Sep 24, 2014

Consideration in Detail – Infrastructure Australia Amendment (Cost Benefit Analysis and Other Measures) Bill 2014

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10:20): I do want to make some comments about the Deputy Prime Minister’s contribution. He made a number of comments that simply are not correct. One is that Infrastructure Australia was not able to get out ahead of the funding of projects. Have a look at the Majura Parkway when you are on the way to the airport—$288 million, $144 million from each level of government, recommended by Infrastructure Australia after a proper cost-benefit analysis took place. The Goodwood-to-Torrens project in South Australia was recommended after a proper cost-benefit analysis. The Gold Coast Light Rail project—which those opposite were happy to go to the opening of and to ride on the first trip, but which Steven Ciobo, as the local member, opposed—was subject to a proper cost-benefit analysis and recommendations of Infrastructure Australia. The regional rail link in Victoria, which had the largest ever Commonwealth contribution to a public transport project, was recommended by Infrastructure Australia after a proper cost-benefit analysis took place. Infrastructure Australia recommended the work on the Pacific Highway, which shows a positive cost-benefit analysis. All of the work on the Pacific Highway is a result of the former Commonwealth Labor government’s investment; the new government did not put in a single new dollar. Indeed, Labor funded all 15 projects that were recommended by Infrastructure Australia.

Infrastructure Australia is a dynamic process. For example, as the Commonwealth, we put in $40 million to make sure that the Melbourne Metro project was up to speed. I see nothing wrong with small contributions for the East West Link or for WestConnex in Sydney. For example, we contributed $25 million for the WestConnex project to make sure that it got up to speed. The Commonwealth government made a $20 million contribution to Cross River Rail in Brisbane, which resulted in that project being the No. 1 project in the country in terms of its cost-benefit analysis. There was an agreement reached between the Commonwealth and the Newman government in Queensland to fund that project. The announcement was ready to go, the Commonwealth money was in the budget, and then those opposite pulled the announcement on the week that it was due to be made with Premier Newman.

Mr Perrett interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE: The press release was organised for Kangaroo Point. The member for Moreton was going to come along. People from both sides were going to be there. Scott Emerson, the Queensland transport minister, thought it was a great project. They all thought it was a great project. But Tony Abbott and the coalition were in a position whereby they were favourites to form government, so that project was skewered as a result of the short-sightedness of the coalition.

Those opposite say that there is nothing to stop the funding of public transport projects, but compare the words of the minister with the policy. The policy of the coalition was to require a cost-benefit analysis for projects worth more than $100 million, not for projects where there was a Commonwealth government contribution of more than $100 million. That distinction is important in this legislation because, by definition, public transport projects will not receive more than $100 million in funding from the Commonwealth government and therefore there will not be an analysis of them.

We go back to the extraordinary proposition of their so-called Asset Recycling Fund, so-called because ‘privatisation’ is not a word that they like to use, but the fund is for enhancing privatisation. There is no additional money, the legislation has not been carried, and I notice the Treasurer’s comments last Friday, when he said, ‘It is money that has already been appropriated’. You bet it has; it is money that was appropriated by the former Labor government and put in the Building Australia Fund and the Education Investment Fund. Those opposite have not contributed a single new dollar. I regret that we are not able to have a complete consensus on this. The position of both the major political parties and the Greens political party is that there should be proper cost-benefit analysis, but that is not what this legislation does. (Extension of time granted)

I also make the point that it is extraordinary that the Deputy Prime Minister has not addressed the proposition that $1.5 billion has already been forwarded in the last financial year to the Victorian government for the East West Link project. The cost-benefit analysis has not occurred, but they have already paid $1.5 billion, including $1 billion for stage 2. What is the possible justification for that? Contracts have not been signed, and in relation to stage 2 there is not even a clear idea of where the project will go. It is a bit like Perth Freight Link, where the spokesperson in the Western Australian government said that planning was not up to the point where they could publish any proposal in detail about where that particular project would go, and yet money is allocated for it in the budget. But at least in that case the money was not forwarded.

Those opposite have made this advance payment, and all that does is make the Commonwealth budget look worse and the Victorian coalition government look better in the lead-up to the Victorian election campaign. Then we read in the paper today that the company involved with the potential construction of stage 1 will put in the contract a huge liability for taxpayers if that project does not proceed. It is pretty simple: make sure that you get it right at the beginning before you sign a contract. Contracts for infrastructure should not be determined in terms of their date in relation to the electoral cycle. The whole point of Infrastructure Australia was to break the nexus between the political cycle of three or four years and the infrastructure investment cycle, which by definition is long term. That is what I want to see this legislation achieve.

I appreciate the fact that the minister has said that he will give consideration to the amendments before they are discussed in the other place. On behalf of Labor, I indicate that I am certainly willing to engage in those discussions. Where we can get consensus, I want to reach consensus. However, I must say that the beginning of the new form of Infrastructure Australia has not been terrific. An acting infrastructure coordinator is issuing media releases about the Victorian state election with no authority from the board. I have also asked what the process is to appoint a CEO of Infrastructure Australia. What has been the advertising process to make sure that Infrastructure Australia get the best person to get the job done rather than a crony of the Liberal or National Party? That is a critical point.

Mr Dutton: Deegan, Coutts-Trotter.

Mr ALBANESE: They are prepared to slur people across the chamber— Michael Deegan was appointed head of the National Transport Commission by the Howard government. The Deputy Prime Minister seems to think he has no influence on who is appointed head of the National Transport Commission, which is quite extraordinary. The only person with any political background who was appointed to the Infrastructure Australia council was Mark Birrell, the former minister in the Kennett government, and he was appointed on the basis of merit. There were no former Labor politicians appointed to that body. In terms of the process, we need to make sure that we get it right. This is an opportunity to get it right. I support the amendments.