Transcript of Doorstop, IPA Partnerships 2014 Conference—Grand Hyatt, Melbourne
12 September 2014
IPA Partnerships 2014 Conference
I've been happy to be here today to open the Partnerships 2014 Conference. It's been an important occasion to report on the government's progress in delivering its commitments to infrastructure.
Our $50 billion plan is now seeing work being undertaken in every state, major projects underway and many more to start in the months ahead.
We believe that this will make a significant difference to Australia's infrastructure in our capital cities and in our regional communities, create tens of thousands of jobs, and build a more productive economy into the future.
Infrastructure is important not just to help people to get to home, to work, and to where they want to go, more efficiently, but it builds a stronger economy and enables us to transport our goods more smoothly at lower cost, and therefore make business competitive in this country.
So infrastructure is very much in the national interest, and the program we have in place can make a real difference to our economy, and make it more productive.
Question: If Labor wins the state election here and rips up the Express Link contracts, will Victoria be required to repay the two billion or so that the Federal Government has allocated to this project?
Warren Truss: Well, the arrangement with Victoria very clearly states that if the project doesn't proceed, Victoria has to return the $3 billion to the Federal Government. That's quite clear. No ifs and buts. The money was not provided to Victoria just to spend on anything they like. It was provided for a specific project, and if it's not used for that specific project, it will have to be returned.
Question: What precedence do you think that this sets in terms of sovereign risk and future investment in state projects like this?
Warren Truss: Well, people don't like the idea of investing in a country where governments change their mind all the time, and therefore they've spent money, they're out of pocket, they've put effort into a project that doesn't proceed—they're not so keen to do it again.
And the reputation of the country has already been badly damaged from a sovereign risk perspective under the Federal Government that we had over the last three years because of its mining tax, because of the carbon tax, because of their inability to be able to put their decisions into action, because of the problems they had in dealing with their Parliament.
If we ended up in Victoria with a Labor-Greens coalition government, then who knows whether any projects would ever be able to get underway. The East West Link would turn into a bikeway and you would get no real productive infrastructure in Victoria, because the Greens are against everything.
Question: What have people at the conference said to you this morning about what this means for investment certainty in Victoria?
Warren Truss: Well, there's obviously concern. Victoria needs capital infrastructure, and Melbourne is a vital part of the nation's entire economy. There has been significant investment in infrastructure in Victoria over the years. Many people believe that Melbourne's traffic system is amongst the best in the country. But as the city grows, you've got to keep working on that investment. You've got to keep providing new infrastructure, otherwise what were once great freeways or tollways become congested and clogged, and are no better than the old streets that they replace.
So there's got to be continuing investment, but there's actually got to be a positive attitude to that investment, so that if the private sector puts the effort into putting forward a new project, planning and delivering something that will make a real difference to the city's infrastructure, that they will be able to proceed with it, and then not have it prevented from progressing because of some protest groups.
Question: What will it mean for the travelling public if Australia's terrorism alert level is raised from medium to high?
Warren Truss: Well, that would be a matter we would have to assess in relation to each element of the transport sector. Clearly, the main focus from my department's perspective would be on our airports, probably the international airports, mainly. And you would obviously see a higher level of scrutiny and a stronger police presence at those airports.
But, essentially, when you're on a higher alert, you have to respond where there are specific concerns and sometimes that may be in other parts of the transport infrastructure around the nation or, indeed, other public facilities or places where people congregate or, in particular, seeking to ensure that we disrupt any plans for terrorist activities in this country.
You know, we want our country to be safe. We don't want it to be a place where there are terrorism [indistinct] and so everyone will need to be, and should be, always alert to anything that might be an early warning sign. And, also, we don't want Australians travelling overseas and inflicting their ill will on people in other countries. It is a grave concern to all Australians that some of our fellow citizens are involved in appalling activities in other parts of the world, and that is completely unacceptable.
Question: Would it mean that people would have to get to the airport earlier? Would they face further delays because of the increased security?
Warren Truss: Well, we would obviously try and minimise the inconvenience as much as possible, but if, in fact, there was a high level of alert in a particular area, clearly, that does slow down the movement of people through airports and other places. If you've got to do checks of people getting on whether it be planes or trains or buses or whatever it might be, that clearly adds to the inconvenience and that's something no government wants to inflict upon the people. On the other hand, we've got an obligation to keep people safe.
Question: And would people notice more armed police at places like airports?
Warren Truss: It's possible. But that would depend on an assessment of the risk and the value of having extra people in those places. Clearly, in this day and age, we've got modern surveillance activities, we have the advantage of being able to have access to information and while that's never perfect, it does help us to focus activities in areas where it might work. We always need to be on the alert, to keep our country safe, and governments have a particular obligation in that regard to take the necessary steps that our expert advisers consider to be required in the circumstances. And that is something that this Government has been conscious of since its election, and I'm sure the previous government too would have taken the advice that it gets from its security advisers—it takes it seriously, and makes sure that the—we respond to whatever concerns there might be.
Question: Just back on the East West Link, have you spoken to Daniel Andrews at all about it? I mean, you're an Infrastructure Minister. This is quite a significant project for Victoria and also Australia. Have you spoken to him about his decision to not proceed at all?
Warren Truss: No, I haven't. My negotiations are generally with the Government of the day, not the Opposition and, in this particular case, Mr Andrews is still not the Premier of this state. We will deal with the Government of the day, Transport Ministers and other relevant Ministers, and we are committed to getting this project underway. I hope that it's committed to and well and truly underway by the time of your state election.
Question: Daniel Andrews has continuously said that the Metro Rail project (**) is his priority. Has the Federal Government's position changed on funding passenger rail at all? Would you countenance the idea of putting in funding to something like the Metro Rail project?
Warren Truss: Well, it's not a matter of moving money from the East West Project to some kind of rail project or, for that matter, anything else. The money would be returned and the Commonwealth would make a decision about what is the next highest priority project in Australia. So any other project that Victoria wanted to put up would have to be measured against the worth of other important projects in Sydney and other capital cities or, for that matter, in regional communities. This is not money that's earmarked for Victoria. It was money that was earmarked for a particular project that was considered to be of high value.
Question: But Tony Abbott has consistently said it's not the Federal Government's intention to fund passenger rail projects so does that still stand?
Warren Truss: Well, I mentioned in my remarks earlier that our new program to encourage or to assist those State governments who choose to recycle assets may well be directed towards urban passenger rail projects. Of course, it would be a matter for the State to choose which productive infrastructure they chose to invest in but the States are better placed to provide public—urban public transport projects and that's why we believe that our investment in major road and freight rail projects frees up funds that the States can then otherwise use where they have greater expertise in mainly areas like urban public transport.
Now, we inherited from the previous government a very major passenger rail project in Melbourne, the Regional Rail Project. That was funded essentially out of the savings that the Howard Government had built up during its time. So there has been investment in projects in Melbourne and benefits to urban passenger services just as we have—we are funding projects in other places that have benefits to the passenger rail network.
But we see as our priorities and the responsibility, especially, for the interstate freight network and that includes road and rail and major projects particularly associated with interstate movement of road transport and, for that matter, rail.
Warren Truss: Okay.
Question: That's it.
Warren Truss: Good.