COMMENT: In nearly 20 years in Parliament I cannot remember a federal Budget that included no new infrastructure projects.
Nor can I remember a Budget that actually reduced investment in infrastructure.
But that’s exactly what happened when Joe Hockey brought down the Budget on Tuesday night.
The Government cut infrastructure spending by $2 billion over two years despite having run for election claiming it would lift funding.
Critically, the Government failed to deliver a cent for urban rail, in line with the Prime Minister’s bizarre view that the commonwealth has no business investing in public transport.
There was no reversal of the cuts to public transport in last year’s Budget.
Cuts to the Melbourne Metro.
Cuts to Cross River Rail.
Cuts to the link between the Perth CBD and the city’s busy airport.
No effort to progress planning for a High Speed Rail Link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.
Freight rail fared no better.
In Opposition, the Coalition vowed it would “fast track’’ the Inland Rail Link from Brisbane to Melbourne.
But after two Abbott Government Budgets, not an extra dollar has been allocated beyond the $300 million left in the Budget by the former Labor Government.
And the industry is becoming impatient over delays in the production of the report into the delivery of the project being prepared by a government-appointed panel.
The Budget even included cuts for the Prime Minister’s preferred mode of transport – roads.
This includes the scandalous and vindictive decision to punish the people of Victoria for daring to elect a Labor Government that can see that there are more productivity gains to be made building the Melbourne Metro than there are in the East-West Link toll road.
This Budget has also foreshadowed extending this approach to freight rail with the examination of privatising the Australian Rail Track Corporation.
The key challenge for the economy at the moment is how to deal with the wind-back that has occurred in the resources sector as a result of the move from the investment side to the production side.
We need to fill that gap to ensure future economic growth.
Options include investing in infrastructure and capital or investing in human capital – in people’s skills and education.
This Budget fails on both accounts.
This is occurring at a time when the latest ABS statistics show that construction activity for public sector infrastructure fell by 17.3 per cent between the December 2014 quarter and the December 2013 quarter.
In the same period, private sector investment plunged by 12.4 per cent.
This is a time when government should be investing in infrastructure.
Yet this Budget does exactly the opposite.
Infrastructure Partnerships Australia’s analysis of the Budget shows that the Commonwealth investment in infrastructure will fall from 1.55 per cent of the Budget to 1.47 per cent across the forward estimates to 2018-19.
The Government has also cut Infrastructure Australia funding from $15 million this year to $8.8 billion by 2018-19.
This is confirmation it is trying to sidelined this important organisation as a provider of independent advice to government on the value for money implications of proposed infrastructure projects.
Judging by the East-West Link debacle in Victoria, the Government does not want advice because it would prefer to use public money to make investments that are in its strategic political interest, rather than in the long-term national economic interest.
If the Government wanted Infrastructure Australia’s advice, it would not have transferred $3 billion the former Labor Government allocated to the Melbourne Metro to the East-West Link, which would return a paltry 45 cents for every dollar invested.
This country needs a government that understands that the cost of infrastructure must be considered in the light of the economic productivity returns it delivers to the community.
By increasing productivity and economic growth, great projects provide a return to government.
They represent investments, not just costs.
The nation needs a government that understands that one in six Australians currently use public transport and that the prosperity of our cities is intricately linked with the efficiency of public transport, particularly urban rail.
This week’s infrastructure Budget was a prescription for inactivity.
It does nothing to address the worsening traffic congestion that is holding back productivity growth, which is the pathway to job creation.
Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Cities.