Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Interview with Tracey Spicer and Tim Webster, 2UE
9 April 2012
TIM WEBSTER: Now Tracey, I think this is going to be a huge issue for Sydney. They're talking about our population hitting some eight million in the next ten or fifteen years and how we are going to cope? Don't know.
TRACEY SPICER: Well drives us crazy every day. You're reminded of this driving through Sydney on a public holiday when you actually can get around - one of the rare days you can.
TIM WEBSTER: Yeah, it's beautiful.
TRACEY SPICER: Well the Federal Minister for Sustainability, Population and Communities has thrown a grenade into this whole debate by launching a vicious attack on the planning records of state government, saying in every capital city they've made life a misery for long-suffering workers who live too far from their places of work.
TIM WEBSTER: Absolutely.
TRACEY SPICER: Well Tony Burke joins us now. Good afternoon Mr Burke.
TONY BURKE: G'day. I'm actually on the F3 at the moment.
TRACEY SPICER: Oh, what's it like?
TONY BURKE: Look, I'm heading against the traffic at the moment. We're doing something that's being smart at the moment, having a family picnic up at the Central Coast. But I think we'll pay for it on the way home this arvo.
TIM WEBSTER: You will, mate. Tony, this is a pet issue of mine because we keep talking about adding to the population of Sydney because we need the workers here, all of that. But buddy, the infrastructure has not kept anywhere near up to the pace of expansion.
TONY BURKE: And we've even done worse than that because, in planning, we keep putting the jobs at one end of the city and the houses at the other end of the city. Now, as long as you keep doing that, no matter what your population is infrastructure won't keep up. And it's no surprise that when housing estates keep getting opened in Western Sydney and there's not enough job creation happening there, that you end up with packed freeways with all the traffic heading in one direction in the morning and the other direction in the afternoon.
TIM WEBSTER: That's it.
TRACEY SPICER: Minister, what you say makes an awful lot of sense. But if you're so sold on this idea why have you slashed a federal program, the Suburban Jobs program, that actually was helping to provide jobs close to where people live?
TONY BURKE: Oh, when we say helping, it's brand new. So what we'll be announcing this year will be the first time that this program's ever existed to do anything. So we'll...
TRACEY SPICER: But you slashed the existing program from a hundred million to forty-five million already.
TONY BURKE: You're right. We had hopes for the program to start bigger than it will. This is still the beginning of it, but let's compare it with what happened before we announced this program. Before we announced this program the amount of money available for it was zero.
TIM WEBSTER: Yeah, but see so...
TONY BURKE: It's an area...
TIM WEBSTER: Yeah, I'm with you, but look Tony...
TONY BURKE: Yeah, but I don't want to downplay the fact that you'd rather there weren't budget cuts.
TIM WEBSTER: Yeah, absolutely.
TONY BURKE: So I would have preferred if we had a hundred million. You get tough budgets and money goes down. So I'm not going to squib that part of it.
But it's still true that this is an area where up until now it's been purely state responsibility. Federal Government and your federal bureaucrats always say to you, oh it's not your responsibility, we shouldn't be stepping there.
TONY BURKE: I just felt we couldn't let it go on any longer without trying to open up job opportunities that are a bit closer to where people live.
TIM WEBSTER: Yeah, now, what has to happen, I think, is that, we'll just talk about our government in this state, because I know it happens everywhere else. And it's politically sensitive to offer all of these big huge infrastructure projects and then not come through with them. Now it's just happened time and time and time again here, in New South Wales, to the point where we're going to finish the M4, we're going to extend the M5, we're going to take the M7 around to the F3 which should have happened in the first place. But Tony, none of it ever happens. So what has to happen in the planning process for that to take place?
TONY BURKE: Look my concern and what I've wanted to make the point about today is, even if you were keeping up in some way with those promises that keep getting made, as long as you muck up the planning you keep creating the next problem. And so you end up with a situation, we saw when the M5 East was first opened, where you had a fantastic road for about three months and then before you knew it, it just started piling up and backing up. And...
TIM WEBSTER: Yeah, mate, sorry, can I add to that, people who live where I live are now going through the absolute inconvenience of the M2 being expanded to three lanes both ways and it bloody well should have been that to start with.
TONY BURKE: That's right. So what I'm wanting to say with this is, the infrastructure debate will always go on and that'll continue. But let's, at the very least, stop making it worse. And there has been a lot of conversation for a lot of years about infill, about trying to get more homes where the jobs are.
What we haven't talked about is the flip side of it, of trying to get more jobs where the homes are...
TRACEY SPICER: Tony, in this state, in New South Wales, isn't a lot of this Bob Carr's fault, your federal colleague?
TONY BURKE: I think you can go to every state capital and you can look at politicians from both sides and you can run a long list of people that haven't got it right. But one thing I will say...
TRACEY SPICER: But he would have to up the top. They were in power for sixteen years.
TIM WEBSTER: Yeah, the top of the list [he] would be, yeah.
TONY BURKE: The one thing I will say for those years of the Carr Government, on the flip side of it, on trying to get infill, trying to get more homes where the jobs were, and that was all those housing developments in the city and things like that, they have taken significant pressure off. So on that part of it; I do think that Government got a tick. On the flip side of it, of when you're opening housing estates, are you creating enough job opportunities out there in the outer suburbs, I don't think anyone has come close to getting that right.
TIM WEBSTER: Well, you know, Chris Brown and others have made the point to me often, I mean, Parramatta should be a second hub in Sydney and because all of the housing estates are in the west and people have to come into town to work, so if Parramatta was a second hub then, you know, you're half solve- well, you're not even half solving - it goes some way towards solving the problem.
TONY BURKE: Yeah, it does. But I think to a large extent, you know, Parramatta has already become that geographic centre - or, it's always been a geographic centre, but there's certainly a lot more job opportunity there than we've seen in other areas. But my concern is, you look at all these places where you can go to look about building a new home, it's where your HomeWorlds are and all these sorts of areas.
TIM WEBSTER: Yeah, absolutely.
TONY BURKE: They then become the new land release straight after. But when you drive through those areas you're, you know, far stretched to find enough job opportunities for the housing that's being put there.
TRACEY SPICER: Oh, yeah. It's ridiculous.
TIM WEBSTER: Yeah. And this might sound simplistic Minister, but why wouldn't we - and let's just use our state as an example - go through this planning process with all of - with you, and with the state government and say, okay, this is what we need to get done. Put them in order. Make it the M4, the - whatever it might be. Put them in order, then find the money and actually do them instead of promising to do them and never doing it.
TONY BURKE: That's right. This is where the sorts of projects - I mean, I've got to go through my department before it comes back here for decisions, but the sorts of projects that are starting to come forward under this [unclear] year plan of Suburban Jobs, I think are really impressive. We've got one where the University of Western Sydney have put forward an employment hub that builds on the resources of the university and creates a whole lot of land that they've got available.
TIM WEBSTER: Excellent.
TRACEY SPICER: That's great.
TONY BURKE: This will generate local jobs. There's another one outside of Sydney, I'm sorry, a Victorian one that I've seen where - what - they've got a lot of construction happening in the area, but what they're wanting to do is create a hub where there's a place that all those subcontractors can actually have a place of business to try to make sure that the subbies that get the jobs out of that housing growth are actually locally employed and locally engaged, rather than being people...
TIM WEBSTER: Very clever. Very clever.
TRACEY SPICER: It's a terrific idea.
TONY BURKE: Yeah.
TRACEY SPICER: Tony, this, of course, speaks to a bigger debate about Big Australia. What is your target for an Australian population in say, 2050?
TONY BURKE: We don't have a target and if I can say, every time someone's tried to set one they've got it horribly wrong. Right at the moment, for example, we have a higher demand for workers than we've ever had, but a lot of the demand for workers at the moment that we have is actually for people in the construction phase of major projects. So if you go for a major mining project in Western Australia, for example, the number of people can - required during the construction phase can often be, you know, ten times the number of jobs that you have long term, once you're passed that stage.
TRACEY SPICER: I understand that, but as Population Minister of a federal government, surely you should have some idea of where you would like this nation to be heading.
TONY BURKE: Now look we - our approach is quite different to that. And a lot of people wanted me to come up with the magic number. I think you've got to be honest. There isn't a magic number. It depends on where we live and how we live and this is why we've created programs like Suburban Jobs. You can be a country that supports more people if you allow people to live closer to work.
If you have your infrastructure keeping up, then you can deal with these sorts of things, and if you keep your training up so that you're actually providing skill within your local employment base rather than entirely relying on your immigration system to always catch up with skills that we're not training people for here.
So those sorts of challenges actually make a bigger difference to people's lives than if I were to come up with some sort of magic number, only to find out in fifteen years' time that, like every other government, we had got it wrong.
TIM WEBSTER: Yeah. Good on you. Thanks for your time. Good to talk to you.
TONY BURKE: Good to talk to you. Thanks.
TRACEY SPICER: Thanks Tony.
TIM WEBSTER: That's Minister Tony Burke, who's the Minister for just about everything. How he gets it all on the business card I don't know.