Transcript - 4CA AM Cairns

MURRAY JONES: One hundred per cent Cairns and the Tropical North, it’s 846 4CA, if you tune in. Let’s go to the CBD this morning, for a beautiful morning right across the Tropical North. It’s nice to have you along.

Well, of course, Teddy’s in studio with me this morning, and as always, he gets all the attention. I’ve actually got the Federal Minister for lots of things, including Infrastructure, Local Government, Transport, Catherine King joins me this morning. But young Teddy seems to be getting all the attention again, Minister.

CATHERINE KING: He does, he’s beautiful. He’s an absolutely gorgeous little puppy, and in my arms at the moment. So, I’ll see how I go, I’m a bit distracted. I’ve got two cocker spaniels at home, so these sorts of breeds are just very – I’m very fond of them, they’re beautiful.

MURRAY JONES: They’ll be sussing you out when you get back to Ballarat, going, “I can smell somebody here”.

CATHERINE KING: They’ll be inhaling me is what they will do, saying “Where have you been?” That’s what they’ll be doing, they’ll be smelling Teddy.

MURRAY JONES: Look, on a completely different subject, I was actually down in Ballarat earlier on in the year. What a wonderful little town, I hadn’t really spent much time there at all. Of course did the Sovereign Hill thing, but such an authentic experience and such a wonderful, wonderful town, Ballarat really is.

CATHERINE KING: Now, why didn’t you let me know you were there? You are most welcome. It is a beautiful place. I’m very proud of my hometown, it’s obviously built in the Gold Rush, a lot of heritage, you know, lots of things to do, but also really, you know, doing great - going great guns. We’ve had so many moving in, and the same as lots of regional towns, and it is a beautiful place, and I’m glad you got to spend some time there. A little bit cooler than here, of course.

MURRAY JONES: Yes, certainly was. Well, it was actually the middle of summer, and it was a great time to go down there, but I thought I wouldn’t disturb you in the middle of the holiday break, it was, I think, early new year.

Let’s talk about a few things, keen to talk a little bit more about aviation in due course, but obviously E2G, an important part of infrastructure, and Bob Katter, the member there certainly for that southern part of our region has made a lot of noise about the money that has been put in by the federal government, and such an essential roads system, and some pretty major upgrades, so I guess that’s one of the reasons why you’re here.

CATHERINE KING: Yeah, really, I’m here to have a look at that part of the Bruce Highway. We’re spending, you know, millions and millions of dollars upgrading the Bruce Highway, it’s a really big project, and this particular one, the Cairns Southern Access Road, is just about to be commissioned, is just about ready for cars to get on there as well, so we’re going to have a bit of a look at that today. That’s over $500 million in that project, but really that’s about making sure we’ve got infrastructure continuing to roll out across the country.

We are doing a bit of a review at the moment, but you know, that doesn’t mean projects all over the place are stopping. There are projects that are being opened, or being started as we speak. So really that’s what I’m here today, just to have a look at that, talk to Mark Bailey, who’ll be here as well, have a chat to him just about how the Bruce Highway projects are going.

MURRAY JONES: Now certainly the Hann Highway and various other pieces of infrastructure further west and further north, you know, particularly for economic development moving forward, it’s something we have discussed before, but you know, obviously that ongoing funding is so essential to so many of those outlying communities as well.

CATHERINE KING: Yeah. Look it’s important, but it’s also important we deliver. I think part of the problem we’ve had with many of the infrastructure announcements is we announce them really early –


CATHERINE KING: – you know, politicians, we like doing that.


CATHERINE KING: Often without where the costs have been, you know, fully understood or just how tricky it’s going to be to do particular things, and as a result of that we’ve had massive cost blow-outs in projects, so we’re trying to manage that at the moment and that’s part of what, you know, the review into infrastructure’s doing.

But I know how incredibly important it is to invest in communities like this. We did it when we were last in government, and we’re doing it again now, and you know, roads like the Bruce, you know, the Bruce Highway’s critical, it’s the artery basically, if you don’t get that right then there are, you know, consequences all over the whole freight system and for people commuting and driving all the way along that road all the time. So, you know, really that’s what you know, infrastructure’s about, it connects people, it moves our goods and services.


CATHERINE KING: There’s always going to be more to do. I don’t think you’ll ever get to a point where you say, “Right, we’re done now, every road’s perfect”.

MURRAY JONES: Sure, it’s a bit like my mowing.

CATHERINE KING: Well, yeah, or painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge, you finish, and you just keep starting, I think it’s very much all of those things, it’s a lot. But anyway, it’s a great, it’s been a great project, and it’s great to see that it’s nearing completion.

MURRAY JONES: Let’s talk a little bit more about aviation, and certainly a lot of talk about aviation in the last month or so in our region, certainly with Singapore Airlines, got a new Airbus A350 coming to Cairns, four flights a week commencing in March.

We’ve also got the opportunity, and there’s a delegation heading to Hong Kong to talk to Cathay Pacific about getting those flights back. Obviously since the pandemic, you know, we’ve obviously had a lot of, you know, domestic tourism here, but we need to open up and get that international tourism happening.

Some challenges though, and I know as Federal Transport Minister, you do have some concerns about, you know, some of the infrastructure, and I guess the way that airlines are doing things, because you know, the world’s changed quite dramatically, and I guess, you know, there is some impacts as a result of some of the aviation into Australia.

CATHERINE KING: Yeah. Well, I guess what I’d firstly say is aviation is still in recovery, domestic has come back very, very strongly, and you’ll be seeing that as well in people who are coming up here particularly over the winter months down south, but international’s still not quite there yet. We’re getting a lot of outgoing, not as many incoming, and I think again you’d see that in the tourism mix.

Decisions airlines have made, you know, decisions about what their capacity is based on, you know, there have been staffing issues, a whole range of things, but what you’re seeing is more capacity start to come back on. You’ve got our major airline, Qantas, has just purchased, you know brand new planes, that’s at a significant cost, and we’re going to see those, they’re bigger planes, they’re quieter planes, they’re more environmentally - better for the environment, so we’re going to start to see a lot of that.

But we’ve also seen a lot of the international carriers increase their capacity and starting to ask to increase capacity as well. So, we’ve got before us at the moment Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam Airlines, I understand, Turkish Airlines they haven’t actually put a proposal to us as yet, but they’re asking as well, I think, and a few others are also starting to show interest.

These are bilateral agreements between governments. They’re not actually sort of a commercial arrangement between airports and airlines, they’re actually a decision government makes about what’s in the national interest, and that’s always a challenging decision to make, but we’ve got to sort of weigh all of that up, and you know, that’s what we’ll do with all of those requests we’ve got before us. But you know, it’s good to see, I think Emirates has also increased its capacity as well, but international aviation certainly incoming is still not back to where we’d like it to be.

MURRAY JONES: And I guess increasing that competition in the long-term, which just makes it so much affordable for everyone involved, including that incoming, but of course some of that outgoing traffic as well.

CATHERINE KING: Well, I think you’ll start to see that. I mean prices have been too high, and we know that- we’ve got an aviation green paper leading into a white paper about to come out shortly that talks a bit about the issue around pricing competition, consumer rights and the importance of that.

But again, you know, with a sector in recovery, with the importance of jobs in our area, we’ve got to weigh all of those things up as we look at that capacity coming in, but you’ll start to see prices coming down. I don’t think – and this is happening internationally – I think it’s going to take a very long time, if they ever do, to get back to pre-COVID prices.


CATHERINE KING: I think that’s – the world’s changed pretty substantially, and that’s happening internationally, that’s not just an Australian issue.

MURRAY JONES: It was horrifying about two years ago to fly through Alice Springs Airport and just see, you know, possibly 150 enormous international airliners all just parked in a row out there, and of course that’s had a big impact, it’s going to take airlines a long time to recover from that.

CATHERINE KING: Takes them a while to stand them back up, but it’s also been the crews, like rightly or wrongly a lot of, you know, some of our airlines let staff go, or they just didn’t have work for them. A lot of people have not come back into the aviation sector, so you know, there are good jobs going at the moment. They’re recruiting as well. So, there has been issues with that.

Even, you know, in my own portfolio with Air Services Australia, we lost a lot of air traffic controllers, a lot of them took early redundancy, because with the planes not flying, the work wasn’t there, and the income wasn’t coming in, so they took early redundancy, so trying to get more air traffic controllers. So, the system is still constrained by the sort of after-effects of COVID –

MURRAY JONES: Very much so. Yep.

CATHERINE KING: – what happened with all of that shutdown, so it’s sort of understanding where the sector’s at, at the moment and what we need to do going forward that, you know, has to also factor into many of our decision making.

MURRAY JONES: Look, welcome to the Tropical North, and compared to Ballarat, you’ve certainly brought us some beautiful nice warm weather, so it’s a fantastic couple of days actually. Of course, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. There’s a few to go through there, so I’m using my cheat sheet this morning. Catherine King, thank you so much for your time this morning. Cheers.

CATHERINE KING: So lovely to be with you.