Senate debates

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Bills

Asset Recycling Fund Bill 2014, Asset Recycling Fund (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2014; In Committee

4:48 pm

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move Australian Greens amendment (4) on sheet 7487 revised:

  (4) Page 24 (after line 12), at the end of Part 2, add:

Division 6—Toll roads

30A Toll roads

     Financial assistance granted as mentioned in this Part must not be expended on toll roads.

This is a very simple amendment that states the following:

Financial assistance granted as mentioned in this Part must not be expended on toll roads.

Having followed the Abbott government's directive and privatised everything that is not nailed down, state governments cannot then fold the money—effectively the bribery fund established by the Abbott government—to assist the private sector in taking the public good of the road network and privatising it effectively in the form of a toll road.

I mentioned before why it is so dangerous to put natural monopolies or essential services in the hands of entities that are more interested in private profit than public benefit. Toll roads are probably the keystone example of why it is a dopey idea. This is not coming out of some economics textbook; this is lived experience of people across the country. Fortunately, in Western Australia, Senator Cormann and I do not have to worry about finding ourselves on a toll road and not having the proper pass or the proper change or even the offensive idea of something as basic as a road suddenly being put into private hands. That has been kept out of Western Australia—and long may it stay so. Other states have not been quite so fortunate—for example, Sydney's Cross City Tunnel and the Lane Cove Tunnel.

Here are the greatest hits of the Cross City Tunnel. Here is why it is so dumb to privatise or effectively try to toll natural monopoly infrastructure. It does not work. They wrote into the contracts that the government would not construct competing public transport infrastructure. So much for the free market. If you try to privatise a natural monopoly you end up having to do profoundly anticompetitive things for it to remain profitable. So they wrote into the contracts that no-one could over-build a private road with public transport. What a disgrace! No wonder these things are so unpopular.

The traffic authority was forced to abandon its traditional job of servicing the public's need and instead they closed streets around the tunnel and forced traffic underground through the tunnels and the toll gates. Remarkable! That is what you have to do to make a toll road work. Private profit in the public interest can go to hell. The tunnel then went into voluntary administration, and, of course, the owners blamed the government—and then you go straight into litigation. It was a complete disaster. My New South Wales state colleague Mr David Shoebridge MP said at the time:

This is a classic case of a failed public-private partnership which was based on an anti-public transport, an anti-alternative transport model which was never going to be sustainable.

Even if you are not interested in buying into the public transport debate—and you think everyone should always drive everywhere—the idea that you would close alternate roads to force people into a private toll road is, I think you would agree, reasonably offensive.

So let's carve that out and ensure that, in the event that state governments do embark down this path that the Abbott government seems to be forcing them down, we do not end up subsidising private profit in toll roads. I commend this amendment to the chamber.

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