Monday, 24 March 2014
Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill 2014; Consideration in Detail
by leave—I move amendments (1) to (4) and (6) and (7) as circulated in my name:
(1) Schedule 1, item 2, page 3 (after line 17), after paragraph (a) of the definition of approved funding recipient, insert:
(aa) a Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Project;
(2) Schedule 1, item 3, page 3 (after line 26), after paragraph (a) of the definition of approved purposes, insert:
(aa) a Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Project;
(3) Schedule 1, page 4 (after line 15), after item 7, insert:
7A Subsection 4(1)
Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Project has the meaning given by section 86A.
(4) Schedule 1, item 11, page 5 (after line 16), after paragraph (a) of the definition of project approval instrument, insert:
(aa) in relation to a Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Project—the instrument approving the project under subsection 86B(1); and
(6) Schedule 1, page 11 (after line 29), after item 38, insert:
38A After Part 7
Part 7A—Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Projects
Division 1—Approval of Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Projects
86A What is a Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Project?
A Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Project is a project for which an approval by the Minister under subsection 86B(1) is in force.
86B Approval of Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Projects
(1) The Minister may, in writing, approve a project as a Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Project if, and only if:
(a) the Minister is satisfied that the project is eligible for approval (see section 86C); and
(b) the Minister considers that it is appropriate to approve the project (see section 86D).
(2) An instrument approving a project is not a legislative instrument for the purposes of the Legislative Instruments Act 2003.
86C What projects are eligible for approval?
A project is eligible for approval as a Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Project if:
(a) the project aims to reduce the number of road accidents involving heavy vehicles by targeting driver fatigue; or
(b) the project aims to increase heavy vehicle productivity by enhancing the capacity of existing roads.
86D Is it appropriate to approve a project?
The matters to which the Minister may have regard in deciding whether it is appropriate to approve a project as a Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Project include, but are not limited to, the following matters:
(a) the results of any assessment of the safety benefits, or the productivity benefits, and the costs of the project;
(b) the results of any research conducted in relation to the project;
(c) the extent to which persons other than the Commonwealth propose to contribute funding to the project.
86E Submission of particulars of projects
(1) The Minister may invite the submission of particulars of projects for consideration for approval as Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Projects.
(2) An invitation may be given:
(a) to such States or authorities of a State as the Minister considers appropriate; and
(b) by any method that the Minister considers appropriate.
(3) Subject to section 86B, the Minister may approve a project as a Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Project, whether or not particulars of the project were submitted in response to an invitation.
(4) The Minister is not required to consider a project for approval as a Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Project unless such particulars of the project as the Minister requires have been submitted to the Minister.
86F Matters specified in project approval instrument
(1) The project approval instrument for a Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Project must:
(a) identify the project; and
(b) specify the maximum funding amount that the Commonwealth may contribute to the project; and
(c) identify the eligible funding recipient, being a State or authority of a State, to which funding may be paid; and
(d) if the approval is conditional on a funding agreement being entered into with the eligible funding recipient—contain a statement to that effect.
(2) The project approval instrument for a Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Project may exclude one or more specified purposes from being purposes on which funding may be expended.
86G Requirements with which funding agreements must comply
If the project approval instrument for a Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Project states that the approval is conditional on a funding agreement being entered into with the approved funding recipient:
(a) the total amount of funding that the agreement provides for must not exceed the maximum funding amount specified in the project approval instrument; and
(b) the agreement must comply with any other requirements (for example, requirements relating to the inclusion of conditions) specified in the project approval instrument.
86H Variation or revocation of project approval instrument
(1) The Minister may, in writing, vary or revoke the project approval instrument for a Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Project.
(2) A variation may be of a matter dealt with in the project approval instrument before the variation, or to include a new matter in the project approval instrument. The instrument as varied must be consistent with section 86F.
Note: For example, the project approval instrument may be varied to change the eligible funding recipient to which funding will be paid, or to specify a purpose that is excluded from the purposes on which funding may be expended.
(3) If there is a funding agreement with the approved funding recipient, the powers given by subsection (1) must be exercised in accordance with any relevant provisions of the funding agreement.
(4) An instrument varying or revoking the project approval instrument is not a legislative instrument for the purposes of the Legislative Instruments Act 2003.
Division 2—Provision of Commonwealth funding
86J Commonwealth funding for Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Projects
(1) Commonwealth funding for a Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Project may be provided to the approved funding recipient:
(a) in accordance with section 86K; or
(b) if the project approval instrument for the project states that the approval is conditional on a funding agreement being entered into—in accordance with a funding agreement, entered into with the approved funding recipient, that satisfies the requirements of section 86G.
(2) The payments of funding are to be made out of money appropriated by the Parliament.
86K Approval of provision of Commonwealth funding if no funding agreement
(1) The Minister may, in writing, approve the provision of Commonwealth funding for a Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Project to the approved funding recipient. The Minister may, in writing, vary or revoke the approval.
(2) The funding is to be provided in one or more instalments paid to the approved funding recipient. Subject to subsection (3), the amount and timing of an instalment are as determined by the Minister.
(3) The total amount of funding provided for the project to the approved funding recipient must not exceed the maximum funding amount specified in the project approval instrument.
(4) An instrument:
(a) approving the provision of Commonwealth funding, or varying or revoking such an approval; or
(b) determining the amount or timing of an instalment of funding;
is not a legislative instrument for the purposes of the Legislative Instruments Act 2003.
Division 3—Conditions that apply to Commonwealth funding
Subdivision A—Sources of conditions
86L Sources of conditions
(1) The conditions that apply to a payment (the funding payment) of Commonwealth funding for a Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Project (the funded project) to an eligible funding recipient (the funding recipient) are:
(a) the mandatory conditions (see Subdivision B); and
(i) if the funding payment is provided in accordance with section 86K—the conditions (if any) determined under Subdivision C; or
(ii) if the funding payment is provided in accordance with a funding agreement—the conditions specified in the funding agreement.
(2) A funding agreement may specify a condition by applying, adopting or incorporating any matter contained in an instrument or other writing as in force or existing from time to time.
Subdivision B—The mandatory conditions
86M This Subdivision sets out the mandatory conditions
The mandatory conditions are as set out in this Subdivision.
86N Funding payment must be expended on the funded project
The funding payment must be wholly expended on approved purposes in relation to the funded project.
86P Funding recipient must give Minister audited financial statements
For each financial year in which the funding recipient spends or retains any of the funding payment, the funding recipient must give to the Minister as soon as practicable, and in any event within 6 months, after the end of that year:
(a) a written statement as to:
(i) the amount spent by the funding recipient during that year out of the funding payment; and
(ii) the amount retained by the funding recipient out of the funding payment as at the end of that year; and
(b) a report in writing and signed by the appropriate auditor stating whether, in the auditor's opinion:
(i) the statement is based on proper accounts and records; and
(ii) the statement is in agreement with the accounts and records; and
(iii) the expenditure referred to in subparagraph (a)(i) has been on the funded project.
86Q Funding recipient must allow inspections by authorised persons
The funding recipient must, at all reasonable times, permit a person authorised by the Minister:
(a) to inspect any work involved in the carrying out of the funded project; and
(b) to inspect and make copies of any documents relating to the funded project.
84R Funding recipient must maintain records
(1) The funding recipient must:
(a) if the funded project targets driver fatigue in an area—maintain records relating to the nature and frequency of road accidents involving heavy vehicles and death or personal injury in the area; or
(b) if the project aims to increase heavy vehicle productivity by enhancing the capacity of existing roads—maintain records relating to how that outcome has achieved.
(2) The funding recipient must maintain the records required by subsection (1) for a period of 5 years, commencing on the receipt of the funding payment.
(3) The funding recipient must, at all reasonable times, permit a person authorised by the Minister to inspect any records maintained by the funding recipient as required by subsection (1).
86S Amount repayable on breach of condition
(1) If the Minister notifies the funding recipient in writing that the Minister is satisfied that the funding recipient has failed to fulfil any condition that applies to the funding payment (whether that condition is specified in this Subdivision, in a funding agreement or in a determinationunder Subdivision C) then the funding recipient must repay to the Commonwealth an amount equal to so much of the funding payment as the Minister specifies in the notice.
(2) The Minister may, by notice in writing, vary or revoke a notice given under subsection (1).
(3) If there is a funding agreement with the funding recipient, the powers given to the Minister by subsections (1) and (2) must be exercised in accordance with any relevant provisions of the funding agreement.
(4) A notice under subsection (1), or an instrument varying or revoking such a notice, is not a legislative instrument for the purposes of the Legislative Instruments Act 2003.
Subdivision C—Determination of other conditions if no funding agreement
86T Determination of other conditions if no funding agreement
(1) The Minister may, in writing, determine other conditions that apply to the provision of funding in accordance with section 86K.
(2) The Minister may determine different conditions to apply in different classes of situations.
(3) The Minister may, in writing, vary or revoke conditions determined under subsection (1).
(4) An instrument determining, varying or revoking conditions is a legislative instrument for the purposes of the Legislative Instruments Act 2003, but neither section 42 nor Part 6 of that Act applies to the instrument.
(5) Despite subsection 14(2) of the Legislative Instruments Act 2003, an instrument determining or varying conditions may make provision in relation to a matter by applying, adopting or incorporating any matter contained in an instrument or other writing as in force or existing from time to time.
(7) Schedule 1, item 46, page 13 (lines 16 and 17), omit the item, substitute:
46 Section 94
Omit "6, 7", substitute "7, 7A".
These amendments go to what I believe is the inadequate drafting of the Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill 2014 that is before the parliament this afternoon. The Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program is an initiative that we established under the existing nation building program act in 2009. Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, as you would be familiar because your electorate in Maranoa was a big beneficiary, it was aimed at improving safety and productivity outcomes of heavy vehicle operations across Australia. It was very clear after representation from organisations, including the Australian Trucking Association and the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association, and individual trucking companies and operators that there was a gap to be filled in terms of the program so the former government established the first Commonwealth dedicated program of its kind. Given the nature of this new legislation that is providing a framework for infrastructure and transport funding moving forward, I think it would be appropriate to include it in the act at this time.
The former government allocated some $70 million in the period 2008-09 to 2011-12. In the 2012 and 2013 budgets the former Labor government provided a further $250 million to extend this program. Total spending on the program became $320 million. It is a very significant program particularly aimed at road safety. When it comes to road safety we know that an extraordinary percentage of fatal accidents involve heavy vehicles. That is a problem for people who dedicate their very hardworking lives to driving on our highways to deliver products to market. It is also a problem for every driver because we all share the road with those heavy vehicles. Already there are 294 projects in total, including some 236 projects that have been completed, along with over 140 new or upgraded rest areas and 46 new or upgraded parking and decoupling bays.
Round 3 project criteria included funding the states and territories under six categories: rest area projects, which were about improving the provision of heavy vehicle rest areas on key interstate routes; parking and decoupling bay projects, which went to providing heavy vehicle parking and decoupling areas and facilities in outer urban and regional communities; and technology trial projects, which included the trial technologies to improve heavy vehicle safety and/or productivity. We know that this has reaped dividends in the past. Then there is the area of 'improving undercarriage'. There are considerable fatalities where literally heavy vehicles go over the top of passenger motor vehicles. This new technology ensures that that does not occur. New technology can also be designed to ensure that notification is given to a heavy vehicle driver who goes out of their lane. New technology can also provide for automated braking if a heavy vehicle gets too close to the vehicle in front of it. That automatic braking system has been advocated by people, including Lindsay Fox and others in the transport industry. This is an area that has seen extraordinary progress in saving lives and is one of the reasons why I think we as a parliament can be proud of the difference we have made in recent years to reduce the fatality rate on our roads. (Extension of time granted)
The fourth area is road enhancement projects. This can enhance the capacity and/or safety of roads, including bridges, to allow access by high-productivity vehicles to more of the road network. This again is a common-sense initiative. You should not have bottlenecks because bridges cannot take the weight of a heavy vehicle and therefore the driver has to, literally, spend many additional hours on the road with the consequential cost to the driver and the consequential cost to those who share the road with that driver, as well as the increased emissions and increased costs at the end of the day to the consumer who has to pay those flow-through costs. So this was a very sensible initiative.
The fifth is demonstration projects to facilitate innovation to improve heavy-vehicle safety and productivity projects. Again, working with the industry itself—to get that feedback and to make sure that the government is responsive to the needs of industry and of those people who work on the frontline in this industry.
The last was particularly important, and came from very specific representations from ALRTA, the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters' Association. It is livestock transport industry projects which improve heavy-vehicle safety and productivity for specific livestock transport operations. The former member for New England was a big champion of this particular area. In terms of the assistance given, when you look at the website you see projects from right around the country—particularly in Queensland, which is not surprising given the nature of the state there—to have improvements which make an enormous difference to safety and to the working lives of those people who work in that industry. For heavy-vehicle safety, I believe this is particularly important.
Of course, it was consistent with our initiative in introducing the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. That arose out of the landmark report of the House of Representatives committee supported by, and including, the former member for Hinkler, Paul Neville. He was a big champion of this reform, which essentially introduced Safe Rates and acknowledged that the power in the marketplace between an individual driver and a big company is not even, and that that pressure could lead to practices which cost lives. We know that is the case. No-one could not be moved if they spoke to one of the wives or family of people who have lost their lives because of the pressure that was placed on these people on our roads.
That is why the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was enacted by the former government. I believe that it was an absolutely critical reform. We were given a reminder of it recently by the Four Corners program, which outlined very clearly, in practical terms, why this issue should not be one of ideology and of partisan political debate. This should be something that is above party politics and should be an issue which is supported by all in this chamber—particularly by representatives from regional Australia. It is in regional Australia that most of the incidences involving heavy vehicles which cause fatalities occur.
These are sensible reforms, putting in place a framework which stops the undue exercise of pressure on drivers to drive what are sometimes extraordinary hours have been indicated. In Australia, people driving for more than 24 hours straight should not occur. There needs to be a framework around that. (Extension of time granted)This is critical and we established the Safe Rates Remuneration Tribunal. It commenced operation in July. 2012. The object of the act is to promote safety and fairness in the road transport industry. The tribunal's role in this area primarily relates to addressing the relationship between remuneration and safety in the industry by ensuring, amongst other things, that road transport drivers do not have remuneration related incentives to work in an unsafe manner and removing remuneration -related incentives, pressures and practices that contribute to unsafe work practices.
I am disappointed that the coalition government has flagged its intention to eliminate this tribunal even before its first order comes into effect on May 1 of this year. It has commissioned an inquiry into the tribunal before it has had a chance to prove its worth as an additional tool to deliver road safety. It is particularly insulting to the families of hard-working truck drivers to describe this tribunal as 'red tape'. This is a tribunal that is aimed very fairly and squarely at saving lives.
The first four of the items listed in the amendment which I have moved add the Heavy vehicle Safety productivity program to definitions in the act in a manner consistent with the existing programs: Item (1) inserts the heavy vehicle safety productivity program into the act's definition of an eligible funding recipient. Item (2) inserts the program into the act's definition of approved purposes. Item (3) inserts a definition reference to the heavy vehicle safety and productivity program. Item (4) inserts a reference to the project approval instrument for the program. Item (6) inserts a new part 7 to the act that outlines the essential elements of the heavy vehicle safety and productivity program in a manner that is consistent with other programs under the act. The provisions relating to approval of projects, provision of funding and conditions that apply to funding are the same as for other projects such as black spots.
I might leave my comments there and give the minister an opportunity to respond to these amendments. I must indicate that I contacted the minister last Friday morning and indicated very clearly that I was prepared to have discussions about the amendments we are moving to this bill today. I believe it is important that these amendments be considered on their merits. They clearly have merit. The same arguments that the minister has put with regard to areas such as the Roads to Recovery Program was of course included in the budget in 2013. We extended the program out through the forward estimates, but it does make a common-sense reform to include it in the act, which is the legislation that we have before us today. Just as that makes sense, it also makes sense to include the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program, which is why we are moving this amendment today.
I have two further points to make. The key clauses to note in the amendments are clause 86C, which prescribes eligible heavy vehicle safety and productivity projects as being projects that reduce accidents by reducing driver fatigue or projects that increase productivity by enhancing capacity on existing roads—those are the current project criteria for the minister to note; and clause 86R, which says that records relating to measuring the outcomes of the investment are required to be kept for five years—which is, again, consistent with the way that, in general, the act applies. For the benefit of the House, amendment (7) is simply a consequential amendment, if you like, relating to renumbering. I commend the amendments to the House.
The government will not be supporting the amendments moved by the honourable member for Grayndler. Let me begin by assuring the House that the government has no intention whatsoever of getting rid of the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity program. We recognise that it is a program of value. The heavy vehicle industry pays a road user charge and they expect that money would be spent on projects of benefit to the road transport industry. We will continue to do that.
There is no need to include these amendments or the references that the shadow minister is talking about in the legislation. He did not do it when he was the minister. These clauses were not in the act. It is not as though we are removing them; he is asking that they be added. If it were necessary to have them in the act, he would have been in the position to do it when the Labor Party was in government,. The reality is that this program is covered by the existing provisions in the act. It is covered by the legislation that was in place under the previous government and it has not changed under this government.
We certainly are committed to delivering this particular program and we will deliver it with enthusiasm and genuine commitment. However, these amendments increase duplication and increase the administrative burden on funding recipients for no real value. The proposed part 7A for the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Project duplicates existing provisions in the act. The heavy vehicle safety and productivity projects are currently approved under either part 3 or part 6 of the act, depending on whether they are on or off the National Land Transport Network. The Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill 2014 is combining the existing part 3 and part 6 into a new part 3 to remove the duplication from the act. The proposed part 7A would undo this if the opposition's amendments were to be accepted. The proposed part 7A also increases the record-keeping burden on funding recipients by requiring them to maintain records for heavy vehicle safety and productivity projects for five years under the proposed clause 84R. Funding recipients are not required to keep these records under the existing part 3 and part 6 or the new part 3. So this kind of record keeping was not required when Labor was in government.
We are a government that believes in less regulation and less red tape. These amendments add substantial burden to those who are receiving these grants. For that reason, it does not really seem to me to make much sense. Labor had the capacity to put this kind of prescription in the legislation when they were in office, they did not choose to do so. To do it now adds administrative burden to those who receive the grants and duplicates existing sections in the act. For those reasons, we do not support the amendments.
I very strongly support the amendments to the Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill 2014 that are being proposed here. I take the point that the minister has made. We would argue that this program has been of such success that it is important to really give it an elevated status. It has already been said that the road user charges that are paid by the trucking industry are very considerable. We think that giving this particular aspect of the program—which was part of the nation-building funding, more generally—an elevated status and enshrining it within the legislation would be an act of very considerable support to the industry. Many of these aspects—many of the projects that have been covered and many of the sub-programs that are part of that program—are very much geared towards boosting the productivity of the industry and improving the safety, which in turn increases the productivity of the industry. I add my voice to the plea for the minister to retain the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. I take considerable pride in the fact that Western Australia was the first jurisdiction to introduce this legislation, because we were conscious not only of the potential impact on the lives and health of many of the truck drivers, who were reliant on heavy doses of pharmaceutical assistance to enable them to deal with the hours they were being required to drive, but also of the impacts that it would have had for the rest of the community, including impacts on their safety. It is simply unacceptable for us to continue refusing to do anything about the problem given that we know the nature of this problem so well.
I am disappointed that the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport is not listening because I wanted to ask him if he had read the reports going right back to the Howard era, including the Burning the midnight oil report promoted by Senator Ron Boswell. The reports highlight that we need to get the whole supply chain engaged in this issue. The whole supply chain must take responsibility and an important part of that is safe sustainable rates. The Western Australian conservative government did not seek to overturn the legislation when they came into government, so I would seek a response from the minister as to why he will not give this legislation a chance to prove its efficacy.
I am very pleased to support the amendments proposed by the shadow minister for infrastructure and transport to the Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill 2014 and I endorse the comments made by my colleague, the member for Perth, who has just spoken. I speak on this issue from two bases. Firstly, there is a strong awareness of the issues in my own electorate, given that the road connections to the port of Kembla—shared between my electorate and the electorate of the member for Throsby—are so heavily utilised by trucks servicing the port. Secondly, I am well aware that, if you live in a rural or regional community, the roads are critically important—they are a part of the lifeblood of Australia. I am sure the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport is also aware that in regional and rural communities roads are essential for community members to be able to participate in life. Families use roads to take kids to school, people drive to visit others, and drivers, whether they are small carriers or driving for large trucking companies, earn their living by travelling on roads. As I say, roads are a critically important part of the lifeblood of rural and regional Australia and keeping people safe on these roads has to be one of the most significant things that we undertake when legislating in this space.
The proposed amendment, to have the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program specifically identified under a separate funding stream in the act, is both reasonable and sensible. In March 2013, under the previous government's Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program, joint funding of just over $8 million was provided—approximately $4 million from Commonwealth and $4 million from the New South Wales state government—to upgrade the existing truck stop on Mount Ousley Road. Mount Ousley Road is the key feeder road into and out of Port Kembla and it has, as you could well imagine, a lot of trucks travelling on it. I am very pleased that my state colleagues, in government, expanded the use of the port by the addition of the movement of cars, but that has, of course, resulted in a lot more usage of the road. The announcement of the $8 million investment in the truck stop upgrade along with the announcement of a $1.4 million trial of Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems Initiative along the Hume Highway to Port Kembla, where again $700,000 was contributed by the state government, were very important for the wellbeing and safety of road users. These are some very good initiatives in the promotion of the wellbeing and safety of road users.
I support this particular amendment from a background of having worked with the shadow minister when he was Minister for Transport and Infrastructure. I also acted as deputy chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Transport and Infrastructure under, as the shadow minister indicated in his earlier speech, Mr Paul Neville, the then chair and member for Hinkler. It was my very first experience of committee work and I have to say that he taught me very well about the good work a committee could do. The committee presented a report titled Thegreat freight task: is Australia's transport network up to the challenge?which indicated that a significant increase in the movement of freight around our nation would require serious infrastructure investment into the future. The report noted that we also needed to put the related regulations and protections in place. The committee travelled around the country to look at ports, roads and rail networks to determine what tasks needed to be undertaken.
I was very pleased eventually, on our coming to government, to become the chair of the committee. Following a reference from the shadow minister, we had an inquiry into the need for a Safe Rates Remuneration Tribunal. We received, as the shadow minister indicated, very moving evidence not only from truck drivers and from the union representing them, the TWU, but also from families that had suffered grief and loss as a result of tragic road accidents involving heavy vehicles. The committee recommended to the minister that establishing the Safe Rates Remuneration Tribunal would be the most appropriate action to take, given of course that there was cross-portfolio coverage. The view of the infrastructure and transport committee was that it was the appropriate body to put in place and, as the shadow minister said, it should now be given the opportunity to prove its value and prove what it can contribute to all of us in the community. Finally, as the Minister for Road safety, I had the opportunity to see, firsthand, how important these sorts of initiatives are. I think the amendment is very reasonable. It is a sensible amendment and it embeds something that I think we should all be proud to support.
I rise to speak on the proposed amendments put forward by the shadow minister, the member for Grayndler, to the Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill 2014. I know he has been a passionate advocate of the development of transport and infrastructure. I am lucky to have served under two 'infrastructure' Prime Minister's, who earned their title by actually investing in infrastructure, not just claiming their support for it as part of a political process. In no small amount that was due to the efforts of the member for Grayndler.
Obviously, having an inner city seat, my electorate is very different to yours, Deputy Speaker Scott. An inner city seat is often where transport congestion is at its worst. That is why it is so important that the best possible analysis is done of the productivity benefits of the economic infrastructure that the government signs off on. I have seen that in my electorate at the Kessels and Mains roads intersection, a road that I can now drive through, which used to have traffic snarls for two, three or four changes of lights. Now, the east-west traffic can go straight through, under a grade separation. I am passionate about making sure that infrastructure in my electorate is completed and upgraded, but I know that it must go through Infrastructure Australia, the organisation that will make the best decisions about it.
The amendments put forward by the member for Grayndler make sure that, rather than having the possibility that the minister may be influenced by political decisions, the responsibility is in the hands of those who will make the evaluation based on the best cost-benefit for the nation. That is why these amendments should be supported by those opposite.
I also wish to speak about the safe rates legislation. My electorate is a hub for business and transport. It has a big trucking industry, with the busiest truck-stop in Australia in terms of fuel sold. My electorate has the interstate rail line, it has coal trains coming from the west and it has the start of the train line which takes goods all the way up to Cairns. The freeway is one of my electorate's boundaries, and the Kessels and Mains intersection is the second-busiest intersection in Queensland. That is why I am proud to have had that intersection sorted out by the member for Grayndler through his commitment to infrastructure investment. As I said, he does not just claim the title; he actually puts dollars there.
Back in 2003, under the Howard government, the percentage of GDP invested in infrastructure bottomed out at around one per cent. It is great to see that, under the fair dinkum infrastructure prime ministers, Rudd and Gillard, we were able to increase that and achieve some great outcomes—outcomes that are good for productivity. I think Prime Minister Howard was on the record as saying that he did not believe in investing in public transport in urban areas, not realising the great productivity stranglehold that that creates. I was at an event in my electorate with the then minister for transport, the member for Grayndler, where he was able to sign off on some signal changes that had been advocated 108 years before, at the time of Federation. It took Labor to actually get it together, to bang the heads together, and say, 'We need to do this in the nation's interest,' rather than just letting those individual transport ministers look after their fiefdoms.
When politics comes into play, you do not get the best possible outcomes. I have seen that in my electorate. The transport minister in Queensland, the Hon. Scott Emerson, is the only state MP with an electorate that spans both sides of the Brisbane River. I wrote to him saying: 'I note that there are two rail crossing improvements being funded by the Queensland government, but both of them are on the north side of the river,' one at Robinson Road at Geebung and one at Telegraph Road at Bracken Ridge.' I said, 'How about fixing up the Coopers Plains rail crossing?' something that the former member for Moreton promised to improve back in March 1996. Minister Emerson wrote back and said: 'Go and talk to the federal transport minister and let him sort it out. It is not our problem.' It seems like the LNP in Brisbane will only look after infrastructure on the north side of the river, so I will be talking to the transport minister about that later.
I too rise in support of the amendments before the House. I am one of those MPs with a rural electorate. I know too well, not only from media reports but also from conversations that I have had in my community, how important road safety is. With thousands of country roads, streets, highways, intersections, rail crossings—and the list continues—I am sad to say that road safety continues to be one of those hot-button issues in my electorate.
I am relieved that this bill will continue the Roads to Recovery and Black Spots funding, programs that in recent years have seen over $10.5 million spent in my electorate to fund much-needed upgrades. In a meeting with the Macedon Ranges CEO, he said: 'The funding we have received from Roads to Recovery has fixed 10 years worth of roads that we would be able to fix on our normal rate base. Thank you.'
Black Spots is directly targeted at identified roads where there have been more accidents than normal. Those are pretty dark words to be linked to a federal government program. Small councils have small rates bases, yet large regional areas and a number of roads. They struggle to maintain these roads, which is why it is so important that federal governments partner with local governments to tackle these issues. What is disappointing is that the government has not agreed to enshrine in the legislation the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program. It is also disappointing that the government has not agreed to consult with Infrastructure Australia before approving projects, which would provide greater transparency around decision-making when it comes to large infrastructure projects. Under the former Labor government, funding did flow in my electorate in relation to the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program. In fact, last year alone just under $400,000 was delivered to central Victoria to improve a number of trouble spots. This funding not only improved the safety of those working in livestock saleyards, and upgraded other facilities; it also increased and improved productivity.
Any program that improves the safety of workers and roads can only be a good thing. That is why I believe it is important that this program also be enshrined in the bill and the legislation before us. These amendments will help protect rural truck drivers and their families.
Heavy vehicle legislation is also being addressed through the new Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, which was again established by the former Labor government and commenced operations in July 2012. The object of this act is to promote safety and fairness in the road transport industry—again, going back to my initial point that road safety and improving the safety of workers on roads can only be a good thing. To describe the tribunal as red tape proves the government prefers ideology over trying to find ways to save lives on our roads.
I think the second amendment is a vital one in ensuring Infrastructure Australia is consulted before the approval of any major projects to ensure that there is greater transparency around decision making. Many stakeholders are calling for this in my own area. In central Victoria, a debate rages about the East West tunnel and whether the $8 billion being spent on that tunnel is at the expense of safety in our country and regional areas. Instead of allocating these funds to our regional highways, arterial roads and local roads that are falling apart and riddled with dangerous cracks and potholes, this money has been allocated to what has been described as a dud tunnel. Not only will this tunnel not solve the congestion problem of Melbourne's east-west, it is also an expensive dud. The tunnel will lead traffic straight into a traffic jam. Very few people travel from east to west in the inner city. They travel from the east to the city or they travel from the west to the city; rarely do they go across the city, which is why it is an expensive dud. The spending of the $8 billion on the tunnel will not benefit motorists in my electorate. That money could be spent on fixing vital infrastructure and bottlenecks in regional Victoria.
It is a waste of money that nobody wants, and it is one that the federal government should not be committing to—but they are. The Prime Minister said in The Age last September that he does not need to see the East West Link business case. The journalist went on to report that the government will hand over $1.5 billion to fund this tunnel without seeing the full business case. If there was one example that demonstrated that there is a need for greater transparency, it is this one. (Time expired)
I rise in support of the amendments moved by the member for Grayndler and, in particular, to speak to some extent with respect to those designed to strengthen governance around project selection by elevating the role of Infrastructure Australia in advising on project benefits. The amendments make the logical link between Infrastructure Australia's role to provide advice on infrastructure and national priorities and the minister's role to decide how to allocate scarce Commonwealth funds. For the projects that are funded, the minister will be required to publish details of the project and include Infrastructure Australia's evaluation and cost-benefit outcome. The requirement to publish delivers transparency to the sector and the community at large around the merits of allocating taxpayer funds to projects.
Overall, the strengthened governance is precisely what all major stakeholders in the infrastructure sector have called for in the current Productivity Commission inquiry into public infrastructure and in the recent Infrastructure Australia Senate inquiry, including the BCA, Infrastructure Partnerships and the Infrastructure Coordinator himself. But it is not only from those expert sources that we see a call for increased transparency and better governance. I have in my possession a copy of the coalition's policy from the last election to deliver the infrastructure for the 21st century. It has a photo on the front of a series of smiling faces, in which the minister is included.
Mr Keenan interjecting—
You did not make it, Member for Stirling. Maybe next time. It makes a number of key points which relate to this very area and the whole point of the amendments the member for Grayndler has moved. I quote from it:
But we will do much more than just deliver infrastructure. We will ensure better infrastructure planning, more rigorous and transparent assessments of taxpayer-funded projects, and develop a much firmer and clearer infrastructure plan for Australia’s future.
I go on, as, no doubt, did the coalition:
The Coalition will strengthen the role of Infrastructure Australia, to create a more transparent, accountable and effective adviser on infrastructure projects and policies.
And again, in a dot point:
Require all Commonwealth infrastructure expenditure exceeding $100 million to be subject to analysis by Infrastructure Australia to test cost-effectiveness and financial viability.
Regularly publish cost-benefit analyses for all projects being considered for Commonwealth support or investment.
As you can see, the purpose and intent of this amendment is about codifying what the coalition was saying that they were supposed to be all about in their policy. So what we are trying to do here is assist the government in ensuring that they meet their election commitments; to create a situation where what they said they would do will actually be enshrined in legislation to ensure that is in fact what happens.
Frankly, Mr Deputy Speaker, we—probably me more than you—are concerned that this government needs to be understood as to what it really intends to do and needs to be held to account. When it uses terms like transparency and accountability, we want to ensure that that is there for all to see and is not something that can be changed at the whims of a new minister down the track or altered just because they feel like it after the next Commission of Audit, or the next budget, or the next review or the next change of Prime Minister. What we want is a situation where these sorts of conditions are not only clearly understood, but also enshrined in legislation to ensure that those who follow will indeed act according to these high ideals.
I would urge the government to reconsider their position. I would urge the minister to perhaps revisit the document that he had his picture on the front of, look to the points in that document that were stated quite clearly, and see and understand that the amendments that are being proposed here today will ensure that he keeps the very promise that he made in this document—not only now but in the future, as part of what will be a sensible regime for the future management of infrastructure projects within this country.
I join with the member for Bruce in urging the minister to reconsider support for these practical amendments. It is important to look at what these amendments will do. It is pretty simple. They will enshrine the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program to make sure that the program exists. It does not exist because, as the opposition, we cannot allocate funding and seek an appropriation. All we can do is put in place a framework in which funding is possible.
Have a look at round 3 of the program. I want to outline just some of the projects and put on record to the House why this is important. Firstly, in New South Wales there is a Smart Rest Area Cooperative Intelligent Transport System trial on the Newell Highway—$1.06 million from the Commonwealth, matched by the state. This project is aimed at exploring the use of cooperative intelligent transport systems for drivers of heavy vehicles so that they can locate where the rest stops are as they are driving, looking at the potential integration of this technology. This is an important change and an example of an innovative use of this program, jointly with the New South Wales government. Similarly, there is the New South Wales Mount Ousley Road Rest Area project. People in Sydney or Wollongong who drive on those routes would know the circumstances around that particular area of Mount Ousley Road. This is a $4.045 million project from the Commonwealth, matched by the state—more than $8 million for a heavy vehicle rest stop on Mount Ousley Road, Mount Keira, northbound. It is aimed at increasing capacity from four to between 10 and 15 B-double bays. It will also significantly improve the amenity on the site—a big difference—ensuring that co-investment is there.
Again on the Newell Highway, there is the $1.65 million Gillenbah rest area upgrade—again, a vital project. Just one project from the livestock area of the program that was added is Dubbo Regional Livestock Markets—a project that will upgrade the access roads, loading ramps and security safety lighting and improve line marking and signage. There will be $1.14 million from the Commonwealth, matched by $1.68 million from Dubbo Council—a good example of cooperation between the Commonwealth and Dubbo Council for projects that I am sure were on Dubbo Council's books for a long time but that they could not afford to do by themselves. Together this program has ensured that it will occur, creating jobs in that local regional community and improving both safety and outcomes.
In Victoria, there is the Hume Highway Truck Rest Area Vacancy Information System, aimed at developing and installing a rest area vacancy information system on the southbound carriageway of the Hume between Wodonga and Benalla. For this, more than $2 million came from the Commonwealth and more than $2 million from the state of Victoria—again, an innovative use of this program and one that will make a substantial difference.
A Queensland project is the Warrego Highway, at Cemetery Road east of Chinchilla—supplementing existing project works, including paving and sealing of ingress and egress and providing greater amenity on that site. For this, $310,000 came from each area. And then there is sealing the hard surface of all access circuit roads and the truck-park area at the Blackall saleyards, with $1.2 million from the Commonwealth and $300,000 from the state. (Extension of time granted) In Western Australia—and this is a topic of some conversation at the moment in this chamber—there is the expansion of the Wubin road train assembly area on the Great Northern Highway just 25 kilometres north of Perth, with $1.5 million from both the Commonwealth and the Western Australian government. Further afield, in between Port Hedland and Newman on the Great Northern Highway, with $950,000 from both the Commonwealth and the state government, is a project to construct two layover bays to permit oversized mass vehicles to leave the highway during daylight hours for rest. It is very important that these projects are able to be funded.
In South Australia, almost $2 million is being provided by both the Commonwealth and the South Australian government, leading to the planning, design and construction of seven new or upgraded rest areas on the Sturt, Stuart and Eyre highways. In Tasmania, examples of the use of the program for bridge upgrades are the Esk Main Road Bridge, with $1.25 million from each level of government, and the Railton Main Road Bridge, with $1.14 million from each level of government. And here in the ACT a program of almost $1 million, shared equally between the ACT government and the national government, proposes to strengthen the Barry Drive Bridge to allow larger vehicles to use it.
All up, if you look at just round 3, that is $45 million from the Commonwealth, matched by $36 million from the private sector and local government but also primarily from state governments that have made applications to this program. These are examples of why the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program should be continued. If the government is committed to its continuation, there is no reason that it should not be included in this act, as other programs are included under the act. The nation building program was of course where it was funded from, and the nation building act was legislation that was passed by this parliament prior to this particular program being included. I would ask the minister to tell us why he believes Roads to Recovery should be included in the act in a way that does not ensure the program, as of a particular period, in this case 30 June 2014, does not require further rollover, but will be permanently included in the act. I would ask why this program is any different. It would certainly be up to the government of the day to determine at what level the funding would be included for the program. It would also be up to the government of the day to determine specific aspects of the program, such as the former government did when we received the representations from the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association.
I am at a loss. If the government does not have an intention to remove future funding rounds of this program, either in this budget or some budget in the future, why does it not support this amendment being included in the act? I would ask that question to the minister opposite. (Extension of time granted) I asked the minister opposite a question, and this is the appropriate place to ask it.
The minister opposite says that if we close the debate he will get up and respond. That is not the way that Consideration In Detail works. Once no-one has the call, the debate concludes and the minister does not have to respond. I am certain you would be aware of that, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Deputy Prime Minister should be aware of that, because otherwise he is not conducting this debate in the constructive way in which the opposition has approached it.
We have moved amendments in good faith. We have put forward the argument for why they should be included. I have asked the minister to outline what the differences are between this program and the Roads to Recovery program, and if he wants to leave my view on the record unchallenged. My view is that the only reason these amendments would not gain the support of the government is because they intend to get rid of these particular aspects of the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program, on the basis that they could be included in the commission of cuts, which they have refused to let the Australian people see.
It is up to the responsible minister to at least respond to the argument. If he disagrees, then he should put on the record why he disagrees with these very reasonable amendments. The only argument I have heard from the minister, which was in his first contribution, concerned the keeping of records. Well, they are the existing provisions. If the Commonwealth is going to argue for existing programs not to require a process of reconciliation and reporting back of records when money is handed over to state governments, then so be it. I do not call that red tape. I call that looking after taxpayers funds in an appropriate way, as recommended by numerous National Audit Office reports. There is no change recommended to the record keeping, from existing practice, of the amendments. In the drafting of the amendments the opposition had due regard to the existing program, and that is the basis for how we have moved these amendments before the House today.
I have not intervened during the debate. I have allowed members to speak way off the subject on matters not related to the amendments, even though that was contrary to the standing orders. I have allowed people to make their contributions. We have heard discussions about Safe Rates, which are not mentioned anywhere in this legislation, nor in the amendments. The debate on the committee stages is supposed to be about what is in the amendments. I have allowed that to go on.
I have allowed the member for Bruce to speak on the wrong amendments, I hope he is not going to pop up again and say the same thing when we get to the next set of amendments. In regard to the assurance the opposition shadow minister has sought that we will retain the Heavy Vehicle Safely and Productivity Program, I gave assurance in my first response to the shadow minister. It was an absolute statement that it was my intention we would retain this program. We value it. I do not criticise the contributions of the many members opposite who outlined the merits of particular projects. I am sure they all had merit. Whether they were the ones I would have chosen in the same situation, I am not commenting on. What I am commenting on is the fact that this has been a good program. It is one that is supported by the heavy vehicle industry, and it is supported by the government.
It existed under the previous government without this legislation. Under the previous government there was no requirement to report and keep records for five years, so why is it suddenly necessary under the current government? The reality we need to recognise is that there is a bipartisan commitment to this program. It is our intention to keep it. It has not had specific legislation around it in the past, and neither does the Bridges Renewal Program that this government is proposing to introduce. Quite a number of the other areas which are funded under the land transport program do not have specific chapters about them and nor do they have specific legislation to underpin them, yet they continue to be funded. We intend to continue this funding and I think it is time we voted on the amendments.
We acknowledge that this was not included in the legislation previously, but, as the member for Grayndler explained, that was because this program was introduced after that legislation had already been in existence. Whilst it is absolutely true that we can continue to fund this program without it being enshrined specifically in the legislation, the point that we are seeking to make is that this program has now become one of such significance and such importance to the heavy vehicle industry that we believe it is timely that it be brought into the act in a more formal way.
This has become a much more significant program, a program on which $70 million was spent in the first two rounds and to which, in the subsequent rounds, $250 million was added to extend the program. In the overall scheme of things, we can see that this program has become an increasingly significant program that has very significant support from the heavy vehicle industry and, indeed, local and state governments because it has gone to the heart of improving productivity and safety.
Our case here is that this is now a significant and important program. If it is intended to be retained in its current form, the program is of a scale that warrants it being specifically included in the legislation. The auditing provisions that surround such a scheme and expenditure should be similar to those of existing programs.
That is certainly not the advice that we are getting. No doubt the member for Grayndler will be able to clarify that point. I think the rationale is that this is now a very significant program. This is no longer simply an incidental program; it has been developed to a point where it now represents very significant expenditure. Given its importance and what it has been able to deliver, we would like to see this particular program entrenched. We believe that there is a very strong argument for entrenching it in the legislation to ensure that it receives continuous funding at whatever level. The government may, from time to time, determine to fund it, but we do not believe it is a program that should be accorded a lesser status. As we are amending the legislation now, this seems to be an ideal time to update the legislation to include this program, which has now been in operation for a number of years.
I want to support the comments of my colleague, the member for Perth, and take up the issues raised by the minister. We, in good faith, provided the amendments to the government in advance of moving them so that they could have the opportunity to receive advice from the department, and we know they need that advice. We have attempted to do something very simple—that is, create provisions in the Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill 2014 which are very similar to the provisions which exist and are being included in the Roads to Recovery program.
The question that the minister has not addressed adequately is: why is it good enough for the Roads to Recovery program but not the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program? I agree that it is an excellent program with bipartisan support that enabled it to be extended in the 2013 budget across the forward estimates to make sure that local government would have certainty in the future. The benefit of the Roads to Recovery program is that it is untied so that local government—the elected local officials in a community—can determine the priorities according to local feedback. They are in the best position to do so, as opposed to the bureaucracy in Canberra.
With the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program, we did not have people sitting in the offices in Civic saying, 'I think a heavy vehicle rest area on the Newell Highway is best positioned at place X.' What we did was consult with the sector and the industry itself and ask for that process to occur. We went to state government and local government. We did so in a way which, I believe, produced an extraordinarily successful range of projects—rest areas, parking decoupling bay projects, technology trial projects, road enhancement projects, demonstration projects and livestock transport industry projects. We did this in a way which, because we requested some matching funding from the state government, the local government or the private sector, ensured that there was real economic stimulus in those local communities. If you look at where the projects took place and what electorates it took place in, over 90 per cent of the funding presided over by me as minister for infrastructure under this program went to coalition-held seats across the program.
Mr Truss interjecting—
Those opposite are still having their obsession with the former member for New England—he was someone who would stand up for his seat and someone who has my ongoing respect. Here we are today moving a program of which 90 per cent went into coalition seats because funding was determined on its merit. When we have road safety issues, it is merit that matters, which is why for the Pacific Highway, the member for Cowper who was here before, we have either completed or funded—the former government—the entire duplication of the Pacific Highway throughout his electorate. That is the whole lot, including of course the Kempsey Bypass, which is the longest road bridge in Australia.
That is the commitment that I brought to the program of making sure that we made a difference to the national interest, not just to political interest. The next amendment is a real test for the government over whether they will continue that role, but I commend these amendments to the House.
I move amendment opposition (5) as circulated in my name:
(5) Schedule 1, item 14, page 7 (after line 21), after section 4A, insert:
4B Consultation with Infrastructure Australia
(1) Before approving the provision of Commonwealth funding for a Black Spot Project, Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Project, Investment Project or Transport Development and Innovation Project, the Minister must:
(a) have regard to:
(i) Infrastructure Priority Lists and Infrastructure Plans developed by Infrastructure Australia under the Infrastructure Australia Act 2008 to the extent relevant to the project; and
(ii) any other advice provided by Infrastructure Australia that relates to the project; and
(b) if capital expenditure on the project is $100 million or more—require Infrastructure Australia to give the Minister an evaluation of the project so that the Minister can decide whether to approve the project.
(2) Infrastructure Australia's evaluation of a project mentioned in paragraph (1)(b) must:
(a) contain a cost benefit analysis of the project; and
(b) specify the priority that Infrastructure Australia would give the project in relation to priorities specified in its current Infrastructure Plan; and
(c) set out any other matter that Infrastructure Australia considers relevant to the project.
4C Cost benefit analyses to be made public
If Commonwealth funding is provided for a Black Spot Project, Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Project, Investment Project or Transport Development and Innovation Project, the Minister must ensure that the following information about the project is made available on the Department's website:
(a) a description of the project;
(b) when the project is to start and is likely to be completed;
(c) Infrastructure Australia's views on the project, including any evaluation provided to the Minister under section 4B.
This amendment requires the minister to require an evaluation by Infrastructure Australia prior to approving funds for land transport projects valued at over $100 million. Such an evaluation needs to include a cost benefit analysis, Infrastructure Australia's view on project priority and any other views that Infrastructure Australia considers relevant. If the project is funded by the government, the evaluation must be published on the department's website. For other projects under $100 million, the minister must have regard to Infrastructure Australia's advice and views on priorities. This is an amendment that absolutely should be supported by this parliament.
We on this side of the chamber are very proud that we created Infrastructure Australia in 2008. We did so to break the nexus between the political cycle, which by definition is very short term, and the infrastructure investment cycle, which requires a longer term perspective. It is also consistent with the amendments that we will move to the Infrastructure Australia Bill, which was gagged in this House but is before the Senate. Submissions to that inquiry—from organisations like Business Council of Australia, the Urban Development Institute of Australia, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, and many other submissions, including, it must be said, the evidence given by the Infrastructure Coordinator—indicated how important it was that the government's attempt to gag Infrastructure Australia from providing a transparent process when it comes to infrastructure investment occurs—
Mr Briggs interjecting—
The errand boy opposite said, 'Wrong bell'. What he needs to understand—and if he were listening, he would understand—is that the amendments we have moved here, which I believe will certainly be supported in the Senate, if not in this chamber, are consistent with the amendments that will be moved to the Infrastructure Australia Bill.
What is more, they are consistent with coalition policy. The coalition went to the election saying that all projects of $100 million or more should be assessed by Infrastructure Australia before they are funded. So we are putting it into the legislation. If only for that reason, the opposition is moving this amendment with the expectation that the government will support it, because it is absolutely consistent with their policy.
This amendment provides for the further entrenchment of Infrastructure Australia. It bolts together Infrastructure Australia's role as an independent adviser to government and major government infrastructure programs. If you are going to put before the House this Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill, which purports to take infrastructure development forward, without putting in the legislation a role for Infrastructure Australia, then it clearly is inadequate; it clearly is inconsistent with the rhetoric of those we see opposite. This amendment should be supported by this entire House.
The minister, if this amendment is carried, will remain able to make funding decisions as he or she sees fit. We regard that as the role of government. But there will be transparency around cost-benefit of funded projects and how funded projects stack up against national priorities. In government of course Labor provided funding for all 15 of the projects which Infrastructure Australia determined were ready to proceed on their priority list. This strengthened governance and transparency is precisely what all major stakeholders in the infrastructure sector have called for in not just the legislative inquiry but also in the Productivity Commission inquiry into public infrastructure. (Time expired)
The coalition will not be supporting this amendment. The proposed section 4B requires the minister to have regard to infrastructure priority lists, infrastructure plans and any project-specific advice from Infrastructure Australia before approving 'a black spot project, heavy vehicle safety and productivity project, investment project or transport development and innovation project'. If capital expenditure on a project is $100 million or more, Infrastructure Australia is required to give the minister an evaluation of the project, including a cost-benefit analysis.
So the proposed section 4B would duplicate the $100 million requirement provided for under the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013. So the advice to the opposition is: if you want that $100 million requirement, as we do, then simply vote for our Infrastructure Australia amendments. Just vote for the bill. That will deliver the $100 million obligation. In fact, you actually have to vote for our infrastructure bill to make this amendment work, because it requires the minister to have regard for an infrastructure plan in making assessments about these particular projects. There are no infrastructure plans now. They are created under our amendments to the IA Act. So, in reality the shadow minister must vote for our amendments to the Infrastructure Australia Act to even be able to deliver on the amendments he is talking about now.
We have made it clear that we are determined to make Infrastructure Australia more open and transparent than it is today. Instead of having an Infrastructure Coordinator who answers to the minister and takes direction from the minister, we want to have a new CEO who will be answerable to the board. Currently the board is simply an advisory committee.
We think it makes a lot of sense; if you believe in having an independent IA, the CEO should be answerable to the board not to the minister. The board should take the action that it needs to take to ensure that things are done in an independent, open and transparent way. We will deliver an Infrastructure Australia that will be genuinely independent in a way that it is not n
I would encourage members opposite not to just defend past history or past legacy but to look to what we need for the future, in other words, an Infrastructure Australia that is able to act independently and give independent advice to the government.
I would also make another important point in relation to these amendments. Black Spot, Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity and Transport Development and Innovation projects are all small value and small-scale projects and they are unlikely to be considered by Infrastructure Australia in developing infrastructure priority lists and infrastructure plans. Infrastructure Australia was created to consider nationally significant projects, not Black Spot projects, which have a maximum funding amount of $2 million. Even though we are resourcing Infrastructure Australia better than has been the case—
Well, we are maintaining the funding—and, in that regard, it will have more resources to do its job. But there is no way in the world it is going to be able to consider every project of $2 million and give a detailed cost-benefit analysis as would be required under this amendment. The reality is that the matters of substance in the proposed amendment are best addressed by passing the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill. The Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill will deliver on an independent analysis of important projects. It will deal with the $100 million threshold requirement that is proposed in this amendment. I think that the best way to ensure that these matters can be dealt with quickly and constructively is for the opposition in the Senate to agree to pass the bill, and then we will have the kind of scrutiny that is required.
We have just seen an example of why infrastructure policy development under this government is so erratic. The Deputy Prime Minister said in one sentence: 'We are resourcing Infrastructure Australia more; we are maintaining funding; that will mean it has more money.' That is the sort of logic that we see from those opposite. They come up with rhetoric about Infrastructure Australia while they are trashing its independence. It is not just that I say that; the Business Council of Australia say that in their submission, where they recommend changes to the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill.
The minister does not understand. He is walking out of this important debate and refusing to participate, giving the job to his errand boy, the member for Mayo. It is up to the senior minister to actually participate in this debate. He said that there was no infrastructure plan and somehow that was an initiative of the new government. The fact is this: if he had been paying any attention at all—if he had woken up for just a few minutes in his time in opposition—he would know that Infrastructure Australia produced annual reports that had plans going forward into the future and have a website with a pipeline of projects. Now, while he is in his office, the minister should ring Lyn O'Connell, the deputy secretary of the infrastructure department, and ask about the website with the pipeline of all projects of $50 million or more that are in the planning stage, that are under construction or that are completed into the future.
That is the sort of pipeline that was asked for by the business community. That is the sort of pipeline that has seen competition come into the infrastructure sector and has lowered costs. That is the sort of pipeline that has seen companies like Ghella, from Italy, come in and participate in the Legacy Way project—which came in under budget by hundreds of millions of dollars. It is the sort of pipeline that saw Bouygues, a French construction company, along with Lend Lease, successfully get the tender for the M1 to M2 project. That is the project that they had a press conference about last week and pretended it was new even though it was funded in the 2013 budget and the intergovernmental agreement was signed on 21 June 2013.
The fact is that these infrastructure plans are produced by Infrastructure Australia right now. The provisions in this amendment which would allow for cost-benefit analysis for all projects above $100 million would also allow for due consideration to be given if Infrastructure Australia have advice on lesser projects—and from time to time they do. For example, Infrastructure Australia gave advice about a very small project in Chullora. It was about a particular bottleneck for the freight industry, which had a BCR through the roof, and which, for a matter of millions of dollars—not hundreds of millions of dollars—would produce an outstanding return to national productivity. Infrastructure Australia gave that advice and we as a government took that advice.
That is why these provisions are there. These provisions are sensible provisions with regard to Infrastructure Australia. They should be supported by those opposite. Those opposite said that they would ensure more rigorous and transparent assessments of taxpayer funded projects. 'We will require all infrastructure projects worth more than $100 million to undergo a cost-benefit analysis,' they said. That is what they needed to do on the East West Link in Victoria. That is what they need to do on projects that they intend to fund. They need to do what they said they would do, so that they get the best productivity outcome.
Today in The Daily Telegraph we hear about a cabinet subcommittee, as if that is somehow a substitute for proper policymaking and proper advice from Infrastructure Australia. Everywhere you look, the government are undermining the independence of Infrastructure Australia. That is why we have moved this amendment that is before the House.
A couple of points need to be addressed to reinforce what the Deputy Prime Minister so eloquently put in his contribution moments ago. We are far from attacking the independence of Infrastructure Australia—in fact, we are enshrining it in law, and if the member opposite would instruct his colleagues in the Senate to pass it we would get it going straight away.
As to projects such as the East West Link, we absolutely will go through, with the Victorian government, a cost-benefit analysis—absolutely.
Well—if you would hear me out, Member for Grayndler—at the moment, the Victorian government, like the New South Wales government and the Queensland government, refuses to cooperate with Infrastructure Australia. The trust has been completely broached by—
Mr Albanese interjecting—
This is the thing we hear from the member for Grayndler. I do not know how many minutes, now, of the House's time we have spent listening to the complete lack of understanding from the member for Grayndler that, on 7 September last year, the Australian people voted for a different direction. In saying that, they said: 'We support the proposal—
You are entitled to hold us to account, but you are not entitled to rewrite history. If the infrastructure system is in such terrific nick right now, why is it that the PC's report says that we are wasting at least a billion dollars a year that we need or ought not to? A billion dollars a year! A billion dollars a year of taxpayers' money is being wasted because of the system we inherited from the member for Grayndler.
So the system we inherited is not in perfect condition and we are setting about fixing it. This bill, the Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill 2014, has nothing to do with the gripes the member for Grayndler is trying to raise; they are all in the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013, which he should pass in the Senate to help us start to fix the problems he left us that we now have to try and fix. But he is buddying up with his mate there, the Greens' member for Melbourne, to try and stop any progress on making sure that we get the best value for taxpayers' money, that we get transparency in the system, and that we stop wasting taxpayers' money.
I am pleased to hear the assistant minister saying that he wants to increase transparency, because, despite everything the assistant minister just said, it is my recollection that—and I stand to be corrected on this—the Prime Minister actually said he had seen the business case for the East West Link. If that is the case, the government sure ought to be in a position to table it now, and not come into this chamber and give some answer that apparently Infrastructure Australia is not being cooperative; that is simply not the case.
I spent a long time in this chamber in the last parliament listening to the member for Wentworth, then the shadow minister for communications, now the Minister for Communications, and he prosecuted a case very vigorously against the NBN and against spending on the NBN. I and the Greens are supporters of the NBN, and it was clear that the then opposition, now the government, was going to do everything they possibly could to wreck the NBN, and they ran a number of arguments, about where fibre should go to et cetera.
One of the arguments, though, that did strike a chord with me—and, perhaps, had they not been so clearly out to wreck the whole thing, might have got some support—was that they came in here, time after time, and said, 'We should not proceed with the NBN and with spending significant amounts of money on it because we have not done a cost-benefit analysis.' In fact, from memory, it was not just that they said that rhetorically—and, again, I would stand to be corrected, but I think that the opposition, now the government, came in here and moved amendments to legislation saying that certain bills should not pass until a cost-benefit analysis has been done on the NBN. The arguments were, simply put, that if you are going to spend money on significant pieces of infrastructure, there ought to be a cost-benefit analysis and it ought to be publicly released.
Prior to the election, I held out some faint hope, which has clearly been misplaced, that that commitment to cost-benefit analysis, when you are spending on infrastructure, might carry through once the government was elected. But what we saw during the campaign period was that, despite the fact that there is no business case that stacks up for the East West Link, the now Prime Minister was quite prepared to come out and say, 'I will rip $1½ billion out of the aid budget to put it into the East West Link.' What we then find is that, despite repeated requests to table the business case, the government fights that tooth and nail. Then, when we take the matter to Senate estimates, we find that the only business case or summary of a business case that has been provided to Infrastructure Australia for the East West Link says that, if you apply the same methodology that most other people do, for every dollar the Australian taxpayer tips into the East West Link, you are only going to get 80c back. It is a loss maker, according to the evidence given by the head of Infrastructure Australia, unless you fudge the figures and include all sorts of other additional benefits—benefits that are nebulous, because the government will not tell us what they are but just says, 'Trust us.' When it comes to the NBN, apparently you need a cost-benefit analysis. But, when it comes to tipping a couple of billion dollars into a road project that every analysis that has been made publicly available tells you does not stack up, apparently it is a set of different rules.
If the assistant minister genuinely believes what he just told the House—that this government is committed to increasing transparency when it comes to spending billions on infrastructure—then he should table the business case for the East West Link. Infrastructure Australia clearly wants to say more about it and is being held back. So table it. Let us have some faith that you actually believe what you say about the commitment to increase transparency, because I would have to say that that has not been a hallmark of this government in other respects.
In the absence of the minister being prepared to do that, that is why it is important that this amendment is passed, because it is clear that the government will rip billions from aid projects to spend on infrastructure projects, without a cost-benefit analysis. So I ask the minister at the table in this debate: is he prepared to table the cost-benefit analysis for the East West Link?
The comments that the minister has made are simply incorrect. It could well be that he is not aware of the functioning of Infrastructure Australia and the role that it plays. But the fact is that Infrastructure Australia has been able to examine projects of significant value across the nation and has produced regular reports and regular accountability to the Australian public through that transparent process. What the minister has not stated is that the legislation which is before the Senate that is linked to the amendments that we are moving and considering now to the Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill 2014 in fact diminish the independence of Infrastructure Australia, and they do so in a number of ways. Firstly, they remove the ability of Infrastructure Australia to publish information. That becomes a decision made by the minister. Secondly, and most remarkably, they allow for certain classes of infrastructure to not be examined if that is directed by the minister.
Quite clearly, this is a government that have said it will not fund public transport projects. They have said that they will, as they put it, 'stick to their knitting' and just fund road projects. The problem with that is that it undermines the whole basis of Infrastructure Australia, that you need to look at integrated transport strategies and the way that the cities fit together and the way that transport infrastructure fits with community based infrastructure and with employment. That is why the opposition was so disturbed that on the first day that those opposite were sworn in as ministers they abolished the Major Cities Unit. We are one of the most urbanised countries on the planet and the priority of those opposite was to sack the Major Cities Unit upon their coming to office and then to declare that they would not fund any urban public transport projects. In order to defend that, they say, 'Oh well, we won't fund any urban public transport projects but that will mean state governments will be able to because we will be funding road projects.'
The difficulty is that all of the announcements that they have made are re-announcements. According to those opposite, it is like that declaration post French Revolution of 1792 which was declared to the year one. They think year one was September last year, that everything that went beforehand does not count. We have seen numerous examples of that by those opposite. Just today we saw the latest example of that whereby those opposite, including the minister at the table, put out this press release, 'Funds flow to reduce Kwinana Freeway congestion'—a good announcement, but the only problem is that it was announced on 5 August 2013 between me and the WA minister, 'Extra funding for Kwinana Freeway and Great Eastern Highway'. You can tell that the department had something to do with both of the releases because, remarkably, they are very similar in terms of the rhetoric. Today—
The nong opposite has no idea. If that is the case, nothing has changed, and breaking news for those opposite: the government have not yet had a budget. So they announced today projects that—
This announcement by Jamie Briggs as the assistant minister was an absolute cracker—joint funding of $31 million to fund the $62 million widening. (Extension of time granted) It was funded through savings in existing projects between the Australian government and the Western Australian government. It was agreed by me and the then WA Treasurer, Troy Buswell. In terms of the funding, $31 million from both levels of government—a $62 million project, very significant indeed.
They announced it today but it is underway. We see it continually from those opposite—that they announce projects and pretend that they are somehow new. We have seen in question time over last week and a bit those opposite talking about the Gateway WA project. If you had just arrived, like the member for Bass, who has just arrived here, you might not quite know where Gateway WA is as a project. And there is no criticism there; there is no reason he would be an expert. There are lots of oncers who come and go in this place and they make a contribution while they are here. In terms of the Gateway WA project, you would think that this had been launched last week. Indeed, the Deputy Prime Minister yesterday visited the construction site that is in its second year. But, at the same time as the minister has pretended that this is new, on 13 November 2013 he announced, 'New Ramp at Abernethy Road Now Open'. In a joint release with various backbench members from the coalition, Minister Truss said:
The first section of the $1 billion Gateway WA project—the Abernethy Road and Tonkin Highway interchange—is now complete with the new $15.4 million on-ramp now open for traffic
He went on about how vital it was, that 6,000 vehicles a day would use it. He said:
The ramp reduces travel time by about seven minutes, and saves 3.7 kilometres over existing routes. It is great news for the 22,000 vehicles travelling this section of Abernethy Road.
Indeed, it is. But I have news for those opposite and it is news that people in Perth in Western Australia know, that the new government that was sworn in sometime in September did not get this project funded, built and opened by the beginning of November because construction began more than a year ago on these projects. Indeed, at the end of the release from the minister, he said:
The Australian government has committed $686.4 million—
to the Gateway WA project. And indeed we did! But those opposite pretend that somehow that funding was not real. We heard it again today in question time, when the minister attempted to say that this funding was not there. But he visited the construction project yesterday, and I have news for those opposite who might be new to understanding how a project works. You have to have all of the funding allocated, be it from federal, state or local government or the private sector, in order to sign the contract, in this case with the Gateway WA alliance, to proceed—for the project to start. That is how it works.
You have from those opposite complete ignorance. I was at an event yesterday where a senior infrastructure player—not a supporter of mine politically, it must be said—said, 'Has anyone explained to the new government how an infrastructure project gets funding; how it works?' It is so embarrassing for them to say that projects which are underway somehow do not have funding, because that is the basis of a contract. If it is not there, then the fact is the project cannot proceed. Everyone in the private sector knows that.
(Extension of time granted) The fact is that, every time those opposite make the sorts of statements that they have made about Gateway WA and about a host of other projects, they show how embarrassing their lack of knowledge of infrastructure projects is. And they have done it right around the country. The minister opposite went and visited part of the upgrade—Gateway Upgrade North—and, yet, those opposite would pretend that that funding was not there and that, somehow, it had not happened.
They are happy to go to the openings. Last Friday, of course, many of the federal members who will benefit from the Hunter Expressway did not get an invitation. Those opposite could not squeeze Labor members in. There were more Tories in the Hunter Valley last Friday than you have seen in the Hunter region in history. It was quite remarkable. They were all there for the opening of a project that was promised, funded and built by the federal Labor government as part of the economic stimulus plan—and they had voted against that. They voted against the economic stimulus plan that contained $1.45 billion of the $1.7 billion for the project.
The reason why we believe that you need proper cost-benefit analysis for the land transport program comes back to a proper analysis of benefit. That might be road or it might be rail. Take Melbourne, for example: the M80 project—a very good project—received $788 million from the federal government and is making a big difference to productivity. Also making a significant difference is the largest ever Commonwealth investment in a single public transport project in Australia's history—the $3.225 billion regional rail link. One of the reasons why you have a high BCR for the project is the uplift factor along the route of the train line. If you go to the new stations that have been built, what you see is significant residential development and commercial development specifically around the new stations. You also see significant benefit because of what it does by separating freight and passenger rail going into Melbourne. It is of significant benefit for Melbourne but also for Geelong, for Ballarat and for Bendigo. The current Prime Minister did not seem to know that that even existed when made his 3AW declaration that the Commonwealth government which he would lead would not fund any urban public transport project because that was not what Commonwealth governments do.
The fact is that Commonwealth governments were doing that and they were doing it to significant value, whether it be the Perth City Link project opened and funded, of course, in partnership with the state government, making a huge difference to urban amenity around Perth; the Noarlunga to Seaford rail extension in Adelaide; the Gold Coast Rapid Transit project on the Gold Coast; or, of course, the Moreton Bay rail link, which is now under construction. That rail link was first promised in 1895, but it took a federal Labor government to make sure that that proceeded to construction. All of these projects are examples of assessments being made and then funding being delivered. It is important that, in the area of infrastructure, Infrastructure Australia gets a say. What we are proposing with this amendment is nothing more and nothing less than the existing coalition policy. It is what they said they would do—that there would be cost-benefit analysis for projects of value above $100 million. I commend the amendment to the House.
Half of this may be cleared up if we say out loud to the member for Grayndler that he did not do all bad things when he was in government. Some things that he did were good things. Now that we have cleared that up, we can say that with certain projects the member for Grayndler, as a federal minister, allocated taxpayers' money which has achieved good outcomes. I am very happy to put that on the record. If that makes the member for Grayndler a little bit happier, I am glad that may help clear up this debate, finally getting us to an actual vote and moving the legislation through. The debate we are having at the moment has nothing to do with the proposed amendment. It is about getting on the record what the member for Grayndler thinks was his record. We will happily say some of the things the member for Grayndler did were good things and some of the things he announced with taxpayers' money prior to the election on 7 September continue today. Of course they do. But it was not the member for Grayndler's money. It was not the Labor Party's money. It was taxpayers' money, and the new government, which was rightfully voted in on 7 September, has an obligation to tell taxpayers what is happening with its money. That is why we have put in place more transparency.
Mr Albanese interjecting—
We are not announcing that these things are new. The member for Grayndler is struggling to get past what happened. I accept that. But we will say that some things he did were good. We refer to the Productivity Commission and say some of the system we inherited was bad. So there we go: a little from column A, a little from column B.
To one of the points the member for Melbourne raised—and I will not say I agree with him on this—about the NBN: if you look at the draft Productivity Commission report, he is right to point to the NBN, because it is the pin-up boy example of how not to do infrastructure. You cannot blame the member for Grayndler for that, because he inherited it at the end of his reign as a minister but was not responsible for its process in the first place.
The golden era as comms minister! Compared to the predecessor, probably.
Proposed opposition amendment 4(b) refers to infrastructure plans developed under the Infrastructure Australia Act 2008. IA are not required to develop plans under the act. The coalition's amendment to the IA Act will require IA to produce those plans. The government's amendment to the IA Act will require IA to develop specific plans of nationally significant infrastructure projects over a 15-year period—working with the states in a collaborative manner is, as I said, not happening at the moment—rather than having IA agree simply to election commitments. Under the current legislation IA do not have to publish anything. So our point that you have to pass the Infrastructure Australia Act is absolutely valid.
This amendment we do not agree with. We have had a reasonable debate on it, and I think it is time for us to move to a vote.
We had some interesting statements made today by the minister in the chamber. These were statements he made in an interview this morning. He said that government is going to make decisions based on evidence in the infrastructure area, but quite clearly what we are going to do is limit the amount of evidence that is available on which to make a decision. Firstly—and the minister has contested this—we argue that the amendments that have been made to Infrastructure Australia do in fact reduce the autonomy and transparency of the work that is done by Infrastructure Australia. It will give much more control to the government over the release of the reports that are done by Infrastructure Australia, so the evidence that is there is not going to be available for us to judge what the government is doing. Secondly, of course, it enables the minister to direct or exclude certain classes of infrastructure from being examined.
We are going to make decisions on the basis of the evidence, but we are actually going to control what the evidence is. We will then say, 'Now we've got the evidence supporting our decisions, but that's precisely because we have prevented Infrastructure Australia looking at the entire picture.' As we know, they will be precluded from making assessments on very important urban rail projects. So we will have this situation where Infrastructure Australia are going to be examining road funding and doing cost-benefit analyses on those road projects but will be legislatively proscribed from taking into account what might in fact be a far more efficient and effective way of dealing with those urban mobility problems. It is all very well to say we are going to make our decisions based on the evidence; when you are doctoring, limiting and controlling that evidence, that then becomes a pretty hollow statement.
I am very interested in the cabinet subcommittee that has been set up today. I wonder to what extent this is an attempt to bring this back into the fold of the Liberal Party? Having the National Party in charge of the infrastructure portfolio may indeed cause problems. I would be interested to know from the assisting minister: if the Prime Minister is unable to chair the meetings, whose job would it be? Would it be your job? Would you be delegated to chair those meetings?
Oh, I won't be. So you are going to predict what the Australian people are going to do in the fullness of time. You argued very eloquently a few minutes ago. You put it very passionately that we should accept the fact that the people in all their wisdom have made the decision to have you in government, but apparently you are born to rule! Once in, these gentlemen—and they are gentlemen—are never going to—
Mr Briggs interjecting—
Mr Albanese interjecting—
Thank you for that. It is nice of you to acknowledge that.
We know that the statements made today by the assistant minister are that they need the Labor Party to get out of the way of these reforms to Infrastructure Australia to enable them to do anything. (Time expired)
I rise, based on Minister Briggs' previous interventions, to ask a question during this debate. No doubt the minister is now the one responsible for getting this legislation through and wants to get it through both houses. I think everyone understands what the numbers are in the Senate. I ask the minister this question to assist us and my party on formulating our position on this. The minister just said that there is an 'obligation to tell taxpayers what is happening with their money'. I think I have that quote right. My question—to assist us in formulating how we might vote on this amendment or other amendments or deal with it when it comes to the Senate—is: will the minister commit to tabling the cost-benefit analysis for the East West Link project before the contracts are signed?
I refer back to the contribution I made earlier in respect of the East West Link project. A couple of things that I do want to correct now, having been given the opportunity, are: firstly, with respect to the claim that Labor MPs were not invited to the Hunter Expressway opening, I am very well advised that the member for Hunter was there and was invited, and so was Mr Clayton Barr from the New South Wales opposition. They were invited by the relevant members, which is, I think, exactly the same procedure that the former minister would have followed. Secondly, to correct the contributions made by the member for Perth—just so she understands—Infrastructure Australia do not actually do the cost-benefit analysis; we rely on the states to do it. That is how it worked under the former minister and that is how I intend to operate. We are not going to have an agency which is second-guessing; of course it is the states which build, own and operate the roads. With respect to the claims which continue to be made not so clearly by the minister but by the member for Perth, who clearly said that we are precluding consideration of Infrastructure Australia on public transport projects, that is just simply not true. There are two different things here. We fully expect, as we have said numerous times, that Infrastructure Australia will include consideration of public transport projects because the states will say that they are important and are a part of their plans—the states do the planning. If public transport projects are an important part of the states' planning, which you would expect in major cities, they would be part of the 15-year infrastructure plan. But we have said we believe the best place for the federal government's contribution, in respect of infrastructure, is lifting productive capacity in our economy. In that sense we are focused on contributing to roads and to freight rail. That was a clear commitment at the election.
The member for Grayndler is right to disagree; he is entitled to disagree and he will put his perspective at the next election, just as he put it at the last election. We are very clear on one thing—we will do as we say and act in accordance with the commitments we made to the Australian people prior to the election. The opposition is entitled to make the claim that they would fund public transport projects, but they should not continue to create a furphy, which is that we will preclude Infrastructure Australia from considering public transport projects; we will not. It is of course part of a 15-year plan that we expect. We want transparency; we want Infrastructure Australia to build that plan so that we have the infrastructure of the 21st century delivering a stronger economy. These of course are interesting matters but they are matters which relate to another bill. We should get back to the amendment moved by the member for Grayndler so we can move on with the business of the House.
I want to take issue with a number of the comments from Assistant Minister Briggs who has identified correctly that there is a link between the Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill 2014 and Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013. What there is not—where he was incorrect, and I will give him the benefit of the doubt and just say he did not know—is the provision in this bill, which is before the Senate, to allow for a mandated examination by Infrastructure Australia of projects of value above $100 million. It is not in the legislation. I will tell you what is in the legislation—and is being opposed by the Business Council of Australia, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia and others; it is the ability to direct Infrastructure Australia to exclude certain classes of infrastructure. That is in the bill which is before the other place.
In terms of productive capacity and the minister's response, he stated that he was concerned with an increase in productivity and the government is right to do so. The disagreement between the government and opposition is essentially that you cannot do that if you exclude some classes of infrastructure if you say that you will not fund some classes. I will give just a couple of examples: one is the direct relation between public transport and the road network. By investing in public transport, in the Geelong-Ballarat-Bendigo region in terms of the regional rail link project, it takes pressure off the road network between those regional cities and the city of Melbourne. I am certainly not opposed to road funding. We doubled the roads budget when we were in government and funded projects like the Geelong ring-road and other projects there including the Princes Highway in the Geelong region, as well as the Sydney Road improvements in Bendigo and improvements in Ballarat. But there is a relation between the two and there is also a relation between passenger and freight transport. For example, the project Southern Sydney Freight Line—opened by me as the minister some time ago, although, I am sure, in spite of that, at some stage the current government will claim credit for it—and the Northern Sydney Freight Corridor program, which will create a particular grade separation at Strathfield, the centre of the Sydney rail network, will improve the passenger round network by separating it.
Before we funded the upgrade the Southern Sydney Freight Line had a period of curfew at Port Botany. Because the passenger line, quite rightly, got priority, freight could not be moved during peak hours in the morning and the afternoon. Closer to the minister's home is the Goodwood to Torrens rail project. If politics rather than productivity were the driving force behind decisions on infrastructure, I do not believe the Goodwood to Torrens rail project in Adelaide would have got funding, nor would the Majura Parkway in the ACT and the outskirts of New South Wales. Those projects were funded because of the high BCR that they had. The Hunter Expressway is very similar because of the amount of freight on it. So if you have a view of the world that says we fund passenger roads and freight rail and do not look at the integrated system, you will get distorted outcomes. I ask the minister to point to where in the bill—and perhaps he is correct—it says $100 million projects will all be evaluated before the government funds them. It is little wonder that the member for Melbourne is asking about the tabling of the cost-benefit analysis for the east-west road project. (Time expired)
Without debating another bill that is now before the Senate and has just had a Senate committee report on it, which I must say—
Mr Albanese interjecting—
You shut it down last time. I must say in relation to the Senate inquiry into the IA bill the Infrastructure Coordinator appointed by the former minister said he recommends the committee support giving the IA the new function to produce infrastructure plans. That was the recommendation from Mr Deegan, which earlier you were arguing—
I suspect we are not going to come to an agreement. Under proposed section 5A(2) of the IA bill IA must not evaluate a proposal that is to give effect to the $100 million promise. This is also in the second reading speech and is made clear in the department's submission—
That is in the second reading speech. And the $100 million will be a determination made by the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister Truss, under proposed section 5A(3). That answers the question.
With due respect to the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, he full well knows that it is not included in the legislation—that it is determined upon the whim of the government of the day. We know that the last time the coalition came to office they cut $2 billion from the road funding budget in their first budget and they never recovered in terms of road funding.
Mr Briggs interjecting—
The errand boy opposite indicates that he was very young at the time, and I accept that he is not personally responsible.
An opposition member interjecting—
But I will point out that the bloke who issues him orders and instructions each day was here. He has been here almost since Federation. He was the transport minister who described the Cooroy to Curra section of the Bruce Highway as the worst section of road in Australia. It was in his seat and he was the transport minister but it took a Labor government to promise, fund, build and open the new section from Cooroy to Curra. That is typical of what we did.
Those opposite simply seek to politicise decision making. We saw this morning on the front page of the newspaper that they are establishing a subcommittee of cabinet. Why that is an announcement is another thing. We had subcommittees of cabinet as well, but we did not do press releases, as cabinet is supposed to be sensitive and not for publicity. But when you have nothing to say about infrastructure except for re-announcements, you say you are establishing a committee.
The rhetoric of that article indicated that this was about the politicians, not the bureaucracy, making decisions, which is how this fits with the amendment that is before the chamber. That is what the article said: they are taking charge; they are going to make decisions. You can imagine the sorts of decisions that will be made by those opposite. Tonsley Park is a public transport project in the assistant minister's own city, yet when he talked about it on radio he thought it was a freight project. It is about three kilometres out of his seat. Such an anathema is the very concept of public transport to those opposite.
It comes down to the book Battlelines. Tony Abbott clearly indicates his view that public transport somehow diminishes the rights of the individual and the power that an individual feels in a car. If cities are going to function productively, you need to have effective public transport. That is why the amendment before the chamber seeks to have Infrastructure Australia play its proper role. It is not picked up in this bill—Infrastructure Australia has no role. The other bill before the Senate, which they say covers it off, clearly does not cover it off. Proposed section 5A(2) gives complete power to the minister. It says:
However, Infrastructure Australia must not evaluate a proposal under subsection (1)—
that is, nationally significant infrastructure—
if the proposal is in a class of proposals determined by the Minister.
Complete power to the minister for what Infrastructure Australia does. So you are going to establish a board rather than the Infrastructure Australia council—same thing, different word—and you are going to instruct them. I never, ever instructed Sir Rod Eddington, as Chair of Infrastructure Australia, about what he could, or could not, look at. Infrastructure Australia came up with a range of recommendations, some of which I agreed with and some of which I did not. But if you are going to have an independent adviser then you should actually respect it. This legislation, just like the IA bill does not do that.
There are a couple of extraordinary things about the debate about the Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill 2014 before the House this evening. The first is that they are actually having a debate. Mr Deputy Speaker, you will recall the last piece of infrastructure legislation that was before the House—and these people on the other side of the House. It with their own bill, but they did not have the confidence to have the legislation considered in detail. So confident were they about the subject matter of their legislation that they gagged the debate. They were not willing to have their own legislation considered in detail and there was a very good reason for that. There was much to be ashamed of in that bill—the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013. So the first thing that is extraordinary about the debate before the House today is that we are actually considering this bill in detail. A welcome thing that is too.
The second extraordinary thing is the subject matter. I listened with interest to the assistant minister's speech when he was responding to some of the questions before him today. I listened with particular interest when he said that they will honour the commitments they made in the election campaign—they will honour the commitments that they made and the policies they took to the last election. I pricked up my ears when I heard the assistant minister say this. I went to my office, and I grabbed a copy of the coalition's policy—the coalition's policy to deliver infrastructure for the 21st century. This is not a 2011 document or 2010 document—they could be forgiven for forgetting their policy if it was dated back a few years—this was September 2013. And I had not forgotten. I thought I had forgotten—I thought the assistant minister might actually have got it wrong. But there it was. I picked it up, and in black and white I read these words:
The coalition will strengthen the role of Infrastructure Australia to create a more transparent, accountable and effective adviser on infrastructure projects and policies. Under a coalition government, Infrastructure Australia will—
amongst other things—
require all Commonwealth infrastructure expenditure exceeding $100 million to be subject to analysis by Infrastructure Australia to test cost effectiveness and financial viability
It goes on to say Infrastructure Australia will:
…regularly publish cost-benefit analyses for all projects being considered for Commonwealth support or investment…
Well there you have it; that was the policy that they took to the 2013 election.
So I have to ask the assistant minister, who stood up not 10 minutes ago and said that the coalition will honour every policy they took to the last election, why is it that at the first opportunity they have to honour that policy by voting in favour of an amendment to their legislation they resist it? They say they will not support it. Is it because they have already given the go-ahead to the East West Link project and the WestConnex project? Two projects, no cost-benefit analysis. Despite the fact, a few months ago, in this very place the parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Finance stood at that very dispatch box and said, 'yes' that those projects will have cost-benefit analysis. But no cost-benefit analysis, and no support for the legislation before the House. You have to ask yourself: is this another instance of the government saying one thing before the election and doing exactly the opposite once they get elected?
The second question that I have goes to the issue of the new subcommittee of the cabinet that we were advised of by press release this morning. The question I have is this: is this new subcommittee of cabinet truly designed to fast-track infrastructure projects, or is this new subcommittee of cabinet designed to sidetrack Infrastructure Australia and to sidetrack cost-benefit analysis? That is the question for the assistant minister; that is the question for this parliament. If the government truly wants to honour its commitments, the commitments that it took to the last election in this document here, then they will do away with this bogus subcommittee of cabinet. They will ensure that Infrastructure Australia is able to do the job that it was set up to do—the job that these people opposite promised the people of Australia that Infrastructure Australia would be allowed to do. It would be allowed to provide free and frank advice to government, and the cost-benefit analysis the people of Australia deserve. (Time expired)
The assistant minister does not seem to be that keen to secure the support of the Greens for this Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill 2014 so I rise to give them one last opportunity for the third time on this question.
I have heard this assistant minister come into the chamber many, many times, whether it has been in opposition or now in government, and say, 'The only people that you can trust to spend your money are the Liberal Party because we put everything through a rigorous cost-benefit analysis'. There will be no waste under us.' As he just alluded to in a previous contribution in this debate he said, 'It's the same argument that we ran with the NBN.' And what the minister will remember, is that the opposition then said, 'Don't proceed with the NBN until there has been a cost-benefit analysis done and until the results are published.' Given all of that, and given that we are seriously considering this bill—and I presume that the minister wants to get it through the Senate—I will try one last time. Will the minister or the government commit to making public cost-benefit analysis on the East West Link before $1½ billion is spent on before the contracts are signed?
I rise to express concern at the report today that not only would the government not have Infrastructure Australia determine priorities, but Tony Abbott is going to determine priorities by taking—to quote the front page of today's newspaper—'personal control' of infrastructure development. It is quite extraordinary that that would occur. One of the issues raised by the article today is the rolling out of infrastructure associated with the potential second airport in Sydney.
For a second airport in Sydney to work, of which I am very clearly on the record as a supporter, it needs road and rail infrastructure. If you are not going to have that funding there, then you will not have the support that is required from people in Western Sydney who regard infrastructure development, quite rightly, as an absolute priority for them. Those on this side of the House would be very supportive of increased infrastructure for Western Sydney, but if you have circumstances whereby the government is ruling out funding for rail infrastructure, which is a necessary component as shown by the planning work that was done by the former government for a second Sydney airport, then you need that infrastructure looked at as a whole. Indeed, that issue is a good example of why you need integrated infrastructure planning. The joint study that was done by the New South Wales and Australian governments had very much an emphasis on land transport infrastructure to support aviation infrastructure. It is the case right around the country. It is the case with ports. It is why Infrastructure Australia should not be hamstrung and it is why there should be an assessment of the cost-benefit analysis by Infrastructure Australia for all projects of $100 million or more.
The final decision should be made by the government. I accept that is the case. I do not take one position when I was in government and another in opposition. I take a consistent view, but my consistent view is that infrastructure development is best when you have independent and transparent advice. This amendment would allow for Infrastructure Australia to play a role in the Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill 2014, addressing that inadequacy in the legislation. Infrastructure Australia, under the chairmanship of Sir Rod Eddington, has done an outstanding job. The fact that those opposite are pretending that they are strengthening Infrastructure Australia when they are really trying to undermine its independence and integrity shows how far the debate has moved and indeed how successful it has been. When we moved the legislation early in 2008, it was opposed by those opposite, just like they opposed the economic stimulus plan and the nation-building investments that we made.
I commend the amendment to the House. If it is not carried here it will be moved by Labor senators in the other place, because we believe this is absolutely critical. It is consistent with the rhetoric of those opposite. We attempted to get agreement for this amendment, which is why we provided the amendments to the government in advance of this debate and indicated that we were open to discussion. The government rammed through the Infrastructure Australia legislation last year and is putting through this legislation—which makes a significant change—without any proper process and review being attached to it. This legislation is not the comprehensive legislation it could be if the government were prepared to take a bit of a common-sense approach and support the opposition's amendment.
In summing up the debate and answering the last couple of points, we hope that the Labor opposition will come to some sense on the amendments that we are moving in the Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill, and that it will accept that we are making Infrastructure Australia more independent and giving it a strong and transparent voice. That was the point that the member for Grayndler just made. I would have thought that a cabinet subcommittee is something he would have welcomed. He does have a passion for Infrastructure Australia—I acknowledge that. Putting the emphasis of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Treasurer on this is something, you would think, the member for Grayndler would welcome deep down inside, because it is about getting the infrastructure delivered. I am sure that at times he had the same frustrations that we have whereby sometimes the states are not as good at delivering as they should be. Having a cabinet subcommittee to push through an agenda which is part of a transparent and independently recommended spend of taxpayers' money to build a stronger economy should be something that is welcomed. That is what the cabinet subcommittee is all about. It is about achieving the outcomes that we seek through our infrastructure investments now and through what we will do in the future. Of course, the East West project is a great project. It is a project which stacks up economically and we will—
We are very confident. The information that we are talking to the Victorian government about shows that this is a good project. It is a very good project. As I said earlier, there have been issues with the willingness of governments to share information with Infrastructure Australia, there are commercial elements—
Mr Bandt interjecting—
I know the Greens do not necessarily understand commercial elements, but I say to the member for Melbourne: stop the professional protesters trying to get in the way of decent development so that the people of the eastern suburbs of Melbourne can get the infrastructure investment that they need and deserve. I am sure, at some stage, the member for Melbourne will accept that when there is a terrific new piece of infrastructure in Melbourne to get—
The member for Grayndler is right. Ultimately, as he said across the chamber, how people in Victoria vote in the election later this year will be a matter for them. I am sure both the parties at that stage will put those proposals just as they did in September last year. I say to the member for Grayndler: that is a good way to end this debate. Support the mandate that we were given in September last year to build the infrastructure of the 21st century so that we have the strongest possible infrastructure we can have.