Speech: WA's share of infrastructure funding
08 Nov 2016
That this House:
(1) recognises the parlous state of Western Australia's finances, brought on by the economic mismanagement of the Western Australian Government and a record low share of GST revenue, which was foreseeable;
(2) acknowledges the importance of Commonwealth infrastructure funding and state infrastructure spending for creating employment and driving economic growth;
(3) notes that $1.54 billion of Commonwealth infrastructure funding has been allocated to the Perth Freight Link (PFL) and Oakajee Port over the forward estimates, in circumstances where:
(a) the Western Australian Government has not committed to stage two of the PFL, a contract for which will be required before Commonwealth funding flows to Western Australia, and the Western Australian Opposition is opposed to the project; and
(b) the Turnbull Government has kept a $339 million allocation to Oakajee Port in the federal budget for more than two years after the project was abandoned;
(4) notes that although Western Australia takes up one third of Australia's land mass and holds 10.4 per cent of the population, the loss of Commonwealth funding for the PFL and Oakajee would cause Western Australia's share of the Commonwealth infrastructure budget to drop to just 9.5 per cent; and
(5) calls on the Australian Government to redirect funding allocated to the PFL to the infrastructure projects that Western Australians actually want and need—the Armadale/North Lake Road Bridge, an Outer Harbour and METRONET.
In Western Australia, people are being confronted by something that here in Canberra we have known for a long time: the harsh reality that, when it comes to economic management, the Liberals cannot be trusted with the finances of government.
The Western Australian Liberal government under Colin Barnett inherited a $1.85 billion surplus, state debt at just $3.6 billion and a 2.7 per cent unemployment rate. In 2012, the peak of the mining construction boom, Western Australia faced net interstate migration of 11,500, while New South Wales was losing 17,000 people. Infrastructure Australia has reported that by 2031, Perth will have seven of the country's top 10 congested roads.
The Barnett Liberals have floated many ideas over the years to address WA's burgeoning infrastructure needs, like a new railway to Ellenbrook, an extension of the Thornlie line to connect to Cockburn Central, MAX Light Rail and a railway tunnel to Morley. But always they failed to deliver and, to make matters worse, they have trashed the state's finances along the way. State debt will hit $31 billion this year. WA recorded a $2 billion deficit last year, and unemployment has now reached 6.3 per cent. All of these issues have been exacerbated by WA's miniscule share of GST distribution. I will talk about that particular issue another time, but these issues have been known for a long time and were even acknowledged in many state budgets.
Among all of this, though, the Abbott-Turnbull-Joyce Liberal-National government are not without blame. Over their three years in government, the federal Liberals have neglected Western Australia's infrastructure needs. Instead of committing to Western Australia's future infrastructure needs, they have instead just rebadged Labor's previous commitments, like the Swan Valley bypass, now the NorthLink WA project. Or they have blatantly taken credit for Labor's projects, like Gateway WA, which the member for Warringah took delight in opening during the Canning by-election, despite it not yet actually being finished. Then there is the commitment to the duplication of Armadale Road, only made to match a commitment by Labor. It is a project that the government was dragged kicking and screaming into, in an attempt not just to secure victory in the Canning by-election but also to save Tony Abbott's prime ministership—I suppose one out of two ain't bad!
However, they did not get this right, as the government has failed the people of Burt, and Fremantle in particular, first by ignoring the requirement to also build a new bridge crossing at the freeway for Armadale Road to complement the Armadale Road duplication.
Then, of course, we have the Perth Freight Link. The state government has signed stage 1 contracts, and yet the federal government has made clear that its funding for the project will not be delivered unless stage 2 is signed as well. Yet, the state government has said it is unlikely to even have a route for stage 2 before the 2017 state election. WA Labor opposes the project in its entirety, as a white elephant, and no-one has seen a business case for the project that demonstrates that it will deliver any value to Western Australia. But it does not stop there: this government is still budgeting $339 million for an equity stake on the Oakajee Port project—a project that has been effectively mothballed. It appears that we have two projects for which federal funds will not actually be forthcoming, meaning that WA's share of infrastructure spend will drop to just 9.5 per cent, from 2015 to 2019, of all federal infrastructure spending.
So Western Australia—a state that takes up a third of the country's land mass, has more than 10 per cent of the nation's population and, in 2015, accounted for more than 40 per cent of Australia's goods exported by value—is not only not receiving its fair share of the GST; it is also not receiving a fair share of infrastructure dollars. Instead of spending $1.2 billion bulldozing the Beeliar Wetlands to build WA's only toll road—which does not even reach its destination—or continuing to hold out over $300 million for a port that will not be built, think about what great projects WA could build to ensure its economy can continue to grow and provide employment post the mining and construction boom, if the Turnbull Liberals redirected these funds to useful projects. These could include the sorely needed new Armadale Road bridge; a new third lane heading north on Kwinana Freeway at Cockburn Central; the Thornlie line extension connecting Canning Vale to Cockburn Central; planning for a new Fremantle outer harbour; or fixing the notoriously dangerous Denny Avenue level crossing in Kelmscott.
The Commonwealth government has a responsibility to provide a fair and equitable distribution of funds across the states, including for infrastructure. This is necessary to drive economic growth, remove bottlenecks, create jobs and to meet the needs of all Australians. In this regard, the Turnbull and Barnett Liberal governments have utterly and fundamentally failed the people of Western Australia.