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Transcript 40275

Interview with Neil Mitchell, Melbourne

Photo of Turnbull, Malcolm

Turnbull, Malcolm

Period of Service: 15/09/2015 to 24/08/2018

More information about Turnbull, Malcolm on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 08/04/2016

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 40275

Location: Melbourne

NEIL MITCHELL: Roads, roads, roads. The Prime Minister has just landed in Melbourne and has joined us from the telephone in his car. Mr Turnbull thanks for your time.

PRIME MINISTER: Great to be with you Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL: It’s a very exciting looking package but I spoke to Tim Pallas the State Treasurer earlier who said the States will decide where the money is spent and what the projects are. Is that a deal breaker?

PRIME MINISTER: Well it’s the Commonwealth Government’s money Neil. You have to remember that we agreed with the previous State Government that this $1.5 billion would go into the East West Link. That was the basis on which it was given to the Victorian Government. Labor won Office and promptly cancelled the East West Link and spent $1.1 billion of Victorian tax payer’s money in a cancellation fee effectively. And the money has been sitting there in the Victorian State Government account ever since. We think it should be put to work to ease congestion so that people don’t spend any more time stuck in traffic than they need to and of course building these new roads will create a lot of jobs and bring a lot of money in to the Victorian and Melbourne economy.

NEIL MITCHELL: I’m sure we couldn’t agree more and let’s get on with it. But who in the end decides the projects? Does Victoria decide them or does the Federal Government decide them?

PRIME MINISTER: Well each Government decides where their own money goes Neil. But the reality is that the projects that we’ve identified are ones that are clearly national priority projects. They’ve been identified by Infrastructure Australia. You couldn’t argue seriously that the Monash doesn’t need an upgrade but also we’re not just proposing that that’s half a billion we want that to be matched with half a billion dollars from the State. Of course we’re also providing $250 million on the same basis that it is matched by the Victorian Government to upgrade the Western Ring Road, the M80 Ring Road which connects the Port of Melbourne as you know and Melbourne Airport. So they’re two big road projects on each side of Melbourne and we believe the State Government should get on with this. This is a golden opportunity to ensure that Melbournians can get to work, get to school, get to wherever they’re going, faster, with less headaches, less time stuck in a long carpark, which as you know is all too often, certainly the Monash tends to be. 

NEIL MITCHELL: Ok. Well are you confident that’s going to happen? We’ve got, there’s got to be an agreement between the State and the Feds somehow, and there is a bit to work through yet. Are you confident that we will actually get these projects up and running anytime soon?

PRIME MINISTER: The only thing standing in the way of it is the commitment of the Victorian government. The money is there. We simply have to get on with it. These projects can start quickly, they are big projects, they don’t have the same level of complexity of others. These can begin, work can begin next year and we really think - look the need is clearly there, I mean, you know better than I do, I’ve been stuck in traffic on the Monash from time to time but I don’t have to do it every day. My Victorian colleagues, all of them , understand the frustration that they share with their constituents. We have got to invest in these roads, this is about a better quality of life for people in Melbourne, and above all.

I should just mention in terms of regional Victoria Neil, we are proposing again to the State Government that we will provide $220 million, again, if they match it, to upgrade one thousand kilometres of freight rail in the Murray Darling, the Murray Basin I should say going up to Mildura. Victorian primary producers have been saying to us that they are not able to access the big international markets that have opened up with the free trade agreements as readily as they would like. So what they need is better infrastructure between the farm and the port and upgrading these rail lines, standardising them, extending them, extending their capacity, their load capacity will be critically important.

NEIL MITCHELL: Prime Minister you said all you need is a commitment from the Victorian government, what actually do you need from the Victorian government before you start digging holes?

PRIME MINISTER: Well what we need is the Victorian government to agree that we’re going to get on with this. These projects have been, again, they’ve been identified as Infrastructure Australia’s priority list - so there is, there’s no question that these are projects that need to be done. No one can seriously argue about that.

NEIL MITCHELL: Sorry, what’s the offer on the East- West link, because you seem to be offering extra money there if it is built, although Tim, again said it will not be built by this government.

PRIME MINISTER: What he have said is that we remain committed to the East-West link and our offer of $3billion for half of that was divided in cash and the $1.5 billion that’s been sitting in the State treasury for some time. Our offer remains but clearly we need a Victorian government that chooses to proceed with the project. If it’s not going to be this one then perhaps future governments, a future Liberal government, or perhaps a future Labor government that changes their mind and wants to get on with that project, our commitment remains and it is obviously contingent upon a Victorian Government deciding to build it. What all that means when you take in to account those commitments - it means that out of our committed infrastructure spend, Victoria is getting 21% of the total, so that is a substantial share of what we are spending between 2013 and 2019 on Infrastructure nationally.

NEIL MITCHELL: The western distributor you are not putting money in to that. Is that because it is a toll road?

PRIME MINISTER: The point about the Western distributor is that this is a commercial project. We believe there’s an opportunity to partner with the Victorian Government, but we have got to do so on a much more commercial basis and we look and I have already discussed this with Daniel Andrews, there is an opportunity for us to participate as the Victorian government would, as an investor. And not simply as making a grant. There is more work to be done there, and what I am trying to do Neil with infrastructure generally is to be more creative, more commercial, more innovative so that we can, if you like get more value out of the projects, simply out of the real estate uplift in value created by a lot of these transport projects, particularly rail, so that we can relieve the pressure on the taxpayer and actually get more things built, more jobs created, more construction underway.   

NEIL MITCHELL: On the mechanics of it, when will the meetings begin?  I assume Scott Morrison and Tim Pallas will sort it out.

PRIME MINISTER: Scott and Tim Pallas have been in touch about this $1.5 billion regularly. I am sure they will be following up with this very shortly. Scott will be in Melbourne with me today when we make this announcement formally with our Victorian colleagues. We look to get this finalised as quickly as possible. This is a very big opportunity to get that money out of the State government bank account and at work.

MITCHELL: Starting next year you would hope?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes exactly. There is already work committed to, work of ours, funding of ours, committed as you know to a portion of the Monash. What this does is enable 44 kilometres to be upgraded with an additional lane in each direction.

MITCHELL: This money has been tied up for a couple of years now. Will there be extra money in the budget as well on top of this?

PRIME MINISTER: Well this is the money that we are committing to infrastructure on this occasion. But I can’t take you any further into detail on the Budget. As you know budgetary times are tight. We have to focus on ensuring that everything we promise we can fund. Without wanting to inject a partisan note into this discussion you’ll note that Mr Shorten has well over $50 billion of unfunded promises and he seems to be, based on last night’s effort, seems to be making more and more. The only way they can be funded of course is with bigger deficits and more debt or, obviously, jacking up taxes.

MITCHELL: Can you tell us quickly about a couple of other things. The 60 Minutes crew with the problems they’re having - have you had a report on that?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes we have. DFAT is in touch with them and we are obviously working closely with the authorities in Lebanon to ensure their safety.

MITCHELL: The Arrium company have got a lot of jobs here in Victoria, anything you can do to help?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes. Neil, look I spent a lot of the last few days, particularly over the weekend, talking with the banks that are the lenders to Arrium. As did my officials and my colleagues, in particular Christopher Pyne the Industry Minister. We are, the company has had some very severe problems. Many of them are unrelated to the difficulties with the steel industry. As you know steel prices have slumped, there is over-capacity globally and so forth. But there have been some poor - I think it would be fair to say, you’ve only got to read the business pages to see there have been some poor decisions taken by the company overall in other areas and that’s created some serious problems.

Now our focus is on ensuring as far as we can, that the steel-making business continues. Not so long ago, a few weeks ago, we brought forward an order for rail lines by the Australian Rail Track corporation which is worth around $75 million as I recall, for new rail lines to upgrade a section that had been the Australian Rail Track corporation’s national network in South Australia. This is work that was going to be done a few years hence, but we brought it forward. That will provide support for Arrium and at the same time, I’m pleased that following discussions with the banks, the administrator has indicated that the operations will not be impacted at this time, and will continue to trade on a business as usual basis. And it’s very important that both the administrator and the banks provide confidence to the workers at Whyalla, to the families, the suppliers, the customers and so forth.

MITCHELL: Thanks for your time. I was talking to your old mate Tony Abbott who is out on his bike yesterday and he sort of left the door open to a return to the front bench if you wanted him. Any chance? After the election?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh well look I think as I’ve said before Neil, I’ve got a great front bench. I’ve got a lot of new ministers who have been recently promoted. I’ve got a lot of younger ministers. The focus, my focus, is always going to be on renewal and that is, when you look at some of the great young Victorians that are in our ministry – Josh Frydenberg, Kelly O’Dwyer, Mitch Fifield, Alan Tudge – there are some really - Dan Tehan - you’ve actually got some of the great talent from Victoria. Of course the Infrastructure Minister himself Darren Chester, who is the Minister who has put together the details of this infrastructure plan, the Member for Gippsland. So you’ve got to have renewal. You’ve got to have a lot of renewal in this business. It’s a talent business and you’ve got to make sure you’ve got new people coming through.

MITCHELL: Thank you so much for your time I know you’re busy.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot. 

Transcript 40275