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Thursday, 26 June 2014
Page: 7520


Mr TRUSS (Wide BayDeputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development) (12:18): I move:

That the amendments be agreed to.

The Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013 was passed in the Senate on Monday. The government made some key amendments to remove all ministerial direction powers, and there were a number of other amendments moved by the Greens and the opposition. The government amendments were supported by the business community, who then urged the Senate to pass the bill with those amendments. Australians rightly deserve reforms that facilitate and expedite innovative, cost-effective, productive and efficient infrastructure, and this government is committed to those objectives. I would like to thank the Senate for their time in considering the bill, and their recognition of the importance of these reforms.

The government considers some of the amendments that have been moved to be unnecessary, and others add layers of red tape. The government holds concerns that some of the amendments may bog down Infrastructure Australia in micromanaging and oversighting the states' infrastructure projects. The government's election commitment was to a forward-looking strategic organisation that sets the parameters and inspires the solutions for nationally significant infrastructure of tomorrow, outside of the electoral cycle and covering many electoral cycles in advance.

The government's election commitment was to a strong independent Infrastructure Australia that can forge productive relationships with industry and the states and territories. The government's election commitment was to a self-sustainable organisation responsible for its own budget and its own work program. We particularly were keen for IA to do a top-down, 15-year strategic plan for Australia's infrastructure needs. Amendments moved and supported by the opposition and the Greens have the capacity to perhaps limit innovation in what Infrastructure Australia is proposing to do, and the specific details of proposals would be examined rather than allowing IA to provide the framework, in a broader sense, for innovations and solutions by the states and the private sector.

I have had discussions on these amendments with the shadow minister, and I appreciate very much his cooperative approach in looking at those issues. He has assured me that he shares the view that IA should undertake an analysis of the cost-benefit ratios put forward by the states and territories rather than on the 15-year plan itself. This was certainly the government's intention and I am pleased that the opposition has provided me with their views in that regard. We could proceed today with making amendments to the legislation, but because the Senate is on its last day it would not be practical for the Senate to deal with the legislation this week. We are keen to get IA up and running, appoint the new board and, in particular, get on with the task of developing the 15-year plan and examining some of the long list of projects that they will need to examine as a part of our commitment to ensuring that every project valued at more than $100 million is subject to IA scrutiny.

We reserve the right to revisit this legislation at some stage in the future if it is found that some of the amendments that have been proposed are unworkable or the government's election commitments are in any way affected by those amendments. If the states and territories find that they have difficulties dealing with Infrastructure Australia as a result of the amendments—it is mainly Greens' amendments where issues have arisen—or find the legislation unworkable or frustrating, then we will look at how we might be able to fix that in the future. Let me make it absolutely clear that the government respects the autonomy of the states and their rights to manage their own projects. We respect the independence of Infrastructure Australia and we want the relationship with the states to be harmonious. We will do what it takes in relation to the legislation to make sure that happens. We want to get infrastructure reform moving in this country. That is why we are proposing today to accept these amendments, but we may need to come back and consider these matters at a later time if they are found not to work as intended.