Minister Catherine King television interview, Sky News
KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s get to that interview now with the Minister for Infrastructure and transport, Catherine King, and we spoke about a range of issues, the Qatar Airways matter, the DP World ports, and also today’s speech that Catherine King gave on the Infrastructure Policy Statement. Have a look.
Minister for Infrastructure and transport, Catherine King, thanks for your time. Today you pointed out that the projects in the works have gone from 150 projects back in 2012 to nearly 800 in 2022. That’s an enormous growth. What’s wrong with that?
CATHERINE KING: The number of projects in and of itself is not a problem really, but what the issue is, is what are the projects that are there. And what the infrastructure review, which I’ll release later this week, pointed to is a few things.
One, there was a very big growth of projects coming into the pipeline in the lead-up to the 2016 and 2019 election campaign. Of the 800 projects, over 500 were sort of under the 50-mil mark, and they included a range of different things, including things like painting bike paths and again, worthy projects, but are they the sorts of things you want the Commonwealth to actually invest in because of the unique position the Commonwealth is in, to invest and co-invest with states and territories and with local government
Really, it’s those nation-building productivity driving, job-creating, enhancing liveability projects that we really can invest in with Australian taxpayers’ dollars with co-investment from states and territories and the local government, and really what we want to try and do is maximise the benefit of that to the nation.
KIERAN GILBERT: You’ve said you want to shift as well the balance of who funds how much, the federal balance of say 80 per cent contribution to the states’ 20 per cent. You want it more 50/50. Already we’ve seen Annastacia Palaszczuk react ‑‑
CATHERINE KING: Yes.
KIERAN GILBERT: ‑‑ very strongly against it. She’s going to write to the Prime Minister and say, “Please do the right thing.” So already you’re getting a bit of push‑back from the states.
CATHERINE KING: Yeah, and look, that of course will happen, I expect that states will advocate for a particular interest that they have, but 50/50 means that we are co-investors, that we are sharing the benefits, but we are also sharing the risks of projects, and I think that is important going forward. And for example, what it also means is we can stretch our dollars further.
So where we’re investing, say, for example, at the moment we invest over $10 billion in the Bruce Highway, an incredibly important part of this country, it is, you know, I can’t overestimate just how important that is, so we’re currently putting in $10 billion, the Queensland Government’s putting in two, that will continue.
Anything new, we’re saying, we think we should maximise really, so that 10 would potentially be 20 if it was 50/50, and that’s really what we’re saying for projects going forward, projects that are already in the pipeline will stay where they are.
KIERAN GILBERT: Doesn’t it mean the states will have to simply borrow more, or more projects get shelved?
CATHERINE KING: What it means is that the states will be co-investors with us, they’ll actually have, you know, a better incentive to ensure that together we control the costs of some of these projects, cost overruns of those projects, but we’re equally sharing the benefits as well as the risks of those projects.
KIERAN GILBERT: And they’ve got – well, they’ve got to certain take on more risk, don’t they, more debt?
CATHERINE KING: Well, certainly, in terms of the way in which the Commonwealth wants to go forward is that we want to be co-investors. We can’t continue to have the circumstances where at the moment if I don’t do anything to the infrastructure investment pipeline, we won’t be investing in anything new for a long period of time, and that’s part of what the review has unfortunately found, that because the pipeline is so congested with some of these projects that the previous government has decided to announce, many of them not able to actually be delivered, the problem we’ve got is, you know, not only can we not be co-investors, we won’t be able to invest in anything new for the next 10 years, until 2033.
KIERAN GILBERT: The Transport Ministers, including yourself, are meeting December 6, as the National Partnership Agreement is in the works. The Australian Automobile Association is running this campaign “Data Saves Lives”. They want you to require, compel the states to release data on the safety or otherwise of their roads in return for federal funding. Will you do that?
CATHERINE KING: Well, what we’ve been doing, so we did a review of the National Partnership Agreement, and I in fact explicitly asked Jane Halton who undertook the review, to go and meet with the AAA about this particular issue, because they’ve been asking for that for some time now, both quite a bit under the previous government as well.
What we have been doing is trying to get more data out of the states, and we will work through that as part of the Partnership Agreement to see where we can get to, but really that is part of the negotiations I’ll have to take forward as the National Partnership Agreement expires in the middle of next year. We certainly want to see more transparency in the way in which investment decisions are made, about our roads, productivity, safety, is one of those elements.
KIERAN GILBERT: It does make sense, doesn’t it, in terms of just knowing which roads are safe and which roads are not safe?
CATHERINE KING: Yeah, well, that data’s held by states and territories and certainly we’ve been working with them fairly closely to get more transparency in terms of that date, and we’ll continue to do that.
KIERAN GILBERT: Yesterday we reported on this program a departmental submission that was put to you in January of this year, but it was blocked in terms of the FOI request made to them, and the reason given by the FOI decision-maker was that it would damage our international relations with Qatar, with the Qatar Government, to release us the departmental submission that was given to you.
Does that prove that the department recommended to you to allow more Qatar flights?
CATHERINE KING: What it proves is, again, as what I’ve said all the way along, these are bilateral agreements between governments, they are not commercial arrangements, they are bilateral agreements between governments, and that information is important, that governments are able to talk with each other about those bilateral agreements. They are not commercial agreements, they are bilateral agreements between government, and we don’t generally release that advice.
KIERAN GILBERT: You don’t generally, but this has been a big focus, and it seems from this wording of the decisionmaker blocking the FOI request saying it could damage Australia’s international relations with Qatar. Why would they not release it if not for the reason that –
CATHERINE KING: Because it is –
KIERAN GILBERT: ‑‑ it went counter to what you decided.
CATHERINE KING: This is advice between two governments, always, like we don’t release advice between two governments, like that is – we don’t release that, that’s the same reason it wasn’t released in the Senate. Exactly the same reason.
KIERAN GILBERT: But if the information was exactly what you did in blocking the flights, there would be no problem.
CATHERINE KING: Again, these are bilateral agreements between governments, they are not commercial agreements.
KIERAN GILBERT: Did the department recommend more Qatar flights?
CATHERINE KING: Again, I’m not going to provide – I’m not going to provide a running commentary on advice provided to me, that is advice to government. But I stand by the decision, well and truly. I did not take commercial interests into account when I was taking that decision. I took the national interest into account, and I stand by that decision.
KIERAN GILBERT: The national interest, and also just to pick up again on this explanation that releasing the departmental submission could damage international relations of the Australian Government, and with Qatar specifically, why would we put relations with Qatar over transparency with Australian travellers, particularly in the context that Qatar supports Hamas?
CATHERINE KING: So I think the first thing that I’d say is, again, and I’ll repeat it again, these are bilateral arrangements between countries, and you know, we don’t run – have a running commentary about our foreign relations and those discussions with foreign countries, we don’t do that, and that is why –
KIERAN GILBERT: Even one that backs Hamas –
CATHERINE KING: ‑‑ I have – and why I have always been constrained in what I have been able to say about this, because this is a bilateral agreement between countries, it is not a commercial arrangement.
KIERAN GILBERT: Yes, okay.
CATHERINE KING: And I’ve not taken any commercial considerations or commercial considerations into account in making the decision.
KIERAN GILBERT: It was given to you in January, you made the decision in July. Why did it take so long?
CATHERINE KING: These decisions often take ‑ you know, they’re considerations that governments have, and they are routine business of government. I take these decisions frequently, you know, frequently countries come to me and come to my department asking for greater access, that happens all the time, and governments make decisions all the time. The previous government did so, in fact they took four years to take a decision in relation to Qatar. That’s the way the Government operates; it’s a routine decision of government.
KIERAN GILBERT: If Qatar makes another bid for more flights, would you be open to that?
CATHERINE KING: Governments routinely make requests to Australia to access – increased flights in and out of Australia. Again, these are bilateral service agreements, and we’ll take consideration of the conditions at the time when I make any decisions about that. We’ve got a number of –
KIERAN GILBERT: So, you’d be open to it?
CATHERINE KING: ‑‑ we’ve got a number of requests before us at the moment from a range of countries, and as we do every single day, you know, we’ll make those considerations in the interests of Australians and the country overall, and you know, they are routine decisions of government.
KIERAN GILBERT: It sounds like you’re open to it at least.
CATHERINE KING: They are routine decisions of government. They are of course welcome to apply.
KIERAN GILBERT: Would you consult your colleagues next time, given the way that this one’s unfolded?
CATHERINE KING: Again, I did consult colleagues over the Qatar decision, I did consult colleagues as we also consulted the aviation industry over that.
KIERAN GILBERT: We’ve had, finally, DP World, the ports shut down for a period, they’ve re-opened. Have you got any further information you can give our viewers on that?
CATHERINE KING: Yeah. Well, I think – I mean it’s, you know, an awful circumstance for the freight industry overall and DP World having to deal with this cyber‑attack. They have managed to get our ports back on very quickly. They moved, I think, 5,000 containers yesterday, and got those four ports back up and operating, and we thank them very much for that.
These are important issues for the Government. We obviously enacted the coordination mechanism to – this was a serious cyber incident that shut down our four ports in essence for DP World, for containers coming in.
They’re continuing to investigate what happened, but again, really important, they did the right thing, they notified government very quickly, they shut their system down to stop the attack very quickly, that necessitated the shutting down of their port infrastructure to get containers out from their depots, but that was the, you know, the right thing to do and we really thank DP World for working very closely with the government on this issue.
KIERAN GILBERT: Catherine King, thanks for your time.
CATHERINE KING: Good to be with you.