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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
Page: 765

Senator RICE (Victoria) (13:44): I also want to thank my colleague Senator Ludlam for his dogged determination on this issue because this is about transparency and accountability. It is providing information that the community needs, that we as senators need to make decisions on what major infrastructure projects should go ahead and are in the interests of the community. Without this information we cannot make that judgement. I listened to Senator Cormann's response this afternoon as to why the government is claiming this information is not available. He said that there was harm to public interest, that they were cabinet-in-confidence decisions and that it was commercial and sensitive information. Frankly, these excuses do not hold water at all. The bulk of Senator Cormann's very longwinded contribution today was basically flights of fancy, overblown rhetoric and far-fetched opinions that have no relationship whatsoever to the truth of what this major road would mean to Perth.

In summary, I think Senator Cormann was influenced by the fact that it was Valentine's Day, and the government and he were doing their best to show their undying love for toll roads:

Roses are red.

Violets are blue.

We love toll roads

And so should you.

That really was the substance of what we heard from Senator Cormann. What we know is if there were transparency, if we had had this information before us, if the business case were available—as it should be for all Australians to be able to interrogate—it would become very clear that these projects, these massive toll roads, just do not add up.

Without that information, and with the excuses being proffered by the government that 'No, we can't have this information because it's cabinet-in-confidence, because it's commercial and sensitive,' what that means is that every major project like this across the country cannot be subject to public scrutiny. Every one of them is seen to be commercial-in-confidence or cabinet-in-confidence—'No, we cannot share that information with you.' That means that these projects get to proceed without the spotlight of public scrutiny and without the justification to try to say why this is a good project and why it adds up. We know why that is the case. We know why there is secrecy. It is because these projects do not add up. If you had that scrutiny and shone a spotlight on why this road is being proposed, it would be very clear that it does not add up economically or environmentally. The major reason these roads are being proposed is to try to tackle congestion; it is very clear, when you look at information—where it is available—that it just does not work. These projects are just not effective in that fundamental aim that they have of tackling congestion. The evidence around the world shows that trying to tackle congestion in big cities just by building new roads is like trying to tackle obesity by loosening your belt. Those roads just fill up with cars and trucks, and you end up exactly where you were a few years down the track, but you have wasted billions of dollars along the way.

But we know that we have state and federal Liberal governments—and, sadly, many state Labor governments as well—who are in the thrall of the toll road companies and are continuing to do their bidding. It is not just in Perth with Roe 8; we have seen it in Victoria with the East West Link, where when we finally managed to get the information out because of people within the bureaucracy whistleblowing and saying this information needs to be in the public domain, we saw that the cost-benefit analysis meant that for every dollar you spent you got only 50c back in economic benefit. That was the reality of what came out when we put the East West Link under the sort of scrutiny that Roe 8 needs to be put under. We have the Auditor-General's report on WestConnex coming out today, and I am pretty confident that it is not going to give it a clean bill of health. Then we have the state Labor government in Victoria that similarly is refusing to release the business case for the deal that they are doing with Transurban on the Western Distributor, because they know that if a spotlight could be shone on these roads, it would be pretty clear that they are not the answer.

We have a solution. Transport planners across the country and around the world know that what we need to do to create liveable and healthy cities that people really want to live in is to shift the balance. We need to have much more investment in public transport, much more investment in freight rail and much more investment in cycling and walking facilities so that people have a choice to get out of their cars. We do not need to be moving all this freight on toll roads; we could be getting it onto rail. What we as a parliament need to do, and what governments need to do, is to redress that balance, changing and shifting away from the failures of the last 50 years. Not releasing this information and continuing down the road of Roe 8 is a continuation of our policy failure.

In conclusion, I think we need to keep the pressure up to get this information out so that we can see for ourselves that the supposed benefits of this road just are not worth the costs. When all that information is out on the table, it will be very clear that the right direction is not building massive polluting tollways; it is investing in public transport, in walking and cycling and in healthy, more sustainable and more liveable cities.