Joint Media Conference, Parliament House Canberra



29 February 2016

Joint release with:

Paul Fletcher

Member for Bradfield
Minister for Major Projects, Territories and Local Government

Topics: Victorian infrastructure development; Melbourne Metro

Darren Chester: Well today Minister Fletcher and I had the opportunity to meet with the Victoria Public Transport Minister, Jacinta Allan, and discuss a range of important Victorian infrastructure projects. Obviously the Federal Government, with a $50 billion infrastructure investment program, is very keen to work with our Victorian colleagues on further projects which will help create jobs, create growth and prosperity right across Australia, but obviously in Victoria as well. The Melbourne Metro Project was one of the key projects that was discussed during the meeting. It was a productive meeting, it was a positive meeting, and we certainly look forward to working with the Victorian Government in any way we can in the future. I'd like to defer to Paul for a few comments.

Paul Fletcher: Well thanks Darren. Yes, as Minister Chester has said, we had a productive meeting with Minister Allan. The next step is that the business case for Melbourne Metro goes to Infrastructure Australia, which is where it'll be considered, and Infrastructure Australia will come forward with its advice to the Turnbull Government. We really need to receive that advice before we can take any decisions on whether Melbourne Metro would be funded by the Commonwealth Government, and if so when that would occur, at what point, what amount, and of course what form that funding might take—would it be a grant, would it be a loan, would it potentially even be equity or some other form. So a fair way to go, but certainly a productive initial meeting today.

Question: The Victorian Government … [Indistinct] had that request for funding, the fact that the Melbourne Government has asked for 4.5 billion.

Darren Chester: Well, it will be assessed on its merits. It's going through the process as has been set down by the Government. The Victoria Government is well aware of the process as well. Infrastructure Australia will consider it very carefully. Obviously we want Infrastructure Australia to work as fast as practical in this regard. We recognise there's significant congestion issues, particularly in Melbourne, but there's significant infrastructure issues across Victoria, and I'm very keen in my discussions with Minister Allan to make sure that we're furthering projects which benefit regional Victoria as well, as she was keen to have that discussion with us. It was a positive, it was a productive meeting, it was a good first step in relation to the Melbourne Metro project and a range of other projects.

Question: The Victorian Government already have $1.5 billion from the East West Link. Will there be any sort of push to get that money back before you make a decision on this 4.5 billion?

Darren Chester: Well the $1.5 billion you're referring to is the subject of discussions between Minister Morrison and Minister Pallas. It's probably best it's left to them to comment on that.

Question: Do you have any concerns about the way Victoria has approached Canberra for this funding?

Darren Chester: Look, today's meeting was very positive, and it was a very practical way to go about having this discussion. I enjoyed the opportunity to meet with Minister Allan for the first time. It was a good spirited meeting, we made a few points in relation to how we'd like to see projects beyond just metropolitan projects put to the Commonwealth Government for their consideration, and she was amenable to that. So it was a good, positive meeting, and we look forward to working with the Victorian Government into the future.

Question: Did today's discussions include any discussion about the Murray Basin Rail Project?

Darren Chester: The Murray Basin Rail Project was one of many projects we discussed with the Minister today. It's important that we delivered a whole suite of projects coming out of Victoria. We recognise right across Australia there are a range of good projects coming forward from various state governments; it's a challenge for the Commonwealth Government. Even though we do have a major investment program—$50 billion—it's still going to be a challenge for us to fit in all the programs, all the projects that are coming forward from various jurisdictions. But we're very keen to work with the Victorian Government and other state governments in an innovative manner, in a constructive manner, in a way that creates jobs, growth and prosperity right across Australia, and we certainly look forward to working with the State Minister into the future.

Question: Can I just ask, on another issue, John Howard on the weekend has said he's concerned that there's a growing intolerance in public debate, and people are too scared to express their views for fear of being branded intolerant or bigoted. Could I get your response to that?

Darren Chester: Which part of it?

Question: Well, do you feel that there is a problem, that there is a diminishing quality of public debate and people are too frightened to express common-sense views?

Darren Chester: Well I would never be one to offer a contrary view to a former Prime Minister of John Howard's stature. I would only say that more generally when it comes to public debate it's important that people are moderate, people are moderate and calm in their reflections, that they consider the impact that their comments may have on other people. I just urge people, whatever side they taken on a particular issue, to show respect for other peoples' views, to accept responsibility for their own actions. If you say something which causes great offence and causes other actions to occur, you need to take responsibility for your own comments as well. So I would generally agree with the Prime Minister on the tenure of his comments, but I'd simply say it's up to us as elected leaders to show respect for other people's views and be responsible for our actions.

Question: In Opposition, the Victorian Government estimated this Melbourne Metro would be about 9 billion, with 3 billion to come from the Federal Government. Are you concerned that only 18 months later it's increased by 50 per cent?

Darren Chester: Well, no I'm not concerned inasmuch that we're going through a process now where Infrastructure Australia will go through the proper assessment. We've instructed or urged the departments at both state level and Commonwealth level to work closely together to flesh out some of those details. This is a very complex project, a lot of issues to be worked out yet, and this is an important step today, but I don't want to overstate where we're at on the process. We've got a long way to go yet, and some of those details become more apparent as the weeks, the months and the years pass by.

Question: If Infrastructure Australia does approve Melbourne Metro, will you guarantee funding for it?

Paul Fletcher: No, we're certainly not in a position to do that. What we are saying is the first step is for Infrastructure Australia to come forward with advice, then the Turnbull Government will be in a position to start to take some decisions as to whether we'd provide funding, if so how much, what form it might take—whether it's a grant, whether it's a loan, whether it's even equity or another form of contribution. But the first step is for Infrastructure Australia to conduct its detailed assessment. So today was a useful initial discussion. Minister Chester and I welcomed the chance to have a face to face discussion with Victorian Minister Jacinta Allan and her officials; now there's some detailed work that Infrastructure Australia needs to do, and it will come back to us in due course with its views.

Question: Just on negative gearing, could I just ask do you think there is a case to tighten concessions on negative gearing, or do you believe that the backbench needs to be listened to on this, and that it should be left untouched?

Paul Fletcher: Well, I think clearly the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have indicated we'll have a tax plan to take to the budget process, indeed a next election process as well. It's a debate which is continuing. I understand the community, I understand why people are interested more broadly, but I think it's really questions best suited to the Treasurer and the Prime Minister.

Question: Minister Chester, you mentioned your interest in seeing regional- the regional infrastructure funded. Does that bode well for the Murray Basin Rail?

Darren Chester: Well, far be it for me to stand here and give The Weekly Timesan exclusive. Simply, it needs to be properly assessed. The Murray Basin project has a lot of support, not surprisingly a lot of support amongst my Coalition colleagues who see advantages for their electorates and for their community, and I can understand that. We're about investing in projects which can help provide for the jobs, the growth and the prosperity, not just for Victoria, not just for regional Victoria, but our entire nation. That's the responsibility of a Commonwealth Government, and we accept that responsibility. So yes, I'm interested in the project, I think it's got a great deal of merit, but it's a long way off making a decision here today. Thanks guys.

Paul Fletcher: All right, thanks very much.