Transcript, 6PR, Interview with Gareth Parker

Gareth Parker:

In the studio I have a special guest. He is here to have discussions with his state counterparts and it’s all about infrastructure and it’s all about jobs. The Federal Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure is Alan Tudge. Alan, good morning.

Alan Tudge:

Good morning.

Gareth Parker:

Appreciate you coming; you brought the Melbourne weather with you.

Alan Tudge:

Damn it’s cold here this morning – crikey. I mean I get a lot of stick for being a Melburnian.

Gareth Parker:

Sure.

Alan Tudge:

But you know, it feels even colder here this morning.

Gareth Parker:

It’s nearly got to double digits so we’re at the mere 9.4 degrees outside in Perth at the moment.

Alan Tudge:

Yeah well, is that right?

Gareth Parker:

Yeah.

Alan Tudge:

Yeah it was about 7 degrees when I was walking around this morning and I was feeling it, and I’m still a bit frozen to be honest.

Gareth Parker:

Well we’ll blame someone. Hey, so you’re meeting with Rita Saffioti, the State Transport Minister.

Alan Tudge:

Yes.

Gareth Parker:

There’s a lot on the agenda and there’s a lot on the agenda I think for every state at the moment there’s a bit of an infrastructure boom that’s in the pipeline. The question is can we kind of accelerate it, isn’t it? Because this economy and this state is still struggling. And I think the question that is on everyone’s lips is can we prime this pump when it comes to big projects, get it moving sooner?

Alan Tudge:

Yeah certainly infrastructure is one good way of generating jobs and being a stimulus for the economy and we – just at the most recent budget – allocated another $1.6 billion to Western Australia for infrastructure and we want to partner closely with the Western Australian Government to deliver on those projects.

And that includes 18 quite small-scale projects in the suburbs here in Perth as well as some of the large-scale multi-billion dollar projects like METRONET.

So I’ll be sitting down with Minister Rita today and going through some of these projects, working on the timeframes and seeing where we can really accelerate them and just get cracking. It's good for the economy and it's good for commuters.

Gareth Parker:

There was a lot of stuff promised at that smaller scale during the election campaign, not all that stuff is presently in the budget. So what you do about funding those things?

Alan Tudge:

Yeah, so from our perspective it's all in the budget. We allocated the funding in this year's budget in April and the election commitments which we made come out of that bucket of money. The state government – to their credit – in their budget they actually matched the funding in most of the ones which we’d announced pre going into the campaign.

And I'll obviously have a discussion with the Minister in relation to the other ones which they haven't yet funded, but obviously we want them to be funded.

Gareth Parker:

Because you can, I mean it's a tough ask to ask them to fund them before they know what they are in a campaign because the budget came out before the campaign.

Alan Tudge:

Yeah, that’s right.

Gareth Parker:

So if they can’t come up with the money what happens? Are they delayed or what?

Alan Tudge:

Well let's work through that today and that's the discussion that I want to have with my counterpart at the state level. We have a very good relationship, we do a lot of projects jointly and we're very keen to work cooperatively with them, work through each one of these projects, where are the issues and get cracking. I think the public want us to work cooperatively together and to get a better outcome the end of the day.

Gareth Parker:

I think that last point is an important one and I think that the one thing that your Government's re-election has done is it gives us a bit of clear air for a while.

Alan Tudge:

Yeah.

Gareth Parker:

You got three years. The State Labor Government have got two years. You've told us that you get on well with your state counterpart. My information from her office is that they see it that way as well. So have we got an opportunity to actually get some stuff done here?

Alan Tudge:

Absolutely, absolutely. We really want to get cracking on these things. We've already got a lot of projects as you know underway. So you know METRONET’s going well, we’ll soon have the rail link out to the airport and other stages are progressing as well.

But I particularly want to discuss with her these smaller-scale projects because they're the ones, they might only be five million dollars or ten million dollars’ worth – but you can really get cracking immediately on those and hopefully get them done in the next couple of years.

We've also got three big level crossings as well at Oats Street, at Mint Street, at Welshpool Road. We want to get cracking on those. They’re the types of projects that are small enough in scope, but still create jobs and make a big difference to people's lives when you get rid of those level crossings. Daniel Andrews – the State Premier in Victoria where I'm from – has done that very well and it does make a big difference and let's do that here as well.

Gareth Parker:

It’s tough to rush a billion dollar rail line isn't it? But in saying that, you can bring those things forward more quickly.

Alan Tudge:

Yeah, correct. I mean those large billion-dollar projects such as railway lines and the big freeways or the big roads; they do take a bit of time. There’s scoping work, there’s planning, sometimes there's some land acquisition. But some of these other smaller projects we do just want to, you know, hit the ground running. Let’s get them done quickly.

Gareth Parker:

When it comes to infrastructure funding, the typical way that things have been done is that state and federal governments partner up, sometimes it's 50/50, sometimes it's 80/20 whatever, the money is there and that's it. In other states they've gone down the path of things like public-private partnerships. They've also done things like toll roads. Is that something you'd like to see West Australian governments explore?

Alan Tudge:

It’s really up to the state government in terms of those decisions. Certainly, you know, again in Melbourne, we’ve had toll roads since – what has it been – since the 1990s. But it does become expensive for some commuters if you're taking those major roads day in, day out. Now obviously commuters ideally wouldn't pay the tolls and that would be their preference. But ultimately that's going to be up to the state government.

Gareth Parker:

So it's not something you'll sort of insist on to, as an attachment to any Commonwealth funding for future projects?

Alan Tudge:

No, we don't have those in our plans. I mean, our major contributions, to be honest, here in Western Australia is rail projects rather than roads, although we do have major road projects as well.

A lot of those major road projects are actually out in the regions like the Bunbury Ring Road or the Albany Ring Road and that sort of stuff, and you’re never going to be putting tolls on those.

Gareth Parker:

So you’re not going to get the volume of traffic to make it pay anyway?

Alan Tudge:

No, I mean, to be honest, the tolls in Melbourne and Sydney are often with some of the big tunnelling work, which you’re talking about $5 or $10 billion tunnels, whereas it's very hard to fund completely from the public purse and so the state governments then tend to look for a private contribution and ask for a fee from the commuters that use it.

Gareth Parker:

Okay. One of the things in terms of trying to get this pump primed, so to speak…

Alan Tudge:

Yeah.

Gareth Parker:

…to get things moving quickly, one of the things that's been raised with me is that for some projects you've got to get federal environmental approval. I mean, there’s a lot of red tape, green tape that you’ve got to tick through and we talk about that a lot. But it's been raised with me that one of the challenges that the state has is sometimes they run into big delays with the federal regulator.

For example, I think the Kalamunda Road and Roe Highway project, where there's an intersection upgrade, that has actually led to substantive delays as a result of things not being able to move through that federal approval process quickly. Has that been raised with you before?

Alan Tudge:

Yeah, it has. People have raised this with me and obviously we want to have strict environmental standards but within those standards go through the approval process as quickly as possible. That's the ideal.

And certainly – and the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was making comments about this just yesterday – that reflecting on the United States, where the United States, part of the way that they grew their economy so well was a) through tax cuts but b) through deregulating, getting rid of some of that red tape.

And so, if that falls into that category and it is a way for us to make the process more efficient, then let's do it.

Gareth Parker:

Yeah. As a sort of, at the national view, well I mean, what are your priorities in this area? We've talked about roads and rail but your portfolio is also population, cities. I think we've talked about this on the program before. There's obviously been a big debate in Melbourne and Sydney, which are big cities, really big cities, and they're growing rapidly and it's causing a lot of problems for people who live there.

In this state, since the end of the mining construction boom, the reverse has been true. People have been leaving. If anything traffic's probably improved. I think, if they're honest, Perth people would acknowledge that. But it's caused its own problems with house prices, for example…

Alan Tudge:

…house prices particularly, that flow through to consumption and all sorts of things.

Gareth Parker:

Yeah. Have you made any progress on this idea of trying to somehow decentralize the population growth?

Alan Tudge:

Yeah, we have and it is a particular problem in Melbourne and Sydney and south-east Queensland, where three quarters of our population growth of the entire country goes to those three areas. Melbourne is just going gangbusters from a population perspective, growing at 2.7 per cent per annum which is a very, very fast growth off a big base. Perth you're right. Perth does go up and down because it really is more of a, I suppose, a boom-bust economy is how many economists would say, and when it's going well, you tend to get a big inflow of people and vice versa.

What we're trying to do – and this kicks in from 1 July – is a) we've just slowed down the immigration rate slightly but b) we've actually created dedicated positions – 23,000 – for the smaller cities and the regions for new people to come into the country and take those positions, and we think that will have an important role to play.

In addition to that, international students, are actually a very big part of our temporary migration scheme and we're creating some incentives for international students to consider coming to a Perth or an Adelaide or a regional university rather than, as presently occurs, 80 per cent go to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

International students are great for a local economy as well because not only are they paying full fees there, but then they're spending a lot of money while they’re there. Their parents typically come in and visit, helping tourism and the like. So that's another big thing that kicks in very shortly as well.

Gareth Parker:

Okay. On more generally, are you surprised the Labor Party is sort of standing in the way of your tax cut plan?

Alan Tudge:

Very surprised, I mean, this was central to the election. I mean, the election largely was around two competing versions of tax, and the Labor Party wanted to increase tax and punish aspiration. We wanted to support aspiration, and the Australian people backed us in and we therefore just want the Labor Party to recognise the will of the Australian people and support our tax plan, as simple as that.

Gareth Parker:

I guess the Labor Party's argument is well can you talk about cutting tax in 2024? It's, you know, it's another election cycle away. It’s six years away, or five years away. No one knows what’s going on then.

Alan Tudge:

We took it to the election.

Gareth Parker:

So you’ve got the mandate?

Alan Tudge:

The entire package, we took to the election. Everyone understood that. They took an alternative and the Australian people voted for ours. Now, you know, the Labor Party down the track, if they want to reverse those tax cuts and put up taxes again, good luck to them. But back the package now is our argument.

Gareth Parker:

Okay. Your colleague, the Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar, how often do you see him?

Alan Tudge:

Oh, very regularly because he's right next door to me from an electorate perspective.

Gareth Parker:

Right-o. Can you put in a word for us? We’d like to talk to him. We're trying to get him on an issue that's running here about retirees who have lost their homes, lost their savings, and ASIC I don't think have done a very good job.

Alan Tudge:

Yeah, okay.

Gareth Parker:

So we're working on it, but if you could put in a word for us.

Alan Tudge:

Okay. Let me have a chat to him.

Gareth Parker:

That would be very helpful.

Alan Tudge:

I shall do.

Gareth Parker:

Alan Tudge, thank you for your time.

Alan Tudge:

Absolute pleasure.

Gareth Parker:

Federal Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge.