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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1218

Senator MILNE (9:44 AM) —There is nothing in there that precludes consideration, but there is nothing in there that specifically includes consideration. That is my point. Anyone reading this and looking at the primary function and looking at materially improved national productivity, which is specifically stated, would see that it implies it has a clear economic benefit. I would of course argue that things such as public transport do, and I will get to that a little bit later. I would also argue that, if you are trying to shift to a knowledge based economy, then investment in schools, universities, libraries et cetera is clearly a material improvement in national productivity.

But this is not stated anywhere in the second reading speech. All I have had now from the minister is: ‘It does not preclude it.’ I would like a statement from the minister that it specifically includes it. That would satisfy my concerns about social infrastructure. I would argue in the case of schools and universities that it is a material improvement in national productivity. I would like to have a statement from the minister that it specifically includes that infrastructure and specifically includes consideration of infrastructure in Indigenous communities. For the minister to say that there are lots of other groups that are also not included is quite offensive, because the people who are specifically included are the corporates—the businesses whose business it is to provide infrastructure. So those who have an interest in making a profit from infrastructure are clearly intended to be included.

I argue that Indigenous Australia has a special case. Of course there are many others, and we will get to that later. I argue that there is a special case for Indigenous Australians to have their expertise included on the board of Infrastructure Australia because to date all the platitudes from the government about consultation with Indigenous communities have failed. That is why we have this huge effort now to do something about years of neglect in Indigenous communities. If you are serious about inclusion and if you are really serious about getting ongoing infrastructure development post the Northern Territory intervention then you have to have a consistent level of advice and expertise in your strategic think tank, which this is going to be for national infrastructure. This is meant to be a strategic blueprint for the future. I would like those specific commitments, Minister.