774 ABC Melbourne Interview With Jon Faine

Interview

DCI016/2016

15 November 2016

Subjects: funding for Victorian infrastructure projects

Jon Faine: After months of stalling negotiations and accusations and counter-allegations, the federal and state governments, the Commonwealth Government of Malcolm Turnbull and the State Government of Daniel Andrews have finally agreed on infrastructure road funding between them. There's been hundreds of millions of dollars at stake here. The Prime Minister will make a formal announcement later this morning in suburban Melbourne accompanied by his Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Victorian MP Darren Chester. Mr Chester, good morning to you.

Darren Chester: Good morning Jon.

Jon Faine: First of all the actual announcement, what is it that's finally been agreed?

Darren Chester: Well it's a $3 billion commitment where the Victorian Government and the Commonwealth Government will put in $1.5 billion each for about 40 projects across Victoria. Obviously the centrepiece is $1 billion for the Monash Freeway upgrades but also there's a lot of other projects throughout rural and regional Victoria as well which will have some significant benefit, not just in terms of productivity and congestion but also in terms of road safety. So it's a good announcement, its one where it has taken some time, I acknowledge that, but it's good to see the Commonwealth and the State Government working together on the infrastructure that Victoria needs.

Jon Faine: My reading of it is based on very little information that's available so far, but it seems at first blush as if the Commonwealth has done the backing down here and indeed your side was the cause for delay. What was the rationale for a long time saying Victoria didn't need or wasn't going to get this money at all?

Darren Chester: Its not about anyone backing down, Jon, it's about the $1.5 billion that was locked up with the East West Link negotiations when the Andrews Government decided it wasn't going to build the East West Link; there was $1.5 billion worth of Commonwealth money sitting in a bank which they couldn't use. At the start of the year, when I took over this role, I approached Victoria with a suite of projects suggesting that we could unlock that $1.5 billion if they were prepared to match it. Obviously it's been a long negotiation, probably interrupted obviously by the federal election and that took two months out of the negotiation period but now we're in a position where we're working together to make sure we get on with delivering the projects that the Victorians want to see. If you're stuck in traffic on the Monash Freeway or been injured on country roads, you don't really care who funds it, as long as the governments start working together to deliver some of those projects they need.

Jon Faine: And that was the case six months ago and yet that argument did not prevail six months ago. I remember saying virtually those very words to you, to Scott Morrison, the Treasurer and that despite those very points being made six and eight and nine months ago, it's still been held up.

Darren Chester: Well I think you need to remember where we started at the start of this year, Jon, we had $1.5 billion sitting in a bank account in Victoria that Victorians couldn't use and we'd reached an impasse, there was a deadlock on that $1.5 billion.

Jon Faine: Only inside your minds.

Darren Chester: Well it doesn't matter whose mind it's inside the fact was the money wasn't being used, it was sitting there and Victorians weren't getting the benefit of that spending. What we're seeing now is the $1.5 billion that the Commonwealth gave to Victoria for East West Link be used for these projects, Victoria's going to add $1.5 billion to that, so it's a $3 billion commitment which will see more than 40 projects across Victoria from the city out to our regional areas and then we go back to the table in terms of negotiations for future infrastructure investments, which I'm looking forward to being part of those discussions.

Jon Faine: What's the point of state government if the Commonwealth want to micromanage everything including which bridge and which intersection on a country road gets fixed?

Darren Chester: Well it's not about micromanaging, Jon…

Jon Faine: [Talks over] Well it is, there's a list of about 50 projects here form the Great Alpine Road to the Kiewa Valley Highway, the Apollo Bay Forest Road being upgraded, I mean this is micromanagement from Canberra; the whole point of having state governments is that you guys leave them to do things like that.

Darren Chester: Well every one of those projects has been advocated for, either by local members of parliament or through departmental officials who have raised concerns about the condition of those roads. Keep in mind, Jon, this year we've seen a 10 per cent increase in our road toll and you're four times more likely to die on a regional road than you are on a metropolitan road. I believe as a Federal Minister that this is a concern of national significance so I'm prepared to fund some roads we haven't' built—normally funded in the past and I've worked with my Victorian counterparts in that regard. My passion for road safety and the State Minister's passion for road safety is well known. We've gone though a period of time in the last two years where we've had more road crashes, more serious injuries and more fatalities than we want to see and we've got to do something about it.

Jon Faine: I guess one of the lessons that's starting to be distilled from what's happened in the United States with Donald Trump and what's expected to happen with nationalist populist parties on the surge, in Europe, in France now it's going to happen it looks like, one of the lessons that people are learning and I'm sure it's been well received in Canberra as well, is that the public have a much lower threshold these days for politicking than you may have thought they did in the past.

Darren Chester: I actually think that that's a very valid point, Jon, I think people don't have the perhaps brand loyalty to a political party they may have had in the past. They're prepared to take their vote somewhere else if they see a better deal for their community and I think this is a good example of a good deal for Victorians but I think you're on to a very valid point there. The voters expect results from their members of parliament, whether they be at state or federal level. They don't want the bulldust, they want us to get on with delivering for them and I think there's a lesson for all of us in that and that's something that I've certainly been listening to in my time as a member of parliament and I take the results of every election whether they be state or federal level here in Australia, or the overseas trends very seriously, people want to see results in their community and this is what this kind of whole $3 billion package is about, it's going to see projects, be they road or rail in many communities right across Victoria and as I said earlier, I'm looking forward to going back to the negotiating table with Victorians now on what's next. Once we get these works underway, what's next? What else can we be working on together which is going to deliver real benefit and make a difference in people's lives?

Jon Faine: The Prime Minister together with our guest, Darren Chester, Minister for Infrastructure and Transport in Malcolm Turnbull's government making this formal announcement later today. It's good to see the Prime Minister in Melbourne, he doesn't come here very much I might point out, Darren Chester and even more reluctant to come into this studio, but there you go, that's just the way it works it seems.

Darren Chester: Well the…

Jon Faine: The Government being accused yet again of being very Sydney-centric.

Darren Chester: Well he is a man in demand, I've seen him in Melbourne on many occasions, Jon, he's always a welcome visitor to Melbourne and Victoria and I'm sure he'll find time at some stage to come and [indistinct].

Jon Faine: [Talks over] No it's for the audience who want to hear from him and want to hear their issues addressed, that's what it's all about, being accessible across the board. Not just to commercial radio. Thank you indeed for your time, Darren Chester, Minister for Infrastructure and Transport in Malcolm Turnbull's federal Coalition government.