Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
GARY ADSHEAD: Welcome back. I’ve got the Federal Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann in the studio with us. If you’re listening to what we discuss here in relation to Perth Freight link and other issues and you want to get on the line and ask the Minister a question feel free. 9221 1882. Thanks very much for your time Minister.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be here.
GARY ADSHEAD: Okay, this Perth Freight Link, it’s starting to become quite a divisive, quite controversial. When I heard about it to start with, you know Federal Government is going to kick in $1.6 billion, you’d be thinking well that’s great, that’s a win for Western Australia. Where is it going wrong?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is a very important project for Western Australia and it is a very important project for Australia. We are a trading nation. Western Australia is a trading state. It is very important for us to get our products as efficiently to market as possible. It is important that we get products from overseas which we import as efficiently around Perth as possible. The challenge is to get products from the North and from industrial areas across Perth to Freemantle Port in the most efficient, the safest way possible, causing the least amount of disruption to communities along the way. That is why this Roe Eight project is long overdue. We need to ensure that the Roe Highway is properly extended all the way to Freemantle Port in order to help us get our products to market at the lowest cost, most efficient, safest, least disruptive way possible.
GARY ADSHEAD: Well has it not been managed from a PR point of view very well, because we now, you know the reality of, well they know how to get so far, then they hit Stirling Bridge and there’s these issues of what they’re going to do next. Has it not been put on the table as a complete package and so people are able to start picking holes in it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It has been put on the table as a complete package many decades ago. This is the problem. Roe Eight has been debated now for twenty years. It is long overdue. The Coalition Government, federally, together with the Barnett Government is delivering it. Contracts will be signed later this year and work will begin soon after that. The problem is that, recklessly and irresponsibly, a previous State Labor government, with Alannah MacTiernan as the then Transport Minister, decided to sell off land that had been earmarked for the Fremantle Eastern Bypass, which means that the final connection between the end of the Roe Highway, extended with the Roe Eight project, and Freemantle Port is now much more challenging. There is an indicative route for the final bit. Our intention and the State Government’s intention here in Western Australia appropriately, is to get the best possible route, the most efficient, least disruptive route to Fremantle Port. That is the work around Phase Two of the Perth Freight Link project that is appropriately now underway. Our expectation would be that the whole project will be underway properly later next year.
GARY ADSHEAD: Have you spoken to the Premier, because he seems to giving some signals that they’re backing away from this one before the election, the second part of the project, the Perth Freight Link itself if you like. They’re starting to back away from that because of the controversy and the difficulties around that. Have you spoken to the Premier?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’ve had many conversations with the Premier. I’ve had conversations with the Treasurer Mike Nahan. I’ve had conversations with the Transport Minister Dean Nalder. I’m very confident that the State Government here in Western Australia is committed to the whole project. I also understand that the first priority is to lock away the Roe Eight Highway extension, that there will be a second phase and that there is some more work to be done in relation to that second phase. That is appropriate. We are quite relaxed about that. But we also understand that it is very important for the whole project to be finalised. The Federal Government has put just under $1 billion into that project.
GARY ADSHEAD: Anne’s on the line, she wants to ask you a question about roads. G’day Anne.
ANNE (Caller): Oh hi. Look I want to know what is the Liberals’ obsession with building more roads and keeping trucks on roads. Why can’t we shift goods on trains? I mean, are the Liberal party in cahoots with the trucking industry or what is it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is a very good question Anne. As a trading nation what we’ve got to understand is that we both export and import goods. In terms of goods that are imported from overseas, a very large chunk of products imported from overseas are actually freighted out of Freemantle Port by train. In fact, the volume of product transported by train out of Freemantle Port is one of the largest volumes around the country. But when it comes to exporting products, manufactured in Western Australia or which come from the Wheatbelt or the Northern parts of Western Australia, products come from a diversity of areas. We have industrial areas in different parts of the metropolitan area. We have all sorts of different locations where products for export come from. It is just not efficient to have a railway network that goes to all these different locations to then get those products to Fremantle Port. In terms of exporting our products, if we want to continue to grow our economy here domestically, if we want to continue to generate more opportunity for people to get ahead and get more jobs, then the challenge for us is to get products wherever they are manufactured, wherever they are generated and get them to the Port of Fremantle as an important part of our trading infrastructure for Western Australia in the most efficient, the safest and the least disruptive way possible. The important point here is, the trucks will not go away. There will be more and more trucks. The question is how do those trucks get through the metropolitan area and into Fremantle Port. What we are saying is we need to have a dedicated transport route. That is what the Perth Freight Link is meant to do, so we can get those trucks off local roads, so that we can improve safety on local arterial roads, but at the same time, we can continue to grow our economy moving forward, we can continue to build better prosperity for the future.
GARY ADSHEAD: Thanks Anne, what do you think of Labor and the Greens when they say Kwinana Port is the way to go. That the trucks don’t have to come anywhere near those outer suburbs of Fremantle. Down to Kwinana, that’s where the new port should be.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It’s just naive and ignorant. Fremantle Port is a very important piece of trading infrastructure for Western Australia and for Australia. Some people suggest that it will reach capacity at some point. I suspect that is several decades away. But even if that were to happen, even when that happens, any additional port infrastructure will complement Fremantle Port it will not replace Fremantle Port. So the challenge will remain. How do we get products that are manufactured around Western Australia. How do we get our wheat and so on, how do we get all of the product from around Western Australia to market as efficiently as possible and through Fremantle Port to the extent that it goes through Fremantle Port.
GARY ADSHEAD: Alright, let’s go to the lines again, I’ve got Glen there, hello Glen.
GLENN (Caller): Yeah look the comments made by, who was that? Mathias Cormann?
GARY ADSHEAD: It’s Mathias Cormann he’s in the studio with me, the Federal Finance Minister, yes.
GLENN (Caller): Righto, now things he may or may not know, Jandikot Airports Corporation undertaking the biggest warehouse development in this state’s history. Kmart’s new distribution centre occupies an area of 28 acres under the roof. 28 acres under the roof. Right, Aldi’s distribution store, is 17 acres under the roof. Reece’s plumbing is 12 acres under the roof. A-Amart have got their place which is about 14 acres under the roof and they’ve got about another 170 acres of land to develop in that area for major warehousing, right next door to the standard gauge railway. Now, as far as shifting wheat and bulk products, all that goes through the Port of Kwinana. All bulk products coming into clam shell operated bulk products coming into the state come in through Kwinana and all our wheat goes through the CBH either in Kwinana or Geraldton, Bunbury, Esperence or Albany. Now, the big problem you’ve got with containerisation in Fremantle for example is we’ve got a tremendous amount of sea containers coming into the state and we’ve got bugger-all going out of the state as containerised product. That’s why they’ve got roving ships picking up 700/800 empty sea containers at a time, Exrousehead in Fremantle. Now the other problem that you’ve got, the two main breakdown areas for containerised products are Welshpool and now Jandikot. Those two areas are serviced immediately by standard gauge and narrow gauge rail. Narrow gauge rail is generally used for wheat transport and the rest of the gear shifted around by the standard gauge. Fremantle has got very limited area for storage and warehousing. Kwinana for example in the Hope Valley wattle-up redevelopment plan, there’s over three hundred hectares of flat land and it has got a standard gauge railway line already going through it which goes from there through to Welshpool.
GARY ADSHEAD: Alright Glenn, have you got a question though? Obviously you’ve given us the extent of your knowledge on it.
GLENN (Caller): Why would anybody in their right mind preclude the development of Kwinana as opposed to Fremantle? Fremantle is as congested as it can be, there’s only one road out there, what are you going to do about it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is a very good question, that final question. Firstly, we don’t preclude the development of Kwinana at all. What we are saying is that Fremantle is a significant port, both for imports and exports. As far as imports are concerned, a lot of the product is already transported from there through rail, but in terms of exports, it obviously comes from different locations around Western Australia. What we are saying is we actually want to address that congestion that you are complaining about and we need a better transport solution. A better transport solution to ensure we can get product from Welshpool and other areas around Perth to Fremantle Port in the most efficient way possible, in the safest way possible. In a way that causes the least amount of disruption to communities along the way. That is by building the Roe Eight Highway extension and by building phase two of that project of the Perth Freight Link to Fremantle Port as soon as possible.
GARY ADSHEAD: Alright, thanks very much for that. If you’ve got a minute we might just bring you back after this break. It’s a quarter to eleven. 9221 1882. If you would like to call the Federal Minister, feel free.
GARY ADSHEAD: Alright, I have got Federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann in the studio. We are talking Perth Freight Link, but if there is anything else on your mind fee free 9221 1882. David is there, g’day David.
DAVID (Caller): How are you going?
GARY ADSHEAD: Good.
DAVID (Caller): Just listening to this freight link, remember when the tunnel was getting built, everyone as jumping, everyone was noisy, jumping up and down ‘can’t have the tunnel.’
GARY ADSHEAD: Oh yeah.
DAVID (Caller): Now all those people that didn’t want it shouldn’t be able to use it. The same thing with the Mandurah train line. Protests, can’t have it, not going to work. It’s done. The first extension to the freeway, protests, doesn’t work. Now we get those noisy people. Let’s just get on with it and in three years’ time we can say wasn’t it fantastic. Who wants to fill in the tunnel?
GARY ADSHEAD: Mathias?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The point that you make is well made. The truth is it is appropriate that Governments when they make these sorts of decisions that they are appropriately scrutinised. There are communities that are impacted by these sorts of projects, but by the same token, the Roe 8 project and the extension of the Roe Highway, they have been debated now for 20 years and it is time to get on with it and certainly our Government and the Barnett Government here in Western Australia, we are getting on with it.
GARY ADSHEAD: But you said that, I’m now looking at the Premier’s comments in the last 24-48 hours, he says “I don’t think we are going to be building a road very soon. Roe Eight is our priority, now that is a bit project, we haven’t started construction on that, we are heading towards construction.” He seems to be saying ‘Roe Eight fine, rest of it, hmm.’
MATHIAS CORMANN: Roe Eight is absolutely the immediate priority and we will be finalising contracts later this year and construction will start soon after that. Our expectation from a Federal Government point of view is that Phase 2 will be finalised as soon as possible thereafter and that certainly construction will be well underway sometime next year. Now in order to make this project work properly, the missing link, which is the second phase of the Perth Freight Link project is absolutely necessary.
GARY ADSHEAD: You are confident, given your knowledge about all of this, that December-time we will have an understanding of what the State Government plans to do as to whether it is tunnelling, whether it is lowering roads, what they are going to do at Stirling Bridge, you think we will have an understanding of that.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am confident that Phase 2 will be under way next year.
GARY ADSHEAD: Alright let’s go to Janine, hello Janine.
JANINE (Caller): Hello, I just want to say that that man who was saying all the wheat went out on the ships is crap. There would be hundreds and hundreds of probably six or seven hundred containers of grain go out through that port every week because a lot of the countries can’t receive a bulk ship. What about all of the little people that tip their containers out on the wharf and trundle it home, all those people are going to starve? I mean get real. These people ought to pull the bureau of stats figures and have a proper look. The other issue is the knocking in Fremantle about the Freight Link is just crap, remember last year or the year before we were all bitching babies were going to be poisoned if they dredged the harbor to let the big ships in. Guess what, no babies poisoned everything is fine. When they were going to develop the AIS land in South Fremantle, remember that? Well they were marching the streets, having kittens, people were going to be poisoned by the filthy soil under it. Go have a look at, it is a fabulous amenity, people love it. People in Fremantle don’t want anything.
GARY ADSHEAD: Alright, okay. Janine, there you go. Mathias is just sitting there very quietly, which is good. Can I just ask you about, I know we are talking about Perth Freight Link, but do you mind if I ask you about the situation with Dyson Heydon. I know the Royal Commission into Union Corruption has been going on as business as usual today as I understand it. Should he have been a bit more diligent in terms of what that event that he was going to be attending was all about and that is obviously a Liberal party event.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Clearly he was unaware that this was a Liberal party event.
GARY ADSHEAD: Really?
MATHIAS CORMANN: He was invited to a Sir Garfield Barwick Lecture and Sir Garfield Barwick was our longest serving Chief Justice of the High Court. At the earliest opportunity, as soon as he became aware that there was a connection with the Liberal party he made it very clear that it was impossible for him to attend and he withdrew from the event. He is highly reputable, former Justice of the High Court, I don’t think anyone can possibly suggest that he is anything other than completely impartial.
GARY ADSHEAD: So he wouldn’t have seen the pamphlets that were going out in relation to this with the Liberal party logo on the top?
MATHIAS CORMANN: From everything that we’ve seen in the public domain, he was invited to a Sir Garfield Barwick lecture. Sir Garfield Barwick, a former Chief Justice of the High Court. Clearly he was unaware that there was a connection with this to a Liberal party event. As soon as he did become aware, he withdrew from the event at the earliest opportunity. That’s really the end of it.
GARY ADSHEAD: Is it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: From where I sit, it is.
GARY ADSHEAD: So you don’t think that he shouldn’t been aware that the actual event is used to raise funds for the Liberal party? I think it’s been going since about 2010 hasn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I can’t speak for him. You are only aware of what you’re aware. From everything that we’ve seen. He clearly was unaware and when he became aware, he withdrew from the event.
GARY ADSHEAD: So we should just give him the benefit of the doubt? Obviously the unions are saying well this bloke’s completely compromised because he’s prepared to go to Liberal Party fundraisers while doing a Royal Commission …interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: The person that is completely compromised is Bill Shorten, because of the dodgy dealings he got involved with in the union movement. Don’t look at what the Royal Commissioner has said, look at what Bill Shorten himself has said. You don’t have to look at what anybody else has said other than Bill Shorten himself about some of the dealings he got involved in, receiving undeclared benefits after negotiating essentially with employers on behalf of his members, he received undeclared benefits from those same employers. That’s not me saying it, that’s not the Royal Commission saying it, that is Bill Shorten himself conceding that.
GARY ADSHEAD: Perception wise, has enough been done though to taint the findings of this Commission, given this now link that’s there?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m sure that Bill Shorten, the Labor party and the union movement are desperate to do exactly that, but I don’t think that as a community we should accept that.
GARY ADSHEAD: Just finally before you go, the same sex marriage debate, huge this week. Your stand on it? Do you believe in a referendum?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, I support our longstanding policy which is to support the current definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Secondly, I have been in Parliament now for about eight years. In that period, this issue has come before the Parliament on several occasions. On each occasion, the Parliament has reconfirmed its support for the current definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. But clearly, bringing this back to the Parliament again and again is not resolving this matter, so I support the proposition that in the next Parliament at some point, this issue should be put to the Australian people as part of an effort to more permanently resolve this question once and for all. None of us are well served by bringing this question back to the Parliament every year or two, just because there is a group of people that don’t like the answer that was given by the Parliament. I support the policy that was adopted by the Party again on Tuesday, which is in this term of Parliament, we stand by our commitment to support the current definition of marriage and our inclination would be to put this question for a more permanent resolution to the Australian people.
GARY ADSHEAD: But the politicians can’t decide?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The politicians have decided. The politicians have decided. This is whole point. In the Parliament. I’m quite intrigued by the fact that some of the proponents of same sex marriage want this to stay in the Parliament, when the Parliament consistently has reconfirmed the current definition of marriage. When supposedly the community at large is broadly supportive, I would have thought that putting it to the community at large would have been welcomed by proponents of same sex marriage.
GARY ADSHEAD: Thanks very much for coming in today Minister, appreciate it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to be here.