BILLS;Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013;Second Reading – 23 Jun 2014 Part 1

I also rise today to speak on the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013. What we need to remember first of all is that the bill we are debating here today is not the original bill that was passed in the House of Representatives, because even those opposite realised that they had gone to extremes; they had not consulted properly and so a number of amendments to the bill were agreed to over in the other place. I am pretty pleased that the government have come some way to acknowledging some of the errors of their ways.

The original bill did seek to turn Infrastructure Australia into a pork-barrelling unit, no matter what the previous speaker said. The bill aimed to tie the hands of Infrastructure Australia and prevent it from undertaking investigations into any projects or class of project that the minister and the government did not ideologically agree with. Like other government agencies that produce expert advice that the government finds inconvenient, Infrastructure Australia was due to be directed, gagged or ignored. Those opposite do not believe in good process, they do not believe in best practice and they are really not interested in infrastructure. They are certainly not the party of infrastructure—and I hesitate to say it—but I doubt that the current Prime Minister will ever be remembered as the prime minister for infrastructure. In fact, when the Howard government was in power, it funded a total of just $300 million infrastructure in Sydney over 12 years. It is those opposite who rorted the Regional Partnerships scheme for their own political benefit as well.

As I said, the Labor Party is the party of infrastructure. It is the Labor Party who realises that modern, efficient, well-placed infrastructure, built in accordance with expert advice, is what will drive Australia’s prosperity into the future. It is the Labor Party who understands that building infrastructure requires vision and that the needs of the entire Australian community have to be served, not just those in marginal electorates that those opposite would like to pork-barrel. It is the Labor Party who understands that infrastructure includes ports, freight, rail, light rail, airports, communications, bridges and much more, not just more and more roads.

With regard to Senator Macdonald’s comments about what the Australian Labor Party did for infrastructure—just to correct the record—the former Labor government oversaw a radical transformation in the way that the federal government approached infrastructure. Under Labor, infrastructure spending across the economy rose to record levels. In terms of spending on infrastructure as a proportion of GDP, Australia rose from 20th in the OECD to first in 2012. We lifted funding for infrastructure from $132 to $225 per Australian. We created Infrastructure Australia to research and rank proposed infrastructure projects based on their potential to add to economic productivity. We delivered the National Ports Strategy and the National Land Freight Strategy. Total annual private and public investments in our nation’s roads, ports, railways, energy generators, water supply facilities and telecommunications networks hit a record $58.5 billion in 2011-12—equivalent to four per cent of GDP; the biggest share of national income since at least 1986-87. Compared to the last full year of the former Howard government in 2006-07, Labor’s annual infrastructure spending in real terms was up 59 per cent by 2011-12. Total public and private sector infrastructure spending over federal Labor’s first five years in office was almost $250 billion—70 per cent growth in real terms—compared with the $150 billion spent during the last five years of the former Howard government.

I understand that Senator Macdonald does not like to acknowledge any of this, and he really did not have much to say. He spent the first nine minutes of his contribution on the bill bagging Senator Conroy’s contribution. If he really had had anything to say, he would have spoken more forcefully about the good parts of the infrastructure bill and not just bag the man, my colleague Senator Conroy. But this is not unusual for Senator Macdonald; he does that. You can bet your life that, if you are on just before Senator Macdonald, he will play the man, not the policy. So we are not at all surprised by it. Labor is the party of infrastructure and always will be, because Labor knows that strong infrastructure is the backbone of a strong economy and the key to greater prosperity.

Let us get back to the bill we are debating today. The explanatory memorandum for the bill—or should I say the bill that passed the House—claims:

The Bill will strengthen the role of Infrastructure Australia, as an independent, transparent and expert advisory body through a change in its governance structure and through better clarification of its functions.

But this is utter rubbish, as the minister and his Senate colleagues know, and it is the reason why they changed it. The government does not care about planning infrastructure for Australia’s long-term future. This federal government has already explicitly ruled out funding for important urban public transport projects such as the Melbourne Metro, the Brisbane cross-city rail, the Perth light rail and airport link and the Tonsley Park rail upgrade in Adelaide.

The Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee inquired into this bill and reported earlier this year. The committee received 20 submissions from areas such as the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, Australian Logistics Council, Urban Development Institute of Australia, Infrastructure Australia, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, the Australian Automobile Association, and the Business Council of Australia, among others. Here is a quote which should make anyone who believes in good process shudder. I hope those on the other side are listening, because it is from Michael Deegan, Infrastructure Australia’s infrastructure coordinator. Mr Deegan himself said in Infrastructure Australia’s submission:

I understand that the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill went through more than 20 drafts before it was presented to the House of Representatives. My office was not consulted during development of the Bill. This lack of consultation is both disappointing and disturbing. Those preparing the Bill could usefully have sought comment on:

what has worked;

what has not been so effective; and

in consequence and most importantly, how Infrastructure Australia can be strengthened as an independent, transparent and robust adviser to governments and the Australian community.

Can you believe that? Twenty drafts!

Debate interrupted.