2GB Money News

Interview

DCI097/2017

07 December 2017

Subjects: Citizenship, same sex marriage, Inland Rail

Ross Greenwood: Let's go now to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester. Many thanks for your time, Darren.

Darren Chester: G'day, Ross. Never a boring day in Federal Parliament.

Ross Greenwood: I know. Have you got the sleeping bag with you tonight or not?

Darren Chester: It might be needed.

Ross Greenwood: Yeah, it could be. Look, I just want to go to the issues of Parliament right now, and obviously the citizenship saga. Despite Bill Shorten having said that, you know, nothing here, we're all clean, the truth is now it is slowly being dragged out that Labor had issues just as the Coalition had issues.

Darren Chester: Well, clearly Bill Shorten has been exposed as a massive hypocrite on this issue. He made a lot of public assurances over many weeks when we went through a difficult time in our own party, within the National Party, regarding the dual citizenship issue. He kept on saying, no we're all clear here, nothing to see here folks, and it turns out he has got some significant issues that need to be resolved. He should've been up front and honest with the Australian people at the outset. I mean, Barnaby Joyce, Fiona Nash, Matthew Canavan, the Nationals all put their hand up and said, look, I might have an issue here with dual citizenship; they thought they'd fallen foul of Section 44 of the Constitution. It seems that now the Labor Party's got questions it needs to answer.

Ross Greenwood: And now even questions about whether Bill Shorten knew for more than a week that David Feeney, who was his close ally, had struggled to prove that he had renounced his British dual citizenship.

Darren Chester: Well, it is disappointing, and in that week he kept on attacking the Coalition for its efforts in this regard. I think the Australian people quite frankly have had enough of this. They have had a gutful of hearing about where their parents and grandparents were born. They just want to get it all resolved and cleaned up. That's why I think the process we did this week, where Members were required to provide a statement to the House on their citizenship status, should hopefully clean it up once and for all. The Labor Party's performance in this in terms of throwing a lot of stones at the Coalition, and then now it has come to pass that they've got a lot more questions to answer than they admitted to.

Ross Greenwood: And as the Same-Sex Marriage Bill has gone through our Parliament today—and I know there's been people outside, there's been music and there's been celebration outside—just explain inside the Parliament; just give me a first-hand view as to what the feeling has been like inside the Parliament.

Darren Chester: Well, it is obviously an historic occasion, but in many cases it has also been business as usual. There's been Members of Parliament making their speeches on behalf of their constituents, putting their position forward, and then there's been a whole series of amendments being voted on, put forward by various members regarding the bill, but largely they've been defeated.

The whole point I guess, at the end of the day, same-sex marriage is going to be legislated here in Australia. The Australian people have spoken. They overwhelmingly responded positively to the whole postal ballot. I mean, it was put to us that people wouldn't vote, but they came out in their droves—80 per cent voted. I mean, many times in Australian history, Ross, there has been accusations that you can't trust a politician, but I think Bill Shorten is the first politician to say you couldn't trust the Australian people with a vote. I think the Australian people have really stood up well in a difficult debate, and by and large the vast majority of people have acted quite moderately and calmly and just cast their ballot and got on with their lives.

Ross Greenwood: Look, I want to go to another subject that I think is absolutely key to Australia, and I know those issues are very important, but this one also is vital, and that is, for a long time—many months last year—we were talking about the potential death of the Whyalla Steelworks in South Australia. Now, quite clearly what's occurred is that the executive chairman of the GFG Alliance—that's Sanjeev Gupta—a massive steelmaker from the UK, has come to Australia and said he will invest US$1 billion into the Whyalla Steelworks and its mining businesses to keep them going, to modernise it.

But today, as a part of even that deal, a separate deal is being done in a key piece of Australian infrastructure—the Inland Rail between Melbourne and Brisbane. Now, you've awarded the first steel contract, an enormous amount of steel—14,000 tonnes of steel—to the Whyalla Steelworks, which basically is the starting block of that massive rail project.

Darren Chester: You're right, Ross. In many ways it is a down-payment on a lot more work to come. I mean, we are talking about 14,000 tonnes of steel which will be required for the first section—this is the Parkes to Narromine section there in Central New South Wales—but for the whole project, we are going to require in the order of 260,000 tonnes of steel rail, which is the equivalent of building five Sydney Harbour Bridges. So, it is a very big project and it's one that obviously has been talked about for decades and decades, and we are very excited that the Government, in this year's Budget, put $8.4 billion out there to build a dedicated freight rail corridor connecting Melbourne and Brisbane in under 24 hours.

Ross Greenwood: And this has been dreamt about for years, decades in fact, but the $8.4 billion gives you some sense of the scale of the investment by the Australian taxpayer, by the Australian Government, to make certain that there is greater efficiency in the movement of freight around this country.

Darren Chester: You're exactly right. It is a big piece of economic infrastructure. It's one thing to have free trade agreements—they have been very successful in negotiating them—but you've got to get your product to market in the most cost-efficient way to make sure you can capitalise on those free trade agreements. Having this dedicated freight rail corridor connecting Melbourne to Brisbane in under 24 hours will mean we'll see a transfer of freight from road onto rail, which obviously is going to be of economic value, but also from a road safety perspective we believe we are going to see a road safety dividend in terms of less heavy vehicles on the road interacting with light vehicles. That's got to be good for the travelling public. It's a great project, it's one that's going to take several years to build, but we are getting on with the job and this announcement of a 14,000 tonnes of steel rail contract is a good step in the right direction.

Ross Greenwood: And also important for steelmaking in South Australia and Australia. Just to give people some sense of this, each train is likely to be as long as 1.8 kilometres. They're going to have a 21-tonne axel load at a maximum speed of 115 kilometres an hour. Each train could carry the equivalent freight volume as 110 B-double trucks, which is incredible, and could reduce supply chain costs by $10 per tonne for inter-capital freight. I mean, that's the scale of this and why this is such an important piece of infrastructure.

Darren Chester: We are also going to see, Ross, 16,000 news jobs at the peak of construction and an additional 700 jobs per year over the entire period of the work. So, it is a big project, it's one that does actually create jobs during construction, and we believe it's going to create some ongoing employment opportunities, particularly in Central New South Wales along the route, but also into South East Queensland and Victoria as well, so it expands right along the eastern seaboard.

You know, it was 100 years ago this year we had the trans-continental railway line built between Perth and Sydney, and now we'll get the Inland Rail interlinking there through Parkes in Central New South Wales. So we will have this great east-west corridor, but also a north-south corridor, which will really open up trade opportunities and help with the movement of freight right around our nation.

Ross Greenwood: Well, roll out the swag, get yourself set for a long night in Parliament. As I say, these are key things, but of course you have got business at hand in our Parliament tonight. The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester, I appreciate your time.

Darren Chester: I appreciate your time too, Ross. Can I just say one more thing—around this time of year, lot of people on the roads, please take safety consideration and take your responsibility for road safety very seriously. We don't want any more deaths and serious injuries.

Ross Greenwood: Well said, no doubt. Darren, have a good evening.

Darren Chester: All the best, Ross.