Press conference, Newcastle Airport

PETER COCK:  Excellent. Thank you for coming today. And the Newcastle weather's sort of held off the rain, so it's a great day to be here. I hope everyone's got their sunscreen on. I'd like to start off by acknowledging the Worimi people on land on which we operate and acknowledging their elders past, present and emerging.

It's really interesting aside to think that the Worimi people for tens of thousands of years have actually used this site as a travel and trading hub. So, we've got preserved a keeping place on our site which has artefacts which actually shows that goods were traded on this site. So, it's probably why there's such a great vibe in our airport. It's my pleasure to welcome the Minister, the Honourable Catherine King, Minister for Infrastructure, Regional Development and Transport, and also the Minister for Local Government, to see how we're progressing. Also - a very warm welcome to our local member, Meryl Swanson, member for Paterson, and the Lord mayor, Nuatali Nelms. And there's a number of other VIPs in the audience, so I won't list everyone.

It's happening, the work is going on. So, you can hear behind us that we've got an excavator digging pits. They're pits that are going to enable baggage belt collection. You can see columns going up. They're going to hold up an international arrivals processing area. The car park that enables this activity is already complete. We've got Williamtown Drive, which is underway and only a few months away from finishing. You can actually now see the extent of the building that's going on and the exciting thing that's going to come. And infrastructure projects are just amazing economic drivers. And with our purpose being the airport the region deserves and contributing to regional transition, it's so great to work with partners like the Federal Government who put $55 million towards this project and we can't acknowledge it enough. And same with the efforts of our local member, we can't acknowledge enough the efforts that's gone in and how proud we are to show people about how it progresses. So, to move the day along, what I'd like to do now is invite our local member to say a few words and perhaps give us a local context, and then the Minister will speak. And following that we can have some questions. Meryl, would you like to speak?

MERYL SWANSON: I would. Thank you, Peter. Sincerely, thank you. And also welcome to the Minister, Catherine King, who has worked with me on this project. And I do want to formally welcome and acknowledge the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Nuatali Nelms and Steven Peart, the acting general manager for Port Stephens Council. We've just got this rare bird here at Newcastle Airport where we've got an airport that's co-owned by two amazing local governments and they work collectively so well to give this region the airport it deserves. And today we are - It feels surreal to be standing here watching this happen as Peter and his incredible board and I and the government have worked so hard to make this a reality. And we're here and it's happening. It's not sort of about to start, but we're digging, we're doing. And I just can't wait till people are taking their bags off the carousel and having that ‘Love Actually’ moment hugging people - they're saying, “How was Singapore?”, “How was Fiji?” How are all these places that you're going to be able to get to from our incredible regional Newcastle airport?

It is just such a great day. A lot of work has gone into this obviously. I do want to thank the construction team, the architects, and just the people who turn up here every day and make this a brilliant place. The thing about an airport is that it is about dreams, it's about hopes, it's about being able to travel, but also, it's about jobs, it's about freight, it's about keeping our regional economy at the leading edge of where we want to be. Not just in the next twelve months, five years, but looking at fifty years. I can't wait to be a little old lady and saying, I remember the day we stood on the roof of that construction and just see where this place goes in the future.

So, I couldn't be prouder and more grateful to be with the Albanese Government making dreams and jobs and the future a reality here at Newcastle Airport today. Thank you so much for being here and indeed, thank you so much to the Minister. She's given this her wholehearted support and we are just absolutely delighted. Thanks, everyone.

CATHERINE KING: Well, what a terrific day to be here, both weatherwise, but also to see the great building that is occurring. This is - Labor governments are very, very serious about investing in Newcastle and investing in the future of the Hunter. Yesterday, we were there with the Prime Minister at Raymond Terrace M1 Hexham road, seeing the great road infrastructure being built. I was out yesterday with both Meryl and Dan looking at some of the smaller community infrastructure projects we're investing in. I've been at the Port of Newcastle this morning. $100 million is going into common user infrastructure and planning for the clean energy hub to really diversify the future of the Port of Newcastle.

And here we are at this $55 million transformation of the terminal. Of course, that is complemented by the investment from the Government through Defence on the actual runway itself. And also you're seeing investment in the business precinct here. These are incredibly important economic drivers for communities. So, whether it is land transport from rail, sea transport to get your exports to market from the port, or whether it's here for passenger transport and freight here at this airport, these are the investments that we know will really help the future of Newcastle and the Hunter, not just for the coming decade, but for the coming decades beyond that.

This investment is important. We know that the economic activity, it's not just about the jobs. We've got 40 people on site today we'll have more as this project gets out of the ground. But really what this is about is about the future economic activity of the region, overall. This project alone has been estimated to generate about $12 billion worth of economic activity in the years ahead. And we're very proud as an Albanese Labor Government to be part of this project. And I thank very much, Meryl and the council and the airport board, for working with us to make sure that this is a reality. Very happy to take any questions. You might have to speak up a little bit. It's a little noisy out here on site.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct]

PETER COCK: Um, so the project is running us slightly long. We expect –

SPEAKER: Peter, you might have to come onto the mic.

PETER COCK: Sorry. Yeah, we expect the project to be active in the end -  of quarter two in calendar year 25, so it's a few months. And again, that's something that's plaguing all infrastructure projects at the moment, so we're not immune to that. And again, as with budgets, every time you open a tender document you got to see what comes out. And so there is pressure on our budget, but we're actually trying to cut our cloth and make sure that we can deliver what we need within our means.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct]

PETER COCK: The material we put out is often at a concept level and so plans always get refined as projects are generated and so this project's no different. And we've got our friends at Construction Control who give us smart ideas about how to build it and cheaper and get the same. But I think what we can be clear on is we're not going to compromise on being able to move people and goods into and out of Newcastle. The destinations we can hit and the code E capability, the economic drivers are not going to be compromised and the customer amenity. So, it's going to be an amazing airport to be, which is what people expect from our business.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] And how are you going to with your discussions with potential carriers?

PETER COCK: Good. Really good. They really see the advantage that our region brings. We're not the Sydney market and in fact, airlines like Bonza are drawing people up from Sydney into our airport. So, they see that we're a different catchment and they see that the economic opportunities we bring, and that's to Singapore. But also, some Middle Eastern carriers are interested, as well as some new domestic networks. So, it's really quite positive. The aviation industry is in a growth phase.

JOURNALIST: The other day you said you had no plans to passenger services [indistinct] they could be used for [indistinct]?

PETER COCK: I didn't expect them to. And it's really great to have some general aviation airports. I mean, Cessnock Airport, Belmont Airport, Central Coast, they're all really useful parts of an aviation network and we work collaboratively with those groups and really help them because we see the value they bring. We don't do general aviation on this precinct, but we do passengers. So, it's actually. I think Meryl put it really well. It's a really rare combination of synergies in our site.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] high-speed rail.

CATHERINE KING: Yeah of course. Of course.

JOURNALIST: Minister, last year the Government [indistinct] discussion with the Premier [indistinct] why is the Government [indistinct]?

CATHERINE KING: ‘Cause we want to get this done. We are very serious about the delivery of high-speed rail from Newcastle to Sydney. We want to get this done. Met - as I said, we've appointed Tim Parker, who's a project manager of some experience here in NSW, to lead the project as the new CEO. He started on Monday. Business case, geo-tech work, planning work, all of that has to be undertaken in order for us to deliver this project. But what I really want to say is that this is part of the economic future for Newcastle and the Hunter.

High-speed rail does amazing things. It isn't about - we focus, obviously, on a passenger journey between Sydney and Newcastle, but it's actually also about the broader economic opportunity it brings. Can you imagine the head office of an international company making a decision that it's not going to base itself in Sydney or it's not going to base itself in Parramatta, but it's actually going to base itself here in Newcastle? Imagine the jobs that that will bring, and that's what high-speed rail does in connecting you into some of the capitals such as Sydney, as this will do. It means you can actually have those opportunities here. I met yesterday with the mayor to talk a bit about that. We'll be keen to see High Speed Rail Authority establish an office here. There'll be opportunities for jobs, opportunities in construction, but it is really about Federal Labor, the Albanese Government's investment in the long-term future of Newcastle and the Hunter. The jobs that that will bring, the economic opportunities that that will bring. And that's why we want high-speed rail, the business case for Newcastle to Sydney, the first component of high-speed rail that we are concentrating on, that business case, to be completed and presented to the government by the end of the year.

JOURNALIST: High-speed rail comes with a very high price tag. Are you confident [indistinct] financially?

CATHERINE KING:  Well, again, that will be part of the business case. We are committed, though, to ensuring that high-speed rail is actually delivered. We've got to make sure we get all of the planning work right, all of the environmental approvals right. All of those add to cost and also the geotechnical work and also the delivery mechanisms. One of the other things that we need to be able to do is we're going to need to be able to build and purchase rolling stock. The current rolling stock is not going to be fit for purpose for high-speed rail. Newcastle's got a bit of a history of building trains and we'd like to see some of that work done. So, there's a big piece of work to be done about the financing. I am very confident that we are going to start to see significant work on this project underway, certainly in terms of the business case and the work of that beyond that developed under the Albanese Labor Government. I guess the question is. The question is for I see some of the naysayers in the opposition is, what are they going to do? The last time we had high-speed rail being worked on in this country was when there was a Labor Government, back in 2013, a business case developed, an authority was started to be stacked up and it got cancelled.

So, for the last decade, high-speed rail has been off the agenda here in Australia. I see the Opposition's out there making a few comments about it, as they always do, always negative, not nation-builders, not interested in actually developing. The question for them is going to be, are they going to can-it if they go to the next election and win government?

JOURNALIST: Does that mean that the Government's committed regardless of time-frames?

CATHERINE KING:  The Government is committed to building it. We obviously want to get the best value we possibly can. It's going to take private sector investment as well. And we're looking at those financing mechanisms again as part of the business case and part of the work of the new CEO and the board. What I'd really encourage people to look at is really how high-speed rail transforms cities. As I said, it's a transport project, but it's not just that. It is about the economic development opportunities for the Hunter. We know we want to diversify the economy here as much as we possibly can. We know that's important for the future of the Hunter. High-speed rail is one part of the puzzle. The port, the airport, the roads and productivity that that brings are also all part of that picture.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct].

CATHERINE KING:  So, capacity constraints, they didn’t just appear yesterday, but I – obviously COVID has exacerbated some of that. Part of our migration strategy has been concentrating on making sure we are focused on ensuring we’ve got the skilled workforce we need. But that we cannot rely on migration alone – and that has been a problem for a long time in this country. We have to train more Australians. We have to get more people into – particular – the construction industry. It’s why the government has established Jobs Skill Australia and the construction panel that is part of that working with the construction industry to actually bring more people in. It’s why we have announced a fee free TAFE. I am seeing across whatever TAFE you go to across the country, young people and older workers retraining; taking advantage of the thousands of places for fee free TAFE, actually retrain – retrain in building and construction and again. That is part of making sure we have got the workforce here.

Yesterday on the M1, I was delighted to see the number of women who were actually involved in that project from construction, from on the ground, digging the dirt right the way through to management and planning. We want more women in construction. It is a great industry for women to be in. You've got a federal infrastructure - women -  female Infrastructure Minister, you've got a state one as well. We've got women all over the place in this industry. We want to see us take advantage of that substantial workforce and all of those plans and that work have been being undertaken by the Albanese Labor Government. But we've got a bit of work to do after frankly, a decade of neglect of actually training Australians here in this country. Thank you. Last one.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] give us an update on [Indistinct] sorry. Singleton and Muswellbrook [indistinct].

CATHERINE KING: Yeah. And again, as you can see, there is huge amounts of construction occurring. And again, we do have some capacity constraints. The NSW government, we've signed the contracts, I think, are signed for Singleton. Muswellbrook will be a little bit later. That money's there on the table. We need to do Singleton first and then Muswellbrook will follow. Not shortly after that. But we're concentrating on getting that through, just particularly in terms of the capacity constraints at the moment in the construction market. And also, those capacity constraints. We don't want to add to inflationary pressures within the construction market. There's a lot happening. There's plenty of work around right at the moment in construction. Singleton underway or will start to be underway shortly and Muswellbrook shortly following. Money committed for that as well. Thank you. All good. Last question done.

JOURNALIST: Beautiful. Thank you.