Transcript, Sky News, Interview with Kieran Gilbert

Subjects: Infrastructure spending

Kieran Gilbert: Some big news though on that cladding issue. Let’s get some reaction from the Federal Government. The Minister for Infrastructure joins me, Alan Tudge. Thanks so much for your time.

The Victorian Government says it’s a nation-leading response, it’s not waiting for private companies, it’s stumping up $300 million, it wants the Federal Government to do the same. Will you?

Alan Tudge: G’day Kieran. This will obviously be considered in due course. I’ve just heard that Premier Andrews is proposing to take this to COAG to be discussed there and no doubt he’ll be discussing this with the Prime Minister beforehand, and I’ll leave that obviously to the Prime Minister to address.

Kieran Gilbert: But given that this has been prompted obviously by events overseas, the Grenfell Tower tragedy and so on, this surely should be welcomed by the Federal Government that the Victorian Government is moving to act and make the highest risk building safe for residents.

Alan Tudge: Well, this is a really serious issue and it is good that Daniel Andrews is taking action here. I’m not across the details, I’m just literally hearing it for the first time as I’ve been sitting here in the studio so in terms of any formal response from the Federal Government, I’ll leave that to Karen Andrews or the Prime Minister to fully respond in due course.

Kieran Gilbert: Sure. Okay. Well on the infrastructure, no doubt, Daniel Andrews will be asked about your comments today in the AFR very shortly. But up until this point, he’s shown no inclination to back the major road project, the East West Link that you want to fund in Melbourne. Why doesn’t the Federal Government look elsewhere in terms of saying okay, we’re not going to get a deal on that, let’s put some infrastructure spending elsewhere in one of our biggest cities?

Alan Tudge: Well in essence, Kieran, we are doing that and we’ve got massive projects right across Victoria which we’re investing in, in partnership with the state government and actually we have a very good relationship with the State Government in terms of getting infrastructure built, perhaps no bigger one than the Airport Rail Link which is a $5 billion commitment each, to finally connect up Australia’s second biggest airport by rail.

The East West Link is obviously a project which we think is vitally important because it will finally connect up the Eastern Freeway to the other side of town and ease the traffic for 50,000 commuters every single day.

Now, our message to the State Government is obviously that we’re happy to pay for the entire federal contribution but putting that aside, we’ve largely got good co-operation with the State Government. We want to see other projects done quickly and I’m in good discussions with the state Minister in relation to those other projects, particularly some of the smaller Urban Congestion Fund projects which are in the suburb by suburbs across the city.

Kieran Gilbert: And on some of the larger projects as well though, you’re talking about the need to expedite those, the Federal Government, I think the Treasurer is going to making a similar point at lunch time today. What sort of things can you do to smooth out the planning and approval processes to expedite those?

Alan Tudge: In some respects, as you’d know, there’s been a lot of discussion in relation to how you can accelerate the progress of our major infrastructure in Australia. Now, part of our response is to say well actually, we’ve already been doing this. We’ve already massively ramped up the expenditure on infrastructure from what was a $50 billion program five years ago, which was a record then, to now a $100 billion program today over the course of a decade.

On top of that though, if we do want to do further work, then there’s three areas which we think that we can accelerate even further but all three do require state cooperation. The first is to fast track some of the 120 large projects which we have in the planning phase.

The second is actually to get on with some of those big projects which the State Government hasn’t yet committed to such as the East West Link. And the third, and this is the most tangible one, is that we’ve got well over 100 projects around the country which are small-scale suburb-by-suburb, $5 million here, $20 million there which we want to get happening as quickly as possible.

I’m in discussions with my state counterparts to see if we can get really cracking on those, not only to make a difference to local residents to fix up those congestion hotspots, but also to provide additional jobs in those local communities.

Kieran Gilbert: Let’s just go back to where we were a bit earlier in terms of the East West Link because it’s relevant to something else you’ve said there. In terms of the states and whether or not they’re acting sufficiently, isn’t it fair to say that Victoria is almost at full tilt anyway right now? So the question is would they have the capacity to make way for that particular project or at least facilitate that project?

Alan Tudge: That’s some of the feedback which Premier Andrews has been saying, is they’re getting close to capacity and in particular in relation to concrete capacity. I suppose my message there would be that if you’ve got concrete shortages, let’s then expedite the quarry approval process so that we don’t have that in the future.

Should we even give the go ahead to East West Link today? It would obviously still take a few years to do the detailed planning work et cetera, before you can really get the major construction underway. So in the meantime, let’s get cracking in terms of approving quarries so we don’t have those shortages.

Kieran Gilbert: What about the other states, are they doing enough? I know you go to Central Brisbane, you see the Cross River Rail, Sydney’s got various road projects, they look like New South Wales is moving quite sufficiently. Are the various other states doing enough in your view?

Alan Tudge: Well most jurisdictions are also investing record amounts in infrastructure, just as the Federal Government is. New South Wales is leading the way there and they’ve had a massive program now for a number of years, largely supported by the Coalition Government federally. We’ve obviously in New South Wales got a huge project which we’re funding entirely but The State Government is also supporting us with road and rail connected to this and that is the $5.3 billion Western Sydney Airport.

That project, Kieran, will transform Western Sydney and it is going to be the largest earth-moving exercise in Australian history to flatten out that area around Badgerys Creek to create an enormous airport out there, which will be twice the size of Sydney’s Airport is presently. But there’s other projects going on in Sydney as there are around the country.

The overall message is that, supported by the Federal Government, there is record amounts of funding in road and rail projects going on around the country. We’ve massively ramped that up and that’s a really important support for the economy overall, both now during the construction phase, but of course it increases the capacity of the economy overall so it has long-term impacts as well.

Kieran Gilbert: So given all of that activity, why then has the RBA Governor made more than a dozen requests in recent months for governments to do more on infrastructure? It sounds, according to what you’re saying today, that you believe it’s sufficient.

Alan Tudge: Well the Governor also did point out that our infrastructure plan is supporting economic growth, so he’s made that point. And you do need to read carefully what he is saying. And I suppose we’re point out that almost in response to some of the Governor’s comments is that we have massively ramped up our infrastructure expenditure.

At last year’s Budget it was $75 billion, in this year’s Budget we’ve increased that to $100 billion. We’ve announced 900 major projects since we’ve been in government. Fully a third of those have been in the last 12 months alone, so you can see the ramp up in infrastructure expenditure already and that will continue on.

I’m pointing out today in an important article in the Australian Financial Review, that if we want to even accelerate further, well there are opportunities there and I’m in discussions with the Deputy Prime Minister is also, in discussions with our state counterparts, to see whether or not those opportunities can be fulfilled.

Kieran Gilbert: Quick one to wrap up Minister, before I let you go, this analysis out of the Treasury, The Australian reports it today, that stubborn workers basically is how they’re described, not moving to more productive companies is putting downward pressure basically on wages growth. Should more onus though be put on companies given rising profits, that the onus be put on them to increase wages and provide that incentive to either move or to increase productivity.

Alan Tudge: Yeah Kieran, the Treasurer is giving a speech today and he’ll no doubt address some of those comments and I’ll just leave it to him to address those points today.

Kieran Gilbert: Okay. We’re out of time. Alan Tudge, we’ll talk to you soon.

Alan Tudge: Thanks very much Kieran.