I am very pleased to move this motion today to highlight once again the benefits to the Canberra community of this Government’s commitment to outlining and delivering a plan for our city and our community’s future.
That commitment includes, as it has always done and will continue to do for this Labor government, record investment in health and education, front-line services—doctors, nurses, teachers—and in the vital health and education infrastructure our community needs—schools, hospitals, community health centres—located close to where people live where they can best access the service—in Tuggeranong and Belconnen—and a new subacute hospital, a new innovative model of care.
In last year’s budget $2.5 billion was spent on health and education—over 50 per cent of our annual budget. This commitment also supports, strengthens and diversifies our economy. It encourages growth and innovation in our unique non-government sectors—tourism, higher education, our smart and innovative technology sector and our emerging renewable technology sector. This is a commitment that generates jobs across our city and for our future. It is a commitment that also, vitally, includes a modern, sustainable transport system, a transport system that meets the needs of our growing city, now and into the future.
Madam Deputy Speaker, you are either for a modern, growing, sustainable city or you are not. If you are for these things, you have to do something. You have to make decisions, a range of decisions, that when taken together deliver the future that Canberra needs, decisions that this year alone invest over $2.5 billion in health and education, $328 million in our economy, $693 million in our municipal services in upgrading and renewing our urban environment and investing in a modern sustainable roads and transport network, and $968 million in supporting our most vulnerable and providing more opportunities to more people.
If you are against these things, what do you stand for? Standing by and hoping our city recovers on its own from the brutal job cuts that have been inflicted on us in the past two years in particular? Standing by when the Commonwealth Government cuts $600 million in health funding over the long term? Just saying no and taking the easy path of opposition?
If you are for these things but do not have a plan and will not make decisions, what will you do? That brings me to the Canberra Liberals. What plan do they have and what decisions will they make? So far, all we have heard are vague promises from the opposition to at some point this year—over 2½ years into a term—outline a plan for a modern and sustainable transport system. So far, other than outright opposition, all we have seen is a picture of Mr Coe happily showcasing Audis in a rather odd stunt, as if all Canberrans knew the average cost of an Audi as opposed to a Mazda or a Holden.
As far as the decisions they will make are concerned we know one thing: we know they have already signalled their intention to do serious damage to the investment environment in Canberra and to Canberra’s emerging reputation as a city of choice for investors; investors that look for a smart workforce, an open government, less red tape and a government willing and able to partner with global infrastructure companies.
We know they seem willing to support sovereign risk and do great damage to the ACT’s economic reputation, but I will return to this point later. This ACT Labor Government has a clear plan for this city and its future. We understand the importance of public transport infrastructure when it comes to meeting the needs of our growing city. As a representative of the fastest growing region in Canberra and Australia—Gungahlin—I know the pressures on our roads and bus network are not sustainable in the long term. In Gungahlin, rapid population growth is undeniable, with an increase from just over 300 people to over 50,000 in the past 25 years. This growth must be directed by a vision that includes high quality transport connections, more active lifestyles and a revitalisation of our city’s major gateway— Northbourne Avenue corridor.
Investing in public transport is something Labor believes in wholeheartedly, and we will continue to invest in a better, more integrated public transport system for this city. That system must include light rail. The Gungahlin Community Council recently conducted a comprehensive survey of over 1,300 residents about a range of issues, including transport. The survey found 90 per cent of Gungahlin commuters use their cars to travel into the city and to the north side of Canberra.
With increasing traffic congestion and travel times from Gungahlin to the city blowing out to more than an hour, light rail offers a solution that 70 per cent of respondents said they would use for their daily commute. These results demonstrate the need for light rail, which will provide an improved, integrated, high quality mode of transport for Canberrans and visitors alike. Most importantly it will help ease congestion and take pressure off the whole road network, benefiting thousands every day.
Over the next 15 years the average peak hour commute from Gungahlin to the city is estimated to take nearly an hour—but that is just the average. Many commuters find they spend that long in their cars now. But as the population grows the answer is simply not more roads. Roads are, of course, a vital part of our transport system, but the future lies in an integrated transport system that includes roads but must also include public transport, buses and light rail, as well as good walking and cycling options. These options will reduce our travel times, but this is just the beginning of their benefit. They will increase productivity as less time in transit means more people being productive for more of the time. They will increase family and leisure time as less time in transit means more people able to spend time with their family, help with homework, volunteer for local sporting clubs or get some exercise.
If you believe there is an increasing congestion problem along our major gateway— Northbourne Avenue—and for residents of Gungahlin and east Belconnen, you must have a solution. Investing in light rail will provide our city with an attractive, modern, sustainable public transport system. We all know Canberra has a love affair with the car based on our urban sprawl, the original planning of our city and probably in no small part the past reluctance, still present in some parts of our community, to embrace medium and high density living.
As more people live in higher density communities, they are starting to have a say in how important and enjoyable higher density living can be. In the last decade the territory has spent over $1.2 billion on road infrastructure alone. Our car dependency is now becoming an issue with increasing congestion, health and environmental impacts. In fact congestion is already costing Canberra more than $100 million every year. This is something we must address sooner rather than later.
One of the main objectives of the capital metro project is to offer people a convenient alternative to the car, encouraging Canberrans to get more active and use public transport. Light rail will help ease congestion and reduce pollution as our city grows.
It will reinvigorate the wider transport network by providing a high frequency and highly attractive spine service between the city and Gungahlin. It will integrate with the existing bus network, which is absolutely critical to the success of the project. It will help to revitalise the Northbourne Avenue corridor.
Over the next 20 years our city centre will house 10 per cent of the territory’s population growth. To accommodate this growth, our city needs housing, community and recreation facilities together with retail, lifestyle and other services. Capital metro will help the city centre realise its full potential as a vibrant, lively and attractive region. It will be pivotal to the much-needed rejuvenation of our gateway to Canberra—Northbourne Avenue.
I believe this avenue has the potential to be the country’s premier address, already hosting over 40 per cent of the city’s larger hotels, many businesses and vibrant surrounding precincts. Through Labor’s plan for urban renewal and transformation along the corridor we can drive new opportunities for Canberra as a whole, such as employment opportunities and new investment.
While the Northbourne Avenue corridor is currently characterised by low densities and relatively slow rates of development, it has great potential to be an active urban boulevard. There is room for at least another 45,000 residents along the light rail corridor, with room for another 10,000 in the city. This highlights an existing opportunity for densification and urban renewal, helping to protect our green spaces and bush capital character.
We intend to use light rail to unlock the potential of the city centre and this important avenue, generating urban renewal and creating livable and accessible communities. Improvements in the transport network will expand economic productivity and growth, creating more jobs and increasing the diversity and sustainability of the local economy. Capital metro will provide a range of wider economic benefits for Canberra, including $1 billion of benefits to the community and up to 3,560 jobs during the construction phase alone.
But the Canberra Liberals would have you believe more buses are the answer to our city’s transport challenges. At least I think that is their plan—that, and the Audis. While light rail will encourage urban transformation and revitalisation along the Northbourne Avenue corridor, more buses would only lead to more concrete and more congestion. On the other hand light rail has the ability to transform and revitalise the corridor and provide business and investment certainty.
Threats made by the Canberra Liberals to tear up contracts associated with the light rail project put at risk the numerous benefits and opportunities that will be delivered through the capital metro project, such as a better public transport network, a much needed boost to the local economy, decreased congestion and emissions leading to improved environmental outcomes and jobs for local people and jobs that will further stimulate our economy.
Following the announcement from the Victorian government to cancel the east west link project and to pay the consortium $339 million, Prime Minister Tony Abbott publicly stated that it is the position of his government that all contracts should be honoured. The Prime Minister also described the east west cancellation as bad for Australia and terrible for Victoria. The Prime Minister’s federal Liberal government has also shown its support for the light rail project through their asset recycling initiative, and the ACT government was the first jurisdiction to sign up. The criterion for that initiative was clear: the incentive payments to states and territories had to be for productive infrastructure.
This initiative will see $60 million invested in stage 1 of the Capital Metro project, clearly identified by the federal Liberal Government as productive infrastructure. Compare this with the Canberra Liberals’ plan to spend potentially up to hundreds of millions of dollars to tear up a contract for a project that will deliver $1 billion in economic benefits to the territory, a project that will deliver more than 3,500 jobs in the construction phase, a project that will help transform our city.
But it is not just the federal Liberals raising concerns about the Canberra Liberals’ policy. Infrastructure Partnerships Australia has also voiced its concern for the infrastructure investment environment here in the ACT and nationally, stating that the opposition’s desire to stop the project could unnerve international investors. They are worried about the Canberra Liberals’ position.
Shortlisted consortia for the capital metro project include companies from Germany, Japan, Spain and Britain. Infrastructure Partnerships Australia Chief Executive Brendan Lyon said:
While we respect the Opposition’s resistance to this project, it is very important that politicians don’t debase the infrastructure program with discussions around sovereign risk.
In an opinion piece published in the Canberra Times on 20 April 2015, Mr Lyon went on to say:
Canberra Liberals have ended up on the wrong side of the light rail debate because they have let their opposition to the project morph quickly into active support for sovereign risk.
Australia has a hard-earned reputation as a stable and safe investment destination. Successive governments and oppositions in all jurisdictions across the country have been committed to promoting Australia as a smart, modern and efficient economy by recognising and respecting our valuable international brand. Senior political leaders from any Australian jurisdiction speak of precedents for cancelling contracts at the entire nation’s peril.
The Canberra Liberals’ plan would cost Canberra its reputation as a good place for private investment in public projects—projects like a national convention centre. They should heed the words of their federal and state colleagues as well as independent organisations such as Infrastructure Partnerships Australia and reverse their position on the capital metro project. This will help ensure Canberra remains an attractive and prosperous investment environment. It will ensure they are on the right side of history and capable of working constructively to create a stable investment environment to meet the needs of our growing city.
I remind those opposite that a light rail line from the city to Gungahlin delivered as a public-private partnership was an election commitment of ACT Labor in 2012. We promised to build a light rail line from the city to Gungahlin, and we are delivering on that promise. Our plan will provide business and investment certainty along the corridor, stimulating significant economic activity as the land surrounding the network increases in value and is used more efficiently. It will ensure that light rail integrates effectively with other modes of transport and contributes to a public transport network that puts people first. It will be a key economic stimulus project that supports more than 3,500 jobs in Canberra, creates investment and local business opportunity and delivers more than $1 billion in economic benefits. I urge the Canberra Liberals to get on board today.