Transcript — Sky News live Newsday with Ashleigh Gillon

Interview

PFI029/2016

21 October 2016

Topics: Turnbull Government commitment to M1 Motorway, NSW Liberal Party

Ashleigh Gillon: Joining me now is the Minister for Urban Infrastructure, Paul Fletcher. Mr Fletcher, thank you for your time and thank you for waiting for those features to end. You are joining us from Brisbane, where you've made an announcement about the M1 this morning. I am going to look at that in a moment. First, though, I'm keen for your thoughts on this row we've seen erupt this week between the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott. Was it inevitable, do you think, that we would see this sort of blow up? Does it highlight that it's never a good idea for former Prime Ministers to stay on in the Parliament, because they are always going to be a distraction for the Government?

Paul Fletcher: Well Ashleigh, good to be with you. I am here in Brisbane where I've just made an announcement with the Queensland Roads Minister Mark Bailey in relation to the M1, where we've agreed to proceed to a procurement process in relation to two M1 projects where we announced funding during the election campaign, the Mudgeeraba to Varsity Lake upgrade and the Gateway merge. There are some disagreements between the Queensland Government and the Commonwealth Government on the funding share, but we've decided to focus on where we can reach agreement, and so today what we've done is announced we're going to proceed to the next stage of getting firm prices on these two projects. So look, that's been a constructive meeting, and certainly I'm pleased to be here in Brisbane to do that. Now look, in relation to your question, I think -

Ashleigh Gillon: Okay. Well, look, while you've brought that up, let's just stick on that then, because I was going to ask you about that and we might as well stick with it. The Government there in Queensland has been arguing for an 80/20 funding split as is the case, they argue, in New South Wales. Why is there being- playing such hard ball on this? Is it because we're seeing a Labor Government that you're dealing with in Queensland? Is that the big difference? Why hasn't the Federal Government been able to stump up more cash for this project? And to give our viewers some background, we're talking about the M1, which is the main road between Brisbane and the Gold Coast. It's a road that we see accident after accident. The traffic is horrendous there. It's something that voters in Queensland are crying out for help on. Why can't you agree on the firm funding split? Isn't that a pretty crucial part of the argument?

Paul Fletcher: Well look, during the election campaign, the Turnbull Government announced a funding commitment of $110 million for what's called the Mudgeeraba to Varsity Lakes widening of the M1, and I do want to acknowledge the work of Karen Andrews, the Member for McPherson, the Liberal National Party Member for McPherson, in securing that funding, and Bert van Manen, the Liberal Party Member for Forde, secured funding of $105 million for the Gateway merge. So that's where the M1 merges with the Gateway motorway. So two very important projects. We've provided- we've offered that funding on a 50-50 basis, consistent with the way that funding has previously been provided.

But the purpose of today's announcement- I met with Queensland Minister, Roads Minister Mark Bailey. We decided jointly that it would be constructive to focus on the areas where we can agree. We'll put to one side for the moment the areas where we have different positions. What we've decided to proceed to do is to go a- go to market on both of these projects to get pricing from the market. That'll take some months. It will take longer in the case of the Mudgeeraba to Varsity Lakes project, because the design is a little less advanced in relation to the Gateway merge. But one of the reasons for doing that is that we are seeing around the country on major infrastructure projects and also in Queensland that conditions in the construction sector are very, very competitive at the moment, and it's not uncommon at the moment that the pricing that comes back from the market is significantly lower than the amount that had initially been budgeted by governments. Now, what we've decided to do is to go to market and test whether that'll be the case here, because if it does turn out to be the case, that'll make our collective job a little easier.

So that's really what I was announcing today with Minister Bailey. Yes, there are disagreements or different positions between the Queensland Government and the Commonwealth Government on the funding share, but what we've decided today to do is focus on the areas of agreement. We had a constructive meeting, a constructive discussion, and we have agreed to proceed, to go to a- to go to market, to ask the construction sector- companies in the construction sector to participate in the process to come through with prices.

Ashleigh Gillon: Alright. Well, it looks like we're going to have to watch that space in terms of the funding split that you end up landing on with the Queensland Government. Let's return to my first question. It is unprecedented, isn't it, the scene we saw this week with a former Prime Minister and current Prime Minister essentially clashing in such a public way on the floor of the Parliament. Mr Turnbull calling out Tony Abbott, insisting that his office did know about this guns-for-votes deal that was being offered to Senator Leyonhjelm. The Prime Minister today this morning, he opted not to refute a suggestion that Tony Abbott is now undermining him. We're now seeing open tension between the two, aren't we?

Paul Fletcher: Well look, let's be clear in relation to the Adler shotgun issue. As Justice Minister Michael Keenan and the Prime Minister told the Parliament this week, it was the Commonwealth Government which took a decision to suspend the import- to ban the import of these Adler shotguns while pending a decision by State and Territory Police and Justice Ministers on their classification.

So thanks to action by the Abbott Government, continued by the Turnbull Government, what has happened is that this shotgun cannot be imported into Australia and that follows, as the House was told during the week, intelligence advice about concerns that a significant volume of these shotguns were expected to come into the country.

Now, as Tony Abbott, the Member for Warringah, pointed out to the House yesterday, it was a pretty transparent exercise by the Labor Party to bring up this issue to try and distract attention from the question of the corruption and criminality and thuggery that we see from unions like the CFMEU, and this is a problem that we are taking action to address, with legislation on the Australian Building and Construction Commission, re-establishing that organisation which operated under the Howard Government and which was effective in reducing the- restoring the rule of law on building sites, improving productivity in the very important construction centre. We've also introduced the Registered Organisations Bill. So this is a bill that would effectively require union officials to comply with much the same set of duties as company directors are required to meet on behalf of shareholders. So duties in relation to handling their members' money. So these are two very important pieces of legislation. They've gone through the House of Representatives not for the first time, but because of course these were two critical pieces of legislation that we campaigned on during the 2016 election campaign, and indeed we are doing this because of the importance of restoring the rule of law on building sites and imposing a requirement in relation to union officials in the interests of union members. No honest union official should have any [indistinct]. Labor is -

Ashleigh Gillon: That is a point that has been well made, of course. Our viewers completely understand this ABCC debate. We have been reporting on it for a long time. What is also, though, effective as a distraction – we've seen this issue today – the handling of this by the Turnbull Government has been pretty disastrous for the Liberals this week. My colleague Kieran Gilbert reported this morning that several Liberal sources told him that Tony Abbott agreed to clarify his position on the gun deal before Question Time yesterday, but he didn't. Surely this whole saga shows that Tony Abbott is reneging on his pledge not to snipe from the sidelines, and this is important, because it is distracting from the Government's agenda.

Paul Fletcher: Well, Ashleigh, I'll leave the commentary to you. I think what this week shows is that the Turnbull Government is getting on with the job of seeking to implement our election commitments, and a very important election commitment – indeed, a double dissolution trigger – is to reintroduce and to seek t  pass the Australian Building- Australian Building Construction Commission legislation and the Registered Organisations legislation. So, that's what we've been focused on this week.

Ashleigh Gillon: Well, why do you think that Mr Abbott is still in the Parliament? Why did he make this week so difficult for Mr Turnbull? Is it part of a campaign to return as leader?

Paul Fletcher: Look, you can reach whatever characterisations or interpretations that you want to, what I'm focused on and what the Turnbull Government is focused on is delivering on our election commitments. I mean, let's be clear, it is absolutely critical that the rule of law should prevail on building sites. We saw a very troubling video emerge this week of the sort of thuggery and intimidation which is all too common from CFMEU officials and shop stewards, threatening to close down a building site, on a Commonwealth Games site, in Queensland and it is so important that we restore the rule of law.

Construction is absolutely critical to our economy. It's certainly critical from the point of view of building infrastructure around the country that we don't allow the CFMEU to operate outside the law. There are over 100 officials of this union who are before the courts around Australia. So, that is what the Turnbull Government -

Ashleigh Gillon: Okay, well I think you've made your point on that, responding to a question that I didn't actually ask you. Let's look at something that does relate to your home state, the New South Wales Liberal Party Conference is underway tomorrow. You'll, no doubt, be attending that meeting. The Prime Minister has now backed more grassroots involvement in terms of party pre-selections. It's been reported though that you personally, you are against immediate reform which would see a plebiscite process in place. Is that correct and if so why is that your position?

Paul Fletcher: Look, there is work underway already with a motion that passed the State Council which is the governing body of the Liberal party last year, to introduce more participation in both the pre-selection process, including a trial of plebiscites to increase the number of people who participate in pre-selection panels and so on. The Prime Minister together with Premier Baird have indicated their support for increasing participation of members of the party in all of our processes. That's certainly a direction to be welcomed. I think we're going to have a very constructive discussion tomorrow. There's several hundred people who are members of State Council, democratically elected and it is very important that we, as a party, are focused on making ourselves as accessible as possible, becoming – attracting as many members of the community as we can.

These are all very important issues and so I certainly welcome the fact that we will have the opportunity at our State Council tomorrow in New South Wales to explore these issues.

Ashleigh Gillon: Sure, but just to clarify, is it your position that the trial should go ahead and that the party shouldn't jump immediately to just implementing that plebiscite plan. One fear about the plebiscite plan is that some have suggested it could lead to branch stacking within the party. Is that one of your key concerns with it?

Paul Fletcher: Oh look, I don't want to get into the details and the weeds here and I – you know, I think what Australians expect their politicians to be doing is focusing on issues of importance to them like, for example, seeking to resolve congestion and improve capacity on the M1. That's really what I'm focused on as Minister for Urban Infrastructure.

Ashleigh Gillon: Sure. It is, though, pretty important, though, to surely voters in your electorate as to how they elect sitting members, how they actually get a say in terms of the Liberal Party. Surely the issue of giving more – members more say and therefore, hopefully, getting more members actually involved in the party is a pretty key issue for the Liberal Party and therefore the Government.

Paul Fletcher: And look, certainly, both the Premier and the Prime Minister, Premier of New South Wales, Mike Baird, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull have indicated their support for a process to increase participation. I welcome that. I think it's important that we have a discussion of that tomorrow. I think there is some strong – there's a process here that we can carry forward, so I certainly welcome the discussion that will be occurring tomorrow. I look forward to that. I don't want to pre-judge it but I certainly look forward to that discussion that will be happening tomorrow.

Ashleigh Gillon: Paul Fletcher, can I just though try once again to just clarify your position on whether or not this plebiscite trial should go ahead as was voted on last year or if you would like to see immediate reform in that area?

Paul Fletcher: Can I just say – the simple point I'm making is that the party is already committed to a trial of plebiscites and unless and until there's change of the party's constitution, that will go ahead. I support that. Tomorrow's discussion will be about looking at these issues and I certainly welcome that discussion. I'm not in a position to pre-judge the outcome of it but I certainly welcome the leadership that Prime Minister Turnbull and Premier Baird have shown on this issue. I think that will certainly help frame a constructive discussion tomorrow.

Ashleigh Gillon: Okay. Well, we will bring you coverage of that conference tomorrow. The Prime Minister's due to speak mid-morning and we'll have that for you live on Weekend Live tomorrow. Stay with us for that. Paul Fletcher, appreciate your time. Thank you.

Paul Fletcher: Thanks very much