ABC Radio Brisbane—Drive with Steve Austin
19 April 2018
Topics: M1 upgrades, Cross River Rail, transport projects in Queensland
Steve Austin: Well, today in Brisbane there was a conference on the future of suburbia and the first ever Minister for Cities in Australia, Paul Fletcher, was one of their keynote speakers. Paul Fletcher argued that public transport was important to the Turnbull Government and he highlighted, as Minister, that a train line can move up to 50,000 people an hour, compared to a freeway lane at 2,500 people per hour. I spoke to Paul Fletcher, the Federal Minister for Urban Infrastructure and Cities, earlier on this afternoon and asked him, that if the Turnbull Government was so committed to public transport, why have they not put up any money for Cross River Rail. This is that interview.
Paul Fletcher: Now, the Turnbull Government has a record infrastructure spend around the country. We're spending around $50 billion between 2013/14 and 2020/21. Just last week, for example, we announced a new $1 billion funding commitment for two projects on the M1 corridor between Brisbane and the Gold Coast at Varsity Lakes to Tugun and Eight Mile Plains to Daisy Hill. And around the country, we are committing very significant investment to our cities so that the cities can continue to function efficiently and continue to be very pleasant places to live, places that are envied by people all around the world.
Steve Austin: If what you say is true, why has your Government not put up any money at all for the State Government's key priority infrastructure program, the Cross River Rail project?
Paul Fletcher: Well, we're investing a lot of money in Queensland, including- in fact, in total $13.8 billion in 2013/14 to 2020/21 and that's across a mix of road and rail projects. For example, the Moreton Bay rail line, we put over $500 million into that—$570 million, and of course that opened last year.
Steve Austin: In other words, that's old news. That hasn't addressed the issue of Cross River Rail.
Paul Fletcher: Well, Gold Coast light rail, we invested in stage two of that, and of course a whole range of-
Steve Austin: And that's running; that's also old news. So, I'll come back to my question: why have you done nothing about the State Government's key project of Cross River Rail?
Paul Fletcher: Well, look, our position in relation to Cross River Rail is well known, that we received advice from Infrastructure Australia—which is the Commonwealth Government's independent advisory body on infrastructure—which assessed the business case for Cross River Rail and essentially advised the Commonwealth Government that this is not yet the time where the benefits of investing in that project justify the costs. One of the key reasons for that was the Queensland Government, quite rightly, is putting in place a new signalling system on the railway network; that will increase the capacity on the network. And one of the other reasons that Infrastructure Australia gave us that advice was because of the rate of population growth and its assessment of the benefits.
So, there's certainly no question that some time in the future that project will make sense, but of course, as we allocate tax payers' funds here in Queensland and around the country, what we need to do is allocate that money to the areas where it will have the highest and best impact, and in doing so we do look to the expert advice that we receive from Infrastructure Australia.
Steve Austin: In your speech today you said that the Turnbull Government has a strong focus on public transport and you spoke about the fast rail connection between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. What did Infrastructure Australia say about that rail project?
Paul Fletcher: Well, where we are on that one is that the faster rail initiative is a $20 million commitment made by the Turnbull Government in last year's Budget where we said we would allocate $20 million to co-invest in up to three business cases, chosen through a competitive selection process around the country. We had over 20 nominations and we chose three. Now, one of those is a business case to be developed for a faster rail between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast, so we'll be providing some funding for that business case; that will probably take about a year to develop and that will help us determine whether there's a project there that is worthy of more substantial funding.
The logic behind-
Steve Austin: Did Infrastructure Australia rate it at all? Is it even on their radar?
Paul Fletcher: Well, no, because we're at an earlier stage in that we're preparing a business case, and what happens is Infrastructure Australia's assessment comes at the time that a business case has been prepared and it then goes to Infrastructure Australia.
Steve Austin: Here's what frustrates my listeners—here's where I'm leading with this: what frustrates my listeners is that there's seemingly an inability between state and federal governments—both of which are paid for by the tax payer—unable to coordinate their work and unable to communicate with each other. So, you're talking about a faster rail connection between the Sunshine Coast and spending money on it, the State Government's talking about a Cross River Rail project and spending money on it, and it looks like the two of you are not getting together to coordinate your plans. And that is the biggest irritation for my listener.
Paul Fletcher: Well, the role of Infrastructure Australia is to develop an Infrastructure Priority List, which certainly guides the Commonwealth in how we allocate funding and of course, state governments are asked to come forward every year and put forward proposals to go onto the Infrastructure Priority List. Now, in relation to the faster rail proposal, Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast, we're at an early stage here. This is about developing a business case to see whether there is something here that would be worth proceeding with.
The basic idea is that, in Australia, a lot of our rail is in corridors and on routes that have been there for a hundred years or more, and we're interested in seeing whether we can improve the travel times on rail journeys between a city and the surrounding regional area, in turn making it easier for people who might want to live in a regional area and have access to the deeper jobs markets in capital cities. So, we are at an early stage on that work, but it is, I think, money well spent because it lets us investigate this possibility to see whether it could turn into a substantial project that would be worthy of substantial project funding.
Steve Austin: My guest is Paul Fletcher. Paul Fletcher is in Brisbane for a summit today; he's the Minister for Urban Infrastructure and Cities. This is ABC Radio Brisbane, Steve Austin's my name.
Paul Fletcher, you reminded people at the event today here in Brisbane that you've given $5 billion for the Melbourne Airport Rail Link. But despite conceding that the project will be viable, you haven't given a cent for the Cross River Rail project even though you admit that it'll probably happen at some stage.
Paul Fletcher: Well, it comes down to the question of what is the right stage to invest in projects. And again, I make the point that the advice that was given to the Commonwealth Government by Infrastructure Australia was that the costs were not justified by the benefits. So, that was the assessment they provided. But I make the point that-
Steve Austin: So, let me interrupt that. If what you say is true and you've got the advice of Infrastructure Australia and Jackie Trad, our Treasurer, has said Queensland's going it alone, what you're telling me is that Queensland's about to burn, for no good reason, millions if not billions of taxpayer cash, because Infrastructure Australia have said it's not a priority yet.
Paul Fletcher: Well, what I'm saying is that Infrastructure Australia provides advice to the Commonwealth Government as to how we allocate the tax payers' money that we are custodians of-
Steve Austin: Paul Fletcher, Minister for Urban Infrastructure and Cities, Sydney
I've got to tell you, I feel like I'm in an episode of Utopia. It's still- tax payers are paying for both state and federal government and you're not talking to each other and you're not coordinating your efforts.
Paul Fletcher: Well, Steve, the premise that we don't talk to each other is not right. Just this morning, I was in a meeting with Minister Mark Bailey where we had a very constructive discussion in relation to the billion dollars of M1 funding that we announced last week. We agreed that the next step is for the Queensland Government to proceed to two business cases on the Varsity Lakes to Tugun project and on the Eight Mile Plains to Daisy Hill project. Now, there are from time to time differences of view between a Commonwealth government and a state government, be it Queensland or any other state; that's not necessarily a surprising thing.
What is important is that we have high quality, independent advice provided to the Commonwealth by Infrastructure Australia—obviously the Queensland Government has Building Queensland, other state governments have their own independent infrastructure advisory bodies—and it's important that we have a fact-based process of working out which are the projects which should be supported, bearing in mind that there is a strong need for infrastructure all around the country. The Turnbull Government's certainly spending large amounts—$13.8 billion in Queensland 2013/14 to 2020/21, but it's important that we have a rational basis for prioritising projects so they deliver the greatest benefit to the largest number of people.
Steve Austin: When you spoke with Mark Bailey, our Transport Minister, today, in your private meeting and you talked about the $1 billion for the M1—Mark Bailey said last week that it wasn't good enough; he didn't necessarily accept that Queensland would have to stump up 50 per cent of the funding. He thinks it should be 80/20 and the RACQ, the car lobby group, also agrees with him. Did you agree to that in the meeting today?
Paul Fletcher: I reiterated that the Commonwealth Government provides funding for the M1 Brisbane to Gold Coast corridor on a 50/50 basis; that's been the case throughout this Federal Coalition Government, and interestingly under the-
Steve Austin: So, did Mark Bailey agree to stump up the other billion dollars?
Paul Fletcher: -and interestingly, that's also been the position under the previous federal Labor government. And, of course, just on Monday when Federal Labor made their own announcement on the M1 Brisbane to Gold Coast corridor, they also proposed funding on a 50/50 basis. Now, look-
Steve Austin: Did Mark Bailey agree to stump up the other 50 per cent for the M1 project?
Paul Fletcher: Where we got to on that, Steve, was we said let's move forward on the things we can agree on, and what we can agree on right now is that it makes sense as the next step to proceed to develop the business cases on these two projects—Varsity Lakes to Tugun and Eight Mile Plains to Daisy Hill—these two major upgrade projects on the M1 that the Turnbull Government has committed funding for, and so that will be the next step.
That will take quite some time—business cases are detailed, complex documents and it does make sense to proceed with that. In the meantime, of course, today we had the sod turn on the two projects that are underway now—Mudgeeraba to Varsity Lakes and the Gateway M1/M3 Merge—and I'm sure that there'll be continuing discussions between me and Minister Bailey.
Steve Austin: So, in the stretch to Tugun to the New South Wales border, where Malcolm Turnbull Prime Minister announced a billion dollars a bit over a week ago, you reached no agreement with Mark Bailey today on whether the state of Queensland would have to fund the other half of that project, but you did agree on a business case to examine whether or not you'd proceed?
Paul Fletcher: We agreed that the sensible and next step was for the Queensland Government to proceed to develop the detailed business cases for the two projects, and so I certainly look forward to that work going ahead.
Steve Austin: Paul Fletcher, thanks for your time.
Paul Fletcher: Thanks, Steve.