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Transcript: AM Agenda - Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019

August 13, 2019


SUBJECT: Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019, population, skills, Victorian infrastructure projects
KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s go live now to the Shadow Minister for Urban Infrastructure Andrew Giles. Andrew thanks so much for your time, you’ve seen the details of this particular report, do you accept that both state and federal governments have to take some accountability for the shortfalls in terms of what’s the provision of infrastructure and the congestion we’re seeing across the major capitals?

ANDREW GILES: Yes sure Kieran, I mean it’s obviously a shared responsibility between both levels of government, but what we’re seeing at the moment is the state governments, particularly governments like the Andrews Government in Victoria, are doing heavy lifting while the Morrison Government has been asleep at the wheel. And this report really is a very damning indictment of the performance of that Government, particularly since the last Audit in 2015 where we’ve seen congestion get worse.

ANNELISE NIELSEN: What the report said is that we need more infrastructure just to keep up with population growth, should the question be about lowering our population– our migration intake rather?

GILES: Look I don’t think so, I mean I think the real question is how do we sustain our level of economic growth to make sure that future generations of Australians can continue to enjoy prosperity, and I think we are more than capable of doing that, if we get our approach to infrastructure right, and that’s what this document sets out. It’s a big challenge to the present government to lift its game, to start listening to experts like Infrastructure Australia and course the Reserve Bank Governor, and really get on with getting productive infrastructure moving, to pick up the pace.

GILBERT: Labor’s basically saying at the moment that you can have your cake and eat it too, that surpluses can still be delivered as well as stepping up the infrastructure spend, is there really that much scope here? I know rates are low, and Governor Lowe has been saying governments can borrow, but that necessarily means surpluses are across the projected years, either smaller or non-existent.

GILES: Well of course, how the Government plots its path to surplus is fundamentally a matter for it, Kieran, and we’re concerned that there is just no coherence when it comes to managing the budget. And we see that right across the debate that goes to infrastructure where we have Minister Tudge, of course the Minister who brought us robodebt we remember, talking about his plans for population, lowering the intake, where the budget figures point to actually a higher intake. So I think that the real challenge for the government is to put together a coherent plan both for population but fundamentally for infrastructure, to start listening to the experts and getting people moving, particularly people in the outer suburbs of big cities.

NIELSEN: That is the argument from the Government, that they’ve said they are lowering the migration figures but they’re focussing them more on regions, isn’t that what they should be doing?

GILES: If you look at this report what it points to is the vast majority of the population growth being in our fast-growing major cities, and of course it also points out that the majority of our economic growth in the recent period has been in Melbourne and Sydney. I think the challenge for the government is to grapple seriously with these issues and to grapple with the evidence, rather than continuing to trot out their talking points. We should be able to do both, there are great opportunities in regional Australia and there was a significant report that was released last week that I think the Government should pay attention to as well. But what this report shows is that too many Australians in our major cities, particularly in the outer suburbs, are not getting a fair crack under this Government. We’re not seeing infrastructure investment where it’s needed, particularly in fast growing outer suburbs where people are facing increased commute times and further increases are predicted if there isn’t action taken.

GILBERT: You touched on the states and their spending in parts of the country of course that is right and in Victoria and in your home city there are some big investment underway but in terms of bottlenecks it’s not just on the roads is it, it is that skills issue, how do you inject more in terms of $200 billion I think is the figure over the next 15 years, over a number of cycles, how do you do that with the skills setting we’ve got right now?

GILES: Kieran that’s a really important question and I note that it was only a couple of weeks ago that the Federal Government was sort of pooh-poohing the suggestion that there were capacity constraints when it comes to infrastructure and major projects, well that’s been knocked on the head fundamentally. But the two things that I’d say on this are one; it demonstrates how important it is to have a real pipeline, a considered plan for infrastructure, but also to make sure that we don’t continue to neglect the development of Australia’s greatest resource – our people. I welcome that at COAG there was progress on enhancing the status of VET but this is six years too late. We should have worked harder and we’ve got to redouble our efforts to make sure Australians are equipped to do these jobs and we’re seeing again in Victoria, in my home state, how important infrastructure projects have been not just in terms of getting people moving but to keep people working in good jobs.

NIELSEN: One infrastructure project that’s ready to go, money on the table, is the East-West Link, if you do want to stimulate that kind of infrastructure growth in Melbourne why not get that one going?

GILES: The East-West Link has been much talked about Annelise, but I’m not sure it’s fair to say it’s ready to go. What I’m hopeful of, and there’s obviously some very significant infrastructure projects underway in Victoria, particularly I think about the North East Link, I think about Melbourne Metro, and obviously discussion about the Airport Rail Link and the Geelong rail link as well. I’d like to see the state and federal government working together on shared priorities, rather than simply going through the motions again on this issue. I’m hopeful, and indeed on good days I’m confident that we can get the state and federal governments working together on the sort of projects that will get Melbourne moving.

NIELSEN: Andrew Giles, thank you so much for your time.

GILES: Great to be with you.