KEYNOTE ADDRESS

CATHERINE KING MP.
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6 months ago
KEYNOTE ADDRESS
CATHERINE KING MP
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 President O’Loughlin and to Adrian and the team at ALGA, thank you for the invitation to speak to you today at your annual transport conference.
 
I believe it is in fact the third time I have been at this conference, after joining you a few years ago in Mackay and Mt Gambier.
 
It’s great to be back in South Australia and that you’ve chosen the historic regional town of Hahndorf to hold this conference.
 
This is my first time in Hahndorf as an adult. For years I’ve enjoyed the local Beerenberg Farm’s famous jams and relishes – a tremendous regional Australian food and beverage success story.
 
This annual local transport conference is an important marker in the national infrastructure policy debate.
 
All politics is local, and nothing is more crucial in a local community than a decent road transport network - for commuting, delivery of freight and vital services, for tourism and relaxation, and in times of emergency.
 
All levels of government have a role in the planning, delivery and maintenance of our local roads – ensuring this critical cog in our transport network keeps pace with population growth and development.
 
The Federal Government must set the strategic direction for our transport infrastructure network, utilising independent expert advice and producing an agile pipeline of work maintaining and upgrading current infrastructure as well as delivering new projects.
 
To that end, the Federal Government must respectfully partner with local and state governments and ensure the community is brought along on the journey.
 
While the election result did not go our way, I am excited to take up this key economic portfolio that at its core is about improving local communities.
 
Under the leadership of our new leader, Anthony Albanese, we’ve spent the past months holding this third-term Government to account and developing the framework on which we will build the policies to take to the Australian people.
 
Many of you worked with Anthony over his lengthy stint in this portfolio and would agree that his passion for nation building infrastructure is second to none.
 
Yesterday, Anthony and I joined South Australian Labor Leader Peter Malinauskas in the southern suburbs of Adelaide.
 
There we highlighted that three and a half years after a planning study was promised for upgrades to Marion Road, it is still not complete.
 
This is an important upgrade to a busy section of Marion Road between the Anzac Highway and Cross Road in the southern suburbs of Adelaide.
 
It’s an intersection you all would’ve crossed – either on your way from the Airport to the city, or from the airport straight out here to the Adelaide Hills.
 
The plans are still not public and no additional funding is on the table.
 
I raise this not just to make a political point – of course, I am going to do that – but Marion Road is symptomatic of what has been happening with this government’s approach to infrastructure.
 
A lot of razzmatazz and headlines, but underneath there is very little actual activity.
 
Over its first five budgets, the Federal Government has over-promised and under-delivered on transport infrastructure by over five billion dollars.
 
Time and again projects are delayed, and funding pushed on the never never by a Government that sees infrastructure as a political opportunity not an economic lever. 
 
Whether it’s our major cities or our rural communities, the Federal Government must do better.
 
The Government has made continued claims they have a new $100 billion infrastructure plan.
 
I want to unpick that a bit as much of the funding is not new money.
 
For example, the Government has included long-standing bipartisan programs like the Financial Assistance Grants’ roads component; the Black Spot Program; and the Roads to Recovery Program when it was tallying up the figures.
 
This is particularly disappointing given the pain local councils are still feeling as a result of the Coalition’s indexation freeze on Financial Assistance Grants back in 2014.
 
While, as you’re all aware, the Coalition eventually listened and restored some funding through a small increase to Roads to Recovery, the freeze had a domino-effect with countless road projects still delayed.
 
Further, the infrastructure program relies on many projects that six months after the election are still without a funding profile, including the upgrade to Long Valley Road south of Mount Barker just an hour’s drive to our south here in South Australia.
 
Meanwhile, some major projects like the East-West Link in Melbourne and Freight Link in Perth are not supported by state governments, while many others are not funded until well after this parliamentary term.
 
Despite the hype, not a cent will flow for years for too many projects across the country. For example; not a cent will flow to Stage 5 of the Cairns Southern Access Road over the next four years;
 
No funding is allocated to the Rockhampton Ring Road in the next three years; and
 
Nothing will be spent on upgrades to the Newell Highway through regional New South Wales in the next five years.
 
Furthermore, 18 months after the Government’s two new flagship infrastructure programs were announced, they are yet to make a dent in the large backlog in our cities and regions.
 
Despite all the fanfare, no new projects are under construction from the Urban Congestion Fund, and not a dollar was spent in the whole of 2018-19. Looking ahead to future years, I understand this Fund is fully committed up until 2022-23.
 
Marginally better, is the Roads of Strategic Importance Initiative where just $2.2 million was spent nationwide last financial year.
 
At the same time Australians are crying out for the Federal Government to do more on infrastructure.
 
The economy is growing at its slowest pace since the Global Financial Crisis, wages have stagnated, almost two million Australians are looking for work or for more work, and living standards and productivity are going backwards.
 
Earlier this month, in his statement the RBA Governor noted that “the main domestic uncertainty continues to be the outlook for consumption” and pointed to sluggish wages growth as further cause for concern.
 
Infrastructure investment is a strong way to boost consumption in the short and medium term, and boost productivity and improve road safety in the long term.
 
It’s such an effective tool that on no less than seven times since the election, the RBA Governor has called for greater investment in infrastructure.
 
The Governor is joined by an ever growing list from across industry, as well as many leading economists and state governments from both sides of politics.
 
Of note, the Governor highlighted how bringing forward infrastructure projects across regional Australia could be used to engage small to medium contractors to create jobs and boost local economies in the short term, and boost productivity and road safety in the long term.
 
We know that local councils maintain around eighty five percent of Australia’s road network, including country roads and residential streets.
 
At the same time, your rate bases are under increasing pressure – particularly those councils across the country dealing with the ongoing pressures from droughts, floods and bushfires.
 
I know from engaging with local councils that it’s a struggle just to maintain local roads, let alone make the significant improvements needed to improve road safety and reduce travel times.
 
Further, your Association’s post-budget analysis this year rightly expresses concern at ongoing under investment in local roads from the Federal Government.
 
But you know your local roads and you all have a good pipeline of a range of projects.
Local government is the perfect partner for an infrastructure-led stimulus package.
 
Yet just last month, officials confirmed that the Federal Government has not formally approached local governments about collaborating to fast track infrastructure.
 
We know the Federal Government’s budget update is due before Christmas – and we know this Government will still be finalising details in the days before.
 
I encourage all the elected councillors here today to write to the Morrison Government with projects in your community that could be brought forward to boost local jobs.
 
As we saw on Monday here in South Australia and today with a few more details released, it now appears Scott Morrison has been dragged to finally bring forward some funding for infrastructure.
 
Today’s announcement is an admission that the economy is weaker than Scott Morrison has been telling us.
 
However, closer examination of the announcements reveals that most of the movement is still at least two to three years away.
 
Meanwhile, most of the infrastructure program remains off on the never never.
 
That’s not a stimulus package to support our economy now – it’s a political strategy to get this Government through another week.
 
In the past year, the number of unemployed Australians has increased by over 57,000.
 
Meanwhile, Infrastructure Australia’s third national audit confirmed the cost to our major cities of road congestion will more than double by 2031.
 
We can’t let this Government get away with this heavy rhetoric but stifling inaction on jobs and infrastructure.
 
A key area where the Federal Government could work with local governments to stimulate local economies, boost jobs and save lives is in targeted road safety investments.
 
I acknowledge the earlier speakers today – particularly Associate Professor Jeremy Woolley and Peter Frazer, as well as the new head of the Office of Road Safety, Ms Gabby O’Neill.
 
Associate Professor Woolley was a co-chair of the Federal Government’s independent inquiry into the National Road Safety Strategy released in September last year.
 
As you know, Australia’s road toll remains stubbornly high - 1,185 people died on Australian roads in the 12 months to 30 September 2019, a reduction of just two on the equivalent period four years ago.
 
Add to this the countless number of people whose lives are affected forever through serious injuries and the loss of loved ones.
 
In a previous role I was the Minister that delivered the current national road safety strategy.
 
I must stay I am disappointed with the Federal Government’s lack of focus on road safety over the past six years.
 
However, the current debate on utilising infrastructure investment to stimulate economic activity presents an opportunity to partner with local government to improve road safety.
 
Local councils know the blackspots in your communities.
 
You have the track record of delivering targeted, low cost improvements quickly and effectively to improve safety outcomes.
 
But, as you are all too well aware of, councils lack the revenue base to finance the high quality maintenance and upgrades to improve road safety outcomes.
 
There is a clear synergy for the Federal Government to increase its partnership with local government to boost jobs and improve road safety.
 
We saw on Monday as a part of the South Australian announcement the Federal Government is going to bring forward some funding for a state Rural Roads Safety Package.
 
Unfortunately, despite promising to bring forward funding to this financial year, no detail has been released.
 
Spread across Grey, Barker and Mayo – there are many more rural roads in need of an upgrade than can be serviced through this package.
 
I hope that in finalising these works, the Federal and State Governments engage with all councils across regional South Australia, as well as key road user groups.
 
It would be most disappointing if this package was not repeated across the country, with early reporting of the Queensland and Western Australian announcements including no similar rural road safety packages.
 
Finally, it would be remiss of me to address a local government transport conference and not put on the record Labor’s concerns with the Coalition’s approach to regional aviation.
 
In late October, the Deputy Prime Minister announced a regional aviation “policy statement” is being prepared.
 
But we are not clear on what that actually means.
 
The Minister has been sitting on two reports since June - a Senate inquiry into regional aviation and the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into the economic regulation of airports.
 
People in regional Australia are rightly concerned about the price, availability and reliability of regional air services.
 
At the same time, there is great uncertainty in regional aviation over the Morrison Government’s changes to aviation security requirements.
 
Labor has heard the concerns loud and clear – particularly the concerns around ongoing viability of regional routes for both freight and passengers.
 
While the Federal Government has announced two capital funds, one for security equipment upgrades and the other for general air infrastructure, there is a dogged refusal to support ongoing costs associated with the new security requirements.
 
And the money that has been made available does not even cover the extensive capital costs being incurred by airports to install equipment.
 
Freight forwarders have raised legitimate concerns, but no-one in Government is listening. 
 
This could threaten the delivery of critical freight, including medical supplies, to regional communities.
 
Regional passenger service operators are worried that the additional costs will make marginal routes unviable.
 
Again this will have far-reaching implications for regional communities.
 
For Labor, regional airports have a huge potential to drive economic growth in our regions.
 
Whether it is opening up jobs in the general aviation sector, improving our capacity to respond to emergencies, or improving freight and passenger access, our regional airports are critical enablers of economic development.
 
Rather than kicking regional aviation down the road with a policy statement, the Morrison Government should formally respond to these inquiries as well as the widespread concerns around the viability of regional aviation services, and present a serious, budgeted policy that looks to grow regional aviation to boost regional economies – rather than stifle it.
 
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 Federal Government must engage in real partnerships with state and local governments to deliver the infrastructure our communities need to boost productivity, grow jobs and improve safety.
 
Our transport networks are coming under greater stress, and the Federal Government needs to do much more.
 
As local governments you are more aware than any other level of government of the unique transport pressures faced in your community.
 
Whether you’re on the urban fridge facing rapid growth or in rural Australia dealing with the drought, every council across the country has urgent infrastructure priorities that need Federal Government support.
 
I again encourage councils to continue to bring forward projects in your community that will help boost local jobs and stimulate your local economies.
 
While we saw one announcement earlier this week, the Federal Government continues to be plagued with inertia on jobs and the economy.
 
I look forward to working with many of you over coming months to support your communities to progress important projects and to recognise the vital role local government plays in growing jobs and boosting economic development.
 
Thanks again for the opportunity to be here today.
 
Infrastructure Regional Development