Transcript of Press Conference—Hobart, Tasmania



09 December 2015

Topics: Brooker Highway upgrade announcement, National Stronger Regions Programme

Paul Fletcher: I'm very pleased to be here in Goodwood with Geoff Hazell from Hazell Brothers, Tasmanian Minister for Infrastructure Rene Hidding, and Eric Hutchinson my federal colleague and Member for Lyons. We're here to make a significant announcement in relation to the Brooker Highway upgrade.

We're announcing today the award of a contract on this $32 million project to Hazell Brothers, an Australian, Tasmanian firm who are going to be carrying out the major work here on the Brooker Highway improving intersections, Goodwood Road and other roads as part of this vital transport and freight corridor here, just in the northern part of Hobart.

This forms part of the Federal Government's $50 billion infrastructure spending all around Australia. And here in Tasmania I just have had the opportunity to travel the Midland Highway where a number of projects are underway as part of the $500 million upgrading of the Midland Highway over the next 10 years. That's a cooperative project between the Australian Government and the Tasmanian Government—$400 million of Commonwealth money and $100 million of Tasmanian money—and that's going to make that vital artery in the Midland Highway more productive and efficient. As well as of course, the work we're doing here on the Brooker Highway, it is all about improving our infrastructure so that Tasmanians can get around more efficiently and productively and safely.

And with that I might ask my friend Rene to make some comments.

Rene Hidding: Well, thank you Minister Fletcher, very nice to have you in Tasmania and thank you for your government's commitment to road safety and to addressing the congestion and productivity trap that we've got here on the Brooker Highway.

This has been in the pipeline for some 10 years and I'm proud to have it delivered now. Now, this is our second busiest road in Tasmania, 35,000 traffic movements a day, only the Tasman Bridge is higher and it is a trap for productivity and congestion and also a frustration for other drivers and in fact a road safety hazard as well.

So therefore, this is very valid expenditure, it's timely expenditure, we thank the Federal Government and we're proud to get this under way.

Question: What kind of timeframes are we going to see?

Rene Hidding: Well, I think this is going to take some [inaudible] breaks in the construction program while the Hobart Show's underway and also of course the Hobart Cup. Where we stand here there are major facilities and community facilities, we need to accommodate them. So, we ask all road users, as usual to be patient with the works because the end outcome it going to be just terrific.

Question: What would be the nature of [inaudible] today?

Rene Hidding: Well, you don't have to stand here very long to see that it's a congestion and productivity trap and that also it's very dangerous- a very dangerous place for [inaudible] generally. Also, in the suburb of Goodwood here, we've got a divided community. It is impossible for the residents to [inaudible] this side of the road [inaudible] that side of the road and [inaudible] or having to walk a fair distance to [inaudible]. So, there's a school in the area, these will be controlled traffic signals for pedestrians at the Howard Road intersection and the community is very much looking forward to the completion of [inaudible].

Question: How important is it that a Tasmanian company be doing this work?

Rene Hidding: We've got in Tasmania an exceptional civil construction workforce. A number of Tasmanian companies and in this case, the largest Tasmanian Tier 1 operator, not at all surprised that they've won this contract and [inaudible] consistently win contracts around Tasmania. They're very good operators and we're delighted we've got them.

Paul Fletcher: Indeed, just earlier today I was pleased to have the opportunity to visit a site just near Tunbridge where the Hazell Brothers are doing work there. They are clearly very experienced operators.

Question: You've spent the day on the Midland Highway, do you think there is a place to duplicate it to four lanes?

Paul Fletcher: Well, the $500 million upgrade of the Midland Highway which is being jointly funded by the Commonwealth Government and by the Tasmanian Government is going to make the Midland Highway significantly safer, road widenings, over taking lanes and so on. And so, certainly, it's the view of the Australian Government that what is being done there will make that road safer, more productive, more efficient and we think that's the right plan for the Midland Highway and we're very pleased, as the Turnbull Government, to be working closely with the Hodgman Government to deliver for Tasmanians on this vital artery.

Question: Is the goal still duplication eventually?

Paul Fletcher: Well, let's focus on this $500 million program over 10 years. A lot of work to do for the two governments, the Australian Government and the Tasmanian Government working together very, very closely to achieve this upgrade of the Midland Highway to benefit Tasmanians.

Question: You've been- you've obviously got a lot to do with local government. There are a few  disappointed in the way the regional projects was handed out. [Inaudible] been any more [inaudible] Tasmanian [inaudible] projects?

Paul Fletcher: Well I think we saw the results of round two of the National Stronger Regions Fund: $293 million around Australia; 111 projects funded. Now around Australia there were 513 projects that were applied for, so not everybody was successful, and that was true here in Tasmania as well. Fifteen projects, of which three were successful in receiving funding. What I would say is, this is round two of a multi-year program. So this is a $1 billion program over five years, and today we announced round two, but over the coming years there will be further rounds, and we certainly encourage the proponents of the projects that have been unsuccessful to engage with the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development in Canberra to get information, to get feedback about why their project was unsuccessful, and to hopefully draw on that information in applying in round three or subsequently.

Indeed, I might just note that one of the projects funded in Tasmania was one which had [indistinct] successful but it was successful. I might ask Eric Hutchison…

Eric Hutchinson: Yeah thanks Paul. We spent …

Question: [Interrupts, inaudible].

Eric Hutchinson: [Indistinct] this afternoon with myself and the [indistinct] council who, as Minister Fletcher outlined, was successful in a $309,000 commitment, which is half the cost of upgrading the commissary, who we've got also creating schools in the Southern Midlands of Tasmania. Their experience was that they applied in the first round of the National Stronger Regions program, were unsuccessful, engaged in a constructive way to identify areas of improvement around the application that were inadequate in the view of the department, and they've been very successful at achieving that. That's what I would say to the other applicants not only in my electorate who were very disappointed or unsuccessful—this is a very, very competitive process. There were, as Minister Fletcher mentioned, $293 million allocated in the second round out of $1.4 billion worth of applicants. It is a very competitive process, and engagement [indistinct].

Question: Minister, can Tasmanians read into the facts- anything into the facts that the projects that did receive funding were in the north of the state?

Eric Hutchinson: [Indistinct] to be brutally honest. The Southern Midlands Council was in the south of the state.

Question: Ah, in those three were sort of more northern. It's not that- none of the projects were funded in the two southern, I should say, yeah.

Question: [Talks over, indistinct].

Eric Hutchinson: I think around Australia …

Question: [Interrupts] Can I ask [indistinct] from [indistinct].

Paul Fletcher: Around Australia and in Tasmania, there were projects that were spread all around the place. So there's a very competitive process to put forward approvals. They're assessed by the Department of Construction and Regional Development, it then goes to [indistinct] panel, and electorates all around Australia, councillors in those electorates have been successful. Bear in mind that you need to look at the total pattern though, not just this round but the first round and the rounds to come. So no I don't think you can read anything into the particular outcomes. There's a process and we try and assess the merits of each project according to the guidelines and then decisions are made on the basis of that.

Question: Can [indistinct] Council ask for $5 million for one project alone? Are they perhaps … they're asking a bit too much there?

Paul Fletcher: Ah no, I wouldn't say that. There are projects that have been funded around the country of higher levels than that. It's a question of the merits of the project being assessed against the guidelines.

Question: [Indistinct, laughs].

Paul Fletcher: [Indistinct. Laughs].

Question: It's always like this [indistinct] Tasmania report today and he suggested that [indistinct] could get rid of a few assets, including leasing or selling ports. What's your response to that?

Rene Hidding: Well we've consistently said with our ports that we've got a 30 year [indistinct], nothing for sale, we don't have our ports in a position where [indistinct] seeking [indistinct] dispose of any assets at all, they're all highly necessary for the framework of Tasmania. As for private investment in- obviously, you know, [indistinct] in Burnie, and will continue to have those sort of discussions [indistinct].

Question: [Indistinct] borrow more in your [indistinct] rail and roads as it is particularly to [indistinct].

Rene Hidding: [Inaudible] assessment for that [indistinct] but I think the Government [indistinct] a waste of funding, but you know, I think Mr [indistinct] makes an important thing by [indistinct] great discussions [indistinct].

Question: Thank you.