Transcript - Interview with Sabra Lane

SABRA LANE:

Alan Tudge is the Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure. Alan Tudge, good morning and welcome to AM.

ALAN TUDGE:

Good morning, Sabra. 

SABRA LANE:

The list of 15 major infrastructure projects, how have they been selected and how many jobs will they create?

ALAN TUDGE:

They have been selected for two reasons: one being that they are massive job producing projects; and, second, that they are ready, they have the funding connected to it, and both levels of government want to get them going.

SABRA LANE:

The Prime Minister's also announcing today the fast-tracking of approvals with the Commonwealth aiming to halve approval time down to 21 months. What is being sacrificed in shortening that timeframe?

ALAN TUDGE:
 
In essence, bureaucracy is being sacrificed, not standards. We are doing three things to try to reduce the approvals process. One, we want to put more resources into the assessment; two, we want to reduce some of the duplication between State and Federal Governments; and three, we want to do some of the processes in parallel, rather than sequentially. You do those three things together, and we think we can get that processing done in half the time than what is presently done.

SABRA LANE:

If you're shortening that time, are you cutting corners? 

ALAN TUDGE:

No, absolutely not, this is not about cutting corners, it's about cutting bureaucracy. Now, we know some of these mega projects, and this is what we are talking about here, 15 mega projects, will deliver 66,000 jobs. We want to get those going as quickly as possible. So that means reducing the bureaucracy rather than cutting corners.

SABRA LANE:

This is going to be done through joint assessment teams.

ALAN TUDGE: 

That's right.

SABRA LANE:

What expertise is there going to be on those teams for looking at environmental issues as well?

ALAN TUDGE:

Yeah, it's a good point. The environmental approvals are often one of the lengthier parts of the process here but sometimes you do have complete duplication between State and Federal processes. We should be able to minimise the time that is taken to do those environmental approvals without actually reducing the standards. And that's the objective of both the State and the Federal governments. In essence, have a one-stop shop rather than both trying to do the same thing at the same time.

SABRA LANE:

The government is also, right now, reviewing the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act. I think that review is due at the end of this month. Many conservationists will be concerned that you're just trying to skate over those environmental considerations. How important will be protecting the environment and biodiversity in this fast-tracking process?
 
ALAN TUDGE:

Oh, that is always critical. So I just want to emphasise this is not about cutting corners. This is about reducing the time taken to do the assessments, particularly reducing the duplication between state and federal governments. So we still need to do those environmental assessments, absolutely. We still need to make sure that biodiversity is protected, absolutely. But if we can do it more quickly, which we know that we can, then we can obviously unlock these jobs more rapidly.

SABRA LANE:

There'd be some people saying if that can be done now, why didn't you have a crack at this seven years ago when you first were elected?

ALAN TUDGE:

It's a good question and, really, a couple of reasons. One, the need is so important now, the economic need, because of the pandemic; and, two, because we have got such great cooperation with the state governments at the moment as well, so we can work on this concurrently where both levels of government, in fact, all three levels of government recognise that we have to produce jobs at the moment because Treasury is forecasting, even in the June quarter, that unemployment will be up towards eight per cent, which is just absolutely catastrophic for so many people.

SABRA LANE:

Okay, they're mega projects, 15 of them?

ALAN TUDGE: 

That's right.

SABRA LANE:

Typically, they take a long time to get off the ground.

ALAN TUDGE: 

They will.

SABRA LANE:

How can that happen, then, if you want the economic stimulus to happen right now?

ALAN TUDGE:

Typically, they will take three or four years, and so our ambition is to halve that processing time. Now, we have actually already done this in part through the Snowy Hydro 2.0 scheme. So it can be done and we've got absolute commitment from the state governments as well to work cooperatively with us. So the opportunity is there and when you look through how much duplication there is, how much sequential processing there is, rather than parallel processing, I know that it can be done. If we do that, it does mean unlocking 66,000 jobs and we desperately need those jobs right now.

SABRA LANE:

More immediately, the government is also announcing today $1.5 billion to small priority projects that are "shovel ready". A third will go to road safety works. What other projects are going to be funded here?

ALAN TUDGE:

So the other billion dollars will go to state governments, largely for smaller-scale projects across the country. Now, we have been working with them over the last two or three months as they put up their projects. We want the projects to start this year. So it will unlock jobs right across the country, and that's been the key criteria. A billion dollars and, of course, that's on top of that $7.8 billion which we've announced or brought forward since last November. All of this is geared towards trying to get the economy going more rapidly; most importantly, produce more jobs in every part of Australia.

SABRA LANE:

Minister, thanks for talking to AM.

ALAN TUDGE:

Thanks very much, Sabra.