1 year ago




6 SENATE Tuesday, 14 February 2017 I am shocked at the long and detailed presentation we have just had from the government, which essentially sums up one thing: they are running scared from openness, transparency and public accountability. This runs counter to everything they have said not only before the last election but also since. I will quote … a statement made by Senator John Faulkner at a recent conference. The speech, entitled ‘Open and transparent government—the way forward’, was made at Australia’s Right to Know, Freedom of Speech Conference. He said: … the best safeguard against ill-informed public judgement is not concealment but information. As Abraham Lincoln said: ‘Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.’ That is a bit of a Russian doll of a quote—I apologise. For Hansard's benefit, that is Senator Cormann quoting Senator Faulkner quoting Abraham Lincoln. So the Senate has no recourse to an independent umpire. There is noone we can go to to check the validity of the kind of claims that Senator Cormann is asking us to trust him on. The reason we do not have such an umpire is that Senator Cormann's crusade for such an office mysteriously evaporated right after the Liberal-National Party won government. In the absence of such an umpire the Senate has to figure out the consequences it believes are appropriate. To give you one example, when Senator Minchin was communications minister we supported him in sanctioning Senator Stephen Conroy over key reports relating to the NBN. After Senator Conroy had defied a number of these Senate orders to produce documents, the Senate determined by majority that it would not deal with any legislation in his portfolio until he fronted up. Months later, we got a lot more than the minister was initially willing to hand over. In other words, it was worth raising the stakes. But it is a very long time since the Senate has asserted itself in this way and in the meantime standards of transparency and accountability have fallen apart. I cannot remember a time when such casual contempt has been shown to the Senate and to its role, to the crossbench and to the opposition, who hold a majority in here and are sent here to do a job. What happened to Senator Cormann? Where is our transparency warrior today? For the benefit of those listening on the broadcast, he has left the room. Today marks the seventh time that the minister has defied Senate order drafted in various ways demanding disclosure on this $2 billion dead dog of a project. For senators not from Western Australia you probably know what I am referring to: $1.2 billion of your taxes are going to fund an environmental obscenity. The Western Australian community have every right to believe that the minister this morning was abusing his position and the very principles of public interest that he fought so hard in favour for when he was in opposition. Release the full business case and release the cost-benefit analysis. Otherwise, we have to assume that you are hiding something. Senator Cormann made reference to the fact that the top-line figures for this project had, in fact, been released, and he is quite right. There is a summary of the business case in the public domain. There is a summary of the cost-benefit analysis in the public domain. But we know what is actually going on here. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the 'roads are good for the environment; roads are good for mental health' Prime Minister—these are direct quotes, believe it or not—as part of his big push to be the infrastructure-concrete-through-wetlands Prime Minister, introduced three road projects, I think effectively, on the same day: WestConnex, East West Link and the Roe Highway extension. He basically came out and said, 'No work's been done on these things, but the Commonwealth will be funding them because I am the concrete-pouring Prime Minister. I am the infrastructure Prime Minister.' Then it was basically left to the infrastructure department and the state main roads departments' planning authorities to retrospectively justify these disastrous projects. It was a complete perversion of due process, and that happened in three states at the same time. Our Victorian colleagues managed to checkmate theirs. Our New South Wales colleagues are well on their way to checkmating theirs. In fact, in Victoria that project cost the Napthine government office. In Western Australia we are 3½ weeks away from seeing an eerily similar repeat of the same debacle, where this ghost project introduced by Tony Abbott that has had its head severed but is still shambling along like a zombie—a $2 billion zombie—apparently can only be stopped by an election. That is our task in the next 3½ weeks. What happens is we get these top-line figures that Senator Cormann dances in here with, and maybe Senator Back, who is in the chamber, will give us some information from those as well. What we are asked to do is simply trust the top-line figures. We are asked to trust the government and the analysts who rapidly and hastily did this work to justify the pre-emptive announcement by Prime Minister Abbott and Premier Colin Barnett. 'Trust us,' says Senator Cormann, 'the cost-benefit analysis stacks up. Trust us, the business case stacks up.' We know from consultants, whistleblowers and people who have worked on these things that the numbers do not stack up. That is the reason why Senator Cormann cannot release them. That is why they are not being put into the public domain, because the numbers do not stack up. Of course they do not, because Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced these projects without the due diligence having been done. CHAMBER

Tuesday, 14 February 2017 SENATE 7 The Labor Party, to their credit, when they were in government introduced this thing called Infrastructure Australia that created the first instance of an arms-length assessment process between a proponent and consolidated revenue, so that you would not just get National Party MPs stamping around out in their electorates announcing freeway projects, bridges, tunnels and ports willy-nillly. As one of their first acts with Tony Abbott as Prime Minister the government reversed this process. You have these prime ministerial announcements. He gets to hang out in a fluoro vest and a hard hat for the TV cameras, announcing roads that everybody else then has to go away and try and justify. That is why they are not putting this material into the public domain. You have these black box projects where contractors are invited to submit their bids and at that point everything disappears into this shroud of commercial-in-confidence. That is what happens. That is the other justification. What we were told was, 'While this tender process is live,'—this was that excuse from a year ago— 'we are not going to release any of the information. You cannot have the business case or the CBA because that will prejudice commercial negotiations.' That is commercial-in-confidence. Personally, I was of the view at the time, and we were backed up by a majority of the Senate, that that was garbage. You redact the documents and you put them into the public domain. The fact is it is not out for tender. Leighton won. They got wonderful value for money for their $700,000 worth of donations to the Liberal-National Party. They got the gig. We have no idea why they got the gig, but they did. So you would have thought that argument of commercial confidentiality has been wiped away. There is no possibility that an independent arbiter, if we had one in the Senate to break these deadlocks, would uphold the minister's contention that because some tender process finished up six months ago they cannot put the primary information into the public domain so that people can analyse it. Yet that is effectively what Minister Cormann just did, and I presume his colleagues are going to back him in, to stand up and say, 'You just have to trust us. It is all commercial-in-confidence.' They are going to do that to stage 2. Former state transport minister Dean Nalder, who is gone not forgotten— he is not particularly missed either—was pushing for a tunnel under Stock Road which would cost another $600 million, $700 million or $800 million. Presumably when Labor, Independent and Greens senators and our state parliamentary colleagues try to figure out where the exhaust stacks taking carcinogenic pollution from this hideously expensive tunnel and venting it into suburban areas are going to be we will be told, 'That is commercialin-confidence,' as well. It is obscene, but that is what we are faced with. You will be aware that there are two key arguments against this project—there are a great many more than two, but there are two key ones that I want to focus on today. Firstly, it does not have to happen. Work that was done under the Court state Liberal government in the 1990s identified that we were going at some stage to need an overflow port in Cockburn Sound. That work was picked up and run with by the state Labor government for a period of years. A whole heap of due diligence has been done that we would have thought had cross-party support by now: that the container port in Fremantle Harbour is approaching capacity—not just the laydown areas in the container yards but in fact the approach roads—and at some point you are going to need to take either container traffic or bulk freight into Cockburn Sound, into the industrial area, which has great road links and rail links with Kewdale industrial area and the airport; and that that really is where we should be starting to move our freight task to. Fremantle stays as a working port, but the overflow traffic, particularly either the container traffic or the bulk freight goes down to Cockburn Sound. All of that work had been done, which means that really that project should be moved forward for a proper environmental impact assessment. In the Senate here we, we do not get to just stand here and say that it should go ahead. What we are saying is that that is a live option that should be investigated and submitted for environmental impact assessment. But no. The government, on the zombie commitment of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, is determined to push ahead, and now it is going to cost the Barnett government office. That is a determination and a commitment that we make in here today. The other issue, obviously, is that the project is an environmental and Aboriginal heritage obscenity. This is four lanes, or possibly six or eight lanes, of tarmac—we are not even sure how big this thing is eventually going to get—pushing through wetlands and an incredibly important Aboriginal heritage area—40,000 or 50,000 years of continuous occupation of the Swan coastal plain. I am not in here to speak for the Aboriginal mob; they have been speaking for themselves at events that we have been to and in the courts. In here we have had delegations, and we have had people who have stood up with a great deal of determination to make their case against destroying sites in this way. It is a one-two punch from the state and the Commonwealth. The Barnett government deregisters sacred sites that have been on the statute books for decades. Then the Commonwealth government writes out a billion-dollar cheque to cover them in asphalt. It is absolutely obscene. You always know that you are going to get done over in one of these things when the proponent—in this case the main roads department—boasts of stringent conditions that the project will be subjected to. We have observed, CHAMBER

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