Transcript—3AW Afternoons

Interview

DCI008/2017

06 January 2017

Subjects: Road safety, Federal infrastructure projects in Victoria, tourism

Darren James: The Honourable Darren Chester, good afternoon.

Darren Chester: Good afternoon Darren, how are you?

Darren James: I'm really well, and you know what? I agree with you.

Darren Chester: Well that's good to hear.

Darren James: What, you had a bit of flak about your comments, did you?

Darren Chester: Look, a bit of flak. I mean, people I guess go searching for something negative to say sometimes, and the feedback was I was telling everyone they had to go and buy a brand new car for their kids, which was not what I said at all. Basically all I was pointing out was that for most of us the worst car we ever drive is going to be our first car, and unfortunately younger people have more crashes because it is a time in their life when they probably don't have quite as much experience, can be distracted or whatever it might be, and they are overrepresented in the crash statistics.

So the point I was trying to make was, well, rather than have them in their worst car, if we can find ways to get them into a car with a few more safety features that is a good idea. And so just reminding parents, if they are in a position to help them out there's plenty of good second-hand cars with a lot of safety features these days, with the five star ANCAP ratings, and it is just a good investment. So that was the point of the issue I was raising. We have had a terrible year on Australian roads in 2016 and we need to do better this year.

Darren James: Yeah look, I agree with you there too, but the reason I agree with you is our daughter, she got her licence late. Like most young people, including myself, you turn 18 and you think, you beauty I'll get my licence. For some reason she was a bit slow off the mark. Anyway, her first car at the age of probably 22, or whatever age she was, I bought her a tank. It was a 1990 Saab, and a big strong thing, but no air bags and it kept breaking down, and it lasted her a year, just. And then she put a bit of money in, and with a bit of help from me and the trade in from the other car and what have you, it wasn't that expensive to trade up to a new Suzuki Swift, which has got a great safety rating and seven air bags. Now, it is reliable, it uses no petrol, I'm happy that she is driving it because I think she is safe. Is that sort of a good example of what you are saying?

Darren Chester: Well that is classic to what I was talking about. I have got two daughters who have just gone through that stage of their lives as well—one's 20 and one's 18. They both worked hard at their part-time jobs in the summers and got a bit of money behind them, and I said to them when it's time to buy your car I'll give you a little bit extra as well. And they got two second-hand cars, both with five star ratings for under $10,000…

Darren James: Under $10,000.

Darren Chester: …So you can get—there's a lot of safety features in those cars.

Our problem in Australia is a lot of the cars on the road are still over 10 years old, and some of them don't have the safety features that you can buy on the modern cars. It is part of the equation; there is no simple solution to reducing road trauma. We have got to behave well ourselves as drivers, and governments can't shirk their responsibility. We have got to build decent roads so they are safe roads, but safer cars certainly play an important role.

Darren James: Yeah. How's the portfolio going as Minister for Infrastructure and Transport? It is a pretty decent federal portfolio to be looking after.

Darren Chester: I'd have to say I think it is the best portfolio in government. It is an opportunity to get out and build things and make things that can change peoples' lives. You can build new infrastructure, new facilities that really improve peoples' lives, and when it comes to road infrastructure it can change and save peoples' lives. So it is a good portfolio and I love the opportunity to get out around Australia and see the different projects we are working with the state governments on.

Darren James: Yeah, for sure. Donald Trump, whether you like him or loathe him, one of the things—you know, let's make America great again—one of the points he made, he said we are going to rebuild these highways, we are going to rebuild these freeways and get workers out there and building infrastructure. Because having driven around America, I believe in Australia we have got better roads than they do over there.

Darren Chester: Yeah, I have only had very little experience on American roads, and some are great and some are not so good. It's a bit like us though; we have got some fantastic freeways around our metropolitan areas. Obviously congestion is a big issue for us with the growth in Melbourne at the moment, but out on our regional highways we need to keep investing in those as well so that we can get products into the cities, we can get people out, touring around and travelling and exploring all that regional Victoria has to offer. So it is a continual process of investing in better roads and safer roads which are good for the economy, but also good for reducing road trauma.

Darren James: How is it negotiating with the states? I mean, there are different train gauges—that's it I think—between states, and from way back in a darker, distant past. What's it like negotiating with all the states? I don't understand how much the Federal Government puts in and the states put in for roads and transport. Is it a bit of a nightmare?

Darren Chester: Look, I have got a pretty good relationship with most of my state counterparts. We go out of our way to try and find things we can agree on. We have got the $1.5 billion that we announced last year that the Victorian Government's going to match for projects right across the state. It was a good announcement, it is one that demonstrated we can work together when we can find things we agree on, and that'll see some major work, about a billion dollars' worth of work on the Monash Freeway, which everyone who gets stuck on the Monash would know how desperately needed that is. The Murray Basin Rail Project is a good project; it is going to be up and going this year.

Darren James: What's that one, the Murray Basin Rail Project?

Darren Chester: It is about getting the products from the Murray Basin region into Portland, into Melbourne Port, on rail quicker and safer. One of our great challenges is using the rail network more to get some of the traffic off the road. And so there's another big project that we're working on at the moment called the Melbourne-Brisbane Inland Rail, which will finally link Melbourne and Brisbane with a rail service for getting freight up and down the coast, which is something that has been talked about for decades, and we are finally going to get that underway this year, and that'll take quite a few years to build. But there's some really big projects going on across Australia, and we need to make sure that Victoria gets a fair share of that infrastructure spend.

Darren James: That sounds a good one. What about things like—thinking aloud here—a second airport for Melbourne? Do you reckon that could ever happen? We are just sort of getting a crystal ball, looking into it, see what could be done. There's been talk of one out the back of Hastings there, a second airport for Melbourne. What are your thoughts on that one?

Darren Chester: There has been talk of that. I would've thought—personally my expectation would be that Avalon would get up and going a bit more before that would be required. Avalon has the capacity to take a lot more services, and I think it could service the growth areas to the west of Melbourne and Geelong and through to Ballarat more than perhaps in the past. But there has been a lot of talk about looking at something on the eastern side of the city. And obviously I'm based here in Gippsland, and accessing an airport on the eastern side of Melbourne would be handy from time to time for me personally, and a lot of other travellers. But I think there's a lot of capacity still for Avalon and Tullamarine to continue to service Melbourne and Victoria for a lot longer to come.

Darren James: Yeah, and obviously like most of us, we wish that when they built Tullamarine they should have put the train line out there at the time.

Darren Chester: I think that is the most common refrain I hear from people here—that Tullamarine Airport, I wish they had a rail link, and it is something that we are actually looking very carefully at at the moment. There has been a lot of different options put forward. I would love to see the Victorian Government work with the Commonwealth on a project of that scale. You see the work that's going on on the Tulla at the moment and the disruption it's causing, it makes it very difficult for the travelling public. If we could get a quality rail link to the airport, obviously it would take some of the pressure off that freeway.

Darren James: Yeah, sure. Steve has called through with a question for you, Minister. Steve, good afternoon.

Caller: Good afternoon Darren, good afternoon Minister. How are you?

Darren Chester: Good thank you Steve.

Caller: I've got a question regarding tradies in their work vehicles. What percentage of accidents are they causing? Meaning, I don't think it would be many at all, because that's their livelihood.

Darren Chester: I'm not sure what percentage they are causing, Steve. There has been an alarming increase, though, in the last 12 months of men over 40 in light commercial vehicles being involved in crashes. And I'm not saying they have caused them, but they have been involved in quite a lot in the last 12 months, which is a worrying trend.

Across the board, the trend that probably is most disturbing is that there are more and more men being killed and injured in car accidents than ever before. I think you are almost three times more likely, as a male, to be involved in a fatal accident in Australia at the moment. Now, that's a challenge for us as blokes, to make sure we take our responsibility seriously behind the wheel, and we need to try and understand whether it is driver distraction, whether it is poor driver behaviour, or what is causing those crashes.

Darren James: Thanks Steve for the call. A couple of quick ones from me. You are down there in Gippsland; we have been covering local country Victorian hotels, we've been going all over the state. So being in Gippsland, what's your local?

Darren Chester: Well I've got a few locals. I actually live at Lakes Entrance, so my local's…

Darren James: Oh, did you?

Darren Chester: …my local's at the Central Hotel in the main street of Lakes Entrance.

Darren James: Yeah, I know that one.

Darren Chester: I had a counter meal there last night actually, it was a great feed. And there is another beauty called the Lake Tyers Waterwheel Tavern, which is right on the water at Lake Tyers, about 10 kilometres out of Lakes Entrance, which is very popular. And there is one that I haven't actually had the chance to get to yet, is they've built a new pub at Buchan …

Darren James: We spoke to them yesterday, what a coincidence, and we spoke to the guy, his nickname is Brickie and he was a tremendous man. And that's a great story, where it was a sort of self-funded thing to get the pub up and running again.

Darren Chester: Yeah, a bit of a crowd-funding thing. I think I put in a hundred bucks, someone dobbed me into it.

Darren James: Good on you.

Darren Chester: I haven't been out there to have a pot of beer with them yet, but that's a great achievement. It's a little town, Buchan—it's famous for the Buchan Caves.

Darren James: That's right, yeah.

Darren Chester: Everyone would've heard it from the caves. And when their watering hole got burned down it was a really sad thing for the town, and they got on top of the job and built a new one. So they're probably the three that I would—if I'm going out with my family for a meal, that's where we'd probably go to.

Darren James: Yeah, good call, very good call, and a coincidence that we spoke to them yesterday. And the final one: I've never met a Darren older than myself—my name is Darren— and you're younger than me so I'm still yet to meet one. But you're described as the George Clooney of federal ministers.

How did that come about?

Darren Chester: It was a bit of fun involving a radio presenter in Gippsland who was having some fun on air one day and started this thing going. I suppose it is better than being called the Shrek of ministers or something.

Darren James: That's right. Well I've seen a photo of you, and you know, I tend to agree Minister.

Darren Chester: You're very kind, Darren. Have a great day, and travel safe everyone.

Darren James: Thank you very much. You too. Darren Chester, the federal Member for Gippsland and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.