Bus Industry Confederation Annual Dinner
19 March 2014
Lobby Restaurant, King George Terrace, Parkes
Thank you, Michael, and to you all for having me. To Anthony, it's always good to see Anthony at these functions. To Shane Rattenbury, the ACT Minister, and my other hat as the Territories Minister, it's always, of course, good to be in Canberra with you as well, and to all my Parliamentary colleagues and guests and delegates tonight.
This is the second time I've spoken at the Bus Industry Confederation. Michael, that's how much you harass us to speak at these things in the six months we've been in government. The first time in Adelaide was much more enjoyable, but I'm told the lunch after my speech was far more enjoyable at the wine centre, which was good of you to support our fine wine industry.
Look, firstly can I say, Michael, one of your requests, I can tell you tonight we can meet and that is that Infrastructure Australia, under our reforms, will be able to assess public transport projects and make recommendations on them. Of course, they will. Of course, that will be an important part.
Public transport is an important part of our infrastructure mix, and our commitment is we want to spend extraordinary amounts on road transport and freight rail, which we think will help free up additional amounts for - as you acknowledge - for state governments to do more when it comes to public transport.
We think, as part of our audits that we want Infrastructure Australia to do and part of our plan to build the pipeline of infrastructure projects for the next 15 years, that of course, public transport projects will be part of that, and we would hope the state governments, and we would be working proactively with state governments to ensure that we work our cities or plan our cities in a way that they are funding those projects which will make our cities stronger and more effective.
But, of course, Australians like their cars and our cities are spread. And we do have congestion problems, as your video rightly identifies, and investing $35.5 billion over the next few years into our infrastructure, particularly roads, will make that - will help to alleviate, in our major cities, some of these congestion issues - not all, and there is more work to do, and we'll have much more to say in the budget about that.
We are focused on building the infrastructure, the productive infrastructure which will help drive our economy, to help ensure that people can get to and from work and have a better work-life balance.
And, of course, investing in roads and ensuring we have better roads helps the bus industry because it means that buses can travel more consistently on their timetables, they've got more reliability with better roads and more access to growing parts of our cities.
And we've already made commitments to major projects across our cities - WestConnex in Sydney - and we'll be making more commitments in that respect - NorthConnex which we talked about on Sunday with the Prime Minister and Premier O'Farrell. We've got in Melbourne, of course, our commitment to the East-West project.
In South Australia, we've committed to upgrading the South Road Corridor in a decade, getting on with both the Darlington upgrade, which will be an enormous benefit for consumers and for drivers, and also getting on with the Torrens-to-Torrens upgrade which will also help the freight industry in South Australia.
In Western Australia, there are several projects, some of them have been started under the previous government and we acknowledge that there was work done under the previous government. Of course, you don't come to government and inherit some road projects that magically start on 8 September. There were projects started by the previous government and we're getting on and making sure that they're finished as quickly and as efficiently as they can be.
This brings me to another important part of our agenda and a part which we'll have more to say on and we'll be pursuing very heavily in the coming months, and that is the draft Productivity Commission report, which was released last week, with the final report to be delivered to the government at the end of May.
I thought it was quite sobering reading, that report last week. It basically said that at the moment, taxpayers are not getting the value for money that they ought to be from the investments that we're making across the country in infrastructure, and there are a range of reasons and I would urge you to look at the report.
At 600 pages, it's a little heavy. It's probably not going to go to the top of the best sellers list of novels or of non-fiction, but it is, I think, invaluable work which will be refined over the next couple of months. And I would urge you, Michael, and your team to continue to engage with the Productivity Commission to get a strong as possible report and set of recommendations that we can have.
But one of the points that the Productivity Commission makes very clearly is that getting the project selection right is a major part of ensuring that we're getting value for money for taxpayers and getting the best projects that we can put together for the Australian people.
And so we do have to do a better job with the states and we want Infrastructure Australia in that respect to have a very strong role in ensuring that we've got projects on the priority list, whether they be road, rail, ports, freight rail, you name it, that are actually based on economic advice and ensuring that we're getting a better spend out of finite taxpayers' money.
Of course, the other commitment that the government has made, and we're very heavily committed to this through several ways, is to ensure that we make it as attractive as possible for the private sector, where appropriate, to be involved in building new and upgrading existing infrastructure.
And we're seeing some good examples of that at the moment.
We're seeing the WestConnex project, I mentioned, where we have a unique arrangement that the New South Wales Government has put together delivering, I think, a very important and long overdue piece of infrastructure for the people of Sydney, particularly the inner western parts of Sydney, and that is a project which we are very confident will deliver great outcomes in the future years.
So we will continue to look at ways that we can make these sorts of projects more attractive for the private sector to be involved in and where there is a strong list of projects that we have on a Infrastructure Australia priority list, we will see the private sector, more proactively, look to fund or be involved in those projects.
So the Productivity Commission draft report is, I think, sobering reading that we have a system at the moment, which is broken, it's not getting the best value for taxpayers that it should and we're therefore not getting as much as we could get out of the spend that we're making, the investments that we're making.
And with the prospect of increased investments in the coming years, targeted investments to lift our productive capacity to ensure that our cities are working as well as they ought to be, then we do need to put a major focus on ensuring that we are getting the best value and the best systems in place to choose and deliver infrastructure projects.
So over the coming months, we'll obviously have the Budget in about seven weeks’ time. Infrastructure will be a major focus of the Budget.
We've got big decisions to make in respect of infrastructure priorities in the western part of Sydney and we'll have much more to say about that in the coming weeks and months, but we see well targeted infrastructure investment as being a key part of our economic plan to lift our prosperity to drive Australia to higher growth, lower unemployment and a more prosperous country to achieve what we ought to achieve. And, of course, the bus industry is a major part of that, a major beneficiary of our investments in infrastructure across the country.
And I'm sure as you have already seen in the past six months, and I'm sure Anthony will say in his time of six years as the Infrastructure Minister â€“ Michael is a proactive lobbyist â€“ someone who's constantly at our door with a range of suggestions and that's what you want. We're not always going to agree but we certainly need the ideas and we certainly need the perspective in the debate. And again, I would encourage a proactive approach with theÂ Productivity Commission as they put their final report together and I look forward to a proactive approach from Michael in the coming months, as we make more announcements about our plans for infrastructure and building a stronger Australia, in the Budget.
So thank you for taking the time to listen to me and enjoy your night. Thank you