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Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Page: 8996


Senator McALLISTER (New South Wales) (16:40): This matter of public importance correctly identifies the 'chaos, lack of transparency and waste' surrounding a range of major infrastructure projects. It is important to reflect on this, thinking about the importance of transport infrastructure for our economy and for the communities that we represent here. There are limited dollars available in the Commonwealth budget to support transport, and it is critical that the dollars that we do have go to projects that we know will improve the productivity of our economies and, as Senator McKenzie rightly points out, the wellbeing and the lifestyles of the people that we represent.

Unfortunately, what is required to do that is an evidence base, and what we have seen from the government over the last two years has been a complete unwillingness to consider evidence, to develop evidence, to use it in making decisions. On being elected, the coalition provided billions of dollars in funding for major projects prior to any assessment whatsoever by Infrastructure Australia. That included the East West Link and the Perth Freight Link. The business case for WestConnex was only last week released, despite calls for it for over two years. It has been left to hardworking local state members like Jo Haylen and Jodi McKay to hold the New South Wales government to account and to demand that this information be brought into the public domain.

In all of these cases, the funding was allocated and, in the case of the East West Link and WestConnex, paid to the states prior to the assessment processes having been completed. This is not merely a technical problem or a bureaucratic problem, because, as a consequence of proceeding in this way, as a consequence of rushed processes, poor processes, processes in breach of election commitments, these projects have become mired in controversy and confusion. There have been constant changes to the scope and the routes, and it has brought out ridicule and cynicism amongst the broader community about the way that the Commonwealth goes about establishing transport projects.

It stands in stark contrast to the approach that we on this side of the chamber took to this issue when we were in office. In 2008 we understood that this was a real issue that we needed to grapple with, and we established Infrastructure Australia. It was a body explicitly designed to bring evidence to the fore. It was designed to independently assess infrastructure proposals using proper cost-benefit analysis. It was designed to some extent to take the politics out of decision making, to make decisions on the basis of economic benefit, not for political or other considerations. The way it went about that was that it produced an annual infrastructure priority list and it listed projects in order in terms of their ability to promote productivity. In government, we followed those recommendations. The top 15 priority projects developed by IA were funded by Labor, and we also used that body to produce national infrastructure audits as well as national freight, land and urban transport strategies.

The coalition came to government promising to maintain this approach and indeed promising to extend and intensify it. Their election policy said that they would make Infrastructure Australia a more transparent, accountable and effective adviser on the planning, selection and procurement of infrastructure projects. What actually happened was that the coalition introduced legislation to the parliament in November 2013 that sought not to give more power to Infrastructure Australia but to increase the minister's power to interfere in the decision-making processes of that body. It was only because of the good sense of the senators in this chamber that that proposal was blocked.

The policy also said that there would be a rigorous and transparent assessment of tax funded projects and that they would require all infrastructure projects worth more than $100 million to undergo a cost-benefit analysis. As I have already mentioned, the money for the East West Link and the Perth Freight Link was provided before these processes took place, before IA had a chance to assess those projects—absolutely in breach of the promises made by the coalition before coming to government and absolutely to the detriment of good policy, sound investment and productivity in the states where those moneys were allocated.

I want to talk a little bit about WestConnex in my home state of New South Wales because, despite having $25 million to support the development of a business case as part of proper planning, the full business case was only released in redacted form last week. That saw in 2014 the New South Wales Auditor-General highly critical of the New South Wales government's compliance with its own project planning and approvals process, and major elements of that project have been sent back to the drawing board.

The failure to properly articulate the case for WestConnex to explain what its role might be and the failure to consult with local people has meant that there is enormous public cynicism about the government's motives in supporting this project. And every time a government does this around questions of infrastructure, it diminishes our ability to make the decisions that we need to make as a government to fund sensible projects to improve our cities. It is absolutely critical that we get this right.

People talk in general terms about the economic benefits of increased connectivity in cities, but what we forget is that there are real lived experiences behind that economic story. Transport is not an end in itself. It is a link between places that people want to be, where they are now and where they would like to get to. It is enormously important in terms of creating productive cities where people can get access to the jobs that they need to secure themselves and their families' livelihoods.

The Grattan Institute has done some excellent work around this: looking in my home town of Sydney, in some suburbs, only 14 per cent of the total jobs available in Sydney can be accessed within a 45-minute car trip. It is even worse—much worse—if you are reliant on public transport. In many outer suburbs of Sydney, they offer access to fewer than one in 10 of the cities' jobs within an hour's travel on public transport.

Of course I want to draw this chamber's attention to the fact that this has a gender dimension: women's workforce participation falls dramatically in Sydney's outer suburbs, and this is related to the availability of transport and the accessibility of jobs. Men and women in Sydney's eastern suburbs and inner west participate in the workforce in relatively similar levels but, in parts of Sydney's outer western and south-west, workforce participation falls to more than 20 per cent below that of men's. In part it is because of women's caring responsibilities that require them to have jobs that are within easy transport distance of their homes. If they need to get their children from school or take care of a sick parent or a disabled relative, they need to be working in a job that is within easy access of their home. The absence of transport options is absolutely making lives harder for residents in these parts of my city.

The frustration for me—and I want to say this very clearly—is that, every time we muck up one of these projects, every time we fail to engage the community and every time we fail to present the evidence about the significance of one of these projects and we generate cynicism, we decrease our ability to make the decisions that we need to make our cities work.

Transport is a most significant issue. We know that there are limited resources in the budget and we know that we need to apply those resources efficiently. We need to apply them to the projects that can really make a difference. An efficient investment does not mean prioritising road all the time to the exclusion of all other modes of transport. It also does not mean prioritising rail to the exclusion of all other forms of transport. It means gathering the evidence and making an evidence based decision about what will be the best project to provide the transport solution. That is the approach that people on this side of the chamber took whilst in government. That is the approach we recommend, and it is a terrible shame that the government does not adopt— (Time expired)