Transcript - Minister King interview on Newsday, Sky News with Danica De Georgio
DANICA De GEORGIO, HOST: Joining me now live is infrastructure Minister Catherine King. Minister, appreciate your time, is there going to be a lot in your portfolio in the upcoming budget?
MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT, REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT, CATHERINE KING: Well, obviously, the focus of the October budget is honouring our election commitments. So there are a lot in terms of infrastructure that we announced during the election campaign. Suburban rail, upgrades to regional roads, money to local government to improve roads right the way across the country, we'll certainly see that in the budget. But what I'm also very mindful of, as we head into the October budget, is we want to make sure that that spend is sustainable, I want to make sure that every dollar that we put into infrastructure is able to be spent, able to be delivered and able to help the productivity of the economy. So, part of my role is to make sure that happens. And part of that is what we've done today by announcing a major review into Inland Rail with Dr Kerry Schott, kindly agreeing to do that for Senator Katy Gallagher and myself, who are the shareholder Ministers of Inland Rail. Making sure we get the best value for taxpayer money we can, and we get that money out the door, and we get people in jobs right the way across our regions and cities.
De GEORGIO: Will you have to cut back on infrastructure projects, given the current economic circumstances?
KING: Well, I think there's no surprise to anyone that there are capacity constraints in construction at the moment, you're seeing it in every sector. I mean, construction was extraordinary throughout COVID, it actually kept going, I think there was only a week or so in Victoria where there was a shutdown of construction, it pretty much kept going. So it didn't have the substantial job losses that other sectors saw. But what we have seen is a lack of training, of getting new people in, we're seeing people from the construction industry move into the resources sector. There are particular skills that we don't have. A shortage of engineers, right the way across the country, shortages of planners. So, it's not a surprise to anyone that many projects are running over time. And that there are projects that are substantially delayed. So part of my job is also to work with states and territories, to really try and make sure that we can deliver, that we don't have the sort of level of underspend that we have had in the past, that's going to take some time to get under control. But really making sure that pipeline of projects is adding to the productivity of the economy, stimulating where we need to, but making sure that it's sustainable, and we're delivering.
De GEORGIO: I want to ask you about Warragamba Dam, the New South Wales Government has deemed it critical infrastructure, it wants to build a 14 metre wall, but they're asking the Federal Government to go 50/50 on the costs. Have you spoken to the New South Wales Government about the matter?
KING: Well, water infrastructure rests with Tanya Plibersek. But certainly, we would expect that the New South Wales Government as they would with any infrastructure project, whether it's road or rail, that they will put that project to us formally. Obviously, it's not the focus of the October budget, to put new measures of infrastructure in other than what we announced in the election campaign, really, that would be a matter in terms of the May budget. And I expect that they would, at some point, talk to Minister Plibersek about that.
De GEORGIO: But in terms of the infrastructure of it, is that something that the Federal Government would consider, by way of cost?
KING: Well, again, it would be a matter for the New South Wales Government to come to come to us and to put the ask on the table. And we haven't seen anything as yet. But, certainly that would be a matter, we would take that through our normal processes to consider whether, that's value for money, for taxpayer money, and we would, just make those decisions as we would through normal infrastructure. But that would be a matter for Tanya Plibersek.
De GEORGIO: I'm going to ask you about stage three tax cuts.
KING: No, really!
De GEORGIO: Obviously, we are expecting to hear the Treasurer, we're going to ask you about it today. Is the Federal Government reversing its election promise?
KING: Well, the policy hasn't changed. I think the Treasurer, has been out today, the Prime Minister is out both giving major speeches, obviously, the focus of portfolio Ministers, like myself, has been very, very much on trying to make sure that the contribution our part of the portfolio makes to ensuring a sustainable budget, a responsible budget, that provides the headroom to enable us to be able to do the things that we need to do across disability, across aged care, across our health system, across infrastructure. And really, that's been my focus, but our policy in relation to stage three tax cuts remains exactly as it was yesterday and the day before and the day before that. You know, certainly we've announced in terms of tax that we'll be taxing multinationals more, and that's the policy that we have today.
De GEORGIO: Okay, so the people who voted Labor at the election this year, they've got nothing to worry about? You're saying there'll be no change to what you took to the election campaign?
KING: Well, listen to the Treasurer, listen to the Prime Minister. What we're very focused on, we're very focused on, is making sure that we have a responsible budget, a budget that is sustainable into the future and provides opportunities for us to be able to make sure we are assisting with cost of living. We're driving down the cost of childcare. We're trying to help with inflationary pressures. And of course, it needs to be a budget for our times.
De GEORGIO: Just finally, you mentioned earlier, you've launched a review into Inland Rail. You've cited budget blowouts and delays to the project. What are you hoping to uncover?
KING: Well, what I'm trying to trying to do is get this project back on track. This is a multi-billion dollar project that frankly, we started a decade ago, when we were last in office, we're really committed to it, we think it will provide an incredibly important task - in terms of our national freight task - it's providing huge opportunities in our regions. But what we've got to be able to do is make sure we get the best value for taxpayer money we can, there's a whole lot of problems, you know, from planning problems, to route problems, to no decisions been made about where the intermodal terminals are in Brisbane, there's a business case being done into the viability of Gladstone at the moment, as well as how it's actually going to connect into Melbourne. So I want to get Kerry Schott, we've asked to do a short, sharp look at this, identify where all of the problems are and help me and Katy Gallagher with a pathway to actually getting this project on track, so we can deliver it at the best value we can for taxpayers. It has blown out, in both, from a budgetary point of view under the previous government. And from a timing point of view. I think there was not a lot of honesty with people about where this project was up to. And I'm determined to be very clear about where the problems are, be very clear about how we're going to deliver this project, but also make sure we get the best benefit we can for taxpayers, right the way across the country, including in our regions, who this is a very important project for.
De GEORGIO: You mentioned Gladstone. Will you honour its promise of extending the line to Gladstone?
KING: Well, there hasn't been a promise to do that. There's been a promise to do a business case. The Queensland Government, we're working very closely with them on that at the moment. I think, you know, there's obviously been a lot of you know, you talk to people like lovely Everald Compton, who's been involved in this project for a long time. Originally, it was always planned to go to Gladstone, I understand. So we'll look at that case very, very seriously. Whether it's a spare line and it continues to still go to Brisbane - really they are matters for the both the business case and for this review of Inland Rail, to have a look at. But, we will take that very seriously.
De GEORGIO: Catherine King, we have to leave it there. Thank you for joining us.
KING: It's really lovely to talk to you.