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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
Page: 748


Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (12:31): I rise to speak in response to an order passed by the Senate yesterday in relation to the production of documents and information related to the business case supporting the federal investment into the very important Perth Freight Link project. As Senator McGrath pointed out to the Senate yesterday, the Senate has previously passed orders for the production of documents related to the Perth Freight Link business case and the cost-benefit analysis, which is part of the business case, on five occasions. The Senate also passed an order on 12 November 2015 seeking the modelling and forecasting of freight figures, as well as peer reviews undertaken of freight figures. That motion also implicitly related to material relevant to the business case.

In response to those orders the government has provided all the information and all the documents that it could provide without harm to the public interest. The information and documents not provided in response to all these Senate orders in relation to the Perth Freight Link documents were either cabinet-in-confidence documents for the WA state government or contained information that is commercial and sensitive in nature. If they were released in a full and unredacted form they would prejudice commercial negotiations and/or would potentially damage the relations between the Commonwealth and a state government, namely the Western Australian state government.

On each occasion and as required under the Senate standing orders, other orders and conventions of the Senate, the government pointed to the public harm which would be caused by the release of relevant information and pointed to the public interest immunity grant that was claimed. Importantly, Senator McGrath yesterday tabled all of the information and all of the documents that the government has previously provided, which is the full extent of the information that the government can provide in relation to these matters. Importantly, the public interest immunity grant that the government relies on here has long been recognised by the Senate to justify the refusal to publicly release certain information and documents. In particular in this context, it is important to note that the release of the documents sought in an unredacted fashion could prejudice the settlement of the contract for section 2 of the Perth Freight Link project—or Roe 9 as it is described by the WA state government—which is not yet contracted.

We have, of course, previously released the summary of the business case in relation to the Perth Freight Link project, which was publicly released all the way back in December 2014, and further information on the project has been subsequently released by the WA government. The business case summary contains a substantial portion of key information from the business case, which was also tabled by Senator McGrath yesterday.

The reason we are having this conversation in the Senate today is because the Greens do not like roads. The Greens do not like the Perth Freight Link project—we get it. The Greens do not like Western Australia going forward. The Greens do not like the Western Australian economy being enhanced through productivity enhancing infrastructure to ensure we can reduce the cost of moving freight across Western Australia—a key trading state for our nation—reduce congestion on key arterial roads across the south metropolitan area of Perth, improve safety and generally improve the amenity for communities across the south metropolitan area of Perth. I do not have any problem with the fact that the Greens do not like roads and want to stand in the way of important investment in better roads and better infrastructure that can continue to grow a stronger and more prosperous economy where families across Australia, and in particular in Western Australia, can get ahead. They are entitled to do that in a democracy, but they are out of step with public opinion. Of course the Greens know this, which is why they are using every procedural and other trick in the book to stand in the way of this very important project, which has been independently identified by none other than Infrastructure Australia—which was established by the Labor Party in government—as one of the highest infrastructure project priorities in the country. It is an incredibly important project. It is a project that is supported by the overwhelming majority of Western Australians. Senator Ludlam knows this. He does not like it and he ignores it, but the truth is that Western Australians support the Perth Freight Link project. I point you to an article in The Sunday Times by their state political editor Joe Spagnolo in October last year when he reported this very important information. In his article he wrote:

THE vast majority of West Australians support the State Government’s … Roe 8 project, the WA Speaks survey reveals.

This was not just a survey of a couple of hundred people; this was a survey of 9,000 people. Nine thousand Western Australians have spoken and the Greens again are refusing to listen because of their ideological hatred of investment in road infrastructure.

What did this survey of 9,000 Western Australians find? If found that 60 per cent of Western Australians support the Roe Highway extension through Beeliar Wetlands and the Perth Freight Link to Fremantle. Let me not exaggerate—59.8 per cent, so just under 60 per cent, of Western Australians support this very important project and the $1.2 billion federal investment in this very important project. You might wonder if nearly 60 per cent of Western Australians support it how many are opposed to it. How many do you think? Just over 10 per cent. Thirty per cent were unsure. So 60 per cent are in favour, 30 per cent are unsure and 10 per cent are opposed—these are of course the people that the Greens are holding the Senate up for because of their ideological hatred of important investment in road infrastructure.

The Turnbull government are very proud of our record investment nationally in productivity-enhancing, economy-growing infrastructure. We are very proud of the most significant infrastructure investment in the history of Western Australia that any Commonwealth government has ever made in a single infrastructure project—namely, $1.2 billion in the Perth Freight Link project.

Senator Sterle, sadly, has left. Senator Sterle back when he used to be a supporter of the WA trucking industry actually used to be a very strong supporter of the Roe 8 and Roe 9 highway extensions to Fremantle because he could see the benefits to the trucking industry when it came to moving freight at a lower cost and more safely. The Perth Freight Link project literally will save lives. Senator Sterle used to know this. He used to get stuck into the then infrastructure minister in WA, Alannah MacTiernan. He used to come into the Senate and cry blue murder and call her all sorts of names for not supporting this critically important project.

Of course there has been a lot of misinformation spread, particularly across Fremantle and the south metropolitan area, by the Greens, particularly by Senator Ludlam, when it comes to this important project. So in order to restore the balance on this, having been given this opportunity to talk about this critically important project of national significance in Western Australia, I want to inform the Senate of some facts about the Roe 8 and 9 extensions, which are part of the Perth Freight Link.

My good friend and valued colleague the member for Tangney, Ben Morton, has provided a lot of very good information to communities across the south metropolitan region by essentially providing some facts that were circulated by the Fremantle Herald, the Melville City Herald and the Examiner. I will take you through some of the key information that is highly relevant to the debate that we are having here today. Firstly, Roe 8 and 9 are recognised by Infrastructure Australia as being part of one of the highest transport priorities in the nation.

Building Roe 8 and 9 will create up to 10,000 direct and indirect jobs. When we talked to the state government in Western Australia back in 2014 about this important project we knew we had to deal with the transition in the economy, that we had to deal with the wind down of the mining construction boom, that there would be a need to fill the gap with some other activity and that there would be an opportunity, because of the wind down in the mining construction boom with lower prices of construction, to invest in this sort of long-overdue, generational road infrastructure because we would be able to deliver it at a much lower cost than we otherwise would be able to. That is why back in 2014 we said to the state government: 'We are prepared to partner with you. We are prepared to fund 80 per cent of the government's contribution in relation to this very important project of national significance in Western Australia. We want to take advantage of the window of opportunity where construction activity across Western Australia is less than what it was, where the cost of construction is less than what it was, where we can invest in our future economic prosperity and where we can invest in our future capacity as a trading nation to get our product to market and get products from other markets moved around the Perth metropolitan area in the most efficient way possible.'

Of course the majority of traffic on Roe 8 and 9 will be cars as it provides freeway access east and west across our city to places like Perth Airport, Fiona Stanley Hospital, St John of God Hospital and Murdoch University. Previous Labor state governments in Western Australia never had any plans on how to deal with all of the traffic volume on and off the Kwinana Freeway into the Fiona Stanley Hospital. It was a complete and blatant oversight that needs to be addressed and will be addressed through this project. Roe 8 and 9 will be a free-flowing highway saving 12½ minutes in travel time between the Kwinana Freeway and Fremantle. Roe 8 and 9, importantly, will bypass 14 sets of traffic lights on Leach Highway and Stock Road, creating a safer road environment for all road users.

The last two points I have mentioned are the precise reasons why the trucking industry in Western Australia is so supportive of this project, despite the project being part financed by a freight charge. So the trucking industry in Western Australia has agreed to contribute to the cost of this project by essentially paying a toll which would apply only to trucks, not to private cars. It would apply only to trucks, because they will not have to do the stop-start that is happening at the moment with heavy loads—stop-start, which of course is very inefficient and expensive in terms of the use of the brakes and other aspects of the trucks. They will be able to have a clearer run, they will be able to cut their time, they will be able to get the products to market faster, and at a lower cost, more safely and with less wear and tear on their most important asset: their truck.

There was a second very important piece of factual information that the member for Tangney, Ben Morton, provided to communities in my home state of Western Australia, and that is the fact that the Roe 8 project is leading the way in environmental design and construction—

Senator Ludlam: How can you keep a straight face?

Senator CORMANN: leading the way in environmental design and construction. We have Senator Ludlam here wanting to hold up this $1.2 billion project of national significance in our home state of Western Australia because he hates roads and because, he tells us, he is so passionate about the Beeliar Wetlands. But here are the facts. How much of the Beeliar Wetlands do you think is impacted by the Roe highway extension? It is 0.49 per cent—0.49 per cent of the Beeliar Wetlands is impacted by the construction of the Roe 8 extension. Of course, this is not about facts! For the Labor Party, it is about a religious hatred of roads. I get that; we just have to agree to disagree. But do not come into this chamber and hold up the business of the nation for your ideological little vendettas. Just because you are not getting your way, just because the people of Western Australia have rejected your outdated and ideological views, is not a good enough reason for you to come into the Senate and hold up the business of the nation.

Let me continue. Over 1,000 hectares of high-quality conservation land has been acquired as offsets. So, No. 1, just 0.49 per cent of the entire Beeliar Wetlands is impacted by the Roe 8 highway extension. Over 1,000 hectares of high-quality conservation land has been acquired as offsets. And listen to this. The Labor party and the Greens kept telling us that they are interested in emissions reductions, in policies to reduce emissions. Guess what? When you stop forcing trucks to stop and start at 14 traffic lights, do you know what the effect of that is? Do you know what the effect of smoother traffic with freight, going to Fremantle port, is? It leads to a reduction in carbon emissions. In fact, this has been quantified. Roe 8 and Roe 9 are expected to save—to save—450,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2031. Now, I would have thought that the Greens would be marching in the streets for us to put that money into—

Senator Pratt interjecting

Senator CORMANN: I would have thought the Greens would be marching in the streets to urge the government to get on with it, to get the Perth Freight Link built, to get the tunnel built, to get the Perth Freight Link finalised as quickly as possible so we can start reducing carbon emissions.

Let me continue. More than $45 million has been invested in Roe 8 to specifically accommodate environmental sensitivities and to provide better recreational access. We have bent over backwards, both the federal government and the state government, to ensure that this is a world-leading project when it comes to environmental design and construction. The construction is on land already partly cleared for overhead power lines, to minimise the environmental footprint. The state government in Western Australia is pursuing a restoration program at North Lake and Horse Paddock Swamp, including revegetation of degraded areas and weed control. Grass trees, zamia palms, melaleuca, Western Australian Christmas trees and native animals have been relocated. Wetlands bridges over Roe Swamp and Horse Paddock Swamp will maintain ecological connections for native animals. Top-down construction will minimise the clearing footprint.

These are all pieces of information that of course the Greens do not care about. Senator Ludlam comes into the Senate, holds up the business of the Senate, saying, 'I want to see the full, unredacted business case,' even though he knows it would do commercial harm—

Senator Pratt: It is the Senate that has made that request, not Senator Ludlam.

Senator CORMANN: to the people of Western Australia—not because he is actually interested in information. That business case could reveal that this would lead to 10 per cent economic growth in Australia, and Senator Ludlam which still be opposed. There is no amount of economic benefit that would convince Senator Ludlam that this is a good project. But what shocks me is that the Labor Party, who used to be much more sensible than this, yet again in pursuit of Greens preferences in the inner-city seats of Western Australia and around Australia, is absolutely selling out the workers and selling out communities in suburbs of Perth in the pursuit of Green preferences. I expect this sort of garbage from the Greens, but I did not expect it from the Labor Party. And, back when Senator Sterle used to stand up for truckies in Western Australia, he was a strong advocate for this project.

Let me just finalise by making this point again: building Roe 8 and 9, the Perth Freight Link project, will mean fewer trucks and cars and fewer accidents on local roads, including Leach Highway, Farrington Road, South Street, Stock Road, North Lake Road, Beeliar Drive. Building Roe 8 and 9, the Perth Freight Link will mean free-flowing highway access east and west across our city to places including Perth Airport, Fiona Stanley Hospital, Murdoch University and Fremantle port.

Do you know what else it will do, Madam Deputy President? It will improve the value of residential properties across that whole south metropolitan area because, by removing the trucks from these arterial roads, by removing the congestion, by improving the amenity across the south metropolitan region through this record $1.2 billion federal investment in the great state of Western Australia, we actually will be contributing to a general lift across the area which will also be reflected in the property prices in this area. That is something that was confirmed by work commissioned by the state government of Western Australia which has been publicly released in full.

I will finish where I started. Senator Ludlam can come into this Senate and get the Labor Party to agree to 20 more audits. It will not change the fact that governments of both political persuasions, including the Labor government—

Senator Pratt: And you won't comply with an order of the Senate.

Senator CORMANN: Senator Pratt, I used to be on your side. Do you know what? We are providing much more information than your government ever did. We are providing explanations. When we do not provide information because it is not in the public interest to do so, we explain the public harm that would be caused by the release of that information and we point to a specific public interest immunity ground as to why we are not releasing certain information. The then Treasurer Wayne Swan never did us that courtesy, ever. He never did us that courtesy, ever. I could give you a conga line of Labor ministers in the Rudd and Gillard governments, supported and backed up by the Greens, who always folded when it came to a head, who always folded in the face of Labor ministers, on things like the mining tax and the carbon tax. The Greens would be side by side with us in opposition, saying, 'We need more information.' When it came to the crux, when it came to the pointy end, when it came to putting something behind it, when it came to a proposal that I put to Senator Brown, who was the leader of the Greens at the time, that as a Senate we should refuse to deal with the mining tax legislation until such time as the government complied with providing relevant information, he went to water. Of course, everything that we predicted in relation to that particular tax in the lead-up to it being legislated, with the support of the Greens, has ultimately come true.

The Greens will never like the Perth Freight Link project. It could be objectively identified with a PhD thesis going over 1,000 pages explaining why this is the best thing that has ever happened in infrastructure in Western Australia and still Senator Ludlam would not be supporting it. So this is just a complete waste of the Senate's time. We know why the Labor Party is supporting this. The Labor Party in Western Australia is quite desperate for Greens preferences in these inner city areas of Perth. They are very scared of the Greens, and that is of course why they come here, into the Senate, quite weak and support an outrageous motion like this.

It is consistent with the practice of governments of both political persuasions. We as a government have provided as much information in response to all of these orders as we can. We are not in a position to provide the additional unredacted information that was sought by the order of the Senate yesterday, and that is because it would impose commercial harm on Australia. It would also harm relations between the Commonwealth and a state government—namely, the state government of Western Australia. Some of the information that has been sought in these various orders is not information that is our information. They are WA government cabinet-in-confidence documents. I am sure that even the Labor Party would agree that it would not be appropriate for a federal government to release cabinet-in-confidence information that is actually owned by the Western Australia government.

I table the document that I quoted from in relation to the factual information circulated in Western Australia.