Transcript - ABC Melbourne with Sammy J

SAMMY J: It is 21 minutes past seven. We’ll get back to your calls shortly. However, let’s stay on infrastructure because the federal Budget is coming up next week. And last week I spoke to Assistant Health Minister Ged Kearney. I tried to get a sneak peek, but she refused to nibble. I am feeling a bit lucky today, though, because I’ve got Catherine King, the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, on the line right now and I’m feeling like there’s a scoop to be had. Good morning, Minister. Thank you for your time.

CATHERINE KING: Good morning, Sammy J. How are you?

SAMMY J: Pretty well, thank you. Is it true, Minister, that you’re going to announce right now on Breakfast that you’re going to fully fund the airport rail into Tullamarine and complete it by December?

CATHERINE KING: Thanks for that. Thanks for your terrific song yesterday as well. I was just telling a producer; I was over in Perth yesterday. Four people sent it to me, including my husband. It made a bit of an impact over in Western Australia with me yesterday.

SAMMY J: Well, I mean, even they’ve got an airport railway link that’s why it’s so upsetting.

CATHERINE KING: They have, they’ve just opened it. I know, it’s magnificent. So, look, I’ll talk you through where this project is up to. And so the first thing, it is a really important project for Victoria. We’ve got the second busiest airport in the country. It is growing. It’s a really important piece of economic infrastructure. I know, Avalon’s pretty keen to do something as well, they’ll need to talk to the State Government about that and we’ll talk to them about their plans in future. But really, Melbourne’s pretty important. And so what happened is there’s been an announcement. I think Turnbull announced 5 billion for the railroad. State government then came to the party. The problem we’ve got, obviously, is that Melbourne airport is a leased airport, it’s owned by the Federal Government, but they’ve got a lease and so they would have to bring forward the plan for where the station’s going to go. And there’s a dispute about that, so you can’t start building something until you’ve got a clear idea about what’s going to happen. 

So, I’ve appointed a mediator. So, Neil Scales has had a chat to the Victorian Government, chat to the airport, spoken to us. He’s doing a report for me about the pathway forward. It is delayed, there’s no doubt about that. And the Victorian Government is reflecting that in their budget. It’s delayed because we just haven’t got agreement about above ground, below ground costs, all of that stuff. We’ll work our way through, because it’s an important project. We want to get it done, but can’t give guarantees about timing or any of that until we sort that out.

SAMMY J: Ok, Minister. So, a mediator has been appointed. We’ll park that one there. Now, on behalf of Victorians, and I can ask, what’s the Federal Government doing for us, then, in the Budget?

CATHERINE KING: Well, we’re doing today, we’re announcing there’ll be a bit more in the budget, but today we’re announcing $3.25 billion to bring our contribution to the North East Link to $5 billion. This has been a really missing link in our road network. So, that bit between Watsonia through to Bulleen, really taking about 15,000 trucks off suburban roads, and really, it’s one of the sort of big, big builds of roads that we’re seeing at the moment. So, I’ll be out there with the Prime Minister and the Premier and the Roads Minister announcing that funding, it’s part of a really big contribution to get trucks off our roads, get the city moving as best we can.

SAMMY J: It’s a hugely important link, I know it well, I’m watching it unfold. But, Minister, it’s already happening. There’s major work being done. So, is this money that was always going to be spent? Like, what would happen if you didn’t spend it? It can’t just stop, can it?

CATHERINE KING: So, part of what we’re doing is to the non-tolled components. So, obviously it’s a toll road. We’re doing the non-toll components, bringing some of those links together. So, looking at the Eastern Freeway upgrades, so doing some links to that, so that you’ve got smoother passage into the North East is some connections. So, connecting roads, upgrading those, putting smart infrastructure in that wasn’t part of the original plan, so that you’ve got better traffic flow and you can manage the asset for the longer term. So, there’s bits that weren’t funded. And so that’s partly what we’re doing today.

SAMMY J: I’m chatting to the Minister for Infrastructure, Catherine King, ahead of an announcement today – well, it’s just been done, actually. 3.25 billion thrown towards North East Link, there’s the scoop. Minister, you’d be very familiar with the Western Freeway driving, as you would on your way to Ballarat and back. It passes through the fastest growing area in Australia, which is Melton. Are you prepared to commit some money in the budget to that freeway, which some have dubbed the worst in Victoria?

CATHERINE KING: Yeah. So, the freeway - so, part of the problem at the moment is, obviously, we’ve got this big build at the end in Melbourne with the Westgate and the tunnel, and that is causing significant delays as you get into Melbourne. I must admit, even myself, I’ve started catching the train if I have to get into Melbourne, rather than driving after being in at 9:00 –

SAMMY J: Don’t you have a Ministerial helicopter that you can use? Some sort of rort.

CATHERINE KING: Yeah, I think someone might have got in trouble for that. So, maybe, maybe not. Really, no. And the train service is fabulous. I love it. So, really, that is causing significant delays. The road itself is absolutely - we’ve seen massive population growth through Melton, Bacchus Marsh, all of that. So, in the last election campaign, we committed money to do a business case to really work out, like, what do you do? Because it’s really hard. You widen the road, but then where does it go. So, that work’s underway at the moment. I expect the Victorian Government will get that in the next six months or so and then we’ll have a bit of a plan to see how we can actually manage that.

But the big problem right at the moment is the bottleneck at the end. Because we’ve got, again, a big build happening that again will make a really big difference with the tunnel under the Yarra, and that will really make a big difference but we’re just in the middle of constructing all that.

SAMMY J: Minister, we know that The Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, has a very specific and long-standing love and interest in infrastructure. Does that mean he meddles quite a lot in your portfolio? Or does he leave you to do your own thing? Is he always dropping by for a cuppa and just wants to talk trains?

CATHERINE KING: Can I just say yes to dropping by, wanting to talk about all things infrastructure as well. It’s his happy place, you’ll see. I’m taking him to the tunnel boring machine. He’ll be very excited about that. I took him out to Western Sydney International Airport. He’s like a kid, it’s adorable. But, yeah, he pretty much lets me get on with it and does that, but I also ask for his advice every now and again, too. But it’s definitely his happy place.

SAMMY J: And I will say that it’s very Australian thing for our own Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development to catch the train to work. I appreciate your time this morning. Huge week ahead. We’ll be sure to stay in touch with further announcements and see what we can make of the Budget. On behalf of Victoria thank you, Minister.

CATHERINE KING: You are most welcome, Sammy.