Transcript of Joint Press Conference with Mr Ewen Jones, Federal Member for Herbert

Interview

BPC056/2014

03 July 2014

Townsville, Qld
E&OE

Question: Jamie, tell us what brings you here to Townsville today.

Jamie Briggs: Well, obviously, I've been visiting this morning, with Ewen Jones the local Member, election commitments the Abbott Government made last year. One of the most important election commitments was the $20 million we've committed to the Dalrymple Road Bridge. Ewen tells me this has been an issue for many, many years. Particularly now with the development on the western side of Townsville.

This is more important than ever, and we've committed the $20 million. I reconfirmed to the Mayor in a letter earlier this year, that the Abbott Government made the commitment in the election campaign and we were serious about it, we want to get on with it. So, we're looking for this project to get underway as soon as possible. I understand that we're in planning; we're in detailed planning stages now. But we'd be hoping that this project gets underway after the next wet season, so that the productivity benefits that we can see from this project can be realised by the Townsville community. Particularly as the growth on this side of Townsville occurs. It's very much part of our $50 billion Infrastructure Investment programme that we announced in the Budget, because we want to lift growth in Australia, create jobs and build a stronger country.

Question: Did you have a particular month that you're expecting this project to start?

Jamie Briggs: Detailed plans are being done now, but our money is there, ready to go. I would be hoping that this project's done, so that we've got the benefit of it, as soon as possible. If not, sometime in 2016 will still be a reasonable time for this project to be completed. But I know Ewen is constantly harassing us about the stages that the project is at. We don't build projects, as a federal government, we rely on the state and local council. And this is a local road, so for us it's what called an off network investment. It's not usual that we do this, but it's important that we occasionally do it to help ensure that these projects get up and underway.

Question: And what, I guess, what sort of actions do you have if the Council does drag its feet? I mean, what sort of pressure can you put on the Council to make sure that it's done quickly, instead of that money just sitting there waiting to be spent?

Jamie Briggs: That's really a good question. Obviously, we don't want money that we've announced just to sit there, and so I think the community will increasingly become concerned if they can see $20 million sitting in a bank account, [indistinct] interest, not being put to the use that we announced it for. I am confident, however, that the project is moving along. We're advised by the Queensland Roads Department, they are working on detailed plans. We should have them sooner rather than later. Obviously, when that happens we'll then have a timetable [indistinct]…

Question: So what action will you take if they don't do it in a timely manner?

Jamie Briggs: Well, we're constantly talking to the Queensland Roads Department, obviously. Through Ewen, we're constantly harassing the local government to keep pushing away. I'd be very surprised if the local government authority was going to not take the $20 million on the table from a federal government and not get a project delivered, which clearly is going to be of benefit to not just Townsville, but people who are living in the new developed areas.

Question: What assurances can you give the local community that the work for this project will go to a local tenderer?

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, that ultimately will be a process that the local government will run. And obviously, we want to see jobs created out of these projects, that's why we've invested so much in the Budget. So I would imagine that the local council and their processes will look favourably at local tenderers who will know the landscape, who will know the topography, who will be able to deliver the project.

Question: So you're saying you're expecting them to deliver on that expectation, and look for a local tenderer then?

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, I would imagine that the tender itself will favour people who understand the geography, who can deliver the project quickly, and who understand the pressures with the wet season and so forth. Obviously it is a different environment to build roads in, this part of Australia. We've got a lot of work on the Bruce Highway, as you've probably realised. There is massive investments by the Federal Government on the Bruce Highway, up and down the Bruce Highway. We're also investing here, obviously, in the Ring Road. In the next stage of the Ring Road, we've recently announced through Ewen, $160 million from the Federal Government. So I there, I think, will be a bonanza for local contractors, to get into the market, to create those jobs. We want to build the confidence in our economy, so we've got a stronger economy.

Question: Speaking of those other infrastructure projects that are happening at the moment, how are they going, are they progressing along as you'd like for them to be?

Jamie Briggs: Well, we just made, I think a couple of weeks ago, the announcement about the next stage of the Ring Road, and we are again encouraging the state governments as much as we can to get on and deliver these projects, right across the country. We don't deliver the projects, we rely on our state friends to do so, but they are very important for our economic future. Not just for the productivity uplift they give our country, but also the jobs they create in the construction phase. The Bruce Highway has been under-invested in for generations. This Government's making sure that we're spending billions of dollars to have a freight route right through Cairns all the way down, as part of our national highway network, that is reliable, that isn't affected constantly by the weather events that occur in this part of the world. That's why we're very focused, working with Queensland to deliver these projects.

Question: In terms of - you're talking about infrastructure - the Federal Government's obviously got an asset recycling program…

Jamie Briggs: Indeed.

Question: Have you had any discussions with the State Government? They're working on their privatisation program, what sort of projects will be eligible, and what sort of extra federal funding will be made available to the State Government if their privatisation package goes ahead?

Jamie Briggs: Yeah, look that's a good question. We have said that we will provide a 15 per cent incentive payment to the states for privatised assets, if they use that money for productivity-enhancing infrastructure. I understand that Campbell Newman and Tim Nicholls have made announcements in that respect, depending on the election result next year, that they'll seek to use their state assets in a more efficient way, and use those proceeds into new productivity-enhancing infrastructure. So the criteria from our perspective is that it needs to be new, they need to be new projects, they need to be projects that will help build our economy, and make sure that we've got a stronger and more productive economy into the future. If they do that, they meet that criteria, they'll get access to that 15 per cent.

Question: Are there any further criteria? Because I know talking to Tim Nicholls about the new CBD stadium, that apparently doesn't meet the criteria of economic infrastructure. Is it things like roads, rail, port?

Jamie Briggs: Indeed it is.

Question: What - are there any other sort of more, definitive guidelines for that infrastructure?

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, what we've said is that the states should approach us with their proposals, and we'll consider them on their merits. But I think that's a fair assessment. We are very much focused on investments in roads, rail, whether it be ports, although the private sector is obviously heavily involved in investing in ports in Australia. We are happy to look at those proposals. There are many infrastructure needs in a state like Queensland, particularly when, for 20 years, there was no infrastructure investment. We are catching up, but this Asset Recycling Initiative will not only spend government money on infrastructure, it will drive private sector investment, which is one of the major focuses of our Budget. We want as much private sector investment as we can.

The reality of developing Northern Queensland (indistinct) a very long time, or Northern Australia, is that the government won't do it alone. It will be something that the private sector will have to be involved in. We will need investment to ensure that we're getting the opportunities that there are from the northern part of our country to be taken advantage of.

Question: What happens if something like the CBD stadium is supported by the state government? Is there still way for the council, I guess, to push for that sort of investment?

Jamie Briggs: Well look, I can't see in the short term the Federal Government being the fitst funder of a stadium. We have a very tight Budget situation. We need our infrastructure spending to build productivity-lifting infrastructure, and that's why we've committed $50 billion to infrastructure. We will have next year, starting next July, the Stronger Regions Programme, which will have $200 million each year for (indistinct). I don't see stadiums as a high priority in that respect. I see productivity-lifting infrastructure to ensure, or help ensure, that we've got the growth in our regions that we need. So look of course we're always happy to talk to state and local governments, but I would have thought that it really does get to the state and local government to build that sort of infrastructure.

Question: [Inaudible question].

Jamie Briggs: Well, I mean, [indistinct], but I think the direction of the Federal Government's been made very clear about what we're trying to do. We need to build our growth capacity, we need to build confidence in our economy, and we need more jobs. And to do that infrastructure and productivity-lifting infrastructure is a vital element, a vital element in doing it.

Question: Ewen, how important is it that the work from this build goes to local contractors?

Ewen Jones: Look I think there's a couple of things to say on this issue. First and foremost, Jamie hasn't just been looking at this. We've had a look at the Townsville Showgrounds, the $500,000 we're putting in there for new amenities. We've been out to the North Shore where we are value adding to a community project out there with another $5 million, which will be completed next year.

The most important thing for me is that we are getting federal investment in our city. But the federal investment will only give its true value if we have local businesses benefiting from it as well. And it's up to the local business to make sure they're competitive, but I really need to see the council, the state government, it's something that has to be ongoing in discussions on how we structure our tenders, to make sure that we're getting the best value for the taxpayer.