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Thursday, 13 April 2000
Page: 15956

Mr TANNER (3:04 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Finance and Administration. Can you confirm that in March you met with the proponents of the Speedrail high speed train project, including joint venture partner Leightons? Is it not a fact that you advised Leightons and the other joint venturers that government funding for the project would be more likely if the full sale of Telstra went ahead? Isn't Mr Tim Besley, chair of the government's Telstra inquiry, also chairman of Leightons? If government financial support for Speedrail is linked in this way to the full sale of Telstra, how can Mr Besley possibly chair the government's Telstra inquiry?

Mr FAHEY (Minister for Finance and Administration) —I have been having regular meetings with the proponents of the Speedrail project now for some years. After all, the route goes through my electorate and it is of significance to my constituents. I am continually given a briefing on the progress. On a number of occasions, they have come to the seat of Macarthur and conducted community meetings, and they have kept me informed of those things. I am very grateful that they have kept me informed, and I have endeavoured to give them every assistance that I can within the proper bounds.

I can say very, very clearly that when the government made a decision following the report that was put together by the officials of three governments—the federal government, the New South Wales government and the ACT government—to nominate a preferred tenderer, and that decision was announced in August 1998, from that point on it was a case of looking at the details that could be brought forward by the preferred tenderer. The government's condition has been—and this has always been stated by me—that it be at no cost to budget. Many proposals that have been discussed with me have indicated that that represents some difficulties or otherwise. The report that has come through is being evaluated at the present time. I have not seen it, but I have made it abundantly clear that the government's rules are that it be at no cost to budget. If they think that there is a capacity of government to do otherwise, I have indicated that there is nothing that I know that would suggest otherwise.

The honourable member asked me something about the chairman of Leightons. I think I am aware—I am not certain of this—that he is on the board of Leightons. Whether he is the chairman or not, I do not know. I do not know what that has to do with the Speedrail project. I do not know what that has to do with the fact that there are many, many organisations who will come and talk to me as a member of parliament and in my role and who will give me some ideas about what they want to do. All I can say is that the government's rules are clear. I have certainly stuck by them in all my conversations. If there is to be a decision on Speedrail—and it is yet to be determined whether it may or may not be favourable—the rules in place at this point in time are that it be at no cost to budget.