Transcript - Sky News Live interview with Tom Connell

TOM CONNELL:

Emily, thank you. Well, as restrictions ease, of course, and people get back to work there are real fears that our major cities will be choked with traffic because people will have less confidence in public transport with COVID‑19 still out there.

Joining me now is Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Minister, Alan Tudge.

Thanks very much for your time. It has been described as potential 'carmageddon' in Sydney and Melbourne. Do you share that concern?

ALAN TUDGE:

I don't, Tom. It's certainly, at the moment, the traffic is considerably less in both Melbourne and Sydney, which are the most heavily congested cities in Australia.

In fact, I am in Sydney today, and speaking to the driver that I had this morning, he was saying it only took him 40 minutes to get from Western Sydney into the CBD in peak hour this morning when ordinarily it would take him an hour and 10 minutes so that's an indication at present.

In the future, it is very difficult to predict. I mean, there's a real opportunity here I think, Tom, for some of the flexibility in working arrangements to continue. We want people back to work, but they may be able to do so more flexibly, which may mean less traffic on the roads on an ongoing basis.

TOM CONNELL:

So, when you say "ongoing", we're talking about beyond COVID‑19. Let's imagine a wonderful world in which there's a vaccine and not talking about this dreaded thing anymore, how would that work? Would we have a national framework? You know, if you're talking about a certain type of office job the employer has to offer split shifts; people can either go 7 to 3, or 10 to 6. They get one day maybe a fortnight where they can work from home. Do we need a real framework to make this happen instead of just saying, "Hey, that was a great idea, keep doing it if you want to"?

ALAN TUDGE:

Yeah, I'm not convinced that we do need a national framework as such. I think employers will respond to the desires of employees who, in many cases, want to work more flexibly. And if their productivity is the same, then it is probably good for the employee, which makes it good for the employer as well if that productivity is maintained.

And so, there might be from the employer's perspective less need for as much property in some of the real expensive areas such as the CBDs or some of the other employment centres. So, there might be benefits from the employer's perspective as well as in terms of lower costs if there's flexible working arrangements.

I actually do think this will work itself out over the next 6, 12, 24 months where more flexible arrangements will become more of the norm amongst those employment relationships.

TOM CONNELL:

Right. Do you think that, and yes, you've outlined pretty clear, standing from a financial point of view that always helps convince business, but if it just returns to normal and our streets are just as clogged and your poor drivers doing the hour 10 plus from Western Sydney, do we look at a framework? I mean, we're all talking about the National Cabinet and people willing to cooperate now. Surely there'd be an easy conversation to have if people are still willing to, you know, be better than the old COAG. Is it something you would look at?

ALAN TUDGE:

I think the National Cabinet has certainly worked exceptionally well throughout this period. I think there has been some arguments already made that this should continue, but the question about do you need a national framework to govern that flexible arrangements, I'm not convinced, but ultimately this would be more of a decision for the Industrial Relations Minister in that regard as well.

I suppose what I'm more concerned about actually, Tom, in terms of congestion, at least in the short‑term, is more on public transport.

Now, our major cities, and particularly again if I focus on Melbourne and Sydney, are still very car dependent. About 75 per cent sorry, 80 per cent of all travel in Melbourne is done by cars. In Sydney it is about two‑thirds.

Certainly of the people who work in the CBD, those figures are almost reverse, so about three quarters of people work in the CBD use public transport, and about two‑thirds in Melbourne use public transport to get there.

Obviously the capacity of public transport is lower because of the social distancing and I think that presents challenges which we have to think carefully about and work through over the months and years ahead.

TOM CONNELL:

And, well, we've known this for a little while, the New South Wales plan, out just the other day, included a limit of 12 on buses but also a direction for no‑one to be refused entry on to a bus. That does not appear to make any sense at all, does it?

ALAN TUDGE:

I personally didn't quite understand that one. I can appreciate maybe from a bus driver's perspective that they may be potentially concerned about their safety if they have to be policing that as well, but that is really a matter for the State Government in terms of how they negotiate those things.

I think they are good rules in terms of ensuring that we can still travel on public transport in a safe way, and that is the most important thing, but clearly, the capacity of those buses will be down. Clearly the capacity of the trains will be down and many of those trains in Melbourne and Sydney, certainly in Melbourne, are already at crush capacity in the mornings.

So you take out half the capacity effectively. And it does mean some of that demand will go on the roads, and maybe that will offset what we're talking about before in terms of the flexible arrangements.

TOM CONNELL:

Right.

ALAN TUDGE:

So I think it is a little bit of watch this space at the moment.

TOM CONNELL:

But this is the worry for people out there. Is there a bit of a concern for people out there, we're just not ready for it at the moment? And even on trains when the green sticker theory in Sydney is great, but you've got to get on the train, look around, there's no sticker, the doors are closed, you know, on the train. It just doesn't seem like it is a workable policy.

ALAN TUDGE:

Yeah, I think that the intent is certainly there and I admire the intent for people to be able to commute safely on public transport.

The operational aspects of that are obviously up to the State Government, obviously up to the state governments and so I'll leave it to them to work out.

TOM CONNELL:

Yeah.

ALAN TUDGE:

But as I said, at the moment we've probably got pressures on public transport because of that, we've got less pressure certainly at the moment on the roads, simply because so many people are still being able to work from home.

TOM CONNELL:

Just finally, Property Council sending alarm on prices, and part of its solution, it says, it might need to be an immigration campaign encouraging people to come to Australia once the worst of the crisis has ended. Is that something you would be up for, maybe a new twist on the 'where the bloody hell are you' campaign?

ALAN TUDGE:

Australia's always a very desirable destination, Tom. So I don't think that we will have problems in terms of attracting people. If anything, I think we will be more desirable in the future once immigration is back open again because we've done so well in relation to the virus against some of our competitor countries, certainly.

That may be the case for international students; it may be the case for migrants more generally. I think there's real opportunity, by the way, to actually get even higher calibre of migrants come into Australia than we ordinarily do. We already do exceptionally well in that regard in terms of getting high‑skilled people come into Australia.

TOM CONNELL:

Does that may mean changing the rules? Alan Tudge, does that mean changing the rules?

ALAN TUDGE:

It may not mean that, but I just think the desirability of Australia may be actually enhanced in the future.

TOM CONNELL:

All right.

ALAN TUDGE:

And consequently will be able to get, or continue to get, exceptionally high‑calibre people coming in. Obviously this is a question for the future though, Tom.

TOM CONNELL:

Yeah.

ALAN TUDGE:

I mean, our focus very much has been on closing the borders and maintaining the security of those borders because that's been probably the single most important thing that we've done in terms of getting control of the virus, because about two‑thirds of all the cases were coming in from across the borders, from Aussies returning or from international people coming into the country.

TOM CONNELL:

Incredible it has only just happened in the UK. I'm still trying to figure that one out. But that's not one you have to answer. Alan Tudge, thanks for your time today. Talk soon.

ALAN TUDGE:

Thanks very much.