Michael Sukkar MP

Federal Member for Deakin
Assistant Treasurer
Minister for Housing
Minister for Homelessness, Social and Community Housing
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Enhancing Productivity with Asset Recycling Fund

I was really pleased to follow the member for Bendigo in her contribution to this debate, because the member for Bendigo spoke at some length about her opposition to the state coalition government’s policy in respect of the sale of the Port of Melbourne Corporation. There were a couple of minutes there where the member for Bendigo spoke stridently against that proposed sale. I suppose the problem for the member for Bendigo is that she should probably speak to the state Labor opposition leader, Daniel Andrews, who, in November 2013, committed the Labor Party, if elected, to sell the Port of Melbourne Corporation. So there we have it. The member for Bendigo has repudiated sensible state Labor party policy, where they were brought kicking and screaming to accept that the sale of the Port of Melbourne Corporation would be very positive. So, Member for Bendigo, I think you have a little bit of explaining to do when we head back to Victoria. I also suspect that it is another case of saying one thing in Canberra and another thing when we all head home to our electorates.

Before I start my contribution on the Asset Recycling Fund Bill 2014, I want to assure the member for Bendigo that nobody in Victoria—certainly nobody in the outer east of Melbourne where the seat of Deakin lies—refers to the East West Link as ‘the dud tunnel’. She might be concerned about the inner-city Greens and the internal Labor Party fights that will happen with respect to—

Mr Fitzgibbon: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: you cannot preface your remarks by saying, ‘Before I get to the bill I want to say this,’ and claim you are being relevant to the bill. The member, by his own admission, is not being relevant to the bill.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Craig Kelly ): There is little bit of latitude.

Mr SUKKAR: I commend the member for Hunter for trying to save the member for Bendigo, but nothing will save her from the woeful contribution she just made.

People in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, in my seat of Deakin, greatly appreciate the Asset Recycling Fund Bill which we are here to debate today. Let us remember that this is an agreement that the federal government was able to strike with every single state government, including state governments of the other political persuasion. So I find it very surprising that the amendments being sought here are not being repudiated by those opposite. This bill, and the Asset Recycling Fund, is a key component of ensuring that we meet our commitment to give Australia the infrastructure of the 21st century—something we spoke about ad nauseam during the election campaign and something we have spoken about ad nauseam since forming government.

What sets us apart from the Labor Party is that we do not send out endless media releases or make endless announcements. I do not follow New South Wales politics that closely, but—gee whiz—I can recall that many infrastructure projects being announced three, four or five times. Even in my own state the Labor Party does it. There is no shame. They will announce the same infrastructure project time and time again—without any credible way to fund it. The Asset Recycling Fund will ensure that we have the means to deliver on our promises.

The fund is designed to provide incentives and support for our state and territory governments to sell their existing assets and invest the freed-up capital into new productive infrastructure—infrastructure that will provide the foundations for a more productive economy. I could not believe the member for Bendigo—she was almost rewriting Labor history when bemoaning privatisations. I think we need to sit her down with former Prime Ministers Hawke and Keating. Perhaps she can educate them on the mistakes they made when implementing their very important privatisation agenda. It shows you just how far the once great Labor Party has retreated from what it was.

The Asset Recycling Fund will start with an initial commitment of $5.9 billion. This money comes from uncommitted amounts in the Building Australia Fund and the Education Investment Fund and will be managed by the Future Fund Board of Guardians. The Asset Recycling Fund builds on earlier coalition government measures to create future funds—thanks, as we know, to former Treasurer Costello—to benefit current and future generations by providing long-term investments in our future economic development, not just spending money with the next election in mind. These are not short-term measures. They are for the long-term benefit of the nation.

In the 2014-15 budget, the coalition government, unlike Labor, invested a fair dinkum $50 billion into key infrastructure projects. I have been very gladdened to read that that $50 billion investment will support more than $125 billion of construction activity once you take into account private sector and other sources of funding. In other words, a $50 billion commitment by this government, which is unprecedented, unlocks an additional $75 billion of private investment.

Over the last few years, much has been made by members opposite about the need for investment in infrastructure projects. Every question time, it seems, the former infrastructure minister interjects in some sort of desperate attempt to salvage some kind of legacy—but I can tell him that that legacy has been shot out of the water, so he should just give up. We on this side of the House will deliver on our promise of modern infrastructure. It is a key part of our Economic Action Strategy to boost jobs along with investment. Again, it was something we spoke about ad nauseam before the last election.

Building the roads of the 21st century is a crucial step and I am very proud that prior to the election, through advocacy from Victorian federal members—or federal candidates, as I was—we were able to secure a $1½ billion commitment in relation to the East West Link. This is an unprecedented investment in crucial infrastructure for Victoria. Again, the member for Bendigo referred to it as ‘the dud tunnel’. She should probably speak to the former Labor state government and former Labor Premiers John Brumby and Steve Bracks, because the East West Link, the most crucial infrastructure project in Victoria, was first identified by the former state Labor government through their Eddington review in 2008. The member for Bendigo has effectively repudiated Daniel Andrews, the current opposition leader; the last two state Labor premiers of Victoria; and two great prime ministers—Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. I think that shows you exactly what has happened to the Labor Party.

In addition to the $1½ billion that was committed pre-election, we recognised, in order to unlock Melbourne’s west and to provide a second river crossing in Victoria, that stage 2 of the East West Link needed to be accelerated too. Clearly stage 1, with our $1½ billion commitment, will kick it off and get it started this year. But the additional $1½ billion for stage 2 is recognition that, in order to have an entirely integrated road system in Victoria, that second river crossing—in addition to stage 1 of the East West Link—is going to be absolutely necessary. So there we go. We have $3 billion committed by this government to ensure that the East West Link, stages 1 and 2, starts immediately.

Another huge advantage for the Victorian economy—not just once the road is completed, because we know there will be massive benefits for businesses and commuters—is that during the construction phase of stages 1 and 2 of the East West Link over 6,000 construction jobs will be created. That is why responsible union leaders in Victoria have been desperately making pleas to the state Labor Party to get behind the East West Link. I suspect that secretly they wish it happens. They want the hard decision taken away from them. I can promise the Labor Party that, yes, we will make the hard decision. In fact, it is not that hard; it is a very positive announcement for Victoria. There will be 6,000 new jobs during the construction phase of the project.

What is the big problem with the East West Link? The problem is, for residents of Deakin, Aston and Menzies and people who live the eastern suburbs, the Eastern Freeway effectively ends at an inner-city street at Clifton Hill. This project will ensure that Deakin residents commuting to the airport, across town for work in the West, or even into the inner north or the CBD, will no longer have to sit on the Eastern Freeway for hours on end. A stark example of that is that every Sunday afternoon, when I am making my way to the airport during a sitting week, I sit on Alexandra Parade at the end of the Eastern Freeway for the better part of half an hour. This is on a Sunday afternoon. So I absolutely appreciate it when my constituents complain to me about the time they spend on the Eastern Freeway.

This is a huge fillip for the Victorian economy, it is a huge fillip for jobs growth and, importantly for the residents of Deakin, the East West Link will ensure that the eastern suburbs are no longer forgotten and that the eastern suburbs have the infrastructure they need—not only for small businesses but also for everyday mums and dads. Quite frankly, the time you spend on the freeway often determines whether you get home to bathe your children, give them a kiss or read them a book before they go to bed. It is real life for these people. If we are able to save mums and dads—and all family members—time commuting, there are productivity benefits but there are also deeply-felt personal benefits for everybody.

The Asset Recycling Fund is the culmination of an historic agreement between the Commonwealth government and the states, including Labor states. Clearly, there is bipartisan support for it, if you put aside the endless opposition we get from members of the federal Labor Party. It makes sense. Recycling assets and ensuring that those funds from privatisations are contributed to productivity-enhancing infrastructure should not be anything new. There should not be anything particularly novel to members opposite, except that it is very positive. If it is novel to those opposite, then they should read the legislation and consider it, because it makes complete sense.

If asset recycling means that rather than having endless media releases, endless photo opportunities which the Labor Party was so good at for six years, we start delivering projects—we have men and women on the ground with projects actually happening—it will have a huge fillip for the broader national economy, not just for the Victorian economy, and will have long-term benefits on the economy through more efficient freight movement and productivity of our citizens.

I congratulate the Victorian state government for working hand in glove with us, in respect of our investment in the East West Link, because it has indicated to the Victorian people that when you have state and federal governments who do not endlessly squabble, things can be delivered. Ultimately, my residents in Deakin want to see action. They want to see things happening. They do not want to see blame shifting from one level of government to another. The $3 billion we are committing to the East West Link—and countless other infrastructure projects around the country—will be a huge shot in the arm for the Victorian and national economies. I therefore commend the relevant minister for this historic Asset Recycling Fund and congratulate him for being able to negotiate this with each of the states.