Transcript - Minister Catherine King radio interview Mix FM Darwin, Mornings with Katie Woolf

HOST, KATIE WOOLF: We know that there has been quite a significant amount of funding announced in the Federal budget last week when it was delivered. So essentially, the Albanese Government saying that they are delivering on the commitments it took to the election to improve access, resilience and economic opportunity, not only in Central Australia, but also well, in the top end. And I believe that we may even have the Minister for Infrastructure, Catherine King, on the line already. So we'll head straight across and catch up with her. A very good morning to you, Minister.


WOOLF: Well, I tell you what, Catherine. We're out here at Berry Springs at the Berry Springs Tavern. Now, you might be keeping an eye on the horses for Melbourne Cup Day, but we've got crocodile races that are going to get underway.

KING: That's extraordinary. Only in the Territory.

WOOLF: It is only in the Territory and it's wonderful stuff. It is a heap of fun. So we're looking forward to that getting underway a bit later this afternoon. But I'll tell you what, there was quite a lot announced in the Federal budget last week for the Northern Territory. $2.5 billion in infrastructure, obviously, $1.5 billion of that going to Middle Arm and then a lot when it comes to different roads and connecting the Northern Territory.

KING: Yeah, look, absolutely. I was obviously up in Central Australia yesterday on the Tanami, having a good look at the work there, plus money going into remote roads, as well as sporting facilities and cultural facilities. But here in the top end, obviously, Middle Arm and a freight and logistics hub at Katherine and Tennant Creek and Alice, is a really big deal for jobs into the future and those sustainable jobs into the future and really trying to push along renewable energy in the top end. But of course, there is a lot of money as well for other infrastructure projects, whether it's from the commitment we made, obviously, to the Katherine swimming pool and to sporting facilities there, as well as, again, continuing with the work that the Northern Territory government and we are doing together, there's over 29 infrastructure projects receiving joint, Commonwealth and State funding in the pipeline and again, important investments in the top end here to really keep the economy moving and to grow jobs up here.

WOOLF: Now, Minister, there's been a lot of talk about the Mereenie Loop Road and it is an all-weather access, the Mereenie Loop Road. I know that in terms of tourism and that connectivity, this has been something that has been discussed for such a long time. How soon are we expecting that work to get underway?

KING: Well, that will be up to the Northern Territory government, but as I understand it, so we're making the money available to finish that project in the budget part of the over $320 million - so Santa Teresa Road as well as the Mereenie Loop Road, and we're still in discussions about where the rest of the money will go. But I know that's an incredibly important for the economy up in that part, so really up to the Northern Territory government. But we're making the money available to them and they'll have to obviously take that project out to tender and go from there.

WOOLF: Now, the Alice Springs Art Gallery, it's something else that's been a long time in the making, I guess, or a long time in discussion. We still don't know exactly where it's going to be built, is my understanding. But nonetheless, that money has been committed.

KING: Yes, $80 million. So I'm really excited about that project. It just seems unbelievable that we don't have a First Nations Art Gallery and cultural precinct in Alice in the heart of our country. Where else would you expect, if you're an international tourist or domestic tourist, or if you're a First Nations person, where else would you expect to come to really be able to see that culture? And it will provide not just the Art Gallery there in Alice, and I'll leave it to the locals and the NT Government to work their way through all of the planning decisions around where that goes. We'll invest the money. But it also means that there are cultural centres being built in Perth, there's some in South Australia, they're being been built right the way around the country. So actually, being able to curate important artworks, being able to tell the story of First Nations people right the way around the country, and having that hub in Alice in the centre of our great land, what an amazing thing to be part of. And it's a project that's going to take a little while, but it's a project that I'm very proud that we're investing in.

WOOLF: And how big an impact do you think that it is going to have? When you talk about tourism to Central Australia and you talk about that visitation?

KING: Well, I think that there is a huge interest internationally and domestically. We are the custodians of the oldest culture in the world and there is a huge appetite right the way across the country to learn more, to understand and a curiosity about that as well. And I think that you'll see international tourism, particularly, really wanting to hear that story. We know that these sorts of similar cultural museums and art galleries in other countries around First Nations peoples are enormous attractions, so I think it will see huge visitation, but it also, I think, is able to be used to demonstrate the incredible pride we have, having First Nations peoples in our communities. And I think it's going to be a really important part of telling the story of this nation and First Nations people in that.

WOOLF: Minister, what else is on the agenda while you're here in the Northern Territory?

KING: Well, I've just done a helicopter ride over Middle Arm and also the AROWS, so that's obviously going to be a long term water security project for the north. And, again, this is about growing jobs, growing sustainable jobs, making sure that we're actually setting the territory up for the future. So I've just done that and I'm just about to head out to Tiger Brennan Drive. There was an additional $29 million made available as part of the budget for that project to get that completed, so I'm going to go out and have a look at that as well today.

WOOLF: Now, as I said right from the get go, there is such huge investment into the Northern Territory. When you talk about what was announced last week in the Federal budget, are you concerned about the workforce shortages that we are experiencing right around the nation? But are you concerned about that workforce and just how quickly we may or may not be able to get things happening here in the Territory?

KING: Yeah, look, it's across the country and obviously, that's been one of the hard decisions we've made in terms of the infrastructure portfolio, is that we want to make sure that that pipeline of projects is there, that it's sustainable for jobs going forward, but that we're also not overheating the economy and adding to labour shortages as we go. So we're working, and we've worked very closely with all of our announcements with the NT Government to make sure they're ready to start rolling projects out. So an existing project that's obviously on the books is the Jabiru Road upgrades that are part of the sort of broader package for the Kakadu National Park. So I think they're about to almost go out for tender in the not too distant future. But really, we've had to work very closely with state governments to try and make sure that we're not adding to the labour shortage and we're not also adding to inflationary pressures. And that's been some harder decisions about slowing some things down and trying to get that pipeline really sustainable.

WOOLF: Well, Minister for Infrastructure, Catherine King. Before I let you go, any tips for the Melbourne Cup today?

KING: Well, I think my tip for the Melbourne Cup, I think it's the third favourite and I'm going to forget the name of it, Nights Order, I think that's my go. But my experience in the Melbourne Cup is I have never, ever won. So if anyone's backing my tip would be don't. Normally the favourite. That's what I've picked. Who knows? We'll see.

WOOLF: Well, Catherine King. I actually won the Trifecta one year with my friends. Well, I don't even know this is the thing. I didn't know even the year I won. Which really goes to show you how much checking the form guide counts. It's anyone's game.

KING: It's a very hard one hard to win money on. I think the races around it might be better. But of course, enjoy.