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Estimates: Western Distributor, Inland Rail and Melbourne Metro

Estimates & Committees
Janet Rice 6 Mar 2017

Senator RICE: I will begin with Mr Mrdak. I want to follow up some further questions about the Western Distributor. I want to confirm any approaches from the Victorian government regarding the Western Distributor and funding for it. Have there been any approaches or any discussions with the government since we last spoke?

Mr Mrdak : Not to my knowledge. I will check with my officers. Essentially, apart from the work that is being undertaken by Infrastructure Australia, which we heard about this morning, we are not doing any further analysis or work in the department. We are subject to weighting advice from Infrastructure Australia. The Victorian government, as I mentioned earlier, is engaged in what we understand from public reports in the final stages of their negotiations with Transurban in relation to the project. My understanding is that they have already added in for procurement for the Monash sections of the work. So that is as we stand at this stage. Victoria has essentially made a judgement to fund this project themselves at this point.

Senator RICE: Given the information that Infrastructure Australia has requested from Victoria and the tardiness of the Victorian government in getting that information to them, do you think this is a problem in terms of overall your objective, transparent, accountable transport planning? How does the federal government view that? Is it a challenge to the relationship that you have with the state governments in terms of doing integrated planning with the state governments?

Mr Mrdak : Working in our federal structure is always a challenge. We have a very good working relationship with the Victorian government on projects on which we are aligned. For instance, the government has recently concluded a $3 billion funding package in Victoria, which they announced late last year with the Victorian government. This particular project, the Western Distributor, is a project for which there is no agreement at this point. The Commonwealth's view at this stage is that we are not prepared to fund this project at this time as we are yet to be satisfied on a number of key elements. Coming to the issue of transparency and value for money, I cannot really comment beyond that. It is a matter for the Victorian government as to how they wish to transact this in the public arena.

Senator RICE: So for the federal government, other than not funding projects, you do not feel that you have any other levers to ensure that there is transparency and accountability?

Mr Mrdak : Well, certainly like ourselves, the Victorian government has recently instituted Infrastructure Victoria.

Senator RICE: Which was explicitly told not to assess on the Western Distributor. Again, it really seems to be slipping through the cracks in terms of having accountability.

Mr Mrdak : And our view, as you have seen with Infrastructure Australia, is all projects should go through that type of assessment to ensure there is some confidence. I come back to Senator Ludlam's comments. It is important that the community has confidence in the processes that are being undertaken on such significant infrastructure investments, many of which have dislocation to communities, so that is important. Beyond that, I can only really comment, as I have to date, about where we are at in the process with Victoria.

Senator RICE: So you are critical of the Victorian government for not allowing Infrastructure Victoria to assess the Western Distributor?

Mr Mrdak : I would not say that. I am not familiar enough with the circumstances.

Senator RICE: The port rail shuttle is the other project where I know there is federal money that has been allocated. Where do you understand we are at with the port rail shuttle at the moment?

Mr Mrdak : I have spoken to the proponents quite recently in the last few weeks and the Victorian government. The Victorian government is currently preparing a submission, as I understand it, for the initial stages of works, which will enable some initial private operations of a port shuttle. Clearly, this was somewhat delayed through the port privatisation process. The federal government remains committed to the project. Our funding remains available for the terminal works which would facilitate that.

Senator RICE: Have you been given a timeline as to when you expect that funding will be needed and will be handed over and able to be spent?

Mr Mrdak : Well, from my discussions with the Victorian government about three weeks ago, I had anticipated by this stage to have received some advice from them in relation to this being concluded. But I have not received that advice as yet. As I say, my understanding is that they are in serious discussions with the private operator around some additional infrastructure work which is required on the Victorian track to enable that to take place. I had anticipated a resolution by this time.

Senator RICE: Do you know whether the projects that have been considered will require more funding than the federal funding that has been allocated?

Mr Mrdak : No. My understanding is that the particular piece of work which is impeding one of the operators involves a relatively modest amount of money which the Victorian government has provision for. So I am not anticipating that requiring a drawdown of federal funds at this stage.

Senator RICE: So there is an initial bit of work before the work?

Mr Mrdak : Before the terminal works would take place to facilitate the commencement of an immediate port shuttle by an operator.

Senator RICE: I hear you say you have not got the information from the Victorian government. Have you got any idea as to what timeline we are looking at? It has been so drawn out.

Mr Mrdak : It has been. As I said, my discussions about a month ago were indicating that this was being dealt with and this is a priority. But I have not heard back from them. I will take that up with them again off the back of this conversation.

Senator RICE: Thank you. It is a really important project, and everybody agrees it should be going ahead.

Mr Mrdak : And the private operator is ready to go in relation to providing a rail link.

Senator RICE: I want to follow up about inland rail.

Mr Mrdak : I will get Mr Wood back to the table.

Senator RICE: As we know, inland rail is a mix of existing rail and new pieces of rail. The particular piece I am interested in is the Melbourne to Albury section to be used for inland rail. Following up on the question that I was asking of the ARTC, in terms of planning for inland rail, do you expect there will need to be significant extra expenditure to bring the track up to standard to cope with the extra amount of freight that would use that stretch of rail?

Mr Wood : That is currently not anticipated. As Mr Fullerton indicated this morning, it remains under review. Currently it is not anticipated because the track is at a standard required to meet the freight operation.

Senator RICE: We have had a wet winter, and it does not really seem, according to the locals who use this railway line every day and every week, that the ballast rehabilitation program has delivered what it was required to deliver. We have got quite extensive speed restrictions in place. Are you relooking at that? It seems to me in terms of planning for it, potentially, given what is going to be required and the extra impact on the rail, that there would be a need to do significant further work.

Mr Wood : That is not the advice we have at this time.

Senator RICE: What sort of assessment have you done? Have you just taken the ARTC's word for it that the work that has been done is sufficient? We are looking at double stack containers and significantly increased freight movements in a stretch of line that, from a range of perspectives, does not seem to be up to scratch at the moment.

Mr Wood : I think it is meeting the lease obligations. It is meeting the requirements of operators at the moment. As Mr Fullerton indicated this morning, freight operators are actually moving to rail, which would indicate that it is meeting their requirements. For example, SCT services is a new entrant on the east coast effectively operating in its own right. It is making a significant investment on the east coast, including a new terminal outside Brisbane, which is based on the traffic both from Melbourne and from the Albury region using the existing track.

Mr Mrdak : I think it is fair to say, if I can add, as you got a sense of it from Mr Fullerton this morning, the reality is that there is concern about the condition of the track from Albury to Melbourne. He discussed this morning some work required for double stacking and the like, which is still under design and review by the ARTC. Coming back to your question, I think most people recognise that there will be further work required on the Albury- Melbourne line. That existing standard gauge line, which was inherited, if I can put it that way, by the ARTC in a very poor condition when the Commonwealth took the leases, will be under review and certainly the future design. If we are going to meet the loads, and particularly to provide the productivity efficiency we seek in rail, we will need to come back and look at the condition of that existing standard gauge line.

Senator RICE: Okay. So you are expecting to do that future assessment as part of the inland rail?

Mr Mrdak : I think it will. And certainly the ARTC, as Mr Fullerton indicated this morning, as it looks at its forward investment strategy, I think will come back and have another look at that standard gauge line.

Senator RICE: What would we be looking at? What was the cost of the ballast rehabilitation program when they undertook it?

Mr Mrdak : I think Mr Fullerton indicated it was $134 million, which was not just for that section. Was it just Victoria?

Mr Wood : No. It also extended into New South Wales up to around Junee or Goulburn.

Mr Mrdak : Essentially, the predisposition had been that certainly in an optimal situation you would go back and effectively rework the track subgrade, which is in poor condition.

Senator RICE: Yes. Which is what the community was saying needed to occur when they did the—

Mr Mrdak : And which the ARTC has done in certain sections, I think, which has lifted the condition of the track. But certainly I think that in the future they will need to go back and have a look at more of that type of work, basically rebuilding the subgrade in some sections.

Senator RICE: But those costs at the moment are not considered? They are not included in the projected costs of inland rail?

Mr Mrdak : They are not within the inland rail project. They would form part of the ARTC's ongoing capital investment program as needed.

Senator RICE: And so presumably given the ballast rehabilitation program was $130 million, you would be looking at considerably upwards of that to do the track rebuild?

Mr Mrdak : If there had to be a rebuild of particularly some of the subgrade material under the track, there would be quite a considerable cost.

Senator RICE: Considerably more than that $130 million over a period of time, obviously?

Mr Mrdak : Depending on the locations, yes, it could be quite a considerable task.

Senator RICE: Would you be able to put an estimate on it? Are we looking at half a billion or a billion dollars?

Mr Mrdak : No. I could not give you an estimate. It would very much be based on locations and the extent of work required.

Senator RICE: I am interested in general investment in public transport in Victoria. An analysis of data from federal budgets shows that Victoria seems to be being short-changed compared with the other states. Over the last five years, we have only had about $82 per person, which is less than one-third of the national per person average of $257. Most of that money has just been the reallocation. Or the money that we have been getting for transport in general has been the reallocation of the East West Link money. What is going on for funding for Victorian infrastructure? Why is it at such a low level given that Victoria is the fastest growing state in the country?

Mr Mrdak : I think it is very important to recognise, as we have discussed previously, that Commonwealth infrastructure funding is not allocated on a per capita basis. It is based on projects which meet national thresholds. Quite clearly, I think on the current program, with the agreed expenditure on the reallocation of the $1.5 billion the Commonwealth had prepaid for the East West, I think if we were to look at splits, Victoria currently has in the program around 15 per cent of the national investment program over the program years. If the $3 billion of contingency were added in, which is the Commonwealth's commitment to the East West, that lifts Victoria to well over 20 per cent of the national funding. But it is very much driven by projects. Quite clearly—

Senator RICE: So is it the case that Victoria has not been putting the projects in? Is that what has been going on?

Mr Mrdak : No. As I said, where we have been able to reach agreement, such as on the $3 billion investment program, which Minister Chester and Minister Allan signed off on late last year, the Commonwealth and the Victorian government are working very well in relation to those projects. The Commonwealth made additional commitments last year on projects like Monash and other projects, where we are working with Victoria. There is the M80, for instance. We are currently undertaking two pieces of further work with Victoria, one of which is some further rail studies, which were announced in the election campaign. The second major piece of work is the commitment to work with Victoria on the north-east road link. That planning work is now underway with Victoria. That is, as you know, a very large, considerable project. It is one of the next major projects for Victoria. That work is in train. So it is not a case of projects not coming forward. Where we have been able to agree, and there is an alignment between the governments, then Victoria has been funded for projects that meet our thresholds.

Senator RICE: So with the projects that are underway, do you feel that there will be sufficient investment? Will there be enough so that Victoria will catch up on the underfunding of Victorian projects that has been experienced?

Mr Mrdak : Well, I think we can argue about the underfunding issue. The reality is that I think there is a very strong program in Victoria. As we have seen in Victoria, certainly on infrastructure, the industry is now doing very well in a number of projects in the market. There is a good pipeline of projects coming forward, including the $3 billion agreed by the ministers towards the end of last year.

Senator RICE: Is the federal government looking at putting any further funding into the Melbourne metro rail tunnel?

Mr Mrdak : No. Victoria has announced it will fund that project itself.

Senator RICE: In terms of federal funding towards public transport projects in Victoria, it seems that there is a real gap, then. If you look at the Infrastructure Australia high priority projects, you see that was the only public transport project that has been looked at.

Mr Mrdak : And, as you will see, it is progressing with Victorian government funding. The Commonwealth is looking for other options for future funding. In the MYEFO statement in December, the Commonwealth earmarked a further $877 million, which is the asset recycling contribution in Victoria. We are now engaged in discussions with Victoria about the optimum projects to which that investment can go.

Senator RICE: What sort of projects are you looking at or are in discussion with Victoria about?

Mr Mrdak : We are now talking to them about a number of regional and metropolitan rail projects which could be funded.

Senator RICE: Could you name what they are?

Mr Mrdak : They are not at this stage at a sufficiently advanced stage where I could give you an indication. We have certainly sought from Victoria opportunities to improve the regional Victorian rail network. Quite clearly, there are areas where the Commonwealth would want to see the enhancement of both passenger and freight.

Senator RICE: So regional rather than Melbourne projects?

Mr Mrdak : That is correct.

Senator RICE: Are you looking at other Melbourne projects, such as the Melton electrification? Would that be one of them?

Mr Mrdak : It is not one that Victoria has raised with us at this stage. Clearly in the past, Victoria raised the upgrade of the Pakenham-Cranbourne line and services along that line. So there is a process underway at the moment with the Victorian government around the allocation of that $877 million.

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Senator RICE: What is the current status of the government looking at road pricing reform?

Mr Mrdak : In responding to the Infrastructure Australia report late last year, the government announced it would this year appoint an eminent person to further the debate, shall we say, in relation to the introduction of road reform and road user charging. The government is now considering the appointment of the person and how we form a team of officials, both Commonwealth and state, to work that through.

Senator RICE: Has that person been identified?

Mr Mrdak : There is consideration being given to a number of names at the moment that are still before government.

Senator RICE: So what is the expected timeline of the inquiry getting underway?

Mr Mrdak : Well, that will be somewhat driven by government decisions. I am not able to give you a definitive date at this stage.

Senator RICE: Minister, have you got any sense of it? Can you elucidate at all on what the likely timeline is going to be?

Senator Nash: I cannot add.

Senator RICE: So we do not know whether it is going to be next month or the end of the year?

Mr Mrdak : Not at this stage. I think it will be done as quickly as the government can.

Senator RICE: Do you think it is a priority for government?

Mr Mrdak : Certainly, yes, there is a range of actions coming out of the Infrastructure Australia response for the government which are now very close to being actioned and announced. This is one of them.

Senator RICE: In terms of setting up the inquiry and the reasons for setting up the inquiry, what is the rationale as to why it is important for government? What are key themes coming through in why this inquiry is important?

Mr Mrdak : There are two key areas which have to be resolved. One is the long-term funding of infrastructure. The reality, as Infrastructure Australia has pointed out and which the department's bureau of publications have been pointing out for some time, is that there is an increasingly large gap between what is being recovered from motorists through fuel excise and registration and the amounts governments are spending on roads. That gap is widening. Clearly, given the budget pressures on government, that is unsustainable. So we have to really look at how we fund infrastructure. Clearly utilising road pricing is an option in the future. We want to understand how that best can be done. More immediately, decisions have been taken by Australian governments in relation to looking at alternative methods of heavy vehicle pricing. That is the more important task which governments have set timeframes around. We are now leading work with the jurisdictions in relation to moving to at least investigating a more direct pricing approach, including how you set your cost base for pricing for the future for heavy vehicles. So those two streams of work are now underway. But the major priority is around long-term funding of infrastructure given the pressures. As the vehicle mix starts to change in the future, fuel excise will not capture growing an important part of the future vehicle task. So we need to look at alternative methods of funding infrastructure.

Senator RICE: Meanwhile, as we are going down this quite slow path and slow road to looking at road pricing, it seems like we have the continual almost ad hoc rollout of privately funded roads—the private toll roads. How do you see the privately funded toll roads intersecting and interacting, if we want to go down the track of a more general road pricing regime?

Mr Mrdak : That will be one of the issues which we will need to work through—how toll charges are, as you say, in many cases locked in for considerable periods given the investment involved. How a general pricing scheme would interact with that and what rebates or charges would be handled under a general road pricing regime is one of the areas we want to investigate. It is not clear yet how that would occur.

Senator RICE: Are more private toll roads making the introduction of general road pricing more difficult?

Mr Mrdak : I do not think so. Certainly at this stage most of the roads that are able to be financed through tolling mechanisms have been done. The availability of new roads which could operate under such regimes is somewhat more limited because of volumes. So in many ways we have to look at the—

Senator RICE: A whole range is still on the books. You mentioned the north-east link in Melbourne. All sorts of other major motorways are being proposed on Infrastructure Australia's list.

Mr Mrdak : Potentially. But if you talk to some of the toll road operators, you find that they are constantly looking for new deals. How many of the deals provide the volumes required to actually service those types of financing arrangements is diminishing to some degree. So we are looking at those issues of how you would move. But clearly there is a process, firstly, to understand what the current arrangements are and, secondly, how you would move away from them in a way that would be acceptable to the community and workable, which gives the community some of the benefits that might accrue by moving to a more direct charging approach rather than the current approach of using a combination of registration and excise.

Senator RICE: Would you agree that having more and more toll roads that are being rolled out while this process is occurring makes possible reforms more complex and probably more expensive to the community overall in terms of road pricing?

Mr Mrdak : It certainly may make the picture more complex. The reality is that the benefit to the consumer should be the access that is available through those motorways of a high standard that would be available into the future.

Senator RICE: I want to move to asset recycling. The 2016-17 budget refers to projects being funded through asset recycling. We saw that, as you have already alluded to today, the asset recycling initiative is winding up, as was indicated in MYEFO. Can we get clarification as to the current status of the asset recycling initiative?

Mr Mrdak : Well, effectively the asset recycling initiative was on a first-come, first serve basis. Agreements had to be in place by 30 June 2016 to be able to access the asset recycling funding. To my knowledge, that program is no longer continuing.

Senator RICE: But there are still projects that have been in place that were put in?

Mr Mrdak : That is right. There are projects that were agreed by the three jurisdictions that have agreed to the asset recycling initiative—the ACT, the Northern Territory and New South Wales. As I mentioned earlier, we are now talking with Victoria about the application of the $877 million that has been set aside in contingency reserve because that agreement was not concluded by 30 June last year.

Senator RICE: So you are still looking at actually—

Mr Mrdak : How we might allocate that.

Senator RICE: taking that over even though the asset recycling initiative is not ongoing?

Mr Mrdak : That is correct.

Senator RICE: Does the government consider that the asset recycling initiative was a success? Did it meet its aims?

Mr Mrdak : Look, I think that is probably best a judgement for others. The reality is that it has resulted in a significant expenditure lift across the country in a number of jurisdictions where the asset recycling has enabled an incentive to certain jurisdictions to be able to recycle assets.

Senator RICE: Is there going to be an assessment done as to whether it met its aims?

Mr Mrdak : I think that is probably a question best directed to the Treasury portfolio. From our perspective, it has seen a lift in investment in a number of jurisdictions.

Senator RICE: How much of the allocation towards asset recycling was spent and how much was not spent? What got reabsorbed back into the budget bottom line?

Mr Mrdak : I would have to take that on notice. I do not have those details with me.

Mr Thomann : The asset recycling initiative is an issue that is actually managed by Treasury. While it intersects with a lot of projects that we are also funding through our appropriations, those kind of questions are really best addressed to Treasury.

Senator RICE: Thank you. The asset recycling was the main plan that the Turnbull government was saying was funding public transport. So now that the asset recycling initiative is not continuing, does the government intend to continue to fund public transport projects?

Mr Mrdak : Yes, it does, where it reaches agreement with a jurisdiction on public transport projects. Yes, it will.

Senator RICE: So do you think there will be a bigger commitment to public transport projects from some general budget allocations than we have seen in the past, given that the most recent ones have all been funded through asset recycling?

Mr Mrdak : That is a judgement for the government to take in the future. Quite clearly, the government, as most governments have, has had significant fiscal pressures. But there is certainly a disposition by the government to invest more into good public transport projects where they meet the required thresholds of IA and others.

Senator RICE: Does the federal government see a need to show any leadership on the funding of public transport projects?

Mr Mrdak : Well, we have discussed previously that the Australian government has funded a range of public transport projects.

Senator RICE: Basically, it has been on a pretty ad hoc basis. In terms of the recommendations of Infrastructure Australia, it is whatever projects get proposed to Infrastructure Australia. Then we have a list of high priority projects where only one out of 18 is a public transport project.

Mr Mrdak : Well, as I said, we are now working with jurisdictions on looking at the next five- to 10-year Commonwealth investment program to provide advice to government. States and territories are bringing forward public transport projects. They will be decisions of the government in the future.

Senator RICE: So as they come, it is on a case by case basis? You do not see a need to have a priority given the lack of investment in public transport at a federal level over many decades? You do not see any need to have a priority for public transport projects?

Mr Mrdak : Well, the government, in its response to the IA report, did announce that we would work with state governments in relation to urban rail plans for our major cities. That work is underway along with work we are doing with jurisdictions on the future investment program between the states and the Commonwealth.

Senator RICE: So we will just wait and see whether the money actually gets delivered.

Mr Mrdak : That work is underway. Judgements are for government to take in the future as to which projects form the basis of future Commonwealth programs.Senator RICE: I will look forward to seeing how it actually rolls out. I will go back to assets recycling. Is the government aware of reports that our US Ambassador has been talking about the program to the new Trump administration? Is this also a question for Treasury?

Mr Mrdak : Well, I think there have been media reports. I cannot comment on the veracity of the media reports.

Senator RICE: But you have not been involved with providing any advice to our ambassador? Can you give any understanding or indication of what the nature of that advice might have been?

Mr Mrdak : Again, that is probably one for Treasury. We have not been asked for advice on the matter.

Senator RICE: Thank you. We are at 3.30 pm.

CHAIR: There will be some people out the back quite excited now, those set down for later in the night, because they are about to get a go-home card. We are an hour over. It is a matter for you. The rules allow for you to go until midnight if you want on this one subject.

Senator RICE: Okay. Are we meant to be having a tea break now?

CHAIR: At 3.30 pm. Yes, let us do that.

Proceedings suspended from 3.30 to 3.47 pm

CHAIR: We will reconvene this committee. It is back to you, Senator Rice.

Senator RICE: I want to have a bit of a discussion about the various government funding programs, such as the Stronger Communities grants and the stronger regions fund. I note that a whole range of local projects are funded in general, reflecting that the government does see itself as having a role in supporting these kinds of smaller-scale initiatives.

Mr Mrdak : Yes. They are very important programs, both Stronger Communities and National Stronger Regions, and, as we transition, the Building Better Regions Fund as well as the community development grants. They are not just small projects; some quite sizeable community infrastructure is being funded through those programs.

Senator RICE: So in terms of those small projects, what are the criteria that are used to determine whether it is worth putting federal funding into a small project that might otherwise be seen as being a state or even just a local government initiative?

Mr Mrdak : The criteria will vary. I will ask Ms Wall to give you an outline. There are essentially three major programs which we are administering in this division. One is community development grants. They are predominantly election commitments and other commitments made by government. They range in size. We have Building Better Regions, which, as I mentioned earlier, is now out. Applications close for that starting tomorrow. Then we have our infrastructure program and various programs we have through that as well as the administration of National Stronger Regions, which is still underway. So the criteria varies with each program, but essentially they fund communities ranging from very small programs right through to quite large infrastructure investment. Ruth, is that a fair snapshot?

Ms Wall : Yes. And the guidelines are available on the department's website, where you can see the objective of each one.

Senator RICE: Because of that, it is not just the responsibility of state or local government to fund this infrastructure?

Mr Mrdak : Well, the Commonwealth has set up these dedicated community infrastructure programs.

Senator RICE: If that is the case, if it is seen that the government has a role in funding these what can be quite small bits of infrastructure, why is it that active transport—bikes and walking infrastructure—is constantly deflected by this government as only requiring funding from state and local governments and not the federal government?

Mr Mrdak : Well, there are two things, I would say. There are a number of active transport projects being funded through our community infrastructure programs, including a range of community walking trails and some of those types of projects which come forward. Secondly, we have funded, and continue to fund, as part of our broader land transport infrastructure, active transport options, such as walkways and bike paths and the like, which are being funded through those programs. So it is not quite correct to say we are not funding active transport. That is being done through the programs.

Senator RICE: Certainly when I have asked questions about the funding of active transport at previous estimates, the general response I have got is that it is largely the responsibility of state and local government. Yet there is this whole range of other community infrastructure that the federal government is seen as having a very significant role in playing.

Mr Mrdak : Certainly to this point the Commonwealth has not set up dedicated active transport programs, but we do fund projects through the various programs we have just discussed.

Senator RICE: Would the government consider setting up a dedicated active transport fund?

CHAIR: I am not sure that that is a fair question.

Senator RICE: Given that we have just been told that they are funding some active transport programs.

CHAIR: I am not challenging your question. I just do not think it is a fair question for Mr Mrdak. I think it is a dangerous place for him to wander into. Given where we are, I think we need to concentrate on questions that he can answer.

Mr Mrdak : It is a matter for government in the future as to where they wish to establish new programs.

Senator RICE: You will probably need to take this on notice. Do you have an analysis of how much, through these community programs, funding is being provided for active transport projects through those funding streams?

Mr Mrdak : We would have to take that on notice.

Senator RICE: The final area of questions that I want to ask your views on is generally about transport modelling. Do you think the current transport modelling is useful for making decisions on which projects should be funded by government?

Mr Mrdak : I suggest, if you do not mind, that that is probably a line of questioning which would be better suited to our policy and research division. Dr Dolman, who heads up our bureau of transport economics, and his team are probably best placed to handle that, if that is all right.

Senator RICE: All right.

Mr Mrdak : He has expert knowledge on this, much more so than I think any of us at the table could assist you with.

Senator RICE: Okay. I will leave it until then. Thank you. Thank you, Chair.

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