Joint Press Conference, Melbourne
14 November 2016
Joint release with:
The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull
Prime Minister of Australia
Subjects: Victorian Roads
Prime Minister: Thank you and good morning. It's great to be here with Darren Chester, the Infrastructure Minister, and my colleagues Julia Banks and Kevin Andrews to announce $3 billion of work that's going to be undertaken on making Victoria's roads less congested and safer. It's going to be invested in the Monash, in the M80 Ring Road, in the Murray Basin Rail and right around the state. At the beginning of the year, there was $1.5 billion of federal money sitting in a Victorian State Government bank account—idle, stagnant because the Labor Government here had decided to cancel the EastWest Link. They paid $1 billion and more, as you know, for the privilege of doing that—Victorian taxpayers' money. But the federal money we'd given to Victoria, they didn't want to use. It was sitting there not creating one job, not relieving congestion. We have broken the deadlock. I want to congratulate the Minister, Darren Chester, who will speak to you in a moment for he has negotiated an agreement with the Victorian Government that will see $3 billion spent on making Victorian roads safer, less congested and bringing Victorian produce to the market on the Murray Basin Rail upgrade. It's $3 billion of projects. It's good for Victoria. It's good for Australia. It will drive jobs and growth in Victoria and it's a great credit to the determination of my ministers to get this deal done. So I'll ask Darren to explain some more about what we're investing the money in.
Minister for Infrastructure and Transport: Thank you, Prime Minister. This is a government which is focused on getting on with the job of delivering for all Australians. We have a $50 billion infrastructure investment program, which is seeing work carried out not just in the cities, not just in our regional highways, but also right through our small country towns. I want to congratulate the Prime Minister for his determination in seeing this project through. What we're going to see now is infrastructure investment across Victoria, which will change people's lives and will save people's lives. It will change lives by reducing congestion, improving productivity, getting people home to their families sooner but also it will save lives by reducing the amount of road accidents, particularly on the regional roads.
It's worth remembering that the $345 million federal commitment to regional roads, matched by Victorian Government commitment of the same amount of money will actually save lives in our community. At a time when you are four times more likely to die on a regional road than any other road in Victoria, we need to do more to work with our Victorian counterparts to reduce the incidents of road crashes and serious injuries. So I'm very pleased to be here today with the Prime Minister and my colleagues. It's important to understand that this is a good deal for all Victorians. We want to get on with the job. We're focused on delivering for all Victorians with an investment package which I believe will deliver many long-term benefits right across the State.
Prime Minister: Thank you. Yes?
Journalist: Prime Minister, how is this an agreement? The State Government says that there's no agreement yet. The first they learned of this package was this morning on the front page of the newspaper.
Prime Minister: The Minister can address that, but this matter has been negotiated extensively between yourself and your counterpart.
Minister for Infrastructure and Transport: At the start of the year as the Prime Minister indicated we had $1.5 billion sitting in a Victorian bank account which couldn't be used. What we did in April this year was announce a range of projects that we wanted to see funded across Victoria and since that time, we've been in negotiations with the Victorian Government. So myself and other ministers, along with departmental officials have had the discussions for the best part of six months—admittedly it was interrupted by the two months in the caretaker period. But I've written to the Victorian Government overnight with the final terms of the agreement and I'm very confident that the Victorian Government will agree with those terms. It's been subject to a great deal of negotiation over the past six or seven months. At the end of the day, this is a good deal for all Victorians. This is about getting on with the job of delivering the infrastructure Victorians need. And as I said this will change people's lives and save people's lives and I want to congratulate the Victorian Government for working with us in that spirit of getting on with the job over the last seven months.
Journalist: So this is your final provision, not the actual agreement with the Victorian Government right?
Minister for Infrastructure and Transport: This has been the subject of a great deal of negotiation with the Victorian Government over the past six or seven months. There has been correspondence back and forward. We've agreed to the final position put by the Victorian's in their last letter. We've added an additional project in suburban Melbourne, being the O'Herns Road interchange. I'm confident that the Victorian Government will agree to this position. This is a matter of great discussion over that period of time. We had $1.5 billion sitting in a bank account doing nothing. Now we will have $3 billion being put to work to benefit all Victorians.
Journalist: Prime Minister, Minister, what were the sticking points with the Victorian Government? Why has it taken four months to come to terms, six months to come to terms on this agreement?
Prime Minister: Well again I'll ask the Minister who has been handling the discussions with Jacinta Allen.
Minister for Infrastructure and Transport: From the outset there was agreement on the need to unlock the $1.5 billion that had been allocated for the EastWest link. Having reached that principal, then we worked through what are the projects that we are going to agree on. I guess the final sticking point and one that is subject to a business case process now is right beside here being Monash Freeway. It's a $1 billion investment in the Monash Freeway—there is some discussion about how we best unlock the congestion which is occurring on the Monash. The Victorian Government has stage one underway with $400 million being put to work. The next $600 million is the subject of the business case where the Commonwealth obviously advocated during the campaign period for additional lanes between—out towards Kardinia Road and into Warrigal Road and the Victorian Government also wants to consider some work we can do on the arterials around Mulgrave and Dandenong and that is the point of the doing the business case so we're working through how we best spend that $600 million. But we remain committed to $1 billion investment in the Monash Freeway which will improve the travel times for people coming to and from the city and improve safety on this important arterial link.
Journalist: Will any contractor undertaking work that is funded by this money need to be compliant with the infrastructure fund?
Prime Minister: Well the work will be undertaken by the Victorian Government in the usual way, we will be funding it. But clearly a great deal depends now on ensuring the passage of the Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation in the Senate and again we urge the Labor Party and the crossbenchers to stand up for the rule of the law in the construction and building industry and support the passage of the ABCC legislation.
Journalist: It is correct isn't it that if in that case the legislation goes through, the code will be backdated to, I think it's May or April 2014 and that any state project that has Federal Government elements to it, everyone involved in those projects must be compliant with this code—is that correct?
Prime Minister: Well, we are certainly, we will be maintaining the code, in consistent with the legislation that we are proposing to the Senate.
Journalist: Did this come up in negotiations with the Victorian Government? Did they indicate whether or not they're prepared to make their infrastructure projects' code compliant?
Prime Minister: Well I'll ask the Minister.
Minister for Infrastructure and Transport: It wasn't part of any discussions that I was involved in.
Journalist: Just one other question. It was reported this morning that the CFMEU secured a 20 per cent pay rise [inaudible]—what's your, does your government have a position about that?
Prime Minister: Well as we've been saying for some time, the CFMEU has been able to use its leverage based on its ability to defy the law to raise the cost of construction right across Australia. Every Australian is paying for the lawlessness in the construction industry. The CFMEU exploits that. It regards the fines that are imposed on it as no more than parking tickets. They have been castigated by one judge after another and the fact is we know we are paying substantially more, in excess of 30 per cent more for public infrastructure projects and major private projects because of the lawlessness of the CFMEU.
So whether you are standing up for the rule of law, whether your standing up for the taxpayer's dollar, whether you are standing up for affordable housing—it is high time the rule of law was restored to the construction sector and the way to do that is by the Senate voting to pass the ABCC legislation which has passed the House and which we took to the election as part of our platform and indeed was the trigger for the double dissolution.
Journalist: So you regard a pay rise of that level as being evidence of unlawful or lawlessness in the construction industry?
Prime Minister: What I am saying is the CFMEU has been able to secure massive increases, far in excess of other sectors of the economy. It's been able to do that, it's been able to impose costs on building projects. It's been able to impose the contractors that it supports and it wants rather than what developers and builders want and it's been able to do that because of its ability to defy the rule of law. That is where it derives its leverage and it should be a level playing field and a lawful one.
Journalist: Prime Minister, on the funding announcement today, you travel down to Melbourne quite regularly—was there ever any discussion about an airport link and would you want to see one down here?
Prime Minister: Well, Darren is going to be talking to his counterparts in the Victorian Government very shortly about further projects. Look, we are committed to a strong investment in infrastructure in Victoria. We absolutely are. This is evidence of it, what we are announcing today. I mean, the $1.5 billion we would have preferred had been hard at work on the EastWest Link. It wasn't our fault that it was sitting stagnant in the Victorian Government bank account for so long. That was Daniel Andrews' decision. We have reached agreement now on a range of projects largest of which of course is the Monash, on which to invest that money but we look forward to investing in other projects but we need to agree on them with the Victorian Government. There are a range of others. Liveable cities with good infrastructure, both road and rail are absolutely critical for Australia's future and of course for the liveability of all of our cities.
Journalist: Money for the EastWest Link—should there be a Liberal government at the next state election—is there a pool of money should the Liberal government then want an EastWest Link?
Prime Minister: Yes, we have $3 billion earmarked for the EastWest Link in our contingency if a future government which would be a Liberal government give the vehement opposition of the Labor Party and The Greens to the EastWest Link. If Matt Guy becomes premier, that $3 billion will be available to build the EastWest Link.
Journalist: Given your confidence that the agreement will get through—should this announcement have been made with your state counterparts here rather than in their absence?
Prime Minister: Well we are making the announcement about the commitment of the federal funds here today.
Journalist: Just given you are talking about infrastructure money—are you convinced the full 15 per cent will go to Victoria for the asset recycling scheme for the sale of Port Melbourne?
Prime Minister: Well Victoria missed the deadline for the asset recycling scheme. They knew what it was. They appeared to be so neglectful of Victoria's interests that they missed the deadline that was laid out, that was publicised two years in advance. There is $877 million that is available at the moment and we are looking at further projects in discussion with the Victorian Government. Look, we are enthusiastic investors in infrastructure but we invest as partners. I know the Victorian Government would rather the Federal Government was just treated like an ATM but we are not. We have to deal with the funds that we raise from Australian taxpayers—we have to deal with them thoughtfully with planning and as partners with state governments that with whom we work.
Journalist: What do you say to allegations though that Victoria's been short changed on infrastructure? This is another case of that?
Prime Minister: Well Victoria—there is about 20 per cent of our land transport infrastructure spending is earmarked for Victoria. So, it's not being short changed.
But we assess projects on their merits and on need and the balance, the ratio from one state to another obviously varies according with timing and with need and as projects are completed in one state, future funding, more future funding is available in another but the fact is that there is around 20 per cent has been earmarked for Victoria and what you're seeing today is another substantial commitment. But can I just note to you that there is $1.5 billion of federal money that will be put to work on the projects we are announcing today on which agreement has been reached. That money could have been at work a long time ago creating jobs, relieving congestion, making roads safer in Victoria, had it not been for a political decision by the Andrews' Government to cancel a contract for which they spent over $1.1 billion of Victorian taxpayers money as the price of cancelling that contract. So nearly as much as federal money is being spent here was spent by the Victorian Government as a cancellation fee. It is a rather unusual set of priorities when you consider how scarce public funds are.
Thank you very much.