High Speed Rail Planning Authority Bill 2017 Bills

As the final speaker in this debate, in the limited time available, I rise to make a few comments on the High Speed Rail Planning Authority Bill 2017 introduced into this place by my South Australian colleague from the other side Senator Farrell. I note that it has also been introduced in the House of Representatives a number of times—most spectacularly, in the dying days of the second Rudd government. I think that’s well worth considering, because my experience is that the Australian public needs to look at what governments do as opposed to what they say.

We’ve had in this place today members from the opposition putting themselves forward as the people with a vision for the future of Australia. I think some of their comments were that they were picking up the slack and doing things that the coalition government wasn’t doing. But if you look back to when this bill was introduced—and I commend the intent; there are many aspects of it that have similar concepts to what the federal government, the coalition, is putting forward in the Inland Rail program—and if you look at the implementation under the second Rudd government, it was a rushed election commitment. The funding that was promised as an election commitment was never actually budgeted for. The Parliamentary Budget Office confirmed, in documents after the election, that, in actual fact, the money—some $54 million that was proposed by Labor—was never worked into the budget papers. One of Australia’s finest military officers, Des Mueller, made a comment once that has resonated with me: ‘vision without dollars is hallucination’. We see so often that—particularly now that they’re in opposition—it’s very easy to promise big things, but if you’re not prepared to fund it then it is merely hallucination.

As you compare the two options for parties of government, the coalition has form in delivering and the opposition has form in promising and not delivering. I’m not going to go on too much about the areas where we are delivering in rail infrastructure. I’ve listened to some of the speeches that my colleagues senators Hume, Molan and Seselja have provided. They have given many examples of where the coalition is working to provide investment in rail infrastructure, but I want to highlight a couple of other areas. With the Defence minister sitting in front of me, there is perhaps no better area—as a South Australian—to highlight than shipbuilding.

In the six years of the Labor government under Mr Rudd, Ms Gillard and then Mr Rudd, we saw the development of the 2009 white paper, which was quite articulate. It was broadly supported by both sides of politics because it articulated the changing strategic environment in which we lived and outlined the need for an investment in 12 submarines as part of Australia’s defence capability. Having seen that, you would expect that there then would be follow-through with planning, funding and implementation, but we saw no commitments by the Labor government in making decisions around the Future Submarine. It fell to the coalition government to put in place the competitive evaluation process, which is a process that is well known and used in Europe for highly complex pieces of equipment. A contract has now been let and funding has been put aside for that program. Again, the others may claim to have had the vision, but there was no plan, no implementation and no funding. The coalition recognised the need and has acted. That’s a significant difference that the Australian public should remember.

Likewise, with national shipbuilding, the coalition under John Howard put in place the programs for the LHDs as well as the Air Warfare Destroyer Program. Those programs have now started to deliver the Hobart class of air warfare destroyer as well as the Canberra and Adelaide LHDs, which are world-class ships. They have kept our shipyards busy through until about the last 12 to 18 months. In criticising the drop-off of workforce, those opposite fail to realise that it was their lack of planning, action and funding during the Rudd and Gillard eras that meant that there is now what is known as the valley of death. The lead time from taking a vision and putting it into a funded plan to starting work is measured, according to Defence and industry experts, in years—normally five to six years from the time a government commits until work commences. If we were to have seen work flow to Australian yards—which would have meant that there would be no gap in the workforce, and therefore we would have maintained the efficiencies and the reduced risk—that decision would have had to have been made under a Labor government, which it wasn’t.

Contrast that to this government, which has brought forward not only the planning but the funding. We are investing some $1.2 billion in the infrastructure at Osborne so that we can see the offshore patrol vessel, the future frigate and the Future Submarine built. It’s a good example of where the coalition not only has the vision but, more importantly, has the management ability to put in place a plan and the funding so that we can deliver the infrastructure and capability Australia needs.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Whish-Wilson): It being 12.20, the Senate will now proceed to consideration of government business.