Transcript - interview - ABC Radio Brisbane with Rebecca Levingston

REBECCA LEVINGSTON [HOST]: Understandably each year the Federal Budget provokes strong responses. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe that’s a good part of our democracy, that people can stand up and say what they think. Whether you’re in government, in opposition, as Peter Dutton is, you’ll hear the Budget reply speech from him tonight. And in fact, you’ll hear a bit more from Max Chandler-Mather tomorrow morning when he’s back in Brisbane. But in terms of budgetary allocations, the detail continues to be revealed. And today the Minister for Infrastructure Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Catherine King, wants to talk to you about your suburb. Catherine King, good morning.

CATHERINE KING [MINISTER]: Hi, it’s really lovely to be with you.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: We’ll talk about the National Urban policy in a moment, but a response from you briefly to Max Chandler-Mather there. Do you think that this Budget has the priorities right when it comes to housing?

CATHERINE KING: Well, I think the first thing I’d say is that every single MP is dealing every day with really difficult constituent cases of people who are struggling to get onto Centrelink payments, trying to deal with that. And I’ve been an MP for 22 years and I and my electorate staff who are terrific staff, deal with that every single day. And that’s not an easy thing, particularly for a new Member of Parliament to understand the role that we play in trying to facilitate that.

But what I would also say is that there are responsibilities you then have as a Member of Parliament and to help when government is trying to do something. And one of the biggest things the Member could do is to support the Housing Affordability Future fund that is in the Senate right at the moment, which would see the construction of 30,000 social and affordable houses. It’s one thing to stand up in Parliament and express your emotion and that is always a good thing to do, but all of us experience that. I experience that in my own electorate office, but it’s another thing to actually be, now as an elected representative, responsible for helping government to do something about it. You can say you think we’ve got it wrong, you can say “I would do it differently if I was the government,” but when you’ve got a bill literally sitting in the Senate right at the moment that would help people and for political purposes, you’ve decided that you’re going to oppose it. I think there’s a real challenge there for a new member, like a fairly inexperienced member like Max Chandler, to actually work out how he fits within what is now part of a structure. He’s a member of a political party, he’s now a Member of Parliament, and he’s got to work out how he constructively works to improve lives for people. So, sometimes standing in the way might sound good, might look good in the media, but you’ve actually got to work out how to constructively work with the government and we think we’ve got the right balance in this budget.

There’s a lot of measures that are there to help with cost of living. It’s why we did it. We understand the cost of living pressures people are under. We’re Labor politicians, we’ve lived and breathed these issues all our working lives, frankly. And I think now it’s really a new Member of Parliament who’s come in has only been there a year to work out where he fits within that process and that often takes a little while.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: He may be new to parliament, but he’s been in politics for a long time, and I guess the issue around how and the passion with which he responds in parliament that comes down to his constituents and others. I’ll be interested to hear from our listeners this morning because, of course, Max Chandler-Mather is from Brisbane, so I’ll be interested to hear what people think this morning. But I guess when it comes to standing in the way of the housing fund, the issue seems to be at the heart of what he was saying yesterday the immediacy of the response i.e., Tax cuts that remain in place for the wealthy as opposed to assistance. Now for people who, Catherine King, we are seeing living in most parks around Brisbane City, people in tents everywhere across our city.

CATHERINE KING: Yeah, and I think that’s the balance that we’ve struck within the Budget. There are significant cost-of-living relief measures. So, whether it’s from -

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: But they’re not as significant as a $9,000 tax cut.

CATHERINE KING: So when it comes from the energy relief, when it comes to the increase in the base rate of JobSeeker, when it comes to improving the lives of single parents being able to ensure that they keep on payments when their child goes beyond eight and up to 14, when it comes to the measures to triple the bulk billing incentive so people on all incomes eligible can access health care, improving medicines. All of those things are important measures.

The measures for Commonwealth Rent Assistance, it’s not just the Housing Affordability Fund. There is measures in terms of we’ve got a massive supply issue, this is the problem we’ve got to deal with. You can’t create houses out of nowhere, you’ve got to build them. And so the House is actually focused on trying to deal with the supply issue. And unfortunately, as I said, I think there’s been a bit of political grandstanding on this, and I understand that that’s the way in which the Greens political party operates. But frankly, I think they’ve got a measure in Parliament today that will see the construction of more housing.

Homelessness has not just suddenly emerged. It is obviously something that has been with us for a long time. We are a new government; we’re wanting to do something about it and we really need the Greens’ assistance to do it because the Liberal National Party have decided to oppose it. And they’ve got a measure in place right at the moment they could deal with to fix it.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: You’re listening to Catherine King, the Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. This is ABC Radio Brisbane, and my name is Rebecca Levingston. So, the National Urban Policy. What is that? Minister.

CATHERINE KING: Well, the Commonwealth has really sort of not really been in the space of cities for a long time. I think that’s something that the Prime Minister feels pretty passionately about how our cities work, how they’re planned, what infrastructure is invested in, both that sort of transport infrastructure, but also the social and community infrastructure. So, we’ve announced in the Budget a few things. One is the development of a National Urban Policy to really look at the role the Commonwealth can play in helping the way our cities operate. We know since COVID there’s been really significant changes to the way our cities people work and live in our cities, and we’re not sure where that’s still going to settle yet, but we’re all grappling with that. So, the National Urban Policy will start to look at some of those issues.

We’ve established again a National Urban Policy Forum. So, people who are sort of experts in the field of how cities work both nationally and internationally, what the sort of transport links look like, how you can really get the best out of your cities, and a cities and suburbs unit within my department, it’s accompanied by two new grants programs. One’s really focused on smaller projects in the suburbs. We know that if you look across the sort of – there’s suburbs that have done really well with sporting and cultural and arts infrastructure, and then there are suburbs that councils are really struggling to keep up with that and provide those opportunities for people. So, we’ve announced a small grants program for local councils and not-for-profit organisations that will be opened later in the year.

And then also what’s called – sorry, I’m losing my voice there – what’s called a precincts program that allows our suburbs and our cities to say, well, look, we want to think about how we develop it. Might be with a local council, might be with the State Government, might be with a for-profit organisation, a private sector organisation or a not-for-profit saying, we actually want to bring our libraries, our community facilities in around a train station or a public transport hub. We want some social and affordable housing there. So, a bit of money for the Commonwealth to help try and facilitate that and to really develop some of those precincts throughout our cities and suburbs. So, sort of getting the Commonwealth back in the game about how our cities work, we’ll do a State of the Cities report that we used to do that. We’re going to come back to doing that to actually say, “How are our cities functioning at the moment?”

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: What’s the funding allocation attached to the National Urban Policy?

CATHERINE KING: Yeah, so at the moment, it’s staffing within my department. So, it’s, as we call them, public servants to do the work. And then some money to establish the actual Urban Policy Forum itself. So, fees and sitting fees for those people. And then the funding agreements, around $350 million for the grants programs that I just outlined.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Okay. Because $350 million by the time you’re talking to every community, every suburb, thinking about their liveability, how to make it thriving, that’s not going to stretch a long way, is it?

CATHERINE KING: It’s a start, as I said, it’s not really an area that the Commonwealth has been heavily invested in previously. So, it’s a start to get the Commonwealth back into the space of really thinking about how our suburbs and our cities work. And, as I said, a smaller grant – a small grants program to just sort of start looking at what are some of those ideas, at how we can help in our cities.

And you’ve also obviously got an incredible opportunity with the Olympics coming and the sporting infrastructure that’s being built through that, to try and help really ensure that suburbs derive great benefit from those facilities as a legacy, a long-term legacy after the Olympics as well.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Just on Olympic infrastructure funding, some questions have been asked about whether there’s enough money in the budget to achieve some of the goals that have been laid out. As infrastructure Minister, are you confident we, Queensland, the Federal Government can get everything done that’s been promised?

CATHERINE KING: Yes, of course. We’ve signed an intergovernmental agreement with the Queensland Government that was worked through at some length. I know the media were very keen to see what was happening and we kept getting asked about that, but we took our time to work that through with the Queensland Government. That agreement has been signed and we’re now in the detailed work of getting each one of those projects. We’ve made provisions in the budget for that first allocation. This is a big 10-year project that the final games are ten years away, but the building really has to start. And so that provision we’ve made in the budget is really, particularly for those smaller venues which will start. We’ve obviously committed to the Brisbane Arena as the venue that we are looking at very closely to build. And that works well underway.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Yeah, but you can understand, Minister, people’s cynicism, maybe, I don’t know how you describe it, when you’ve got a facility like the Gabba that jumps from $1 billion to $2.5 billion in a time, that sort of without much explanation. That’s why people are kind of going, “Well, hang on, how are we spending our money?” And when and again, circling back to where we started in the context of the housing crisis, there are plenty of questions being asked, and probably rightfully so, about how that money is being allocated and justified.

CATHERINE KING: Well, I guess that’s the democracy that we live in, the Brisbane Olympics are something that I think will bring incredible economic and social benefits to Brisbane. I think that you’ve got a massive opportunity not just to showcase Brisbane, and it’s not just about tourism. It’s actually the legacy that games leave behind. And I think, again, if you look at some of the suburbs across Brisbane, the real dearth of sporting infrastructure, using the Olympics as a capacity to really build that and build that legacy is a good thing. It means that people can recreate and actually have great suburbs to live in. And really, that’s what the urban policy is about. And that’s the legacy I want to see left from the Olympics.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Okay. We’ll keep in touch, certainly, to see what sort of ideas come forward and what’s actually executed on. Catherine King, thanks so much.

CATHERINE KING: You are most welcome.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Catherine King, the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government.