BILLS;Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill 2014;Second Reading – 27 Aug 2014

I, too, rise to speak on the Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill 2014. For those opposite, spending money on infrastructure is not a means to improving productivity, and it does not appear to be a means to improving the whole economy for the benefit of all Australians. It does, however, appear to be a means through which they can pork barrel their own marginal electorates, as they did through the rorted Howard era Regional Partnerships Program.

The Labor Party is a party that believes in infrastructure. It is a party that knows that developing infrastructure will improve outcomes for all Australians. Therefore, it needs to be developed according to need. Only the Labor Party understands that building infrastructure requires vision and an understanding that the needs of the entire Australian community need to be served, not just a marginal electorate that those opposite, as I said, would like to pork barrel in.

It is the Labor Party that realises that modern, efficient, well-placed infrastructure built in accordance with expert advice is what will drive Australia’s prosperity into the future. And it is the Labor Party that understands that infrastructure includes ports, freight rail, light rail, airports, communication infrastructure, bridges and much more—not just more and more roads. That is why the former Labor government oversaw a radical transformation in the way that the Commonwealth approaches infrastructure.

Compared to the last full year of the former Howard government, 2006-07, annual infrastructure spending in real terms was up 59 per cent by 2011-12. Infrastructure spending across the economy rose to record levels. In terms of spending on infrastructure as a proportion of GDP Australia rose from 20th to first in 2012 in the OECD.

We created Infrastructure Australia to research and rank proposed infrastructure projects based on their potential to add to economic productivity.    We rebuilt or upgraded 7,500 kilometres of road and 4,000 kilometres of railway lines. We delivered the National Ports Strategy and the National Freight Strategy.

Total annual private and public investment in our nation’s roads, ports, railways, energy generators, water supply facilities and telecommunication networks hit a record $58.5 billion in 2011-12, equivalent to four per cent of GDP, the biggest share of national income since 1986-87.

We lifted funding for infrastructure from $132 per Australian to $225. Total public and private sector infrastructure spending over federal Labor’s first five years in office was almost $250 billion—almost 70 per cent greater in real terms than the $150 billion spent during the last five years of the former Howard government. As the figures I just quoted show, it is Labor that believes in infrastructure.

I spoke in this place earlier this year about the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill. Labor created Infrastructure Australia to research Australia’s future infrastructure needs and impartially assess projects. Unfortunately, the version of the Infrastructure Australia bill that was passed in the House sought to destroy Infrastructure Australia’s ability to plan for the future, assess the value of proposed projects, publish information without the minister’s consent and would have even prevented Infrastructure Australia from doing research on whole areas of infrastructure needs like public transport or how to protect infrastructure from the effects of climate change.

In short, those opposite wanted to prevent Infrastructure from assessing their pork-barrelling projects or to provide frank and fearless advice on the country’s future infrastructure needs. I do not believe that those opposite are serious about infrastructure at all. If they were, they would have given this bill a higher priority in this place.

This bill continues the funding for the Roads to Recovery program, which expired on 30 June, 2014. The program is made ongoing, indefinitely, rather than having a set expiry date in the act.

Senator Macdonald mentioned the need to pass this legislation today. If the government were able to manage the proceedings of the chamber properly, they could have had the legislation passed before the funding expired.

Unfortunately, though, I do not think those opposite really have a clue about how to act when in government and that is pretty obvious from the many faux pas we have evidenced in the media since the change of government. I will not digress, because I would take up all my time just discussing those faux pas.

Other changes in this bill see the distinction between national projects, network and off-network projects eliminated and all are retitled as ‘investment projects’. Transport research funding criteria are widened to include research into funded projects.

This bill also makes partnerships and non-corporate Commonwealth entities eligible to apply for research funding. The bill would also repeal the following three spent Land Transport Infrastructure Acts: the Australian Land Transport Development Act 1988, which has been superseded; the Roads to Recovery Act 2000, which has no outstanding claims against it; and the Railway Standardization (New South Wales and Victoria) Agreement Act 1958. Loans under this act were repaid in June 2013 and this act therefore has no further effect.

The opposition has no issue with removing from the statute books spent and redundant legislation. We do, however, have issues with pork barrelling. We know that the current government likes to take credit for things that it has not done. We can see that from the minister’s second reading speech in the other place. In that speech the minister mentioned almost a dozen major projects that were announced and funded by the federal Labor government, including: $6.7 billion to upgrade the Bruce Highway; $5.6 billion to finish the duplication of the Pacific Highway; $1 billion to continue the Gateway Motorway North upgrade in Brisbane; $686 million to finish the Gateway WA Project in Perth; $615 million to build the Swan Valley Bypass on the Perth to Darwin Highway; $500 million for the upgrade of South Road in Adelaide; $405 million for the F3 to M2 Link project in Sydney. One that is particularly important to me is the $400 million to continue the Midland Highway upgrade in Tasmania; Labor in fact committed $500 million and so the current government thinks it can do it for $100 million less. We also allocated $300 million to finalise plans, engineering design and environmental assessments for the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail project and we also allocated $1.8 billion to the WestConnex project in Sydney, subject to conditions including a proper business case.

The current government has a nasty history of taking credit for the work of others, and the Australian people are waking up to the government’s insincerity and their deceit. In Tasmania, they re-announced our entire nation-building package, albeit belatedly, including the same funding for the freight rail revitalisation, for the Brooker Highway and for the Huon Highway. There is only one difference: that is the Midland Highway, for which they have announced a $100 million cut. It is unbelievable that the Liberal senators from Tasmania can stand up and say that they care about infrastructure for Tasmania, when they have ripped $100 million from the Midlands Highway upgrade. They need to explain to the people of Tasmania why they did not fight harder for that funding, as does the member for Lyons in the other place. They need to explain why they have not fought harder for funding for Tasmania.

Labor will be looking to move amendments to this bill. We realise the importance that infrastructure projects be assessed to see whether they meet the nation’s needs—not the political needs of the current government. The opposition’s first amendment is to improve governance arrangements around project selection. Many stakeholders in the infrastructure debate have called for greater transparency and accountability over how the Commonwealth chooses to spend its infrastructure funds. The Australian people deserve transparency in the expenditure of between $3 and $6 billion per annum—much of that spending is channelled via this act.

When this bill faced the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee, Labor senators had additional comments and flagged amendments. The opposition’s amendments would see that, prior to approving individual projects under the act, the minister must have regard to the identified priorities and plans set by Infrastructure Australia and any advice it produces relating to the type of project being considered for funding. Further, for projects with a value of $100 million or more, the minister must obtain an evaluation of the project from Infrastructure Australia. This evaluation will include a cost-benefit analysis from Infrastructure Australia and an Infrastructure Australia view on the priority of the project against its identified national priorities. For projects that are funded, the minister will be required to publish details of the project and include Infrastructure Australia’s evaluation and cost-benefit outcome. Overall, this strengthened governance is precisely what all major stakeholders in the infrastructure sector have been calling for in the current Productivity Commission inquiry into public infrastructure, and in the recent Senate inquiry into Infrastructure Australia. Allowing Infrastructure Australia to assess these projects will help to prevent the pork-barrelling we have seen under previous Liberal-National governments. This means that, if they do choose to approve projects that are unworthy, the Australian people will be able to see where and what the government is funding for their own political gain.

The opposition’s second amendment is to formalise the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity program as a program under the act. The Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity program is an Australian initiative established under the act in 2009 to improve safety and productivity outcomes of heavy vehicle operations across Australia. This program is the first dedicated Commonwealth program of its kind and aims to reduce driver fatigue. Unfortunately, too many Australian truck drivers die on Australian roads. The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development told the Senate inquiry into this bill that:

… during the 12 months to September 2011, 230 people died from 204 fatal crashes involving heavy vehicles or buses and there is significant evidence linking such accidents with fatigue.

This program funded rest stops along highways to provide more options for drivers to take a break. The first two rounds of the HVSPP provided $70 million in the period 2008-09 to 2011-12. In the 2012 and 2013 budgets, Labor provided a further $250 million to extend the program. This additional funding in 2013-14 brought total spending on the program to $320 million and added a further 58 projects to the 236 projects already delivered, including over 140 new or upgraded rest areas and 46 new or upgraded parking and decoupling bays.

Round 3 projects included funding the states and territories in six categories: rest area projects which improve the provision of heavy vehicle rest areas on key interstate routes; parking and decoupling bay projects which provide heavy vehicle parking and decoupling areas and facilities in outer urban and regional areas; technology trial projects which include trial technologies to improve heavy vehicle safety and/or productivity; road enhancement projects which enhance the capacity and/or safety of roads, including bridges, to allow access by high productivity vehicles to more of the road network; demonstration projects which facilitate innovation to improve heavy vehicle safety and productivity projects; and livestock transport industry projects which improve heavy vehicle safety and productivity for specific livestock transport operations. I urge those opposite and the crossbench members to pass these amendments to make roads safer for truck drivers and for the general public.

While I am summing up my contribution to this debate, I would like to say that one of the pettiest aspects of this bill is that it renames the Nation Building Program (National Land Transport) Act to remove the words ‘Nation Building’. Those opposite are so concerned about the positive legacy of the Labor government in infrastructure that they want to rename the act to wipe away Labor’s connection with it. How petty can they be? The shadow minister, Mr Albanese, has sought assurances in writing from the new minister that there will be no additional cost to taxpayers because of this change of name and the minister has given that assurance. It will be interesting to see how they deal with changing all the letterheads, all the signs and everything else at no extra cost. All we can hope is that they will not choose to put the signs with the new program name in Liberal-National Party colours, as they did with the AusLink program. I really hope they will not stoop to such a petty, disgusting waste of taxpayers resources—again—to try to make themselves look good.

Labor has shown time and time again that we are the party of infrastructure. I have listed the various projects we undertook and funded. I urge the Senate to pass the opposition’s amendments to this bill.