Transcript - Interview with Peter Stefanovic

PETER STEFANOVIC: 

Joining me now, Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure, Alan Tudge.  This is ahead of the Prime Minister's announcement later on today about all these new infrastructure projects around the country.  Minister, good morning to you.  Thanks so much for joining us.  

ALAN TUDGE: 

Good morning, Peter. 

PETER STEFANOVIC: 

So, when can work begin?  

ALAN TUDGE: 

Well, there are two things we are announcing, Peter.  One is $1.5 billion of new money to get smaller-scale projects going immediately.  What I mean by that is this calendar year.  Then the second thing that we are announcing is that we want to accelerate the approval processes of 15 mega projects to unlock 66,000 jobs.  So, in the meantime, get those projects going immediately, right across Australia with that $1.5 billion of stimulus. 

PETER STEFANOVIC: 

This announcement is going to cause some alarm for environmental groups, no doubt, Minister.  So, are there any environmental corners being cut?  

ALAN TUDGE: 

We are cutting bureaucracy, not environmental corners, Peter.  What we want to do is streamline the processes because sometimes these mega projects can take up to four years for them to get underway.  Therefore, we want to halve that time, and if you do that, it means the jobs come on board more quickly.  Now, how are we going to do this?  In three ways, firstly, by putting more money into the assessment processes itself.  Second, to reduce some of the duplication between state and federal governments; and, thirdly, by doing some of the processes in parallel, rather than sequentially.  You do all that together; you can accelerate those projects and get those jobs on more quickly. 

PETER STEFANOVIC: 

Are you expecting resistance from green groups, though?  I mean we've seen what can happen with major projects.  I mean Adani, for one example, we've got these delays upon delays when, you know, various groups are getting involved.  So, are they involved in consultation processes alongside Federal and State authorities?  

ALAN TUDGE: 

Yes, the consultation processes will continue.  Those requirements won't diminish; nor will the environmental standards.  What we want to do is, is break the bureaucracy, rather than reduce standards and reduce consultation and we think we can do that.  When you look at Snowy Hydro 2.0 we were able to get that process through in two years’ time rather than the normal three or four.  Therefore, it can be done and we want to do that on these 15 other mega projects so that we can get these jobs underway more rapidly. 

PETER STEFANOVIC: 

Okay.  So let's just identify a couple here, Minister.  This inland rail from Melbourne to Brisbane for starters.  So, just to clarify: that's not passenger services, is it?  That's freight?  

ALAN TUDGE: 

That is freight. It's a $10 billion project.  It's a massive project right across inland Australia, as you said, from Melbourne to Brisbane and it will make a very big difference to all of those agriculturalists and other people in those inner areas. 

PETER STEFANOVIC: 

Okay, New South Wales dams: how many are we talking?  

ALAN TUDGE: 

I don't know the answer to that question.  I don't look after the dams policy, but we can go through each one and there's major projects in every state just about, that we want to get going.  The state governments are on board, they equally share our desire to fast-track these projects because all of us know that the key objective at the moment must be to create jobs, because Treasury estimates that even in the June quarter unemployment will be at eight per cent or higher.  Now, that is catastrophic levels of unemployment. 

We have had a five in the unemployment number for so long.  So we have to focus on jobs and that means we have to reduce some of the bureaucracy so we can get projects going more quickly. 

PETER STEFANOVIC: 

Sure.  Okay, when it comes to these new projects, though, how much of it is new and how much of it an upgrade on existing infrastructure?  

ALAN TUDGE: 

Yeah, so two different things here.  The 15 mega projects which represent about $72 billion worth of investment, both of government investment and private investment, they are existing commitments already and those are about accelerating approvals.  Then we are announcing $1.5 billion of new money.  Now, they will be for two things: one being for road safety upgrades around Australia, and two, being for smaller-scale projects across are Australia as well, which can get underway this calendar year. 
Now, that 1.5 billion, Peter, is on top of the already $7.8 billion which we've announced since November of last year of new money or bring forwards, all designed to create jobs which is our central objective, right now. 

PETER STEFANOVIC: 

Okay, Minister, a couple of quick ones before you go.  How concerned are you about the Australian man, Karm Gilespie who is on death row in China? 

ALAN TUDGE: 

Well, I am personally concerned, and the Prime Minister and the government are concerned about him.  We do not support the death penalty anywhere in the world, and we will be making representations or continue to make representations to the Communist Party governments in China and, of course, he is getting all the consulate assistance available as well, as we speak.  So, you know, we are thinking about him.  We are making those representations.  We do not want to see anybody in the world suffer the death penalty. 

PETER STEFANOVIC: 

Is it politically motivated?  

ALAN TUDGE: 

There is no evidence to suggest that it is.  I mean, the Chinese Government has used the death penalty on different nationals from across the world for a long time, and we do not support it.  We advocate against it.  And we'll certainly be making and continue to make, very strong representations to ensure that he doesn't face it. 

PETER STEFANOVIC:   

It has got to be another warning, though, doesn't it, Minister, for anyone who may be looking to carry drugs or traffic drugs through different countries?  If you get caught, you're in a whole lot of strife. 

ALAN TUDGE: 

Oh, that is absolutely the case.  Of course, you should not be doing that but no one deserves the death penalty.  And we will be making representations to ensure that Mr Gilespie does not face that, just as we make representations for any single other Australian who faces that prospect anywhere in the world. 

PETER STEFANOVIC: 

Okay.  Just on to this Victorian Labor MP, Adem Somyurek accused of branch stacking on 60 Minutes last night, a special investigation by them.  Minister, would you support an inquiry into that?  

ALAN TUDGE: 

Oh, I think it needs more than an inquiry.  I think Adem Somyurek should be dismissed immediately but, more importantly, this reveals the rotten core of the Labor Party once again and, of course, it's on top of the cash in Aldi bags, on top of the red shirts, on top of Sam Dastyari selling out Australia's interest to the highest bidder.  It's the rotten core of the Labor Party revealed once more, and that is the culture that needs to be eradicated.  So if the inquiry can assist with that, good.  But I suggest it's going to take more than that. 

PETER STEFANOVIC: 

All right.  Adem Somyurek, meanwhile, has denied any involvement in that, but more to come on that.  The Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews will be giving a press conference later on and we will bring that to you live.  Minister, appreciate your time this morning.  Thanks for joining us.  

ALAN TUDGE: 

Thanks very much, Peter.