Transcript – 6PR Interview with Gary Adshead

GARY ADSHEAD:

Not long ago, the Prime Minister outlined plans for getting jobs back out there, getting the economy up and running, and it's all around infrastructure projects. They want to bring them forward. They want to fast-track them. They had got a hit list of infrastructure projects they'd like to see happening across the country in order to try and generate over 60,000 jobs because that is going to be the crucial issue moving forward.

Now, as they have outlined, it’s about bringing down some of the barriers on environmental approvals and so on.  It's a delicate balancing act but let's have a chat now to Alan Tudge.  He's the Federal Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure. Thanks very much for joining us, Minister.

ALAN TUDGE:

No worries, Gary.  Thanks for having me.

GARY ADSHEAD:

Just first up, this money that we're looking at to get infrastructure moving, is this money already in the pipeline or new money?

ALAN TUDGE:

Well, it's two things we're announcing today. The first is $1.5 billion of new money and that is for smaller-scale projects which are shovel-ready and can get started immediately; i.e., this calendar year. Then, secondly, we have announced 15 mega projects where we want to accelerate the approval processes to unlock 66,000 jobs. Typically, these approval processes take three to four years. We want to halve that so that jobs can come on more rapidly.

GARY ADSHEAD:

It sounds ambitious because obviously there's legislation in place, there's sort of checks and balances in place for a reason.  So how do we get around that?

ALAN TUDGE:

Yeah, there are three ways that will actually accelerate this process. First, we are going to put more money into the assessment process. We've got more resources at the table. The second, we want to reduce some of the duplication between state and federal governments; for example, for an environmental approval, sometimes we are doing the same things at two levels of government. And then, thirdly, we want to do some of the processes in parallel, if you like, rather than sequentially because that can save time as well.

Now, we've already done some of these things with Snowy Hydro 2.0 over here in New South Wales and we got that approval process down to about two years. So we reckon we can do it with some of these other massive projects as well.

GARY ADSHEAD:

You talk about these 15 mega projects: obviously, the question on everyone here in Western Australia's lips is: what are you looking at for us?

ALAN TUDGE:

Yeah, we haven't announced that yet and that is going to be coming soon. But obviously, you know, Western Australia, some of your mega projects are the very big mining projects or the huge rail and road projects which support those. These are the types of things we are going to be looking at.  And I mean, you've had discussions there in the past about how long some of these projects take to get approved because, you're waiting four years sometimes to get them approved and we should be able to do them in less than two years, and that's certainly our ambition.

GARY ADSHEAD:

Some of those mining projects, though, certainly here in Western Australia, when you talk about the resource sector, you know, they get challenged as well. People bring on challenges to the courts.

I mean, that's not something you can do away with and if someone lodges something in the court, that's it, isn't it?

ALAN TUDGE:

No. If someone lodges something in the courts, of course that has to play its course. We do think that we can streamline some of the processes and get rid of the bureaucracy, without actually reducing the standards and without reducing the public consultation, or obviously the consultation with traditional owners, and that sort of thing. So it can be done, it has been done, and I gave an example before, and if we do it, it does mean that the 66,000 jobs, which are connected to these mega projects, can be brought forward. Right now, as everybody knows, we desperately need those jobs.

GARY ADSHEAD:

Yeah, the Prime Minister I know has said this morning that about $100 billion is being lost in activity because of coronavirus. That's extremely serious.

ALAN TUDGE:

That is right, Treasury estimates that we will have unemployment at about eight per cent nationally in the June quarter and it could go higher, and there are just catastrophic levels of unemployment. You know, we haven't seen those for years and years, and we have all got to be focused on this task of building jobs back again, so that people can, have the dignity of work and again save money and pay for the things they need to save for and this announcement is part of that today.

GARY ADSHEAD:

Do you have a view that people, do suggest that once the JobKeeper program is done with, say September, that we haven't quite seen yet the amount of people that may be being laid off at the end of that process as well?

ALAN TUDGE:

Well, we are working through that. As you probably know, we've got a review of the JobKeeper scheme at the moment to work out what should the next steps be. As you point out, it is scheduled to come off in September and then we have to work out, what is the next step after that?  Hopefully, the economy will be stronger by then but we just don't quite know just yet. Eight per cent unemployment in the June quarter – that really worries me. I hope it doesn't go any higher because eight per cent means that, hundreds of thousands of more people who are on unemployment benefits effectively and without work, and that's not good for anybody.

GARY ADSHEAD:

I have Just got to ask you this because one of the issues we're waiting for here in Western Australia to be resolved is the submarine full cycle docking, the maintenance work: it's a massive contract. It is up between South Australia and us at this stage. 

You talk about red tape, which is something that we have been waiting for now since last year.  That was going to be announced before Christmas but here in Western Australia everything is still on hold as to whether we are the people to get that. So, I mean, you know, you have to look in your own backyard here because that is a decision that is long overdue.

ALAN TUDGE:

Yeah, I don't know where that decision is at, I'm not responsible for that. But I can appreciate your desire to have that outcome known as soon as possible.  Certainly, we are looking at our own backyard in terms of the approvals processes which we have, and the environmental approvals process is probably the biggest single one which we are looking at. We actually have a full review into that at the moment and we're working cooperatively with State governments to see where we can streamline or reduce that duplication without reducing standards.

GARY ADSHEAD:

This is all about the economy and the need to kick-start it again. One of the issues here, of course, is that our Premier is saying, well he is not saying actually, when he will open the state border.  There's no timeline in place for us yet.  Is that a concern?  We know that the Federal Government is going join an action in the High Court to challenge it, constitutionally. Do you support that?  Is it important to have that resolved before you can move on with looking at jobs and the economy?

ALAN TUDGE:

We would certainly like to see all the borders reopened again and every other Premier and Chief Minister has now announced when they're going to open their borders, but Western Australia has not.  We would certainly like to see it announced so there is a timeframe we can look towards. Now, why do we want the borders open? So you can get the free trade of goods, the free trade of people again, you can get tourism going internally. That's going to be good for Western Australia as much as it's going to be good for the rest of the country. And, of course, Western Australia does want international students to come back as well because that's great for the economy. And we've indicated that, well, if you can't take a student from Sydney, how can you take a student from Singapore? So it's in Western Australia's interests, we think, but obviously it's going to be a decision ultimately for the Premier there.

GARY ADSHEAD:

Do you think our Premier is playing politics in terms of the support level he's got because there's a lot of people over here that support this hard border at the moment, or is he doing it for health reasons?

ALAN TUDGE:

Listen, I don't know. You'll have to ask him.

GARY ADSHEAD:

I've tried.

ALAN TUDGE:

Look, I think all the states and territories have managed the COVID crisis very well in consultation with the Prime Minister; he formed the National Cabinet, as you know. So I don't want to be a critic of either Premier McGowan or any other premier.

GARY ADSHEAD:

But it's time? Dragging our feet now?

ALAN TUDGE:

We do want to see the borders open, absolutely. There's no health advice which says that they should be closed: that's the thing. We've made this point repeatedly that the National Medical Expert Committee, which has been guiding the decisions that we have been making at every step of the way, has not ever said the borders should be closed.

GARY ADSHEAD: 

Minister, thanks very much for joining us this morning, appreciate it.

ALAN TUDGE:

Many thanks, Gary.