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Asking the government about Transurban's profits

Senator RICE (Victoria): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Senator Scullion. I note reports this week about private toll operator Transurban, who run 13 of the 16 toll roads in Australia, recording staggering profits. Their net profits tripled in the six months to December to $331 million. The ACCC chair, Rod Sims, said regarding this that he thinks we have pushed maximising revenue to the detriment of the roads system. Yet Transurban also pay zero corporate tax. To what end? Commuters in our cities remain stuck in traffic whilst paying exorbitant and escalating tolls. Can the minister explain to Australian commuters how it justifies supporting the privatisation of such a massive part of our urban transport network, locking in huge tolls, huge profits, and zero return to the taxpayer, whilst the government's investment in public transport—which would transform our cities—is paltry at best?

Senator SCULLION (Northern Territory—Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate): I'm not in a position to give you a detailed and proper response on that matter. I'll take that entire question on notice. But I can tell you that we've been doing an awful lot about road safety. We are building a lot of roads. There are issues around tolls and taxes and whether it's appropriate for anyone to make a profit in this country—I know from your side of parliament there is always a question over profit. What happens in the taxation system is that you actually have to make a profit to pay tax. I'm not sure if you've been in business, but it's one of the principles. If you have some information or some evidence that someone has made a profit that they're not paying the appropriate amount of tax on, I'm more than happy to pass that onto the taxation commissioner.

Senator RICE (Victoria): I also note Transurban CEO, Scott Charlton, has publicly claimed this week that false traffic modelling and data have been used in the past to bolster the case for toll roads when companies are bidding for contracts. In Victoria there has been wide criticism of this problem with Transurban's very own West Gate toll road. Will the government compel the Victorian Labor government to provide to Infrastructure Australia the traffic modelling and peer reviews for this road, as has been requested multiple times, with the Victorian government having refused to do so?

Senator SCULLION (Northern Territory—Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate): Again, I won't be able to provide you with the details on a number of those matters. I'll undertake, through the minister, to do that. But in terms of Victorian infrastructure, we've made a $3 billion commitment to a transformative feature of the East West Link. Victoria would be receiving 19.8 per cent of the Commonwealth infrastructure spend. Victorian state Labor cut this productivity-unlocking project, and yet they seem to prefer per capita infrastructure spending over nation building.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Rice, on a point of order.

Senator Rice: Relevance: my question was very specific as to whether the government will compel the Victorian Labor government to provide to Infrastructure Australia the traffic modelling information and the independent peer review, as has been requested of the Victorian Labor government many times?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Scullion, I remind you of the terms of the question.

Senator SCULLION: Not on the point of order—I have indicated that I will take on notice all of the elements of your question. I was simply providing additional information. Again, I will take that element on notice. The government remains committed to East West Link and remains ready to partner with a Victorian government that is going to be delivering for Victorians. Labor laughed at Inland Rail. It will deliver a $7 billion economic dividend to Victoria. (Time expired) The PRESIDENT: Senator Rice, a final supplementary question?

Senator RICE (Victoria): While private toll operator Transurban is massively increasing its profits, the government is moving at a snail's pace on its inquiry into road user charging, which could provide an efficient and equitable model to manage traffic congestion and ensure the proceeds are returned to the public purse for the public benefit. Can the minister tell us when the government will finally get moving on its public inquiry into road-user charging so that we can examine the options and implications for Australia?

Senator SCULLION (Northern Territory—Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate): I'll take some details of exactly how much we've progressed on the road-user-charge inquiry. You've indicated in your question that somehow we're lagging behind. That's an opinion. I've just said I don't have an answer to that because I don't have the information at hand. I'll take the question on notice.

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