Tue, 20 Jul 2021 - 14:31
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Transcript: ABC 7.30

LAURA TINGLE: Paul Fletcher is the federal Minister for Communications and Urban Infrastructure, and he took carriage of the commuter carpark program in December 2020. Paul Fletcher, we heard from the Auditor-General in the Senate estimates hearing today that the commuter carpark funding was allocated on the basis of it going to the top 20 marginal electorates, not on merit, and with projects identified by government MPs and candidates. How can that possibly be an acceptable way of allocating over half a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, the commuter carpark fund projects were decided based on need. It’s part of the overall Urban Congestion Fund which is designed to reduce urban congestion in our big cities. Sole Melbourne, of course, our fastest growing city, and Infrastructure Australia advice is that 38 per cent of people in Melbourne are not within walking distance of public transport compared to 25 per cent in Sydney. So, the idea of commuter carparks is to get people to drive to a station and then get on the train to get to where they need to go, thus reducing congestion across the overall road network and, indeed, use the rail network more efficiently. So –

LAURA TINGLE: Well, that sounds like a really good idea, except some of these carparks weren’t even on a train line and they were grouped in a part of Melbourne that doesn’t have the biggest congestion problem. So how does this make sense?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, we looked at a range of factors in determining the locations, including where there were existing commuter carparks. So, the Victorian government had under its own program committed to a significant number of commuter carparks in northern and western Melbourne overwhelmingly. And so that influenced where we determined where the commuter carparks would go. But ultimately it was –

LAURA TINGLE: So, ministers and MPs are experts on this?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, the Minister for Urban Infrastructure has responsibility in this area. This is all part of the infrastructure investment program, and under the National Land Transport Act decisions are made by the government of the day – in this case, the Minister for Urban Infrastructure. He in turn, gets the authority from the Prime Minister or from cabinet to make commitments, and that’s what he did with a view to reducing congestion in our big cities, Melbourne our fastest growing city, through an Urban Congestion Fund, of which the Commuter Carpark Fund form’s part. It was established with this objective.

I might say that Labor similarly took a park and ride fund to the last election and a whole range of commuter carpark commitments were made for stations like Campbelltown, like Woy Woy, like Gosford, like Mango Hill, like Frankston, those commitments made by both Labor and the Coalition. And it’s not clear when ambitious Labor members are jumping up and down about this why they were committed to commuter carparks in 2019 but for some reason now they’ve revised their position.

LAURA TINGLE: Well, minister, I think that the public gets pretty tired of “They were doing it, too” arguments. But the scale of this, the lack of transparency, the lack of a public bidding process, the approval by press release, it has really taken the whole use of taxpayers’ funding for effectively Liberal Party pork-barrelling to a new level. It would be the same with Labor – you’d make the same acquisitions.

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, can I – I reject your characterisation, Laura, we make decisions about infrastructure commitments based upon need. The three biggest commitments we’ve made in Melbourne over the last few years – 5 billion, Melbourne airport rail link; 2 billion, Geelong faster rail; 2 billion for Melbourne intermodal terminal, either Beveridge or Truganina announced in the most recent budget. All of those projects, as it happens, are in Labor electorates. I don’t hear Labor MPs jumping up and down and saying, “This is outrageous, the Morrison government’s spending $9 billion in Labor electorates.” We didn’t turn our mind –

LAURA TINGLE: But we do –

PAUL FLETCHER: No, just let me finish. We didn’t turn our mind in determining those investments to the particular electorate; we turned our mind to need – where infrastructure projects are needed – and the basis of the Urban Congestion Fund is the need to reduce congestion in our big cities, of which Melbourne has been the fastest growing and is also the one, as I’ve indicated based upon Infrastructure Australia advice, where you’ve got a significantly higher percentage of the people living in the city who are not within walking distance of public transport.

LAURA TINGLE: Just on another subject, Minister, while you’ve been throwing $660 million at carparks, the live music industry is on life support now. Are you considering giving them more than the $200 million you’ve allocated so far?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, we have committed very significant funding to support the arts sector, including live music. And part of that is the $200 RISE fund. We’ve already allocated $100 million of that, and we’re continuing to allocate funding. And I will be tomorrow sitting down with members of the Creative Economy Task Force, which is some 10 or 11 people from different parts of the performing and creative arts all around Australia, to get their advice on how the latest lockdowns are affecting the performing arts and music in particular. And so, my point is we’ve got – we’ve committed significant funding. There remains significant of that unallocated. We’re continuing to receive applications and obviously we’re considering how as we deploy the remainder of that funding, we can best support our performers around Australia in music and so many other sectors, enormously important as we come through Covid. And also, very important that, as we go through these tough times, that our spirits are lifted by seeing great Aussie performers on stage.

LAURA TINGLE: Minister, thanks for your time tonight.

PAUL FLETCHER: Thanks, Laura.