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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1223


Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (10:08 AM) —Again I will do my best to answer your—


Senator Ian Macdonald —We only expect you to do your best.


Senator CARR —Senator Macdonald, I will just make it clear. The bill seeks to establish a new entity—Infrastructure Australia. The primary function of this entity is to provide advice to the minister, Commonwealth, state, territory and local governments, investors in infrastructure and owners of infrastructure on matters relating to infrastructure including the relationship to a number of matters, including the national significance of that infrastructure, pricing, policy, regulatory issues, impediments to the efficient utilisation of that infrastructure and the options and reform proposals that might emerge from the building of a particular infrastructure item. It seeks also to provide advice on the needs of users of infrastructure and mechanisms for financing investment in infrastructure.

So it is an advisory body—that is the purpose. It is an advisory body aimed at providing the best possible advice to overcome the issues that you have highlighted. I think it is a fair observation that has been made about the nature of the Australian Federation since 1900 that the ability of the states to coordinate their efforts has not been one of our strengths as a country. As a nation, one of our challenges has been to ensure that there is an efficient and effective prioritisation of needs across the country.

I know in my portfolio area we have seen it on numerous occasions with regard to scientific infrastructure. The states will invariably compete with one another to secure a particular piece of infrastructure, and that is no different in a whole range of areas, be it the railways, the ports or anything else. So there needs to be a nationally coordinated response to the infrastructure needs of this country, which the Reserve Bank and many other bodies have highlighted as a major impediment to our economic development and a major problem with regard to the inflationary pressures that we are now confronting. So this is a body designed to assist the states and local government—and, of course, the Commonwealth—come to a rational view about the allocation of resources.

Frankly, Senator Macdonald, I think the bill spells that out quite clearly. If you have a concern about the Queensland government’s priority setting, it is a matter I would have thought would be—


Senator Ian Macdonald —No, that’s not the point.


Senator CARR —I think the material sets out clearly the objects of this particular piece of legislation. It seeks to highlight the need to address a pressing political, social and economic problem that this country faces. The minister responsible has made the position of the government very clear on this. I think this legislation clarifies that quite clearly. The provisions that were undertaken via the old arrangements under the previous government, of which you were a minister, allowed for five-yearly infrastructure assessments. What is being proposed here is that the audits be on a broader basis—that we do overcome this issue of state rivalries and we do get a more rational assessment of the provision of the infrastructure needs of this country.