Transcript - Interview with Tom Connell on Sky News

TOM CONNELL:  My next guest on the program is Alan Tudge, Minister for Population, Cities, and Urban Infrastructure. Thanks very much for your time.

ALAN TUDGE: G’day Tom.

TOM CONNELL:  We might begin on infrastructure. The stimulus measures we've got so far are very much short term for the economy. What about infrastructure? Are we going to see a whole heap of projects brought forward?

ALAN TUDGE: At the end of last year we announced $4.3 billion of extra funding to be brought forward, and that's being rolled out presently. We're also in discussions with states and territories right now in terms of other projects which may be able to be brought forward. You might recall that the DPM and myself wrote to our state counterparts and to the local councils a couple of months ago, even before the coronavirus kicked off. They've now come back which we're taking a look at. We are keen to get more infrastructure underway. And in part, Tom, and this is important because it can be a good stimulus measure in and of itself, but also we know that the residential and commercial construction industry has slowed down. And so if we can mop up some of the workforce that would ordinarily work in that space, and put them towards the civil construction space, then we can help keep the economy going more rapidly.

TOM CONNELL: Yeah, because that was the report not so long ago - we were going to be short on actual workers for a lot of these infrastructure projects. That's now looking like the other way round, that there could be people heading to the unemployment queue because of that downturn you mentioned there unless there are projects ready to go. So you're confident there won't be a whole lot of people for a few months, at least, the unemployed from construction? Are you going to be able to get this going quickly enough?

ALAN TUDGE: Tom, what I can say is that on the civil construction side, in relation to the roads, the rails, et cetera, all of that work continues at apace and there is definitely capacity there. In fact, there was a survey done by the Civil Contractors Federation recently, which says that 90 per cent of their members had capacity to do more, which is a good sign.

Where the problems lie at the moment is more on the commercial and residential construction. And we know that when you look at the JobSeeker figures, for example, over 10 per cent of the JobSeeker applications have come from people in that sector indicating that there has been a market slowdown in that particular sector.

That's why we are thinking about whether or not we can invest more in the civil construction - the roads, the rail, etcetera - in order to then be able to keep the employment market high in the overall construction industry. Because construction, at the end of the day, is over 8 per cent of our GDP - 1.2 million people employed in that sector.

We've done well to keep it going, and that's different to places like New Zealand which shut down their construction industry overall. We've kept it going, largely at apace, but there has been that slowdown we do know in the commercial and residential construction area.

[Interview interrupted by news conference]

TOM CONNELL: Apologies to interrupt you there, Minister Alan Tudge, I just wanted to make our viewers aware of that news conference. I know we spoke about population last time around and how things are looking very different. Migrant workers obviously leaving, we don't know when they'll come back. Are you going to have to possibly look at the opposite to what you're looking at not so long ago, boosting Australia's population in the not too distant future?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, Tom, as you probably know Australia has been growing pretty quickly over the last decade or so - at about 1.6 per cent per annum - and two-thirds of that growth has been driven by migration into the country. Now, clearly our migration rate will slow down this year because the borders are effectively closed at the moment, which means that that figure will obviously be down.

Now, we don't know when we'll be able open to open up the borders again. Migration is an important element of our GDP growth - it's also supported skills, it's supported our universities, it's supported different sectors who are relying upon migrants to be able to do the work when they can't find Australians. So we are looking closely at this as to what the future might unfold - how it might unfold, but we’re just not position to be able to say that just yet while we still have the borders closed.

TOM CONNELL:  Okay. So I guess there might be some incentives played around with, but that, that's an active situation to look at. I want to talk about racism, in particular against Chinese-Australians. I understand there's been a family targeted in your electorate. What's been happening there?

ALAN TUDGE: Yeah there has. It's something I've been concerned about generally actually, is that there's been a lot of evidence which I've been receiving that there has been an increase in racist attacks against, not just Chinese-Australians but other Asian-Australians.  That's just not on.

There was a high profile incident in my own electorate, which is a very multicultural electorate - the eastern suburbs of Melbourne - and I think it's just disgraceful conduct.

I mean 99.9 per cent of Australians are good honest people who would rightly abhor that type of racial abuse against Asian people, but there's clearly a very, very small number of absolute cowards there who do cause significant grief and disharmony in our community. So we're trying to reassure the broader multicultural community, particularly the Asian community, that we're on their side.

There are mechanisms that you can take if you feel as if you're suffering from racial abuse as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and we're encouraging them to do so. We're on their side.

Racism has no place in this country and I want to reassure them that it's just a tiny, tiny minority of people who, who are doing such cowardly conduct.

TOM CONNELL:  Yeah. And if you're out there and you hear it, you know, don't be afraid to call it out as well.

ALAN TUDGE: Absolutely. I think most will do that, Tom, as well, most decent Australians would call it out when they see it and as rightly, they should. We've got the best multicultural country in the world and we want to continue that way and I think we can if people all call it out.

TOM CONNELL: And just finally, Minister Angus Taylor. We heard from New South Wales Police yesterday this document that he says his office downloaded from the Sydney City Council website, that police were unable to find any evidence that happened - no metadata anywhere in any of his office computers - that, that was taken from the Sydney City website. So that's his explanation, I guess we'll never know, there's no proof of it.

ALAN TUDGE: Well I mean, what is very clear though, Tom, is that there was a state police investigation and there was a federal police investigation and neither of them proceeded because neither of them found the evidence to suggest that he was doing anything wrong - and that should be the end of the matter. I know this constantly comes up, but it should be the end of the matter.

You can't have a clearer case there. When the New South Wales police investigated it, nothing turned down; federal police investigated it, nothing too progress with. That should be the end of the matter and I'm disappointed that the, the Labor Party persists in pursuing this for political reasons.

TOM CONNELL:  Would it have been better for him to be more emphatic about putting it to bed and agreed to an interview with the police? He instead got police to ask questions via his lawyers.

ALAN TUDGE: I think he fully cooperated with the police is my full understanding and I have no reason to doubt that he fully cooperated in that basis. I'll just re-emphasise, the fact of the matter is there's been two full police investigations and in both cases he was cleared and so that should be the end of the matter and Labor should stop politicising this.

TOM CONNELL: Alan Tudge, appreciate your time. Thank you.

ALAN TUDGE: Thanks very much, Tom.