Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
GARY ADSHEAD: Let’s talk about the Perth Freight Link because it is quite clear that the Federal Government have been adamant about the need for this particular road infrastructure project, absolutely adamant about it, the State Government as well. Of course it hit its hurdle when there was a judgement through the Supreme Court that said that the environmental protection authority in granting the Roe 8 extension did not comply with its own guidelines. So that went back to the drawing board if you like. There is an appeal in relation to that decision by the State Government, there is an appeal underway so that is a stumbling block along the way. Another stumbling block were the residents who were saying ‘well we don’t want to lose our houses’. It was a bit like The Castle, the movie; we don’t want to lose our houses as part of the route that would come from the Roe 8 extension and to Fremantle, we don’t want to lose our houses so find another way. We don’t want to move, we don’t want you to resume our houses, simple as that. So the second option was a tunnel, and now we learn through The West, Andrew Probyn on the front page today, Malcolm Turnbull has agreed to give another $260 million towards the Perth Freight Link to build the tunnel, option two as it is known. Another $260 million, I’ll tell you what, there is money coming from everywhere considering there is none. That’s $925 million for stage one of the Roe 8 extension and now another $260 million has been committed to develop the tunnel. Someone who has been instrumental in making sure this project sees light at the end of the tunnel is the Federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, he’s on the line. Thanks very much for your time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.
GARY ADSHEAD: Obviously the Federal Government has come over here bearing gifts on this trip. $260 million towards the Perth Freight Link, this is in relation to the tunnel option. Is that confirmed?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That’s right, we’ve been working with the State Government in Western Australia for some time now. The Perth Freight Link is a very important piece of economic infrastructure. In fact Infrastructure Australia has independently identified it as the highest priority infrastructure project nationally, with construction not yet under way. It will help get our products to market at a lower cost more safely and will help reduce the disruption for local communities across our Perth metropolitan freight routes.
GARY ADSHEAD: Specifically though, with the tunnel being the way ahead now as far as that section of the Perth Freight Link is concerned. Will that take away any arguments that a lot of the residents had along the route, along the other route?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It certainly should reduce the level of concern to the extent that it does away with the need to resume land and resume residential and commercial properties along the original route. This is certainly a more straight forward route in terms of the impact on local communities along the Perth Freight Link. These projects are major projects and I’m sure there will be an ongoing conversation nevertheless.
GARY ADSHEAD: But the people of Moody Glen, which were the ones really kicking up about the resumption of their houses, they have essentially had a win?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I certainly believe it is very good news for them. Our view, the Federal Government’s view, always was that we needed to get on with making these decisions because people in those communities deserved certainty around the way forward. Certainly the development today does provide that certainty. But it is also very good news for the state and for people in the south metropolitan suburbs because it will help take trucks off the road. It will help reduce travel times to Fremantle Port. It will help improve the amenity in the area and of course as modelling by the State Government has identified, it will help contribute to higher property values in relevant suburbs along that path.
GARY ADSHEAD: We know that Malcolm Turnbull has already announced $490 million into state coffers here because of the discrepancies and the issues still surrounding GST disbursement. Is this another sweetener, this $260 million?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have been committed, from the Federal Government’s point of view, for some time to the construction of the Perth Freight Link. It really is the missing link in Perth between the industrial areas of Perth and Fremantle Port. So we have been working with the State Government for some time in making sure we can reach agreement on the best route for the second stage and also on the necessary funding for it. The Federal Government has agreed to the State Government’s request to contribute 80 per cent of the additional cost for the tunnel option and that is what we are confirming today.
GARY ADSHEAD: You still have one major issue here and that’s a Supreme Court judgement that found that the environmental protection authority ignored its own policies when it permitted the Roe 8 extension, the first part of this if you like. How are you going to around that? That has still got to happen.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That does still have to go through the proper process. The State Government here in Western Australia has appealed that decision and I understand that this matter is going to be dealt with by the relevant court in early May. The State Government here in Western Australia is working through that process as appropriate.
GARY ADSHEAD: Because the EPA back in 2003 and even reports later than that talked about what this would do to the environment around the Beeliar Wetlands. Is this just progress at all costs at the end of the day, no matter how much money it costs and what damage it might do?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t think that is right at all. The Supreme Court in its original judgement didn’t pass judgement on the environmental approval from a content point of view, it was essentially a judgement in relation to procedural matters. From our point of view, we are very confident that relevant environmental approvals, once either the proper process is followed or the appeal court has come to a different view if that is what happens, we are very confident that this is a project that properly balances the need for sensible economic development and strong environmental protection.
GARY ADSHEAD: Something is going to have to give way for this road to go through the Beeliar Wetlands and it is environmental protection, isn’t it? Let’s be honest about it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The truth is, this is a missing link that has been on the cards for a very, very long time. The relevant authorities have properly assessed the environmental merits of the proposal and have come to the view that this project can proceed consistent with our environmental laws. There is a query in relation to some of the procedural matters that has arisen, that has to be resolved and I am very confident that will happen.
GARY ADSHEAD: I’m sorry, I’m going to reiterate it though. What’s actually happened is, that the EPA in this day and age ignored its own policies on the Beeliar Wetlands that were written up in 2003 which said that any road through there would create severe and significant problems for the area. So that is what has happened. I just wish people could be straight up about this, the environment will pay a price for this development.
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is always a balance to be had between appropriate levels of environmental protection and economic development and progress. This particular project is a very important project for the quality of life of West Australian residents along those current freight routes. Anyone living in the southern suburbs driving along either Leach Highway or South Street knows what I am talking about. At many, many times during the day they are essentially car parks. The number of accidents on those routes compared to the state average is significantly higher. There is a need for this to be addressed and given the level of economic growth, given the level of population growth across the south metropolitan region, there is a need for this project to proceed. The environmental issues that you are raising are very much state issues, they are issues under state processes. They are currently subject to court proceedings so it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to go into detail in relation to those, as these are matters that need to be settled ultimately by the Supreme Court.
GARY ADSHEAD: And I am sure that the state opposition will be arguing that this is more money thrown at a project that the community doesn’t want and that there was a better way to deliver trucks to the ports and that is to develop down at Cockburn. So what is your response to that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t accept at all that this is a project that the community doesn’t want. In the end these matters are obviously settled at elections and all of the feedback that I have had from local representatives across that region is that they strongly support the Perth Freight Link project proceeding. When it comes to the development of the outer harbour outside Kwinana, that will, if and when that occurs, that will be as a complement to Fremantle Port. Fremantle Port has grown significantly in recent times, it is expected to continue to grow its freight volumes in the years ahead. At some point there will be an outer harbour which will complement the activity through Fremantle Port, but the Perth Freight Link project will be necessary in order to get products to and from Fremantle Port or the outer harbour in years to come.
GARY ADSHEAD: Just finally, I know that you are busy still working on the Budget and high-speed train routes for the eastern states came up yesterday in discussion. Is there some numbers going into the Budget for that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Budget will be delivered on the 3rd of May and I am sure that you will read it with great interest.
GARY ADSHEAD: Always. Mathias Cormann, thank you for your time today.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to talk to you.