ABC Radio Melbourne, Mornings with Jon Faine



07 May 2018

Subjects: pre-Budget infrastructure announcements for Victoria

Jon Faine: Tomorrow evening, Scott Morrison, the federal Treasurer in Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition Government gets to his feet and goes through the annual ritual of providing us with the Commonwealth Budget. As is also part of the ritual, much of it is being pre-leaked, including the news this morning that in the Federal Budget will be significant funds allocated to catch up on a deficit of infrastructure investment in Victoria.

Paul Fletcher is the Minister in the Turnbull Government for Urban Infrastructure and Cities. He’s joined us several times in the last few months as Victoria has loudly complained at missing out.

Paul Fletcher, good morning to you.

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

Jon Faine: Some Victorian lollies in the Budget, we understand. Exactly what?

Paul Fletcher: Well, we’re committing some $7.8 billion to infrastructure in Melbourne and Victoria. So there’s up to $5 billion for Melbourne Airport rail link; $1.75 billion for North East Link. So that’s really the missing link in the M80 Ring Road, and so we’re announcing a substantial funding commitment towards that project; $475 million for a rail connection to the Monash Precinct. It’s so important that our major universities, which are also hubs for employment, have the best possible public transport connectivity. We’re announcing $132 million for the Princes Highway East; $50 million in additional funding for the Geelong rail line. So, in total, some $7.8 billion of funding commitments for Melbourne and for Victoria for vital infrastructure projects over coming years. And so this is about making sure that we are making the investments that will help respond to and attack congestion; making sure that we’re keeping our regions connected; making sure that Melbourne continues to function efficiently, people can get to and from work quickly, tradies can move around quickly, and people can get to employment hubs.

Jon Faine: And several marginal seats the Government is desperate to hold may well be buttressed by these announcements—that’s for the people to decide. Can we go through in some detail? Three of these are really very, very important: Airport rail link, the Ring Road completion and the railway line out to Monash campus are really significant for Melbourne, and it’s with some absolute relief that we hear this news. Can we go through them one by one? Airport rail link: does the Commonwealth have a preferred route? Because the prospects are still floating around of either a light rail, a monorail or a heavy rail link. Do you have a preferred option?

Paul Fletcher: As you know, there’s a business case process underway with the Commonwealth Government working with the Victorian Government, and so we want to go through that process and identify a route out of that process. There’s several routes under consideration, and as you know, some of the issues are how much the route is above ground, how much is in a tunnel; how much of it uses existing rail, how much of it is new; and there are also technology issues. There’s also, I guess, the issue of the number of stations between the airport and the city, and …

Jon Faine: And where they are. But you’re committed to heavy rail? Is that what you’re telling us on the Commonwealth’s behalf?

Paul Fletcher: Yes, that’s right. That’s right, yes.

Jon Faine: You’re not interested in a sky rail, light rail, monorail option over the existing freeway corridor?

Paul Fletcher: Well, the business case process is looking at a range of options, but certainly the funding that we’ve committed—up to $5 billion; that’s a very substantial amount of money—that is predicated on the capital cost of heavy rail. Look, heavy rail is very, very expensive—there’s no two ways about it. At the same time, heavy rail can move up to 50,000 people an hour; a lane of a freeway can move about 2000 people an hour. So as our cities get larger, as they get more populated, rail has some very significant benefits in terms of the capacity to move people. Now, of course, the airport is a really vital transport node. It’s vital to exporting Victorian and Australian produce to the world; it’s vital to inbound tourism, and of course, airports are a hub for economic activity. So, by having a heavy rail connection from the city to the airport, we provide for the next stage of the growth of the airport. Because of good planning in the 1960s, Melbourne Airport has lots of growth capacity—they’re looking at a potential new runway at the moment—and so the heavy rail connection helps buttress the next stage of the growth of Melbourne Airport, and it also helps boost the areas it’ll run through.

Jon Faine: Sure. Do you want to connect it to regional rail? Is it part and parcel of this plan to integrate it with the growth of regional rail?

Paul Fletcher: And again, that’s one of the questions that’s being looked at through the business case process. Clearly, rail- it could connect going north or west of the airport, and that may well be a sensible thing to do. We’re looking at all of that through the business case process.

Jon Faine: Alright. We have two other big projects, so very quickly, to move onto the next, in monetary terms: $1.75 billion for the North East Link, and yet the Victorian Liberal colleagues of yours in the Opposition here say their priority is not to build that, but in fact to build and to finish the project that the Victorian public voted against at the last election, which is a tunnel through the inner north: the extension of the Eastern Freeway.

Paul Fletcher: Well, let’s be clear, Jon. As you and I have discussed on a number of occasions, the Turnbull Government has a long-standing commitment to provide up to $3 billion towards the East West Link to any Victorian government that wants to build it. So, we absolutely stand by that commitment. What we are adding in tomorrow night’s budget, is a commitment of $1.75 billion towards the North East Link. So, this is the missing link in the M80 Ring Road. I’ve certainly had the chance to visit a number of the roads in that part of Melbourne which are today used by heavy traffic, lots of heavy trucks. I was there with Kevin Andrews, who holds one of the local electorates there, visiting and having a look.

Jon Faine: Sure, it’s a nightmare, it needs to be built. The question is: is the Victorian Liberal Party in lockstep with the Federal Liberal Party, because they’re saying, on the face of it, their priorities are different?

Paul Fletcher: Well, as a federal government, we’re clearly setting out a set of priorities in Melbourne and Victoria. And indeed, we’re doing this all around Australia. It’s a $24.5 billion set of infrastructure commitments.

Jon Faine: Sure. Matthew Guy, last week on this program said he preferred some arterial road construction instead of the North East Link, and he was committed to doing the tunnel. You’re now saying you’re providing $1.75 billion to do the North East Link, regardless.

Paul Fletcher: And decisions about infrastructure projects depend upon a number of factors, including the funding that’s available. In terms of the approach that Matthew Guy and the State Liberal team take, obviously what they’ll be determined to do is get the best outcome for Melbourne. They’ve been very clear on East West Link. And we’re very clear about being ready to work with them on East West Link, and there’s $3 billion available to do that. We’re also committing $1.75 billion towards North East Link.

Jon Faine: Okay. And again, it needs to be built, it’s quite clear, and in fact in due course they’re probably all going to be build. Monash Rail: $475 million to connect Caulfield Station or Caulfield Precinct out to Monash University and beyond. Is this heavy rail, light rail; have you got a preferred option there? Because the State Government clearly prefer light rail for this: they don’t want to add another heavy rail train line.

Paul Fletcher: Our view is that it makes a lot of sense for our largest universities, particularly ones like Monash, which are in the corner of an employment precinct, and an employment precinct that is growing and growing strongly, as indeed is the university itself. It makes sense to have a heavy rail connection. Certainly if you look at what’s happened in Sydney with Macquarie Park and Macquarie University, the growth that has occurred there since heavy rail has been connected about 10 years ago now has been very, very substantial, and we would expect a similar thing to happen.

Now look, what needs to happen is we need to go through a detailed business case process. As you rightly say, the State Government has suggested- or has proposed a business case looking at light rail. We want to look more broadly than that and we’re also making very substantial funding commitment. Our view is the amount that we’re committing would be sufficient if there was 50/50 funding to have a heavy rail from Huntingdale to the campus, and that could be the first stage of a line ultimately out to Rowville. As you know, Rowville rail has been in the plans for many years. But let’s work to the detail: we are committing sufficient funding that we believe this would support a heavy rail solution.

Jon Faine: It’s almost like a spur line off the Dandenong line; it’s kind of a bit weird because you can’t add more trains into the Dandenong line and then into the loop, it’s virtually—I mean, that’s beyond capacity.

Paul Fletcher: Look, let’s work through all of the details, and we have done some fairly detailed work on this. The key point is we’re making a very substantial $475 million commitment towards a rail connection to the Monash Precinct, reflecting the size of Monash, the very substantial growth, the fact that people travel to Monash from all around Melbourne and beyond.

Jon Faine: Oh yes, it’s the biggest employment hub outside of the CBD now.

Paul Fletcher: Exactly. And that’s exactly the same phenomenon we’ve got with, for example, Macquarie Park in Sydney. The way our cities are developing, major research universities and the employment precincts around them are absolutely vital and they are going to be growing strongly. That’s why we’ve made this major funding commitment. We need to work through the details, obviously, in the business case process. But we’ve provided sufficient funding that we believe that heavy rail is a very viable option here, and of course, heavy rail does have great capacity advantages: timing advantages in terms of how long the trip takes; frequency advantages over light rail, but let’s work to the details and the business case. The key point is a $475 million commitment for a rail connection to the Monash Precinct.

Jon Faine: Well, I think I’m speaking on behalf of many of the people listening—let’s hear from them, 1300 222 774—but I think I can say: at last, at last, and thank goodness. Minister, you’ve been generous with your time. Thank you indeed.

Paul Fletcher: Thanks, Jon.