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Friday, 26 November 2010
Page: 2388


Senator IAN MACDONALD (1:15 PM) —I have a longstanding interest in transport matters and have represented the minister and shadow ministers in this chamber on a number of occasions. I also travel through a lot of airports. I do want to say some words on the bill but, before I do that, I want to comment on some of the things that Senator Fisher was saying in relation to government accountability. I am very concerned about the way the government handled the NBN bill and, therefore, I am concerned about how they will handle the Airports Amendment Bill 2010. Senator Fisher rightly raised the issue that, in spite of previous arrangements made with the crossbenchers and the Greens, those senators did not vote to support Senator Fisher’s motion on a committee to be set up to start looking at the NBN process now.

The reason why the crossbench senators did not support it was that they had an undertaking from Prime Minister Gillard. You need go no further than Mr Kevin Rudd to work out the veracity and usefulness of promises given by Ms Gillard—and I say no more on that particular point. A deal was clearly made. I did not overhear it. I have not heard it directly but Senator Wong approached Senator Ludlam, Senator Xenophon and Senator Fielding. They huddled and then she went away and wrote something on her iPad. This, to all intents and purposes, apparently enabled those senators to vote against Senator Fisher’s motion to set up a new committee to give scrutiny to the NBN process.

My question to the government and to Senator Wong, which I tried to raise at the time, is that, if this undertaking is given to three senators, why can’t they make it open and accountable to all senators? That Senator Wong would not get up in the chamber and repeat that same offer leads me to think that she does not intend to keep the arrangements that she has made with those three senators, which influenced their vote. During the debate, I heard Senator Xenophon ask the minister at the table, ‘Is it true that the government’s joint committee on the NBN will have complementary members who will have the same rights as participating members on Senate committees?’ I did not hear the minister at the table give a response to that, yet Senator Xenophon is clearly working on the undertaking given by the Prime Minister that the minister in this chamber will not put on the record. Senator Wong, when invited to do that this afternoon, refused in the same manner to get up and say what the deal was. That, to me, is a matter which requires further scrutiny. I think it is a matter for privileges, and I will be exploring that matter. That is all, as I say, relative to government administration and whether their undertakings can be accepted.

I did briefly want to comment on the Airports Amendment Bill 2010 and planning. There has been a lot concern raised at times with all of us about activities that occur at airports. Senator Xenophon has quite rightly raised the issue of gambling—not that I agree or disagree with him on that. But we have seen things happening at airports which sometimes people do query. I have been very concerned by the length of time it has taken to complete activities at both Cairns airport, up in Far North Queensland, and Canberra airport—two airports which I use regularly—and I wonder what there is in the planning arrangements in this bill to consider the interests of the travelling public at those airports. For a long period of time there have been difficulties for members of the public at those airports.

I relate the incident where I was knocked out by a boom gate at Cairns airport some time ago because of the very strange arrangements there. Fortuitously, that airport is almost at the end of what seems to have been a 100-year construction period although I think it has only been two or three years. But it does seem to me that someone, in planning airports, needs to take into account a little better how the regular activities of an airport, which are planes landing and taking off and passengers getting in and getting out, should occur during these very significant construction stages. With that and with the reservations that Senator Joyce mentioned, I support the Airports Amendment Bill.