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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1320

Senator MILNE (4:49 PM) —I have just made it quite clear that the amendment applies to cases where Infrastructure Australia recommends a project that has a value of more than $50 million. It is not talking about referring all the other advice that Senator O’Brien has referred to. I know that. I am talking about specific projects. As to whether Infrastructure Australia recommends that it would be better for the private sector to fund a particular project, that is not a recommendation that that project proceed. That is the point. One of the terms of reference says specifically that Infrastructure Australia can recommend projects. I am saying that, where those projects are worth $50 million or more, they should be scrutinised. But I can see that the government has no intention of doing that, and with respect I would say that the current parliamentary processes do not allow for appropriate scrutiny.

All of those election promises based on cherry picking the AusLink funding recommendations out of the states were based on both the federal Liberal Party and the federal Labor Party grabbing projects out of long lists put up by state governments through the AusLink funding process, and there was no guarantee at all that those projects had been through any kind of parliamentary scrutiny. They were grab-bag lists from the states. It was their wish list. They had not done social and economic analysis of those projects; they had not looked at alternatives; they had not looked at alternative routes; they had not done public consultation. They had not done any of those things.

Basically, the promises came out of a grab bag of the wish lists of state transport bodies and planning authorities, and the parties picked up those bits of the wish lists that applied to electorates where they thought they could win. It is as simple as that. That is why they picked up items 17 and 18 out of a state government list. You would think that if you were serious about prioritising things you would go for items 1 and 2 out of the state projects—but no. Each party looked through, found the electorates, found the projects, pulled them off the AusLink lists and did not go back and see if there had been any public scrutiny—because there had not been public scrutiny. These had been wish lists out of bureaucracies, ticked off by state cabinets and put up there, and now the public purse is going to fund them because the Rudd government is now saying that it will honour all its election promises.

I think it is disingenuous to say to this Senate that there are appropriate parliamentary processes for scrutiny, leaving the community to think that there was some appropriate assessment of all of these projects that found their way into what can only be described as pork-barrelling election promise lists. We do not have appropriate scrutiny and what I am now hearing is that we are not going to have appropriate scrutiny. I find that really disappointing. I might also say that I am really disappointed we are now onto our fourth minister in terms of dealing with the infrastructure bill—having had Senators Carr, McLucas, Ludwig and now O’Brien. It does not augur well—

Senator Webber —He’s not a minister.

Senator MILNE —Not a minister—all right, thank you for the correction. We have had some ministers; all up we have had four senators from the government handling this bill. It is one of the most critical bills, I would argue, for the future of this country and yet we have no consistency here at all. And, in my view, we have a lack of understanding of the real import of what this bill will mean, particularly in terms of, as we have said before, greenhouse gas and oil implications.

Anyway, I do not think there is much to be gained by continuing to debate this. But I find it very disappointing that the opportunity to get real scrutiny of infrastructure projects—the opportunity to actually give the public input; the opportunity for this parliament to see whether, indeed, greenhouse gas and oil depletion alternatives were even considered—is not going to be taken on board. We are going to go back to what will be backroom arrangements, where recommendations are made—recommendations for public-private partnerships—and the community is not going to have an opportunity to be able to unpick those.

I regret the fact that the government is not going to support the amendment, but I would hope that the opposition will. Given that they wanted parliamentary scrutiny of the ministerial directions for Infrastructure Australia, I am sure they would want the parliamentary oversight of recommendations where more than $50 million is to be spent.

Question put:

That the amendment (Senator Milne’s) be agreed to.