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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1216

Senator MILNE (9:33 AM) —I would like to raise a couple of general things before I get to my amendments. In particular, I would like to start with the definitions—and this is very important because it relates to the whole purpose of why we are establishing Infrastructure Australia. What the Infrastructure Australia Bill 2008 says is that the definition of:

nationally significant infrastructure includes:

(a)   transport infrastructure; and

(b)   energy infrastructure; and

(c)   communications infrastructure; and

(d)   water infrastructure;

in which investment or further investment will materially improve national productivity.

I am interested in knowing why social infrastructure is not included here. I would argue that schools, universities, hospitals and libraries are nationally significant infrastructure. What we have here is a narrowing of purpose by saying what is nationally significant has to materially improve national productivity. Again I would argue that if your ambition is to move Australia from a resource based economy to a brains and information based economy then nationally significant infrastructure which would materially improve national productivity would include schools, universities, libraries and so on.

The first part of my question is: why is nationally significant infrastructure restricted to those categories and schools, universities, libraries and so on are not included? The second part of my question is: how does this relate to the government’s stated intention to prioritise infrastructure development in Indigenous communities? From what I can see here, there is one promise to improve infrastructure in Indigenous communities as part of the welcome to country, as part of reconciliation and as part of the whole agenda of saying sorry. It is unclear to me that there will be any priority in Indigenous communities in these areas and it is unclear to me, especially when we get to the membership of Infrastructure Australia, whether there will be anyone on it who has any expertise on the needs of Indigenous communities and infrastructure. Those are my questions to begin with.