Jun 17, 2010

Question without notice – Infrastructure

Ms LIVERMORE (2:35 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Why is investment in regional infrastructure in mining communities important? Is the minister aware of the position of mining companies on this issue?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —I thank the member for Capricornia for her question and for her ongoing interest in infrastructure in her regional community in Queensland. The Minerals Council of Australia made it very clear when Mitch Hooke said on 26 May 2009:

There are significant gaps in Australia’s export infrastructure and some of the nation’s existing capital is in a state of disrepair …

… … …

… too often governments in the past have abrogated their responsibility to local communities and thus constrained the investment that private sector has wanted to make.

These are issues that are raised with us by state governments, by local governments and indeed by the private sector. We have argued that there is a great need for infrastructure investment, particularly in states such as Western Australia and Queensland. The Leader of the Opposition has argued that that is the job of the private sector—they are doing it all and there is no need for the government’s Regional Infrastructure Fund.

I am asked about what the attitude is of mining companies. I certainly acknowledge that I receive continual representations. Just this week a letter BHP Billiton wrote to me on 11 June was received in my office, on 15 June. It goes to the heart of both infrastructure need and the government’s plan to address that infrastructure need. It says it all about why the Regional Infrastructure Fund is necessary. I will read some of the letter because I think it speaks louder than some of the rhetoric we are hearing in this debate:

Dear Minister

The purpose of this letter is to outline concerns in relation to an area on the Landsborough Highway that BHP Billiton Cannington Mine believes to be a significant hazard to all motorists. This highway is heavily travelled by large trucks and general motorists as well as the Cannington Mine personnel.

It goes on to say:

In February this year a Toll North truck carrying Cannington Mine concentrate was involved in a crash at Rutchillo Creek.

It further goes on to say:

This is the second event that we are aware of where a truck has crashed at this location. The previous event occurred on 28 October 2006 when a Mitchell Corp truck carrying gravel travelling south met another truck travelling north at Rutchillo Creek.

Since the event in February this year, BHP Billiton Cannington Mine, working with Toll North, has undertaken research relating to road conditions and crashes in the area. The research indicates that a zone from Nora Creek through to Bull Creek is highly dangerous.

And it goes on to say:

It is our belief that this area represents a significant risk to all motorists using the road and that an urgent upgrade is required.

It puts some of the debate that we are having at the moment in its proper context: that we know that the resources boom is putting real pressure on infrastructure and that has an impact on all those who work directly in the industry but also those who live around those communities.

I acknowledge the fact that these are genuine concerns raised by BHP Billiton, as are other concerns raised by major resource companies and indeed by the trade unions that represent those workers, such as the Mining Division of the CFMEU, and the Australian Workers Union. If anyone was in any doubt whatsoever about the need to make sure we are in a position to invest in infrastructure in those regional mining communities, this letter says it all, in the words of BHP Billiton. I table the letter.