In response to the Federal Government’s 2019-20 Budget, the Opposition has made a series of similarly bold pledges for infrastructure investment.
A future Labor Government would invest in such projects as the Western Sydney Rail Line, the NBN and a $10 billion funding facility for Infrastructure Australia.
In his Budget Reply speech on Thursday 4 April 2019, Federal Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, named infrastructure investment as one of three key areas that would secure Australia’s economic future, along with health and education.
However, unlike the Coalition Government’s focus on urban congestion and opening Australia’s regions, Labor has placed a greater focus on clean energy and environmental sustainability.
“The jobs of the future will be powered by infrastructure and renewable energy,” Mr Shorten said.
Mr Shorten said Labor would have a particular focus on public transport infrastructure.
“Instead of taking selfies on the train, we’ll get new projects underway. If we don’t, by 2031, congestion on our roads will cost Australia $53 billion,” Mr Shorten said.
“Labor has transport plans and projects ready to go in every state and territory: Cross River Rail in Brisbane, Western Sydney Metro, Suburban Rail Loop in Melbourne, the Bridgewater Bridge in Tassie, South Road in South Australia, Metronet in Perth, upgrading the roads around Kakadu, and phase 2 of the ACT light rail.”
Mr Shorten said that thanks to the work of Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development, Anthony Albanese, these projects are “only the beginning”.
Labor has also pledged to continue to develop and support the development of northern Australia, including upgrades for the roads and the Rocky Ring Road.
“I can announce we will deliver $1.5 billion to upgrade the Gateway Motorway from Bracken Ridge to the Pine River and the next stage of the Bruce Highway from the northern suburbs to Caboolture,” Mr Shorten said.
Mr Shorten also described the National Broadband Network as “the most important piece of infrastructure to any 21st century economy”.
“[The NBN is] creating jobs, plugging us into Asia and linking small businesses in the regions with new markets in our region,” Mr Shorten said.
Labor has also pledged to “turbocharge” Infrastructure Australia with a new $10 billion funding facility.
This Budget response follows Labor’s unveiling of its new Climate Change Action Plan, which pledged to set a national electric vehicle target of 50 per cent new car sales by 2030, as well as regulatory reforms and COAG agenda.
Mr Shorten’s Budget response has kicked off Labor’s campaign for the upcoming federal election. With both major parties focusing on infrastructure investment, it is shaping up to be a key election issue.
Albanese accuses the Government of “smoke and mirrors”
Mr Albanese severely criticised the Budget, arguing that the bulk of the promised infrastructure funding was not due to flow in for at least four years.
“Overwhelmingly the Budget announcements won’t commence in the next term or maybe even the term after that,” he said.
Mr Albanese said the following data was evidence of a disparity between the Federal Government’s promises and the reality of the Budget:
New South Wales
Promised extra funding: $6.1 billion.
Reality: $241 million, or 4 percent, to flow over 2019-2022.
Promised extra funding: $2.6 billion.
Reality: Nothing in 2020; $313 million, or twelve per cent, to flow over 2019-2022.
Promise: $2 billion for Geelong Fast Rail.
Reality: 2 percent available over 2019-2022.
Promised extra funding: $1.8 billion.
Reality: $95 million, or 5 per cent, over 2019-2022.
Nothing new in 2019-20 or 2020-21 and only $68 million in the following two years.
Promised extra funding: $1.6 billion.
Reality: $17.5 million in 2019-2020 and $60 million in the following year.
Promised extra funding: $622 million.
Reality: $60 million, or 9 per cent, over 2019-2022.
Nothing next year; $35 million in new funding over 2019-2022.
More measures needed for emissions reductions
Labor’s focus on clean energy comes after peak sustainability body, the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA), expressed disappointment in the Federal Government’s promises.
According to the GBCA, the recently released Federal Budget is strong on infrastructure spending but short on new initiatives to support emissions reductions.
GBCA Head of Public Affairs and Membership, Jonathan Cartledge, said the 2019/20 Budget includes some welcome announcements, such as those focusing on fast rail, but lacked bold new initiatives to drive down emissions.
“As the Government clearly appreciates, strong infrastructure investment is the backbone of healthy, resilient and high-functioning towns and cities,” Mr Cartledge said.
“The imperative in the years ahead is to see these investments maximise their value through the creation of more productive, liveable and sustainable communities that deliver a better standard of living for all Australians.”
Given the paramount importance of leveraging Australia’s cities and regions to deal with the challenges of population growth and climate change, Mr Cartledge said the GBCA would have liked to see additional funds earmarked for City Deals, and sooner, but looks forward to supporting the implementation of those already announced.
“We note the Government’s investment of $79.2 million over six years for new energy efficiency measures,” he continued.
“While improving the energy efficiency of our appliances is important, the opportunity to realise significant savings through support for a low emissions built environment will help ease the transition to a low carbon future across the economy.”
Mr Cartledge said Australian industry leads the world in delivering net zero carbon buildings, and urged the Federal Government to match industry leadership with more ambitious policy that rewards broader action.
“With the built environment accounting for a quarter of Australia’s emissions, it is disappointing that the Government has missed a further opportunity to deliver a low emissions future.”
Mr Cartledge said the Federal Opposition showed strong leadership on climate policy in the week of the Budget, and commended their efforts.
“It is encouraging to see both major parties identify the opportunities a national electric vehicle network can offer, and that ameliorating congestion, and investing in our cities is top of mind for all sides of politics,” he said.
“Continuing to work in partnership with industry and all levels of government to make strategic infrastructure investments will ensure that taxpayers get benefits where and when they are most needed.”