Transcript of Joint Press Conference: Wahroonga, Sydney, NSW



11 September 2015

Joint release with:

Hon. Duncan Gay

NSW Roads Minister

Hon. Paul Fletcher MP

Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister for Communications

Hon. Philip Ruddock MP

Member for Berowra

Subject: Start of tunnel shaft excavation for NorthConnex

Jamie Briggs: Well look it's great to be here with my great mate Duncan Gay, the best Roads Minister in Australia, Paul Fletcher and Phil Ruddock of course. When I first joined the Parliament in 2008 I had the privilege of sitting next to, or close to, Philip Ruddock, and in that term of government I would have heard the words fix Pennant Hills Road yelled out probably more than a thousand times. And today we're here fixing Pennant Hills Road.

As Infrastructure Australia's audit identified, this is the most congested road in the country, the most congested corridor in the country. And with the New South Wales Government, and Transurban, and Lendlease we are fixing it once and for all, creating thousands of jobs, spending $405 million each, but importantly engaging the private sector to deliver this absolutely vital piece of infrastructure.

We're also not just talking about it, we're not just announcing it, we're delivering it. And you can see here today with the work happening, proving yet again that Tony Abbott is the infrastructure Prime Minister this country needs, and is delivering what this country wants—economic prosperity, ensuring that we can take advantage of the great growth in our region through free trade agreements we're signing with Japan, Korea, and China, through building the infrastructure and creating jobs, through cutting tax for small business, and building a more successful and more prosperous economy for us all.

And the hotspot of infrastructure across the country is New South Wales in Sydney under the leadership of Mike Baird and Duncan Gay. And with that, it's a great privilege to be here with Duncan and I might ask Duncan to say a few more words about what exactly we're doing here today. Duncan?

Duncan Gay: Thanks Jamie. We don't do this without having a few partners, and our key partner is the Federal Government. Jamie is our go-to man in Canberra; he's able to talk with the Prime Minister to be able to get this to happen. And it's so important. This road is a venture between the State and Federal Government, and with Transurban, who are absolutely key, and Andrew Head, your team is just terrific. Can we also thank Lendlease. Their batting on with this project, their community consultation, the work with their neighbours has just been exceptional, and in fact some of the neighbours are here willing to talk to people today on that work with the community.

I've got 4600 projects across this state, and I probably shouldn't have a favourite, but I've got to tell you this one's damn close, damn close. Philip and I did this in Opposition, we worked on, we bet on it. This is the project that everyone just shakes their head and says why wasn't it done? Why wasn't it done?

Philip Ruddock:You were listening to me [laughs]?

Duncan Gay: Well look, there were hundreds of reports, different reviews, thousands of glossy brochures put out by governments in the past. The key is that today we're seeing people working on it. Behind us a drill will start to go down to create the shaft which will allow the road headers to be lowered down to build the tunnels that will be part of NorthConnex; tunnels that are built for three lanes, initially marked for two lanes; tunnels that will remove 21 sets of traffic lights; tunnels that will save heaps of time, up to half an hour in some parts, from the road trip; tunnels that will eventually improve the air quality of the whole of Sydney, and in particular this area.

They'll go down 40 metres, which is about the width of a rugby field, and is probably more than I can run fast even in my prime as a stylish rugby prop. So they're going down a fair way here, over 90 metres at some sites, and that's where the tunnel will be. And that's where the traffic will be, it will be in these tunnels underground, out of your community. And that's the beauty of what we're doing, we're building the roads today for the future with the Federal Government and with Transurban in this instance.

Duncan Gay: Paul?

Paul Fletcher: Look I'm very pleased to have Jamie Briggs, Assistant Minister for Infrastructure here in the Federal Electorate of Bradfield, Duncan Gay as the State Minister who's done such a wonderful job, of course Philip Ruddock, my parliamentary colleague and Member for Berowra, the neighbouring electorate. This project is a wonderful example of cooperation between the Federal and State Liberal National Governments—$405 million from the Federal Government, $405 million from the State Government, and this will help to address the congestion on Pennant Hills Road and deliver improved community amenity for the people of suburbs like Normanhurst and Thornleigh. So it has important community amenity benefits, as well as delivering much better transport outcomes.

Jamie Briggs: Philip?

Philip Ruddock: I'd like to add my commendation for those involved in bringing this project to the point where it is underway. It's happened in record time, but as one of the local Members can I just say what has pleased me has been the level of engagement to ensure that within this community people understand what is being done, why it's being done, and how community expectations of their amenity can be taken into account. It's been particularly important. I want to first congratulate those who are implementing it in this way. Can I secondly say thank you to each of the ministers for their acknowledgement that this is a project that has to happen.

When you think about it, there are three to four major highways across Sydney, but there is only one point in which the traffic that has to get across Sydney and go north can travel, and it's on Pennant Hills Road. And that congestion has been a major impediment to economic development of this city, of this state. The fact that it is going to be addressed is something worthy of commendation; the fact that it was left for so long condemns those in the past who failed to take decisions on this matter. And some of it was for political reasons rather than need. I am glad that in this area this issue is now being addressed, and I'm glad that it's being addressed as quickly as it is, and you can see that here today. Thank you very much.

Andrew Head: Okay just a few brief words from me. On behalf of Transurban, and the Westlink M7 shareholders, who are the people behind this project, I'd just like to say a quick thank you. First of all to the Federal Government and to Minister Briggs for getting behind this project and making it happen. They played a critical role at a critical time, and they continue to play that role, so thank you very much. In relation to the State Government of New South Wales, Minister Gay and the RMS led by Peter Duncan have done an absolutely fabulous job of getting us to this point, and have set themselves up I think for a really successful project. So thank you to the RMS team and the New South Wales Government.

Finally, I'd just like to say a little bit about the community. Obviously to the community surrounding us here today and all the way down through the corridor, we appreciate all that you've done in support of the project. There's remarkable community support for this project all the way down the corridor. There will be disruption along the way. We will do everything we possibly can to communicate, to respond, to try and resolve issues as quickly as we can, but I ask everybody to remain focused on the outcome. And the outcome is a wonderful one not only for the national economy, huge productivity benefits, but for the local community here and up on the Central Coast. Travel time savings are going to be really meaningful. And over and above that, the local community here, the businesses and the people who live in and around Pennant Hills Road are going to see a flourishing of that corridor, and I'm just so excited to be part of this project, and on behalf of the Westlink M7 shareholders and Transurban I really thank all those here today for making it happen.

Question: This is for Gay, if I may. [Indistinct] on this issue, especially around the issue of ventilation stacks?

Duncan Gay: Look, there is a group within this community that had concerns about the ventilation outlets. Our assurance to them is there is [indistinct] over the community [indistinct] at the base of those outlets, and there is no measureable adverse change to air quality whatsoever. So it's generally an improvement with no measurable adverse change, even at the base of those exhaust outlets. So it's an improvement overall. And if you think about it, instead of trucks being [indistinct], our [indistinct] which is really a parking lot. The [indistinct] on a gentle slope, which means that for that period of time they're not working as hard, and they're not spending as much [indistinct]. It just adds up.

Question: When will motorists be able to use this?

Duncan Gay: Early 2019

Question: You've talked about fining trucks that don't use this cut off. Are you going to do that and how are you going to do that?

Duncan Gay: That's a good question. This tunnel is here to remove heavy vehicles from Pennant Hills Road and from the community. If trucks, heavy vehicles are in those areas, then what's called a [indistinct] and running off their prescribed routes. They shouldn't be there, any trucks with general mass limits should not be in suburban streets and the fines are quite onerous.

The other thing that we're doing is that we are putting a time—a timer that would indicate a fair time to get through, and if trucks leave and re-join they will be picked up by the technology that indicates that they've been deliberately avoiding the bypass and they will be fined at least the equivalent of the fare. So, you're not going to save the cost of the tunnel fee, but also you have to bear in mind that some trucks will need to provide for the local businesses. For example, inflammable liquids won't be allowed to go through the tunnel and the servos and the local supermarkets and shops and grog shops will need to be supplied. Anyone that goes into there is obviously not going to enter that trip time correctly.

Question: Minister, as an alternative for motorists who want to avoid the toll, for example, will we see the Government avoid what was [indistinct] the Cross City Tunnel and the road through Lane Cove when that tunnel opened? The discouragement of motorists wanting to avoid the toll, you guarantee that Pennant Hills Road is still going to flow to those who choose to use it?

Duncan Gay: Well, the Cross City Tunnel, I think, was a different one it's…

Question: [Interrupts] No, it's [indistinct] to redirect traffic, if you recall …

Duncan Gay: No, no, no—there's no tunnel fund if that's the question and I'll let Andrew come in in a moment. But our belief and after consultation with the logistic industry is that they'll want to use it. Now, even with the toll, the advantages of going through this tunnel are just huge. They are totally supportive. If there was a problem with trucks in this tunnel, the freight industry and the Road Transport Industry would be beating a path to your door. They're absolutely quiet because they're excited about what we're doing, the major freight governance are saying how great, why wasn't it done before? Andrew.

Andrew Head: Let me just be definitive. The comparison that was made to Lane Cove Tunnel and Cross City Tunnel—absolutely no comparison whatsoever. All lanes on Pennant Hills Road will remain exactly as they are today.

Question: So, just on fining the trucks, does that mean you'll have to gantries at the start and end of the tunnel and if you go a different route you'll be able to—should be able to see?

Duncan Gay: Yeah, it does but I'll let Andrew give do the details.

Andrew Head: We're currently working through the precise solution but that point he makes stands to reason. Some sort of gantry, or way to read a truck at the top of the corridor and at the bottom of the corridor will enable us to determine whether or not that truck is making a through passage and therefore probably should be in the tunnel and not on the local streets. If it is providing services to a business in the corridor, it will be exempt.

Question: And you're building a lot of other big tunnels Minister. Would you choose similar sort of things on WestConnex?

Duncan Gay: No, we haven't got a plan to do that. This was a specific one where we were freeing up Pennant Hills Road that ran beside it and rather than just build this and leave the congestion on Pennant Hills Road, we needed a way to ensure that the community got those benefits. We don't believe this problem will be, for example, on Parramatta Road, running beside WestConnex. We certainly haven't got a plan to do that in that area.

Question: Great. On the Infrastructure Prime Minister, I mean isn't it true that federal funding was committed to this project before Tony Abbott became Prime Minister and wouldn't we be at this stage regardless of who was Prime Minister?

Jamie Briggs: Well, a couple of assumptions. Yes you're right. There was commitment and I think in July to do the project. The Government changed in September, and as the Minister for Roads knows, one of the first meetings we had was how we could ensure that this was delivered as quickly as possible. Obviously, when governments change, there are some projects which are underway, some that are agreed to. It is a project that took too long and we are ensuring that it's delivered. Not everything that Anthony Albanese did was bad. There was a lot that Anthony did that was bad but not everything was bad.

Duncan Gay: And look, can I say that I'm the responsible New South Wales Roads Minister, and at the time I don't think you needed to have a Ouija board or tea leaves to see that there was probably going to be a change of government. I had a commitment from the existing government, but we also spoke to the Opposition on what their view would be on coming to government and they had the same view as the existing government at the time.

Question: Minister Briggs, we've a possible reshuffle of cabinet, are you confident you'll keep the job?

Jamie Briggs: The Prime Minister's dealt with this issue just a few hours ago and I think you'd be best to refer to those comments. Great, thank you.