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Tuesday, 11 August 2015
Page: 5013

Senator LUDLAM (Western AustraliaCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (19:45): Capitol Hill is a long way from the Fremantle Town Hall; it is a long way from the place known for thousands of years as Walliabup or more recently known as Bibra Lake, in the Beeliar Wetlands chain, in Perth's southern suburbs; we are a long way from the bumper to bumper container traffic on Tydeman Road, in North Freo, and from the quiet suburban streets of Palmyra and North Lake.

Tonight, I am here to pay my respects to those people who are speaking up and stepping up for all of those places—for the issue that has long since outgrown the immediate-impact area of Malvern, Cockburn and Fremantle and has become, in fact, a $2 billion albatross hanging around the neck of the Barnett government. I am speaking, of course, of the Perth Freight Link. I am here tonight to remind the Senate that the Perth Freight Link is actually a national issue because Premier Barnett, having driven the state's finances off a cliff, now wants taxpayers from all over the country to pay for this concrete debacle.

We in the Senate and colleagues in the other place—principally, Ms Alannah MacTiernan, the federal member for Perth—and state colleagues in the Western Australian parliament, out of the Barnett government Public Service, have been seeking basic information on the Perth Freight Link. It was initially pitched as a $1.6 billion project that would link the Roe Highway extension through the Beeliar Wetlands, through Melville to hit Stock Road and then up, somehow, into Fremantle.

They have been trying to get basic information out of the Barnett government, who came up with this mad idea, and out of the Abbott government who, sight unseen, without cost-benefit analysis, without a business case, without a route alignment, without traffic modelling and without an environmental-impact assessment said, 'Sure, we'll give you a billion dollars for that.' Unbelievable! It circumvented Infrastructure Australia's assessment processes, which are not perfect and which are not completely arm's length but are a hell of a lot better than what we have now.

We have been trying to find out some basic information. Those things that I just listed are not in the public domain. Some of those documents exist, some of them have been seen by Infrastructure Australia and none of them are in the public domain. The reason for that, we hear from people who have been involved in their preparation, is that the numbers do not stack up—if the business case were ever put on the table the project would collapse; if the cost-benefit analysis, such as it is, were ever produced the case for the project would collapse.

Now we hear that it could include bridges and maybe this imaginary tunnel that the state transport minister has dreamed up—with whatever on earth the government intends do in Fremantle—and that the project could cost as much as $2½ billion. There is no alignment. The government does not even know how it intends to connect this thing to the container port in Fremantle Harbour.

We have been seeking, through orders for production of documents and through freedom of information requests, information on any evidence at all that Aboriginal consultation was done—there are important sacred sites within the impact area that are proposed to be flattened within the Beeliar Wetlands chain—and on the entire business case, rather than the glib, dismissive and insulting 30-page pamphlet that was put into the public domain. It does not answer basic questions about how the hell the government thinks this project stacks up.

We have been seeking information through orders for production of documents—one of which lapsed today—and we got this letter that Senator Cash tabled. Senator Cash, you are only here in a representative capacity but, nonetheless, you speak for the Abbott government and you are a minister assisting in this matter. You are also a resident of Western Australia. You would know, through you, Mr Deputy President, just how deeply unpopular this thing is.

Instead of those documents being put on the table, we were told it is all commercial-in-confidence. That is, effectively, a public-interest immunity claim that says that it is in the public interest that you do not know where $2½ billion—that you raised in taxes—is going to go and how it is going to be spent on this project. Instead of getting the documents and having them put into the public domain on this project—which is looking increasingly brittle and the Barnett government, you would have to say, is looking increasingly desperate to talk about something else—we get this rather insulting letter back saying that it is all going to be commercial-in-confidence.

We have also moved—which will be voted on tomorrow so I will not reflect on that outcome, because maybe there will be a change of heart—for a list of other material that I think is of extreme importance in trying to find out where the government's head is on this. We will see what happens tomorrow. In the meantime, on the basis that the government has refused to put that information into the public domain, tomorrow we are going to be giving notice of a short, sharp Senate inquiry. It will be conducted into the decision-making process that led to this extraordinary decision to commit more than a billion dollars' worth of Commonwealth funding to this project, the decision-making process and the information that was relied on by state and Commonwealth governments that informed the decision. It will look at serious options that are out there and evaluate what the other options are for dealing with growth of the freight task through metropolitan Perth, particularly container traffic, although I acknowledge there is other quite rapidly growing freight moving through the Fremantle port. There are alternatives. We want the government to look at those alternative rather than just blindly commit to this bizarre concrete folly that has become known as the Perth Freight Link.

I look forward to the support of Senate colleagues when that is voted on, on Thursday. It will be a short, sharp Senate inquiry that calls the state transport minister and Main Roads WA to account. The state government believes this project is wonderful. If they think it is so great, let them front a Senate committee and tell us how great. More to the point, let them put that documented evidence on the table so that we can see exactly what it is that they are on about. In the hope that the inquiry gets up, we would seek something fairly short and sharp that would travel to Perth and that would finally put the public and some decision makers into the picture as to where the government is heading.

There is growing understanding obviously that stopping the Perth Freight Link will not be enough. At that event at the Fremantle town hall three or four weeks ago, it was very obvious to those in the room—and to the 150 people who could not even fit in the room and had to listen to the event on a loudspeaker in Kings Square—that we have hit a tipping point, that this project is going to be stopped. It is like Ningaloo or the campaign to save the old growth forests or to stop the uranium in Western Australia. We have got a pretty good track record when people link arms and stick-up for each other.

But we understand that stopping the Perth Freight Link—and we will—will not be enough. We have to get behind the work that is being done by Professor Peter Newman and his team at Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute about a dedicated rail link from Kewdale to the Latitude 32 industrial site, the intermodal terminal there, and then careful evaluation of the Outer Harbour for a container terminal to take overflow container traffic out of the Fremantle port—where we are effectively trying to route a late 20th century freight highway through a 19th-century port and it is simply at or even over capacity.

We understand and I think the community understands that we need to look seriously at the alternatives. We are there, we are at the table and local government is at the table. Mayors from four local councils spoke at that event in Fremantle including Mr Russell Aubrey from Melville, who is pro the proposal. The three mayors from Coburn, Fremantle and East Fremantle spoke up strongly on behalf of their constituents that there is a better way around this.

There are groups that have been involved for more than 20 years in trying to bring the government to its senses. I want to not only acknowledge those from Save Beeliar Wetlands, from Rethink the Link, from the Fremantle Road to Rail group and those who have been at this for a really long time but also the Maritime Union of Australia—those who actually operate the equipment in the harbour, load and unload the ship and keep our town moving. They know that the sale of the port, the proposed privatisation of the port of Fremantle, is key to what is being done here—one last massive taxpayer funded binge to enable more rapid freight transport into the port before it is sold off. And I also want to acknowledge groups like FERN, the Conservation Council of WA, the Urban Bushland Council and particularly the Aboriginal mob and people without significant resources who are nonetheless speaking up for country.

These are the people collectively who are training up for nonviolent direct action. There are people already occupying some of the houses that have been resumed in Palmyra who are pretty well dug in. It would be an enormous mistake to malign these people as professional protesters. These are ordinary householders and residents who did not want this concrete container pipeline blasting through quiet suburban neighbourhoods and who have suddenly found themselves on the sharp end of resumption notices as their properties are compulsorily acquired. If the state government maligns and misrepresents these people as professional protesters, you will misunderstand the motivation, you will misunderstand the message, you will misread the resourcefulness and, most importantly, you will misread the resolve because the Perth Freight Link is not going to get built.