Launch of the Infrastructure Australia Plan
On behalf of Infrastructure Australia thank you for coming along. To the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and our Minister, an honour to have you so we can present today the Australian Infrastructure Plan to the Australian Government and respond to the mission that was given to us 18 months ago to provide an independent, 15-year plan on infrastructure and it is the result of research by the board and with huge buy-in by the States and Territories and by expert groups, engineers, architects, town planners and financiers to provide the much needed list of long term projects that Australia needs and also the reforms underpinning it. We all want to end congestion and to remove the bottlenecks that are slowing back either family life or slowing back business and connectivity.
This plan is at the heart of doing that. It provides solutions so we can fund infrastructure better and plan it better and I commend the Prime Minister for seeking out this plan and going through the ideas in it. We welcome it and we look forward later in the year to the Government's response on it. Australians want to get modern infrastructure. If we get our infrastructure right, we will improve the productivity and we will improve quality of life.
Attached to the plan is a list of 90 or so major projects that we suggest across the nation. The aim of those is to improve liveability, the quality of our cities and to strengthen our regions. We have an export focus in much of the plan and that is why it is so relevant here, with private money expanding a major airport which is a key connectivity point for our exporters throughout the nation. That is really what we should be trying to repeat elsewhere and with a very large engineering project underway as an example of what can be done. On top of that, there is other nation-shaping projects in this plan. In particular, major upgrades for high frequency metro public transport in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, an inland freight route that must be done so we can assist the rural exports at the key of much of Australia's success. And also, the protection in the long term of corridors and the encouragement to State Governments to do more work on business cases and feasibility studies. I welcome the interest that has been well expressed to us and we look forward to this plan being well read and well discussed.
Prime Minister over to you.
Well, thank you very much Mark. There it is, the plan, the priority list. Look its, Mark thank you and thank you Phil Davies, CEO of Infrastructure Australia for this work. As you can see I am here with the Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, the Minister for Major Projects, Paul Fletcher, the Member for Petrie Luke Howarth, and the Member for Brisbane, Teresa Gambaro, and of course the Chief Executive of the Airport, who has been giving us a great run down on the project that we are standing in front of today.
Can I say to you that infrastructure is absolutely critical to Australia's success in the 21st century. It is the innovation nation needs the infrastructure to support it, right across the board. Barnaby and I have just been in far north and central Queensland and we have been visiting cities there which we intend to support with the Commonwealth Government as we will in every city becoming much more engaged, much more of a partner in the development of city plans and in supporting city plans and ensuring that all of our infrastructure and all of our services, whether it is communications, or building roads and supporting airports and mass transit and so forth or water, it is critically important, all of those things are thoroughly integrated and pulling together to ensure that we get the outcome we want, which is that we have cities - this is not just capital cities, this is all cities, our big regional centres, are more liveable, they’re better able to support the industries, the lifestyles, the citizens, the entrepreneurs that will drive our growth. Mark talked about agriculture. Absolutely critical.
We have an ideas boom, as you know, this is the age of innovation. This is also a time where soft commodities are in the highest demand. Barnaby is also the Minister for Agriculture, responsibly assures me the doubling the beef prices and various other prices too, we hear across the country.
But you know, we have this phenomenal opportunity before too long as this report describes, most of the world's middle class will be living in East Asia, right at our door stop. We have the ability to service those markets and we are doing so already. That is why we are seeing such strong growth. That is why so many farmers are smiling, particularly when they get some rain as well.
What we are seeing is better prices and better opportunities but we need the infrastructure.
We will be using every angle of our policy, we will be coordinating that and as far as cities are concerned, as you know, I have brought the Cities Task Group into my Department, right into the heart of the Government, into Prime Minister and Cabinet because it requires a whole of Government response. We are determined to make sure that we provide Australians, particularly in cities, large and small, with all of the support they need.
This is a great opportunity, there are some very good recommendations here. The Minister for Major Projects, Paul Fletcher, who will follow me now, is coordinating a whole of government response to it. But, we welcome this report, Mark, thank you very much for it. I do encourage everybody to read it. It is a report of considerable significance.
Thank you Prime Minister.
This plan underlines the commitment of the Turnbull Government to choose infrastructure projects which drive prosperity, which drive growth, which drive jobs.
It has a list of 93 projects or initiatives at various stages around the country. And that is a really important planning tool for the Federal Government and also State and Territory Governments in assessing which projects will go forward, which, over time, will be funded and it is a tool over the next 15 years, it's a 15-year plan.
The other part of this plan is a whole series of policy recommendations across many areas relevant to infrastructure policy. For example, to have better integration of land use planning and transport planning and recommendations on a whole range of areas.
The Government will study these carefully and we will be responding in due course. But, this is certainly going to provoke a lot of debate and we will certainly take account of that debate as we craft our response.
Thanks very much Prime Minister, Paul, Theresa, Luke and all special guests and most importantly, to you good people, the Fourth Estate.
There is nothing better than to see big yellow things pushing dirt around. It is just marvellous. It gives a sense of opportunity. It gives a sense of hope. When people are watching at home, they see jobs for their sons and their daughters. Contractors see jobs for their families.
People get a sense that our vision is in front of us. That there is hope in front of us. There is a future in front of us. Because, you don't get to invest what will be billions of dollars unless you did believe in where our nation is going. And obviously, these people do.
And obviously, we are surrounded by people who are full of hope and full of excitement about where this nation is going.
This is the same vision that we saw and has been part of our nation, been emblematic of our nation, ever since people such as Lachlan Macquarie decided it was good thing to build a road over the Great Dividing Range, so that he could make an attachment between the wealth of the Western Districts to the wealth of a place such as Sydney. And the benefaction of that or the beneficiary of that, I am always corrected on my English, the beneficiary of that is there to be seen in Sydney Harbour.
And now we have vision such as the inland rail. That is the capacity to join a direct freight line between Melbourne, straight up to Brisbane so that that four million tonnes, four million tonne of just of container traffic alone has a better capacity to go quickly, go directly, get trucks off the road, make our roads safer and make our commerce more efficient.
In so doing it drivers the future and the prosperity of those towns in between so they can see themselves connected not only to the population of the coast but to the commerce of south-east Asia, to Asia in general and to the world.
This is visionary stuff. This is something that makes people excited about the future. Within this I will be looking forward to our capacity to, as the Prime Minister stated, to draw on not only the development of the cities, and incredibly important they are, to develop further this great city of Brisbane, of Sydney, of Melbourne, of Perth, of Adelaide, of Darwin, of Hobart - making sure we drive them ahead and also the big regional centres.
From the Townsvilles, down to the Tamworths, from the Bathursts across to Bunburys, we can drive these areas ahead as well.
I want to commend the work that has been done by my predecessor, Warren Truss. He has done an incredible job. A person who absolutely believed in that diligent form that expressed his time in politics to make sure that infrastructure was front and centre of the vision of this nation.
I want to commend the work that has been done here by Brisbane Airport Corporation. This is emblematic of where this city is going, it is emblematic of where this nation is going.
All the best and God bless and good luck.
We will take some questions, yes.
When it comes to funding, the report clearly says that you could change the user pay system, but it still requires more government funding. Is that actually feasible given the parlour state of state and Federal Government budgets?
What is reminds us of is that we need to be more innovative in the way we fund projects and you have seen that already. When we go to – when we respond to state governments request for support for projects, we are looking to see how they can capture value from the increase in value in land, derived from a new piece of infrastructure. That might be a weir or dam that takes the value of land which is worth hundreds of dollars as dry land to thousands of dollars as irrigatable land or it might be a light rail or a rail infrastructure that considerably increases the value of the contiguous real estate as you have seen on the Gold Coast, for example.
So, we absolutely need to capture more sources of funding and I think we can do that. We have been – compared to other countries – we have honestly been less imaginative than we should have been, we should be, in terms of funding infrastructure. There is plenty of money around, both in the private markets and in the general infrastructure investment world. There is a lot of money to invest, but you have to set the deals up right so that the value is, some of the value that is created is drawn back in to pay for the infrastructure.
Prime Minister, what’s your appetite for some of the suggestions like road user pays per kilometre, greater privatisation of public transport and making that continued on Federal Government money? And what’s your appetite for taking that stuff to COAG?
We are looking at all of that. I might ask – let me take – let me ask Paul to address the road user charges point because we were talking about that this morning.
Thank you, Prime Minister.
The report makes recommendations to Government. There have been similar recommendations made by a series of reports over recent years. The Henry Review, the Harper Review into competition and what we said in response to the Harper Review, for example, was that there would be an immediate focus on heavy vehicle user charging and a price-based regulation system there, with some recommendations to go to COAG by 2017/18.
So an initial focus on heavy vehicle user charging and this broader recommendation about vehicle charging more generally, road pricing more generally, is one of the recommendations that we will look at, we will study it, obviously we have said that this is something that would – if it were to be proceeded with – is at least a 10-year journey.
We want to make sure the community understood the case for it. There is a lot of issues to work through, for example, equity considerations, who is better off, who is worse off – all of those considerations.
So it is an important reform direction for us to study and engage with and we will look at it carefully. There is some work already underway, but that one is quite a long journey ahead of us.
Would you be prepared to give up fuel excise if you could get some new arrangements in place for funding?
I think Paul's described, accurately described it – that this is a long run issue.
Let me give you a practical example. In any charging for road use, per kilometres used, and of course we have the technology to do that now with GPS and so forth in cars. You take some of our big cities, there are some areas of our cities where public transport is relatively plentiful, say in the inner city areas of Sydney, my city where Paul and I live. There is public transport, it is very good in some areas. In other areas it is almost completely absent, so you can see the inequities that would arise if you were to jump into road pricing or congestion pricing as they have done in London, immediately.
So it is important, it is very important to put these things on the table and examine them. As Paul said, this is an issue that has been run up the flag pole by the Productivity Commission, by the Ken Henry Tax Review some time ago. I am glad Infrastructure Australia is taking the debate along. Clearly, a more calibrated, better calibrated user pay system has some attractions. But it obviously has to be done, as with any of our policies, in a way that is equitable and is fair. It is a fundamental tenant - what is in our DNA as Australians? We have a lot of strong qualities but one indelible part of our DNA is a commitment to a fair go. Whether you talking about tax reform or whether you're talking about this, we have a clear sense of fairness. That is an important criterion.
Prime Minister, just on tax reform. If I can ask you about Scott Morrison’s speech today. Will we get any policy specifics or will it just be motherhood statements about cutting spending?
You don’t have to - you will just have to wait for his speech, I think if I may say so.
The New Zealand PM John Key is due here tomorrow and he comes bearing a long standing offer to Australia to take refugees to New Zealand. Baby Asher who’s here in Brisbane Hospital there’s a standoff there at the moment. What is your position on New Zealand taking refugees from Australia and will you let Baby Asher go?
As you know – I not going to comment on an individual case. But we are looking at all of these cases, or the minister Peter Dutton is, very carefully, very compassionately. They are being examined on a case by case basis.
John Key will be here tomorrow as you say. He is a very good friend of Australia. We will be talking about these issues together but I don't want to foreshadow any changes to our policy. Can I just say to you that this area of border protection is one that is a very - it is a very tough area very tough area of policy issue to deal with.
The fundamental thing we have to remember, the fundamental point we have to remember is that when the Labor Party came back into Government in 2007, they proceeded to dismantle John Howard's border protection arrangements. We begged them not to do so. I was the Opposition Leader at the time. I begged Kevin Rudd not to do so. Kevin said it would not make any differences, his changes would not make any difference to arrivals and people smuggling.
He was proved comprehensively wrong. Over 50,000 arrivals and over 1,000 deaths at sea. By the time Labor abandoned the policy, as you remember in their last few months, by the time we got into office and Peter Dutton - Scott Morrison became minister and followed by Peter Dutton, there were 2000 children in custody.
There’s now well under 100. We are dealing with it. We have stopped the boats. We recognise that the most important thing we have to do is not at any point give any encouragement or say or do anything that the people smugglers will use for their marketing.
Believe me, they are very capable users of all the modern media to promote their dreadful trade and if they are allowed to restart, if they get restarted, I tell you it will not just be thousands of unauthorised arrivals, it will be thousands of drownings at sea. And they will be children. They will be mothers. They will be boys and girls and parents and grandparents.
We have to manage this challenge with compassion but with a very, very clear head because the objective is to keep the boats stopped. Stop the people smugglers and then work through the case load that we inherited from the Labor Party, with compassion and pragmatism.
I can assure you, we have big hearts on our side of politics in our Government, we do. Very big hearts but we have a very clear eyed focus that ensuring our borders are secure is saving lives. I promise you, the alternative, it is not a theory, Kevin Rudd did it. He practiced it. It was not an experiment, he did it and we saw what happened.
We do not want to go down that road again. That is a somewhat melancholy note to end on. Can I just say to you all, thank you very much for being here, this infrastructure paper is - and the issues that it raises, are vital to our future prosperity. It deals with a whole range of issues that Paul and I are very familiar with, particularly in communications and the roll-out of the NBN.
You are seeing the way, getting that project back on track, or on track is transforming businesses and peoples' ability to work and study. The satellite, the long term satellite will be in commercial operation from May, and Barnaby, Paul and I were out in Western Queensland not so long ago talking to kids who are flat out being able to do their school work on remote stations.
They will now have access to high speed dedicated bandwidth from that satellite. That is an example of the way infrastructure is transforming lives. Thank you all very much and I know we are all committed to a stronger, more innovative, more prosperous Australia in the 21st century, supported by 21st century infrastructure.