ABC Radio Melbourne Mornings
22 March 2018
Topics: Federal infrastructure funding to Victoria, South African farmers, Facebook data breach
Jon Faine: Even Matthew Guy concedes that Victoria’s not getting its fair share of infrastructure. The figures that I’ve been supplied by the Victorian Government say that New South Wales: $411 per capita on infrastructure; Victorians: $105. What’s going on?
Paul Fletcher: Well, if you look at the total amount that’s being spent on Commonwealth funding for infrastructure in Victoria, 2013-14 to 2020-21, that’s $8.5 billion. Now, that includes $3 billion for East West Link. That’s money that…
Jon Faine: Which the Victorian Government won’t build. They were elected on a promise not to build it. Do you respect that?
Paul Fletcher: But there is money there that’s available for any Victorian Government that wants to provide it.
Jon Faine: For that project, which the Victorian people voted on.
Paul Fletcher: The point I’d make is that there are often disputes between the Commonwealth Government and state governments about infrastructure projects. We provide our funding for specific projects. We don’t provide a general bucket and say spend the money as you would choose. In fact, this is what Anthony Albanese, then-Labor federal infrastructure minister, said in 2011—quote—“we have a right to determine where our funding is allocated. What the Commonwealth doesn’t do is say: here’s a pot of money, use it however you want”. So the key point here is that what we want to do is work with the Andrews Government to agree the projects that will come up, remembering there are significant lead times in infrastructure, and that’s why, for example, in the 2016 election, we proposed $15 million towards planning for North East Link, and our logic was: if we’re involved in the planning, it then becomes much easier for us to then commit substantial funding.
Jon Faine: It’s even causing tensions, as I said, within the Liberal Party. Here’s Matthew Guy.
Matthew Guy: Victoria has been a donor state for far too long. We’ve been a net contributor to every other state since Federation.
Jon Faine: So even within Liberal circles now they recognise they have to start, in a way, complaining to their Liberal federal counterparts, or they’re dead meat at the state election in November.
Paul Fletcher: Well, I understood Mr Guy’s comments to be about GST, and look, I understand that state leaders will always want to make the case for their state. That’s their job. On the GST, as you know, there’s a review underway and the final report will come out in May, so I’ll leave it with the Prime Minister and the Treasurer to comment in relation to that. In relation to infrastructure, the point I’d make in Victoria is a couple of things. Firstly, we have provided significant funding. We’ve provided $1.5 billion in 2016 for a whole range of projects, including $500 million towards the Monash Stage 2. Now, it’s taken…
Jon Faine: No one’s saying you don’t give anything. The point is you don’t give nearly as much. New South Wales gets a billion a year more. The Prime Minister’s from New South Wales; the Deputy Prime Minister’s from New South Wales; the Treasurer’s from New South Wales. You’re the Infrastructure Minister; you’re from New South Wales. New South Wales is a billion a year, every year, up on Victoria, per capita. Four times per head of population of federal funds.
Paul Fletcher: So the first point I’d make is the Victorian Government, the Andrews Government has taken too long to put to work the money that we have provided. So we provided in April 2016 $500 million towards Stage 2 of Monash. It took until last weekend for the Andrews Government to go out and announce that Stage 2 was proceeding. We’re pleased they did that. It’s a shame they didn’t tell us in advance, but we will get on and assess the business case as quickly as possible so that money can get to work. But the next thing I’d say is there is a lead time with infrastructure projects, and the best way to work is if the Commonwealth Government and the State Government are working together so that we can plan, so that when we get the plan, we are then well-placed to provide funding, because it actually…
Jon Faine: Surely, the $3 billion that you and your colleagues keep tying up for the abandoned East West Tunnel has to be redeployed. Full stop. Surely.
Paul Fletcher: And so, the approach we’re taking is we’re seeking to work with the Andrews Government on long-term planning of projects. That’s why we committed $30 million for Melbourne Airport Rail Link in the last budget, and I’m pleased to say that we are now working together towards planning for Melbourne Airport Rail Link…
Jon Faine: Thirty-million versus 3 billion, what’s the…
Paul Fletcher: My point is, Jon, that what we need to do is first do the planning work, because these are multi-billion dollar projects, we need to make sure that there is an alignment as to what the project is. When the Andrews Government came in and cancelled an existing multi-billion project, that’s a hole that takes a while to fix. Now…
Jon Faine: It’s nearly three years now.
Paul Fletcher:…What we are wanting to do is identify the next round of projects, that’s why we allocated funding money for North East Link, that’s why we allocated funding money for Melbourne Airport Rail Link. And I’m also pleased…
Jon Faine: Sure. But I still don’t have an answer to that one point: there’s $3 billion earmarked for Victoria tied up in a- it’s in a no go zone, it’s catch-22. You guys keep saying it’s for a project that the State Government insists they’re not going to build. Why can’t you—with the stroke of a pen—reallocate that money to one of the other—and there are any number of them—one of the other projects underway in Victoria?
Paul Fletcher: Because we support East West Link, and we want that project to proceed. And the money is available for any government that wants to proceed with it…
Jon Faine: Do you recognise the vote of the people of Victoria?
Paul Fletcher: Can I just make the point? That’s not a Victorian only issue; we’ve taken exactly the same approach with a project called Perth Freight Link in Western Australia. But separately, we are engaging on other projects. So, just two weeks ago my colleague Michael McCormack, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, joined with Jacinta Allan, the Victorian minister, to commit an extra $135 million towards North East Rail, taking the total Commonwealth contribution for Victorian regional rail to now over $1.5 billion. And I’m very pleased, as is Michael McCormack, that we were able to reach agreement with that…
Jon Faine: Sure, that’s great.
Paul Fletcher:…And that we’ve reached agreement on Inland Rail…
Jon Faine: So, how long does the $3 billion on East West…
Paul Fletcher: Jon, can I make one other point?
Jon Faine:…How long does it stay locked away?
Paul Fletcher: That money is available to any Victorian government that wants to proceed with that project.
Jon Faine: So, you’re playing with that Victorian money to help Matthew Guy to the next state election?
Paul Fletcher: Not at all. What we are doing…
Jon Faine: Well, what else could you possibly- what was the reason for leaving it frozen?
Paul Fletcher: What we are doing is saying as a national government, as a federal government, when we invest billions of dollars of Commonwealth taxpayers’ money, we do that having a regard to policy priorities to make our cities work more effectively, and it’s our judgement that there is a need for East West Link to significantly reduce congestion, improve traffic moving around Melbourne, and that’s why the Federal Coalition, Liberal MPs in Melbourne, have been making the case for East West Link, as has the Victorian Opposition.
Jon Faine: So, you’re going to keep—there’s this fundamental disconnect, you and your colleagues—whether state or federal—are continuing to argue for a project that the people voted on. Tony Abbott said the last state election in Victoria was a referendum on East West. It was a referendum in Tony Abbott’s mind.
Paul Fletcher: And, Jon, we’re able to do two things at the same time. We strongly support East West Link; the funding is available there for any Victorian government that wishes to proceed with it. We’re also working and ready to work with the Andrews Government on other projects, and working on the long-term planning. But it is important that the Andrews Government sits down and works with us, because it is much easier for us to provide the funding for these substantial projects if we’ve been involved in the planning. And that’s why, for example, with something like North East Link, it’s disappointing that the Andrews Government did not want to involve us in the planning.
Now, on your show late last year, Mr Andrews—when he announced the plan for North East Link—said that he hoped that the Federal Government would provide funding. You know, we’ve not received any documentation on that, Jon. So, I would say to the Andrews Government: give us the documentation so that we can then decide whether we’re going to have an involvement.
So, the Turnbull Government stands ready to invest in infrastructure in Victoria and in Melbourne, building on what we’re already investing in. We need to engage and we need the Victorian Government to engage with us to meet to work with our principles, such as needing business cases to be assessed by Infrastructure Australia. Every other state and territory government manages to do it; it’s puzzling that the Andrews Government seems to find it more difficult.
Jon Faine: I’ll put it to Mr Pallas, the Treasurer who’s listening and will join me in just a moment. Couple of other quick things before we go to the State Treasurer. Should Australia offer sanctuary to white South African farmers, as Peter Dutton says?
Paul Fletcher: Well, can I say, I have a lot of Australians of South African background in my electorate, in areas like St. Ives and others. They are fantastic Australians, they make a terrific contribution. Now, what Mr Dutton has been saying, of course, is that we have a significant humanitarian visa intake every year—a bit over 18,000 I believe—and that is assessed on the merits of individual cases. Now, he’s making the point that in his judgement, and on the information available to him, there are South African farmers who are facing threats of violence…
Jon Faine: Sure. Without going back over the whole history, what does Paul Fletcher think: yes or no?
Paul Fletcher: Well, what I think is that all of the applicants for humanitarian visas around the world, who apply for humanitarian visas in Australia, should be considered on their merits.
Jon Faine: So, we should be colour blind in processing these applications?
Paul Fletcher: We should consider them on their merits.
Jon Faine: So, you’re disagreeing with Peter Dutton, who said: white farmers should be given priority?
Paul Fletcher: No. What I’m saying is we have a generous humanitarian visa scheme, it’s…
Jon Faine: Well, if it’s colour blind, then whether they’re white or whether they’re green is irrelevant. Peter Dutton says it’s relevant; you’re saying we should not take into account their colour.
Paul Fletcher: When Peter Dutton speaks about the fact that we have a group of people—on the evidence available to us—who are facing violence and persecution, then those are people who should be able to be considered through our process, as any other group of people who are facing violence and persecution should be. That’s why we have an assessment of humanitarian visas based on the merits.
Jon Faine: Very briefly, Mark Zuckerberg, this morning, from Facebook has said sorry about the data breach. Do you trust Facebook?
Paul Fletcher: Having been involved in a number of these issues - I did a lot of work when I was parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Communications, then Malcolm Turnbull—on the question of online safety for children, working with organisations like Facebook. I think there’s no doubt that they’ve grown very rapidly, and an understanding of their social obligations has come somewhat behind their growth. So, Minister Mitch Fifield has said that he will be asking the eSafety Commissioner—which is the body that the Turnbull Government has established—to give him some advice in relation to these privacy issues.
Jon Faine: Do you trust Facebook?
Paul Fletcher: Well, I think as the expression goes: you need to be careful online. If you’re not sure what the product is, the product is probably you. So, you do need to recognise that you’re providing a lot of your personal data, and I’d encourage everybody to think about that, and have a cautious attitude to self-preservation on this.
Jon Faine: Thank you for your time this morning on all of those issues, and welcome to Melbourne. Paul Fletcher, Federal Minister in the Turnbull Government for Urban Infrastructure.