Thursday, 15 February 2018
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Indigenous Affairs (Senator Scullion) to a question without notice asked by Senator Rice today relating to toll roads.
It was interesting that we were in question time. There is a reason why it's called 'question time' and not 'answer time'. We did not get any answer to any of my very serious questions from the Minister representing the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. Of course, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport is a certain Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, who obviously has other things on his mind at the moment, and it's very clear that Minister Scullion was not well briefed by Minister Joyce about the very serious issue about the obscene, staggering profits being made by Transurban, who have a virtual monopoly on toll road operations around the country, who run 13 out of the 16 toll roads around the country and whose profits increased threefold to $331 million in the last six months.
We had the ACCC chair, Rod Sims, quoted in the press this morning as saying, 'I think we have pushed maximising revenue to the detriment of the road system,' and yet the government are completely missing in action. They don't see any role for the federal government to be dealing with this issue, where we have this major company ripping off the community, making huge, huge profits and paying no tax despite making those massive profits. It is paying no tax, and meanwhile, despite having all of those toll roads around the cities in our country, people are still stuck in traffic. They are paying exorbitant and escalating tolls, yet these toll roads aren't solving our transport problems in Australia.
And yet the federal government is basically saying: 'Nothing we can do; nothing to see here. We'll just let the market go on. We'll let the market go on ripping people off with tolls and basically having city planning being privatised, being outsourced to Transurban.'
Of course, the real answer to solving congestion in our cities is to be investing in city-shaping public transport, yet we have next to no money being invested by this government in public transport. What is the minister's response as to why this isn't happening? No answer.
The other issue, of course, regarding Transurban is the statement which I asked the minister about today, the statement made by their CEO, who claimed that, in the past, false traffic modelling and data had been used to bolster the case for toll roads where companies were bidding for contracts. He was implying that Transurban aren't doing that. Yet we know that, in Victoria, this is the very thing that Transurban have been accused of doing with their very own West Gate toll road. We know that there is transport modelling and the independent peer review of the West Gate toll road that have not been made public.
I have raised this question in estimates and asked Infrastructure Australia whether this information has been made available to them so that they could do an assessment of the value of this toll road in solving our traffic problems in Melbourne. Infrastructure Australia said they asked the Victorian government for it, but the Victorian government have not been forthcoming. They've requested it multiple times, and it still hasn't been forthcoming. You can only presume that the very behaviour that the CEO of Transurban, Scott Charlton, was accusing other companies of doing—of having incredibly dodgy data and dodgy modelling to support their toll road—is exactly what Transurban have been doing themselves.
If they haven't been doing that then they need to come clean. They need to say to the Victorian government: 'I think the independent peer review that was done of our road should be made public. It should be made available to Infrastructure Australia.' It should be made available to the community so we can judge for ourselves whether this massive polluting toll road is really a good deal for Victoria and for Melburnians. As it stands at the moment, it doesn't stack up. We've got Transurban operating in cahoots with the Victorian Labor government, and meanwhile the federal government here is just turning a blind eye to it all.
The final thing, of course, is that one thing that we know potentially has a big place in this space is looking at road user charging. There are issues, and pros and cons, and we need to examine them. The federal government announced 18 months ago that it was going to have an inquiry into road user charging, and it was going to have an eminent Australian who was going to head up this review. Eighteen months on, we haven't even seen hide nor hair of that eminent Australian, let alone an inquiry that would be so critical for this issue.
Question agreed to.