Infrastructure investment in WA

Published on Mon 22 May 2017 12:22pm

Infrastructure is the functional bedrock of our cities and our regional communities, but it is also the path into our future. Without planning and implementing the next wave of infrastructure, Australia will fall behind and Australians will miss out.

Mr Wilson (12:22pm) — I thank the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure for bringing this motion and for continuing his relentless focus on this issue. He has demonstrated time and again that it is smart and targeted investment in infrastructure that we have been missing for these last four years.

The most telling statistic, against the numbers that were quoted by the previous contributor, the member for Fairfax, is that infrastructure investment in the best year of the Abbott-Turnbull Government has been less than in the lowest year of the former Labor government. That failure is holding us back. It is preventing Australia from developing a more diverse and productive economy. It is preventing Australia from creating 21st century cities, industries, export opportunities and jobs.

Infrastructure is all the stuff that connects us together. It is the skeleton and the circulatory system that makes it all work and move—or not, as the case may be. It is the rail lines that move freight, the trains that get people to work and the roads and bridges that allow traffic to flow. It is the pipes, cables and other networks that deliver essential services like scheme water, gas, electricity and telecommunications.

Infrastructure is the functional bedrock of our cities and our regional communities, but it is also the path into our future. Without planning and implementing the next wave of infrastructure, Australia will fall behind and Australians will miss out. Twenty-first century infrastructure includes innovations that are necessary if we are to keep pace and keep evolving at a time of rapid change. We need investment to support sophisticated manufacturing industries like shipbuilding, especially in WA, which, unfortunately, appears to exist in a blind spot for this government. As we shift further towards renewable energy, we need investment in smart-grid technology and urban design that can accommodate off-grid developments—ideas that are being explored in the White Gum Valley project in my electorate.

But far and away the most important current infrastructure project is the NBN. At the moment, we are locked into an approach that is likely to give us a broadband network that will be sub-par at the point of completion, with no clear upgrade path. We know that people around the country are discovering that fibre to the node is often not much better than ADSL broadband. People in regional Australia are being further disadvantaged in comparison to their metropolitan cousins. We are seeing buck passing from telco service retailers.

If you want to do infrastructure well, you have to support planning, research and innovation; you have to provide rigorous decision-making processes to analyse, select, and schedule project work; and you have to ensure there is funding to deliver on those decisions. That is the approach Labor took in government. That is the approach the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure continues to champion.

Sadly, in Western Australia over the last four years we have suffered the double whammy of underinvestment and bad process. The federal budget, handed down the week before last, continues that trend. There is not one new dollar in infrastructure spending for Western Australia. Thankfully, the people of Western Australia have chosen a Labor state government. That has seen the back of the Perth Freight Link. Instead, we have secured those funds for high-value local transport projects. In my electorate of Fremantle they include the North Lake Rd bridge; the widening of the freeway northbound from Russell Road; the upgrade of the Stirling Highway and High Street intersection; and the rail line from Thornlie to Cockburn Central, which is a key part of METRONET. I campaigned on those projects because I know how important they are to the community I represent.

Liberal members in this place said on several occasions earlier this year that for Western Australia it was the top-down, unplanned, wasteful and harmful folly of the Perth Freight Link or it was nothing. The Minister for Urban Infrastructure said the $1.2 billion would not be provided for other projects, and certainly not for METRONET. Well, it is amazing what a difference an election can make. I was very surprised to hear the member for Tangney describe this 180-degree turnaround as being an outcome that he and his colleagues were happy to negotiate. That must have been some negotiation! They essentially rolled over, the tough talk rubbish went out the door and—hey presto—those locked-up funds suddenly became available for the projects that we had said were needed. It would be similar to the Germans coming out in 1919, talking about the Treaty of Versailles and saying how happy they were with those negotiations. I like the member for Tangney; he is a good fellow. But if I am ever in a hostage crisis, Member for Tangney, please call in a professional!

Those funds are coming to Western Australia and that is a mercy. It does not mean the Abbott-Turnbull government has woken up to its neglect of Western Australia. As I said, the budget does not provide a single new dollar in infrastructure funding for my home state. We are being dudded with the barest minimum allocation when it comes to Defence shipbuilding work. The budget papers show no improvement in unemployment over the next year, 2017-18, which is heartbreaking for the 100,000 people in Western Australia who are still looking for work.

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