Press conference, Perth

FEDERAL MEMBER FOR SWAN, ZANETA MASCARENHAS: Hi, I'm Zaneta Mascarenhas the Federal Member for Swan. I'm here with Minister King and Minister Saffioti. It's a really exciting time here in WA, we have a partner in Canberra and we're seeing really exciting investment in transport infrastructure. And I'll hand over to Minister King.

MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT, REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT, CATHERINE KING: Thanks very much Zaneta, it's lovely to be back here in your community as well with my good friend Rita Saffioti. This really is a partnership, METRONET is an enormous economic change for the entirety of the Perth metro area and here today we're confirming that in the budget that just was just a few days ago, there's $87.5 million in partnership with the Western Australian government to get rid of the William Street level crossing. Rita will talk a bit about this but I was really amazed to hear that over 266 times a day these lights are triggered and this crossing is closed. This is certainly an incredibly important part of increasing the liveability of this particular area. Of course this comes on top of the significant investments that we're making in Western Australia in infrastructure, our partnership in relation to electric buses, as well as road and rail projects right the way across this great state, over 100 projects over the next 10 years that we're investing in partnership with the Western Australian Government. This is really again, this project is a game changer, part of the METRONET projects that we've seen really transformed suburbs across the Perth metro area. Being able to ensure that people can go about their business more quickly, get to work, get home from work more quickly, but also really building communities around your stations. It's something over in the east we're pretty jealous about. I know that many of the community over there are looking at this project as one of the models as how you actually build fantastic communities around your railway stations. So again, terrific to be here with both Zaneta and Rita today to make this significant announcement.

WESTERN AUSTRALIAN MINISTER FOR TRANSPORT, PLANNING AND PORTS, RITA SAFFIOTI: Thank you Catherine and Zaneta.  We welcome this investment. This allows us to also as part of the level crossing removal through Victoria Park in Cannington to actually do the last project on this part of the line. And this is here at William Street at Beckenham station. You can hear how many times the boom gates come down - 266 times per day, three hours and 43 minutes accumulative time the boom gates are down. So this allows us to build a brand-new station, an elevated station, have connectivity through William Street. So not only is it important because this is the last station before the train will deviate to go through to Thornlie-Cockburn as part of the project but also [inaudible]. We can see already some new developments in this area, new infrastructure elements, some density around the station and allow more people to live in close proximity to public transport, again, creating more housing, diversity and choice in our suburbs, and also greater connections for these people and for new people coming to the area. This southeast corridor, the Armadale line corridor, as people know, who know a bit about this corridor, there's been not a lot of investment over many, many years. What this will do, new infrastructure spending will spur on more private sector development, and of course, operationally, make sure that people can move around the suburb easier and create a brand-new station that will be more modern and reflect some of the new styles that we've seen already implemented on the Forrestfield Airport line, but we'll also be implemented along this train line.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

SAFFIOTI: Well, this will be combined into the project and the contract for the Victoria Park Level Crossing Removal Project. So just to clarify, so as part of Victoria Park and Cannington there'll be four new stations built at Queen's Park, at Cannington, at Oak Street and at Carlisle. There'll be five level crossings removed through that area. And together there'll be another one so this will be combined into that contract. And that's one of the reasons we are now commencing the Armadale shutdown, not in the first part of next year, but later, because this has increased the scope of the project. And so to ensure that we don't lengthen the time of the shutdown, we've deferred the commencement of the shutdown to the latter part of next year.

JOURNALIST: And that shutdown is still 18 months?

SAFFIOTI: So what we've been working with is the construction industry. A lot of the work for both this project and the Armadale rail line, sorry, the new Armadale station and the level crossing removals around Armadale station are aligned on pre-fabricated concrete piers. So they've been working with all the yards three yards in Western Australia, to do the prefab concrete. Understanding the demands currently for [inaudible] and some of the [inaudible], some that's starting to drop away, but they've been working with the fabricating yards looking at how many piers they can build, per month and per week, and making sure that there's enough capacity to produce enough of that prefab concrete to feed this project. Because we want to make sure that when we shut the rail line that the works commences straightaway. I note, some of the early works have already commenced. So the undergrounding of the high voltage transmission line is underway now through Victoria Park. So part of the project early works is actually undergrounding the high voltage transmission lines, which currently use the corridor, and that work has actually commenced, so that's great. All those early works out of the way. And then as soon as we shut down, there'll be the ability to get on with it as quickly as possible.

JOURNALIST: So you're confident it will still only be shutting down for 18 months, that's quite a bit a big undertaking.

SAFFIOTI: Yes, it is. But that's why the team, the METRONET team, like I said, has been actually working with each of the fabricating yards themselves, understanding their capacity, as I said, looking at what they've done historically, what they can actually ramp up to. [inaudible] a new yard being created to get the bulk volume, because it's all going to be predicated on the planning. Getting all the service works underway and that is happening now. And then as soon as we shut down, that we rip up the rail line, that we start bringing in the concrete piers, and we start doing the elevated rail as soon as possible.

JOURNALIST: For the people living around this level crossings [inaudible] by mid-2025?

SAFFIOTI: Yeah, so there'll be because the work will be over different stages too. So once the line is shut we'll be taking away the boom gates. The boom are some of the first thing to be removed. [Inaudible]. So the boom gates actually go earlier than 2025 because it's some of the first work that's done.

JOURNALIST: You're confident you'll have the extra bus drivers and stuff required for that that aspect of it?

SAFFIOTI: Yeah, absolutely. We've factored into our bus acquisition program, extra buses, so we're bringing forward some bus acquisition to ensure we have more buses and also the bus drivers. Of course, we're also working with the train drivers to make sure that they're fully occupied during that time too. And also transit guards. So this is the other point we're doing in relation to the Armadale shutdown, which I talked about at a conference recently is as part of running buses from Armadale [inaudible] into the city. We're looking at how we can optimize that travel time. So work is underway to look at how we can use technology that be traffic lights, so giving buses a priority to jump queues looking at some dedicated infrastructure in parts, so maybe some dedicated bus lanes and key parts along the Albany Highway route.

So this is really a trial on how we can make our buses more efficient. And the learnings from that will be spread across a network. So we're looking at how we can create in a sense a super bus network. We already had the rapid, the high frequency buses, but how we can actually increase their frequency and also remove some of their time delays. We know the benefits of rail of course is that you're sitting in a car and you're seeing a train going past, we want to do the same with buses. And so we're looking at where we can have priority jump, we can jump the queues. We can have priority at traffic lights, and we have the technology now through the main through a combination of technology that [inaudible] has, and main roads to have systems that talk to each other, and also better lifetime monitoring of the entire network.

JOURNALIST: So will there be less lanes for normal drivers?

SAFFIOTI: We're looking at how we can increase lanes. So we're not saying there'll be a bus priority line from Armadale to Perth, because that's significant expenditure. But there are traffic lights, we're looking at whether we can have some queue jumping and some dedicated infrastructure in small parts of the network that will basically let the bus take and move forward quickly, improve those travel times and that as I said, this is about how we learn to spread this technology then across the network. So it's quite exciting. And we're making sure that we're using this Armadale shut to deliver the best alternative travel times for those residents, but use those learnings across the network.

JOURNALIST: How much extra cost will you need for that super bus network?

SAFFIOTI: There already is a high frequency bus network. It's called the 900 series. And so there's already a high frequency bus network. As an example, the 960 carries 2.8 million passengers per annum compared to the [inaudible] million passengers per annum. So there's already a high frequency bus network, the 900 series, what we'll be looking at is how we can use the learnings from the Armadale shut to use that technology and as I said it may be incorporated in the roads program where as part of the roads program we create dedicated bus jumping areas where the bus will overtake cars. And as I said, they might trigger that traffic light and that gives that efficiency that buses aren't known to have, so the biggest issue with buses is the time of travel, the fact they're caught in normal traffic. So we're looking at how we can improve that.

JOURNALIST: Is that used anywhere else in Australia?

SAFFIOTI: I’m not sure it is in use in other areas. Other areas have bus rapid transit systems. BRTs, I know Sydney has a few of those. So in areas where it's hard to retrofit entire lanes, these are the technology we're looking at. It's going to be the first in WA but as I said, because of the main roads network monitoring system that we have now, where we can easily watch what's happening across our roads, we want to apply that to our buses, and this will be great. Like I said, I think this is the way of the future and how we can, you know, utilize our existing bus network better. Because this is all about, you know, a lot of infrastructure spend the next five to 10 years, whether it be what we're doing our rail line with high capacity signalling, more trains on the rail line, more people on our buses and high frequency, more efficient buses is where we're going to use our existing infrastructure smarter. And of course, a rollout of electric buses is very much part of that equation. Not only are we looking at the electric system for the CAT network, but for a high frequency network, a super bus network where you would have electric charging and very significant stations for those buses.

JOURNALIST: Are you confident that that sort of bus network can meet the rail schedules and the usual performance, I suppose as close as possible, of course during rush hour and should there be any trials?

SAFFIOTI: Well, already if you look at the night, some of our bus routes and this is, I suppose a well-kept secret by us, but some of our bus routes on the high frequency network 950s and 960s are carrying millions of passengers per year. Those that use it, know it's a rock up and catch a bus type of system. So I think as I've said before, public transport’s future is where you don't need a timetable. And that is what the high frequency bus network does. You can rock up within five or 10 minutes there'll be a bus and that's what makes these buses so popular. And so, we see this as a way of, like I said, continuing to support that and already those that use those buses know how efficient they are and how good they are already, but we're looking at to how to improve those and the fact that they're already carrying millions of passengers per annum and as I said the 960 and the 950 has 2.8 million passengers per annum which is, as I said comparable to the existing Midland line of 4.2 million.

JOURNALIST: What other parts of the bus network could be considered for this queue-jumping priority?

SAFFIOTI: Well, originally it will be the high frequency bus network, the super bus network, but like I said, it's the Armadale rail line initially and then we've done some studies actually looking at all the corridors and looking at the most efficient bus travel time compared to cars, and our challenge is to reduce that bus timetable as much as we can, or the length of time. So this is a big body of work we're undertaking but really it helps, in a sense complement METRONET and also help building those east west corridors while we develop the more heavier roll across corridors, but in the interim, this is very much a way to help deliver more people to these key precincts.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned before that this new Armadale bus growth includes a lot of discussion between Main Roads and the Department of Transport. Why weren’t those two departments [inaudible]

SAFFIOTI: Well it's a couple of things first of all, is under the Department of Transport some changes that happened a while ago, there is a coordinator of transport, that's the head of the Department of Transport, who oversees Main Road, PTA, and also transport. As part of the delivery of METRONET we actually created... In a sense. there's two things here, there's the operational arm of transport, and then there's the infrastructure arm. In relation to the infrastructure delivery that in a sense has happened because the Office of Major Transport Infrastructure Delivery (ONTID) is your major infrastructure delivery of both ublic Transport and Main Roads. So ONTID was a creation which is in a sense, a merged entity of PTA and also roads. Now we've done that, and we've done it in a smarter way because there is a bit of a difference from how you maintain a road in regional WA compared to how you run a train line through the Public Transport Authority. So there's a couple of things we've done it through ONTID already, we've merged the infrastructure delivery of major projects. The second, and I'll say this, is that main roads has a very strong regional presence. They’re a big regional employer, and they are becoming a bigger regional employer because of our insourcing of the maintenance contracts. We didn't want to do anything that diminished Main Roads presence and role in the region's. Main Roads is one of the one of the biggest organisations in regional WA and we didn't want to do anything that diminish that role. And in a sense through the Director General Transport, through ONTID, a lot of those efficiencies and benefits of what we're doing in relation to transport have already been made.

JOURNALIST: The contract has been awarded for Westport study that will pay for the business case was ready you expect that business case to be done and do you expect that $4.6 billion cost will escalate [inaudible]?

SAFFIOTI: Well a couple of things. First of all, as we said Westport is not only the port itself, it's all the road and rail connections. So there's a number of studies that are out there and at the moment, one of them is the configuration of the port, how the port is designed, and how the berths are designed, and in particular, how it relates to the land side. So that work and a business case for that is underway, and we expect the business case to be done over the next 18, 24 months as I recall. We've also got work underway in relation to the landside logistics because the ability to plan a port from scratch means not only the shape of the port, but the road and rail corridors. So we're looking at where the intermodals will be over the next 40 to 50 years. We're looking at the type of transport that will take the containers from the port, whether they be all rail, whether it be road and rail, whether there's other different types of vehicles that are used. We've seen some of those being used over east, more sort of small autonomous train-like vehicles, there's a number of different options. So the $4.6 billion was the initial estimate for the port itself. But we're currently, for example, have allocated $400 million for land acquisition and planning for the rail and road corridor on [inaudible] and property acquisition has already started along that corridor.

JOURNALIST: What did you make of New South Wales Treasurer’s suggestion that WA could be forced to share its discounted gas as part of its reservation policy?

SAFFIOTI: Well, as you know, in 2006, we made a bold move, and I was there at the time and I remember how bold it was, to have a gas reservation policy. And we were mocked, I think by federal governments about our gas reservation policy. I think the Premier was compared to Hugo Chavez at the time. And it was a bold policy but it was the right policy for WA. Of course we also resisted opportunities to privatise our electricity network too. So we remain in control of our electricity network. And also our gas reservation policy helps supply that network. Look, I just think it's New South Wales grandstanding again. They've done it all the way through. They did it through COVID, they're doing it now. WA set a great policy where we continue to deliver gas and our resources to Western Australians. I don't think the feasibility or the economics of what he's suggesting stacks up. And it's our policy and as I said, this is a bit of New South Wales grandstanding,

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

SAFFIOTI: Yeah, that's right. And I mean, I think one of the things that is missed, and I want to say it again, is that we put in a lot of effort in our resources industry and remember through COVID, we did a lot of things to help support that industry so they could keep going [inaudible]. There's no pipeline. There's no receival terminals. So like I said the feasibility wouldn't be there. As I said, this is a lot about trying to, you know, I think it's sort of a bit of a tall poppy syndrome, WA versus the other states. And I think it's New South Wales wanting to try and cut us down and they've been trying to do that for a few years. But we were very proud of the policy as I said, I was working in Premier Carpenter's office at the time. It was really tough negotiating, it was super tough, but Premier Carpenter, held his ground and made sure that policy delivered for WA.

JOURNALIST: Are you disappointed with the amount of delays to WA infrastructure projects in the latest Federal Budget?

SAFFIOTI: First of all, last financial year, we delivered $3.2 billion in transport infrastructure. Compare that to about five years ago of $1.6 billion. So we're already delivering at a very high capacity. We've been working with the incoming Federal Government on a couple of things, the delivery of our election commitments and this one, for example, having this certainty so early on, means we can get on with it, with our contract. Projects like the Tanami, which were in a sense actually funded in this budget, which is great, because there were a lot of announcements made on projects before which weren't actually ultimately funded in previous budgets. So we really welcome the funding for our election commitments, electric buses, and so forth.

The second is a capacity in our industry. I presented today at the Civil Construction Federation's breakfast this morning. We've been working with industry and understanding their capacity and capability. You might remember 18 months ago, we deferred 17 projects in a state budget to make sure we had a better pipeline of work. So we've been working with an incoming Federal Government to make sure that we have a pipeline of work that's deliverable. We don't want to add any extra heat to the market. But we understand in particular, with this government, we've now got a pipeline of work over the next four to six years and we'll continue to work to deliver these projects. It's just practicalities. It's just actually being real about the situation and making sure that industry has a solid pipeline and also where we get to deliver our work in a timely and efficient manner.

JOURNALIST: Do you like the idea of a pipeline from Western Australia into the East Coast network? Maybe as a quick fix for...?

KING: The Federal Government is not considering that at all. I mean, you know we are absolutely acutely aware of the East Coast gas crisis. We're acutely aware of the pressure that that is placing on families. Obviously we focused on this budget providing cost of living relief through childcare, cheaper medicines, trying to get wages moving again, incredibly important to actually underpin the entirety of our economy to do that. And that's been what we've concentrated on. You know, obviously we are acutely aware of that, but there is no plans at all to do what seems to be a thought bubble again from New South Wales in the context of an election campaign.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible].

KING: No, no, there isn't. And I think again, I think there's a bit of a thought bubble. I think last week, the New South Wales Minister was suggesting that we hand cash payments out and you've seen today, again, you know what that would do adding to inflationary pressures. I think there's a few thought bubbles coming out in New South Wales in the context of their election and we'll let them be accountable for their statements but no there aren't any plans to do that.

JOURNALIST: There are a raft of deferrals to funding in this budget. Can we expect more deferrals in the May Budget or is that done?

KING: Well, it's done, obviously in terms of the October Budget, but this is a pipeline of projects. So over the next 10 years, there's $123 billion of infrastructure investment going right the way around the country. In the forward estimates alone there's $7 billion worth of projects here in the west.

But what we saw from the previous government was a lot of announcements, getting in front of the media, in front of the cameras saying, you know we're doing this we're doing that, but the issue is deliverability. Like we actually have to deliver these projects. We need to be able to have a construction sector that has a clear pipeline, and is clearly able to deliver these. And really what we've been doing is simply common sense. We're aligning the way in which money flows from the Commonwealth to the states with their timelines for delivery of projects. That's what we've done. We know that there are projects that are delayed right the way across the country for a whole raft of reasons. Most of it largely labor shortages, and shortages of materials that are needed to actually build. So, we don't want to add to inflationary pressures. We know the construction sector wants a clear pipeline of projects. And that's really what we've been trying to do.

Year on year, if you look at federal budgets, there are billions of dollars of underspends every year in infrastructure, some of the things that's been going on and has been so impressive about the way in which Rita has worked, is that they don't have underspends. They are absolutely managing that pipeline going forward constantly. I don't want to see underspends in our infrastructure budget. What I want to see is money going out the door, it being done in a way in which gives certainty that the construction sector and that aligns with the way in which States are delivering these projects. These partnerships directly with states and territories are incredibly important. That's why I'm so delighted to be able to work with Rita on these.

JOURNALIST: What about regional railway crossings [inaudible]?

KING: Well, we certainly announced in the budget that $180 million is going into signalling and certainly signage at regional railway crossings. We know that there's been some really terrible incidents occur both over here, as well as in New South Wales most recently, and we're committed to getting that money out the door and into projects that help with signage and again, we'll work with State and Territory governments on getting that out the door.

JOURNALIST: The Westport business case is a while away, but it's a $4 billion plus project. Is that something the Federal Government will be looking at funding?

KING: Certainly we will look at infrastructure investments going forward into the future, from right the way around the country. Infrastructure Australia will have a very important role to play in assessing those business cases as well. But certainly, you know, we look forward to hearing from the Western Australian government about what their ask might be in relation to Westport.