Labor blasts Barnaby Joyce for appointing Tamworth mayor and ‘solid supporter’ for infrastructure role | Barnaby Joyce

Labor has blasted Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce for being set to appoint the retiring mayor of Tamworth, Col Murray, as the new chair of Infrastructure Australia.

Asked on Tuesday by the shadow infrastructure Catherine King whether he could confirm that the Morrison government had decided, but not yet announced, that Murray, “who has described himself as a fairly solid Barnaby supporter” would be the new chair of the infrastructure advisory body, Joyce rounded on the opposition.

“What is wrong with the former mayor of Tamworth?” he said.

“Does he not have quite enough letters after his name to be considered worthy by the Labor party – a person who has been in the construction industry for 25 years; a person who was one of the leading mayors in New South Wales; a person who has underpinned the growth of one of our great regional cities?”

The question was clearly a fishing exercise to establish Joyce’s plans for Infrastructure Australia, which currently has an acting chair.

But the deputy prime minister contended the question showed Labor wasn’t committed to regional Australia.

“What would you have said about Chifley – that his train wasn’t big enough? What has happened to the Labor party?” Joyce blustered, accusing his opponents of being “academic snobs”.

Murray characterised himself in an interview with The Monthly in April 2020 as “a fairly solid Barnaby supporter”.

Murray is a retired businessman first elected to Tamworth Regional Council in 2004. He became mayor in 2010. Joyce’s electorate of New England takes in the city of Tamworth.

King said Labor had created Infrastructure Australia while in government “to provide impartial advice to governments and industry across the country”.

“Labor appointed an internationally renowned infrastructure expert as inaugural chair, showing our commitment to infrastructure Australia’s mission,” King said.

She said as a regional parliamentarian, she understood “the importance of regional voices within infrastructure Australia – but this is not the way to do it”.

“Under law, appointments to the Infrastructure Australia board must be based on skills and experience in the field,” King said.

Pointing to Murray’s observation in The Monthly, King said: “Last time I checked, supporting Barnaby Joyce was not in the selection criteria.”

Labor has complained that the Morrison government has isolated Infrastructure Australia. King flagged recently Labor would commission an independent review of the organisation if it won the coming federal election to advise on what changes may be needed to the body’s powers, focus and priorities.

In its 2021 plan, Infrastructure Australia called on the Morrison government to provide policy certainty to kickstart investment in low emissions technology and prevent saddling taxpayers with the cost of stranded high-emissions assets.

The organisation argued Australia needed new vehicle and fuel emissions standards and sector-specific emissions reduction plans.

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