Transcript of Interview: 702 ABC Sydney with Robbie Buck

Interview

BPC028/2015

22 May 2015

E&OE

Robbie Buck: The infrastructure report is out today and if you're sitting in the car this morning driving around and particularly if you're stuck in gridlock wondering well, what is the solution to Sydney's roads, Jamie Briggs is the Federal Assistant Infrastructure Minister and this infrastructure report is out today. Jamie Briggs, good morning.

Jamie Briggs: Good morning Robbie.

Robbie Buck: It's no surprise, I guess, to Sydney drivers that around seven or eight of the worst roads in Australia are in this city. Just take us through what the crux of the findings are.

Jamie Briggs: Well, basically it says Australia has a really good problem, which is that we're growing. We have a strong population and good economic growth and that means we're going to need a lot more infrastructure to meet the opportunities that we all want to achieve. New South Wales, it must be said, is leading the way in trying to catch up. Premier Baird and the Federal Government have something like $30 billion worth of infrastructure projects either started or about to begin in Sydney and New South Wales, so there is a lot going on now to catch up, with WestConnex, NorthConnex, the Western Sydney roads package, but there's also a lot more work to do in the future.

Robbie Buck: Okay, so take me through what some of those proposals are.

Jamie Briggs: Some of the existing proposals? Well, obviously your listeners will be familiar with WestConnex …

Robbie Buck: Yeah.

Jamie Briggs: …but what we're doing there, and a lot of work's underway already, but a lot more is about to begin. NorthConnex begins in February and that obviously deals with the Pennant Hills Road issue, which has been a bottleneck in Sydney for many years. And the Western Sydney roads package of course is designed to help with the growth that will come in Western Sydney over the next few years, particularly with the establishment of the Western Sydney Airport. So there's a lot of work going on, but there will need to be more infrastructure investment in the future and there's going to be an increasing need to involve the private sector because governments have finite budgets and we need that infrastructure to meet the growth opportunities that the country has.

Robbie Buck: Okay, so does that mean that we're going to be seeing a lot more toll roads?

Jamie Briggs: I think you're going to see a lot more different ways of how we pay for infrastructure, certainly, and that's not just roads; that's public transport, it's also electricity, water, the range of infrastructure projects that we need to ensure that we're meeting the opportunities that we have as a nation. Australia has sprawled cities, but increasingly Sydney and Melbourne will lift their density because, quite obviously, the amount of land that's available is getting smaller; the distance from the CBD and the major centres is getting further and further away, so…

Robbie Buck: So I take it that this report is suggesting that in the future, governments and the Federal Government especially can't be relied on for infrastructure funding down the track; that it's going to have to be public/private partnerships I take it.

Jamie Briggs: No I think the Federal Government will increasingly… and we are already spending more. We put $50 billion on the table last year; this year we'll spend about $7 billion alone. Compare that to a decade ago where the Federal Government was spending less than a billion dollars. So there is an increasing amount of attention from the Federal Government, but in saying that, as governments, we all have competing priorities. We have health and education spending that we need to maintain, obviously, we have defence spending needs that we need to maintain, we have an ageing population so our budget is always going to be challenged and in that sense we are going to need, of course, not just the large amounts that federal and state governments will put in, but involvement from the private sector. You're seeing that here, in New South Wales, with the asset recycling programme that Mike Baird is pursuing. That will see the use of funds from mature assets into new green field infrastructure, which will help build Sydney's capacity.

Robbie Buck: How much of the report deals with the future of public transport?

Jamie Briggs: It does have a heavy emphasis on public transport. It's a very important mix, particularly the big cities. Obviously in Melbourne and Sydney, Brisbane and Perth particularly, there's a heavy emphasis on the need for public transport. It's clearly an important part of the mix, but they are very expensive projects and often they're uneconomical so working out how they're funded can be a challenge.

Robbie Buck: There is an argument isn't there that you can build as many roads as you'd like and they would just fill up and be congested. Of course we heard 30 years ago about the future of Sydney's roads and these big roads that were going to be built and the M4 which has to be widened, but you can build and build and build, but I take it that, if you're looking for long-term solutions for these kinds of problems, they have to be a pretty broad mix don't they?

Jamie Briggs: Well, they do, but we're a country that needs cars because we have sprawled capital cities. So the solution for our transport mix in our cities is always going to involve cars. It's also going to involve better roads for public transport too. Fifty per cent of public transport kilometres in Australia are travelled by bus, so if you build better roads, you have better connectivity for public transport in the centres moving around cities on buses. Rail will also be  an important part of it and here in Sydney, again, what you're seeing with Premier Baird's plan to build a new public transport tunnel under the harbour will see a 60 per cent increase in the capacity of that network. That's a huge development and quite exciting for the city.

Robbie Buck: Just before I let you go; the report, if I'm right, says that the cost of transport congestion will balloon from $6 billion, as it is at the moment (that's from 2011) to $28 billion in 2031, unless a lot more money's put into it. Where is that money going to come from?

Jamie Briggs: It'll come from the Federal Government, it'll come from state governments and it will come from the private sector and that's what you're seeing. Governments are being a lot more…

Robbie Buck: Do you have any recommendations on what the split should be, what that quotient is going to be between the three?

Jamie Briggs: No, but the important point about today's report is that it's the first time ever that a federal government has done an audit of Australia's infrastructure. It's a benchmark for us now to have a discussion…

Robbie Buck: Oh Jamie Briggs, I'm sorry, I think I just lost him, my apologies. That was Jamie Briggs, Federal Assistant Infrastructure Minister and I think that was my fault, my apologies, for dropping him off the line.