Parliamentary speeches

Infrastructure failures under the Morrison Government

May 13, 2021

'Remarkable delusion'—nothing could sum up the contribution of the minister more than those two words. It was a remarkable performance. I'll give him chutzpah, though, because how could anyone who's been a minister for communications in this government talk about the NBN and compare our record to the record of this government? That is a remarkable thing to have done. We heard a lot in question time about going further. I don't know which focus group produced that slogan, but I think it must have been inspired by the pen of the minister for urban infrastructure, as he then was—and as he is now again, for reasons I just don't understand—when he described the decision to purchase the Leppington Triangle land as 'very sensible'. Seriously, this is the bloke who puffed out his chest about his commercial nous and poured scorn on that. What amazing commercial nous to purchase land for 10 times its worth! The minister was again showing more front than Myers when he talked about the Auditor-General, who will move into his department because of all the rorts that are buried within it. He didn't talk about the Urban Congestion Fund. I can't put my finger on why it might have been so. It's about to deliver a report. It's not the last damning report it will deliver, but one of many.

What we've seen under this government are cuts to infrastructure, dressed up with language that persuades the front page of a newspaper one day but always falls apart soon thereafter. The member for Ballarat set this out effectively: $3.3 billion in underspends. In his parallel universe, the minister seems to think this is something he should be congratulated for. Now, an underspend might be fine if it meant delivering projects on time and under budget, but is that what he meant? No, it is not, because nothing is being built. It's moneys that were promised to puff up a headline, that make a claim but that don't see anything being realised.

Speaking of things that aren't being realised, let's talk about the Commuter Car Park Fund. Let's talk about that signature project in the lead-up to the last election. Two years ago it was announced. Two of the car parks have been completed. Others, including the one that was promised at South Morang in my electorate, have been abandoned on the quiet. It, like so many others, could never have been built. Two are under construction. Forty-three are still only being planned. Less than 10 per cent of the moneys committed have been acquitted. Six of the projects haven't even been scoped. This is another underspend that, presumably, he wants to claim credit for. It is absolutely extraordinary. This government treats infrastructure simply as an election-claiming device in its marginal seats—or even its not-so-marginal seats, as when the Treasurer was clearly very, very anxious about his own seat in the lead-up to the last election.

In Labor, we see things differently, and we always have. It was 50 years ago that Gough Whitlam said that a national government that has nothing to say about our cities has nothing to say about our national life. He was right then and he'd be even more correct now, because now even more Australians than then live and work in our cities. But the Treasurer and this government are blind to this reality. There were lots of words said by the Treasurer on Tuesday night, but he couldn't bring himself to say the word 'city' or the word 'suburb', nor could he talk about any agenda to boost productivity and employment in our cities—in particular, in our city centres, which need help to get our economy back and moving and to get people back into jobs, and good jobs. There isn't a word or a line item in the budget that deals with CBD recovery, despite the urgings of just about everyone.

The other things that are missing in the budget are City Deals. Saturday 15 May will be the second anniversary of the then minister, Minister Tudge, announcing the north-west and south-east Melbourne city deals. It has been two years, and what has happened since then? Nothing. Like the Hobart City Deal and the South East Queensland City Deal, it is more announcement and no delivery, which is their signature. I wonder if this is another underspend that Minister Fletcher, with his commercial nous, can claim credit for.

Around the world we are seeing governments, whether it's Joe Biden in the US or even Boris Johnson in the UK, take infrastructure seriously, underpinning recovery. Here it is nothing more than a slogan to wrap around more empty promises from a tired government with no vision for jobs or growth.