Interview — ABC Western Queensland

Interview

DCI007/2016

25 October 2016

Subjects: Funding for the Northern Australia Roads Programme and Beef Roads programme

Darren Chester: [Audio begins] save people's lives as well, and this investment of $82 million through the Northern Australia Roads Programme into Queensland will see four major projects undertaken, one of which is right here in the Western Queensland region, which David Littleproud has been very keen to support.

Question: So how much are you announcing today?

Darren Chester: Well, the total is $82 million for Queensland, $19.9 million for the project just down the road which David will tell us more about, but the Queensland Government is going to put in $4.9 million for that project as well, so it means that in the order of $23, $24 million will be spent on the Longreach to Winton Road. It's all about pavement widening and strengthening, improving safety, and improving productivity. Particularly, for the very- very highly valuable beef industry in your region, making sure that we get those products to market in a cost-efficient and a safe manner.

Question: Now this is the second round of that funding. Why exactly was that highway chosen?

Darren Chester: Well, the Northern Australia Roads Programme is all about improving productivity, making sure that we are allowing products to move efficiently to market. The Federal Government has been very successful negotiating the three Free Trade Agreements over the past three years, but those agreements don't mean that much unless you can actually get the products to market in a cost-effective manner. And also from a road safety perspective, we recognise that the regional road toll across Australia—not just here in Queensland but right across Australia has been trending the wrong way in the last two years. So improving the safety of the road environments and other [inaudible] for the travelling public, particularly in a region like this which is becoming more and more of interest to the Australian public, there's more and more people on the road, the grey nomads and others wanting to get out and explore regional Queensland and regional Australia, so we need to make sure we provide for a safe road environment.

Question: So how much does that much money actually fund—$1 million actually fund? It's sort of one million per kilometre, looking at that.

David Littleproud: So we'll do 24 kilometres between Winton and Longreach, and I've only been out there this morning, eight kilometres out of Longreach, and we've seen a couple of trucks go over only in the last 12 months. So as the Minister said, it's not just about the economics. It's also about the safety for those that are travelling on that road but also getting our product to the world. We put all these trade agreements in place, but it's now allowing our producers in Western Queensland, in Central Western Queensland to be able to take advantage of those trade agreements. Because that's what'll put real dollars in people's pockets, and if we get the rain our story's just add water. If we add water in Maranoa, and particularly in the Central West, producers in our part of the world will actually get those benefits that we've actually been able to achieve with those trade agreements.

Question: How important is it then, Mr Littleproud, to ensure that more roads continue to have
these upgrades to ensure Northern Australia can continue to be developed?

David Littleproud: Oh, it's imperative. The connectivity for us to the world we've got what the world wants. It's now our responsibility to connect that product to the world, both in terms of road and rail, and coupling that with telecommunications around the NBN rollout, mobile phone black spot programmes. It's giving us the tools of the 21st Century to compete and to be part of that global economy. So this is an essential investment, and I continue to see and continue to push with the Minister to ensure that we actually get more money for our roads in our part of the world, because we are going to be an integral player in Australia's global part of the global economy.

Question: So this is 24 kilometres. When can we expect the rest done?

Darren Chester: Well, as you would expect, David Littleproud's been a Member of Parliament for less than three months, and he's worn out a pathway to my door in Canberra. I had to get the carpet replaced the other day because David had worn it out so much. Now, my challenge as a Minister obviously is to make sure that we get as much money as possible into infrastructure and a fair share gets out to regional areas. I come from a regional electorate in Victoria about four hours east of Melbourne, so I'm equally passionate about making sure regional communities get their fair share of the money which is allocated for infrastructure.

My challenge over the next couple of months is meetings with the Treasurer and the Finance Minister, making the case on behalf of regional Members of Parliament like David Littleproud to make sure that they get more funding into the future. Because if we don't invest in these high productivity roads, if we don't invest in the safety of these roads, we'll go backwards. Now, we're not going to go backwards. We're determined to keep building for the future of our nation.

We have a real commitment to making sure that regional areas benefit from the Infrastructure Investment Programme the Government is rolling out, and today's announcement is another step in the right direction. But the problem is there is always more work to be done, and quite fairly, people like David and other local members start looking to the future and say well, that's great Minister, but what's next. So I am very keen to work with him to make sure we're delivering into the future as well.

David Littleproud: Can I just add— our case is an economic one for more funding. If you look at what we contribute GDP per capita in Maranoa, we actually contribute more than many metropolitan areas, like the Gold Coast, Townsville, or even Toowoomba. I've actually got regional Council's in my electorate that are nearly double the national average GDP per capita, and also more than Brisbane. So, our case for more funding in this part of the world is actually an economic one. It's not because we're victims, it's actually because we have what the world wants and we are going to contribute to turning our national economy around.

Question: So, Minister Chester, can we expect another round and double the amount of projects in Maranoa next time?

Darren Chester: Well, my expectation is that we go in this Budget process to bid for more infrastructure spending and as David quite rightly pointed out, when you invest in the future of regional Australia, you get a real dividend. You get a real dividend in terms of the national economy but also for people like us who choose to live outside our capital cities, we send a very strong message to our kids that there's a future for them as well and that's all about being positive about our regions, whether it's in Western Queensland or in Gippsland in my case, it's making sure the young people growing up there see a future for themselves. So, that's my role, I recognise the opportunity as the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport that people want me to deliver on their behalf and I'm very keen to deliver not only here in Longreach but also right throughout regional Australia.

Question: So, with the Northern Australia Roads Programme, are there more rounds to come or?

Darren Chester: No, this is the final round under the current programme. There was about a total of $700 million provided to Northern Australia over the past 12 months through this programme, through the Northern Australia Roads Programme and the Beef Roads Programme. But having seen the success of it and having seen how many projects were put forward that we weren't able to fund in these last two rounds and through the Beef Roads, we recognise that there's more investment required. So, that's the argument we need to have now back in Canberra.

Question: How much more?

Darren Chester: Well, it's one of those ones that's how long is a piece of string, really. There's tens of millions of dollars worth of projects still to be done in regional areas but we need to focus on those roads where there's higher productivity benefits to be gained, where there's a direct economic output but also a real social outcome in terms of connectivity of the community and also reducing road tolls. So, there's always more work to be done and my determination as a Minister is to make sure that regional Australia gets a very sizeable share of the infrastructure spending into the future.

Question: Was there anything else either of you would like to add?

David Littleproud: Well, the only other thing I'd say is we actually do have a record and not just on these roads, but we actually announced during the election $100 million for the Outback Way, for the Winton to Laverton Road. So, we have got a track record on connecting regional Australia to the globe. Obviously we always want more but we do have a track record as a Federal Government delivering particularly for this part of the world and that $100 million going into that will connect not only agriculture and tourism but mining from west to east. So, that's an important move that I think we're making as a Federal Government, appreciating that economic case that we're actually delivering up here.

Question: Mr Littleproud you've been walking down the aisle there to get up to Minister Chester's office. What's the next road that's on your hit list?

David Littleproud: Well, look, it doesn't matter. When you've got 43 per cent of Queensland as part of your electorate, every road is important, every federal road, in connecting us and that's why it has to be complemented with road and rail and ensuring that we get the mix right and ensuring that those roads and that road infrastructure that we actually do spend on is the right mix. And if we can complement that with rail and we get the State Government to actually come on that journey with us for the state lines that they actually control, it will mean that we get a better and more efficient use of funds. When I put an economic case to the Minister that we actually have some cooperation and cohesion between state and Federal Governments, we'll get better bang for buck and we'll get better delivery to each and every person across Maranoa.

Question: So there's no particular road that's on your hit list?

David Littleproud: Oh, look, every highway, whether it be the Warrego, the Landsborough, the Carnarvon, the Cunningham, are all important. We actually have what the world wants. I don't think there's any one over the other at the moment, they're all as important and we're continuing to ensure that whether it's this pot of money or any other pot of money that we actually put that economic case. That's my job, to go and advocate for the people of Maranoa no matter where they are, whether they be in the Central West or in the South Burnett or in the Southern Downs, my job is to go and advocate for each one of those roads to ensure that we get our fair share of funding to ensure that we are connected to the globe.

Question: Thank you very much.