Senate debates

Monday, 5 February 2018


Norther Australia Infrastructure Facility; Order for the Production of Documents

5:30 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

These documents are in response to an order of the Senate moved by my Greens colleague Senator Rice in November last year requiring the tabling of the Master Facility Agreements between the relevant state and territory governments, the Commonwealth government and the NAIF—or the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, to give it its full name. It's good to see the government, at least in this case, complying with an order of the Senate, which is becoming more and more uncommon. I acknowledge and appreciate that.

It's worth noting that the Master Facility Agreement between the state of Queensland—that is, the Palaszczuk Labor government—the Commonwealth and the NAIF occurred on 3 April 2017, as did the one with the Northern Territory. The final one was with the state of Western Australia, which didn't occur until 2 November. It took until that was provided and, indeed, an order of the Senate some weeks later, before we were actually able to see these documents. Certainly, I would say as a representative of the Greens and also as a representative of the state of Queensland that this is just another example of the lack of transparency surrounding the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.

As people would know, I am just recently back in the Senate and I am following the current Senate inquiry into the governance and operations of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, which had hearings just last week in Cairns and in Darwin. I was only able to attend via phone for part of the Darwin one and my colleague Senator Rice filled in for the other part of it. Without pre-empting the findings of that committee, which still has to consider all of the evidence, a very consistent theme from many of the submissions and the witnesses has been around the lack of transparency.

Just last week in the hearing in Cairns, we had the strange situation of the Queensland Labor government putting in a written submission but then not appearing at that hearing. It's a matter for the committee as to what it does going forward, but it did not have the opportunity at a hearing in Queensland to hear from the Queensland government when everybody knows there is enormous and valid public interest—not just political wrangling of the day, but valid public interest. This is a huge amount of money, $5 billion, that's being made available to assist in infrastructure development in northern Australia. Certainly, speaking on behalf of Queensland, I can say there are some valuable and important opportunities for investment in sustainable infrastructure that assist the community in Northern Queensland.

For example, we heard a representative from the tourism industry in Cairns talk about just how crucial tourism jobs are to all of Queensland—certainly to the northern part of that state. It is a major employer and it is an employer that generates long-term ongoing sustainable jobs, not boom-bust jobs.

It's clear, certainly from the evidence to date and looking through some of these Master Facility Agreements, that we have a real problem with a bias towards megaprojects. The obvious one that has got so much attention is rail links to open up the Galilee Basin and new thermal coal deposits there, the Adani Carmichael mine being the one that has got all of the attention. We had the very unfortunate situation at the Senate committee hearing when, as all of us know you only have a limited time to hear from a witness, the first part of the questioning of the NAIF representatives themselves was about the status of the application for funding for the Aurizon project—have they put one in or not? Is it active? Is it inactive? What does inactive mean? All of that's currently a bit of argy-bargy between the state Labor government and NAIF.

Frankly, it would be much simpler, from the point of view of all of us following this, if the state Labor government said: 'We're not going to support, we'll veto any public funds being used to assist the opening up of new coalmines in the Galilee Basin.' It wouldn't matter what the status of Aurizon's application was, because they would know, as we now know, thanks to the Queensland government's appropriate, although very belated, decision to veto Adani's application for a rail line, that that would stop funding. The federal government has confirmed that.

We need transparency from all sides, frankly, and clarity about the position of the Queensland government, with regard to the opening up of coal deposits in the Galilee Basin. What the Greens would like to see is much greater transparency across the board. We're pleased that these master facility agreements have finally been tabled so that they can be properly scrutinised, but there is an ongoing need for much wider transparency. It's simply about the impact— (Time expired)

Question agreed to.