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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17130

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (12:47 PM) —I refer briefly to the national highway budget. I also note that, since 1996, expenditure on the national highway has been divided between RONIs and national highways. Can the Minister for Transport and Regional Services confirm that, in this financial year, 24.3 per cent of our national highway budget will be allocated to RONIs and that, at the same time, the amount of actual dollars spent on our national highway roads is stagnant? It has fallen from $710.48 million in 1996-97 down to $704 million in the 2003-04 budget.

Can the minister also give an undertaking in the context of the AusLink debate today that the Commonwealth will maintain a commitment to national highway construction and maintenance? Can the minister also confirm that in discussions between the Commonwealth and the Victorian government that the Commonwealth Department of Transport and Regional Services seriously explored the construction of the Scoresby Freeway on the basis of shadow tolls and/or actual tolls?

I also go to the issue of discussions at the moment between the Minister for Transport and Regional Services and the New South Wales minister for railways concerning an ARTC proposal for the integration of the Commonwealth rail system on the east coast with the New South Wales rail freight system. As I understand it at the moment, the Commonwealth has allocated $111 million for outstanding investment in this railway upgrade, yet the minister talks about a potential investment of $870 million, which includes an investment of $50 million from the private sector. Can the minister advise the House today on where the other $700 million will come from? Is it going to be in the form of any further direct contribution by the Commonwealth?

I also refer to the Weipa electricity generation compensation package. Minister, do you agree with your departmental officers that the Weipa electricity generation compensation package is designed to remove impediments to the normalisation of Weipa? Does the minister agree that the normalisation of Weipa has a way to go, including approvals and licences from the Queensland government? Does the minister agree that the Regional Partnerships Program guidelines preclude funding of projects that cannot obtain or are in the process of obtaining the relevant approvals or licences to progress? Does the minister therefore accept that the Weipa electricity generation compensation package is outside the guidelines of the new Regional Partnerships Program?

In concluding, I draw attention to the airspace reform package. I note that the Minister for Transport and Regional Services tabled in the House recently a report commissioned by the Airspace Reform Group. I seek advice from the minister as to whether he supports the full recommendations of this report, which include the full or part privatisation of Airservices Australia, given that at the last election the government indicated that it was opposed to the privatisation of Airservices Australia? Minister, I raise those issues because I think they are exceptionally important to the workings of the portfolio.

I also indicate that we are, unfortunately, on the verge of running out of time for the consideration in detail stage of the appropriations debate. I express my view to the House that this is an exceptionally important process, and I believe that the government ought to seriously consider extending it into the next sitting week so as to ensure that accountability with respect to the expenditure of taxpayers' money is fully provided for by the House of Representatives.