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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1319

Senator O’BRIEN (4:46 PM) —On behalf of the minister, I say that, again, I think Senator McLucas probably addressed some of these points earlier. This amendment does not show a clear understanding of this bill. Infrastructure Australia is a statutory advisory council and is designed to provide advice to governments, to investors in infrastructure and to owners of infrastructure. If the government responds to such advice provided by Infrastructure Australia, and that response involves project funding, then the proposed government action would go through the normal parliamentary scrutiny and accountability processes.

In other words, the amendment is seeking to address a function which is not a function of Infrastructure Australia as designed in this bill. Rather, it is designed to move into the areas of scrutiny that exist currently through parliamentary processes of this parliament if, indeed, it is a government response to the advice involving government money. However, given that Infrastructure Australia’s role is advisory in nature and does not include powers to determine spending on public works or to undertake public works, this amendment is not necessary. It is therefore not going to be supported by the government.

By way of further illustration, in some cases Infrastructure Australia may advise that it is more appropriate that a specific project be funded by the private sector. If the private sector—a private industry or body—decides to pursue the project, it is clear that a privately funded infrastructure project would not have to be reviewed by, for example, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works. Also, Infrastructure Australia may advise in favour of regulatory reform rather than proposed investment. Again, no review by the Public Works Committee would be necessary.

Responses to Infrastructure Australia’s advice may also come from other levels of government which have their own accountability arrangements. In these instances, it is easy to see how the proposed amendment does not even apply to the responses of governments to the functions of Infrastructure Australia, let alone the functions themselves. So we will not be supporting this amendment. It is simply proceeding down an irrelevant path to pursue it.