Infrastructure - MOTION


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (17:37): Where oh where do Labor Party troglodyte senators live? Clearly, blindfolded, with earplugs in, in the deepest, darkest cave in Australia in a permanent midnight if they have not heard, since the advent of the coalition government, of all the plans—not just plans, but funded plans for infrastructure in Australia. They must have been completely out of this world if they were not aware—and they would be the only Australians who were not—of the massive funding and vision for infrastructure in our country.

Before Senator O'Neill leaves I want her to tell me, 'Where is this Parramatta-Epping railway line that the Labor Party's then state Labor Premier Kristina Keneally and then federal Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced with a $2.6 billion fund to build?' I understand that there was no work done on it, no plans were drawn, no engineering consideration given and certainly there was no finance obtained. But the Labor Party announced $2.6 billion for the Parramatta-Epping rail connection, which, of course, was always fantasy.

Have a look at Victoria, where the coalition government actually provided the money, billions and billions of dollars, for the East West Link to the Victorian government, which was then a Liberal government, which would have built that link using principally federal money. Then the Labor Party came along and said, 'We don't want the money for that major piece of infrastructure in Victoria.' The Labor Party is all talk and no action when it comes to infrastructure spending.

Mr Acting Deputy President Edwards, I will in my time for this contribution go through some of the projects that have been funded, including, I understand, some $41 million for the electrification of the Adelaide to Gawler railway line in your home state of South Australia. All we need is the state Labor government to provide some matching funds, but to date there is no word from the state Labor government at all. You hear people, like the former speaker, saying how keen Labor are on infrastructure, but when you come to the facts, have a look at them. There is the East West Link in Victoria, the rail project that I just mentioned in Adelaide and the Parramatta-Epping railway. They are very good on the talk and very good at making announcements. On the Parramatta-Epping railway we had then Labor Premier Keneally and Labor Prime Minister Gillard on the railway platform. There was great fanfare and TV cameras everywhere when they announced the $2.6 billion, but nothing has been done, nothing from the Labor Party.

I will take you back in a little history lesson, Mr Acting Deputy President, to the really big infrastructure projects in Australia such as the Snowy Mountains Scheme and the Ord River Dam. In more recent times there is the Adelaide to Darwin railway, or the Alice Springs to Darwin railway. Who were they funded and conceived by? Liberal-National Party governments of the past. Every single, major infrastructure investment in our country, since almost the Commonwealth was created, has been done on the vision of coalition governments.

The former speaker said that the last Labor federal government had funded infrastructure in Labor budgets. We all know, of course, that Labor funded absolutely nothing in its budgets. All they funded were additional blowouts in the deficit. They did not fund a thing. They just borrowed more money from overseas, which we are still trying to pay off. They were borrowings that would have reached $700 billion if the government had not changed in 2013. That is Labor's record of funding things in the budget. You have a thought bubble, you go overseas, borrow some money and let our grandkids and great grandkids pay for it later on. It is just ludicrous and laughable. I am afraid I could not help myself from laughing during the previous senators contribution when she said that Labor funded these things in the budget. Labor funded nothing in any budget they have ever brought down.

I will become a little more recently relevant. Just three or four days ago Prime Minister Turnbull went to my state of Queensland and announced an additional $95 million for the Gold Coast Light Rail project. What a wonderful, visionary investment in Australia in that announcement. Where was Senator Moore and where was the previous speaker when those announcements were being made? Where were those Labor senators and all the rest of their troglodyte team—and I use the word 'troglodyte' advisedly—because they must have been out of this world? Where were they when the Northern Australian white paper was announced? These were not just announcements. These were announcements supported by funding in the 2015 budget.

It will take me a long time to go through the many infrastructure projects proposed by the coalition government. It would take me hours to simply go through them, but I will mention just a few. There is $100 million for a new Beef Roads Program. Those who are as old as me may remember that during the Fraser-McEwen government—or it might have been even before that—we had a wonderful Beef Roads Scheme in Australia that fell into disrepair, or unfunding, over the years. But it has been rejuvenated with this commitment of $100 million for beef roads just in northern Australia.

In the last budget, $600 million was announced for a priority roads program in the north. At the same time, $8.5 billion was budgeted for the Bruce Highway in my own state of Queensland. I am being a bit parochial here; I am talking about only Queensland or northern Australian road projects. But $8.5 billion has been budgeted and the Labor Party say that there is nothing being spent on public infrastructure. There is the $500 million Black Spot Program, which was first initiated by the Howard government. The Labor government put it on the backburner during those horrible six years. But it has been rejuvenated again by the Abbott and Turnbull governments with a new $500 million Black Spot Program. There is also the new $200 million heavy vehicle program and the $300 million Bridges Renewal Program, and so the list goes on.

That is not all; there is more. There is much, much more. Can I just remind Labor senators, who must have been digging that cave so they could not hear all the good news, of the announcement in the northern Australian white paper and in the last budget of a $5 billion concessional infrastructure loan scheme under the northern Australian infrastructure fund. That is not a grant scheme; it is a concessional loan scheme. It will encourage other money, not just taxpayers' money, into major infrastructure projects. I know personally of many people, institutions and companies that have already approached the government with plans to build public infrastructure if they can access some of this $5 billion concessional loans infrastructure fund. That is a clever way of getting funding into infrastructure.

The Labor Party will promise taxpayers' money—they will never deliver, but they will promise—whereas coalition governments actually have clever business and commercial-like ways of achieving public and private investment into infrastructure, which is all good for Australia and increases our productivity and, accordingly, increases the standard of living for all Australians. The money that the coalition government has committed has been ledgered and it is not just promises.

I live in a place called Ayr in North Queensland and my office is in Townsville, about 100 kilometres north. I drive up the Bruce Highway for a day in the office. I got annoyed over the last six months or so because everywhere I went along the Bruce Highway between Ayr and Townsville there were stop signs and road gangs. I had to detour because there was just so much work being done on the Bruce Highway. I have to give all congratulations to the Commonwealth and the Queensland government—this was mainly funded in the time of the Newman government in Queensland—for the work they have done from Vantassel Street through to the major ring-road around Townsville. I know that section of the road well because during the road construction over the past year or so I was detoured, I was stopped and I had to wait for 10 minutes at a time.

The ring-road around Townsville was built by the Howard government. It is a massive piece of infrastructure that now completely ring-roads the growing and expanding city of Townsville. It is a marvellous piece of engineering excellence and it is all there to make it easier to get goods and services, people, cattle and livestock between one place and another, improving our productivity. It used to take me an hour and a bit to get from Ayr to Townsville, but since these new roads have been constructed—and in the places where there are not four lanes, there are now overtaking lanes every five to 10 kilometres—it has cut my driving time from Ayr to Townsville by about 10 minutes. So even in my own situation, thanks to the Howard, Newman and most recently Abbott and Turnbull governments, my productivity has increased because I am spending less time on the road getting to work.

The same happens right around Australia. The same would have happened in Melbourne had the state Labor government accepted the Commonwealth money and built the proposed East West Link. It would have meant huge increases in productivity and gains for the people of the city of Melbourne. But what did Labor do? They rejected it. They knocked it back. They do not want to build it. Why? I suppose it is because the Greens, as always, said to them, 'Hey, brother, you are only in government because of our preferences. We don't like this, so pull that. Otherwise, we won't support you and you won't still be in government.' That is the way it worked. That is why this country has languished when Labor governments are in power. They are simply captives of the crazy people on the left of the Greens political party.

So far I have only been talking about roads, but infrastructure involves much more than roads. That is why in the last federal budget the coalition government announced additional funding for remote airstrips. This is very important public infrastructure in more remote parts of Australia. The coalition government also announced a major infrastructure fund of $500 million— something Labor would never be able to do because of their Greens connections—to assist with water storage and water infrastructure projects. A lot of that will go to northern Australia but it will also go right around Australia. Labor have never been game to build dams or water storages anywhere, because the Greens do not like it and Labor are always only in power thanks to the preferences of the Greens. The Greens political party know how to get the best bang for their buck in second preferences.

Under the coalition government, $200 million has been put aside to assist, first of all, with feasibility studies, with business cases, with environmental studies, with preliminary engineering work on dams right across Australia. In the northern Australia white paper, a couple of dams were mentioned only as an example—the Nullinga dam behind Cairns and extensions to the Ord River dam in the Northern Territory and Western Australia—but there are many more than those two that will be looked at. That $200 million will not go far if you start building dams, but it will provide a government incentive to those investors around the world who are keen to invest in Australia in productive assets like dams, water storages, weirs and irrigation proposals that will allow us to increase our primary production to meet the burgeoning middle-class demand from Asia that is approaching us. So it is not just roads; it is dams, airstrips and things like—I have to be careful in mentioning too many others because I am privy to some other private industry desires to start construction in two months time, once they can work with the government with this concessional loan scheme to build public infrastructure that will continue to increase Australia's productivity and increase our relevance, importance and accessibility as a tourist destination for visitors from North America and Asia.

The infrastructure that will be built will be built a lot by the budgeting expertise of the coalition government but also by the clever way the coalition will attract private investment—

Senator Ludlam: With a slush fund, a $5 million slush fund.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: What would you expect from the Greens political party. Here we have a wonderful proposal for Australia not only to use taxpayers' money but to encourage investment in public infrastructure from around the world and the Greens call that a slush fund. They are obviously talking about Mr Graeme Wood and the biggest ever political donation given to any political party in Australia's history—that is, the $1.6 million given to the Greens political party. That is a slush fund, Senator Ludlam. It is a slush fund particularly when it comes with no demands. But, remember that, at the same time, the Greens political party were moving to get tax exemption for online newspapers. That was being proposed by whom? It was none other than Mr Graeme Wood. What a surprise! A $1.6 million donation to the Greens and, 'Hang on, we might get some tax deductibility for this online newspaper effort we are proposing.'

I have been distracted by the interjections from the Greens political party, but in the time remaining I want to emphasise that this is a government which is serious about infrastructure, not like the Labor Party. You do not get up on a railway platform and promise $2.6 billion before an election and then do absolutely nothing with it. In fact, there was never any intention to do anything with it; it was just words. This government has actually promised, announced, identified and actually funded in the last budget and in budgets to come real infrastructure improvement in Australia, and it will be supported not just by the taxpayers but by investors very keen to come into our country and build the productivity base of this nation.

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