Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
JOHN MCGLUE: We’re delighted to talk to the Federal Finance Minister Senator Mathias Cormann, senior WA Liberal Minister as well of course. Senator, welcome to the program.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning and good morning to your listeners.
JOHN MCGLUE: Thanks for joining us from our Canberra studios in Parliament House. Can you remind us Mathias Cormann what the Commonwealth has offered the Barnett Government by way of financial assistance for the Perth Freight Link?
MATHIAS CORMANN: About 18 months ago as part of our first Federal Budget we put forward $925 million as our contribution to the overall Perth Freight Link project. We are committed to the whole Perth Freight Link project proceeding. The context is that very significant population growth and continuing growth in export and import volumes has led and will continue to lead to significant growth in traffic across the southern suburbs of Perth and in and out of Fremantle Port. The Perth Freight Link project helps ensure that those growing trade volumes in and out of Fremantle and through the outer harbour in the future for that matter, can be managed in the most efficient, lowest cost and safest way possible. It will help reduce congestion, improve amenity in local communities along our Perth metropolitan freight routes. It is a very significant piece of economic infrastructure and given the general downturn in the construction industry related to the cyclical nature of the mining industry, this is a very good time to get on with building it given the costs of construction are much lower now than what they would have been in the past or are likely to be in the future.
JOHN MCGLUE: Well if it is a very good time to get on with it how does the Federal Government feel about the fact that this money has been made available to the WA Government but the State Government here doesn’t want to take it, at least for the time being. How does the Federal Government feel about that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We reached an agreement with the State Government about a year ago. We are working with the State Government in relation to this project, making sure that it comes to fruition. We have been having very good interactions with the State Government in Western Australia. We are very confident that this whole project will ultimately be delivered, hopefully as soon as possible.
JOHN MCGLUE: But it’s not happening any time soon, it’s been put on the top shelf behind the tinned peas so to speak, kicked into the long grass. The State Government here really isn’t moving ahead with it at any speed, the Premier said it’s not a short term priority. Why do you think that is, what’s really behind that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t think that I agree with your characterisation. I have had very good conversations with the Premier. I have had very good conversations with the Transport Minister Dean Nalder who incidentally has done very, very good work in relation to this project. The level of analysis and thought that has gone into this is very significant. I have had very good conversations with the Treasurer Mike Nahan. This is a very important piece of infrastructure, in particular for the Southern suburbs of Perth, but also for the State as a whole. We are a trading state. A lot of trade, a lot of exports and imports go through the Perth metropolitan area in and out of Fremantle Port. That volume is necessarily going to increase in the years and decades ahead. I heard what your listener had to say, but there will be further growth in trade volumes in and out of Fremantle Port in the years ahead. Ultimately there will be an outer harbour, but we need to ensure that we can move that freight through the Perth metropolitan area in the most efficient, lowest cost and safest way possible, causing the least amount of disruption across those metropolitan freight routes. At the moment, a lot of that traffic, a lot of that heavy vehicle traffic, is going through local arterial roads that are not really designed for it. That creates a level of congestion and a level of safety risks that will need to be addressed.
JOHN MCGLUE: So when do you think, as a senior Federal Minister from WA, when do you think the full details of the second stage will be made public, will be disclosed, and when do you think construction will start?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The decision in relation to the second stage is, the decision in relation to what the precise route for the second stage of the Perth Freight Link project will be, is a matter for the State Government. We are working constructively and co-operatively with them. We do want to see the whole project proceed and in relation to stage one, the Roe 8 Highway Extension so-called, the State Government is in a position to get underway, to get cracking and that’s great. We're very happy with that. We note that there are active tender processes in relation to both phases of this project. So we’re comfortable that the State Government is continuing to do some work to reach a final decision point, a final landing point in relation to the appropriate and best route for the second stage.
JOHN MCGLUE: But Mathias Cormann, what do you say to the residents and people in those areas who feel that they are in limbo and they don’t know precisely what the State Government is planning to do with your money for the second stage of the Perth Freight Link? They just don’t know what’s going to happen and the Government is not telling them here when they will be in a position to know what the future holds for them.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I certainly agree that final decisions should be made sooner rather than later, which is why from the Commonwealth’s point of view, I have always expressed our expectation that the whole project will proceed as per our agreement with the State Government, which I understand were endorsed by the WA State Cabinet at the time. So there are signed agreements between the Commonwealth and the State, there are timetables that were agreed. We understand that the second phase of this project is more complicated because of a terrible decision made by Alannah MacTiernan when she was the Transport Minister, when she sold off the land earmarked for decades, for the Fremantle Eastern Bypass. So that has certainly added complexity to the second part of this project. But it doesn’t make it less important. We do need to find a solution because in the end, we can’t keep increasing the level of traffic, freight and private traffic, across the southern suburbs of Perth, without coming up with a better way to get products in and out of Fremantle more efficiently at a lower cost and more safely.
JOHN MCGLUE: You say you’ve got a deal with the State Government, we know that, but you also say timetables have been agreed. So what do those timetables say about when the second stage of the Perth Freight Link should be started in terms of construction and when it should be ready? What does your timetable say?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The timetable which was agreed was that the whole project would get underway in 2016. We are still hopeful that we can meet that deadline, but there are some further conversations between the Commonwealth and the State in relation to the second part of the project. Our focus is to deliver the whole Perth Freight Link project, because in the end, we can’t just stop at the end of the Roe 8 extension. Otherwise we’ll have a massive problem in relevant sections on Stock Road and Leach Highway. So we can’t just stop at the end of Roe 8. We do need to make sure that the whole link is ultimately completed and being very sympathetic the fact that people in the affected suburbs do want certainty so we should make those decisions. We owe it to people in those communities to make those decisions as quickly as possible. Take as much time as necessary to make the right decisions, but by the same token not to delay these decisions unnecessarily.
JOHN MCGLUE: Thanks for your time today.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.