GOVERNMENT’S FAILURE ON INFRASTRUCTURE

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (17:08): I'm very keen to use this opportunity in the grievance debate to put some serious grievances on behalf of my own electorate on the record in this place. In particular, I want to talk firstly about some serious issues we have around the need for investment in transport infrastructure, and then, more broadly, some of the areas around education and community where we need some support from the government to achieve objectives.

First of all, with the significance of transport infrastructure, I hope many of my colleagues in this place would know that Wollongong is the third largest city in New South Wales. We have extensive connections into the Sydney CBD and suburbs, and also across to Western Sydney. We have a significant port with capacity for development, and, I would argue, capacity to be an important link to the new Aerotropolis that's planned, and also to the task that the port of Sydney itself has to deal with. These things are real opportunities not only for economic development in the Wollongong region but also for the jobs that would flow from that.

 There are three major transport infrastructure links that are significantly important to our region that the Labor Party made commitments on in the lead-up to the election. I'm seeking support from the minister, given that we didn't win the election, to have this government invest into our region. I note that the Deputy Prime Minister, in answer to many questions in question time over recent days, has said that congestion-busting infrastructure is being rolled out across the nation. I'm going to draw his attention to the fact that Wollongong is part of the nation and we don't have a single cent committed, despite the strategic significance we play in New South Wales.

The first project I want to talk to members about is the Maldon-Dombarton rail link, which is in effect a half built rail link that was stopped in the eighties. It has been significantly researched; there have been a significant number of reports written on this link and on how important it is to move freight linked to the port. I thank my state colleague Paul Scully, the member for Wollongong, who was able to get released a business case of the state government that tells us how critically important getting this rail link completed is. That business case tells us that the freight trains, which at the moment come on the Illawarra line, which is the main commuter line, will be cut from 60 paths per day to just eight over coming years, and that freight operations could be confined to night-time only by 2031. Many of us, I'm sure, are conscious that 2031 is coming much sooner than we might have thought, and when you're building major infrastructure, you have to be ready to get underway, because it's not a short-term project.

This business case specifically warns that the consequences of deferral of the completion of this Maldon-Dombarton rail link project include: lack of capacity on the Illawarra line due to deployment of Sydney's Rail Future, which prioritises passenger services and converting the Hurstville line to rapid transit; congestion on the existing Unanderra-Coniston Junction; lack of capacity for passenger services; increasing construction costs; a less viable and more environmentally sensitive existing corridor; and risk of existing assets, such as bridges, cuttings, embankments and civil structures becoming dilapidated. So this is clearly a really important piece of transport infrastructure, required for the servicing of the freight task into our region.

Prior to the election, federal Labor committed $50 million to progress a public-private type partnership to get that line built, but we haven't seen a matching commitment from the federal government. Given how important freight is, I'm certainly seeking the support of the minister for an investment in getting that rail line progressed.

The other two key parts of the story are the Appin Road and the Picton Road, which are the two main roads that feed into Wollongong. We gave a commitment for $55 million for safety upgrades to the Appin Road, which included construction of a koala pass. There is a very rare local koala colony along Appin Road, which is obviously a very busy road, and we need to ensure that that colony has the capacity to pass safely. Labor also committed $50 million for safety upgrades on the Picton Road.

So, all up, we've got three very heavily used significant pieces of transport infrastructure into the third-largest city in New South Wales. I'm putting the argument to the minister that if he's serious about congestion busting he cannot ignore Wollongong. He cannot ignore our region if he's serious about being responsible for congestion-busting commitments across the nation. Please do not forget that we exist. Please look seriously at these projects.

There is a range of other federal commitments that Labor took to the election. I have to say my Liberal counterpart promised that he would have some commitments from a Liberal government if they were elected, which of course they were, but we didn't get a single one. Not a single one. So it's pretty galling for my electorate when we hear members opposite get up and talk about all the commitments they've funded. You're a national government. You're not just the national government for your own members; you're a national government for the people of the nation, and that includes all of my electors and the population in my area.

There was a really important range of commitments we made to the University of Wollongong for teaching and research facilities. When Labor was in government, there was just over $100 million committed by the Labor government to the University of Wollongong for teaching and research facilities, and they've been driving important diversification and support for economic development in our region. To build on that, we have made commitments of $13½ million for the university. This included $10 million for the Facility for Intelligent Fabrication. It is really important for our manufacturing sectors to have those skills developed in terms of advanced manufacturing, and that's exactly what that was about. It also included $1 million to establish a 3D bioprinting facility, an area of innovation this country can really do well in. I'm very proud of my university's world-leading work in this space, and that would have been an important addition to it. There was also $2½ million for an Early Start discovery bus. This is the opportunity for education about science and technology out of the excellent facility that's available at the University of Wollongong. It's for preschoolers—if you're ever in town and you've got littlies, bring them along to visit; it's a very exciting place—and children across our region who are in small areas or who don't have the financial capacity to get to Wollongong and go to see that. The idea was to create a bus of exciting exploration of these things and take it out to these small communities. I'd ask the government to have a look at that as well.

I also want to highlight the fact that we had a $1½ million commitment for the Illawarra Women's Health Centre. They were going to do really important youth service to support women escaping and recovering from domestic and family violence. It was quite innovative, and I'll be following up with the relevant minister on that as well.

I have another minute to go through the variety of issues we would like to see supported in our local region. There were a lot of other commitments that I was able to make—in particular, for example, reopening in one of my most disadvantaged communities a Centrelink Medicare office which was shut by the government. I would ask the government to have a look at the delivery of those services in our region.

I just want to finish up by making the point that it's very easy to say, 'You didn't win the election and you made a lot of commitments.' That is true, but it's not just about me. My community have a right to vote for who they want to vote for, and to expect whoever wins at the national government level to deliver services to them like every other Australian. We don't have a single commitment—not one—from this government. I would really ask some of those ministers who have responsibilities for these areas in the interests of my constituents to have a look at those and see something we can do in a bipartisan fashion to progress those. I thank the House.

Watch Sharon’s speech here.