Transcript of Joint Press Conference

Interview

BPC074/2014

04 November 2014

Joint release with:

Tony Abbott MP

Prime Minister

Mike Baird MP

NSW Premier

Duncan Gay MLC

NSW Minister for Roads and Freigth

Subjects: Building the infrastructure of the future—WestConnex Stage 2; Defence remuneration; ISIL death cult; Nielsen poll; Melbourne Cup tip
E&OE

Premier Baird: I'm delighted to welcome the Prime Minister here today and to join with the Federal Government in an exciting announcement. We have the Federal Minister for Infrastructure, the roads minister, parliamentary colleagues, state and federal—all of us are united on a bright future.

Today is a day we put a line in the sand and we say the mistakes in the past are exactly that. We have a bright new future for the motorway here in the M5. It provides a huge opportunity to reduce congestion which is what this project is all about. Whether you are in the south-west of Sydney, whether you be in the north-west of Sydney, wherever you are in Sydney, what you need to have is reduced congestion—and that's what this project delivers.

Many have sat here—100,000 commuters a day—have sat there waiting to get home, waiting to get to friends, waiting to get to families. The poor designs of the past meant they've sat in that congestion. What we have today is a bright new future. We have a new M5 which is going to reduce congestion, more than double capacity, and provide a huge opportunity to get this city moving and to provide opportunities for families to be back spending time with families, to enable those trying to get to work, to get to work quicker. As a package, it's a very powerful symbol on how we can get Sydney moving.

So, excited to be here with the Prime Minister here today, he is someone who gets infrastructure, not only gets and talks about it, but is providing the funds and capacity to enable to deliver it. There is a sharp distinction between what we've seen before. Before us, we had infrastructure put together that left long-standing problems for the community. What we are delivering is building for the future. We are reducing congestion, providing increased capacity, future-proofing the city and that is a great thing for the city.

It's also a smart way of doing infrastructure, this site behind us is a clear understanding on how you do infrastructure. By using this, we don't have to acquire additional homes; we don't have to be in a position where we use green space. We can deliver this infrastructure by using this site, so it's a smart way of delivering it. So, we're excited to be here today. What this does for the city, what it does for commuters, as a package, it's very powerful.

I will ask the Prime Minister to say a few words.

Prime Minister: Thanks so much, Mike. I'm delighted to be here as the infrastructure Prime Minister, standing beside the infrastructure Premier to get Sydney moving, because if we get Sydney moving, we help to get Australia moving. The WestConnex project is the biggest road project in Australia and this is a vital part of it. The WestConnex project is about connecting the west of Sydney, the south-west of Sydney, the CBD, to the port, to the airport.

All up, it will cut out 52 sets of traffic lights, it will save 100,000-plus vehicles 40 minutes a day, it will create 10,000 jobs and it's going to kick off much earlier than would otherwise would be the case—18 months sooner—because of a $2 billion concessional loan, worth about $730 million, to the state government. So, we are getting Sydney moving faster because the Commonwealth and the state are working together to get things done.

So, I'm very pleased to be here. I have a great partnership with Premier Mike Baird. This is a Commonwealth Government which wants to work with all the premiers and I'm pleased to say that the Coalition premiers want to work with me to get our country moving again and there's no better example than this mighty WestConnex project which is going to be so good for Sydney, so good for jobs and so good for our economy.

I might ask Jamie Briggs to add to this, because Jamie is certainly the person who has day-to-day carriage of this from the Commonwealth's point of view.

Assistant Minister for Infrastructure: Thank you, Prime Minister—and Happy Birthday, PM!

Prime Minister: Thanks mate!

Assistant Minister for Infrastructure: This is a fantastic additional announcement about the WestConnex project. Let's not forget this project will create up to 10,000 jobs here in Sydney at a time when we're seeing a slowing of the resources boom and you're seeing a Federal Government with an Economic Action Agenda to get on and create jobs and build the infrastructure for the 21st century, led by the infrastructure Prime Minister, who's working with the states, working with people like Duncan Gay, who are putting together plans to build infrastructure which will ensure we've got cities which are connected. We are lifting our productivity; we are creating jobs and we are building a stronger Australia.

So, it is a great privilege to be here. This is an awesome project. It's the biggest road project in Australia's history. It gets better every time we talk to Premier Mike Baird and roads minister Duncan Gay. It comes on top of the $3.5 billion commitment we've made to the people of Western Sydney, along with the Badgerys Creek airport, the NorthConnex which will get underway shortly and all the work on the Pacific Highway. We are seriously committed here into New South Wales to building a stronger New South Wales for a stronger Australia.

Duncan Gay: Prime Minister, Premier, Jamie, this is a pretty exciting day and it's not just about building roads—everyone knows I get excited about building roads and great roads—it's about future-proofing our city. By 2021 there will be an extra 1.5 million people in this city and they've got to get around. The current infrastructure, frankly, is just crappy. We look at the M5 East that is there, that we are duplicating, that was built incorrectly. It wasn't future-proofed. What we are building is something that's future-proofed. We've currently got four lanes; at the end of this project we will have 10 lanes.

This tunnel will be wider, it will be higher and it will not have the elevation. Instead of an eight per cent rise, it will have a four per cent rise. All the problems of the past, by having the money early from the Federal Government, an infrastructure Premier that's willing to back us, we're putting something in place that is part of a plan. We have a strategy for the next 20 years in this city and this fits right in with it.

Prime Minister: Ok, are there any questions?

Question: How much is this going to cost [inaudible]?

Prime Minister: I think all up the WestConnex project is $10 billion-plus.

Question: How much for the tolls? How much will it cost to drive on?

Premier Baird: The tolling is being finalised, but as we have said, it is based on the M7—so, it's a distance-based toll. It will be capped, it will be fair, it will be equitable. And what we have said to motorists is, yes, we're looking for a contribution but you must receive a benefit for that contribution and there is a stark difference between what went before and what is happening here, because before, everyone hoped to see infrastructure being built. What we are doing is being responsible and actually delivering it. And that will require a contribution for motorists but, clearly, the final business case needs to be determined, but it is expected to be along the lines of the M7 toll as we said previously.

Question: When will motorists on the existing M5 East have to start to paying a toll?

Premier Baird: Obviously, the timing and the structure needs to be determined, but when it is open, obviously when a benefit comes, that's the principles of the toll—when a benefit comes, we're asking for a contribution.

Question: There's a lot of congestion on the roads around here, there'll be an interchange here—where do the cars go once they get to here?

Premier Baird: In terms of the technical side, I mean I can ask the roads minister to talk, but obviously the interchange in simple terms, there are many connect points and obviously having the appropriate connections is important. That's why this interchange is so important. So, it will take away significant congestion from not only local roads but also the key connecting roads. So, what this delivers is sensible connections.

Question: Premier, in the short-term there will be extra congestion here, won't there—2019, this will open you won't yet have stage 3 linking this to the M4?

Premier Baird: There is phasing—and I will let the roads minister talk about the phasing—but in simple terms what we are doing is doing it in a way that minimises the inconvenience to local communities. When you deliver infrastructure such as this, obviously there will come inconvenience as parts. But there is short-term pain for long-term gain. That's what we are about. We're about—as the roads minister said—future-proofing the city. We are going to make every possible effort to ensure it is delivered in a way that minimises inconvenience across the city, but in the long-term everyone will be a winner and that is the great thing about this project.

Question: Prime Minister, did you say you used to live around here and if so, how do you think your former neighbours will find this road?

Prime Minister: Well, it's interesting you should ask that question because I used to live in Mary Street, St Peter's, and what would happen would be that Mary Street was quiet, and virtually a one-lane street, and it would turn into a traffic canyon for about one minute of every three—and what you can do when you've got major new roads is that you can return existing roads to their original use. Existing roads, which were suburban boulevards or residential cul-de-sacs, almost can be returned to their proper purpose if you have got the roads of the future to carry today's and tomorrow's traffic.

That is why this is such an exciting project. It will create a more liveable Sydney—and that's what we want—a more liveable Sydney, a great world city which is an even better place to live and work in the future than it is now. Yes, there's always a bit of inconvenience and naturally people don't like that, but if they can see the hope, if they can feel the progress, they don't mind the inconvenience because it's all in a very good cause. Yes, there will be tolls on this, but again, if you are paying for something which is extra, something which is undoubtedly a major benefit for you and for your city, again it's something that you are prepared to invest in for a better future.

Question: Minister, just to clarify first of all, there will be a toll placed on the existing M5 East?

Duncan Gay: Yes, there will be, but not until the enhancement is completed and the new tunnels are operating. It's a part of what we always said we would do. The M5 East will be enhanced at King Georges Road intersection. It will be enhanced in the removal of a large part of the traffic that currently goes there, but it will continue to be the main link to Port Botany, because it comes in the closest. As far as this area is concerned, there will be an interchange built on the land behind us, so as far as WestConnex is concerned, there will be no residences taken. But there will be enhancements of the local roads, going back on to the plans that have been there since 1951. Many of these local roads have been reserved for a road corridor and there will be approximately 80 residences that will be contacted today moving forward.

Question: Do you think this will unclog the present M5 East?

Duncan Gay: Yes, we do. We're going from four lanes to 10 lanes. That's got to make a difference. We're also, if you look at it, as of the end of this year, we will have completed the M5 West. We're already starting to do the planning part of the King Georges Road intersection and this new M5—as we call it—as part of WestConnex will come off that. This will certainly make a difference to the M5 East.

Question: And where will the exhaust emissions stacks go?

Duncan Gay: They will be within the road corridor that's currently there, but that will be decided because what we're doing, we're saying to industry that this is where we want to start, this is where we want to finish, these are the general parameters that we want, we want you to design and construct to industry best practice a road for us. So, we get the innovation, we get the best value for our buck for the taxpayer and we make sure that we have the best, cleanest tunnels that we possibly can. The fact that we've dictated that the elevation—the rise and the fall in the tunnel—will be half what's currently in the M5 East is going to make a hell of a difference.

Question: You did say previously that you're looking at different options for traffic flow, even possibly making the M5 East—the existing one—one way. You're obviously not going to do that now?

Duncan Gay: Look, that was one of our earlier ones. We've certainly considered the west part of M5 East turning that one around so as you went down rather than up it. But as we'd moved further into the project, it's obvious that this is the best solution for us. We need to free up one of the great pinch points is that King Georges Road intersection, I think anyone like myself that travels the M5 knows that on a daily basis as the traffic comes in on Ring Road 3 or King Georges Road, there is a real pinch point there. We're going to widen that, we're going to enhance it and instead of having four lanes going off it, there will be 10 lanes going off it, and it will be higher enough that I won't have to worry as often about those stupid trucks.

Question: Minister, can you just explain what you meant about the 80 homes—sorry, how are they affected and where are they?

Duncan Gay: There are 80 residences within the current road reservation in the area around St Peters, around Canal Road I think it is, Euston and Campbell that for us to enhance those roads, leaving this site that will be affected in the local road projects—nothing with WestConnex itself because it's all within this industrial site and within the existing corridor, but certainly these residences have been on a dedicated road corridor that was put in place in 1951.

Question: Are they already owned by RMS or they're privately owned?

Duncan Gay: No, they're privately owned, but they are on a road corridor and they're aware of that, but certainly currently the people in those houses are being doorknocked as we stand here.

Question: What are you indicating by that grey shaded area behind—the study area? If I have a house in that area what should I be worried about?

Duncan Gay: We've indicated a grey shaded area because we've said to industry we want you to go away and come back with this and within that grey shaded area is around about where it would go. Where we believe the houses will be, we will be contacting them but we will not have an absolute final position until we put in the EIS which is late next year.

Question: Prime Minister, just on another matter, are you concerned that members of the Defence Force seem to be, some of them insulted by the pay increase that they've recently been handed, particularly they're being asked to do so much more in the Middle East

Prime Minister: We'd all like to pay our serving Defence personnel more, but there's going to have to be very tight pay restraint across the public sector, including the Defence personnel. I regret that. But you can't do as much with a $40 billion deficit than you could with a $20 billion surplus and obviously until we get the Budget back under control there has got to be general pay restraint across the public sector.

I should point out, though, that the particular allowances and conditions and benefits that people get while they're serving overseas in war-like circumstances—they are unaffected and they will continue to be as they have been in recent times.

Question: It amounts to a pay cut, doesn't it, because it doesn't keep up with inflation?

Prime Minister: We're going to see restraint across the whole of the public sector and I would be very surprised if anyone in the Commonwealth public sector receives more than is received by our Defence Forces.

Question: Do you equate serving troops with the [inaudible] public service? Do you think they are doing the same level of risk?

Prime Minister: And when you are serving overseas in war-like circumstances you get very substantial additional allowances and that's right and proper that that should be the case.

Question: Prime Minister, are you concerned about sectarian violence in Australia after that shooting outside the prayer hall in Greenacre yesterday?

Prime Minister: I'm very concerned about the ISIL death cult. I am concerned about it abroad and I'm concerned about it at home because what we have seen here is an apocalyptic millennial extremist ideology which is now rampaging across Syria and Iraq. It's displaced millions of people. It's killed tens if not hundreds of thousands of people and it has echoes here in Australia. So, I am very concerned about it. It's important that we respond firmly to the ISIL death cult at home and abroad. We have a potent military force which is already striking hard against ISIL in Iraq. We have Special Forces that are ready, willing and able to assist the Iraqi security forces and obviously we've boosted security here in Australia. We've also put money aside to boost our community harmony programmes as well. So, across the board, this Government is responding to this new and virulent threat.

Question: Many deaths in Iraq and Syria—are you fearful that we may have a death related to that in Australia? I mean, it sounds like we came quite close.

Prime Minister: Obviously, we saw the attack on two policemen in Victoria a month or so back. It seems there is an ISIL death cult influence on this shooting in Sydney in the last 24 hours or so. The important thing is for all of us to absolutely reject this death cult, and in the words of my friend Prime Minister Najib of Malaysia, who is a pious Muslim, the ISIL death cult is against God, it's against Islam and it's against our common humanity and that's the message that everyone needs to heed.

Question: Do you think Julie Bishop is now your heir apparent as leader?

Prime Minister: I think Julie is my stellar colleague. I think that's what she is—along with Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey, Scott Morrison and the rest of the team. I'm blessed with some very, very strong colleagues and we're a very strong team and that's what you'd expect.

Premier Baird: And Jamie Briggs.

Prime Minister: And Jamie Briggs, of course!

Question: Are you saying she's not your heir apparent?

Prime Minister: I'm saying I'm very lucky to have an extraordinarily strong team and obviously they all shine in a different way, but they all shine.

Question: [Inaudible] do you stand by the comments given the UN now has said fossil fuel should be phased out by the end of this century?

Prime Minister: Well, for the foreseeable future, coal is the foundation of our prosperity. Coal is the foundation of the way we live because you can't have a modern lifestyle without energy. You can't have a modern economy without energy and for now and for the foreseeable future, the foundation of Australia's energy needs will be coal. The foundation of the world's energy needs will be coal. So, if we have serious about raising people's living standards in less developed countries; if we are serious about maintaining and improving living standards in countries like Australia, we have to be serious about making the best use of coal.

Question: Do you intend to back a winner on your birthday, Prime Minister?

Prime Minister: Well, I intend to put on a little bet. I'll be making a modest investment in Signoff which I'm told is a great local horse and, so, let's have a great local horse for a great Australian race.

Question: And racing tax cuts, I think your Premier has previously ruled them out. Is that still your position or are you considering a tax cut for the racing industry?

Premier Baird: What we said is we needed to do some analysis and work, which we are doing, some economic modelling around the impacts on that sector, the broad contribution to the economy and the long-term sustainability. We're doing that analysis and any decisions that we may make will be considered as part of the budget process that obviously it should be [inaudible] anything sensible. No decisions have been made. We're doing some analysis. We'll consider that analysis and we'll do that as part of the budget process.

Question: Who are you backing in the Cup, Premier?

Premier Baird: I love the underdog story and Red Cadeaux which has got so close, I think it would be an amazing story if it actually got over the line in probably its last ever run. I like the underdog.

Prime Minister: And on that note, let's Signoff!