I rise today to speak in support of the member for North Sydney’s amendments. I support the amendment which would require Infrastructure Australia to consult with communities in performing its functions. This amendment is inspired by my predecessor, the former member for Indi, Cathy McGowan, who in 2017 introduced a private member’s bill to strengthen Infrastructure Australia’s social and community benefit considerations, because in Indi we want to make sure that if major infrastructure is being built in our region it will serve the community in the right way, and clearly the people of North Sydney think so too.
The infrastructure that Cathy McGowan spoke of back in 2017 is still relevant in our communities today—telecommunications, road and rail. The Inland Rail program is a massive national infrastructure project, with a well-documented massive cost blowout. It’s connecting a route from Melbourne to Brisbane, going straight through my electorate and redesigning the rail precincts in the towns of Euroa, Wangaratta, Benalla and Glenrowan. I have worked hard to advocate for these communities to have a say in the design of the program—communities such as Euroa, who have fought for years for their voices to be heard in decisions that will dramatically impact their town. So distressed were the communities along this rail link that they had to form an action group. They worked collectively and productively and in good faith, and finally ARTC listened to them. So effective were they in the end that communities from Queensland and New South Wales made contact with my office to get help as well, because they had not been consulted.
The NBN is another national infrastructure project that is vital for regional communities. The NBN promised long-awaited crucial connectivity in regional towns, but it has fallen so well short of this promise. My office still hears constantly from communities like those in the Strathbogie shire, where NBN users face congestion, slower speeds and dropouts.
Requiring Infrastructure Australia to consult with communities when it advises government on the merit and priority of infrastructure projects could prevent these massive community frustrations into the future. It would help deliver well-designed projects that actually benefit communities. In Indi, one significant road infrastructure project has been so poorly designed that it is now on the chopping block. In 2019 the former government announced $168 million to fix the unsafe McKoy Street intersection on the Hume Freeway in Wodonga. The former Prime Minister flew in and promised money. He promised to fix the road. Four years on, not one sod has been turned, not even to start the project—not one. And this week, during Senate estimates, the department revealed that another $190 million, on top of the $168 million, is required to deliver the upgrade. This is another massive cost blow out. It means the project is, effectively, dead in the water.
Why has this happened? Why was the promise broken? Because the former government announced the decision without any community consultation, without any planning—God knows, without any costings! Not even a business case. The former government clearly had no idea what it would take to make the roads safe and no commitment, to the communities of Wodonga, to see it through. This is what happens when you treat infrastructure as a tool to win votes. This is not how government should make important infrastructure commitments. It is not how government should spend taxpayer dollars.
Now the current government are threatening to kill off completely that project in Wodonga. Again, the community is left with their hands in the air. It’s a disgrace that we’re now in this position, and it is a broken promise to our community. Thousands of people drive through this very unsafe intersection every day. They deserve better than this. They deserve to be consulted. People must be at the centre of everything we do. This is why the member for North Sydney’s amendments are so important.
Infrastructure Australia should not only consider economics and productivity when it makes investment decisions; social benefits are just as important. Community benefit is important. Trust in government is important. If Infrastructure Australia consults with communities, this is one way to prevent what happened with the McKoy Street intersection in my electorate falling over, and it will prevent it from ever happening again.