ABC Statewide Drive

Interview

DCI041/2017

04 May 2017

Subjects: Infrastructure spending in Victoria

Nicole Chvastek: Darren Chester is the Member for Gippsland and he is the Minister for Infrastructure. Darren Chester, good afternoon.

Darren Chester: Good afternoon, Nicole.

Nicole Chvastek: The Victorian Cabinet seems fairly wild about these figures, Darren Chester. Are they right?

Darren Chester: No they are not. The starting point, Nicole, you need to understand that the Federal Government has allocated money to Victorian Government which it hasn’t been prepared to use for the East West Link project and then spent $1 billion of Victorian taxpayer’s money to not build the road.

Nicole Chvastek: Yeah but it always said that it wasn’t going to build the East West Link. It was voted into office on the basis of a promise that it made. The Liberal Government then put a side letter into place, which committed to the Labor Government paying $1 billion if it were elected to office. So that was a little time bomb which was put into a contract by a Liberal government. Isn’t time to just leave that all behind now and start providing the money because the East West Link is not going to be built?

Darren Chester: Well that is not true. The East West Link’s not going to be built by this government but what the Commonwealth has said is that it’s prepared to provide $3 billion – it set aside $3 billion – for any future state government in Victoria that is prepared to build the East West Link, because we believe it’s a project that should proceed and we believe it’s in the interests of Victoria. So that money is there…

Nicole Chvastek: But it is like the zombie savings measures from the 2014 Budget. It is money that you say is there but you won’t give to Victoria because Labor was voted into office saying it wouldn’t spend that money on that project.

Darren Chester: Well if you can let me finish a sentence, Nicole, I’ll get to the next point regarding the East West Link commitment. When I took over the role of Minister in January of last year, there was this stalemate over the East West Link funding. So, I was able to negotiate the $1.5 billion that was sitting there that Victoria couldn’t spend, that the Federal Government couldn’t agree how to spend it with them on. I was able to negotiate with Victoria last year to end that stalemate. There is $3 billion worth of work being carried out across Victoria as a result of those negotiations. The $3 billion I referred to on top of that is being set aside for East West Link which is available to any future Victorian Government so that does add to the Australian Government’s future investment into Victorian infrastructure.

Now, in terms of the broader conversation, you introduced the conversation today about the rail money, again there is a problem there with the two Treasurers at state and federal level haven’t been able to reach agreement on the $1.4 billion which Victoria claims it’s owed yet we have the Premier out there making announcements with money he doesn’t have. Now, I find it a bit odd to have a state government announcing federal government funding even though he knows it is in dispute and not being prepared to put a single cent – not $1 of Victorian state government funding into regional rail.

Nicole Chvastek: Why is Victorian money in dispute but money needed for New South Wales so freely available?

Darren Chester: Well I am not sure what you are talking about, Nicole.

Nicole Chvastek: Well I’m talking about Badgerys Creek.

Darren Chester: Well there hasn’t been a single funding announcement for Badgerys Creek. Yesterday the announcement was that the Sydney Airport Corporation wasn’t going to proceed with its first right of refusal and the Prime Minister announced that the Commonwealth Government would get on board with the project. There hasn’t been a commitment in terms of funding or how that’s going to be funded in the future.

Nicole Chvastek: Well if you are going to get on board with the project, you are going to have to fund it and so you’re going to have to find $6 billion and you have announced that that’s going to happen and yet in Victoria, we need $1.45 billion for a regional rail upgrade and that’s a matter of some contention all of a sudden.

Darren Chester: Well it is not all of a sudden, Nicole, they have never reached agreement on the issue. I mean let’s understand for just a moment that the Victorian Government has primary responsibility for public transport in this state but the Prime Minister has made it clear he is keen to work with states, right across Australia, on passenger rail projects. Now you’d think in that circumstance that the State Government would prepare a plan, a business case, and dedicate some funding for it and go to the Commonwealth and say let’s work in partnership on this project. That hasn’t happened. I haven’t received a plan. I haven’t received a business case and all I’ve received is one letter from the Premier demanding $1.4 billion for us to fund all of his regional rail upgrades, without a cent from the State Government. Now, this is the political equivalent of the silly season when the budgets are coming out. Now, I know your people listening to this broadcast are getting frustrated because I’m getting frustrated. We need to get through the budget processes, let the dust settle and then get Jacinta Allan in a room with me and work out how much money they are prepared to put on the table, how much money we have available for them and see which regional rail projects we can get up and going for the sake of Victorians as soon as possible.

Nicole Chvastek: Have you got a business plan for Sydney’s second airport?

Darren Chester: Yes we do.

Nicole Chvastek: And you – they have ticked all of the boxes and crossed all of the I’s?

Darren Chester: Well Badgerys Creek airport, as your listeners are probably aware, has been talked about for the best part of 30 years. The plans in relation to that are well advanced and the Prime Minister has indicated he will have more to say about that in next week’s budget. Just as I’ll have more to say about regional infrastructure and rail opportunities in Victoria in next week’s budget. Once the dust settles, we need to get down to business, negotiate, end the stalemate, just as we ended the stalemate last year over the East West Link money and get the projects happening in Victoria. Now, I can’t offer you much more than that at this stage, Nicole. I can’t tell you what’s in the Budget. But what I can tell you is that we will expect the Victorian Government to actually put some money on the table for public transport. It can’t expect a free ride from the Commonwealth Government when it comes to public transport.

Nicole Chvastek: I’m speaking to Darren Chester, the Infrastructure Minister. Minister, Treasury figures reproduced in today’s Herald Sun show that New South Wales is home to around 30 per cent of Australia’s population and gets 33 per cent of the infrastructure budget. Victoria, with a similar population gets around 8 per cent.

Darren Chester: Well, the figure is not accurate if you include the Commonwealth commitment to the East West Link Project of $3 billion. Now, we can all make figures say what we want them to say when it comes to these sort of statistics. If we include the $3 billion set aside for East West Link and the $877 million allocated for the Asset Recycling Initiative, Victoria’s share goes to 21 per cent of our national land transport spending. We can all play around with figures. The bottom lines is…

Nicole Chvastek: Yeah, but taxpayers in Victoria voted against the East West Link, Minister.

Darren Chester: Nicole, we can re-prosecute the old arguments. I’m just letting you know that money is available to a future Victorian Government, it is there, it exists. Now the question of the national transport network spending in Victoria is a very valid one in the sense that I can see infrastructure shortfalls across Victoria and hence we have been able to negotiate $3 billion worth of work last year which is rolling out, things like the Echuca-Moama Bridge, things like Princes Highway Duplication, and other projects right around regional Victoria. But I can see the shortfall in other parts of the state and that’s why I want to work with Victorian Ministers on negotiating outcomes to end these internal stalemates which have frustrated relationships between the Labor Government here in Victoria and the Coalition Government in Canberra.

I want to get deals done that actually see people out there working and building infrastructure, but it doesn’t help when you have the Premier going out announcing $1.4 billion worth of money he doesn’t have and really misleading Victorians and giving them false hope on projects he has no prospect of funding unless he puts some money of his own on the table.

Nicole Chvastek: Darren Chester, thank you so much.

Darren Chester: Appreciate your time.