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Senate backs Auditor General probe on Perth Freight Link and Westconnex

Greens’ Ludlam bounces back after Perth Freight Link effort was stymied by governments involved


Fresh from seeing an Auditor-General’s report cast effective doubt on Melbourne’s East West Link project, the Senate has lined up the troubled Perth Freight Link (PFL) and Sydney’s Westconnex for a similar investigation.

Introduced by Western Australian Greens senator Scott Ludlam, with Labor senator Glenn Sterle as a late co-sponsor, the motion expects such a probe to cast light on how federal PFL funding came to be approved despite Infrastructure Australia doubts about the reasoning behind it and its value over other options.

“This motion proposes and requests a reference to the Auditor-General to investigate the funding decisions that were made that led to proposed funding for the WestConnex project in New South Wales and the Perth Freight Link in Western Australia,” Ludlam says in Parliament.

He adds that “the debacle over the Perth Freight Link and WestConnex project funding absolutely is a prime candidate for the Auditor-General’s careful scrutiny”.

Less was said at this time on Westconnex and Liberal senator Scott Ryan backed both projects in a response by a government that has given repeated public support for them.

“Infrastructure Australia has identified that the project will address a nationally significant problem, aligns with strategic priorities and delivers economic benefits,” Ryan says.

“WestConnex is also a good project.

“The economic benefits to New South Wales are estimated to exceed $20 billion.

“Recent enhancements to WestConnex are designed to improve the performance of the overall Sydney motorway network – for example, by adding a connection for a future western harbour road crossing.

“Infrastructure Australia is currently reviewing the revised business case and has considered earlier business cases.

“Both Perth Freight Link and WestConnex have been funded after project evaluations.”

This is Ludlam’s second Senate effort to highlight PFL issues in six months, the first having run into a WA and federal government roadblock last year.

Yesterday’s motion passed 37-30.

It reads:

“That the Senate—

(a) notes the findings of the Federal Auditor-General’s report that examined approval and administration of federal funding for the East West Link project, including:

(i) the commitment of $3 billion funding went against ‘clear advice’ from the public service that the project had not been justified and was not ready,

(ii) neither stage of the project had proceeded fully through processes that have been established to assess the merits of nationally significant infrastructure investments prior to the decision to approve $3 billion in Commonwealth funding,

(iii) at the time the commitment was made it was not considered to have yet demonstrated strong strategic and economic merit by Infrastructure Australia, and

(iv) the payment came just months after the Coalition promised not to fund infrastructure projects worth more than $100 million without the publication of a proper cost-benefit analysis;

(b) notes that the Federal Government funded the East West Link project at the same time as it cancelled existing investment in public transport projects like the Perth Light Rail project and the Melbourne Metro Rail project – both of which had been assessed and included by Infrastructure Australia on their infrastructure priority list; and

(c) requests that, given the almost identical characteristics, the Auditor-General investigate the Commonwealth funding approvals and decisions taken for the Perth Freight Link and WestConnex projects.”

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