Transcript of Press Conference, Melbourne
05 February 2016
Joint release with:
Victorian Minister for Roads, Road Safety and Ports
Topics: CityLink Tulla Widening contract award, Melbourne Metro
Paul Fletcher: I'm very pleased to be here at Essendon Fields with Luke Donnellan, the Victorian Minister for Roads and Road Safety; Trevor Boyd from VicRoads; Michael Kalinowski from Lend Lease. This is a very important project. The Turnbull Government is backing Victoria with $200 million of investment in the Tullamarine Freeway widening project—a very important project for several reasons. It's a cooperation between the Commonwealth Government and the Victorian Government to deliver an infrastructure outcome for Melbourne and Victoria. And it's also of course cooperation between governments and the private sector because, as Minister Donnellan said, Transurban is involved at other stages of the project and of course we need to make sure that all stages of the upgrading work together and coordinate together. So cooperation between the Federal and Victorian governments; cooperation between governments and the private sector. The second thing that I think is very important about this project is that we've got the physical widening—one lane in each direction that's added on—but there's also the use of intelligent transport systems to get better capacity out of the road. And putting together the information technology improvements, including systems so that the traffic that comes on the on-ramp does so in response to a traffic signal which is linked to algorithms monitoring the traffic flow, means that combining that IT and the physical upgrade will deliver a capacity upgrade of about 30 per cent at peak times from the airport all the way through to the CityLink tunnel—an improvement of up to about 15 minutes and very importantly a 20 per cent reduction is expected in what are called casualty crashes, that is to say crashes involving injury or death, so significant safety benefits. And the other thing that's important about this project is that it's about governments planning for the long term and meeting the needs of a growing city like Melbourne. Melbourne is a very fast-growing city and we must build the infrastructure so that people can get about more freely, so that freight moves more freely, so congestion is reduced, so that people get home from work more quickly to be with their families, and so that Melbourne remains one of the world's most liveable cities. So the Turnbull Government is backing Victoria, the Turnbull Government is backing Melbourne with a $200 million investment in the Tullamarine Freeway widening.
Question: Minister, what about the Turnbull Government backing Victoria in terms of rail—the Melbourne Metro project. Are you a fan of putting some money into that?
Paul Fletcher: Well, you're referring I think to the statement that Anthony Albanese has made this morning. The opposition spokesman Albanese is quite practiced at this vapourware as it's described in the software industry—you go about making announcements. They've made lots of announcements but they're in opposition and the question is how is it all to be funded, how are all the announcements around the country to be funded? The key thing is this: there is a business case that the Commonwealth Government is presently awaiting from the Victorian Government in relation to Melbourne Metro that needs to go through an assessment by Infrastructure Australia. Infrastructure Australia— the body that was set up when Anthony Albanese was the Federal Minister. The Coalition has expanded the role of Infrastructure Australia. It's very important that we have an integrated planning approach to all our major projects and that we assess them on their merits, so we look forward… the Turnbull Government looks forward to receiving a business case from the Victorian Government in relation to Melbourne Metro, and that will be assessed through Infrastructure Australia.
Question: It's not clear that the Federal Government backed rail, though. Tony Abbott would say stick to his [inaudible]. What's your view?
Paul Fletcher: The Turnbull Government has a very clear position and Prime Minister Turnbull has made it clear: we will assess projects on their merits. We don't have a particular view about road versus rail. They're all important. It is so important that in our big cities and all around Australia we are building the infrastructure to address congestion, to allow people to move about as freely as possible, to maintain the liveability of our cities, so freight can move about quickly—all of this is tremendously important. Projects like the Tullamarine Freeway widening that we are announcing today; the choice of Lend Lease as the contractor, is evidence that the Turnbull Government, working with state governments such as the Victorian Government, is getting on with the job of delivering infrastructure. We've got a $50 billion infrastructure commitment through to 2019–20 and it's very important that we're getting on with the job of building that infrastructure to meet Australia's needs.
Question: What do you think of the Victorian Government's strategy of going ahead with doing all of the preliminary work when they don't have the money to build the rail?
Paul Fletcher: Well, the Victorian Government has indicated that there will be a business case coming forward in relation to Melbourne Metro. The Commonwealth Government, the Turnbull Government looks forward to receiving that business case and that will go through an assessment process carried out by Infrastructure Australia.
Question: [Question inaudible]. How much would you expect from them?
Luke Donnellan: Look, I don't have a specific figure but we very much welcome Federal Government involvement in our projects. Currently, at the moment, I think NSW and Queensland are receiving a dollar in comparison to 33 cents that we're receiving here in Victoria, so we really want to even that up. We think the Federal Government needs to work more closely with us, which we're welcoming, but for us to receive 33 cents for every dollar that Queensland and NSW receives, we need to even that up. That's not good enough, we very much need this investment in Victoria; it is the fastest-growing economy in the country. Every dollar you put in here, you'll get a great multiplier effect, you'll get great employment and so forth. In terms of the Melbourne Metro, I know Infrastructure Victoria and also our various departments have been engaged on an ongoing basis over a number of years with Infrastructure Australia in relation to Melbourne Metro. They're well aware of the benefits of Melbourne Metro: 20,000 extra people being able to be moved in peak hour each day with this new project. It is a substantial project; it is a city-changing project and very much we want a partnership with the Federal Government in relation to this and we'd very much welcome the support of both the Opposition and the Government to even the score of the money that's going into NSW and Queensland. We want our share in Victoria. We are 25 per cent of the Australian economy and I think very much it's going to need to be evened out over this current forward year on.
Question: But haven't you broken your election promise and borrow, and go into debt, to fund infrastructure?
Luke Donnellan: No. At this stage, we are doing the planning for Melbourne Metro; we are seeking funding from the Federal Government. In terms of how it will be funded in the long run, in terms of the State Government, that will be decided after negotiations are completed, but…
Question: So where's your promise on debt, specifically your promise there'd be no debt?
Luke Donnellan: Our debt levels are about, I think….
Question: We know what the debt levels are…
Luke Donnellan: No, no, no, no, no, OK you asked me…
Question: The point is, will you break your promise about no debt?
Luke Donnellan: Our debt levels have actually reduced since we came into government. I think they were about 6.1 per cent of gross state product; they are lower than that now, so we are managing debt incredibly well. In terms of every other budget in the country, ours is the best placed to…
Question: But are you prepared to borrow more to fund projects?
Luke Donnellan: Brendan, you asked me about debt, I'm giving you an answer. We are, our budget is the best performing in the whole country.
Question: But it sounds like you are willing to borrow more.
Luke Donnellan: We are, we have got a surplus of $1.6 billion going forward over the four years, rising to I think $1.7 billion. We have debt levels lower than when we came in so are we managing debt well? We are managing it very well.
Question: So you will borrow?
Luke Donnellan: We are managing… No, you've asked me your question, I'm giving you a rundown of what is happening. You've asked a specific question and I've given you a specific answer.
Question: So what about all your election promises?
Luke Donnellan: Our debt levels are lower than when we came in.
Question: What happens to your election promise that there will be no increase in debt?
Luke Donnellan: The election promise we made is we will deliver Melbourne Metro, that is a great project, it is a major piece of infrastructure to keep this city liveable. We will deliver that project.
Question: Let me ask you about the freight train, or V-Line train, do you know which one…?
Luke Donnellan: It's a freight train, yes, I understand it's a freight train on fire in Craigieburn. I understand that the authorities, that emergency services are likely currently looking at that. That is a freight train between Melbourne and Sydney, it is not run by V-Line; it is not run by the State Government but of course our emergency services people will be investigating that to ensure that… we'll see what actually occurred there.
Question: What makes you so sure it was a freight train?
Luke Donnellan: Well because that's the information I've got.
Question: Can I ask—we're talking about improving travel times here—what are your thoughts on truckies using deliberately driving slowly to block traffic as part of a protest?
Luke Donnellan: Well, that's an issue that really needs to be dealt with by the Remuneration Tribunal. That is obviously part of negotiations between the trucking operators, the truck drivers; that is not something the State Government is there to negotiate an outcome, that is very much something that if the two parties can't come to an agreement, it will be sorted out by the Commissioner.
Question: Do you think Victoria needs a new public sector watchdog to monitor MPs and electoral staff?
Luke Donnellan: Look, I think we've always got to look at how do we improve accountability, transparency and the like. We've made various changes in relation to the Auditor-General, in relation to the Ombudsman, in relation to IBAC, and of course we're always looking at how we can improve accountability and transparency. We will continue to do so.
Question: So did you support in Cabinet establishing a new watchdog?
Luke Donnellan: I don't talk about our discussions in Cabinet, obviously.