Transcript—ABC AM with Michael Brissenden



19 October 2016

Topics: Turnbull Government's record infrastructure investment

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Starting with this $2.5 billion shortfall, why hasn't the promised money been spent?

PAUL FLETCHER: Look, let's be clear. The Turnbull Government is spending $50 billion on infrastructure between now and 2019/20 all around the country.  This year we will spend $9 billion, that's the budgeted figure of $9 billion 2016/17.  That's a record amount, more than was ever spent or budgeted for on an annual basis in the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd years.  Now of course, what happens every year is that there is some variation between what's budgeted and what's finally spent for a host of reason. Some projects get pushed out a bit. In some cases, it's due to savings, for example on the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing.

At this stage we are expecting savings between what was budgeted for and what was spent of nearly $150 million. Similarly, on a number of the Bruce Highway projects, we're getting significant savings.  Now in the crazy topsy-turvy world of Labor accounting, that's a bad thing but in our world that's a good thing.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Two and a half billion dollars, that's a lot of money not spent on infrastructure projects?

PAUL FLETCHER: The key point is there's a huge amount of money being spent all around the country. On the Bruce Highway for example, around $7 billion over the next few years, on the Pacific Highway. That'll be four lanes all the way between Sydney and the Queensland border by 2019/20.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Nonetheless, you're saying some of these projects have been delayed?

PAUL FLETCHER: Sure, there's been some delay. In some cases, that's a consequence of state government decisions because of course the Commonwealth provides the money to state governments and in some cases they run a little later.  But around the country, many billions of dollars being spent on infrastructure, in fact a record infrastructure spend.

In Sydney for example NorthConnex and WestConnex, in Melbourne the Tullamarine Freeway widening, in Adelaide the Northern Connector, in Perth we've provided over a billion dollars for the Perth freight link—so all around the country, many billions of dollars are being spent on infrastructure.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay, some still delayed. Can't you speed that process up? Why can't the Federal Government step in and say to the states we've got to speed this process up?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, look, there's a whole range of factors as to why some projects get, run a little later than was expected.  In some cases, projects, as I've said, have come in under budget so it's simplistic to say that simply because there is a variance between the final amount spent and what was budgeted for, there is some kind of issue.

In fact, in 2012/13 in the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd years there was around $6 billion budgeted, around $3.6 billion spent.  So, there are very significant variations that occur, there are significant variations that occur on a regular basis.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: What about rail? Let's look at rail because Labor says this year's budget shows nothing will be spent on rail in the last year of the forward estimates.

PAUL FLETCHER: And again, that's simply a wilful misreading of the facts. There is $1.7 billion…

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Isn't that what the figures show though?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well let me go through some of the figures with you if I could. There is $1.7 billion under the Asset Recycling Initiative going into the Sydney Metro Project, a rail project.  There is $490 million for the Forrestfield rail project in Perth that will connect to the airport and suburbs around the airport.  We've committed $857 million for the Melbourne Metro rail project.  During the election we announced over $40 million for the Flinders Link rail connection to connect Flinders University to the Adelaide or the Flinders medical centre to the Adelaide metropolitan rail network.

So all around the country there is money committed for inland rail, all around the country there is billions of dollars being spent on road and rail.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Is any of it going to be spent in the last year of the forward estimates, that's the question?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, what I'm running through with you is the very substantial funding commitments that are in the budget now.  And of course, that is a very, very substantial expenditure on both road and rail because again, I repeat the point, record amounts of money being spent on infrastructure by a Coalition Government. We're spending a lot; we're delivering a lot. It's very important.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well, Paul Fletcher, we'll leave it there. Thanks for joining us.

PAUL FLETCHER: Thanks Michael.