Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (15:17): As you know, Mr Speaker, I’m an optimistic kind of bloke. I’ve noticed that these matters of public importance are often quite negative. So today I thought I’d try and start on a more positive note. Given that this MPI is all about infrastructure and delivery, I thought I’d do the right thing by the government. I thought I’d do the right thing by the Albanese government and list their infrastructure achievements, reading them for the benefit of the parliament, so we’d all be better informed. So we searched. We checked the ministerial press releases. We read through social media. I didn’t check under the despatch box, but maybe I should have! But here is the definititive list—zero, zilch, nothing, duck eggs. We couldn’t find a single project that the Minister—who hasn’t stayed here for the MPI—or this government has announced, designed, funded and delivered in the past 15 months.
I note that my good mate the Member for Cowper is right behind me today. His electorate is famous for the Big Banana at Coffs Harbour. As a child, I visited the Big Banana. I’m worried that the infrastructure minister also visited the Big Banana as a child but took that as some sort of ministerial job description for a future career, because she has become the Big Banana of the Albanese cabinet; build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything. It used to be the infrastructure portfolio; now it has become the banana portfolio—build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything. There are some dangerous places in the world today—hostile areas with particularly inhospitable environments. Among the top 10 of the most dangerous places in the world are: Death Road, Snake Island, the Gates of Hell, the Skeleton Coast and Death Valley—they all sound very dangerous, but I’m quite sad to report this list isn’t quite complete. It’s out of date. There’s another place in Australia today which needs to be added to the list. There is one other place you just don’t want to find yourself loitering for too long. You never want to stand between a Labor minister and a ribbon-cutting event on a project they had nothing to do with. Never stand between a Labor Minister and a ribbon-cutting event that they had absolutely nothing to do with. You see them lining up for the project openings. Be very careful, colleagues, in your own electorates—if you actually get invited – be very careful if you’re there, you will be killed in the stampede for the photo opportunity. They’re claiming credit for projects that were fully funded by the previous government, claiming credit for projects that commenced construction during the term of the previous government, claiming credit for projects fully funded by the coalition. They’re not only claiming credit but also boldly posting with gushing praise on their social media accounts. Then they come in here, whinging that the previous government did nothing.
If you travel anywhere in regional Australia today and you see a bulldozer, a grader or a crane working on a new infrastructure project, you can be certain of one thing: it wasn’t funded by this Labor government. On this side of the chamber, we are proud of our achievements. We had record infrastructure investment which changed and actually saved lives. We built roads, we built railway lines and we built airports. We funded local councils to build community infrastructure. After 12 months, we are waiting for the ministers in the Albanese government to build anything other than their own egos.
If you listen to those opposite, it’s like a variation on that famous Monty Python sketch: what have the Romans ever done for us? ‘What has the coalition done for us?’. Well, apart from fully duplicating the Pacific Highway from Sydney to Brisbane, massive upgrades to the Bruce Highway right through Queensland, starting construction on the Western Sydney Airport, light rail and inland rail, an extra lane to the Monash Freeway, the Beef Roads Program, Roads of Strategic Importance, a second road crossing in Toowoomba, increased funding for local and regional roads, introduced the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program, which those opposite have now abolished—
Apart from all of that—
Mr CHESTER: Apart from all of that, what has the Coalition done for us? Apart from the Monty Python attack lines from this minister, it all falls flat on one critical point: the minister, who can’t be bothered coming in here for a matter of public importance on her own portfolio, hasn’t built anything. She really is a banana minister—builds absolutely nothing anywhere near anything.
Those of us who were here for the Treasurer’s speech on budget night might have noticed one thing: he didn’t mention the word ‘infrastructure’ once. He couldn’t even bring himself to mention the word ‘roads’ once. But that hasn’t stopped this minister from hitting the ground complaining and reviewing. She hasn’t funded a single project of her own, so she’s out there taking credit for the work of the previous government. This would be laughable if it wasn’t so bad and so sad for regional Australians. The infrastructure and transport portfolio is so important for the future of rural and regional Australia. All this minister has been able to do in 15 months is announce a review into the infrastructure investment pipeline. She has been the minister for 15 months, and on her 90-day review—we’re up to 110 days now, I think—we are still waiting for the outcomes of this razor-gang review.
This lack of support for regional Australians is reflected very obviously in the programs that have gone missing under this government. The minister is out there opening projects, taking credit, putting out press releases and saying how wonderful the local roads community infrastructure program is—she loved it so much, she abolished it. The Roads of Strategic Importance program—it’s gone. The regional airports infrastructure program—that’s gone. And the Treasurer stood here this week and admitted the Stronger Communities program is goneski as well. On this side of the House we actually trust regional people to make good decisions. That’s why we believed in them to set local priorities and fund local projects. We believed in the future of regional communities and we invested heavily in them. Those opposite have just kept on cutting programs. It’s because they don’t want to support our regional people.
In closing, this lack of support for regional people has never been more obvious than in Victoria today. The most obvious example of that today is the Victorian Labor Party and its illogical, treacherous and bloody minded decision to ban the native hardwood timber industry in that state. What did we hear from those opposite, the once great champions of the working class? What we hear from them when Dan Andrews showed no respect to timber workers and cut the guts out of the industry? What did we hear from those opposite? Not a single word of complaint, not a whisper, not a murmur, not even a raised eyebrow—because that’s the new Labor way. Old Labor could be trusted to fight for blue-collar jobs. The only thing that new Labor fights for is Greens preferences. The only thing they’re interested in is Greens preferences. Those opposite know how true this is because, every time I’ve raised this issue in the parliament, they never stand up and take a point of order or raise a single word in defence of Australian timber workers.
Those opposite are simply too gutless to stand up to the Victorian Labor Party and say a single critical word, even when they know that this decision was based entirely on political science. It had nothing to do with environmental science, and it is devastating for regional communities not only in my electorate but right across regional Victoria. Their own colleagues are sneaking around the back trying to get motions up at their own federal conference to ban the entire industry across Australia. They’re shaking their heads now and saying it’s not true. Well, stand up and fight for the blue-collar workers right across regional Australia.
Let me give the Labor Party a little tip. If the Greens are cheering your decision, it’s probably a very bad decision. If the light Greens—sorry, the Teals—are cheering you on, think again. The Teals are just the Greens with trust funds. It’s obscene to watch members from some of the most privileged communities in the nation demanding timber workers right across Australia lose their jobs. The Teals and the Greens enjoy all the spoils of a life created from the hard work of regional Australians, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to campaign to take their jobs away. This government has had 15 months in office, and all they’ve done is cut regional grants programs, whinge about the previous government and turn their backs on hardworking families in rural and regional Australia.