Transcript—702 ABC Sydney



19 July 2016

Topics: Announcement of the Urban Infrastructure portfolio, Western Sydney Airport

Wendy Harmer: The brand new cabinet minister in charge of making Badgerys Creek happen among its other things is with us. Paul Fletcher, good morning.

Paul Fletcher:  Good morning Wendy, good to be with you.

Wendy Harmer: And congratulations on your re-election…

Paul Fletcher: Thank you.

Wendy Harmer:… and congratulations on this ministry. You were—you've been a minister in this area before, of course, but tell us about why the Prime Minister has renamed your portfolio, give us an outline of your new responsibilities if you would.

Paul Fletcher: Well, the reason for the focus on urban infrastructure and the—as you rightly said, the—I guess the refocusing of the portfolio is that our cities are obviously where the majority of Australians live. It's very important that our cities be as liveable as possible, that we can get around quickly and efficiently, that they're as productive as possible and of course infrastructure is key to that. Road infrastructure, rail infrastructure so that people can get to and from work quickly and get home to spend time with the kids, rather than being stuck in the traffic, so that freight can move around quickly and efficiently, so tradies, for example, can get from job to job quickly.

So, transport and urban infrastructure are absolutely critical to the liveability of our cities and I guess economic efficiency and productivity as well. And so that's a key reason why the Prime Minister has wanted to have a particular focus on urban infrastructure and of course Western Sydney Airport is an absolutely critical project, not just for Western Sydney, but for all of Sydney and indeed for all of the nation.

Wendy Harmer: Yes, it's interesting the refocus there, because you were minister for local government, Fiona Nash has that now, doesn't she…

Paul Fletcher: [Interrupts] Yes that's right, so territories and local government now sit with Fiona Nash who will do a terrific job in that area I'm sure and…

Wendy Harmer: [Interrupts] And you had major projects and now it's urban.

Paul Fletcher: Look, that's right. So, if you look around the country, the majority of the major projects are of course urban so it's things like WestConnex in Sydney, $16.8 billion project, NorthConnex of course, the—connecting the M2 at—M1 at Wahroonga with the M2 at Pennant Hills and that runs through part of my electorate at Bradfield on Sydney's North Shore so I'm very focused on that one and the liveability benefits that will bring for people in Wahroonga and Normanhurst when it opens in 2019 and some of that through traffic and freight traffic comes off Pennant Hills Road and ends up in a freeway standard tunnel and of course that will save 15 minutes and 21 traffic lights for people making that trip.

So, that's a good example of the efficiency benefits but also the liveability consequences from getting good infrastructure decisions in place. Around Australia there are similar projects, in South Australia for example the Northern Connector project, in Melbourne the Melbourne Metro Rail project and typically on these very big projects in urban infrastructure, the Commonwealth is working closely with state governments, both because of the scale of the projects and the fact that quite often both levels of government are contributing funding. If you take Western Sydney Airport in particular, as well as the fact that we obviously work closely with the Baird Government in relation to the ground transport connections, you've got aviation as a specific Commonwealth responsibility and of course, Western Sydney Airport over time, it's scheduled to open mid-2020s, it should be a big employment generator in Western Sydney by 2030, there'll be about 9000 jobs from people directly employed at the airport but just as important, arguably more important, is the economic activity and businesses that are likely to be attracted.

Wendy Harmer: But there are some people who say you might be jumping a bi ahead of yourself here Paul because you haven't released the EIS yet, the final environmental impact statement have you?

Paul Fletcher: Well, the draft environmental impact statement was issued last year, the closing date for comments was just before Christmas, [indistinct]…

Wendy Harmer: And you got an extraordinary number of submissions there I think there was almost 5000 submissions so—yeah.

Paul Fletcher: [Talks over] Some 5000—yes, and that's exactly what that sort of process is designed to elicit, we're now working through those in very careful detail and later this year, the final environmental impact statement will be issued and that will then go to the Commonwealth Environment Minister for approval…

Wendy Harmer: That's almost a rubberstamp though isn't it, I mean, because you have actually even started works out there on that site. There's—and the plan—the plan actually for the airport itself, I mean, is that going to be released at the same time as the environmental impact statement?

Paul Fletcher: Well, there was a draft plan that was released…

Wendy Harmer: [Interrupts] So they're both in draft form, when are we going to get the two finals?

Paul Fletcher: Yes, yes. Well, the final environmental impact statement comes out later this year but then if you look at things like the flight planning, the route planning, that takes a considerable period of time, it's a very technical and specialised area. Obviously that's one of the areas in which—one of the ways in which the airport impacts on the area surrounding it so we do want to make sure that the airport operates in a way that minimises the impact on neighbouring communities. We announced, for example, a couple of months ago, that the proposal and the draft environmental—draft environmental impact statement for a single point merge over Blaxland in the Blue Mountains that we would not be proceeding with that and so we will be directing the relevant authorities to come up with flight path planning with spreads the impact more evenly across communities.

So, these are all issues that the environmental impact statement process is designed to work through, to elicit comment from…

Wendy Harmer: [Interrupts] Sure, when is—can you give us a date when that EIS will be out?

Paul Fletcher: Well, it'll be in the—later this year and then if—[indistinct]…

Wendy Harmer: [Talks over] Well, yeah [laughs] time's getting away from us. It already is later this year so what are you saying? October or…

Paul Fletcher: [Interrupts] We're in the second half of the year, that's correct.

Wendy Harmer: Yeah, October or what are you thinking?

Paul Fletcher: Look, I mean, Wendy you make the point that there are a lot of steps in a project of this scale. The indicative commencement date for the airport is mid-2020s, but clearly we need to go through the environmental approval process. There's some complex commercial negotiations, the current owners of Kingsford Smith Airport have what is called a right of first refusal so there's a detailed process to go through with that. There's the ground transport connectivity, so there's $3.6 billion being spent under the Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan, so that's the new M12 motorway that will connect the M7 to the new airport, Bringelly Road, Northern Road is being widened to four lanes for its entire length. So, a very substantial ground transport program and then we…

Wendy Harmer: [Interrupts] Okay, well let's hear—yep, because I wanted to actually—to play what the Prime Minister said when he was here in the studio earlier this year and how he sees the focus for the airport and the rail which I think you may have just—have been about to get to.

Paul Fletcher: Indeed.

[Excerpt of interview]

Malcolm Turnbull: Well, as you know, we are committed to constructing the Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek. This is a huge project and it is one that will bring jobs and industry to Western Sydney but it needs to have very good transport links. We've already committed 2.9 billion together with $700 million from the State Government to ensure that there is a road network there. But it is plain that there will need to be more rail in Western Sydney and not just to the new airport.

Rail adds value, it reduces the congestion you were speaking about just a moment ago. The traffic forecasts for the airport tell us that there wouldn't be enough demand at the airport to justify a rail link until the 2040s but we believe we should be more ambitious and what we are doing is working with the State Government to see how we can bring the rail to the airport, add more rail to Western Sydney much sooner, ideally when the airport opens.

[End of excerpt]

Wendy Harmer: Yes and so we can see there that the Prime Minister is really keen to move this project along. Can I ask you Paul, one of the things that was interesting about this recent election, it was very much believed that the ALP would do badly in the western suburbs but actually that didn't transpire I guess. So what lessons are to be learned form that by the Coalition do you think? What's not happening for you in Western Sydney?

Paul Fletcher: Well I think that what the result underlines amongst other things is that it is very important that governments get on and do the things that they've committed to do so clearly with the result in Western Sydney, it']s more important than ever that we are focussed on delivering in Western Sydney and working closely with the Baird Government in doing that on projects like WestConnex which do offer such a significant benefit to people in Western and South-western Sydney and being able to get around other parts of…

Wendy Harmer: [Interrupts] So you would say that the… any sort of problem in Western Sydney was because you're not delivering WestConnex fast enough, not that people might be objecting to it?

Paul Fletcher: Well I think there's probably a number of factors but when it comes to WestConnex, clearly WestConnex offers significant benefits to Western and South-western Sydney. People will be able to get from Parramatta to Sydney airport for example saving about 40 minutes. So it's going to extend and widen the M4 and the M5, bring them closer in to the city and of course in the final stage, Stage 3, those there'll be a free-flowing motorway connection between Haberfield and St Peters to bring the whole thing together. So this is a very, very significant project. It is well-supported in Western Sydney. Obviously in the construction of any motorway, there are impacts on the directly affected communities, housing resumptions and so on and that is always a difficult process and we obviously try to work in a way that is as understanding and sensitive as possible, the direct responsibility for that sits with the New South Wales Government as the project proponent but obviously the Commonwealth works closely with the Baird Government, I work closely with my state counterpart Duncan Gay. Certainly WestConnex delivers significant benefits to Western Sydney, as does the Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan, the 3.6 billion supporting Western Sydney Airport and of course Western Sydney Airport itself and in terms of the rail, let me just mention that there's a joint scoping study between the New South Wales and the Commonwealth governments in relation to the rail needs of Western Sydney and [indistinct].

Wendy Harmer: [Talks over] Yes that's what the Prime Minister was in here announcing earlier in the year. But I guess then do you accept the idea that perhaps there has been some taking for granted of the people from Western Sydney? Didn't bring them along this last election, you have to put more work in?

Paul Fletcher: I think the way I'd put it is this, that Western Sydney is a very large and important part of Sydney, it's a rapidly growing part of Sydney with another 1 million people expected to live in Western Sydney over the next 20 years, so it is incumbent on the Federal Government as well as the State Government to be delivering the infrastructure that Western Sydney needs so that the people of Western Sydney have the connectivity that they need, the liveability and so on and things like Western Sydney Airport are important for a host of reasons, but one is by bringing more jobs into Western Sydney, that will increase the opportunity for people who live in Western Sydney to be able to work locally rather than having to… you travelling 20, 30, 40 kilometres to work and so Western Sydney Airport is important because of the jobs it will directly generate but sort of businesses it will attract and the jobs that they're likely to generate. I mean one of the terms that's used around the world is aerotropolis for an airport which then generates urban development and economic activity and we are interested in seeing if we can get some of this thinking applied to Western Sydney Airport to capture the economic benefits to get more jobs into Western Sydney and one of the benefits of that is reducing the jobs imbalance that exists at the moment, where a significant proportion of people in Western Sydney need to travel out of the region every day for work.

Wendy Harmer: Okay it's that old 30-minute city thing. Well look, thank you very much for speaking with us this morning, you are just about to go off and get the gong and go and see the Governor-General.

Paul Fletcher: That is right, it's a great honour.

Wendy Harmer: And have you got your family with you?

Paul Fletcher: My wife and son are here as well as my mum. It's her first opportunity to come along and so I know she's looking forward to it.

Wendy Harmer: Well I hope you have a great day and congratulations on your appointment.

Paul Fletcher: Thanks, thank you very much.

Wendy Harmer: Thanks for spending time with us this morning. That is the new Cabinet minister in charge of making Badgerys Creek happen, Paul Fletcher, he's the Minister for Urban Infrastructure and the Liberal MP for Bradfield.