RN Drive, Interview with Patricia Karvelas

Patricia Karvelas: The Prime Minister and his front bench have been out in force today talking up the Government’s plans to boost the economy and celebrating the passage of their key tax package through Parliament.

But RBA Governor Philip Lowe’s comments from Tuesday continued to reverberate, that more government-driven activity is needed to stimulate the economy, such as infrastructure spending.

Alan Tudge is the Minister responsible for cities, urban infrastructure and population, and he joins me now. Alan Tudge, welcome.

Alan Tudge: G’day PK.

Patricia Karvelas: Obviously, this is a significant win for the Government. Is your primary focus about stimulating the economy?

Alan Tudge: Well, first up, it’s a significant win for all Australians, because there’s 10 million Australians that’ll be able to get $1080 when they put in their tax return, and that can be within a matter of weeks that they’ll have that money in their pocket, it’s their money coming back to them to spend.

And of course, that will have an impact on the economy as well, because it puts billions of dollars back into the economy, but people will be spending that of course. [indistinct] the economy in that way.

Patricia Karvelas: Okay. Your infrastructure and population plan has been out there for months, but still Philip Lowe has said further infrastructure spending is needed, especially with interest rates at record low, the economy having spare capacity, and some of our existing infrastructure struggling to cope with ongoing population growth. Will you do more or accelerate the spending?

Alan Tudge: Well, a couple of things. Firstly, Philip Lowe has been saying some of these things for some time now; and the second point is we are massively increasing the expenditure around infrastructure. Indeed, in the May Budget of this year, we increased the expenditure from $75 billion to $100 billion over the decade, a huge increase.

And that means in this year alone, we’ll be spending $9.8 billion on transport infrastructure and there’s more money spent on other forms of infrastructure as well, and that’s more than double what is was just five or six years ago.

So we’ve massively increased it. And that means every major city, within country towns across Australia, there are infrastructure projects going on right now, to the extent that some commentators are actually saying that we’re almost hitting at capacity constraints from a construction perspective.

Patricia Karvelas: But with interest rates so low, and obviously borrowing money has never been cheaper, is it worth or are you considering ordering a review of ready-to-go projects just in case you need to bring them forward?

Alan Tudge: Well, there’s about 150 major projects already under way. We’re talking typically $100 million or more and some in the billions of dollars. And we want those done as quickly as possible. And if that can be done more quickly than the current time frames then our profiling of money will typically follow that. Where we do want to really get cracking on some more projects is with the congestion-busting projects, which we’ve been announcing over the last six months.

Now we’ve got 166 of those, $3 billion worth, and they’re smaller projects in the suburbs across our big cities; $10 million projects, $20 million projects. And we want to see those really get cracking. And it’s the smaller projects actually which are of course much easier to get going straight away than initiating the very large-scale projects which of course takes some time to do the planning and the consultation and the procurement et cetera.

So I'm in discussions with my state and territory counterparts right now, to see if we can get those 166 smaller projects happening as quickly as possible. I want them to start tomorrow frankly but let’s get them going as quickly as possible.

Patricia Karvelas: Okay so out of those 166, how many are shovel ready? How many are ready to go straight away?

Alan Tudge: Well I I'm having very constructive discussions with my state, ministerial counterparts as we speak. So, I've met up with all of them now and in some cases I've met them a couple of times. And in the weeks ahead I'll have the plan from each of them in terms of what can be done and when.

But certainly we want to roll those out as quickly as possible. Not just because it's going to impact tens of thousands of residents on a daily basis and make life easier for them, fixing up those local congestion hotspots, but also because it does of course provide further stimulus.

Patricia Karvelas: So is that where the Government will look if the economy does need further stimulus? Because clearly this big tax package, 10 years’ worth of a tax package, a pretty significant change to the tax scales has now passed. But to actually get cash into the economy and create jobs you need to do that in a different way and perhaps sooner. Is infrastructure the vehicle for that?

Alan Tudge: Well I mean we are putting cash into the economy through these tax cuts in a very significant way. And I mentioned that at the outset 1,080 bucks for 10 million Australians coming into their pocket. The infrastructure pipeline it's not only the 150 major projects happening right now, there’s 1000 smaller projects going on.

Plus there’s other major projects in the planning as we speak too. Now they inevitably take some time to work through with the very large-scale projects; the billion dollar plus ones, they do take time.

But obviously we would see those done as quickly as possible and in many cases we've got money there in the budget ready for those projects to be done. So the pipeline’s there. We want them done as quickly as possible and we're working constructively with the states and territories to see that that's the case.

Patricia Karvelas: Just before I let you go I know that the Attorney-General's begun the official consultation briefing process for the religious freedom or the Religious Discrimination Act. What do you think its parameters should be? Do you think it should have an impact on employment contract law for instance to cover cases like Israel Folau?

Alan Tudge: These are these are really difficult issues and we're just going to work through them very cautiously and sensibly. We have made some commitments that we will have a Religious Discrimination Act. [indistinct] some way, as some of the, you know, a Sex Discrimination Act, so that people don't suffer discrimination because of their religious beliefs.

But we've just got to work through it calmly and sensibly and the Attorney-General is leading that work, consulting with people and there is a broad discussion in the community. But let's just take our time and address those sensibly and bring the Australian people along with us as we do so.

Patricia Karvelas: Alan Tudge, thanks for coming on.

Alan Tudge: Thanks very much PK.

Patricia Karvelas: That's the Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population, Alan Tudge.