Transcript - Minister King interview on Radio 2HD Newcastle, Mornings with Richard King


HOST, RICHARD KING: Joining me now is our Federal Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Minister Catherine King, who is on the line. Good morning, Minister.


RICHARD KING: Oh alright, alright, Catherine thank, thank you. Well look, you're the Member for Ballarat, which has been impacted by flooding. What's the situation in your electorate at the moment, Catherine, regarding flooding?

KING: Look, we've sort of had some early inundation in some of the smaller towns in my community, but pretty much it's been okay. There's a lot of water around and everyone's very nervous, but obviously right the way across Victoria, just as water makes its way down the Murray, just watching what's happening in Echuca-Moama over on the border, is pretty frightening, I think. We're not used to having this much water over this longer period of time, and I think everyone expects you have a flood and then it's over, but we've got several weeks of this, I think, and it's pretty nerve-wracking for everybody and there's just nowhere for the water to go now. The ground is completely sodden, rivers are full, creeks are full, and we're just all holding our breath and wish the rain would stop.

RICHARD KING: Well, and obviously you look after infrastructure and certainly with roads, etc. This year, boy oh boy, for local councils, state governments, et cetera. And also under your remit looking after our roads is a major infrastructure issue as we move forward after all the floods.

KING: With the wet weather, our country roads are just in a shocking state at the moment. It's why we've committed an extra $250 million to go to regional and rural councils to focus on fixing their roads up. You'll see that in the budget tomorrow night. We want to get that money out the door, but of course you can't get out there fixing the roads while we've still got water like this. It's pretty problematic. I think the other good thing is that now the money that comes after floods to rebuild is actually allows councils and state governments to actually build back better. So you used to have to do like for like, whereas now under the new government's programs, you can actually build roads back to a better standard than they were before. So let's hope there's some good that comes out of this and actually getting some more resilient infrastructure.

RICHARD KING: Indeed. Okay, now in the budget tomorrow there will be two new regional programs that the Treasurer will outline. Can you tell us a bit about these two new regional infrastructure programs?

KING: Yeah, well, the first thing is that we've had to clean up what's been a pretty confusing and difficult mess of programs across the regional portfolio. It's been one of the areas that's taken quite a substantial amount of my time. So what we're planning to do is introduce two new regional grants programs. One that will be a competitive round for local councils and not-for-profits, that replaces the Building Better Regions Fund that the previous government had and that there was such a damning audit report on. It will be a much more transparent, consistent annual grants round that we will provide funding through to local communities. The other is one that's based on precincts, so that where you've got places like Newcastle or other parts of Lake Macquarie, for example, where you know that the university campus is going to really change the dynamic of a CBD. You can need a precinct where you've got better retail outlets or you actually want to put arts and culture in. The precinct program is for those larger scale programs, and we're looking for local councils and state governments in particular to bring those projects forward. But there's also lots of things that are also being announced in the Budget that the money will start to flow through for Newcastle, including the Port of Newcastle and the University of Newcastle, and that money will be in the Budget as well.

RICHARD KING: All right, look, you mentioned trying to clean up the mess of the previous government, which all new governments say they're trying to clean up the mess of the previous government and a lot of election promises. And, look, there are coalition MPs claiming that election promises were all funded. You and Jim Chalmers are claiming that a lot of these election promises were not, in fact, funded. Is that what you're saying, Catherine?

KING: Yeah. So what we've had is essentially been quite a bit of confusion created by Coalition members, certainly in the last week or so, going around claiming things that were clearly election commitments, not decisions that they made in government, and trying to claim that they should be funded. We're trying to work out what is actually a decision of government prior to caretaker and what wasn't. And again, that's taken a while to sort out. On anything in terms of the Community Development Grants that the previous government did before they went into caretaker, that's unlike what they did to us when we left office, but we'll honour those. But anything that's an election commitment, clearly, if it wasn't an election commitment of ours, it won't be in the Budget.

RICHARD KING: All right, I gather to these commitments from the previous government, if they're not funded, they're all going I think there was the one about a rail line down in a marginal seat there's, all these car parks, etc. So they'll be gone, I'm assuming, is that right?

KING: Well, certainly in terms of the infrastructure program, we've gone to state governments and said, look, tell us in terms of where your priorities are, what you're going to actually deliver, and trying to actually make sure the infrastructure pipeline is actually able to be delivered, that's one thing. To go out in an election campaign and go, guess what, we're going to build this. But if the State Government is saying, look, we're not going to put any money into it, or the money is literally triple the amount that you announced and it's just not going to happen. It's no point keeping that money sitting there in the budget. It's better to use it for other communities where we can actually deliver those projects. So a lot of those commuter car parks, frankly, which was a pretty scandalous program, a lot in Victoria, but also some in New South Wales, where there weren't any sites for them, they're going to cost us substantially amount more to actually build them. They're the most expensive per car park, car parks in the country. We're really not proceeding with some of those.

RICHARD KING: I've spoken to Anthony Albanese, as Opposition Leader on numerous occasions about the high-speed rail, and that's been a hobby horse of his for an infinite amount. And I think a lot of people jokingly said it used to pop up once or twice a year from Albo. Well, now Labour in Government has made a $500 commitment to start work on this city to Newcastle high speed rail project. What's actually happening is this to purchase land for the rail corridor, is that correct?

KING: It's a little bit more than $500. It’s $500 million!

RICHARD KING: I beg your pardon, yes!

KING: So we've introduced legislation to the Parliament to set up the high-speed rail authority and its responsibility, once established, will be to purchase land along the corridor, redo the business case for high-speed rail, look at the feasibility, particularly of the Newcastle to Sydney component, and start to plan the route and work with the New South Wales government. There's actually money on the table already for fast rail to Newcastle to Sydney. We'll look at whether we can use that money to actually start some of the process and we also need to look at the financing mechanisms and really start this project. This is a 20-to-30-year project we're talking about, but my view is, if you don't start it, this will never happen. And this is really what the high-speed rail authorities job will be.

RICHARD KING: Coming up to eight. Daylight saving time, I guess. Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Catherine King, you wear lots of hats these days, Minister.

KING: It's a long title.

RICHARD KING: Yeah, right. And look, just with reference to the floods, I know an announcement was made by Jim Chalmers. There's been a substantial amount of money set aside to do with floods, and obviously you will try and get that money out to where it is needed ASAP.

KING: Look, absolutely. I think the Treasurer announced that $3 billion will go into what is called the contingency reserve for floods. We know that the immediate priority is to try and give relief to people out of their homes and need emergency money just to get by and actually be able to replace some of the goods they have lost. But then there is the long-term re-build of these communities and that does take time and it can be very costly, and that money has been reserved for that purpose.

RICHARD KING: Thank you very much for you time this morning.