Bill Speech: Major Transport Projects Facilitation Amendment Bill 2019

SPENCE (Yuroke) (12:38:36): I am very pleased to rise to speak on the Major Transport Projects Facilitation Amendment Bill 2019. I am also very pleased to hear that the opposition will not be opposing this bill. In fact, having listened to the members’ contributions, I think it would be fair to say that in the main the opposition are supporting many aspects of this bill. The purpose of this bill is to amend the current regime in the Major Transport Projects Facilitation Act 2009 in regard to how the interface with utilities is managed on major transport projects. In doing so it will improve the operation of that regime. A key precursor to any major project delivery is reaching agreement with the utilities on how utility infrastructure will be removed, relocated or protected. Currently major transport projects face significant costs, both in regard to time and money, on the agreements for how this removal, relocation or protection should occur. A key change in this bill relates to when the formal process of utility identification and negotiations can begin. Projects already engage with utilities in the planning phase, but this bill enables that to be captured under the act’s regime with a structured process towards fair agreements. Currently the regime comes into effect after the project approvals have been granted, but this bill amends part 7 of the act to bring forward when the regime commences. Under these changes, utility identification and negotiation can commence at any time once the project is declared to be a major transport project under the act. As such, the project authority’s obligation to take all reasonable steps to identify utility infrastructure that may be affected by the project will be brought forward to when the project is declared, rather than when it is approved. The bill also recognises the value of reaching agreement with utilities as early as possible. Clarity around the total cost of relocating or protecting utility infrastructure improves the project tendering and procurement process; the more information that can be provided to bidders the better. This can help avoid a risk premium being built into bids where that information is absent. Earlier engagement is also beneficial for utility providers and consumers, as there is less scope to devise solutions that avoid disruptions once the project delivery phase is underway. The bill does not change the rights of utilities, just the timing of the utility notification and negotiation. This recognises the importance of understanding what utilities exist on a project during the project delivery cycle, and it means that utility interfaces are considered when there is the greatest scope to come up with the best options. The bill also seeks to improve the efficiency of the utility regime. In doing so the bill removes redundant work for the project authority and unaffected utilities by requiring the project authority to notify only those utilities that may be affected by the project. The act currently requires the project authority to give notice to every utility company regardless. However, given that some utility providers do have geographical limits and will have no assets anywhere near the project, this change removes the need for a formal exchange where the outcome is already known. The other changes in the bill that improve efficiency relate to the use of utility notification and negotiation time frames. Currently the project authority or the utility may give written notice of the intention to commence negotiations 30 business days after the project authority first provides notice of the potential effects of the project on utility infrastructure. This 30-day notification period must elapse before negotiations can begin. This bill enables the negotiation period to be triggered as soon as the utility responds to the notice provided and supplies the information that has been requested by the project authority. The full 30 days does not need to elapse if it is not needed. Essentially this means there is no need to waste time waiting for the clock to run down if it is not necessary to do so. These proposed amendments also give the project authority discretion to allow more time for utilities to comply with notification requirements if they need to do so. Currently if the utilities fail to respond to a notice issued by the project authority within those 30 days, then the utility infrastructure is deemed to be unnotified infrastructure, and this can result in significant costs to utility providers and it also risks the project delivery schedule. So the ability to extend the time for notification responses will address these issues. The bill also provides for a more efficient negotiating environment. Currently a 50-day negotiation period needs to elapse before an expert determination can resolve any disputed issues. The bill enables either party to trigger the dispute resolution process earlier within this period. This will avoid unnecessary delays where all reasonable endeavours to negotiate resolutions that are acceptable to both parties have been unsuccessful. This also will avoid unnecessary delays and again it will avoid time being wasted while parties have to wait for a clock to run down when that is not necessary. Together, the changes in the bill will reduce the time taken to resolve any potential issues with utility protection and relocation. Reaching agreement with utility companies on how utility infrastructure will be removed, relocated or protected is a very significant precursor to major project delivery, and as I mentioned before, it has significant costs and time associated with it. What does this look like for a major project? If we have a look at the north-east link project, the north-east link is the biggest road project in the state’s history, completing the ring‑road between the Eastern Freeway from Springvale Road to the M80 ring-road, connecting the growing northern and south-eastern suburbs. The north-east link is already out to market. Expressions of interest have been called in two packages. The primary package involves construction of the tunnels; and the early works package involves preparatory work, including the utility relocations. Over the past year the project team has been working with utility service providers to identify and locate the utility infrastructure that is likely to be impacted by the north-east link. To date the north-east link project has entered into or is negotiating agreements with 17 utilities, including partnership and resourcing agreements to enable the parties to resource the up-front planning that is required for utility identification and management. A great benefit of this bill is that it will help the project authority and the utility companies to get resolution of agreements sooner, which will ensure that agreements with utilities can be locked in before tenders are finalised. That means that bidders can then factor into their proposals the costs and the risks that are associated with utility infrastructure removal, relocation or protection. This reduces the risk premium that bidders would otherwise price into their proposals, ultimately leading to cost savings for the state. The bill also facilitates agreements sooner by enabling the parties to potentially access any dispute resolution processes under part 7 of the act now, rather than waiting until the project has planning approval. This will enable the project authority to resolve agreements with utilities where a position cannot be reached by negotiation. The changes in the bill are able to be used by the project authority. If a utility has responded to a request about the location of the infrastructure, the project authority and those utilities will then have access to the negotiation and dispute resolution processes under the act. This bill, as I said, recognises that the changes in major transport project delivery over time have already occurred, particularly in relation to project planning. The bill provides for a more efficient utility regime, with earlier notification and negotiations, more efficient administration, better use of existing time frames, reducing the risk of unnotified infrastructure and earlier dispute resolution, if agreement cannot be reached. The measures in the bill are practical. They will deliver tangible benefits for major transport projects, utility companies and their customers. I commend the bill to the house.