AM with Michael Brissenden



10 February 2016

Topics: Proposed Government changes to motor vehicle laws; Western Sydney Airport; Stuart Robert

Michael Brissenden: The Federal Government is planning to reform motor vehicle laws with the changes to come into force after the closure of Holden, Ford and Toyota plants in South Australia and Victoria. From 2018, consumers will be allowed to personally import new motor vehicles from Japan and the UK. The Government says the changes to be introduced into Parliament later this year will offer buyers greater choice and save the industry more than $70 million a year by cutting regulatory compliance costs. For more on this in the studio now by the Minister for Major Projects, Territories and Local Government Paul Fletcher.

Paul Fletcher, good morning.

Paul Fletcher: Good morning.

Michael Brissenden: The truth is, isn't it, that it is a lot easier to deregulate the market now; by the end of next year essentially we will have no local manufacturers to protect.

Paul Fletcher: Well, look, there's a number of factors behind these changes to the motor vehicles standards act. The last time the act was reviewed was some 15 years ago. In that time technology has changed and motor vehicles have become ever more standardised in the way they're manufactured globally.

So for example this option that will be available for people to personally import a vehicle from the UK or Japan, right hand drive markets, up to once every two years, must be a new vehicle, less than 500 kilometres on the odometer, less than 12 months old. That's an option which makes sense for a number of reasons, one of which is that the standards in those countries are very much the same as in Australia.

Michael Brissenden: Okay, what's likely to be the result? How many extra cars do you think will be imported?

Paul Fletcher: Look, we don't think the numbers will be massive. Our modelling suggests about 30,000 vehicles will probably come in under this. Now as a reference point there's about 1.1 million new cars in the Australian market each year. And once Ford, Holden and Toyota close down then all of those will be imported.

So we expect the vast majority of Australians will continue to buy cars from the existing manufacturers and dealer networks, but this will give choice; for example, if you might be interested in buying let's say a diesel variant of a model where the manufacturer only makes the petrol variant available in Australia.

Michael Brissenden: Okay, so I guess for the consumer they'll be asking is it going to lead to lower car prices. Presumably it won't have much of an impact.

Paul Fletcher: Look, our modelling suggests it may have a small impact but the bigger rationale for it is offering greater choice to consumers and having the option should you wish to do so to personally import a right hand drive vehicle from the UK or Japan, two countries with similar safety and design standards to Australia.

Michael Brissenden: Well and of course that's the other question, because a lot of people have raised concerns in the past about safety issues. We have a pretty good safety record, one of the world's best in fact in terms of cars. Importing second hand cars, because there is a second hand car component to this as well, from countries like Japan and the UK—is that going to put that at risk?

Paul Fletcher: Well just to be clear, the Government announced late last year as part of our response to the Harper review that we would not be introducing a scheme for the broad based parallel import of used vehicles. What is part of these changes to the Motor Vehicle Standards Act is that existing schemes for so-called specialist and enthusiast vehicles and the so-called concessional pathways, there's lots of jargon in this area, under which you can bring vehicles into Australia, and a few thousand come in each year—those will be maintained and streamlined.

But in the main in terms of the personal imports from the UK and Japan, we're talking about new vehicles, less than 500 kilometres on the odometer, less than 12 months old.

Michael Brissenden: Okay, also in your portfolio area there are reports this morning that the Government is considering funding a high speed rail line linking the Sydney CBD and the new airport at Badgery's Creek. Can an international airport even work without a high speed rail line?

Paul Fletcher: Well let me just first clarify what the position is. The New South Wales and Federal governments announced a couple of months ago that we were jointly working on a study for the rail needs of Western Sydney, including the Western Sydney Airport—the Western Sydney Airport due to open 2025. And that study is looking at what's the right route, how much it will cost, and how much is to be paid for.

Now this morning there are reports of a private sector consortium which has a particular proposal and certainly the rail study that we've got underway offers an opportunity for people with ideas to put them forward and we welcome that. We are working through this process. When the rail, when the airport opens it'll, in the first few years it'll have about 10 million passengers and it's unlikely to have rail at that time.

The $3.6 billion Western Sydney infrastructure plan involves a lot of roads which are being built to support the airport, including an expressway to the airport, upgrades to the Bringelly Road and The Northern Road and so on. So there's very good surface transport from when it opens, but certainly we need to look at rail for the longer term.

Michael Brissenden: Well, there isn't a big international airport in the world I wouldn't have thought that doesn't have a proper rail link to it. It's hard to see how it would work, isn't it, without one?

Paul Fletcher: Certainly we do need to look at rail for the longer term. An important point is that the rail needs to meet not just the needs of the airport but also of Western Sydney. It needs to be part of the broader rail strategy. And of course that's why we're working with the New South Wales Government, because it's the New South Wales Government that has responsibility for rail in New South Wales, but of course the Federal Government is delivering the airport. It's important that the Turnbull and Baird governments work together closely on this and we are.

Michael Brissenden: Okay, now there's also reports, I'm sure you're aware, this morning of your colleague Stuart Robert which say that he's charged taxpayers $900 in flights and travel allowance while on his way to that controversial meeting in China. It seems he has at least seemed to confuse, been a bit confused about the line between private and official travel there, doesn't it?

Paul Fletcher: Well, Stuart is a valued and respected friend and colleague. The Prime Minister has announced that he's asked for advice from the secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet and I don't really have anything to add to that.

Michael Brissenden: Nonetheless the Government is bleeding on this. Wouldn't it be neater if he went?

Paul Fletcher: Look, the Prime Minister has indicated he's seeking advice from the secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet and I'll leave it at that.

Michael Brissenden: Okay, but as a Minister, is it right for a minister to go around appearing to act in an official capacity while he's on a private visit to help a friend seal a lucrative mining deal? And how can it be a private visit when he's meeting with Chinese officials?

Paul Fletcher: Again, I'm not going to get into the details of that. The Prime Minister has advised Parliament of how he's dealing with it. He's pointed out that he's got a process in place. He's obtaining advice from the secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet. And I don't think there's anything useful I can add to what the Prime Minister has said.

Michael Brissenden: Okay, Paul Fletcher, we'll leave it there. Thanks very much for joining us. And that is Paul Fletcher, the Minister for Major Projects, Territories and Local Government.