Mar 3, 2014

Labor to protect Infrastructure Australia

LABOR calls on Tony Abbott to scrap his plans to remove the independence of Infrastructure Australia after a torrent of criticism from infrastructure experts.

Today I moved a motion calling for the withdrawal of the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013, which would expose IA to manipulation based on the political whims of the government of the day.

In submissions to a Senate inquiry examining the legislation, groups including the Business Council of Australia, the Urban Development Institute of Australia and Infrastructure Australia itself have criticised the Bill as an affront to the organisation’s independence.

The experts confirm that this legislation is flawed. It should be withdrawn now.

Decisions about billions of dollars of spending on roads, railways, ports and other infrastructure are too important to be politicised.

Labor created Infrastructure Australia in 2008 as an independent body to research the nation’s infrastructure needs and rank them according to which would have the greatest impact on improving national productivity.

Importantly, IA publishes its findings – a critical transparency measure allowing the public to see the hard evidence the governments use to inform decision-making.

However, Mr Abbott’s legislation would empower the government to prohibit publication of IA’s findings and order IA to exclude from its considerations particular classes of infrastructure.

The move is a blatant attempt by Mr Abbott to silence IA over his ridiculous refusal to invest in urban passenger rail.

It will also open the way for a return to the pork-barrelling that plagued the previous Howard Government.

Given the depth of opposition to the changes, today I moved in Parliament for the Government to shelve the legislation pending a more-detailed inquiry by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure & Communications.

Labor believes the government should leave Infrastructure Australia alone so it can get in with its job.

But if the government truly believes there is need for reform, it should seek the views of independent experts to ensure future decisions about infrastructure are made in the public interest – not in Mr Abbott’s political interests.