Transcript - ABC Radio Melbourne, Interview with Jon Faine

Jon Faine:Yesterday the Premier, who joins us shortly, was talking about expanding and taking the next step for the outer Suburban Rail Loop. Today the Prime Minister swans into town and together with State Government Ministers will announce the expansion of the Monash in the South East of Melbourne between Warrigal Road and out towards Koo Wee Rup.

Alan Tudge is one of the principal beneficiaries of this announcement as the Federal Government’s Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population and also a man whose marginal electorate will be impacted by these announcements. Mr Tudge good morning to you.

Alan Tudge: Good morning Jon.

Jon Faine: Do you enjoy watching Utopia?

Alan Tudge: You must have got out of bed on the wrong side today Jon, you’re so cynical to start the day.

Jon Faine: Do you enjoy watching Utopia?

Alan Tudge: This will make a real difference to people’s lives in the South East of Melbourne and it will save them time, if they’re going to and from Pakenham, save them about 22 minutes every single day. So that’s real, tangible difference to people’s lives.

Jon Faine: How long will the construction phase go for? Because that’s going to cause further congestion in a city that is almost choking on road works as we speak.

Alan Tudge: So, this will start early next year and finish in late 2022 and most of the work here is in two sections. One between Warrigal Road and East Link, and the other from Clyde Road to Cardinia Road, both on the Monash Freeway. And for anyone who knows the Monash it’s a tremendously busy road, the growth has been enormous down the South East corridor and this is going to add additional capacity to the Monash.

Jon Faine: At the same time, we’re spending some money on rail and alternatives in public transport, but not out that far. Would it not make more sense to extend and expand the rail system past the outer South East instead of building a bigger and bigger freeway?

Alan Tudge: Well yeah, you have to do both, it’s not either or here, but most people certainly are still taking their cars. And, they’ve just had, we’ve just had tremendous growth down the South East, the traffic volumes have been increasing by over 4 per cent per annum over the last decade so you do have to continue to build the infrastructure there. Some parts of the Monash are only two lanes each way and so this project is adding an extra lane each way to that.

Jon Faine: And that’s vital to relieve some of those bottle necks.

Alan Tudge: That’s vital to relieve the bottle necks. It’s also vital for freight.

Jon Faine: You would be about the fiftieth Minister in my years in this job, I don’t know how many times I’ve interviewed State and Federal Ministers who have promised that just this little bit more will solve all the problems, this will ease the congestion, this will result in travel times being saved. None of which ever turns out to be true.

Alan Tudge: Again Jon, I don’t agree with your assertions there. We constantly need to be building infrastructure to keep up with the population growth. Now, Melbourne is the fastest growing big city in Australia and we’ve got a population plan to ease the pressure on our big cities of Melbourne and Sydney and try to create further growth in some of the smaller cities and the regional areas which are crying out for more people. We’ve also pulled back on the immigration rate which slows down the population growth nationally as well.

So that’s on the one hand. But on the other hand we do have to continue to invest in infrastructure such as the Monash, such as additional rail capacity and I know the Premier’s going to be talking about the Suburban Rail Loop. We want to get the Rowville Rail going and have got money on the table there. We’ve obviously got money to get the Monash Airport Rail going, $5 billion dollars. Let’s get Fast Rail out to Geelong, we’ve got $2 billion there. So we’ve got to do this infrastructure, rail and road, while also managing the population better as well.

Jon Faine: Is this designed to provide some economic stimulus because nothing else, including your much vaunted tax cuts that your Prime Minister promised, that’s not worked. So is this some way to what, build our way to a stronger economy?

Alan Tudge: Well, let’s wait and see before you make a conclusion that it hasn’t worked. So tomorrow we’ll have the second quarter results come out and that’s obviously…

Jon Faine: No. The GDP figures are out at 11:30 today.

Alan Tudge: Sorry, they come out today and that’s based on the second quarter of this year and so, of this calendar year, so that’s before the tax cuts have really kicked in and before there’s been additional interest rate drops as well. And that quarter obviously incorporates the fact that we had an election and that people were expecting a Labor victory and so had built in, I think, a number of extra taxes which would have slowed down the economy.

Jon Faine: Economic growth seems to have, well it may not have stalled but certainly it’s slowed down. So you didn’t answer my question, is this principally designed to prime the pump, to create jobs and economic activity? It’s part of the Government’s economic rescue package, is that part of what motivates this?

Alan Tudge: So this project has obviously been planned for some years and the construction will begin though very shortly, and we’re putting in some additional money to really get it going. Now of course infrastructure is a great mechanism for supporting economic growth, both in the short term as well as the medium and long term. In the short term this project, for example, will generate 600 jobs. In the medium term, once the project is completed, you’re adding additional productive capacity to the economy overall because the trucks can move more quickly, people can get around more rapidly, the freight can move and obviously that supports the economic growth as well.

Jon Faine: And nine minutes, where does the nine minutes shaved off travel time? Did someone just make that up in some sort of strategy meeting?

Alan Tudge: You have been watching too much Utopia I think Jon. No these are, for every single project which is done of major proportions, and this is a billion-dollar project, there is modelling done and there’s estimates made about what the time savings will be. So it’ll be nine minutes’ savings on the inbound traffic if you’re coming from Pakenham, and about 13 minutes on the way out.

Jon Faine: You mean not at peak hour?

Alan Tudge: No these are at peak hour, these are at peak hour. I mean, if you’re not travelling in peak hour…

Jon Faine: At peak hour it crawls.

Alan Tudge: If you’re not travelling at peak hour you can still relatively easily get through on the Monash, but at peak hour it’s really congested. And I’ll tell you where a really congested place is and that’s actually further out, and which is where our focus is in this particular project.

Jon Faine: Out towards Pakenham?

Alan Tudge: It’s out towards Berwick and Pakenham because that’s where its only two lanes each way. So we’re adding additional lanes that go there.

Jon Faine: Yeah, and that’s ridiculous too. Minister, why not put tolls on so that you recover some of the revenue that’s being spent, some of the funds that have been expended in order to roll them into the next project? As you just said you need to keep building further and further out so why not put a toll on?

Alan Tudge: So we’re not tolling the road here, that’s not part of the plan.

Jon Faine: Sure, but why not?

Alan Tudge: This has been a toll free road for some time, there’s obviously tolls on the Monash further in, so this project is being done on a toll free basis.

Jon Faine: Yeah, but why?

Alan Tudge: Well, in this particular instance we’ve got sufficient government funding to be able to do the work, it’s a billion-dollar project with the very large-scale projects such as North East Link and even the East Link, obviously there was tolls put on that to help recover some of the costs. We want to keep the cost down to its minimum. At the end of the day, the toll decisions are actually made by the State Government, not by the Federal Government.

Jon Faine: Sure, they are. But what we’ve got here and you’re part and parcel of the planning, we’ve now got some roads that are tolled and some that aren’t. Depending on where you live, you either win or lose in the lottery, the tolling lottery, and your commute is either incredibly expensive or completely subsidised by the taxpayer. Wouldn’t it be fairer if all these road projects included the introduction of a toll, it doesn’t have to be a large one, but then at least you take away that lottery?

Alan Tudge: Certainly I wouldn’t want to see a toll on that part of the Monash, but that’s a question that’s better put to the Premier who I understand you’ve got on after me.

Jon Faine: Yeah, I thought you believed in user pays.

Alan Tudge: Again, on this part of the road, you’ve only got two lanes each way on parts of the Monash, despite having tremendous growth down Berwick-Pakenham corridor, and that’s an area I know well having grown up in Pakenham. So we want to alleviate the congestion pressures for those people, widen the roads there. But if you’ve got questions about tolls, I think they’re better put to the Premier.

Jon Faine: All right. Well I’ll get the chance to do so in a moment. Did you enjoy your fundraiser dinner at the television station run by Nine Media the other night?

Alan Tudge: It was another fundraising dinner which I attended and unfortunately, well not unfortunately, part of our role is having to raise funds for our campaigns later when it comes around to election time.

Jon Faine: Do you think it’s appropriate that politicians raise funds inside a TV station, inside a studio run by what’s supposed to be an independent news reporting organisation?

Alan Tudge: Well that’s a decision of Nine to host that. They hosted the venue only, and obviously all the guests there were from right across Australia who were willing to come and support the Liberal Party in this instance. But political parties are constantly having fundraising events because campaigns are expensive. And that’s just part of the Australian democracy and if people want to contribute to a political party, of course, they’re entitled to do so.

Jon Faine: What would you say if a media outlet hosted a fundraiser for the Greens who are not your favourites or the Labor Party? You’d cry foul, wouldn’t you?

Alan Tudge: Well, I mean, as the Head of Nine actually said, they’re willing to host functions for both political parties…

Jon Faine: Yeah, they’re willing to, they just haven’t done it.

Alan Tudge: Well again, they’re questions for the Nine CEO, not for me.

Jon Faine: No, but are you comfortable with attending and being used, effectively used in that way?

Alan Tudge: What do you mean by effectively used?

Jon Faine: Well, there’s a media outlet cuddling up to a government that it’s supposed to be at an arm’s length from and you’re a participant in all of that. Shouldn’t politicians and media outlets, at least if they want to be taken seriously, shouldn’t they at all times be at arm’s length?

Alan Tudge: Well I think, I mean, many businesses and many different organisations host fundraisers for political parties and that’s what occurred earlier this week, in this instance, by Nine. But I’ve attended fundraisers at all sorts of different organisations and I’m sure that will continue, Jon.

Jon Faine: All right. Well thank you indeed for answering all my impertinent questions, Alan Tudge there.

Alan Tudge: Thank you Jon. I hope you have a better day today.

Jon Faine: I’m having a fabulous day. In fact, it’s got off to a great start from my point of you.

Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population in Scott Morrison’s Federal Coalition Government.