Transcript of Interview: ABC Eyre Peninsula and West Coast Mornings



26 June 2015


Sarah Tomlinson: We begin this hour with some good news for anyone who's ever been stuck behind a truck between Port Augusta and Whyalla. The Federal Government is putting unspent funds from South Australia's allocation of the Murray Darling Basin Regional Economic Diversification Scheme towards improving regional roads across the state; $25 million will be spent, including $4 million for new overtaking lanes between Port Augusta and Whyalla.

Jamie Briggs is the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, and the Federal Member for Mayo. He joins us now. Good morning.

Jamie Briggs: Good morning.

Sarah Tomlinson: Can you take us through the road projects that will be funded under this $25 million? We mentioned there the overtaking lanes.

Jamie Briggs: Well, as you say, $4 million for the overtaking lanes on the Eyre Highway between Port Augusta and Whyalla. $3.1 million towards overtaking lanes on the new Augusta Highway as well. And there'll be nearly $1 million worth of work on the Todd Highway on the Eyre Peninsula, and about half a million dollars for safety works on the Copper Coast Highway on the York Peninsula as well. All these are priorities of the Abbott Government, in consultation with the state government, and particularly with Rowan Ramsey, the Federal Member for Grey, who's been very active in pursuing road upgrades in regional South Australia.

It comes at the end of a week where the Federal Government's also decided to put in another $1.1 billion across Australia for the Roads to Recovery programme, which benefits of course local government. And we are into the second year this year of the doubling of the Black Spots Programme as well, which also benefits regional councils more often. So, there is a lot of additional infrastructure money being spent in regional South Australia, far more than was expected at the last election. And it's all important because it will help build the capacity for economic growth in an area which, let's be honest, has got some challenges at the moment.

Sarah Tomlinson: How were these particular roads identified?

Jamie Briggs: They've largely been identified by the state government, who have identified to us over a period of time priorities for them. I've been working with Minister Mullighan about the state government's involvement in these projects, and I'm sure he'll have more to say about that—but also through the local member, Rowan Ramsey. He's been very active in these areas, there's obviously been some terrible fatalities earlier in the year on some of these roads, and we want to build the capacity of these roads—not just to make them safer, but obviously one of the great achievements thus far of the Abbott Government is three new free trade agreements, and they benefit regional Australia far more than they benefit anywhere else, but to make the most of the opportunities of these free trade agreements we need the infrastructure to support it.

Sarah Tomlinson: We spoke to Minister Mullighan earlier in the programme, for those on the North and West. What level of state contribution are you looking for towards these projects? Could we be seeing further upgrades?

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, we're working with Minister Mullighan on that—it's not my place to make announcements for the state government that is something that Stephen will do. I know that he's interested, very interested in any opportunity to upgrade roads. So, they'll work their way through what they can do. These are state roads that we are upgrading here, so there's obviously some commitment from the state government required to ensure the projects proceed properly, and I'm sure that will happen.

Sarah Tomlinson: Jamie Briggs, as we mentioned, this funding has come out of our allocation of the Murray Darling Basin Regional Economic Diversification Scheme, which is a hard thing to say on a Friday all that once. Why have you chosen to spend this money across the state, rather than say spend it all in the Murray Darling region?

Jamie Briggs: Well, this money was allocated to South Australia as part of the agreement reached in 2012 in the Murray-Darling Basin agreement; it was allocated also to Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. It was designed to help communities adjust to the agreement; implication of the agreement obviously with less water accessible for some communities, there's been an impact particularly in the Riverland in South Australia. However, we had a battle with the State Government where they were refusing to spend the money on those projects. They claimed it impacted on the GST allocation to South Australia, it's a claim I don't accept, however we could not fund these programmes any other way but through the state so we reached an impasse.

Now we had a choice when we reached an impasse, we either put the money back to the budget, which is obviously what my good friend the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann would prefer, or we found an alternative way to spend money in regional South Australia. What we did is look at what the priorities are and regional South Australia were roads, there's obviously some spending in the Riverland as you'd be aware, there's nearly $7 million of upgrades on the Sturt Highway which will benefit the Riverland. There's also a $9 million project in the Southeast, the Penola Bypass finishing that project out of this money. So, there is significant commitments right across regional South Australia. My view and Rowan Ramsey's view and Tony Pasin's view was that it was far better to get the money spent in regional South Australia than let it go back to the budget given the circumstances we face with the South Australian Government.

Sarah Tomlinson: As you mentioned, the safety works will happen on the Todd Highway on the Eyre Peninsula and the Copper Coast Highway on the Yorke Peninsula, both which have worried locals and visitors for a long time. What does safety works mean? What sort of things could be done?

Jamie Briggs: Things like shoulder widening, shoulder realigning to make the roads wider, to make it obviously less risky as far as people going off the road. Excuse my cold, thanks for my children. Things of that type of ensuring intersections have got visibility at intersections and the like so they're usually smaller projects but they're designed basically just to ensure that the road is safer for people to use particularly where it carries a lot of freight.

Sarah Tomlinson: And the big question for those who travel that road between Port Augusta and Whyalla quite often, how many overtaking lanes do you see could be funded?

Jamie Briggs: Look, that's a good question and that will be, we'll have to work on that detail with the State Government, but you expect with over $4 million, you'd be able to get a few additional overtaking lanes. It'll obviously also depend on what the State Government wants to do with their contribution so that detail will obviously have out in the public when it is appropriately worked out but this money's there, they're projects that should reasonably be pretty quickly rolled out, the money's there to be spent and we hope it's spent as quickly as possible.

Sarah Tomlinson: What does that mean as a timeline for construction?

Jamie Briggs: Well, I would hope that we're getting work underway this year certainly. It shouldn't take too long with these sorts of projects to get plans, issue contracts and get work happening and obviously we'll work with Stephen Mullighan on ensuring these projects get out the door as quickly as possible. The really important thing when we allocate infrastructure money from the Federal Government's perspective we actually want to spend it, we don't actually want it sitting on our budget when we've allocated those amounts we want the money rolled out because that gets the benefit we're looking for.

Sarah Tomlinson: Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, Jamie Briggs, we thank you for joining us today.

Jamie Briggs: Thanks for having me on, appreciate it very much.