Infrastructure, Transport and Cities Committee Report

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:02): It is a pleasure to be able to speak on the report before the chamber by the Infrastructure, Transport and Cities Committee, Harnessing value, delivering infrastructure: inquiry into the role of transport connectivity in stimulating development and economic activity. I would like to start by indicating that I came onto the committee as the deputy chair for this report in this parliament, and so I would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the work of the previous committee and all of those who contributed through submissions and attendance at inquiry hearings, as well as the secretariat. This report makes some very important recommendations, and I want to deal specifically with three of them in my contribution today.

First of all, the first recommendation is a very general but particularly important one. It says:

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government examines ways to promote a better balance of settlement through decentralisation to the regions linked by faster transport connectivity and particularly through high speed rail.

For the purposes of this inquiry, the committee was very clearly looking at the significance enabling infrastructure has for the development of regions. Coming from a regional area, the greater Illawarra and South Coast, this is something that has been a critical issue for my local community for my whole time in parliament. In particular, I just want to indicate that we continue to pursue a very important rail link in the Maldon-Dombarton Rail Link. It is an opportunity to create connections between Port Kembla and the rest of New South Wales, which is very significant to the economic development of our region. So it was a great pleasure to be part of this committee and the formulation of the report before the chamber.

It is very true that as a nation we see increasing pressure on our cities and increasing pressure on the capacity of those cities, not only to deal with growth but also to provide the opportunity for their workforces to live in a way that enables them to access their work without ending up with 13- or 14-hour days through long periods of commuting. So the issues that the committee was addressing were significant and they also, of course, sit alongside other enabling infrastructure such as broadband access.

As a result of that, the committee's second recommendation goes specifically to the issue of high-speed rail. It recommends that we, as a nation develop a framework for the specification and evaluation of proposals for the development of a high speed rail network in eastern Australia,

The report specifically says:

…it is time to progress the planning work that must be done by all levels of government to facilitate high speed rail. The Committee recommends that state and federal governments consider appropriate coordination arrangements, including if and when a planning authority is required to progress high speed rail.

This is a matter that has, very clearly, had its time come. In fact, you could argue that its time had well and truly come in the years that have preceded us to the point where this report is before us.

It is the case in government that Labor was progressing the planning authority for the commencement of a high-speed rail on the eastern seaboard, and it is the case that the shadow minister currently has before the House a private member's bill to establish such a planning authority in order for this to be progressed. It was good to see that the committee feels the need for some sort of progression—there was a bipartisan agreement on the report. But it would be true to say that for Labor, we believe that there is not the requirement to spend more time talking about it; the model is there, the shadow minister has put forward a bill and it would take very little effort by the government to get behind that bill and to progress creating a high-speed rail authority to do all the detailed planning work that that line needs done. I would encourage members who are supportive of this report of the standing committee to look at what the shadow minister, the member for Grayndler, has put forward in this bill and to work with this side of the parliament to get that progressed.

There is no doubt that high-speed rail is a major enabling piece of infrastructure for the regions on our eastern seaboard. And for an area like mine in the Illawarra, we have been very strong supporters of a high-speed rail proposition in this country. The proposal that we were looking at went through the Southern Highlands, linking the Illawarra and South Coast with the Southern Highlands' stop, which would enable us to connect very quickly to Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney. The potential of that to expand, in particular, areas of economic development opportunity in our region, such as tourism, would be very significant.

So I commend the committee's findings on the importance of the high-speed rail. I think it took some extensive and very powerful evidence about the difference that infrastructure would make. I would suggest that a good outcome from the tabling of the report would be bipartisan support for the shadow minister's proposition currently before the parliament.

Recommendation nine of the report addressed the issue of procurement. I thought it was particularly effective in its proposal that there should be a coordinated approach to procurement which would:

… ensure, when practicable, that Australian materials and products, skills and services are maximised in project delivery.

It is a really important statement by the committee, that when governments are looking at progressing these sorts of infrastructure proposals, we maximise the opportunity for our chain-of-supply businesses to have part of the business opportunity. I have to say that it was very timely, given that only in the second half of last year the New South Wales government contracted 500 new train carriages for New South Wales and the jobs are all going to South Korea, where the winning bidder was.

The disappointing thing about this for my region is that there were other bidders who had indicated that if they were given the contract, they were looking at creating opportunities for the manufacturing and outfitting of those carriages in my own area in Unanderra. In fact, the Leader of the Opposition in New South Wales, Mr Foley, said, at the time:

The Baird government is completely disinterested in supporting local manufacturing and local jobs. Here in the Illawarra we had a tenderer, Stadler, prepared to deliver 600 jobs here at Unanderra. We could have had 600 people working here assembling new train carriages and maintaining them, with hundreds of apprenticeships for local kids.

I think it is important to note that I very much welcome that last point, the continued commitment by the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, to federal-government-funded major infrastructure projects having a requirement also that one in 10 of the positions be apprenticeship opportunities, as we know how important that is for young people and for developing the skills base of this country.

In the short time left to me I just want to make the point that a large focus of this report was around creating viable home affordability options and ensuring that the infrastructure is in place that allows for new housing and development opportunities to open up. Just prior to considering this report, this chamber heard people making contributions on the report of the economics committee on housing affordability. I want to make the point that there are links between these two reports, and not only the fact that the chair of this particular report, the member for Bennelong, was also very closely involved before the election with the economics committee in looking at the housing affordability issue. Infrastructure is important to housing affordability and supply is important, but it is also important that you get the incentive system right. I just want to commend the member for Bennelong for continuing to put the issue of changes to the capital gains tax and the way in which we provide incentives, in order to better target them to homeowners and not just to housing investors. I am glad to see these reports presented together.