Wednesday, 1 September 2021
Questions without Notice
My question is to the minister representing the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Senator McKenzie. When did the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Joyce, make the final decision on the Inland Rail alignment in Queensland? When did Mr Joyce advise Mr Littleproud and Senator McDonald of his decision?
The Inland Rail project is one of the most iconic nation-building projects that Australia has ever seen and is being delivered by the National Party in a Liberal-National government. Warren Truss announced the project as infrastructure minister. Since then it has been a very proud government that has stood by and watched this project proceed through the various iterations to see its fulfilment. We've now got track being laid out right through north-west New South Wales, as it makes its way north and south between Brisbane and Melbourne. It's a once-in-a-lifetime investment in regional Australia. As the current Deputy Prime Minister calls it, it will absolutely be 'a corridor of commerce'. I know some of the senators who take an interest in regional Australia's growth and development will have seen a fantastic—
The point of order is on relevance. I know the minister is speaking to something important, but it is a very tightly worded question. It just seeks to know: when did the Deputy Prime Minister make the final decision and when did he advise Mr Littleproud and Senator MacDonald? There's no embroidery. It's just a simple factual question.
I think the question goes to the decision-making, the alignment and the passing on of that to others. There are multiple elements of the question, but it goes to that. I have been listening, but I'm going to ask you to turn to those elements of the question, Senator McKenzie—having been speaking for a minute—rather than a general description of the project.
In terms of the route decision, there has been no change to where that has been planned through a whole variety of infrastructure ministers over many, many years. There have been many studies and plans done, particularly on the border to Gowrie route. Cabinet agreed to a route and we as a government are sticking to that. We don't need more reviews into this. The local community has been consulted. The local MPs have been consulted, and my understanding is that—
I think, with respect, the question did ask that. It asked about the alignment, and it asked about whether others were advised. I do believe the minister was being directly relevant when she was speaking about the route. I can't instruct them how to answer a question. The minister referred to decision-making upon a route by the cabinet. I can't rule that as not being directly relevant to the question being asked. Senator McKenzie.
I'm very happy to table the alignment of the Inland Rail route, which has been agreed for a long period of time. Cabinet has re-examined that and absolutely backs the decision of the infrastructure ministers on the current route as it stands, and that will not be changing.
It's been reported that, along with Senator McDonald, Mr Joyce recently met with community groups who felt misled by him over the Inland Rail route. Did Mr Joyce indicate, at this meeting with community groups in Mr Littleproud's electorate or to his Nationals colleagues, that he would consider an alternative route?
Senator Watt, I've been very clear, as has the Deputy Prime Minister and as has the Deputy Leader of the Nationals. All National Party cabinet ministers support the decision of cabinet. They support the current route of the Inland Rail, and they've been very, very clear about that. What is clear also is that Labor has opposed the Inland Rail from the start.
The point of order is on relevance. The question was about the meeting that Mr Joyce had with Senator McDonald and community groups and what was said to those community groups in that meeting.
The minister answered that part of the question, or was answering that part of the question, by—
Senator Watt interjecting—
If I could rule, Senator Watt, please. I'll let that glancing comment by Senator McKenzie pass, as you said you would in your point of order. The minister was answering the question by talking about the decision-making on the route and who supported it—it being a decision of the government. I can't instruct the minister how to answer a question. There's time to debate them in 10 minutes. Senator McKenzie.
I just will read to the Senate the statement from the DPM I made on 25 August 2021:
The Inland Rail alignment is settled—it has been refined over a number of years and delivery is well underway.
As I mentioned in my first answer to you:
The Border to Gowrie section that includes the Condamine Crossing has been developed by world-leading rail engineering experts and enhanced through community consultation. ARTC's flood modelling and the reference design for the crossing of the Condamine floodplain has been thoroughly reviewed— (Time expired)
A private text message from Mr Littleproud to Mr Joyce, which happened to be published in the Australian,reads:
The Millmerran guys you spoke to on Friday would have preferred you either told them on Friday this or told them before a public statement from you.
Why did Mr Joyce refuse to listen to Mr Littleproud's constituents and to his Nationals colleagues and, instead, announce publicly that the Inland Rail line was 'settled' and 'well underway'?
Because that's exactly what the Inland Rail project is about. We have decided a route. The government has, as I've said, reviewed it. We've got the environmental impact statement. We've got route reviews and multiple studies—one, two, three, four, five, six, seven different reviews. The government is very committed to the current alignment. That is what we're committed to delivering on, and that is absolutely what the Deputy Prime Minister wants to see happen and what the local community wants to see happen. I'm very happy to table third-party endorsements from the community affected.
As I was saying, the panel's draft report—that's the panel of experts on flood studies in Queensland—found that the work undertaken by the ARTC would be predominantly in accordance with national guidelines and current industry best practice. The border-to-Gowrie section has been subject to multiple studies and reviews. In 2020, a further independent assessment confirmed—(Time expired)