Transcript - Minister Catherine King radio interview - 2NM Muswellbrook, Hunter Valley Today

HOST, DARREN CUTRUPI: There are some, particularly at the moment, who rate my next guest as their hero after she confirmed that she and her government will fund the repair and the reopening of MR358 or Main Road 358, also known as Coulsons Creek Road. It's the road between Merriwa and Willow Tree. And I'm talking about the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Catherine King. Catherine, good morning.


CUTRUPI: I don't know if you'd agree with my assessment, but certainly some locals I've spoken to, they're pretty happy with you at the moment.

KING: I don't know about that, but certainly I had the Member for New England making claims that he had funded Coulson's Creek Road in the Budget. I went there and looked and had claimed it was out of a particular fund. The department had no record of there being any funding for that. I unfortunately had to write to your, Mayor, who I had also met with, to say that that was the case. But what I've done is I have found money for that in the Budget. I've put that in, that's new money from the Albanese government to fix this road. I recognise what an important road it is for the community there and I want to make sure that we're actually governing for all regional Australia, not just some parts of it, as we have seen, frankly, in the past.

So I think this was an important project, an important project to include in the Budget, so that there was certainly you can get on with the job of getting that road fixed, because, as I understand it, it's creating lots of difficulty for people travelling around, having to travel much longer distances, because that road is just not available.

CUTRUPI: Minister, is this a case of reverse pork barrelling? Because here's a Labor government funding something in a national seat and a very safe one..

KING: What you'll see from me as Minister, is an absolute, genuine commitment to all regions, what we found - so things like under the Building Better Regions Fund, the way in which the previous government used the Community Development Grant, a $3.2 billion slush fund basically, has been pretty unfair to some regions. And what we're wanting to try and do is really clean that up and make sure that people have every opportunity to get projects that are needed funded, not determined by the colour of the politics or who people happen to have voted for as their local member.

CUTRUPI: So Barnaby seems to be claiming credit for saying he came and met with you. I understood he was in the meeting that you had with Mayor Collison and the General Manager, Greg McDonald. Should Barnaby be taking any credit for this?

KING: I'm not fussed about who takes credit for what. To be honest, I don't like to buy into that sort of politics. I think when Barnaby came to see me, he was adamant the money was in the budget. I think he's realised subsequently that it wasn't. He was making a few claims that it was already there and that I was going to cut it, but certainly good on him for advocating. He will continue to do that for his community as will Dan, Pat and Sharon in other parts of the Hunter as well, and Meryl as well. So I think, really, I don't care if he claims credit for it, let's just get it done.

CUTRUPI: So, speaking of Dan, he's had a very good Budget. The commitments that he made in the election campaign to be elected to replace Joel Fitzgibbon are all funded as well from within your portfolio?

KING: Very much so. The important election commitments that we made, Muswellbrook Town Centre, Mandalong Road, just to name a couple of those. Obviously, the Hunter is a region in and of itself. The investments that we've made through there again, hydrogen ready infrastructure at the port, the new terminal at Newcastle Airport, a whole range of projects, I think that will be very important to ensuring the continued economic growth of the region.

CUTRUPI: So there were some projects that Singleton Council had got promises from the former government in the election campaign, but it would appear that they hadn't come to the Labor Party and sought the same thing. Are they the sort of things that you will happily discuss with them about future years that you may be able to assist with? Like there's a pretty vital water project and other things like that?

KING: Yeah, well, certainly in terms of water infrastructure, that under the Albanese Labor government has been transferred to Tanya Plibersek, she is the Environment and Water Minister, so the National Water Authority grid rests with her. So things like those large scale town water and agricultural water infrastructure projects, put to her.

But what I would certainly say is, through the Growing Regions Fund, it's a fund we announced on Budget Night and our Precincts and Partnerships Program, there's a billion dollars available over the next three years to invest in local communities. There'll be an application process for the Growing Regions Program starting early next year, so some of those projects may be eligible for funding under that. And I'd be encouraging regional communities in the first instance to put in an expression of interest when that process opens and then if they're invited to, to come to full application to try and make sure that those projects are investment-ready and we can really start to make sure that we're putting investments in regions across the country.

There is some confusion in some areas because of the way in which the previous government used the Community Development Grants, whether they were election commitments or decisions of government, we have cleaned that up. So we're making sure we go through all of those to make it very clear what was an election commitment, what was a decision of the previous government, and we are honouring all of those. That didn't happen to us when we lost office. I think the Liberal National Party government, when they came into office in 2013, cancelled all the decisions of government in Labor seats, kept all the ones in their seats, but we're not doing that. We're making sure that with those Community Development Grants, that were clearly decisions of government, that we're honouring those, but we're obviously not able to honour their election commitments. We're pretty focused on making sure we deliver the ones we committed to.

CUTRUPI: And just finally, I understand that Dan has convinced you to come for a visit up this neck of the woods in the not-too-distant future.

KING: Yeah, I'm about six foot tall and so I often find myself feeling very tall amongst other people. Dan is one of the few people I do not feel that with. I don't think anyone in the country does. But I was very keen to come and talk to Dan and talk to, obviously, Marilyn and Pat and Sharon do a great job advocating for the Hunter as a broad region and they're a great bunch of MPs to really work with. And I welcome Barnaby joining in that, joining his voice to that and making sure the upper Hunter gets looked after as well. But I'm certainly very happy to come. I think we've got a time in the diary to come up and visit Dan.

CUTRUPI: Yeah, well, can I do a news story now, Minister, saying that the reason you agreed to fund MR358 was because Dan stood over you?

KING: No, I think that we can quite say that. I think your Mayor did a really very good job, he’s a lovely fellow who came and talked about the needs of the community. Barnaby obviously thought the project was funded. It was not. From my point of view, I don't like to play politics with these sorts of things, I like to try and help communities where we can. And this project has been an important one for the Albanese Labor government to actually really signal very clearly that we care about all of the regions, not just those that elect National Party members.

CUTRUPI: And just a bit of a word of advice, Minister. When Dan does get you up here, he will take you to burger joint after burger joint. He's obsessed with burgers.

KING: I have seen Dan's Instagram feed. Extraordinary. It's like the tour of the best burgers of the Hunter.

CUTRUPI: Well, have you heard he's now going to bring out a calendar of burgers?

KING: No. That's hilarious. So I shall look forward to seeing that. But I don't know how you would imagine having been Dan's mum, trying to keep him fit. I've got a 14 year old who's six foot three, and I'm hoping that's where he is. And I can barely, barely keep him fed, I think. Dan’s certainly a big unit.

CUTRUPI: Absolutely. Catherine King, it's been a pleasure. Thank you very much for joining us on Hunter Valley today, and we look forward to catching up when you come up here for a visit.

KING: Really lovely to talk to you.