Transcript Sky News Interview with Sharri Markson

Sharri Markson: The design for Western Sydney’s new international airport is finally out, and the Minister for Population Alan Tudge was there to announce it this morning. The airport is part of the Federal Government’s population plan, and the Minister joins me now.
Welcome, Alan Tudge.

Alan Tudge: G’day, Sharri.

Sharri Markson: So the photographs look pretty flash, it looks amazing. Can you tell us about what Western Sydney Airport will finally look like, and why you chose this design out of so many that pitched for this very lucrative contract?

Alan Tudge: Yeah, well, that’s right. So we announced today the initial designs for the terminal, and it is looking terrific. It’s going to be a really modern, open, light terminal. It’ll be the cutting edge in terms of technologies, it’ll be seamless passenger flow through the terminal, and it’ll be open in 2026, and that’s when airlines will be taking off from Western Sydney Airport, both domestic airlines and international ones. So a really exciting development along the way today.

This is a great jobs generator as well, because as we’re building this airport, it’s 11,000 jobs during construction and there’ll be 28,000 jobs being supported during the operational phase of the airport. So, exciting times for Western Sydney.

Sharri Markson: It’s amazing that this has been under debate and discussion and argument for decades, and then finally there’s an opening date. If your construction runs according to schedule, which nothing ever does, of 2026, which is amazing. Tell me, is there going to be enough parking? Because that’s the big problem with Sydney Airport at the moment. You know, it’s the main international airport for Australia and people can’t get to it and people can’t get away from it.

Alan Tudge: Yeah, well there’s a couple of issues with the Kingsford Smith Airport. One is that it’s getting to close to capacity, despite the fact that we’re going to have a lot more growth. Second is that it’s not a 24-hour airport. As you know, there’s a curfew at the Sydney Airport presently, and it’s only one of two airports in Australia that has a curfew, the other being Adelaide. But the third is there’s been car parking constraints. Now, all of those issues will be addressed with the Western Sydney Airport when it opens in 2026. It’s on track at the moment, it’s on budget.

We fully expect it to open at the end of 2026 with budget airlines, with premium airlines, with international airlines, all taking off in that particular year. And by having that additional airport in Sydney as well, it actually does create some competitive pressures too, across two airports. Now that puts downward pressure on prices for the airports against the airlines, and that will inevitably flow through to ticket prices as well.

Sharri Markson: But with your new design that you’ve released today, have you factored in a lot of parking for Western Sydney?

Alan Tudge: So, there will be parking for the Western Sydney Airport as well, but by 2026, who knows how people are going to be travelling to the airport. We’re ensuring that there’s going to be a train connection to the airport right from day one. That’s a really important commitment which we have made, and we’ve already got $3.5 billion allocated towards that. But there’s also going to be a freeway connection to the airport as well, and of course people will be able to park there.

Sharri Markson: It’s actually an interesting point, when you say who knows how people are going to be travelling to the airport. Probably not in 2026, but beyond the next decade, you know, well every car company almost is coming out with driverless cars. You as the Infrastructure Minister, when you plan ahead for cities and give funding for major projects to be built, are you factoring this into your thinking at all, the direction of driverless cars?

Alan Tudge: Yeah, there’s certainly a lot of work going on in relation to driverless vehicles at the Transport Minister’s forum, and so there’s a lot of thinking in relation to that. But no one really knows how quickly it will evolve. Now, I’m actually quite excited by the prospect of driverless vehicles in part, because I think it will help address some of the congestion challenges in our cities. Some estimates are that it could reduce the avoidable congestion by up to 25 or 30 per cent, which is an enormous amount. But they’re estimates, we don’t know when it will come in, there’s a lot of regulatory hurdles to overcome, and there’s still a lot of safety standards that need to be overcome as well. But I think it will be inevitable at some stage in the future that we’ll see driverless vehicles. The question is: when? That’s what we don’t know.

Sharri Markson: Are you already working on some of those hurdles? I mean, I find it interesting that it was just raised at a conference. I didn’t know people were already, it was on the agenda at discussions with your state counterparts.

Alan Tudge: Yeah. So there already is through the Transport Minister’s forum, and there’s a taskforce set up which is looking at these questions. There’s an estimated something like 700 regulations which have to be overcome for driverless vehicle to be able to actually operate in Australia. And of course, you want to make sure as well that there’s consistency across jurisdictions, for whatever new rules you might put in place, including what sort of lines or nanoparticles in the [indistinct] that you might be putting in in the future to cater for driverless vehicles. We don’t want to have another rail gauge problem across the states, so that’s another critical component, is ensuring that we have [indistinct] regulations.

Sharri Markson: Now, just on the drought and on drought infrastructure, Alan Jones has written quite a good piece, a very strong piece, in The Telegraph today where he talks about how the Australian Government built a pipeline from Australia to PNG to carry gas. Also as we know we’re funding undersea internet cables to Solomon Islands in PNG, but he says that there’s been no adequate water infrastructure built in Australia. You as the Infrastructure Minister, do you think it’s shameful that not enough has been done when Australia suffers drought, to help protect farmers when this inevitably will occur?

Alan Tudge: Well I disagree with his assessment. I mean there’s an enormous amount of water infrastructure which is being put in place as we speak, I can’t remember the exact number and I don’t look after that part of the portfolio but we are very serious about this. Obviously the states and territories have the primary responsibility for looking after the water [indistinct] by supporting them very strongly as well, and that’s just one element of the overall package in tackling the drought.

We’ve obviously got a package which supports individuals who are suffering, particularly through the Farmers Household Allowance which we’ve increased to four years. We’ve got packages which are for communities because broader communities get affected, not just farmers. And of course we’ve also got a fund which deals with the drought and that incorporates things like water infrastructure as well.

Sharri Markson: What other infrastructure projects do you think should be funded and built right now so that in the future farmers don’t suffer like they are today?

Alan Tudge: That’s not really in my portfolio, that particular question. I know that’s been worked through by state and territory ministers.

Sharri Markson: But you’re in Cabinet, this is a discussion that Cabinet’s looking at and talking about, this is a live issue.

Alan Tudge: Sure but we’ve already got, we’ve got a lot of water infrastructure projects which we are already contributing to, there's been a lot of work being done on the Murray-Darling Basin plan as you probably know, we're providing direct assistance to farmers who are really struggling with the drought and that work is ongoing and there may well be more to come. But, as I’ve said I'll leave I'll leave the details up to the responsible ministers in relation to that.

Sharri Markson: Have you just signed off on extra drought funding at Cabinet?

Alan Tudge: Sorry, say that again Sharri.

Sharri Markson: I said have you just signed off on extra drought funding at Cabinet? As the Government?

Alan Tudge: Well we've been announcing extra drought funding as we've been going along over the last few months as you probably know, so, and that includes the $5 billion future fund effectively knowing that droughts are going to be a common feature in the future as they have been in the past.

Sharri Markson: Look you've got a big population taskforce and review that you've set up. Not long ago there were quite strong calls to reduce the population now that the economy is, there are more concerns about the economy and the budget position as well. Is this now on the backburner? I mean, any move to reduce the population would threaten our budget position.

Alan Tudge: Well Sharri, our position hasn't changed markedly since we first announced our population plan. So the key components are to reduce the permanent migration rate from what was 190,000 to a cap of 160,000 and then within that to allocate a dedicated number of positions, 25,000, specifically for the regional areas.

Sharri Markson: But is this now such a good idea, to reduce that cap from 190 to 160 when there are concerns about our economy?

Alan Tudge: Well the fundamental issue is that we've got so much growth going into Melbourne, Sydney and South East Queensland that we don't have much growth going to other parts of Australia. And so part of our plan is to ease the population pressures off those big capital cities which are really feeling the squeeze. I mean people of Sydney, people of Melbourne know that because they have been growing so fast and yet there’s other places, other parts of Australia such as Adelaide, or Perth, or some of the regional areas which actually want more people. They're often crying out for skills which they can't get, they've got vacancies which they can't fill. So our plan is really to take some of the population pressures off the big capital cities but also support the aspirations for further growth in those smaller cities in the regional areas.

Sharri Markson: Look, you've announced about 160 odd infrastructure projects to bring forward to help stimulate the economy. How many jobs exactly will these projects create?

Alan Tudge: Well we've got about 130 major projects underway which we are funding and that supports well over 50,000 jobs through those particular projects. So it's an enormous amount of work which is going on, a record amount and we've got a pipeline of work over the next decade as well. Now of course on top of that we've got 166 smaller scale projects in the suburbs which we want to get cracking on as soon as possible because they often support the smaller scale contractors in the suburbs of our big cities…

Sharri Markson: And how many jobs do you anticipate that will create?

Alan Tudge: …and don’t put as much pressure on tier one and tier two contractors. So listen, I don't have an estimate for that, we get those estimates as we go through the process with the states and territories because they provide the details for how they’ll actually implement them and how many jobs will be created in the process.

Sharri Markson: Minister just lastly, Jeff Kennett today said politicians have no vision today unlike when he was premier. What's your vision for Australia?

Alan Tudge: Well I know Jeff Kennett has been saying that ever since he left office. But I mean, we want to see a large prosperous Australia where everybody can fulfil their potential, where families can thrive, they can work hard and be rewarded for it, where our environment is clean and where we’ve got every opportunity under the sun for individuals today and for future generations.

Sharri Markson: Thank you very much Minister, appreciate your time today.

Alan Tudge: Thanks very much Sharri.