Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
GARY ADSHEAD: We’ve heard a lot about the Perth Freight Link. We’ve heard the Federal Government were right behind the idea of creating a way of getting trucks from Roe Highway through to the Port of Fremantle. Along the way though, there are varying views on how this should unfold. The West are reporting today that Main Roads have put it to the State Government that the best way to go off Stock Road and through to Leech Highway and onto Stirling Highway to Fremantle, the best way to do that is a tunnel. It’s a tunnel that would lead under suburbs like Hilton, Beaconsfield, White Gum Valley, come up around the Royal Fremantle Golf Course and as it would then progress through Stirling Highway across a bridge and into Fremantle Port. That’s the proposal. That would cost around an extra $300 million to do so. It would take away the upgrades that would happen around Stock Road and Leech Highway because of course the cars would then, and the vehicles, the trucks, would go underneath the suburbs and through this tunnel. $300 odd million. Nothing from Main Roads as to whether they want to confirm that. We’ve got nothing from the State Government but of course the Federal Government have already stumped up a lot of the money, $900 odd million and said that this is the way it should progress. The tunnel option now has been thrown on the table. Mathias Cormann is the Federal Finance Minister and he joins me on the line, thanks very much for your time Minister.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning Gary. Good morning to your listeners.
GARY ADSHEAD: The tunnel has been discussed before but now we understand from this report that that is the Main Road’s first option. What do you think of it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In the end, the exact route for the second stage of the Perth Freight Link project is a matter for the State Government in Western Australia to finally settle. From our point of view we are very keen to see the whole Perth Freight Link project proceed and to see it proceed as soon as possible. In recent years across Perth we have experienced strong population growth. We have and will continue to experience strong growth in freight traffic through the southern suburbs of Perth and in and out of Fremantle Port. Our current road network is not designed for that. It has been a long standing plan for the Roe Highway to be extended and ultimately for it to be connected to the Fremantle port. We are very keen to see this project proceed as soon as possible.
GARY ADSHEAD: I suppose the question is, the Federal Government that has already committed $925 million to this project, would it commit any more if it meant a tunnel being the best option?
MATHIAS CORMANN: When we came into Government the upgrades to Stock Road, Leech Highway and High Street were already on our books. That was something that had been agreed by the previous Labor Government. We put on the table to the State Government, we proposed to the State Government, in our first budget 18 months ago, to provide funding also for the Roe 8 Highway extension and we integrated the project as a whole and it became the Perth Freight Link Project. In Western Australia, clearly at the State Government level, they have done some further work in relation to the best possible route from the end of Roe 8 towards Fremantle Port. We have been very happy to work with the State Government in relation to these matters. If the State Government were to adopt the tunnel option then that would require a further conversation with the Commonwealth about any funding implications of such a decision.
GARY ADSHEAD: The Premier has been holding out on stage two, saying that decisions would be made around that when the time is right, pushing ahead with stage one through Beeliar and so on, which has its own controversies, but I suppose from the Federal Government’s point of view, you don’t want to see this just mired down in politics, local politics, protests and so on, you want to get on with it but at the moment the Premier is holding it back. Would you agree with that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: A couple of points here. Firstly, there is an active tender process underway both in relation to stage one and stage two. The second point is that given where we are in the economic cycle, given that the cost of construction for these sorts of projects is much lower than what it has been in the past and is likely to be in the future, this is a good time to press ahead. The first stage, the Roe 8 part of the project, was initially estimated to cost about $740 million. We are able to get that built for 45 per cent less at just $400 million. So that just proves the point that this is a very good time to actually press ahead. Finally, I have got a lot of sympathy for people in the affected suburbs. Never mind what the Commonwealth, the Federal Government thinks, people in those areas deserve certainty and what they would be expecting from the Federal and State Governments is decisions not delays.
GARY ADSHEAD: As was pointed out in the article today, a tunnel option would in fact help property prices in those suburbs where as we know the concerns of the residents in the affected areas as it stands are saying they would lose their houses, property prices around it would fall. Is the tunnel, is that the way to go and how long do we have to wait to see whether, or should we be waiting to see whether the State Government is prepared to go along with it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’ve seen the analysis and my understanding is that both options will see an uplift in property prices. It stands to reason if you reduce congestion, if you improve the amenity and if you improve living standards in that community, quality of life in that community, then that will have an impact on the value of properties in those particular areas. That has been the experience both in WA and in other parts of Australia. As I have said at the beginning, the decision on which route to use for the second stage is a matter for the State Government, but what we would say though, we do need a decision and we would not like to see further delay. In the end that is what we owe to the people in those communities. The final point I would make on this, the reason we are having this conversation about the second stage, the reason why there is additional complexity, is because of the very irresponsible decision of Alannah MacTiernan as the State Transport Minister in the Gallup Government, when they decided to sell off the land that had been earmarked for a very long time for the Freemantle Eastern bypass. So that is why there is a level of conversation now about how best to get to the end of Roe 8 to Freemantle port.
GARY ADSHEAD: And it is about getting trucks to Freemantle port. What’s your understanding of a tunnel and whether that would put restrictions on what can carried on those trucks, ie dangerous goods. Do you know whether that has to be factored in?
MATHIAS CORMANN: These are all things that I suspect the experts at Main Roads will be better equipped to answer. Or Dean Nalder as the Transport Minister, incidentally, who has done an outstanding job in putting this project together. Clearly a lot of thought and a lot of analysis has gone into this. It is a very, very good project, which will help us lift economic growth in Western Australia, which will help us lift quality of life across the Southern suburbs of Perth and which will help reduce deaths on our roads because of the ameliorating effect it will have in terms of congestion on our arterial roads.
GARY ADSHEAD: Do you appreciate the level of confusion that might be out there about this whole project Minister, at the moment. You talked about what Dean Nalder has said and done. But there seems to be conflicted forces at work here in terms of the decision to get on with it. Do you appreciate the confusion out there right now?
MATHIAS CORMANN: From my point of view, it’s reasonably straight forward. We had a conversation with the State Government more than 18 months ago about working together on this project. We put $925 million on the table, which is about 80 per cent of the Government contribution to this project. There is a freight charge component, which will help deliver this project. We have been working in good faith with the State Government ever since. There was an agreement signed, a national partnership agreement in relation to this project about a year ago. We’ve indicated to the State Government in Western Australia that we are committed to keep working positively and constructively with them. But yes, we want to see this whole project delivered and we do think that the people in the affected suburbs need decisions not delays. That is why I would say, let’s just get on with it.
GARY ADSHEAD: Okay, just before I let you go. Obviously Liberal party politics, pre-selection are afoot. I’m sure you’re keeping one eye on what might be happening in the seat of Hillarys. Rob Johnson not really indicating whether he will stay or go. But is it time for Rob Johnson to give up his seat of Hillarys to someone else?
MATHIAS CORMANN: These are entirely matters for the WA Liberal party to work through. These processes are well established. I will put all of my trust in the WA Liberal party organisation.
GARY ADSHEAD: Thank you Minister. I thought I would try anyway. Appreciate your time today.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.