SUBJECTS: Canberra Light Rail, Pill Testing

PRESENTER, LAURA TCHILINGUIRIAN: Stephen Jones is Shadow Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government and joins me now on Drive, good afternoon


TCHILINGUIRIAN: Is Andrew Barr right? Would Federal Labor support Light Rail Stage 2 if it were to win the next election?
JONES: Well let’s not get ahead of ourselves, there’s six months between now and the probable next election, but you can just look at our track record. When we were last in Government we spent more money on urban public transport than our predecessors since Federation. We like it, and in a city like Canberra we want to ensure that we work with the Territory Government. Canberrans would be rightly concerned that growth in the city didn’t lead to congestion – we can all point to cities like Sydney and Melbourne and Brisbane that are dealing with congestion problems. If you’ve got the opportunity to avoid that well in advance then you’d be mad not to be planning around that.

TCHILINGUIRIAN: Stephen Jones what discussions have you and Federal Labor had with Mr Barr and the ACT Government?

JONES: I meet with Andrew Barr regularly over a range of issues. We have had a high level discussion around the light rail project. I expressed my enthusiasm for it, I think it’s a visionary project with Stage 1 on track to be delivered. But of course, we’ve got to work through all of the planning and approval processes, and importantly on that Laura, the Federal Government – whoever it is in the Federal Parliament – doesn’t do the planning and design. We do have an approval role over parts of the project, but critically it is up to the ACT Government to make those decisions around planning and design and funding of this important project.
TCHILINGUIRIAN: One of the sticking points from yesterday’s Joint Standing Committee report was the current National Capital Plan. Would a Labor Government, a potential Labor Government look at changing the National Capital Plan to accommodate this plan?

JONES: Well it’s up to the National Capital Planning Authority to develop and amend its plans from time to time. We have the ability to appoint people to the board but it is ultimately an independent authority that makes recommendations to the Minister of the day. I think that is appropriate, you want these decisions to be done by experts making arms-length recommendations to Government. The joint committee has proposed a pathway to the ACT Government to proceed with this important project and that involves having a look at various options to cross the lake and various pathways including seeking amendment of the National Capital Plan as it relates to the Parliamentary Triangle. I’m sure the ACT Government is looking at all of these things, and of course if I am lucky enough to be the Minister for Territories on the other side of the next election I’ll be working closely with the Chief Minister to ensure we can deliver on these sorts of projects.

TCHILINGUIRIAN: Andrew Barr sounded pretty confident Stephen Jones.

JONES: Like I said, I’ve congratulated Andrew and the ACT Government on having the vision to put in place a light rail strategy. There are cities not as well placed that are now having to re-visit light rail. Sydney, after getting rid of its light rail system now going through the disruption of having to put it back in place, with the NSW Premier struggling with the disruption to business and transport that is creating in their CBD. If you want to avoid that, if you want to look not only years but decades in advance you do the sorts of things that the Barr Government is doing in the ACT and thinking not just about the next couple of years, but what’s Canberra going to look like several decades on and how do we avoid the sorts of congestion problems that you’re having in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Frankly, as users and regular visitors to the city as well as people who are responsible for that part of the National Capital Plan, we want to ensure that we work with the Government to make that happen.

TCHILINGUIRIAN: Have you got some thoughts, as you said a regular visitor to the city yourself, have you got some thoughts as to where you would like to see light rail stage 2 go?

JONES: I’d like to see stage 2 done in a way which enables us to meet those commuter needs. There’s a lot of workers: public sector workers, other workers in important cultural institutions, embassies, in other offices blocks within that Parliamentary Triangle. We know that there is already problems with parking and commuter problems in those areas. That’s not going to get better, it’s going to get worse unless there’s a plan to deal with it. I’d like those workers to have their needs dealt with, at the same time as the thousands of visitors that come to Parliament House and surrounds every day, their needs need to be dealt with. Surely it should be within our wit and wisdom to be able to manage this, put a light rail system in a way that doesn’t do violence to the amenity, to the original Burley Griffin plan and the heritage items within this area – I think we’ve got it within our capacity to do that and to meet all of those needs at once.

TCHILINGUIRIAN: Speaking of the National Capital Authority earlier, another flashpoint of contention has been its refusal to allow pill testing at music festivals on Capital land, would you like to see the NCA allow pill testing on Commonwealth land?

JONES: Look, I actually support what the ACT Government has done around pill testing, this is outside of my portfolio responsibilities but I think it is probably best that we leave the police force within the ACT –

TCHILINGUIRIAN: It is a Territory matter though isn’t it?

JONES: Yeah but if I can finish on this Laura. If the police force, the health authorities and the ACT Government have to come to a conclusion that it is in the public interest that we trial these sort of arraignments, I‘m not convinced that it is really the remit of the National Authority to be using its jurisdiction to interfere with those sorts of arraignments. Now others may disagree with me, but I actually think when it comes to the way we’re dealing with all of these issues the approaches that we have taken to date aren’t working and I think some of the innovations, the things the ACT Government are looking at are good public policy and we should give it a go.

TCHILINGUIRIAN: If you ever were to become Territories Minister Stephen Jones, is it something you would address?

JONES: I am quite certain, were I to be the Territories Minister and if I were to be advised that I had a power to intervene in a decision that had been made through a process that involved the ACT Police, the ACT Health authorities and the ACT Government coming to a conclusion on a way to manage a public health issue, I would be very slow to want to use my authority as a Federal Minister to interfere and displace those decisions. I just don’t think that is the correct use of our power. We set up an ACT Government for a reason and it is so it could manage its civil and municipal responsibilities. I think the Federal Parliament should be slow to intervene in those things, I think Territories should have rights and I think they should have the right to govern around these sorts of issues.

TCHILINGUIRIAN: Stephen Jones, appreciate your time this afternoon – of course talking hypotheticals there weren’t we?

JONES: Absolutely Laura, great to be with you.