Transcript—Interview with 3AW Mornings

Interview

DCI025/2016

20 December 2016

Subjects: Infrastructure funding in Victoria

Tony Jones: We are joined by the Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester. Good morning to you Minister.

Darren Chester: Good morning Tony.

Tony Jones: What are you doing to us?

Darren Chester: Tony, the numbers referred to by Tim Pallas aren't exactly the full picture. There's $6.7 billion dollars coming from the Commonwealth to Victoria over the current program, so that's from 2013–14 to 2019–20. We were in the process of working through the next agreement under that land transport negotiations, and obviously Victoria wants a better deal, and as a parochial Victorian, somebody who lives in Gippsland, I'm very keen to make sure that Gippsland and the broader Victorian region does get a fair share of infrastructure spending. So that's my challenge as a Minister and we started the year with a political impasse over that $1.5 billion of East West Link money and through the course of the year, through negotiations we've been able to get that money freed up and working. We've got a deal with Victoria now where that $3 billion is going to go to a total of about 40 projects across the State. So we have had a good result this year but I accept the criticism that there's always more to be done and I want to see that action on the ground right across Victoria.

Tony Jones: But is there any truth in what Tim Pallas says, is that you have just gotten your noses out of joint because the Labor Government seized power in Victoria?

Darren Chester: Well no I don't think that's the issue. The issue was they reached a political impasse long before I took on this role in February this year in relation to East West Link where obviously the Coalition was very keen for the East West Link to go ahead, committed $1.5 billion to the state, gave the state the money, the money was sitting there in the bank and the Andrews Government tore up that contract. So what it meant was there was $1.5 billion sitting there that no one wanted to agree on how they were going to spend it. Now to the credit of both state and federal governments who worked our way through that problem this year and there's actually $3 billion being put to work now on the Monash, on M80, Murray Basin Rail, we're even going to finally build the Echuca to Moama Bridge which has been talked about for 30 years, we're actually going to get that bridge built. So there has been some good progress this year, but look I accept the frustration and the criticism that there's always more to be done when you've got a growing state like Victoria, particularly with Melbourne, going through some quite spectacular growth at the moment, the infrastructure demands are very high on the Federal Government and we need to work with the states on the projects we can agree on.

Tony Jones: But on face value you can understand us being a little mystified as to why we're well down the list and when you start trotting out figures like 30-odd per cent for New South Wales in terms of their share, 28 per cent for Queensland, and we are well down the list, 7.7, and I know the monetary figures that you've given us sound fantastic but in percentage terms we're just nowhere near the other states.

Darren Chester: But Tony if we play with the numbers in the sense that if we add the $3 billion the Commonwealth has allocated to East West Link which is there in the contingency, if that $3 billion gets added to Victoria, the number jumps to about 20 per cent. Problem is we can't agree on that project, so I'm not really wanting to prosecute old arguments and have old fights with Victoria, I'm more looking towards the projects we can do in the future and I'm very keen to see a greater share of funding allocated to Victorian projects that we can agree on. There's some good projects being talked about by Infrastructure Victoria, things like the Tullamarine Rail Link, regional rail projects, the North East transport links or the Ring Road that's been talked about for a long time. There's a lot of good projects that Infrastructure Victoria's putting forward that I think Tim Pallas and myself and Jacinta Allan and Luke Donnellan should be able to work on constructively because at the end of the day Victorians don't care who builds the road or who builds the rail links as long as it gets done.

Tony Jones: Yeah that's right and I find it sad that you know, a federal government, a Commonwealth Government and a state government can't agree and in the meantime there's people stuck in traffic, as we speak there's people in congestion because you blokes can't agree.

Darren Chester: Couldn't agree more. Look I'm a very pragmatic and practical person. I've grown up in the country, I know what good roads mean to country people. I know what it means for city people to be stuck in traffic when they want to get home to their families. I understand that if you build good infrastructure, you change people's lives and you save people's lives and we change lives by getting people home sooner to their families, getting out there, playing their sport if they want to, and we save lives because right now in Victoria our regional road toll in particular is appalling. We've had an increase in our road toll this year so look I am absolutely committed to working with Victoria as much as we possibly can. I've got a good relationship with Tim Pallas, we obviously we disagree on some things and that's okay but we agree to work on things whenever we can. Jacinta Allan and I have had many meetings and quite constructive meetings and we need to turn those meetings into dollars and we need to turn them into projects on the ground. So I'm very happy for you to bring me back next Christmas and judge me on my performance. We want to get the job done and I want to work with Victorians to make sure it happens.

Tony Jones: What do you reckon the single most important project is in Victoria at the moment?

Darren Chester: That's a tough one, it depends where you live.

Tony Jones: Oh yeah, exactly.

Darren Chester: If you're in regional Victoria right now, too many people are dying on unsafe roads. So I think there's a lot of things we can do on road black spots to reduce road trauma in our regional areas. I think in terms of Melbourne itself, those arterial roads like the Monash, and the Tulla where there's a bit of work going, obviously at the Tulla right now. The Western Highway work, there's about $500 million being spent there at the moment, which is doing some good work around the state. Look there's a lot of projects. We've got to keep addressing the congestion issues in Melbourne in terms of the growth and the pressure that puts on infrastructure. Part of that I think is making sure we get a good deal going between state and federal governments on passenger rail links and how we can be more constructive about doing that into the future, looking for opportunities to grow our regional centres as well. I mean Melbourne is a great city, but it's getting hard to get around there, whereas Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Shepparton, Mildura, Traralgon, all those cities could actually handle more population and more growth and that would actually take some of the pressure off Melbourne. So look I think there's more upside than downside in having a growing community but in terms of infrastructure it does put a lot of pressure on state and federal budgets and that's why we need to work together in that practical and pragmatic way as much as we possibly can.

Tony Jones: Alright terrific, nice to talk to you, thanks for your time. What part of Gippsland do you actually live in?

Darren Chester: Well my electorate goes from Morwell to the New South Wales border and I live in a beautiful place called Lakes Entrance, so I'm going to get home for a couple of weeks over summer and enjoy a bit of beach time hopefully.

Tony Jones: Alright well hopefully you get some nice weather and you're driving on some good roads.

Darren Chester: And all the best and can I just remind people to take the time if they're going on a break this week, you know, there's some long distances involved in driving around Victoria, take a break and drive according to the conditions.

Tony Jones: Alright terrific, Darren, thanks very much.

Darren Chester: All the best Tony.