Transcript of Joint Press Conference with Stephen Mullighan MP, SA Minister for Transport and Infrastructure



29 April 2015

Torrens to Torrens Site Office, Corner of Torrens Road and South Road

Stephen Mullighan: Today I am very pleased to be with Federal Assistant Minister Jamie Briggs to announce the successful tenderer for the Torrens to Torrens project; a consortium of South Australian company York Civil, Leighton Contractors and Aurecon Australia. This is South Australia's largest transport project and it's great to see a South Australian company being selected to deliver this important piece of road infrastructure. This is a $900 million project, massive benefits for motorists, six minute time saving. Importantly, for all of the trucks that use this part of the South Road Corridor, they will avoid four intersections and in travelling along this part of South Road. This is a great thing for our economy, and it's a great thing for industry and very pleased to be working with the Commonwealth to deliver this project.

Jamie Briggs: Can I just say from our perspective, great outcome. Getting more for less delivered quickly, we hope. We want this project on the ground; we want these jobs created and the productivity benefit delivered. That's why we spent $50 billion in last year's Budget including this project, including Darlington here in South Australia. We've got $2 billion on the table from the federal perspective. We want projects happening. Can I congratulate Stephen; he's very good to deal with from the Commonwealth perspective. Now we want to see the jobs created, the work started, the productivity benefits delivered.

Question: How come we're getting more bang for our buck now? What do you put that down to?

Jamie Briggs: Well, it's counter-cyclical obviously. We've got the end of the mining boom and so you've got contractors looking for work, for projects. We're seeing all across the country, prices delivered which are better than expected and better project scope so—and this is the case here. So, we're very pleased with that. That's why we're investing heavily but now we want the work happening. That's why I'll continue to bombard Stephen even through his paternity leave in the next couple of weeks about the progress of these projects.

Question: Mr Mullighan, can I ask you… Saving money and getting more for less as Mr Briggs has said. We're just going under one more intersection which—would the money be better spent somewhere else on the corridor, the savings that we're making, are we getting the best value just under one intersection?

Stephen Mullighan: Well, we know that we need to deal with all of these intersections along the North South Corridor. We've done the Northern Expressway, we've done the Port River Expressway, the South Road Superway, we've got the ANZAC Underpass with ANZAC Highway and we've got the tram separation along South Road, a little further south we'll be getting into the Darlington projects in the next couple of months. We know that we need to deal with all of the intersections along the length of this, so if we can capture, at no extra cost to taxpayers, one more intersection that motorists can now avoid, that's a great outcome for motorists and a great outcome for taxpayers.

Question: But is that the busiest one along the route that needs to be done? Or is it just convenient that it's where it is?

Stephen Mullighan: Well, for all cars and for all trucks which are travelling along this part of South Road, you've got Grange Road, Port Road, the Outer Harbor rail line and also the Hawker Street intersection. To be able to avoid these four intersections in the one project is great. We are currently working up a strategy to deal with the rest of the South Road Corridor, but it's important that we deliver the maximum scope of works to avoid as many of these intersections as possible. It's great that we're able to do an extra one with no further cost to taxpayers.

Question: Given it is obviously a good time to be going out into the market and tendering, is the Government going to have any more budget capacity to build infrastructure in the upcoming budget or are these two major road projects it?

Stephen Mullighan: Well, you'll have to wait and see what we are able to come up with out of the state budget. I'm sure Jamie would say the same thing about the Federal Budget. It is a great time to be out in the market procuring for these major infrastructure projects. We've got competitive labour costs, we've got competitive import costs, particularly steel at the moment as well, as well as companies sharpening their pencil very finely, so if we can get better bank for buck for taxpayers, that's a great thing. The thing I'm most pleased about is that it's such a large spend of nearly $900 million, we've got a South Australian company front and centre. They'll play a pivotal role in 480 jobs that this project will support during each year of construction over the next 3.5 years.

Question: How is the land acquisition process going, and how many people are you still negotiating with?

Stephen Mullighan: Well, it's been a very significant effort for certainly the project team but of course most of all the people who are impacted by this, the business owners and the property owners. Over 180 properties have been impacted by this project. All but approximately 15 have been dealt with and those remaining ones will be dealt with in the coming months, so that we can commence construction in a few months' time. And I'm confident…

Question: Do you think you're going to be able to do that on a voluntary basis with all those people or are you going to have to look at compulsory acquisition?

Stephen Mullighan: We're working very hard to make sure that we can reach an amicable settlement with all property owners along the corridor. We've managed to achieve that with about 90 per cent of property owners. We need to make sure that we are being very fair and up front and providing people with adequate compensation for the incredible disturbance and disruption to their lives that they have to go through, but most of all, we have to be equitable with everybody who is giving up their property. We've done that so far with the vast majority of people and we look forward to doing that with the remaining properties.

Question: Is it a prospect though that there could be delays to the start of the project if that isn't successfully achieved?

Stephen Mullighan: No. For all of our transport projects in decades gone by and including this project, we have compulsory acquisition powers so that if we are unable to reach voluntary agreement, the government has the ability to get on with the project. We make sure that—for the property owners affected, we make sure that they have access to legal representation. We make sure they get their own valuation advice. The government pays for all of that. We want to arm these people with the best possible advice so that they can negotiate with government, but if that still doesn't fail, then we give them the opportunity to go through the court process. If all of that happens, we can still commence construction in a few months' time.

Question: Of those who still have—who are still grumbling about the—or, in dispute over the value of their property, are they being unreasonable?

Stephen Mullighan: No, I wouldn't say unreasonable. I mean, put yourself in the shoes of the people who are impacted. This is incredibly invasive and incredibly disruptive and we need to make sure we are being as sympathetic to these people as possible, giving them every opportunity to have a full and fair negotiation with the Government. We've done that with the vast majority of people and we'll continue to reach out and help those people who we haven't yet reached agreement with, but at the end of the day, we will be delivering this project. We need to get on with it. If we do need to, we will compulsory acquire the properties.

Question: Can I ask you, Jamie Briggs, the…

Jamie Briggs: Yeah.

Question: …has the Darlington contract or the Darlington sector of this project now basically turned into a consolation prize? If you miss out here you pick it up down there?

Jamie Briggs: Well, in fact, I think the Darlington project from memory is a slightly bigger contract, it's far from consolation prize, but it is obviously means there'll be more work for South Australians and South Australian contractors to compete for. We want these projects up and away, as Stephen said, and there is more to do on South Road. We've got a commitment to upgrade the North-South Corridor that the Prime Minister has made. I'm in discussions with Stephen at the moment about that plan. There are several other projects that need to happen on South Road. We want to achieve a consistent pipeline to get this actually done, so we've got that freight corridor that Adelaide needs. We need the better productivity as a city as we grow. South Road is obviously the heart of that, so we don't at all suggest for a moment that these two projects, Torrens to Torrens and Darlington, is where these discussions will end. There will be more money from the Australian Government for South Australia to do more projects on South Road.

Question: What's your tip with Joe Hockey's Budget in a week or so? Will South Australia be a big winner for that, for infrastructure?

Jamie Briggs: Well, South Australia's been a big winner. I don't think there will be…

Question: No, no, I know that. But what about the upcoming Budget?

Jamie Briggs: Yeah, in the upcoming Budget, I don't think there's an expectation there'll be vast amounts more infrastructure spending because the money we allocated last year is just hitting the ground now and that's what we're wanting to see. There is an important job to do here in Adelaide, which is the North-South Corridor. Stephen and I are having discussions about how we fund what are very expensive projects to finish that North-South Corridor in the future, and those discussions are going along quite well. The Treasurer indicated when he was here yesterday that he wants those discussions to gain some pace so we can make some announcements hopefully later in the year about how we intend to get that pipeline of work to ensure that the whole corridor is upgraded as the Prime Minister committed to.

Question: Given there's not much money in the pot, are you suggesting in those discussions that South Australia should consider putting tolls on South Road?

Jamie Briggs: Well, I think the reality of charging—whether it is commuters or heavy vehicles—it is something that every other major city in mainland Australia has dealt with, including Perth now with the Perth Freight Link, where there is a heavy vehicle toll with that road. We've invested nearly a billion dollars in that. Obviously, from the Commonwealth's perspective, we want to see new infrastructure and if that means that there is consideration of a heavy vehicle charge then we're perfectly happy to have that discussion. Ultimately, the South Australian Government will need to come to that conclusion. We're not suggesting for a moment that you look at commuter charging and we're not suggesting for a moment that tolling is the answer to fixing the South Road issue. The reality is the market here is not big enough to support a private sector road. It would need significant Commonwealth and South Australian Government investment. So the answer, from my perspective Nick, and from the Australian Government's perspective, is yes we are interested in having a range of options considered on how we can get this project done as quickly as possible.

Question: But if the reality is, the commitment is to have this road done in 10 years. If that's going to happen, are you saying there's going to have to be some sort of private sector capital coming in?

Jamie Briggs: I think in the end, the answer to that is yes, that you would need to engage with the private sector, particularly the heavy vehicle sector who would be interested in being involved in these discussions. We're talking about largely brown field upgrades along South Road, but there are some green field elements to the northern part. We are working with the State Government on that overall plan. I don't want to speak for the state government, but from the federal government's perspective, as we've said to all the other state governments, we want one, for you to consider the book of assets you've got and whether you can use assets to recycle into new and productive infrastructure. Just like Mike Baird is doing. That is why there is now, about to begin, $30 billion worth of projects in Sydney. So, we've said to the South Australian Government, we're keen for you to look at the asset recycling initiative. Equally, with a major project like South Road, where we want to invest money, we also want them to look at how we can get more done for less by involving the private sector.

Question: Stephen Mullighan, over your dead body? Toll roads?

Stephen Mullighan: More money for infrastructure?

Jamie Briggs: [Laughs]

Question: No, toll roads.

Stephen Mullighan: Well we've made it clear and you've just heard Jamie also say that we know that toll roads don't stack up in South Australia. The work that we're doing at the moment is identifying what projects need to be done in what batting order along the rest of South Road. Then we can get the costs and the timing of those—which of course impacts the costs—then you assess what funding is likely to be available in the future from both sources of government, whether there's a gap. If that gap has to be filled, knowing that the application of tolls is not likely to stack up, then what other options have we got? And that's the thinking that we're doing at the moment. But…

Question: Are you not ruling it out?

Stephen Mullighan: We have consistently ruled toll roads out here in South Australia and that position hasn't changed.

Question: But are you considering a heavy vehicle charge in order to fund South Road?

Stephen Mullighan: What both the Premier and I have said for the last six months is that we are engaging in a conversation with the heavy vehicle industry about a more accurate regime of taxation for them, where they are providing their heavy vehicle taxes to government, to all levels of government, in return for getting a transparent and identifiable regime of road funding. That is the future of road funding and road taxation here in Australia. That's the work that the National Transport Commission has been doing over the last three to four years. I'm a strong supporter of it, the heavy vehicle industry is a strong supporter of it and what I've been saying and what Jamie's been saying, the Federal Government's saying is, let's get on with it nationally and develop this regime. But putting a gantry up and trying to clip motorists every time they drive under a piece of infrastructure is not going to work in South Australia. We don't have the traffic volumes for it, so we've got to look at other solutions. Tolling continues to not be the solution in South Australia and this Government doesn't support it.

Can I just say one other thing about a question, Mike, that you asked earlier and a response that Jamie gave? Having a pipeline of projects is absolutely critical. Industry has been calling out for it for the last five years and the Australian Government and the South Australian Government are delivering not just with the South Road project, but it's also why we're continuing to deliver projects such as the Convention Centre expansion. The reason why we're investing in our public transport system, the reason why we're investing in our hospital system. Having a long-term pool of projects which we can progressively bring to market to make sure that we're rebuilding our infrastructure, which of course we need to do, but supporting jobs throughout the construction industry is critical. I'm very glad today that we're partnering with Jamie and the Federal Government to deliver that.

Question: So you can't rule out heavy vehicle toll?

Stephen Mullighan: I can absolutely rule out a toll, absolutely rule out a toll. What we're saying is, of the heavy vehicle taxes that we levy at the moment, is there a better way of doing that and can we more directly and more transparently tie that to future road funding? That's the conversation that this government, the federal government and the heavy vehicle industry is very keen to have and that's what we've committed to. But no tolls.