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Thursday, 3 December 2015
Page: 9827

Road Infrastructure


Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (14:11): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Infrastructure—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Just a moment, Senator Rhiannon. I cannot hear you. Order on my left! Senator Rhiannon, would you start again?

Senator RHIANNON: My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, Senator Colbeck. My question relates to the release of the updated WestConnex business case, which shows a massive cost blow-out, from $10 billion to $16.8 billion. Considering Infrastructure Australia's assessment of the previous business case—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Just a moment, Senator Rhiannon. Order! On my left! Senators on my left and my right! I need to hear the question. Senator Rhiannon, please continue.

Senator RHIANNON: Considering Infrastructure Australia's assessment of the previous business case showed the costs were wrongly estimated because those in the New South Wales government did not follow the correct guidelines, when will the minister insist on a review by the Commonwealth Auditor-General of federal funding and financial risks?






Senator COLBECK (TasmaniaMinister for Tourism and International Education and Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Investment) (14:13): I do not have a particular brief on the specifics of Senator Rhiannon's question, but the coalition is obviously committed to its investment program into infrastructure, particularly the WestConnex project, which is something that we have been committed to for a considerable period of time. We are working closely with the New South Wales government on the delivery of the project, and we will continue to do so. We take our investment in infrastructure in this country very seriously. I will have to ask Minister Truss's office for further information regarding the specifics of the question, but I reiterate to the chamber that we remain committed to the project and we remain committed to working closely with the New South Wales government on delivery of what is a very, very important piece of infrastructure. It means a lot to those who are going to be impacted by reducing traffic congestion in those areas, and, despite the fact that we understand the Greens do not like the construction of major pieces of road infrastructure—which is their right, quite obviously, in a policy sense—we will continue to support the project.


Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (14:15): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. As the minister is in the Turnbull government, it is surprising that he could not answer the question in terms of the responsible use of public money. Hopefully, he can answer this one: given the cost blow-out—and that the planning and delivery of WestConnex has been transferred to a private corporation, the Sydney Motorway Corporation, which is not subject to New South Wales freedom of information requests—how can the minister, or anybody, be confident that the $3.5 billion of federal funds, public money— (Time expired)

Senator Edwards: What was the question?



Senator COLBECK (TasmaniaMinister for Tourism and International Education and Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Investment) (14:15): That is a fair question, Senator Edwards: what was the question? The government obviously is working with the New South Wales government on the delivery of this major piece of infrastructure. We see it as an important one. There are a range of checks and balances that are put into place with respect to the management of the project between the state and the Commonwealth to ensure that Commonwealth funds—and state funds, for that matter—are used correctly. Despite the Greens railing against these important pieces of infrastructure, we remain committed to these projects, which are very important for those who are going to be positively impacted by them. As I said in my previous answer, we remain committed to the project and we are committed to ensuring that taxpayers' money is properly used for the delivery of important infrastructure. (Time expired)


Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (14:16): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, when you say you 'remain committed' what you are committed to are urban motorway projects that have been financial failures. The Cross City Tunnel, the Lane Cove Tunnel, the CLEM7 Tunnel and the Brisbane airport link had traffic forecasts that were widely inflated. How can you justify gambling billions in federal funds on WestConnex, instead of spending it on public transport? That is how we can reduce congestion and decrease travel times.


Senator COLBECK (TasmaniaMinister for Tourism and International Education and Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Investment) (14:17): In a policy sense, the Greens have their own policy priorities and the government has theirs.

Senator Kim Carr interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock. Senator Carr!

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on both sides!

Senator COLBECK: The Greens are quite free to express their policy preferences, but the government is committed to this project. We remain committed to the project. It was a significant commitment that this government made coming through the last election, and we will roll the project out. The Greens can rail against it all they like; that is not going to change the circumstance. We will continue to support the project.