Labor's record. We have, as I said, doubled the roads budget to $46.5 billion, and a significant amount of this spending was in National Party seats. Far from the pork-barrelling that we saw in previous coalition governments, we put the money into where it was most needed. Labor upgraded over 7,500 kilometres of roads. We had a commitment to regional areas and supported working people by shortening commutes. We improved the safety of the roads around the nation and boosted productivity by reducing congestion. Labor boosted local government grants for infrastructure by over 20 per cent through strategic investments in local communities. There were over 17,000 projects funded in towns and villages around the country. The Liberals and the Nationals know that these projects have been necessary. They know that they are important and they know that they are critical to the economies of these regions, and that is why they are rushing around with a pair of scissors trying to cut the ribbons and claim credit for all these projects around the regions.

The Minister for Infrastructure may as well be known as the 'minister for xerox' because in his second reading speech on this very legislation before the House he mentioned almost a dozen projects that were Labor initiatives: the $6.7 billion to upgrade the Bruce Highway, a Labor initiative; the $5.6 billion to finish the duplication of the Pacific Highway, a Labor initiative; the $1 billion to continue the Gateway Motorway North upgrade in Brisbane, a Labor initiative; the $6.8 million to finish the Gateway Western Australia project in Perth, a Labor initiative; the $615 million to build the Swan Valley Bypass on the Perth to Darwin highway, again a Labor initiative; $500 million to upgrade the South Road Superway in Adelaide; $405 million for the F3 to M2 link; $500 million dollars to continue the Midland Highway upgrade in Tasmania; $300 million to finalise planning for the Melbourne to Brisbane inland rail, a project that I know you are a big fan of Mr Deputy Speaker; and the $1.8 billion allocated to the WestConnex project in Sydney, subject to conditions—including a proper business case analysis.

These were all Labor initiatives; all Labor projects. So on the one hand they are out there bagging Labor for inaction, or for overspending and overinvesting or for investing in the wrong projects, and on the other hand they are standing here in parliament at every opportunity that they can with the liquid paper out trying to scratch out our name across those projects and ensuring that they are taking credit for them themselves. There is little wonder, because this Prime Minister has no plan for infrastructure in this country.