Doorstop: Townsville, 121-129 Racecourse Road



29 October 2015

Topics: Opening of Vantassel Street to Cluden Bruce Highway upgrade, internet and NBN services in regional areas, mobile telephone black spot upgrades, proposed ABC cuts

Warren Truss: It's good to be here with George Christensen and Ewen Jones at the opening of this four lane section of highway from Cluden through to Vantassel Street. This will greatly enhance the movement of traffic through Townsville and the access to the city. It certainly improves the impression that people will have of the great city of Townsville on arrival and will smooth their passage into the city [indistinct] It will take trucks out of the city, the overpass over the railway line means that traffic will not be blocked for long periods of time, waiting for the trains to come through, it will make the road and the route safer, smoother and faster for all who use it.

Question: How long did it take to complete?

Warren Truss: Well it's been under construction for a couple of years and of course the planning took a lot longer than that. It was a challenging design project because it was travelling through urban areas and outer urban areas and of course there were engineering challenges associated with crossing the railway line, river crossings and the like. So it's been under planning for a long time, its funding was threatened at the time of the cyclones but we were able to keep it on track and I'm delighted now that the work has been completed and is of such a high standard.

Question: Was she on budget?

Warren Truss: I understand it was a bit under budget and it's enabled us to actually move to the next section of this work and the benefit of that is being seen, I think construction is currently underway.

Question: Do you want to talk us through a bit about the next section then?

Warren Truss: Well the next section will extend further, the access to the ring road, a road of similar quality to this one and certainly the people of Townville district will have much better access to key community facilities but also the through traffic will move much more smoothly through the city. Ewen, would you like to add something about that?

Ewen Jones: Yeah look those of us who have been around long enough will know that where my office is now was at one stage the busiest intersection outside the southeast corner. Every bit of traffic that came through had to go up Nathan Street, past the hospital turnoff, past the university, past Lavarack Barracks, through Nathan and out through to Blakeys Crossing.

You think about what's gone on since—in the five years that George and I have been elected, although we haven't been responsible for all of it, but you know, from Blakeys Crossing to the extension of the ring road and this has taken all of the heavy traffic out of that area. So I think this is about what we're trying to do to make Townsville that important city. But you've got to try and get your B-doubles out of your major commercial roads. These things belong on the highway and what we've got to do is improve the accessibility and the way we get them around our city.

This means fewer trucks movements, this means smoother truck movements, this means less gear changes, it means less fuel and greater efficiency all the way through. Most of the trucks turn left and the biggest truck routes we have is going over to Mount Isa but there's significant B-doubles and that sort of thing, we are a transport hub here. People go north and people go west and what we've got to do is get it out of our commercial centres and on to the highways and that's where trucks are more comfortable, that's where passenger vehicles are more comfortable, that's where everyone's more comfortable with it. This is a good common sense thing.

Question: Ewen, tell us about the next I guess lot about roads you will expect here.

Ewen Jones: Well it never stops with George and I, we're always in Warren's office trying to tell him how important it is in Townsville and Mackay and the Bruce Highway, but as Warren said earlier, $8.5 billion on the Bruce Highway, we've got the ring road going, we'll have Dalrymple Road opening early , on the north side of town we've been able to fix Blakeys Crossing, that was done by Campbell Newman's government but it was an issue that we raised as a federal issue, because it used to be the Bruce Highway.

We've got Dalrymple Road being fixed and you've also got the ring road bypassing that Bushland Beach area which will mean that the lower Bohle bridge will no longer be such a massive issue for transport when we do get the wet seasons.

If we can extend that further out, you saw the good entry statement we have from the south side of our city here, if we can continue that work out the north side and when Warren was here last, we went and had a look at the work that's being done on Dalrymple Road.

We went out to the Black River Bridge and the Bowden Road turnoff, we went out to see the Bluewater Bridge—that's the part of Townsville that needs that upgrade and the work is going there, because that's where our population's growing.

We've got population expanding on the northern beaches and also Rocky Springs to [indistinct] and those are the areas that we must make sure that people are able to commute easily and professionally.

Now we are a major city and if we are going to be in that space, we need to have the facilities here and you can't just continually pass on those costs to the developers of urban subdivisions and suburban subdivisions. Governments must step in and what we've been able to do since we came back in in 2013 is do it on the 80/20 split where previously under Rudd and Gillard it was a 50/50 split.

A lot of the work that was being done was completely unaffordable for any state government. But what Warren's been able to do is get the commitment from the Federal Government to make sure that we're pushing through and getting the good result for the State Government.

Warren Truss: Could I also mention that there is a project like this one planned for Mackay. We're working at the present time on the design for a bypass of Mackay [indistinct] around the city of Mackay avoiding many of the urban areas. Now that project is still in the planning stage, and that planning stage is starting to be a bit frustrating because it seems to go on and on. Because we want to get on with building a road like this around Mackay as well.

Question: Warren, just another question. The Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee submitted its ideas on bringing the bush up to speed, and they're hoping the Federal Government adopts them ASAP. How much do black spots and poor internet services hold farmers back and what could the Federal Government be doing about this?

Warren Truss: Well if indeed the Coalition Government has really got on with the task of actually delivering the NBN to all Australians. We have passed the halfway mark now in the number of connections that will be required under the wireless network. It's been a huge investment in providing wireless NBN capability in regional communities, particularly small communities that were never going to get fibre to the node or fibre to the house under the Labor Party's earlier proposal.

So we're close to 300,000 premises now have been connected to wireless. And in every area, there are dozens of wireless towers under construction at the present time. Now that will deliver speeds equivalent to city speeds to people in regional communities.

The satellite was launched just a few weeks ago—successfully—and we anticipate that that will be available for connections in the first half of next year, and that will provide again speeds way beyond what's ever been achievable previously from satellite, and will be the most practical form of connection to the NBN for people who live in remote areas, and in some instances also less remote places where mountains or other topographical issues actually prevent the use of wireless or other technology.

And of course we're also proceeding with the installation of fibre to the node in urban communities right across the nation, speeding up the process. We are years ahead of the schedule that Labor had in mind, and tens of billions of dollars under their anticipated cost.

Now this is still a hugely expensive operation, and the task of connecting all Australians to the NBN will still take a few years. But we've speeded up the process, and many people in regional Australia are already connected, and there'll be tens of thousands more every month now as we proceed with the rollout.

Now in relation to mobile phones, we announced before the last election, a commitment to fixing black spots and 499 of the black spots have now been erased as a result of the first round of that black spot program funding. So there's towers going to be erected over the next few months which will get rid of almost 500 of those black spots.

We've announced the second round, and if there are people and communities that don't have access to mobile telephone reception, they can register their interest in being a part of the next round of this black spot program. Now I agree with the review, we need to keep on with that task, because it is important to motorists, to communities to have access to mobile phone telephony.

It's also important to have access to fast broadband, which is increasingly being used at the farm level and local businesses right across the nation. And we're committed—we're committed—to making sure that regional Australia is not left behind in this rollout, and I think our actions since being in government prove that we're serious about delivering.

George Christensen: We have already started delivering wireless internet in places like Alligator Creek and around that area, and just in the last couple of weeks, I was able to announce to the Burdekin community, Ayr and Home Hill, that just about every home and business in those two localities will be connected to the NBN next year. That's actually bringing it forward from the previous plan, and I've got to say that the Burdekin was not in the previous plan until about 2023.

So we've been able to substantially bring the connection between homes and businesses in the Burdekin forward, and that's all been done because the Government's given NBN Co a different [indistinct] they can now pick the best technological option for the area to get high speed broadband in quicker and cheaper, and that's why it's been done so fast.

Ewen Jones: And can I just say on the black spots, the thing about black spots is it's been driven by regional members like George and myself. And I think Paul Fletcher must take a lot of credit for this, that he has been able to listen to regional communities, and George has had Paul Fletcher here at Alligator Creek, and our areas around Townsville. But I took Paul Fletcher up to Charters Towers and as the result of that, we're getting the one tower that they really, really wanted was the tower at Greenvale, and that was a positive response.

What we are also doing in that space, and what Paul has been able to do is get in touch with the telcos, get in touch with the people doing the radio transmission, get in touch with the emergency beacons, that sort of stuff, to see if we can double up. If we have to put new towers in it's hugely expensive, but if we can double up with other people and other services, all those things can happen a lot cheaper.

So what Paul has been able to do is get third party endorsement, Telstra and Optus and Vodafone are all buying into this in the mobile black spots. But it's been driven by regional members like George Christensen and myself, it's been driven by regional members of this Government.

There was no program before 2013 about mobile black spots at all. So when you went out there, when you turned left off the Bruce Highway and went into the cane field behind Tully, there's just no signal. There will be now, we'll have signal.

George Christensen: Just some background, the other one we recently got done is between Bowen and Collinsville, it was completely a dead zone there and now it's going to be all live in the [indistinct].

Question: Ewen, can I just ask a question on the proposed ABC cuts. We've seen news of that today, what sort of loss would that be for our community?

Ewen Jones: I think it's a huge loss to the fabric of our society, it seems to me, and you know, Warren may want to distance himself from these comments. But it seems to that Mark Scott has only positioned himself to… you know, as an inner-city elitist organisation. I mean, the ABC is a lot more than that. I guarantee that the Country Hour has more listeners than most programs in the ABC. And things like Paula Tapiolas' program, be it the gardening program…it's supposed to be our ABC. It's the fabric of our society.

This is where we've got to show that it's our ABC. And I think the front page of the Bulletin got it right this morning. It's not our ABC. It's some inner city, beret wearing, skivvy wearing, Vespa riding intelligentsia ABC. That's where it seems to be going. Massive programs and they think that by going to the Roma Saleyards once every 60 or 70 years is the idea about producing product.

When you have people like David Chen who come here and actually get involved in the community, Pat Hession, those sorts of people bring colour and flavour and texture to our society. They are protected for all the media rules, that different media rules apply to them, and I think what they have to do is prove that they are part of this society, because anyone can centralise to Sydney and say that they're saving money.

Well, I guarantee Paula Tapiolas isn't pulling $435,000 like Tony Jones. It's talking about value for money and when we get cyclones, we rely on the local ABC staff here. When we get storms, we get bushfires, the local ABC is there. Where will they be next time? We're not so sure.

Warren Truss: I'm happy to add a couple of comments. The ABC is paid well over a billion dollars a year to provide broadcasting services for Australia. Their charter is especially to broadcast to regional communities, communities that sometimes don't have the range of choices that are available in the cities.

There are dozens, hundreds of radio stations available to city people. In regional communities, there's a much more limited choice. The ABC has a particular responsibility to serve those regions and their Sydney-centric management is clearly interested in providing much more choice in the cities while taking away the limited choice that there is in country areas, and that is very disappointing.

Members of Parliament were recently briefed by the ABC about changes to their regional program. None of this was mentioned in those briefings. None of it was mentioned. And, indeed, we received firm assurances that there were no cutbacks planned for the ABC, and then within a few months they come around with these sorts of announcements.

Now, if this is so good and if they claim it's going to deliver better services to regional communities, well why not deliver better services for the people of Sydney and do the same thing for them?

Now, I think the ABC has lost its way. It is particularly disappointing that the ABC no longer has any commitment to providing television news from regional communities. There is this debate going on about how the commercial stations should provide regional news, but where is the ABC? Why haven't they got television cameras right around regional communities and sourcing local television news?

It seems as though all of that is being focused on the capital cities that have already got half a dozen television stations from the ABC, half a dozen or many more options in relation to radio programs. They need to look carefully at what the balance is and remember that there is something of Australia outside of Sydney and that it's entitled to be serviced as well.

Question: If the Federal Government hadn't have cut money from there this year would this have happened, or do you believe that this is purely ABC management?

Warren Truss: Well, the ABC said that this was not about cost-cutting and in reality the ABC is still receiving well over one billion dollars a year. Now, that is an enormous amount of money to produce radio programs and television programs around the country.

I think they should look at the way in which it's spent. The ABC acknowledged that there was a capacity to save hundreds of millions of dollars in their backroom, the people that they employ in administration and in having multiple people doing the same work. There were room for savings there without affecting the frontline broadcasters.

What I know of people in the ABC in regional communities, they are multi-skilled. They are expected to do everything. They are capable of holding the microphone themselves as well as asking the questions. Now, I think those kinds of efficiencies could save many millions of dollars also within the cities if the ABC management chose to do so.

Question: Could changes—I mean, obviously the commercial broadcasters are affected by changes—or they're calling for changes to the media laws. Is it an even playing field between ABC and the commercial stations? And if the commercial stations are doing it, can ABC do it in regional areas?

Warren Truss: Well it's clearly not a level playing field because the ABC gets a billion dollars of taxpayers' money and the commercial channels have to make their own way and indeed pay fees for their right to use spectrum. So it's not a level playing field, the commercial stations have to do the best they can.

Now it is true to say that the range of media available, particularly now with online broadcasting and television services, has changed the environment substantially, and it is getting tougher for the commercial television stations.

But those commercial stations that run news programs tell me that it is one of their most popular programs. It is the program that identifies the station with the local community, it makes up about four per cent of their total costs and therefore is just about the best thing that a commercial station can do in a regional community.

So I want to see ways in which that commitment and that obligation that the commercial stations have to provide news in every area where they've got a licence, I want that strengthened. I want a commitment from each station that they will meet their obligations to provide local news services.

I've been a bit disappointed with some of the advertising campaign because some of it's being run by stations that don't even have a news service and threaten that it's going to disappear. I don't care particularly that much about who owns the stations, what I do care about is that they deliver local services, locally sourced, so that they can identify with their community and be a key part of supporting local community initiatives.

Question: Are you going to speak to Mark Scott about the programming changes?

Warren Truss: Well certainly I'll make my views known to him. The news only broke last night, or this morning, and so in reality I haven't had that opportunity yet. But I am disappointed that after the briefing that Members of Parliament received only a few months ago that these substantial changes are now proposed.

George Christensen: Could I just jump in very briefly there and just say for residents in the Burdekin, being a rural community just south of Townsville here, that the ABC is vital for them. The local Rural Report, hearing all the local news delivered on radio there, programs like the Country Hour, these are ones that must be retained.

And I would say the ABC, I believe, has unfortunately invested too much in the wrong things, competing too much with the commercial market. Why do we have so much online content? Why do we have a 24 hour news station when there's another 24 hour news station already running commercially?

We need to reprioritise what's going on at the ABC, the areas where the commercial market isn't playing. There is no great local radio content in most regional centres.

Sure you've got morning show broadcasters that might take a call or two but in terms of hard local news, that's not being delivered by and large by commercial networks, and I think that's where the ABC needs to reprioritise so that people like David here and Paula Tapiolas and Pat Hession can actually do their jobs and do them well.