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Delays from reviewing critical programs like Roads to Recovery threatens road safety of Gippslanders

The Albanese government's self-congratulatory behaviour lacks substance, with cuts to vital infrastructure programs, undermining local councils and endangering lives on regional roads.

By news@gippsland - 23rd May 2023 - Back to News

What an orgy of self-congratulation we've experienced this week. The one year anniversary of the Albanese government has proven that hubris and arrogance are more contagious than COVID itself. I'm not sure whether it was the Prime Minister or maybe the Treasurer who started the outbreak, but they've both been superspreaders, haven't they! The whole ministry has a case of long hubris. 'That's enough about me. Let's talk about you. What do you think about me?'

Reviewing critical programs like Roads to Recovery threatens road safety and local councils' viability, endangering lives and causing delays

Reviewing critical programs like Roads to Recovery threatens road safety and local councils' viability, endangering lives and causing delays

Hubris, exception, infrastructure

One minister after another has strutted in here, strutted up to the dispatch box and, in that overdose of hubris and arrogance, they've pumped up their own tyres. It was like a clearance sale at the fig-jam factory! I thought I was trapped. I thought I was trapped in a Kath & Kim marathon - 'Look at moi, look at moi, look at moi' - all preening themselves in front of the Prime Minister, auditioning for a job in the next reshuffle.

But there was a notable exception. Someone actually missed out on getting a question on their own portfolio. Who was it? The poor Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and local government couldn't get a question from her own side on her own portfolio. I've been here for 15 years, and I've never seen anything like it after a budget. Just a couple of weeks after the budget, you'd expect the minister for infrastructure to be selling her achievements too.

But then I read the Treasurer's speech again - I know, it's a lonely life in opposition when my night-time reading is the Treasurer's speech, but I read it again. I need to get out more often! There's not a single mention of the word 'infrastructure' in the entire speech made by the Treasurer on budget night. I know he couldn't say what those things were that we sell overseas or speak of high prices for things we sell overseas like coal, iron ore, gas or agriculture products.

Omission, impact, program

He couldn't say those naughty words, but I thought he'd say 'infrastructure'. No, he didn't mention infrastructure and he didn't even mention the word 'roads', not once. He didn't mention roads, so then it was obvious. It became obvious why the minister for infrastructure and transport couldn't get a question to tell us about her infrastructure achievements; she wouldn't be able to speak for three minutes.

At a time when those opposed are opening the doors to another 1 and a half million new arrivals, they are actually cutting back funding for infrastructure in the communities that need to cope with and house the new arrivals.

When you look at the budget papers and you listen to those opposite, there's one program in particular which has stood out as being a high-profile budget victim: the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program. This is the most mean-spirited part of the federal budget for rural and regional councils because it is one of the most successful programs of the coalition era.

Abolished, funding robbed

It was hugely popular among local councils. It has received no additional funding and has effectively been abolished; it's just going to run out of gas over the next couple of years. They are effectively robbing our regional councils and urban councils of an important source of funding for those pipelines of community projects which are so important in those small and regional areas in particular.

Remember, under LRCIP, the federal coalition government actually gave power to local governments. We let them set their own priorities. We trusted them to make decisions because we decided that they would be best placed to know what community infrastructure would be required in their communities, and not the bureaucrats here in Canberra. We saw things like sporting ground upgrades, new skate parks, pump tracks in my community of Gippsland, library improvements and road upgrades.

They were all completed earlier because councils had more money and didn't have to rely completely on their rate base to get things done. It was a good policy delivered well. Local governments loved it. Labor abolished it in the budget. Labor doesn't trust the democratically elected councils right across Australia to make the right choices. They would rather have those choices made by Canberra based bureaucrats.

Disappointed rural funding

It's probably true that some of the urban councils won't notice it quite as much, but in those rural and regional areas it was an incredibly important part of their funding, and they are very disappointed and devastated by the fact that they won't be able to build that infrastructure going forward. In my electorate of Gippsland, which I know everyone would love to visit one day,

East Gippsland Shire received $16 and a half million, Shire of Wellington received $17 million and Latrobe City received $11 million. That was repeated right across Australia. Over the course of the program, multimillion-dollar contributions were made to community infrastructure. Every council received funding on top of their financial assistance grants, on top of Roads to Recovery and on top of black spot funding. It was new money.

Now to my friend the member for Ballarat, the minister who can't get a question. Ballarat, the home municipality of the minister for infrastructure, Catherine King, received almost $11 million under the program. She was glowing with praise for the program. She turned up to the Ballarat tramway project last year. Minister King said at the time: This project is a great example of what the LRCI Program is all about - supporting locals to deliver projects with a great importance to the community.

Labor's double standards

She loved it so much, she abolished it. By failing to fund LRCIP going forward, Labor is sending a message to our local councils: 'You simply can't be trusted with money, and we're going to make decisions. We're going to drag all the power back to Canberra, and we won't let you make decisions on local priorities.'

I mentioned the minister for infrastructure's double standards. The hypocrisy of some of those opposite becomes more and more palpable every time we walk into this place. The minister for infrastructure comes in here, ridicules the previous government, attacks programs that delivered hundreds of millions of dollars across the community, makes a bunch of allegations and then sneaks out to open them. She takes credit and hopes no-one notices.

Now, the minister for local government is here and she is sitting really quietly. I think I know why, because she does the same thing. The minister for local government is all about taking credit for coalition government announcements, coalition government commitments, coalition government projects actually delivered in her community. The minister for local government went to the Eden Killer Whale Museum. The Eden Killer Whale Museum received its biggest grant ever in 2019.

Political hypocrisy exposed

I think it was the coalition government. That's right, the coalition government was in power at that point - $640,000 from the previous government. Even though she stands up here and attacks - Ms McBain interjecting-

You didn't want the 640? Okay. Even though the minister walks in here and attacks our regional grants programs, that did not stop the minister for local government turning up to the opening and taking credit for the $640,000 that she does not want any more, apparently.

The minister said, The Australian government is proud to have funded this expansion project, making it a reality for Eden. Now bigger, better and more accessible than ever, the Eden Killer Whale Museum is a real treat to visit and learn about the town's whaling history. I am thrilled to be here today to see this fantastic space and what our investment in critical regional tourism infrastructure means to the communities it benefits, she also said:

Empty political gestures

Another minister loves the program, so let's abolish it. Let's get rid of it. It is not just members in this place, not just ministers, even senators get in on the act. Senator Raff Ciccone from Victoria went down to Gippsland. It was the first time he had been there, actually.

No, this was his second time. He came to Gippsland Grammar and opened a $4 million project. The rush to cut ribbons and unveil plaques is unbelievable. But they don't want to work that fast to deliver infrastructure themselves. Mr Pasin interjecting -

Empty promises, hypocrisy

The member for Barker is right: I have never seen a ribbon they don't want to cut. They will knock you over in their rush for their photo opportunity. I'm being a bit harsh on the minister for infrastructure and transport; it is not like she has been doing nothing. She has announced a review. She has hit the ground reviewing. She has announced a review.

She will review all those infrastructure projects that haven't started, all of them except the ones announced by Labor in the election campaign; they will not be reviewed. They will review everything else but not those ones. We heard last night in Senate estimates that Roads to Recovery is included in the review, along with other sub programs like Bridges Renewal and the Black Spots Program.

If you cut those programs, surely you will understand what a threat that is to road safety. Surely those opposed understand it is a threat to the viability of a local council. The minister says, 'We do not hear an answer.' You love local roads and community infrastructure. You turned up and said how great it was, but you cut that, so why would I believe anything you say about Roads to Recovery?

Lives at stake

I don't say this lightly because this is very serious. Those opposed need to understand that if those infrastructure projects, particularly in regional areas, involving intersection upgrades, highway safety improvements, do not go ahead, people will be killed and injured on those roads. People will be killed on those roads, and all we have been doing over the last 12 months is watching your government delay and make excuses.

So on this side of the chamber, we are proud of our achievements in government. We had a record investment in infrastructure, which changed lives and saved lives. We actually built roads. We built railway lines. We built airports and we funded councils to build community infrastructure. After 12 months, we're still waiting for the Albanese government ministers to build anything other than their own egos.

Pictures from Darren Chester Facebook page.


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