***Check Against Delivery***
Good morning and it’s a pleasure to join you here today.
I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet, and I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
To the Tourism and Transport Forum and International Association of Public Transport Australia and New Zealand, thank you for the invitation to speak to you today.
After six years in the Health portfolio, I’m excited to move back such a key economic portfolio.
I acknowledge our Labor Party Leader, Anthony Albanese, who for over a decade was Labor’s Infrastructure and Transport Minister in Government then spokesperson in Opposition.
Anthony’s passion for nation building is second to none, and he retains a formidable knowledge of the details around this portfolio – both the big and small – from the suburbs of our capital cities to the bush.
I have big shoes to fill and know many of you had terrific relationship with Anthony both in Government and Opposition.
I have the honour of being the first woman to serve in the senior Infrastructure and Transport position in the Federal Government or Opposition.
And, a couple of things I want to focus on are highlighting women leaders in the sector and supporting pathways to increase female participation.
It is great to see so many women here today and taking the stage at this summit.
Turning to the recent election, it’s fair to say it did not go the way the Labor Party had hoped.
We had big plans for the country, both in my old portfolio and in delivering more strategic nation building infrastructure to boost economic growth and jobs in our cities and regions.
Investing $5 billion more over the next four years on nation building infrastructure than the Liberals and Nationals,
And over $10 billion more over the decade.
Critically, our big projects weren’t off on the never never.
We were set to hit the ground running on significant new infrastructure funding now.
From our ports, to our airports, public transport systems to our roads, rail and shipping,
We not only believed in greater public investment,
But we had the policies to make significant improvements to boost our economy and to improve our way of life,
With projects carefully designed for boosting jobs in the short-term, while lifting productivity and connecting communities in the medium- to long- term.
After the election loss, we are reviewing our policies and keen to hear from you all as we reset and focus on holding this third term Government to account.
While our policies are under review, I want to make it clear there are values in the Infrastructure and Transport portfolio that Labor holds to our core.
I have a keen appreciation of just how much infrastructure in the city and the urban fringes impacts the liveability and economies of our regions,
And, how well-functioning transport networks in the regions are critical for continued prosperity in our cities.
They are and must be connected.
For Labor, investing in nation building infrastructure is vital to growing Australia’s economy and delivering jobs across Australia.
We know that a modern, efficient transport network is essential for growing Australia’s economy, connecting people to jobs, linking cities and regions, and supporting quality of life.
We believe the role of the Federal Government is to set the strategic direction for our transport infrastructure task – utilising independent expert advice to assess projects and produce an agile infrastructure pipeline.
The Federal Government must also play a leadership role in identifying financing mechanisms for infrastructure, and that public investment is essential to delivering projects at least cost and in a timely fashion.
The benefits of infrastructure must be available right across the country – from our cities and suburbs, to our regions through to our rural and remote communities.
To that end, users, industries, and state, territory and local governments must be actively engaged and respected in infrastructure and transport planning and decision making.
Infrastructure is an enabler – we must never forget who it serves.
One of the projects that Labor remains passionate about is High Speed Rail.
We all know that good public transport improves economic opportunity, social inclusion and environmental protection.
But visionary public transport – like High Speed Rail – has the potential to unlock tremendous economic growth in our regions and provide new opportunities in our cities.
That’s why back in 2013, Labor in Government completed the feasibility study for the project.
There has not been a great deal happening since.
This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Indeed, High Speed Rail is backed by eminent Australians including former Nationals Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer and the Business Council of Australia’s Jennifer Westacott.
Indeed I see John Alexander was speaking about this yesterday.
Mr Fischer and Ms Westacott were part of an independent panel that recommended the creation of a High Speed Rail Authority.
Further, the next steps for High Speed Rail – preserving a corridor for works – was listed on Infrastructure Australia’s Priority List in February 2016.
To try and get the ball rolling, Labor introduced a number of Private Members Bills to progress the project.
Last year, Anthony Albanese introduced a Bill to establish the High Speed Rail Authority, informed by the independent panel’s work.
The Authority would have had three functions.
First, it would work with the governments of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory to finalise track alignment and commence land acquisitions.
Second, it would also finalise an updated business case for the project in consultation with Infrastructure Australia.
Finally, it would work with the private sector, both here and internationally, to secure the right proponents for building and operating high speed rail.
At the end of last year, the House of Representatives voted 73 to 72 in favour of a Private Member’s Bill from Anthony Albanese and independent Cathy McGowan.
However, because an absolute majority was required, the Government avoided debate on the Bill.
Since that time, the Federal Government has, in part, listened to Labor and to eastern seaboard State Governments.
A few months ago, the Federal Government announced the creation of the National Faster Rail Agency within the Infrastructure and Transport portfolio.
While Faster Rail is not High Speed Rail, the concession from the Federal Government is a recognition that passenger rail is a critical component of our multi-modal transport network that needs Federal Government leadership.
After six years of Federal Government cuts to some rail projects, and the complete abandonment of others – like Brisbane’s Cross River Rail, the establishment of the Agency is at least a small step in the right direction.
Faster Rail is important – there are projects led by State Governments that will improve liveability of our regions and cities.
I am the beneficiary of one in my own electorate of Ballarat with these investments.
But, Labor believes this Government should also back genuine High Speed Rail in the national interest.
While it is a long way off, there is work that should be undertaken now.
And for that I would note that for six years, the Liberals and Nationals have talked a big game on decentralisation.
But decentralisation isn’t just moving public servants and government agencies to National Party seats.
In fact, lived experience shows this rarely works.
For real decentralisation, Government should act as the enabler – connecting our regions to our cities to inspire waves of migration and new private-sector economic growth.
What naturally follows is a demand for greater public services to support the larger regional communities.
It’s about revitalising so much of our eastern Australian corridor with new people, new ideas and new jobs.
I love living in regional Australia and I know millions of others would also relish the chance to do the same.
But it’s not about city versus country.
High speed transport connections are vital to making decentralisation a possibility – easing congestion, increasing family time, growing jobs and opening up economic development opportunities.
Finally, I want to mention Labor’s approach to the Infrastructure and Transport portfolio over the past three months.
Immediately after the election, the Reserve Bank cut interest rates in an effort to stimulate the sluggish economy.
A month later, the RBA cut rates again to try and boost confidence and increase private investment and household consumption.
The Federal Government’s only response with fiscal policy was a tax cut through a boost to the low and middle income tax offset this year and tax cuts for higher income earners in years to come.
Comments from the Reserve Bank Governor yesterday clearly shows this has not worked.
Recognising the need for both fiscal policy to act with monetary policy, Labor supported the immediate tax cuts and sought to bring forward further tax cuts currently slated for 2022.
We also called for infrastructure investment to be brought forward to stimulate jobs in the short term and improve productivity in the medium to long term.
We sought to work collaboratively with the Government to identify projects that could be fast tracked while protecting the surplus in 2019‑20.
We did so because of significant capacity within the Government’s own budget forecasts.
Independent analysis by Infrastructure Partnerships Australia found that less than 30 percent of the Federal Government’s so-called $100 billion infrastructure pipeline is budgeted for the next four years.
While they talked a big game during the election, too many projects pushed by this Government have little to no funding allocated over the forward estimates. As a result, work won’t commence until after the next election – or even the one after that.
Yet there is significant capacity to fast track projects in collaboration with State Governments to create jobs and improve our transport networks.
It is disappointing that the Government not only refused our offer – but their first action in this term of Parliament in the portfolio was to abolish the $3.9 Building Australia Fund – a fund established to support Infrastructure Australia’s critical work.
As you know, Labor established Infrastructure Australia to break the nexus between the political cycle and infrastructure investment decisions.
Critical to IA’s work as an independent advisory body, was the ability to recommend projects for funding through the Building Australia Fund.
IA supported funding for infrastructure projects that were on the national priority list, delivered high benefits and were value for money.
Critically, projects needed to achieve established standards in implementation and management, ensuring taxpayer dollars were spent in an open, transparent and efficient way.
As an early policy announcement, we have indicated in the Parliament that when we return to Government we will make sure IA is a strong body once again with a funding component like the BAF.
It’s critical for all our regions that we set national infrastructure priorities that respond to genuine need in an effective, efficient, transparent manner.
Of course, a strong example of a long-term infrastructure project backed by Infrastructure Australia but not actioned by the current Federal Government is the Corridor Preservation for the High Speed Rail.
Labor believes the Federal Government must get on with tackling the big challenges in our infrastructure networks in the national interest – now.
We know that investing in effective infrastructure generates long term economic and jobs growth, lifts productivity, improves safety, creates inclusive communities, reduces our emissions, enables businesses to grow, and gives our exporters a competitive edge.
From our ports, to our airports, public transport systems to our roads, rail and shipping – Labor believes strong public investment in infrastructure is essential to supporting growth in local jobs.
Such investment must be backed by a transparent, evidence-based program of works that maximise long-term prosperity at the best value for the Australian people.
Thanks again for the opportunity to be here today to outline some of on my priorities for the portfolio and to address where to for a key nation building project, High Speed Rail.
I look forward to meeting with many of you over coming months as we refresh and refine our policies in this space.