2GB Mornings - Interview with John Stanley

John Stanley: It is so hard to get around the city and the constant complaint is congestion: too many people, too much development, we need to slow it down. You can say the same for Brisbane. You can say the same for some of our regional areas but there are many other regional areas where people say well we'd actually like to have more people.

If our population say was you know, instead of 10,000 if it was 15,000 you could add more. We'd have more people; we might be able to support a slightly larger business or a particular business that needs a certain number of people. Weight of numbers to be able to support it and then when that business opens then everything just rolls on and the place starts to develop.

So you get to the argument over population. You get to the argument over immigration and people say well can't we start to bring people in and send them to regional areas, then you open the lines and you hear people who say that when they came in in the 50s often you'd go in and live in a rural area for a couple of years and it's a lot easier today than it was then because these days you go to a regional area, you've got the internet, you have- there's very little that you don't have if you go to a regional area.

The man who is presiding over all of this is Alan Tudge. He is the Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population Minister. His job has been characterised by Scott Morrison as being a congestion-buster and he's on the line with us now. Alan Tudge, good morning.

Alan Tudge: Good morning John.

John Stanley: You saw that poll yesterday: more than 60 per cent of people in Sydney want to restrict migration to the city. I'm sure that would apply also in Brisbane. So how can you do that and how can you get more of those people to those regional areas where they say they need more people?

Alan Tudge: You're exactly right and we're taking a good, close look at this because the essential challenge is that we've got three very fast growing, big capital cities in Melbourne, Sydney and south east Queensland around Brisbane and yet the rest of Australia is growing quite slowly and often there are places which are actually crying out for more people.

So the challenge for us is how do we get a better distribution of the population growth so that instead of everybody coming to those three big capitals, they're more evenly going across the country.

One of the levers of course that we do have is in relation to migration and we're looking at whether or not we can create further incentives and indeed then further conditions upon new migrants to go to the smaller states, the smaller capitals or indeed to regional areas for at least a few years where hopefully they'll make it their home.

John Stanley: Now when you talk about, I mean you can't force people to stay in a particular place but you can place a condition. How does it work when you say you've got to go to this place and then to what extent do you determine where they go?

Alan Tudge: Yeah sure, so obviously when you're a citizen you can live wherever you like, that's part of being a citizen. But while you're still here on a visa, effectively we can place conditions upon that visa and we do that in multiple ways.

So we can for example say that right, part of your entry into Australia might be that you stay in South Australia for at least a few years and that can be enforced and then hopefully during that time they actually grow to love South Australia, they stay there, they work there, their kids go to the local school, they join the community and that would then help South Australia to grow and take a bit of pressure off Melbourne, Sydney, and south east Queensland.

John Stanley: So just to explain if I'm on air in South Australia on 5AA which would be our equivalent in South Australia, the conversation there is to get more people, that they want more people don't they?

Alan Tudge: Absolutely it's a completely different conversation in South Australia and that's sometimes what is missed from people who live in Melbourne and Sydney and south east Queensland. You know I've been speaking to the Premier of South Australia and they're sort of saying please give us more people because last year South Australia grew by 10,000. Melbourne grew by 10,000 people every 25 days.

John Stanley: And that's a similar number to Sydney isn't it? You're talking a very similar number aren't you?

Alan Tudge: Just to put that in perspective and that's similar to Sydney, Melbourne was actually the fastest growing. Sydney, almost as fast not quite and south east Queensland not very far behind as well. So we want to work with people like the South Australian Premier Steve Marshall, who wants to grow Adelaide, who wants to grow South Australia both from a population perspective as well as from an economic perspective.

Same with Chief Minister Gunner up in the Northern Territory and I spoke with him. They want to grow the population up in Darwin because they've had slack growth up there for quite some time. So we want to work with him and same in regional parts of Australia where sometimes they can't get a warm body to do the job. So there's real opportunities here to take the pressure off the big capitals and support the growth of the smaller states and the regional area.

John Stanley: And this is why for instance where in Melbourne and Sydney and Brisbane where you've got big road projects being undertaken and people are thinking well what's the benefit going to be at the end and then you look at the numbers of new cars being put on the road every week.

You're just basically catching up and then hospitals—you have a brand new hospital, you give billions of dollars- big brand new shiny hospitals have been built, and you think well why are they still overcrowded? That's because they're only just keeping up with the increase in population.

Alan Tudge: Yeah certainly in relation to the roads and rail infrastructure: I think the infrastructure is finally catching up with the population growth and we've had very rapid population growth over the last decade which exceeded the expectations as well.

So we're probably at a combination John, of population growth going faster than what was forecast and we probably didn't have enough infrastructure being spent you know between 10 and 20 years ago in anticipation of that growth.

Now having said that in 10 years in Sydney as you know there's infrastructure being built right across the city and in a couple of years' time when a lot of that is completed, it will make a massive difference to Sydney and we've got to continue to invest in that congestion-busting infrastructure but we've also got to work on the other couple of elements as well.

That includes a stronger decentralisation agenda of that and that includes better planning agenda as well in terms of planning for the future in terms of where the population goes and marrying the infrastructure with the population growth. I think we can do better at that and that's certainly on my agenda.

John Stanley: What about all the people listening to us right now in rural areas who are saying well, you throw some migrants our way and they're going to take the jobs of our kids and therefore it's going to be counterproductive?

Alan Tudge: Depends on where you are. Now, you know obviously you don't want to put a whole stack of new people into an area which has high youth unemployment or where unemployment is generally high but there might be other places like Dubbo for example where the unemployment rate is about 2 per cent.

Now they can't get enough workers to do the jobs which are available, so it's in locations like that where they might be able to take more people. But you want to do that in consultation with the local mayors and local councils out there.

There's places in Victoria I know, in say Warrnambool in western Victoria, they're crying out for a thousand workers right now for jobs which are going begging and they've been speaking to me saying how can we get either some of the Melbourne population or new migrants to come out to that area rather than everybody going to the centre of Melbourne.

John Stanley: Yep, so the idea is new migrants because in the end if they're there for a couple of years, I mean life is pretty good in these place you've described.

Alan Tudge: Absolutely.

John Stanley: Then they start to establish some roots and some connections and they know people. So that could work. What about trying to shift some people out of the cities to those areas?

Alan Tudge: Yeah we could work on that as well. And obviously we've had a big decentralisation agenda from the public services perspective for some time and that's helps to shift some jobs to some of those regional areas or satellite cities if you like, and there's other things which we could do on that front.

There's also with the major cities, we can work on trying to create more jobs in the areas which people live so that they don't have to travel across the city for an hour at a time or an hour each way in order to get to work. Now a good example of that is actually Western Sydney where we've got a good relationship with the local councils and the state government and trying to build- trying to create 200,000 jobs in Western Sydney.

In the process we'll generate up to 200,000 houses and also put in the road and rail infrastructure to match and that means in the future, people will be able to live, work and play all within Western Sydney rather than having to jump on the major arterials to come into the CBD for work, so that benefits those residents of Western Sydney and it benefits the rest of Sydney residents because the roads won't be as congested. So they're the types of things also that you can do, you've got a great model there in Western Sydney.

John Stanley: [Interrupts] But you know that statement you just made where you talked about extra jobs which, sounds terrific, then you talk about 200,000 extra houses, numbers of houses and then people go really? Because ultimately in Sydney they just see more and more housing and they just connect that with more crush and more congestion and harder to get around the place.

Alan Tudge:

Yeah I think- and I understand that. I particularly understand that with so much infrastructure works going on around the city at the moment people are really felling it because often when the infrastructure's being built, it may in fact make things worse for that short time before it becomes better.

Certainly when you look at the pipeline of when many of the projects are being completed you can see in the very near future that Sydney is going to move much, much more seamlessly once a lot of these major projects such as WestConnex is completed.

John Stanley: All right we'll see how all of that goes. Couple of other things. We are going to talk to Tony Abbott a bit later in the program, of course your Indigenous Envoy but Scott Morrison, he is on the front page of the papers today talking about a separate day to mark our Indigenous heritage from Australia Day.

What do you think of that idea?

Alan Tudge: Yeah, I think it's worthwhile considering that. I mean—Scott Morrison made a very strong statement that we are sticking to the 26th of January as Australia Day and we shouldn't mess with that. It was the beginning of modern Australia and also as many people don't know, it was when the Citizenship Act first came into play on the 26th of January 1949, so it's an important day in that regard as well.

Can we also celebrate though our 60,000-year-old Indigenous heritage and I think we should be doing that and it's worthwhile considering whether or not we have a separate day to specifically mark and celebrate the oldest, living, continuous culture on the planet. So the Prime Minister is open to ideas about how we might do that and what sort of day would be appropriate, but importantly it goes hand in glove with keeping Australia Day on the 26th of January.

John Stanley: 131873 is our number, 23 minutes to 10. Just a final one I'll just ask you because you said yesterday that Scott Morrison's decisive, consultative and authentic. Does that suggest that his predecessor might not have been quite all of those things?

Alan Tudge: No, I wasn't suggesting that for nanosecond. Every leader has their own attributes and I was making some comments about how well I think that Scott Morrison is going as Prime Minster. And I think he is going very well and I think people are liking what they're seeing. And I hope they give him a good opportunity to assess him because when they do assess him I think they'll like him.

John Stanley: And look I saw Julie Bishop was on 60 Minutes on Sunday night. Were you disappointed that she didn't decide to stay on as foreign minister because she was given that offer, she was asked to stay on wasn't she?

Alan Tudge: Yeah ultimately it was her decision and I can understand her decision. I thought she was an excellent foreign minister over the last five years and- but she made that call, and it's her decision and now Marise Payne, a New South Welshman, is the Foreign Minister and she'll equally do a great job.

John Stanley: Alright. Alan Tudge, good to talk to you. Thank you.

Alan Tudge: Thanks very much, John.

John Stanley: Alan Tudge there. He's Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population.