Friday, 20 June 2014

Speech in Parliament - Asset Recycling Fund Bill 2014, Asset Recycling Fund (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2014 - 19 June 2014

Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (09:38): It is my pleasure to speak on these two bills, the Asset Recycling Fund Bill 2014 and the Asset Recycling Fund (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2014 and follow a large number of colleagues who have spoken through the course of yesterday on this important initiative within the budget. This of course was announced on budget night and the relevant bills were introduced by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, the member for Moncrieff, on 29 May. Importantly, as previous speakers have outlined, they provide for an asset recycling fund as part of the government's infrastructure package announced in the budget—some $5.9 billion at the commencement, comprising from $2.4 billion of uncommitted funds from the Building Australia Fund and $3.5 billion from the Education Investment Fund.

As the parliamentary secretary outlined, this important initiative will support the recycling of infrastructure. It is an important principle. Where government owns an asset, if it is best that that be sold, be privatised, in order for the purchase of other key assets—namely, infrastructure—it makes perfect sense. We need to upgrade infrastructure, particularly throughout the states. What this fund will do is provide incentives of 15 per cent of the sale price of assets to give the states and territories an immediate benefit, as the parliamentary secretary pointed out, to recycle their capital investments.

I want to spend a bit of time on a number of aspects of this. Yesterday we saw the shadow minister, the member for Grayndler, railing against a number of aspects of this approach and announcing that the opposition would be moving a series of amendments, which clearly are designed to duplicate and complicate this process. The reason for that is that certainly in the case of the shadow minister and many members opposite in their heart of hearts they remain opposed to privatisation. To be clear, the member for Grayndler said yesterday in this House:

I am neither for or against privatisation full stop, but it must be considered on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes it might be appropriate to sell a public asset—

And on he went. I am the first to concede that he did say that. Many would say that I should take him at face value. But, given the track record of the member for Grayndler, I do not.

The truth is that, while the Hawke and Keating governments have a proud record of privatisation—privatising airlines and the Commonwealth Bank in two tranches—those opposite have never acted in that tradition. The Howard government faced total opposition from those opposite in the privatisation of Telstra, and many members-and I say exhibit 1 is the member for Grayndler—had their fingers crossed behind their back, at best, during the Hawke and Keating governments. In the case of the member for Grayndler, when he says, 'I am neither for or against privatisation full stop … it needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis,' the problem is that he has never thought of a case where it might apply.

If we go back to Hawke and Keating governments and actually look at the Commonwealth Bank and look at the record of the member for Grayndler himself, we see that back in 1995, just before he entered this place as a senior member of the left on the retirement of Brian Howe, he was interviewed on ABC radio and he outright opposed the privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank. Let me quote him:

I think in spite of that, I guess there is substantial disillusionment when you can have something such as the privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank without the Left making a statement in opposition to that. And I think that there's considerable disillusionment amongst the rank and file of the party, not just the Left, but I think it crosses the factions.

He went on:

Oh, I think that there is perhaps a view at a rank and file level that the Left does have to be a bit more vocal, that the Left does have to differentiate its political perspective from the views of the Government at a time when it's necessary, whether it be the Commonwealth Bank—

And then he goes on with a number of other issues.

Let us be clear about this: the member for Grayndler, if he had his way, would still have the Commonwealth Bank in government hands. Think of that: in 2014 the member for Grayndler would have the federal government owning a bank. I have not had the time to go back and see what he said at the time of the privatisation of government owned airlines, but I think he would have had a consistent position back then of opposing that as well. He certainly opposed the privatisation of Telstra. And that is really what is driving those opposite. If we look to the asset recycling initiative, which is designed to give an incentive to the states to sell assets and to purchase new infrastructure that will build their economies and build the national economy, you only have to look to his home state of New South Wales, where Labor governments, particularly under Morris Iemma, sought to privatise their electricity assets. That was opposed by the Left vigorously, opposed by the current leader of the opposition up there in New South Wales.

And what has been the end result of that long period of opposition by the Left of the Labor Party to privatisation? It has been that the asset has diminished in value, the public has lost the opportunity it would have once had to get greater value and even better infrastructure. That is the approach of the shadow minister opposite when it comes to privatisation. Yesterday he and a number of other speakers took a lot of time to lecture the government on proper processes with respect to infrastructure.

Mr Craig Kelly interjecting—

Mr TONY SMITH: It was a bit rich, as my colleague interjects in support. Regarding proper processes on infrastructure, all of us on this side of the House can cite the big national projects for which they had no process. The process for the commitment on the NBN was done on the back of a beer coaster on a VIP flight. But in each of our electorates, particularly in the lead-up to the last election, we saw an incredible lack of process. I am going to take the time of the House—it is fortuitous that you are in the chair, Mr Deputy Speaker Mitchell, and I make no accusations against you—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mitchell): You'd want to be careful!

Mr TONY SMITH: but your electorate will certainly—

Dr Leigh: I'd focus on Deputy Speaker Mitchell!

Mr TONY SMITH: It is good to have the member for Fraser back there at the table. He carries a lot of luggage with him these days; he has to carry his books around wherever he goes. But getting back to asset recycling and processes on infrastructure spending from those opposite: I have often said that they have an unembarrassable quality about them. When it came to local infrastructure, as we all saw in our electorates, here is a case of what those opposite consider to be proper process. In the lead-up to the last election the then minister for regional Australia, the member for Ballarat, visited the Yarra Valley, in June of last year, and announced funding for three projects: a tourist railway in the heart of the electorate of Casey to the tune of $3.5 million; an initiative in the electorate of McEwen; and a swimming pool in the electorate of Deakin. They were all announced on the one day. But guess what had happened by the time the writs were issued some months later? It transpired that the minister had signed off with great haste on the funding announcements in the electorates of McEwen and Deakin but went on strike, refused to sign off on the initiative in the electorate of Casey. It fell to us to make that pledge that we would honour what those opposite had promised but failed to deliver—and I am pleased to say that we have.

Now, that story is typical of what went on in the dying days of the Gillard and Rudd government when it came to process on infrastructure funding. Those opposite are in no position to lecture anybody on proper process when it comes to infrastructure funding or, as many speakers on this side of the House have pointed out during the course of this debate, on processes for so many of the programs that they undertook, be they school halls or pink batts. The shadow minister, when he was minister, had a lot of advice, including from the Infrastructure Finance Working Group back in April 2012. At that time they made the very point about the importance of asset recycling. They had this to say:

Infrastructure Australia is already looking at ways to encourage the sale and recycling of government owned infrastructure to fund new projects. The Australian Government should continue to work with State and Territory governments in assessing potential assets for sale and opportunities for better use of existing assets, for example, through pricing of asset use.

And on it went. It put that principle to him time and time again.

But of course the shadow minister cannot say he is in favour of this initiative wholeheartedly, because he cannot think of an asset he would be prepared to sell. As we have seen, he was opposed to the sale of the Commonwealth Bank. I set this challenge for those opposite: I would like the shadow minister to come out in support of one privatisation that has occurred—just one. We know he opposed the sale of the Commonwealth Bank. I am very happy to say that, if the shadow minister believes that the Australian government in 2014 should own a bank, it is very difficult to think of one privatisation in the Hawke-Keating era that he would have supported. It is very difficult to think of a single privatisation that he would support today. He comes in here and talks the talk, but his record speaks for itself. That record shows that, while those opposite like to bask in the Hawke-Keating tradition, very few of them believed in it. The shadow minister and member for Grayndler is exhibit A on that front.

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