On Wednesday 10 May 2023, I made a speech in Federal Parliament on the Government's Infrastructure Australia Amendment (Independent Review) Bill 2023 to call out the incredible influence corporations hold over Infrastructure Australia and the infrastructure decision-making of government. You can watch the speech here or read the full transcript below.
E WATSON-BROWN: We're at a pivotal moment in our history where we need to get moving rapidly on building the infrastructure needed to address the major challenges ahead. We have to build the infrastructure that allows us to rapidly decarbonise our economy to convert to 100 per cent renewable energy, to protect our communities from the increasing climate change-driven natural disasters and to build the social infrastructure to overcome the growing alienation and fragmentation of our communities.
We're at a point where we have to invest in visionary infrastructure, not just more road expansions. The fact that the government commissioned an independent review into Infrastructure Australia, and has brought this legislation to try to make it a more functional body, appears to be a decent and timely albeit small step in the right direction. We clearly need a functioning Infrastructure Australia to provide high-quality independent advice on government infrastructure projects. But—and this is a very big 'but'—that means it's got to be independent not just of political partisanship, which the bill seeks to rectify, but also of corporate partisanship, especially that of fossil fuel corporations. And there's a big cause for concern here. Over the last decade, there have been multiple key personnel who have sat on the board of Infrastructure Australia and who have had or currently have senior roles in huge coal, oil and gas corporations.
Let's start with Samantha Hogg. Samantha Hogg was a member of the Infrastructure Australia board between March 2019 and November 2021. She has previously held several director positions with BHP Billiton. Next, let's look at Vanessa Guthrie. Vanessa Guthrie was appointed to the Infrastructure Australia board in 2021 and is still on the board. She has had over 10 former major roles in fossil fuel companies, including but not limited to Woodside Energy, and, at the same time as she is sitting on the board of Infrastructure Australia, she's also currently a director at Santos Ltd. John Ellice-Flint was on the board of Infrastructure Australia from 2014 to 2019. He's had approximately 20 former roles in fossil fuel companies, including Bonaparte Gas & Oil and, again, Santos. He too has held some of these roles while being on the board. He's currently a director and the secretary of Smart Gas Pty Ltd. Julieanne Alroe was on the board of Infrastructure Australia for seven years and was chair of the board from 2017 to 2021. Now get this: while she was chair of the Infrastructure Australia board, she was also a director of Shell Energy Operations Pty Ltd. At the same time, Julieanne was also the CEO and managing director of Brisbane Airport Corporation, a privatised airport company, and instrumental in delivering the new parallel runway in Brisbane with practically zero community consultation, and that has led to enormous problems of flight noise over dense Brisbane suburbs.
The point I'm trying to make here is this: these people all bring an enormous bias and, I believe, an enormous conflict of interest when advising on infrastructure projects to the government. The government should not be advised on key infrastructure projects by people who stand to gain from particular infrastructure being built or, indeed, not being built. They do not have the perspective of delivering infrastructure that benefits everyday people or of delivering infrastructure in the interests of the community. They do have the perspective of the government stepping in to spend billions of dollars on infrastructure meant to facilitate bigger profits for massive coal, oil and gas corporations. They also, in their time in these senior industry roles, establish significant relationships and networks with key people in fossil fuel corporations who will then have a direct mouthpiece through them to the government. With the consolidated three-commissioner structure of this revamped Infrastructure Australia, if one of these roles is occupied, for example, by a director of Santos, say, that would be giving Santos an incredible influence over government infrastructure decision-making.
The Greens are simply saying that people who have held senior roles or who currently hold a senior role with a coal, oil or gas corporation should not be allowed to be appointed a commissioner of Infrastructure Australia. The Australian state is already captured in so many ways by big corporate interests—and by coal, oil and gas interests in particular, because there's the $13.7 million that Labor and the Liberals have taken in donations from fossil fuel corporations in the last 10 years. There's the personnel swapping—that revolving door between the major parties and these big corporations. There's the special access granted to lobbyists and industry. All of this tightens those connections between our political class and the corporate class and stacks our democracy in favour of the corporations and fossil fuel giants and against everyday people. There is also the way that public or quasi-public institutions like the Reserve Bank, the Productivity Commission and Infrastructure Australia get stacked up by people with direct ties to giant fossil fuel companies, banks and property developers, making these corporations enormously influential over our government, and I think that's dangerous.
The Greens amendment to this bill gives us a chance to begin to unravel one of those knots, one of those points of corporate control by the coal and gas corporations. So let's take that chance now and get to work building infrastructure that's in the interests of everyday people, not the likes of Santos and Woodside.