Infrastructure Victoria Bill 2015
Ms SANDELL (Melbourne) — The Greens are happy to support this bill for the development of Infrastructure Victoria. I would like to congratulate the government for establishing this body to oversee infrastructure in a way that is independent and that also has a long-term view for the development of this state.
I agree with a lot of the comments made by the member for Broadmeadows declaring that our city is growing very rapidly. It is putting real pressure on people all across our state, and this is largely because we have not dealt properly with planning and infrastructure. We are at real risk of losing our title as the world’s most livable city and losing the character of our city. We are also significantly at risk of decreasing our quality of life if we do not have proper infrastructure and planning policies for the future. Therefore I am pleased to note that the establishment of Infrastructure Victoria will mean that our infrastructure planning will be more independent of government, because frankly infrastructure planning is too fundamental to the lives of Victorians to be held hostage to political skirmishes. Infrastructure should never be used as a carrot to dangle around election time to get ahead in marginal seats. Neither should it be used, as we saw at the last election with the irresponsible conduct of the coalition around the east–west toll road, as an expensive political ploy to jam the opposition in the final days of a government facing imminent electoral defeat.
With long-term planning we could make our state and city truly world class. We could have 24-hour world-class public transport systems like those in Hong Kong and Berlin, which many Victorians have experienced and wondered why our state cannot have the same. We could have a fast train between our major cities — we are the only continent apart from Antarctica that does not have high-speed rail, and we are worried that the penguins are going to beat us to it. We could have an electricity grid that is powered 100 per cent by renewable energy. These things can be a reality. Other countries, other cities and other states have managed to do these things. It is not pie in the sky thinking. They have done it because they have had a long-term independent view of infrastructure. I am hoping that Infrastructure Victoria will lead us down that path as well.
I am also really pleased to see that the agency will consider the triple bottom line, putting environmental and social impacts on an equal footing with economic objectives, because we know that infrastructure is not just to create jobs and economic prosperity but is also here to improve people’s lives, to get people to work, to get people home and to make sure we all have a very good quality of life — and that is what it should be here for. Social and environmental objectives are absolutely critical.
However, I doubt that Infrastructure Victoria will fully take the politics out of infrastructure planning. I doubt it would have stopped the north–south pipeline or the desalination plant. It still relies on the government to accept the recommendations of the experts, which we know the government in Victoria has not been too good at doing of late. We do not think it will look into whether we need the Western Distributor or whether it is a good idea to sell our port. Hopefully it will do these things in the way the government claims it will, but I doubt it will fully take the politics out of it. I doubt that we will ever have a truly independent infrastructure planning system in this state while we have governments that still take donations from and are beholden to toll road companies, property developers and fossil fuel companies, or until the federal government stops playing politics with infrastructure funding for the states.
However, we can hope that Infrastructure Victoria will at least increase the transparency of infrastructure planning, by increasing the transparency of what expert advice has been given to ministers and by requiring ministers to explain why they have disregarded that advice if they have done so.
The opposition has put forward some amendments, and we will look at those. The Greens may move some amendments in the upper house. For example, we would like to see a requirement for public consultation in the development of the statement of objects for the 30-year infrastructure strategy. We would also like to see increased transparency in the methodology used to develop the strategy. We think the bill should provide for the information and resources used in developing the strategy to be publicly available so that the strategy can be scrutinised and understood by the public. It is important to bring the public with us and to increase transparency.
It would be no surprise to members in this place that we would like to see the bill embed reducing CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions in the core purpose of Infrastructure Victoria. The reality of climate change is that it will have a profound impact on our existing and future infrastructure and will contribute to defining our future infrastructure needs. Reducing emissions should be embedded in Infrastructure Victoria and be taken into account as a matter of course. Ultimately, reducing emissions and protecting us from the ravages of climate change should be front and centre of all planning decisions in Victoria. It is not only important for the environment but is also crucial to maintaining our way of life. Infrastructure built from now on, and really infrastructure that was built in the past, should be sustainable and have zero emissions. In the past many opportunities to do this have been lost, and we cannot lose any more opportunities in the future. We think this could be done by requiring Infrastructure Victoria to consider emissions intensity in the options under subclause 33(2)(d), but we are happy to look at other options. If the government is serious about tackling climate change, as it purports to be, climate change and carbon emissions need to be integrated into every aspect of policy, especially infrastructure policy.
The Greens are also concerned about the potential conflict of interests on the board and hope the government will appoint truly independent directors and not those with, for example, vested interests in toll road companies. In conclusion the Greens think this is a good bill. We think having an independent and long-term view of infrastructure in this state is long overdue. Some of the amendments we may move in the upper house could make the bill even better in terms of transparency and dealing with climate change, but we welcome this opportunity to make infrastructure planning in Victoria more effective, more future-focused and more about the quality of life and long-term needs of all Victorians.