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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1222

Senator IAN MACDONALD (10:05 AM) —I will make this the last question on this particular line that I am following. Minister, I thought what I said—perhaps you were too busy talking to your adviser and did not quite hear what I said—is that you have the states doing these infrastructure plans, reporting and giving advice, and then over the top of that you have this new federal body doing the same thing. Your advisers will generally assure you that the general comments I make about the ports in Queensland are accurate, if you do not want to accept the detail. It is quite clear. As I said, anyone who flies up the coast can see that the ports in Queensland are grossly poorly managed through lack of investment, and that is costing Australia huge amounts of money, just in the demurrage on those ships sitting out there for days and indeed weeks at a time, waiting to load up with coal which could be being sold, earning money for Australia and making life better for Australia’s working families. Because of state government inability to properly manage infrastructure, we lose all that money.

What I am saying is: what is this body going to be able to do that the state assessments do not already do? This is important, Minister. If the federal body disagrees with the approach of the state authorities and the state reviews—let’s confine it specifically to Queensland ports—and there is a difference of opinion and the federal body as part of its advice says, ‘There should be massive new investment,’ or if perhaps it says, ‘The state government rips off all these profits by way of dividends and doesn’t allow the authority to reinvest in capital works,’ how are those conflicts going to be resolved?

What will Infrastructure Australia do? Will it just give advice to the minister, who will then say, ‘Thanks for the advice,’ and move on with life and nothing further will happen? Or are they likely to come in and try and take over the ports? Are they likely to loan the Queensland government some money to do something? If they do that, will they have a recommendation that might say, ‘If we’re putting it in this investment we don’t want the Queensland government simply to rip dividends off the port authorities for the purposes of their general budget without any thought of reinvestment in these areas’?

My concern is: what is the purpose of this organisation vis-a-vis the state governments, who under COAG are already forming plans, making assessments and making recommendations?