ABC Radio Melbourne - Mornings

Paul Kennedy: Okay. Let’s talk about infrastructure and the new report from Infrastructure Australia talking about the end of the urban fringe, many other things as well. Let’s get on line the Minister Alan Tudge, Minister of Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population. Alan Tudge, thanks for your time. So much to talk about today.

Alan Tudge: G’day Paul.

Paul Kennedy: Quickly, the Reserve Bank Governor - I should remind people – Phillip Lowe has pleaded for increased spending on public works to stimulate the economy that's one part of this. This Infrastructure Australia report found energy prices have risen 50 per cent since the last audit, and I quote: there is an absence of decisive federal leadership. What are you going to do about it?

Alan Tudge: Well you've raised a couple of issues there. Firstly, in relation to the Reserve Bank Governor's points about needing more infrastructure - we are absolutely doing that in spades. In fact, we've doubled the infrastructure expenditure since we first came to government, and as we speak we've got 160 major projects being funded right around the country and Melburnians know this because they see the construction going on all the time.

Often it's done in partnership with the Andrews Government, we have a good partnership there. And more needs to be done and we're continuing to work on that.

Paul Kennedy: Alan Tudge, you won't get any opposition from me this morning on the spending, it's been acknowledged that there is record spending going along. But it's also pointing out that this is not exceptional and it should be the new normal. And in fact, we need to maintain this level of infrastructure and spend more and more in the next 15 years, otherwise the situation is dire with our population booming.

Alan Tudge: Yeah. So a couple of things on that - I mean firstly, we are doing that. I mean if anything, we're accelerating our expenditure rather than dropping it. And we’ve outlined $100 billion pipeline of expenditure to the extent that we're now actually getting some pushback from some commentators saying that we're reaching construction capacity constrains.

Paul Kennedy: Who’s saying that?

Alan Tudge:
I mean there’s many economists who are saying that. I've had some discussions with the construction companies myself, and you can sort of see it in the price increase.

Paul Kennedy: Yeah Infrastructure Australia in this report is saying that there needs to be more and more.

Alan Tudge: Yeah I know. All I'm saying is that we've increased expenditure, we're accelerating that and we’ll continue to maintain this level of expenditure, certainly from the federal level, and I would expect the state governments to also be doing that. But the flipside of that as well which is important, is on the population side.

And what we did and this is since this report was written, we've dropped the migration rate to ease the population pressure, particularly on Melbourne and Sydney which have just been growing like gangbusters. We've also put in place new settings to encourage new people into the country to go to some of the regional areas and the smaller cities which actually need people.

Paul Kennedy: Infrastructure’s not set up in regional areas either. In fact, even in the urban fringe, some 34 per cent of people are able to walk to public transport. The infrastructure is not there, that's been a failure on different tiers of government, isn't it? That you're encouraging people to move into those regional areas but it's not set up for good and productive and healthy living for those extra people.

Alan Tudge: Well it depends on where you are. So I mean there's places like Warrnambool today, down the coastline here in Victoria, who are just absolutely crying out for more people and we had the Mayor of Warrnambool just recently saying exactly that. They need an extra thousand workers today to fill the job vacancies which are there. We've got other regional areas across Victoria and Australia who are equally in the same position.

And so that's why some of them are settings are geared towards encouraging more people, including new migrants to settle into some of those areas where the jobs are and just ease that pressure off Melbourne. Now, you’ve got to understand that Melbourne is growing at 2.7 per cent per annum, which is a phenomenally fast rate from a large city perspective. Most cities are growing at about 1 per cent per annum in wealthy cities.

Paul Kennedy: So what is the Federal Government going to do to increase infrastructure, for instance, I'll start with the inner urban communities?

Alan Tudge: So I mean we've got the $100 billion pipeline of projects, much of which goes into our large cities.

Paul Kennedy: Let’s talk about Melbourne. You're a minister and you're based in Victoria.

Alan Tudge: Yeah. I’m a Melburnian as well and I live in…

Paul Kennedy: Yeah. So let’s talk about our place, let’s start in Melbourne.

Alan Tudge: So if you talk about our place, I mean we've got very large scale projects which we are funding, working cooperatively with the Andrews Government. That’s $5 billion for example to get the Melbourne Airport rail link, getting fast rail to Geelong, which not only helps Geelong commuters but can ease some of the population pressure off Melbourne [Indistinct] satellite city. The Monash is -

Paul Kennedy: What about the rail loop? You’re not interested in putting money into the rail loop? The State Government wants to- wants it finalised.

Alan Tudge: We had- yeah, we had offered money in the past to the State Government. In fact, we offered almost a billion dollars and the State Government said no, they didn't need it and so they’re getting on with the job.

Paul Kennedy: I think they want it for that rail loop.

Alan Tudge: Are you talking about the suburban rail loop or the metro loop?

Paul Kennedy: Yes.

Alan Tudge: For the suburban rail loop, the business case is underway at the moment. They've got $300 million, which is investigating that. They haven't come to us in terms of requesting funding because it’s too early in the stage I think for that. In relation to the metro-

Paul Kennedy: Do you like it?

Alan Tudge: I think conceptually it's not a bad idea. But-

Paul Kennedy: What's good about it?

Alan Tudge: This a very, very- it's a very long term project, this’ll probably take three or more decades to build, it will probably end up costing a hundred billion dollars when it's completed. Given the population growth-

Paul Kennedy: Minister Tudge, sorry to jump in. That's what we're talking about, isn't it? Long term planning, that’s what we need.

Alan Tudge: And that's what I said, conceptually I don’t have difficulty with this. It's like us putting the Melbourne Airport rail link on the agenda, which frankly should have been built 20 or 30 years ago.

We also want to connect Monash University to the rail network and get that rail network all the way up to Rowville. Again, Australia's largest university campus should have been connected to the rail link decades ago, rather than waiting until now.

We've been leading with that agenda as well. So we're up for it and in fact, more of our money I think in Victoria is going towards rail than it is to road because there's real capacity constraints there as well.

Paul Kennedy: Yeah. Can I ask you about your comments in the Herald Sun this morning, talking about the East West Link? That's not helpful is it, to continue banging on about the money for the East West Link? The State Government's not going ahead with it.

Alan Tudge: Well, you know, we've got a good relationship with the State Government and we're working cooperatively on so many projects, some of which I've outlined.

Paul Kennedy: That's going to more- annoy them, talking about that.

Alan Tudge: Well they know our position on the East West Link. At the election campaign, we made this a very important feature, in the election campaign where we said to the State Government - we understand that you don't want to put any money into this, fine.
We'll therefore increase our contribution to enable you to be able to build it without having to put in a cent. And so now that we're in that position, we're still arguing the case. We went to the election, we won the election. And so therefore have a mandate to prosecute at case and we'll continue to do that.

Paul Kennedy: The Victorian Government won its election. The Liberal leadership at the time said it was a referendum on the East West Link. Labor won that election.

Alan Tudge: And in some respects, we respect the fact that they don't want to put a cent of State Government money into it. We respect that. We're not asking them to put in a cent. We- all we are asking them to do is give the green light for it to go ahead because

Paul Kennedy: They don’t want it.

Alan Tudge: The problems on the Eastern Freeway aren’t going away and this Infrastructure Australia report again emphasises that this is one of the major bottlenecks in Melbourne and will continue to get worse.

Paul Kennedy: The infrastructure - just to be clear - the Infrastructure Australia report does not list projects. You can you can see that; it talks about overall planning.

Alan Tudge: And let me quote from this report: the CityLink Eastern Freeway connection across Melbourne's inner north is predicted to remain one of the city's worst performers.

Paul Kennedy: Yeah. But it states current position. It doesn’t list projects on-

Alan Tudge: That’s stated in this report now. Okay you can call it whatever you like, but the connection from the Eastern Freeway to the CityLink, most Melburnians would know as the East West Link.  

Paul Kennedy: I hear what you’re-

Alan Tudge: Let’s call it whatever you like.

Paul Kennedy: No, I hear what you're saying but the Victorian Government would argue, I would suggest, that that they have decided to go another way to try and ease that.

But our time is short, I know you have to jump on a plane.

Alan Tudge: They’re doing Western Distributor side which is almost the second half of the East West Link. The remaining piece though is from the Eastern Freeway to connect up to the other side.

And so, that's as I said, that's where we'll push, acknowledging that by and large, we’re actually working very well with the State Government, getting on with the job and so many other projects.

Paul Kennedy: That is good. I know you have to jump on a plane, I know your time is short. Can I just ask you again, about this - the comment about the urban sprawl across Australia's east coast, that it's now over after decades of creeping out and out, into those green paddocks and taking over with housing estates.

Do you agree with that? Is it finished? Is enough, enough?

Alan Tudge: Ultimately it's up to state governments to determine what the footprint is in terms of urban sprawl. Our populations are growing. There's still plenty of land but most of the growth, as identified in this report, has actually been in infill areas making the cities more dense. Now that can have its issues as well of course, because sometimes people move into an area to get a bit more open space and then all of a sudden they find a big apartment block right next door to them and that rightly upsets them.

Paul Kennedy: And do you feel a weight of responsibility with this report landing right on your desk. Dare I say it, landing right on your shoulders.

Alan Tudge: It's- listen it's a sobering report, but it's also, I would have to say a bit of a pessimistic report because the modelling which is done doesn't take into account the $23 billion worth of projects which we've announced over the last six months or so.
And it assumes that no new projects will be announced over the next decade. Now both of those assumptions I don't think are right. It also doesn't take account of the fact we have dropped the migration rate and got these new incentives for people to go to some of the smaller cities and regional area. But it is sobering. We will be looking at it very, very closely; they're a good outfit Infrastructure Australia, and they constantly inform our decision making.

Paul Kennedy: It's good to hear from you this morning, we appreciate your time and I hope that you're right about the relationship between the feds and the state’s ministers and all of those people trying to work for, well, not so much congestion for one thing, and all the long list of things that they're after. Alan Tudge, thank you very much.

Alan Tudge: Thanks very much.

Paul Kennedy: Minister for Cities urban infrastructure and population, Alan Tudge there.