ABC News Weekend Breakfast

Interview

PFI007/2015

25 October 2015

Topics: Gay marriage, Western Sydney Airport, Major Projects

Andrew Geoghegan: Well this week in federal politics the fraught topic of gay marriage was once again raised in parliament. Coalition MP Warren Entsch suggested that parliament vote on the issue but said any changes agreed in parliament would only come into effect if there was a yes vote in a plebiscite after the next election.

Kathryn Robinson: Well, for more on this, and other political stories of the week we're joined now by Paul Fletcher, Minister for Territories, Local Government and Major Projects. Good morning Paul, thanks for coming in today.

Paul Fletcher: Good morning, good to be here.

Kathryn Robinson: Let's speak about the week that was, and kick off with gay marriage as we alluded to in the introduction there. It's seemingly becoming this divisive issue for the Liberal Party. What's your position on it, and do you support Mr Entsch's idea of the vote.

Paul Fletcher: Well, look, what we've clearly said is that we arrived at a position when Tony Abbott was Prime Minister, which was that we would take this matter to a plebiscite after the next election. Prime Minister Turnbull has recommitted to that position. So we've got a very clear statement of principle as to the way we move forward on this. Clearly there are some details to work through, and we'll do that over time, but we've got a clear statement of principle. We'll take this to the Australian people in a plebiscite. As Christopher Pyne said earlier this week, clearly, when you take something like this to the people in a plebiscite, it's then your clear intention to give effect to the outcome of the plebiscite—because there's been some questioning about that—but just to be absolutely clear the outcome of the plebiscite will be respected and implemented by the Government. There are some mechanics to work through, and we'll do that. Look, Warren Entsch, as with any back bencher is absolutely free to put forward his proposal as to the mechanics, but we do need to world through the details.

Kathryn Robinson: Do you support marriage equality and gay marriage?

Paul Fletcher: Well, look, what I support is the Liberal Party's position, announced by Tony Abbott, confirmed by Malcolm Turnbull, that we will take this to the Australian people in a plebiscite. And as Prime Minister Turnbull said in Question Time this week, he has a high degree of confidence in the capacity of the Australian people to have a mature and respectful debate about this very important issue.

Andrew Geoghegan: Is it an issue that your constituents raise with you? Do they regard it as important?

Paul Fletcher: Look, the issue gets raised with me by some constituents. I think every MP would say that this is an issue that gets raised by some constituents, but constituents raise a whole range of issues with MPs and clearly the Turnbull Government is very focused on Australia's economic security, being an innovative, agile, creative nation as Prime Minister Turnbull has said, capitalising on the opportunities with technology and the fastest rate of economic change than we've really seen, and the Turnbull Government is a very confident Government about the prospects of Australia capitalising on those opportunities, that's a real focus for us. You've seen a big focus from Prime Minister Turnbull on innovation and that really extends across a whole range of portfolios.

Andrew Geoghegan: Given the change of leader there has been some expectation that policy will change. That hasn't happened as yet. Is it your expectation that you will continue until the next election without a change to those policies, such as gay marriage, also climate change and how you'll approach that?

Paul Fletcher: Well, I think, what I'd say is you've seen a range of areas where the Turnbull Government is laying out clear directions. This week we had Prime Minister Turnbull, together with the Treasurer and the Assistant Treasurer, laying out a response to the Financial System Inquiry.  For example, measures announced in relation to reducing surcharges on credit cards and other cards so that they must relate to actual cost levels incurred, rather than being a means for frankly, unreasonably high charges to be imposed on consumers.  So across a range of areas you're seeing a clear approach from the Turnbull Government. The Prime Minister has signalled that we are going to have some clear policy measures in relation to innovation over coming months, but at the same time we are also getting on with the job and taking forward a very considerable agenda.  For example, in relation to infrastructure, this week we saw the announcement of the Western Sydney Airport environmental impact statement and draft airport plan.  Now that's a very important piece of infrastructure for Western Sydney, for Sydney and for the nation. So there's work well underway and we are continuing that work in a whole range of areas.

Kathryn Robinson: Well Minister, let's talk about that. You just mentioned the Western Sydney Airport plan was released this week, and everyone—it's on public exhibition until, I believe, around mid-December…

Paul Fletcher: 18 December.

Kathryn Robinson: 18 December—there have been suggestions that people flying in and out of Sydney Airport are going to have to subsidise, if you like, the cost of the building at Badgerys Creek of the airport—ten dollars each time they fly. Would you support this?

Paul Fletcher: What we have made clear is that the Government is engaged in discussions, commercial discussions with interested parties, in particular, the owners of the existing Sydney Airport, the Southern Cross Airport Corporation, have what's called a right of first refusal, so we've been in constructive commercial discussions with that company for some months, but in that context it's not really appropriate for Ministers to be disclosing the details of commercial discussions. What we need to make sure of is that we get the best possible outcome for tax payers, because there's being a lot of money spent on this project, and of course for the people who will use the airport, and for the people of Western Sydney, because this is going to be a vital piece of economic infrastructure, and very important in generating jobs and economic benefits.

Andrew Geoghegan: [Interrupts] Well, indeed. I mean this comes into your portfolio as Minister for Major Projects. That's one. What do you regard as a major project?

Paul Fletcher: Well, the…

Andrew Geoghegan: [Interrupts] Is it all part of nation building? So obviously Western Sydney is one example.

Paul Fletcher: The Government has a significant range of infrastructure projects underway around the country. There's a $50 billion infrastructure package in New South Wales, that's projects like the upgrading of the Pacific Highway $5.6 billion—so that would be four lanes all the way from Sydney up to the Queensland border. In Queensland that's $6.7 billion of commitment to upgrading the Bruce Highway—various projects along that vital artery from Brisbane all the way up to Cairns. In WA we're working with the WA Government on projects like Perth Freight Link. In South Australia, for example, just this week I announced with the South Australian Transport and Infrastructure Minister Stephen Mullighan the Northern Connector—that's a $985 million project, fifteen kilometres of freeway and we announced going into expressions of interest on that project. So around the country there's a whole range of infrastructure projects. These are designed to stimulate economic growth but also create vital productivity enhancing infrastructure.  Let me give you one example: on the Pacific Highway, the upgrade work that's already been done reduces the travel time by about an hour and a half. About 60 per cent of the work's been done. When we do the remaining 40 per cent that will add another hour in saved travel time—that's a two and a half hour travel time reduction. Now the productivity benefits for that, when you think of the trucks going up and down that highway, delivering goods, are enormous.

Andrew Geoghegan: Also safety too obviously.

Paul Fletcher: Safety is enormously important.

Andrew Geoghegan: Paul Fletcher, we'll have to leave it there. Thanks so much for coming in.

Kathryn Robinson: Thank you Minister.