Transcript - Minister Catherine King radio interview ABC Upper Hunter Breakfast

HOST, AMELIA BERNASCONI: The Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Catherine King is visiting the Upper Hunter today. She'll be in Muswellbrook to discuss budget funding for local projects within her portfolio and joins us on the line now. Good morning, Minister.


BERNASCONI: Great to hear. And as I said, you'll be traveling up the highway to Muswellbrook later this morning. What is the purpose of this visit?

KING: Well, with Dan Repacholi, your terrific local member, we’ll be having a look at some of the election commitments that were funded through the October Budget to talk to council and make sure that everything is on track and that my Department is working well with the local councils to get those projects delivered. So in terms of Muswellbrook, there are three projects we'll be visiting today. The first is the site of the skate park, that was in the Budget. So again, a really important facility for gun skateboarders and to keep young people active in the community. And also on to the Muswellbrook Town Centre, a really substantial redevelopment of that entire precinct to try and connect people and connect the different aspects of the retail community centres and arts precinct together. So that's there.

And then obviously, the Muswellbrook Bypass which has been a really big project, and part of my job is really to make sure those projects are on track that I understand any of the pitfalls as we're going forward, but really to make sure that we're getting that money out the door and delivering into community.

BERNASCONI: And will the government be delivering funding for those three projects you've just mentioned?

KING: Yes, they were all in the Budget. So obviously, the bypass is a partnership with the New South Wales Government and that money is there as well. So just making sure all of that's on track, but also, getting a bit of a sense and feel for it myself. It's one thing to come through in the heightened tension of an election campaign, but now we're in government. The money's there and made available in the October Budget so now we're meeting with councils across the country and talking about those projects and seeing them begin to become a reality.

BERNASCONI: One of the projects that is causing some frustration for residents in the Upper Hunter is the Merriwa to Willow Tree Road. Can the federal government help expedite the start of works on this repair?

KING: Look absolutely, when we got into government, it was claimed by some that there was money in the previous government's Budget for that, subsequently was found not to be the case. So I had to try and find money within the Federal Budget. The Mayor and the Member for New England came to see me about that, realising that the money wasn't actually there. So the Government has put the money in for the Coulsons Creek Road upgrade. That's what it is on my page, but I understand it is the Merriwa to Willow Creek...

BERNASCONI: It has a few different names this one.

KING: Yes, so we've put $38.6 million on the table for that and that money will be expedited. I understand that's been a really serious issue with the roads not being able to be used at all. So that's a significant issue. I think there's still money also on the table which was from the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program. So really combining that that will be enough, as I understand it to get that road done and reopened and of course that's going to be dependent on not being able to get local contractors and get all that done. But the money's in the October Budget. It was the advantage of having a Budget in October otherwise, we would have had to wait to the normal May Budget cycle to try and get money into the Budget for these projects. But that money is locked in and available and we will work with the New South Wales Government and I think the local council are the proponents of that one, to actually get it done.

BERNASCONI: Speaking of road projects at the other end of the Upper Hunter, Singleton Council is asking for urgent Federal Government assistance to fix flood damaged roads with the repair bill at least $15 million. Will funding be provided for that and if so how much?

KING: So there's a few different ways in which funding for roads are coming. So out of my portfolio, there is regular road funding. In fact in the Budget, we topped up the money that goes to regional and rural councils specifically for roads, by $250 million across the country and so that's part of the regular roads money but an additional amount as well. There's obviously Roads to Recovery money that goes directly to councils as well, but in terms of flood damage, it will depend on the National Disaster Recovery Arrangements that the New South Wales Government and the Federal Government have entered into. I know there's been an agreement around flood damaged roads and building those roads back better. So it'll be a matter of whether that particular council area has been declared flood affected and then working with the New South Wales Government in order to access that money that's available for flood damage and that comes out of Murray Watt’s, Emergency Management portfolio. But there is additional money going to councils - we've seen it across the country, the weather that we've had has just been extraordinary and the damage to local roads, it hasn't just happened overnight. It's been a long time coming but there really has been substantial damage done and so there's additional money in this Budget for local councils for local roads.

BERNASCONI: No dollar figure for Singleton at this point in time?

KING: They get local roads and community infrastructure funds, they will get the amount they normally get for that just generally, I don't know the figure off the top of my head, and then they'll be topped up, so they'll be aware of that figure shortly, but it's in the millions, but not in the hundreds of millions of dollars, which we know right the way across the country, there's a lot more needed.

BERNASCONI: The Mayor says the scale and cost is beyond the reasonable scope of any local governmental authority. This is an issue that overlaps with many of your Ministerial portfolios. What do you plan to do?

KING: Well, that's why we put the additional $250 million in the Budget for local roads. So that's going directly to regional and rural councils above and beyond what they would normally receive in any financial year for roads and then it will depend on the disaster recovery arrangements of each affected area, so as I said the New South Wales Government has an agreement with the Commonwealth around rebuilding after flood damage. And again, it'll be a matter of the council working their way through how they access that disaster recovery payments and that those normal arrangements apply.

BERNASCONI: Minister, thank you for joining us on ABC Upper Hunter this morning and I hope you enjoy your visit to Muswellbrook.

KING: Thanks very much for having me this morning.