Adam Bandt in Parliament – East West business case, Monday 24 March 2014

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Message from Adam Bandts office:

Adam is in Canberra for Parliament this week and spent a considerable amount of time in the Chamber last night debating the Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill 2014. He questioned the Assisting Minister, Mr Briggs MP seeking the release of the business case for the proposed East West Link.

Below is Adam’s contribution to the debate:

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (17:24): I am pleased to hear the assistant minister saying that he wants to increase transparency, because, despite everything the assistant minister just said, it is my recollection that—and I stand to be corrected on this—the Prime Minister actually said he had seen the business case for the East West Link. If that is the case, the government sure ought to be in a position to table it now, and not come into this chamber and give some answer that apparently Infrastructure Australia is not being cooperative; that is simply not the case.

I spent a long time in this chamber in the last parliament listening to the member for Wentworth, then the shadow minister for communications, now the Minister for Communications, and he prosecuted a case very vigorously against the NBN and against spending on the NBN. I and the Greens are supporters of the NBN, and it was clear that the then opposition, now the government, was going to do everything they possibly could to wreck the NBN, and they ran a number of arguments, about where fibre should go to et cetera.

One of the arguments, though, that did strike a chord with me—and, perhaps, had they not been so clearly out to wreck the whole thing, might have got some support—was that they came in here, time after time, and said, ‘We should not proceed with the NBN and with spending significant amounts of money on it because we have not done a cost-benefit analysis.’ In fact, from memory, it was not just that they said that rhetorically—and, again, I would stand to be corrected, but I think that the opposition, now the government, came in here and moved amendments to legislation saying that certain bills should not pass until a cost-benefit analysis has been done on the NBN. The arguments were, simply put, that if you are going to spend money on significant pieces of infrastructure, there ought to be a cost-benefit analysis and it ought to be publicly released.

Prior to the election, I held out some faint hope, which has clearly been misplaced, that that commitment to cost-benefit analysis, when you are spending on infrastructure, might carry through once the government was elected. But what we saw during the campaign period was that, despite the fact that there is no business case that stacks up for the East West Link, the now Prime Minister was quite prepared to come out and say, ‘I will rip $1½ billion out of the aid budget to put it into the East West Link.’ What we then find is that, despite repeated requests to table the business case, the government fights that tooth and nail. Then, when we take the matter to Senate estimates, we find that the only business case or summary of a business case that has been provided to Infrastructure Australia for the East West Link says that, if you apply the same methodology that most other people do, for every dollar the Australian taxpayer tips into the East West Link, you are only going to get 80c back. It is a loss maker, according to the evidence given by the head of Infrastructure Australia, unless you fudge the figures and include all sorts of other additional benefits—benefits that are nebulous, because the government will not tell us what they are but just says, ‘Trust us.’ When it comes to the NBN, apparently you need a cost-benefit analysis. But, when it comes to tipping a couple of billion dollars into a road project that every analysis that has been made publicly available tells you does not stack up, apparently it is a set of different rules.

If the assistant minister genuinely believes what he just told the House—that this government is committed to increasing transparency when it comes to spending billions on infrastructure—then he should table the business case for the East West Link. Infrastructure Australia clearly wants to say more about it and is being held back. So table it. Let us have some faith that you actually believe what you say about the commitment to increase transparency, because I would have to say that that has not been a hallmark of this government in other respects.

In the absence of the minister being prepared to do that, that is why it is important that this amendment is passed, because it is clear that the government will rip billions from aid projects to spend on infrastructure projects, without a cost-benefit analysis. So I ask the minister at the table in this debate: is he prepared to table the cost-benefit analysis for the East West Link?

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (17:52): I rise, based on Minister Briggs’ previous interventions, to ask a question during this debate. No doubt the minister is now the one responsible for getting this legislation through and wants to get it through both houses. I think everyone understands what the numbers are in the Senate. I ask the minister this question to assist us and my party on formulating our position on this. The minister just said that there is an ‘obligation to tell taxpayers what is happening with their money’. I think I have that quote right. My question—to assist us in formulating how we might vote on this amendment or other amendments or deal with it when it comes to the Senate—is: will the minister commit to tabling the cost-benefit analysis for the East West Link project before the contracts are signed?

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (18:13): The assistant minister does not seem to be that keen to secure the support of the Greens for this Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill 2014 so I rise to give them one last opportunity for the third time on this question.

I have heard this assistant minister come into the chamber many, many times, whether it has been in opposition or now in government, and say, ‘The only people that you can trust to spend your money are the Liberal Party because we put everything through a rigorous cost-benefit analysis’. There will be no waste under us.’ As he just alluded to in a previous contribution in this debate he said, ‘It’s the same argument that we ran with the NBN.’ And what the minister will remember, is that the opposition then said, ‘Don’t proceed with the NBN until there has been a cost-benefit analysis done and until the results are published.’ Given all of that, and given that we are seriously considering this bill—and I presume that the minister wants to get it through the Senate—I will try one last time. Will the minister or the government commit to making public cost-benefit analysis on the East West Link before $1½ billion is spent on before the contracts are signed?

Links to the Hansard are below:

http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22chamber%2Fhansardr%2F8a8460f3-1972-403b-acbb-d8679c9f1fc3%2F0171%22

http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22chamber%2Fhansardr%2F8a8460f3-1972-403b-acbb-d8679c9f1fc3%2F0176%22

http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22chamber%2Fhansardr%2F8a8460f3-1972-403b-acbb-d8679c9f1fc3%2F0182%22

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