Paul Fletcher MP

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Ministerial Statements - Infrastructure

Parliamentary Speeches Thursday, 01 December 2016

I am very pleased to rise to speak in this chamber to note the excellent infrastructure statement made by the Prime Minister just last week. Of course, as part of the infrastructure statement, the Prime Minister released the government's response to the 15-year Australian Infrastructure Plan, which sets out a comprehensive agenda of recommendations across a wide range of sectors: transport, communications, energy, water and other areas.

Seventy-eight recommendations are in the plan, relevant to all levels of government. Of the 78 the Australian government is supporting 69 of them. Our response reflects our recognition that reforming how we plan, prioritise and pay for infrastructure is critical to sustainable, long-term productivity growth. Our response demonstrates that the 15-year plan will guide key infrastructure policy directions for the Turnbull government. Many of these recommendations are reflected in reforms that the Turnbull government has already commenced. With the release of our response to the 15-year Australian Infrastructure Plan, we are progressing a number of other important reforms in the area of road, rail, freight, data collection, funding and financing. These reforms will support the Turnbull government's record $50 billion investment in land transport infrastructure. Indeed, if you include all areas of infrastructure, including the NBN, water infrastructure, regional funding and other major project funding, the Turnbull government is investing some $80 billion. This investment is expected to leverage many billions of dollars in additional spending from state governments and from the private sector across the economy.

Just this year, the Turnbull government has announced funding for a wide range of infrastructure priorities including Western Sydney Airport where we announced $115 million to fund preparatory work, including $26 million to develop a concept design for rail access that will accelerate benefits to Western Sydney. There is the Forrestfield-Airport Link, an enormously important rail link in Perth where the Turnbull government has committed $490 million. I was pleased to attend, along with the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the sod-turning ceremony of that important project just a few weeks ago.

There is the Flinders Link project in Adelaide, which will see the Flinders University medical centre connected to the Adelaide metropolitan rail network. There is the Inland Rail project, where an additional $594 million has been committed by the Turnbull government for the Australian Rail Track Corporation to acquire necessary land and to continue preconstruction work. We have announced significant new infrastructure investments in Victoria, including $350 million for the M80 Ring Road, $220 million for the Murray Basin Rail Project, $345 million for a rural and regional roads package and $75 million for an urban congestion package.

In the course of this year, we have also announced an additional $260.8 million in funding for the tunnel section at stage 2 of Perth Freight Link. We have announced $200 million of funding for Ipswich Motorway and up to $50 million for business case development with the states. We also announced funding for upgrades to the M1 in South-East Queensland, funding of $105 million for the Gateway merge and funding of $110 million to the Mudgeeraba to Varsity Lakes section of the M1. So very extensive funding commitments have been announced this year, on top of the already extensive commitments that we have made and a record level of infrastructure spending.

Notwithstanding that fact, what we saw in the response of the Leader of the Opposition to the Prime Minister's statement was a number of misleading and inaccurate claims about the Commonwealth government's spending on infrastructure. Like clockwork, whenever there is mention of this government's track record in infrastructure, the shadow minister pops up with his false claim that infrastructure spending has gone down since the shambolic years of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government. In fact, the Turnbull government is funding infrastructure at record levels around Australia. In 2016-17 we are spending around $9 billion. As The Australian's David Uren has pointed out, if you compare support for state infrastructure across the four-year forward estimates period of Labor's last three budgets and the coalition's first three budgets the average under the coalition was $27.8 billion, a 44 per cent increase on what the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government spent.

These facts are a little inconvenient for the Labor Party which is perhaps why the shadow minister seems to resort to continually making factually incorrect claims. But you would find it a futile exercise to look for intellectual consistency when it comes to what we hear from the shadow minister in relation to infrastructure policy. For example, he got very excited with the claim that the final budget outcome for 2015-16 showed a drop in infrastructure spending to support state activity from what was in the estimate in the May 2014 budget as to the amount that would apply for the 2015-16 financial year. The particular item he cited was payments to support state infrastructure services, and I emphasise that this is part of but not the same as total Commonwealth spending on infrastructure. It excludes spending on Commonwealth projects such as Western Sydney Airport and Inland Rail. The point is that it is not unusual for there to be significant variances between the amounts originally budgeted to be spent on payments to support state infrastructure services in a particular year and the final amount spent in that particular year. In 2012-13, for example, what happened? The amount originally budgeted to be spent on payments to support state infrastructure services was around $6 billion. The amount finally spent in that year was $3.6 billion. I can almost hear you thinking, 'Who was the minister at that time?'

The minster was, in fact, the man who is now the shadow minister. So, as I say, if we were to seek intellectual consistency in the pronouncements of this shadow minister you would find yourself deeply frustrated.

Then, of course, we hear his argument that it is somehow a matter of note that the $490 million commitment that the Commonwealth has made in relation to the Forrestfield project was linked to discussions between the Commonwealth and Western Australia in relation to the GST. Without going into the merits of that I simply make the point that the shadow minister seems to say, 'Okay, we'll look at this spending and say there is a shortfall, but we'll ignore this spending because that's in an inconvenient category.' You cannot have it both ways. Again, if you were to look for intellectual consistency in what you hear from the shadow minister you would be sorely disappointed.

We hear this consistent and utterly incorrect claim from the shadow minister that there has been no new spending on infrastructure since the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government left office. That is simply not true. I will mention just one area: the Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan—$3.6 billion for the Northern Road being widened for its entire length; the Bringelly Road Upgrade; and, of course, the M12, which will run from the M7 to the airport and the Northern Road. Just last week the corridor for the M12 was announced. None of this was delivered by the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government. In fact, the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government never reached a decision in relation to Western Sydney Airport. It took a coalition government to do that. So this ridiculous claim made by the shadow minister, this wholly inaccurate claim that no new infrastructure projects have been committed to, was untrue the first time he said it and it is untrue each time he says it.

The reality is that the Turnbull government has a comprehensive program of funding for infrastructure. We are spending at record levels. We are not engaging in the sort of accounting tricks that the shadow minister engaged in. In 2013 it emerged that the amounts that had been supposedly set aside by the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government for rail projects around the country—over $2 billion for the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link and over $2 billion for the Melbourne Metro—was all beyond the forward estimates. So, basic accounting tricks were being used by the previous government, and then the shadow minister complains that we have adopted a much more consistent and accurate approach in relation to our funding of infrastructure. The reality is that there is record infrastructure spending going on. We have just announced an important response to the 15-year plan. The Turnbull government is delivering for the Australian people.

Debate adjourned.

Authorised by Paul Fletcher MP, Level 2, 280 Pacific Highway Lindfield NSW 2070.

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