Transcript of Joint Press Conference with Rene Hidding MP, Tasmanian Infrastructure Minister

Interview

BPC026/2015

20 May 2015

Northern Midlands Council Chambers,
13 Smith Street, Longford
E&OE

Rene Hidding: Well, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for attending here today, which is an exciting day for the State Government and also for the Federal Government. This kicks into play formally a 10-year action plan for the Midland Highway. This is the first funded action plan of this size and nature in 40 years. Without question, the Midland Highway is the backbone of the state's infrastructure network, the roads network, and it's no secret that we have now for years as a political party and as a participant in politics declared it to be unacceptably unsafe. And today, we launch the formal action plan which will control the expenditure over the next nine-odd years of the 10-year action plan. You would have seen already the seven projects in this last—over this last summer. It's brought a lot of excitement to Tasmanian motorists. But it's my pleasure now to welcome to Tasmania the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, a good friend of Tasmania, Minister Jamie Briggs to say a few words and then I'll address some of the detail of this action plan. Jamie, would you address us?

Jamie Briggs: Thank you, Minister. Look, thanks Minister and Eric Hutchinson, who is such a hardworking member for Lyons. He's a constant battler for his electorate, along with the other two amigos from Tasmania who—the only way you are allowed to visit Tasmania is with buckets of cash, and that's what we bring today. Five hundred million dollars worth of it over 10 years. The first time a funded long-term strategy for the Midland Highway has been announced, not just to improve safety, which is so important of course, on top of the Black Spots announcements we made yesterday across Tasmania, but also to improve productivity.

This is a state which 18 months ago when I visited not long after the federal election was down in the doldrums. The attitude of the state was how's the Federal Government going to fix our problems? Can I say in the last two days, being in Tasmania, the attitude of Tasmanians is vastly different. There is a renewed optimism in this state. There's a renewed optimism because you've got a federal and state government who want to talk about growth and want to put in place policies which grow our economy, whether it be the small business tax cuts we announced last week, whether it be Will Hodgman and his plans for Tasmania's growth, or whether it be investment in key infrastructure like this to ensure the productivity of this great state is once again lifted and that this failed social experiment of the Labor and the Greens over 16 years has been put aside and Tasmania gets back to what we know it can do—export some of the world's finest food and produce with infrastructure which supports it.

So, we are a proud partner with a Tasmanian government who wants to work to lift the productivity, to create jobs, and make Tasmania a stronger state in a strong federation. It's a real privilege to be here. We're very proud to be partnering with Minister Hidding, who does so much for this state, along with Will Hodgman to grow this economy. It is, as I say, a proud day for the Federal Government to be part of the first costed, funded plan for this very important piece of infrastructure in Tasmania.

Rene Hidding: So thank you, Jamie, and could I just welcome two mayors here. Mayor David Downie, who is hosting us here today. Thank you for the use of your beautiful council chambers. I'm not sure whether we were somewhat prescient about the weather but we decided to come indoors for this bit and then go out and have a look at the [indistinct]…

Jamie Briggs: [indistinct]

[Laughter]

Rene Hidding: And Mayor Bisdee from Southern Midlands, clearly the two key mayors involved in the Midland Highway. Ladies and gentlemen, today, we're launching this 10-year action plan that sets up key priorities for investing $500 million over 10 years. It's a huge commitment by federal and state governments to one road. We are working co-operatively with our federal colleagues and 80 per cent of the funding does come from the Federal Government and 20 per cent from the state. And I should also acknowledge the Road Safety Advisory Council, who has a representative here today, their commitment as well to investing road safety levy funds in this project.

The Hodgman Government in partnership is taking action on this plan. It's a vital link for road freight to transport goods between Tasmania's two major cities and an important social link between regions, so there's a big mix of vehicle types on that highway. In recent years, the tragic fact is that it has witnessed catastrophic casualty crashes, many of the head-on type. Now, the Australian Road Assessment Program, or AusRAP, the 2013 Star Rating Australia's National Network of Highways Report, found that 86 per cent of the Midland Highway is rated either at only one- or two-star in its five-star safety rating schedule. The Government of Tasmania declares this to be simply unacceptable and it must be improved to a three-star minimum and looking for higher from that.

The Midland Highway Partnership Agreement signed between the previous government and the seven stakeholder local councils reflects the policy objective of the Liberal government that the entire route should eventually become a four lane, separated highway, and this objective informs this action plan. Duplication remains our long-term goal, but our priority is making the Midland Highway safer now, not—using known, cost-effective road safety treatments. So what are we doing to achieve this? We're using this AusRAP safer roads methodology and international road safety audit approach developed by the Australian Automobile Association and its member clubs, including the RACT to underpin our investment thinking in this space.

The AusRAP examines the road at every 100 metre section, rating it for its design and build safety from one to five stars. It is a scientific approach to making roads safer, and as I said, we want to go to a minimum AusRAP three-star rating. Tasmania joins jurisdictions leading in road safety that are using star rating targets to promote safer roads, including the Netherlands and New Zealand. And why do we want to lift our star ratings? It is simply because it will save lives and reduce serious injuries.

International research by this—of this technology indicates that the impact of a crash—the crash costs on a two-star road is an average 40 per cent lower than a one-star road and crash cost of a three-star road are on average 61 per cent lower than on two-star roads. And you'll understand from that, we're absolutely entitled to pursue that outcome through this 10-year action plan.

So using the safe system approach, much of this action plan will focus on—and has already in this previous summer with seven projects—the installation of the successful flexible safety barriers to separate traffic; introduce wider medians in the middle of the road; remove roadside hazards. You will have seen that there's whole sections of the highway have had trees removed along—and other things removed along the roadside for the run-off-road crashes that happen way too often. Investment in junction upgrades; we're going to have a look at the [indistinct] road junction shortly, which has been a significant risk to traffic in that area for some time. Widening lanes generally to allow for fewer run-off-road crashes where a small mistake or a small drift off the line by a driver doesn't result in a catastrophic—immediately, a catastrophic run off road. And also adding additional protected overtaking opportunity.

So using this safe system approach, the first projects have already been delivered and there'll be another six or seven projects along the length of the Midland Highway next summer again, and so we thank all the Tasmanian drivers who are being so positive about the projects already. We—they've been saying that you're doing more next year, and yes, we are. This 10-year plan shows—that's behind me on the screen there, and you're all welcome and asked to take a brochure with you—you'll see over the next 10 years that we will deliver a far safer highway under this process.

So I want to take the opportunity to thank Mayor Downie and general manager Des Jennings for their positive approach to the next biggest project—the next major project on the Midland Highway, which we're hoping to kick off this Christmas, and that is the Breadalbane to Perth duplication four-lane highway connecting to the main road network into Launceston. Out this way, there'll be a suite of projects around Perth over the next while, and we thank the Northern Midlands Council for their leadership in working with the community in getting agreement to the detail and the rollout of this entire project.

But this summer there will be at Bagdad to Mangalore this coming summer, Kempton to Melton Mowbray, White Lagoon to Mona Vale in that area and south of Tunbridge stage two as well southbound overtaking lanes. In all of those areas, road widening, flexible safety barriers and extending the sealed shoulders and so with priorities—prioritising projects right across the next ten years. So we—could I advise Tasmanians that my department has developed a smart interactive website so that people can understand where this whole project is going over the next ten years, I encourage you all to check out the site on your iPad today or when you get home or on your smartphone, it's midlandhighway—all one word—.tas.gov.au.

Now we recognise that it's going to be some disruption and delays and we ask everybody to keep their positive attitude and patience in dealing with these roadworks. We've listened to the community, we will make the Midland Highway safer and now if I could ask Jamie to officially launch the Midland Highway ten year action plan, not sure how we're going to do it Jamie, perhaps we just throw our hands in the air or something but…

[laughter]

Jamie Briggs: Well done, how about a handshake?

Rene Hidding: Yeah. Thanks very much Jamie.

Joseph Thomsen: Well done mate, not at all. Thank you. Well done mate.

Rene Hidding: Thanks for your help Jamie. Alright thank you that's now launched so perhaps—you okay if I answer some questions on those matters?

Question: You mention the long term goal is duplication, how—will it take 10 years for the Midland Highway to be dual lane or what's the timeline?

Rene Hidding: It is our long term goal to—for the Midland Highway to be duplicated along its length but if we were to wait for those funds to be available, there would be a huge number of crashes that would occur through inaction and there's been enough of that so we're now stepping in and say for the next ten years, we're going to be focussing on when we're doing—working on either of the two ends, it will be four lanes but when we're working in the middle to make it safer that will be the safe system approach which can be converted to four lanes later so that's our strategy, it has absolute acceptance across the road safety community, the civil construction community and the main funder—our funding partner in this, the Federal Government has absolutely approved our strategy to make this highway safer through this ten year action plan.

Question: And how much money are you still waiting to receive from the Federal Government?

Rene Hidding: Everything that's in the National Partnership Agreement is flowing. It is 400 million coming from the Federal Government and 100 million from the State over the forward estimates. The budget comes out next week and you'll see what the flow—the cash flow of that money—is for the next four years.

Question: As you've mentioned, we had some of this summer rollout and you're talking about more over Christmas, how have the projects been selected over the timeline, like which ones have been prioritised?

Rene Hidding: It's a process of where we can get the quickest result in terms of safety and so where we identify an area—where the Department identifies an area where it's a higher risk than somewhere else, that's where we are, that's where we go and so over the next ten years, we'll be on a priority basis going to those areas where demonstrably they're unsafe through reports of concerns of drivers but also crash statistics. It's—you know an inevitable way to work out where your priorities should be so it's based on safety. It always was and always been our concern has been road safety. There is a side benefit—the productivity for the road transport section of the community but it is primarily about road safety.

Question: Okay. Just on the freight plan with Victoria, there isn't actually any special legislation that has been developed specifically for Tasmania we don't have a lot of details about this plan, what can you shed light on?

Rene Hidding: What we do know is that the Victorian Government is going to privatise its port in a number of parcels, in a number of packages in a certain way and that exposes their major customer—Tasmania—we are 25 per cent of their business to extreme risk if there were to be any artificial pumping of the value of the port parcels through their withholding of commercial negotiations and the raising of rent of people who work on the port such as the logistics companies. Now we've expressed over a long period now, quite a substantial period to the Victorian Government that this is a major threat for Tasmania and that they needn't think we're going to take it laying down.

They're absolutely sure of our commitment to that, there's just recently been a wonderful announcement by the Federal Government on the extension of northbound export freight of up to 50 million a year for Tasmania and we don't want to see one red cent of that go to the Melbourne Port owners. This is money for the Tasmanian economy and we don't want to lose any of it. So we've been speaking to the Victoria Government at every level, I've been speaking with the Ports Minister, the Treasurer's been speaking to the Victorian Treasurer and the Tasmanian Premier has been speaking to the Victorian Premier.

What we can tell you is that we have been advised that legislation is under construction as we speak and that in that legislation there will be protections for the economy of Tasmania. Now we want to see that on a number of levels and yet we—we are yet to see that legislation but we are advised that we don't need to continue on down a discussion of forcing the port—forcing the national—asking the national competition council to consider regulation of the port. That shouldn't be necessary. Regulation is not always the best—not always a good outcome we want to be able to work this out between Victoria and Tasmania. It appears that we may well have worked it out and we're looking forward to legislation coming forward that we can engage with [indistinct].

Question: That legislation was being put together anyway so what new assurances have you had from the Victorian Government? Is there a cap on fees, they've been talking 800 per cent potentially have you had 700 a limit or 600?

Rene Hidding: No the state of Tasmania is exposed particularly through the two commercial shipping operators that have not been able to renegotiate their next term of lease—of a space at the Melbourne Port. That exposes Tasmania—the Tasmanian economy to substantial risk so we would in a direct way wish that to be—to the negotiations of those two private companies to be handled in a completely commercial way. Separately of course the other clients of Melbourne Ports if their rent is going up by 800 per cent, we know who's going to pay. It will be, it will be the Tasmanian economy which will pay because 25 per cent of Melbourne Port's business is Tasmanian business and the Tasmanian economy will pay so we're saying on a number of levels to the Victorian Government you've got to fix this. They accept they've got to fix it; they're going to fix it. We trust them to do so but until we see the cover of the legislation, which of course has got to go through the Upper House in Victoria as well and there's no question that it's got a little way to go but we have certainly had the attention of the Victorian Government and we thank them to date for their positive approach t this. They want to fix this.

Question: Can we ask Mr Briggs the Launceston Airport isn't paying its rates, the mayor of this particular council's been seeking a meeting with the Federal Government for six months. Will you meet Mayor David Downey today fix this issue?

Jamie Briggs: We just did but it's my colleague deputy prime minister who's responsible for airport policy and I understand the Mayor's organising time with the Deputy Prime Minister's Office.

Question: So that's been fixed up that meeting will go ahead now?

Jamie Briggs: I'm not the Deputy Prime Minister's diary secretary so you'd be best to speak to…

Question: But you are the assistant minister for infrastructure, aren't you?

Jamie Briggs: Yes with specific responsibilities which don't include airport policy.

Question: Don't include airport.

Jamie Briggs: That's right.

Unidentified Speaker: Okay, thanks guys, thank you.

Jamie Briggs: Thanks.