Transcript—Interview with ABC Central West Breakfast

Interview

DCI024/2016

14 December 2016

Subjects: Dixons Long Point Crossing

Julie Clift: You might remember ahead of the federal election, the Coalition promised $100,000 for the project. Given the many years that the upgrade has been spoken of, it's fair to say that some dismissed it as an election sweetener that wouldn't amount to much. But today, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Darren Chester will be in the Central West at Dixons Long Point. He joins me ahead of that visit. Good morning, Minister Chester.

Darren Chester: Good morning Julie, and what a beautiful day it is in Mudgee.

Julie Clift: Is it? Okay. It's quite grey here, but is there a bit of sun over that way?

Darren Chester: Yeah, lovely. I went out for an early morning walk, and it's lovely being in the Central West.

Julie Clift: Good to hear. Well, thank you for your time. Now as I said there, fair to say that when this was talked about ahead of the election, some people dismissed it, including Labor, suggesting they didn't think this would actually get off the ground and running. Given that you're heading there today, it would seem that this commitment of $100,000 towards investigation and planning is real.

Darren Chester: Well, I think the one thing our government has to do is to keep its promises, and we promised $100,000 for the planning work on the crossing, and that's why I'm going there today with Andrew Gee to get a better understanding of the project and we'll start working with the New South Wales Government, which has also committed funding to get that planning work done. As someone who lives in a small country town in Victoria, I'm well aware of the importance of roads and better links between our major regional centres. This is a project that Andrew Gee has been very passionate about, and I understand it's been talked about for the best part of 80 years. So it will be good to get some planning work done, get some costings done, and then figure out how we can pay for it.

Julie Clift: We'll talk about the costing and how you can pay for it in a moment, but as I said, it's been talked about—or as you said, for the better part of 80 years, and certainly Mr Gee didn't mince words about it. He said he knew that many people probably would be thinking oh, let's not bring out this old chestnut again. But he seemed to very much want to move ahead with the project. Has he convinced you that this is a project worth moving ahead on?

Darren Chester: Well, I'm not just out here for the good of my health. As much as I love being out in regional areas and getting away from Canberra, I'm out here to do my job, and my job is to meet with local members like Andrew and get an understanding of their local priorities. We're meeting with Council as well. I'm meeting with local community representatives who will be, I'm sure, enforcing the point that they want to see more road funding for the community. But in particular this project, the Dixons Long Point project is one that has been around for a long time, and I'd love to be able to work with Andrew and get the job done. He's a very passionate advocate for his community. He made it very clear in his maiden speech that he intends to come to Canberra and fight for a better share for the Calare district, and it's up to me to work with him to make sure we can deliver for his community.

Julie Clift: What's your understanding of what's needed? I mean, obviously you're going to take a look today, but what do you know so far about what would be needed?

Darren Chester: Well, what I know about the project primarily is that offers the alternate route between Orange and Mudgee, which is obviously going to reduce travel times by the order of an hour to an hour and a half if we get the job done and get it done right. Now, that's going to have a major boost in terms of tourism potential, so there's a real benefit to the community there. We want to see these investments in regional areas so that we can help create jobs for our kids in the future, and there's no doubt that with the increasing number of wineries and the quality products you can offer to the world, we need to make sure our communities are well-connected. So I think it's a good project from that perspective.

But we need to get the planning work done so we know exactly what we're talking about, how much money is going to be involved, and then we need to work together at local, state, and federal levels to see how we actually can fund the project. So the first step is getting the planning work done, getting the costings done, and there's the question of working to see where we can fit into future budgets.

Julie Clift: What do you understand of the significance or what it would mean if this went ahead?

Darren Chester: Well, bottom line is I think it helps in terms of the Calare community, making sure the communities can move freely around the regions, around regional New South Wales. But I think the real opportunity is in relation to jobs. We keep talking about the need for jobs and growth in our community. Well, jobs and growth comes through good infrastructure, investing in regional areas and making sure there's more opportunity for young people growing up that they see a future for themselves out here in the Central West rather than necessarily along the East Coast.

Now, I think one of the great challenges we have as a government is making sure that the growth that's occurring in Australia occurs in a way which is able to be managed well. The congestion in Sydney, Melbourne and South East Queensland is a major problem that can be addressed in part by building stronger and better regional communities and all I can see is growth opportunities for us in Central West New South Wales.

Julie Clift: It is 17 to nine on ABC Central West and I'm speaking with Darren Chester. He is the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport speaking about the Dixons Long Point Crossing. He'll be out there today taking a look and finding out a little bit more from him about the project itself. You spoke of funding and costing and, you know, obviously all of that has to come into play. As I understand it the project itself has been talked of costing $40 million, so certainly a very large infrastructure project. Obviously as you said you've got to go and look at the costings but that type of money, I mean is that going to be able to be found I guess, for this sort of a project?

Darren Chester: Well I guess, Julie, to put it in perspective there's money being spent along the East Coast of Australia right now with the Pacific Highway duplication which is a $10 billion project. Now not comparing the two for a second but the magnitude of the project that we have a big investment in infrastructure across Australia involving state and federal governments working together, so it's not unusual for a project to cost tens of millions of dollars if we can see the community benefit, if we can see long term economic opportunity to come out of it or social opportunity to come from it, to connect the community, so the magnitude of the costing is important. We've obviously got a limited amount of funds we can put to any infrastructure project but we need to find out what we're actually dealing with in terms of the dollar number and then see how we can make sure it becomes a priority into the future. So I'm not someone who turns up in a community and makes false promises until we actually get a sense of the dollars involved and work out how we pay for it but the first step is actually getting out there and understanding what it means for the community and then getting the budget put together.

Julie Clift: What do you say to people in the community, we've got two people who have just called in, Phil from Orange, and Peter from Forbes, saying they're sick of hearing sort of words about, you know, this project; that it's a whole lot of hot air, that there's no substance to it.

Darren Chester: Well that's fair enough, I mean they can point to a road that hasn't been fixed yet and they can say it hasn't happened yet so they're quite right to say well we want to see some action. Now the action we're getting is in Andrew Gee in his first four or five months in the job has secured $100,000 from the feds and $100,000 from the state to do the planning work. The action he's achieved is to get the Minister to travel out of Canberra to come to his electorate and have a look at it and make sure that we do the planning work and then the next action obviously the community will expect us to work together to try to find ways to fund the project. So I can understand why communities get frustrated and they wait so long to see a project done. All I can say is I'm here today with Andrew Gee to have a good look at it, to talk to local Councils about how we can put it together and see if we can get the project up and running.

Julie Clift: Where to from here then, once you've gone and had a look, I mean what's the next step? I mean as you said there's obviously been a whole lot of discussion about what is needed, how much money is needed et cetera but I guess in terms of the actual nuts and bolts of what happens for people to get an understanding?

Darren Chester: Well the nuts and bolts of what happens is basically you get the costing done; how much is this project going to cost, how would you do it, and what timeframe could you do it and then you're working to the budget cycle, you know, you've got a set amount of money that the Treasurer and the Finance Minister have allocated to infrastructure on an annual basis, so I need to work within that funding envelope. So I need to make sure I balance my own budget as the Minster and I need to work with the state to make it a priority for them, because there's no way the Federal Government's going to pay for the whole project; we simply just don't do that around Australia. We tend to work with local communities on their local priorities and that means working with the state governments as well. But then the question, Andrew Gee as the local member, negotiating and pressuring and raising the issue with various state and local government organisations and we need to make it a priority so I can't be talking to you today and telling you it's going to be solved overnight but the very first step is getting that plan working and the budget put together and then working out how we can actually fund it.

Julie Clift: We will leave the discussion there this morning. Thank you very much for your time.

Darren Chester: Appreciate your time, have a great day.