Minister Catherine King radio interview, 3AW

DARREN JAMES: A good news story. Some work will be done on our roads. Let's find out more. Catherine King, Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, and member for a place close to my heart, my family’s, who grew up there, Ballarat. Catherine, this is fantastic. No more holes in our roads. Good news, huh?

CATHERINE KING: It is good news for local councils and people who drive our local roads, which is pretty much all of us. Right the way across the country, we're announcing today that we're going to be gradually increasing the Roads to Recovery money that goes directly to local councils. We're going to be doubling that in the few years ahead, up to a billion dollars. It's currently sitting at $500 million. We know local councils are struggling to keep up with the weather events. We've got potholes all over the place. Federal government now putting more money into local governments to try and fix our local roads.

NICK MCCALLUM: So, Minister, I presume you will be monitoring those councils and making sure they get to work and fix it, because it's a disaster out there, isn't it?

CATHERINE KING: Yeah, look, absolutely. And to be fair, we've had pretty amazing - like, 2022 was one of the wettest years we've had. It's pretty dry now at the moment, but it really eroded the road base across many of our local roads. I'm obviously in Ballarat, so you don't have to go far out of the city to see that, but it's roads right the way across the community. By getting this Roads to Recovery Program, it's a formula based program, goes to every single council in the country. By doubling the Commonwealth's contribution, it means that they can spend more of their money basically getting on with fixing those roads. We know it's been pretty tough for them and they've got to obviously report and show what they're doing, list the roads that they're working on and report back. And it's important for the community to make sure that they let councils know where the worst roads in their areas are and to really help them make sure that they've got the safest and best roads we can to drive on.

HEIDI MURPHY: I hate to look a gift horse immediately in the mouth, but is it going to be enough?

CATHERINE KING: Well, certainly doubling it, is a really, really good start. I think it's been what councils have asked for. I've undertaken a review recently and the review said it needs to be doubled. You had the Grattan Institute, I think, out there who talks about this stuff, saying a billion dollars needed to be put into it, and that's exactly what we're doing. We've heard what councils have had to say. I've heard know I get emails in my office all the time. I drive on country roads particularly, but it's not just country roads. So, that's what the Federal Government has decided to do, is double that money.

NICK MCCALLUM: And have you done work about how much? I mean, Victoria, as you know, the road toll is way higher this year. I gather it nationally it's way higher as well. Have you done any work as to whether, how much bad roads, particularly in the country, are contributing to that extra road toll?

CATHERINE KING: Well, of course, to get the road toll down, we've got sort of three areas we have to have. We've got to make sure that our roads are safe, we've got to make sure that our driving and driving behaviour is safe and we've got to make sure that our cars and the systems that we drive them through, so traffic lights, all of that, that that is safe as well. And those three areas combined is what helps get the road toll down. But as we know, roads have not been great. We've also had people, not often with COVID, a lot of people not driving for a while as well. And that's sort of seen people, certainly some behaviour. We've seen police having to crack down on speed, make sure that people aren't drink driving. But the roads also are really important. So, that's really what this is designed to do. Local councils will determine where it's spent so they know best where their worst roads are. It's a local council program. There are other programs for road safety that we already do. So, the Black Spots Program, we're going to increase money for that as well and also create a new program that is specifically for councils, for some of those bigger scale projects. But, of course, road safety, it's everyone's responsibility and this is us chipping in, particularly for local councils to try and fix those roads.

HEIDI MURPHY. Fixing those roads - so, local government money going in, federal money going in. Is state money as part of it as well? Is everybody matching everybody else's contribution or is that separate?

CATHERINE KING: In the Roads to Recovery Program, it's federal money straight into local council, but states, of course, do fund local councils and local roads themselves and it varies across the country. But states do put into local roads. We, of course put in there's financial assistance, grants and a roads component that we also provide to councils as well. So, this is also on top of that.

HEIDI MURPHY: And just very briefly on Airport rail, I think you said during the week, late in the week, you'll put an independent negotiator, a mediator in to try to get the state and the airport onto the one page for Melbourne Airport Rail. Any ideas when you'll have somebody appointed and what sort of individual you're looking for? Is it a judicial figure? Is it at that sort of level?

CATHERINE KING: Well, I haven't - I'm just waiting for some advice on my department from my department as to the 'who'. It's probably going to need to be someone with a legal background, because there's a fair bit of legal issues at play here. There's both the sort of lease that the airport has with me. There's also the Airports act, which is the sort of planning act for our airports as well. And then there's obviously the relationship with the state government as well. But we haven't decided that yet. But we will get on with appointing someone, hopefully by, either the end of this year or early in the new year, just to make sure we've got the right person to do that. We've obviously got to work with the state as well to do that.

HEIDI MURPHY: Will we see it in the 2020s, then?

CATHERINE KING: I would really like to. This is a project, I think I said, I think we've been talking about it, I was born in '66, so we've been talking about it, apparently since the 1960s, so, when I was born. I'd really like to get this done, but we're sort of at a bit of an impasse at the moment, where I think the airport's really got to come and work with us and help us get this done as well. So, I don't want to start a project, and I know the Victorian Government doesn't want to start a project if we don't know exactly where it's going to end, nor do we know - and the how - or how much it's going to cost. So, we've just got to do that work. In the meantime, improvements are still [INDISTINCT] along that sunshine line. There's important work being already done around that in anticipation of this, but we've got to get that bit right first, and I really hope the airport works with us closely to really get this resolved.

DARREN JAMES: Sun shining in Ballarat today.

CATHERINE KING: It is unbelievably beautiful, mate. You should see, not a cloud in the sky, people in shorts everywhere. No, that's not what we're always used to when we talk about Ballarat or “the Rat”, but it is unbelievably beautiful today.

DARREN JAMES: Maybe a picnic at Lake Burrumbeet could be in order.

CATHERINE KING: Could be. Or Lake Wendouree, of course. If you're looking for a day trip, Ballarat's well and truly open. I think the medieval festivals up on at Kryal Castle.  A bit of jousting happening up there, so you could head up there for the afternoon or of course, go to the iconic Sovereign Hill or our wildlife park.

DARREN JAMES: Not to mention Eureka Stockade. Yeah, that's there.

CATHERINE KING: Absolutely. Eureka flag. Have a look at the Eureka flag. Art gallery’s open.

DARREN JAMES: Don't forget the flight of Pompeii and the statues at the lovely Botanic Gardens there up at Ballarat.

CATHERINE KING: Beautiful. You could do a tourism pitch job for it.

DARREN JAMES: What about the Avenue of Honour with all the Prime Ministers’ heads as you wander up past them?

HEIDI MURPHY: Yeah, has that been updated?

DARREN JAMES: Yes. Julia Gillard's head’s there, isn't it Catherine?

HEIDI MURPHY: That's a while back now.

NICK MCCALLUM: No. Remember we had that succession of Prime Ministers who didn't last very long?

DARREN JAMES: Oh, yeah, you're busy up in the gardens there aren't you Catherine?

CATHERINE KING: We had we've got Abbott, Turnbull's there, Morrison's not there yet. That's the next.

DARREN JAMES: I reckon Kevin Rudd's [indistinct] is bigger than the rest of them. Just personal. Thanks, Catherine, for joining us. Catherine King, Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development and Local Government and member for Ballarat. Long title on the business card.