Transcript— ABC AM

Interview

DCI028/2016

28 December 2016

Subjects: Federal infrastructure spending, the national road deaths.

Kim Landers: Darren Chester is the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, and he joins me on the line. Minister, good morning.

Darren Chester: Good morning.

Kim Landers: In 2014 the Government promised to spend $50 billion on transport infrastructure by the middle of 2020. Now, these departmental figures show at best you'll reach only $42 billion. Is that a broken promise?

Darren Chester: Well not at all. In the four years that ended in 2013–14, the Labor Party averaged $6.2 billion per year in infrastructure spending; in the four years since, we've averaged $7.2 billion a year. So it's a billion-dollar increase on average per year. We're getting on with the job of delivering what we promised the Australian people.

Kim Landers: But what about that $50 billion target though?

Darren Chester: Well we are on target over the seven-year period to reach our $50 billion target, and Mr Albanese is deliberately trying to muddy the waters by quoting figures and leaving out the key components in the infrastructure spending program. And as one of your guest just indicated, the really critical and important point in all of this is making sure we are getting value for money for Australian taxpayers in building the infrastructure that Australia needs.

Kim Landers: So you are confident that the Government is going to meet that target of spending $50 billion by the middle of 2020?

Darren Chester: I'm confident we will keep our promise to the Australian people and deliver everything that we said we would deliver. This Turnbull Government is all about delivery across Australia, not just in our cities, but in our regional towns, in our rural areas. We've got an infrastructure program which is rolling out right across the country.

Kim Landers: So that includes that $50 billion target though, to be clear?

Darren Chester: Yes it does.

Kim Landers: The Reserve Bank says with low interest rates now is the best time to borrow money to build infrastructure. Are you worried that if you don't do that, if you're not doing enough of that, that you could be compromising economic growth?

Darren Chester: Well that is why we are investing $50 billion across this period. We are investing in better freight rail through the Melbourne-Brisbane Inland Rail Project, we are working very well to deliver the Western Sydney Airport, there are major road projects like the Bruce Highway, the Pacific Highway. We are delivering economic benefits and road safety outcomes. Then in our cities, there is a suite of programs right across the nation which are going to reduce congestion, improve productivity, and save lives on our roads as well. So it's a comprehensive program right across Australia and it is one that we are very proud of.

Kim Landers: Labor says that there are six Ministers who share responsibility for managing infrastructure. Is that inefficient?

Darren Chester: Well Mr Albanese makes a lot of claims. His opportunity to ask me questions is in question time; he's asked me one this year. So it's a question of us delivering what we said we would do to the Australian people. We went to the election obviously with a comprehensive infrastructure investment program, which we are rolling out across the nation. Just a couple of weeks ago I drove from Sydney to the New South Wales-Queensland border and checked the progress on the Pacific Highway—that's $5.6 billion of federal money being spent in partnership with New South Wales. We're going to have a duplicated road from Sydney to Brisbane, saving motorists more than two hours, but more importantly it's going to save lives on that road for decades to come. So we are rolling out these projects every day, you have just got to get outside of the Canberra bubble and see it.

Kim Landers: Well you mentioned that you have been on the roads a lot recently; even before the Christmas period the national road toll had risen almost seven per cent this year. Do you think we're becoming complacent about the road toll?

Darren Chester: It's horrific, Kim. We have seen 1280 people killed in the past 12 months—that is a seven per cent increase. We are on track for our highest number of fatalities since 2012. New South Wales and Victoria performed particularly badly this year, and it's a worrying outcome for police…

Kim Landers: Why do you think it's happening?

Darren Chester: Well there's a range of factors. There is no doubt that there is an element of driver distraction with the penetration of mobile phones into our lives. I think there is an element of complacency that people seem to accept that we do have to pay a price for using a modern road system, and I fear we have become too accepting that three people per day have to die on our roads. I simply don't accept that, and that is why since I have become the Minister I have worked very closely with the state ministers and police commissioners, and trying to develop a real national focus on making sure that in 2017 we get off to a better start and we keep some downward pressure on serious injuries and road fatalities.

Kim Landers: The New South Wales Roads Minister is keen on a shock and awe style ad campaign. Do you think that's the answer?

Darren Chester: Well I don't think there is a single answer; I think that is part of the answer. It is a complex equation: it's about safer drivers driving on safer roads and in safer vehicles. We need to have a safety-first culture every time we get behind the wheel. I mean, if Australians make one New Year's resolution this year it's to be a better, more respectful and a safer driver, someone who takes responsibility for themselves, but also their passengers and other road users. We should all be driving like there's a police officer in the back seat, not playing this game of trying to avoid speed cameras, or sneakily get home on a back road if you've been drinking too much, or trying to sneak a text at the traffic lights. We should all be driving like there's a police officer in the back seat of our cars.

Kim Landers: Minister, thank you very much for speaking with AM.

Darren Chester: All the best, and stay safe on the roads.

Kim Landers: Thank you. That is Darren Chester, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.