Transcript - Press Conference, Mount Barker

LOUISE MILLER-FROST: Alright, hi, everyone. My name is Louise Miller-Frost, I’m the Federal Member for Boothby. My area is down that way and it’s really great to have here today the Federal Minister, Catherine King, Acting Premier Susan Close, and Minister Tom Koutsantonis for this announcement. My residents are very keen to ensure that we have safety on the freeway and that we have safe, easy passage, both up and down the freeway. When they’re travelling up the freeway as tourists and or for work, but also when people are coming down and coming in through Boothby. So very excited to be here today for this announcement. I’ve never been to this part before. This is a very exciting overlook. But who am I passing to? To Susan. Lovely, thank you. 

SUSAN CLOSE: Thank you. It’s wonderful to welcome Minister Catherine King to South Australia for an important announcement about the South Eastern Freeway. The Federal Budget gave a lot to South Australia and South Australians. Not only has it addressed some of the cost-of-living crises that people are experiencing at the moment, but there’s enormous investment in the Future Made in Australia Fund, which is about growing our economy, a green, renewable economy, and then also a lot of money for infrastructure which is dearly needed. 

I’d like to ask Catherine King to speak to us about the contribution that the Federal Budget is making to the South Eastern Freeway being a safer place for people to drive, to come back into Adelaide. We all know the challenges that we’ve experienced with car accidents, trucks, and all of the investment that can direct towards making this a safer place is very welcome, indeed. So I invite Catherine King to talk to us about that and, of course, Minister Koutsantonis who has been absolutely passionate about making sure that this road becomes safer and safer. Minister. 

CATHERINE KING: Thanks, Susan. Thank you. Well, can I say what a great day it is to be here in South Australia. Of course, with Acting Premier Susan Close, my State counterpart, Tom Koutsantonis and, of course, the fabulous Louise Miller-Frost, the Member for Boothby, who is such a great advocate, not just for her electorate but for South Australia as a whole. 

Last week, of course, we delivered a budget for every Australian. Relief for taxpayers, every taxpayer in the country to receive a tax cut. We are delivering energy relief with our $300 energy relief measures as well as delivering stronger Medicare through urgent care clinics. The Government is providing cost-of-living relief, but the budget, of course, also provided substantial investment, some $16 billion worth of investment in infrastructure across the country. 

Here behind us, on the South Eastern Freeway, an extra $100 million, which takes the Commonwealth’s contribution up to $220 million, to improve safety along this incredibly important corridor. This is an important part of not just passenger cars going through, but freight for South Australia. The additional $100 million in particular to provide opportunities for intelligent transport systems that really do make sure that we’re slowing people down, we’re slowing trucks down where needed, we’re responding to emergencies quickly. This, of course, comes on the back of the $2.8 billion that was provided to South Australia for the North-South Corridor in the midyear economic financial outlook. 

So whether it is cost-of-living relief by tax cuts, our energy relief, through to infrastructure investments, these are the things that we are delivering here in South Australia. 

I might just briefly comment as well on some of the issues around immigration at the moment you’re hearing. Peter Dutton has absolutely no clue when it comes to where our construction workforce is coming from at the moment. We have massive shortages in our construction workforce. We are investing substantially in TAFE, we’re investing substantially in trying to make sure we grow the Australian workforce, but Peter Dutton seems to think that by slashing immigration to the levels that he can, that somehow projects like this can continue to be built. He’s absolutely kidding himself and has no idea when it comes to our construction workforce, whether it’s on housing, or whether it’s on projects like this, where that workforce is going to come from. I’m going to hand over to Tom and then I’m happy to take questions as well. Thanks, Tom.

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: Thank you very much, Catherine. I have to say the relationship that the South Australian Government has with the Albanese Government, especially with Catherine King, is remarkable. We lobbied pretty hard to get Mount Barker and Verdun back into the Federal Budget and Catherine delivered. We argued pretty hard to get an extra $100 million for safety to the South Eastern Freeway and Catherine delivered. We argued for an extra $2.5 billion taking the North-South Corridor to $15 billion and Catherine delivered. So thank you very much for all your support. 

The Managed Motorways and the upgrade to the tunnels are a big part of making the South Eastern Freeway a lot safer. It’s an important part of what we have been doing over the last two years, but the Managed Motorways are the final piece of the puzzle. 

We’ve just upgraded the tunnels over $150 million of expenditure to inundation systems in case there are any fires in the tunnels and better lighting and better communication within the tunnels and, of course, better escape routes within the tunnels. The Managed Motorways give us the ability to signal and identify trucks that are out of control down the freeway and direct them into arrester beds. It also gives us the ability to identify trucks that may need assistance and, of course, we can change conditions on the freeway almost immediately. 

Managed Motorways are also about making sure that if there is a crash on the freeway, we don’t get the congestion we usually have where if one down track or the up-track is cut off, we just shut down the freeway. The Managed Motorway will allow us to keep the freeway moving. 

Importantly, Mount Barker and Verdun are two important pieces of infrastructure, that can decongest Hahndorf and importantly, give the people of Mount Barker a proper interchange onto the freeway and importantly, at the risk of a bushfire, safe ways to get out. This is a good result for South Australia and I’m very, very pleased that we’ve got a partner in the Commonwealth Government. Happy to take any questions that you may have.  

JOURNALIST: The $130 million from the State Government – the $130 million that’s been matched by the State Government, is that new money? Is that in this upcoming budget or is that the existing funding expected on the table? 

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: We asked for an extra $100 million for the South Eastern Freeway. We have to match that dollar for dollar. So that money is new. We argued that with Verdun and Mount Barker, we take it out as part of the review. We asked the Commonwealth Government to put that back in at an 80/20 split and they have. So that $30 million matches that money. So that takes it now to $350 million now being spent on the South Eastern Freeway and the Adelaide Hills on top of all the other work that we’ve been doing over the last two years – increasing bus services to Mount Barker, improving local roads, spending a lot of money on resurfacing and resealing regional roads here in the Adelaide Hills as part of the Adelaide Hills Regional Road Recovery Program that the Commonwealth Government have been funding with the State Government. So it’s new money. What it means is we can get on with very, very important work to make sure the Adelaide Hills keeps moving.

JOURNALIST: Just to confirm, how much new money is the State Government investing on the South Eastern Freeway? 

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: An extra $100 million to match the Commonwealth Government’s $100 million and the money on the two interchanges is an 80/20 split – our 30 and the Commonwealth Government’s 120. 

JOURNALIST: What about a third arrester bed? It’s been spoken about for a long time.


JOURNALIST: And it will cost a lot of money. Is the State Government considering? There’s obviously a budget [indistinct], is that on the table?

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: We held a series of round tables with industry, the Road Transport Association, the Head of Vehicle Users, the Commonwealth Government, the RAA, and we came up with nine recommendations. Of those nine recommendations, we implemented three, which were short-term recommendations. There were four medium-term that we start to implement, and the remainder are long-term. The thing about the arrester bed is you’ve got to go past two before you use the third and the thing about an arrester bed, they only work if you want them to work. If you’ve got no brakes, or you’re driving a car that’s not registered or you’re moving contraband, or you’ve stolen a vehicle, what we’ve been told is that drivers always attempt to recover. It’s the professional drivers, the drivers who know the freeway, are the ones who use the arrester beds. 

A third arrester bed probably won’t change anything. What we can do, though, with a Managed Motorway, is intervene a lot earlier. We can identify trucks that are going too quickly. We can identify trucks that aren’t in the right gear. We can identify trucks and change conditions on the freeway almost immediately using the Managed Motorway system. We can change the speed limit instantaneously. We can actually identify individual vehicles and direct them into the first and second arrester bed. 

Now, a third arrester bed may be an opportunity later down the track, but the entire industry that I’ve spoken to say that we’re better off reconfiguring the intersection at the bottom and the Managed Motorway system and intervening at the top of the hill. 

JOURNALIST: So to use your rationale you’re providing, the truck crash last week, what would have stopped that, do you think? Do you think in this case, considering it was a truck driver, that an arrester bed would have stopped it, or it would have been the case of moving the intersection back?

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: The arrester bed – that truck was out of control before it got to the intersection. That truck was out of control when it went past the first arrester bed, and it was out of control when it went past the second arrester bed. A third would have done nothing different. That driver was not going to use an arrester bed. Now, what we need to do is make sure we can clear the intersection and keep people safe. 

I will be entirely frank about this. This freeway is completely safe. Every South Australian driver, every interstate driver that knows what they’re confronting here, knows how to navigate this down-track. It’s people who are using it for the first time, people who aren’t professional drivers are the ones that are getting into trouble, and no amount of infrastructure is going to change anything. 

The truth is, the down-track was built too steeply. There were errors made when this was built in the 1990s. It’s a continuous down-track, there’s no sloping off, there’s no steadying off, and a third arrester bed won’t deal with the truck that’s in the wrong lane. To use an arrester bed, you have to want to use it and all the evidence tells us, from University of Adelaide’s Road Safety Centre, right through to the professional drivers, is professional drivers know how to navigate this down-track. If you’re out of control, overwhelmingly they think they can recover it. So I’m not sure if a third arrester bed would work but we’re still looking at it. 

JOURNALIST: How quickly can you reconfigure the intersection at the bottom of the hill? That came out of the conversations that we had two years ago.

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: That’s right, now that we have the resourcing with the Commonwealth Government, we can get our skates on. We’ve got to do a detailed design. There’s got to be service relocation, obviously making sure we take into account different trajectories of different trucks, different lanes. I’ll leave that to the Department. I’m hoping we can have a design finalised by December.

JOURNALIST: So this design would include a reconfiguration of the traffic signals?


JOURNALIST: I guess talking about where the issue lies in terms of where these crashes happen, it sounds like you’re sort of saying well, we need to better educate some of these drivers so they understand the risks involved in using the freeway.

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: That’s overwhelming the message from the industry, from the experts. This is a unique down-track. There aren’t many capital cities that have a continuous down-track of this length culminating in an intersection before suburbia with heavy vehicles using it. Now, the truth is a lot of these trucks can divert through Truro now and they choose not to. Why? Because their destination is Adelaide. And most of the trade between the Adelaide Hills and Adelaide is through this road and 99.99 per cent of trucks that use it know how to use it. They’ve been using it for years and they do so safely. 

It is the rogue driver, it is the one driver who has never used it. It’s the driver who is driving a truck that’s faulty. It’s a driver who doesn’t know what gearing to use. It’s a driver who is going down the down-track for the first time. It’s all about education. But my concern are not the professional drivers. Professional drivers know how to deal with this and manage this freeway. The problem we have to try to grapple with is, how do you teach someone who is driving a car that’s unregistered, hasn’t been serviced, has no brakes, to use an arrester bed? Because if you’re driving a vehicle that’s unregistered and has no brakes, they’re flouting the law already. They shouldn’t be on the road. It goes without question they don’t want to get caught. So why would they use an arrester bed if they think they can save it? 

So we could spend $150 million putting in a third arrester bed just to watch rogue drivers drive right past it, ploughing into an intersection, or we can actually fix the intersection and put in a Managed Motorway to clear that intersection and save innocent lives and do better education. 

Now, I’m not sure that there is a solution for rogue trucks coming down the freeway, but I do know that professional drivers and 99.99 per cent of the freight that uses this freeway, do so sensibly, responsibly and legally.

JOURNALIST: 99.9 per cent of them, all it takes is – 

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: I agree, Ollie. 

JOURNALIST: All it takes is one.

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: It’s right, it takes one. 

JOURNALIST: And that’s all that history shows is that you get one rogue truck that kills a couple of people. 

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: That’s right. 

JOURNALIST: So what more can your Government do to ensure that that one person is caught?

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: So what we’ll do is the Managed Motorway will give us the ability to intervene at the flat where we can pull trucks over. It will allow us to change the speed limit on the freeway. Instantaneously, if we think a truck is not in the right gear or out of control, or brakes are smoking. It allows us to clear the intersection, to make sure cars aren’t queued up there. We can make sure that cars are moved back so the ones that are queuing on Cross Road and Glen Osmond Road and Fullarton Road aren’t in any danger. There are lots of things we can do. But the idea that we could stop every truck coming down the freeway, or that a third arrester bed is going to fix this, is folly. 

JOURNALIST: To be clear, though, the money that is on the table today, does that include reconfiguring that intersection or will that just include – 


JOURNALIST: Will the money that’s on the table today, the Federal and State Government money, include the reconfiguration of that – 


JOURNALIST: In its entirety or just – 

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: No, in its entirety.

JOURNALIST: And so how much will that intersection – 

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: We haven’t finished the planning yet. So once we finish the planning, I can make an announcement then.

JOURNALIST: 100 from Federal and 100 from State? 

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: $200 million. 

JOURNALIST: And when is this all going to be finished? 

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: Managed Motorways take a long time. Part of it, of course, is allowing us to redirect traffic from the down-track onto the up-track and vice versa to make sure we can keep the freeway moving. But it means putting gantries across the freeway to put signalised messages on there and, of course, speed detection and speed monitoring cameras. It’s a long program. It will take at least a year or more to make sure that’s in place.

JOURNALIST: So end of –  

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: I don’t have a date for you, Ollie. We’ll start our work now. We’ve only just got the money. We’ll get to the tender process, and announce dates later on.

JOURNALIST: Just on the interchange upgrades, are you saying the State Government’s going to clear 30 million on top of the 120 million?


JOURNALIST: So there was 50 million for the overall [indistinct] update, what’s happening to the remaining 20 million from that?

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: Well, we’re building to timelines and we’re building to the budget that we have. And the budget that we have is $150 million. We don’t have the previous budget. So what we’re doing is we’re upgrading the Verdun interchange and the Mount Barker interchange, it will take about 1,000 cars off the Hahndorf main street. But we’ll also see a dramatic improvement. The truck ban is working and working well. 

I note our local residents have called for a link road to try and alleviate River Road. We’ve done the benefit-to-cost ratio on that. It’s 0.07. So for every dollar, every million dollars we invest in that program, we get $70,000 back. It doesn’t stack up and it would cost over $100 million to build. So the River Road concept is working and working well. It’s not getting the traffic residents claimed it would get. But a truck ban is working. Verdun interchange is now being built thanks to Catherine. And what you’re going to see with the Mount Barker interchange is a lot more people using the actual Hahndorf bypass, which is the South Eastern Freeway.

JOURNALIST: So that link through proposal is basically dead in the water now?

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: Well, you spend $100 million to get very, very little return. I have to say, 0.07 BCR, I can’t imagine any Commonwealth Government, Labor or Liberal, investing in that.

JOURNALIST: So, I suppose, this is for the – are you looking at – will you be looking at any further link roads or interchanges down the line or is this – so you’re happy that this will address it?

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: I’m confident this will address the issues but there are some people who do not want any traffic in Hahndorf. Hahndorf is the premier tourist destination in the Adelaide Hills. It gets a million visitors a year. It’s busy for a reason. I’m not sure I can take every single car out of Hahndorf. It’s just not feasible. There’s already a bypass through Hahndorf, it’s called the South Eastern Freeway. But what we’ve got to do is get people onto the freeway earlier. So the Mount Barker interchange will do that. The Verdun interchanges will do that. But it will actually get people onto the South Eastern Freeway. The link road doesn’t add up and we’ll do what we can to make sure we can protect the people of Hahndorf using the truck ban. The truck ban is working.

JOURNALIST: Minister, just before we go to [indistinct], can I ask you briefly about the Whyalla steelworks? What’s your latest briefing on the repairs of the shell of the furnace?

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: The repair of the shell of the furnace has been completed. I was given briefings on it when I was in Rotterdam, when I met with Mr Sanjeev Gupta and his team. They showed me the detailed repairs. I’m confident our team has inspected that. We are confident that those repairs are now sound. We’ve got a better understanding of exactly what has gone wrong in the smelter. I am confident that the smelter will now get back up to temperature and operating again. There is a bridge that has solidified above the tap hole and that bridge is now slowly being worked away at. I’m confident we will be pouring steel again. It’s going to take longer. 

I have told Mr Gupta and GFG that I think South Australians in general have had enough of the big reveals. They’ve had enough of the big talk. It’s time for both of us to get our heads down and bum up and get on with it. This is very important to the people of South Australia and the nation. 

Whyalla is the last structural steel manufacturer of long products in the nation. It is important for our sovereign capability that this steelworks continues and operates. The Commonwealth Government committed $62.5 million, we’ve got $50 million, I’ve met with Danieli. This electric arc furnace and DRI facility can be built and be built quickly. It’s now just a matter of commitment. 

JOURNALIST: Given this is an ageing furnace, though, is GFG flogging a dead horse?

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: No, it’s not a dead horse. It’s a thoroughbred, as far as I’m concerned. Steel manufacturing and blast furnace technology is robust. There are two blast furnaces that manufacture steel in this country. BlueScope and GFG are working together to fix this. I’m confident that they will fix it. This country will continue to make its rail line, it will continue to make structural steel. This blast furnace has had its last realign, the next hot steel pouring out of Whyalla will be an electric arc furnace for the DRI plant so we can decarbonise steel.

JOURNALIST: How much State Government money is going into getting the furnace back up and running?

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: No, no, no. The money to fix the blast furnace is GFG’s responsibility. It’s not a matter of money. It’s a matter of technology and know-how. So it’s not money that’s the issue. The issue here was regular maintenance and an occurrence that occurred during regular maintenance which meant that the blast furnace cooled too quickly, it created a metal bridge between the top of the hot molten steel and below it, so a tap hole couldn’t work.

JOURNALIST: So essentially this is resources, not money from the State Government?

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: It’s not resources or money issue, it’s a technology issue.

JOURNALIST: Just on the train assault yesterday.


JOURNALIST: A massive outcry that this man has been given police bail and also is only been banned from trains for three months, not from using other public transport like buses. What do you say to that?

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: First of all, he’s not a man. I don’t think he deserves that assignment. I am – I was shocked when I found out that the Train Commissioner, the Rail Commissioner, and the South Australian Public Transport Authority did not have the ability to ban patrons. For whatever reason, and I don’t make a comment on the court or police bail, this man has only been given a ban for three months on trains. 

I’ve spoken to the Acting Premier this morning. I will be instructing the Department to amend regulations to allow the Department to ban people from all forms of public transport for antisocial behaviour and this gentleman, once these regulations are passed, will be banned.

JOURNALIST: For life or beyond the three months?

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: It will be banned, pending the case, and after the case, whether there’s a guilty verdict or not, make a decision then.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: We have metro cards, we have Eftpos cards, we have photographs we can give people. It’s the same way we police any ban.

JOURNALIST: Just wondering if I could ask you a couple of questions. 

CATHERINE KING: Yes, sure, of course. 

JOURNALIST: When you had the federal infrastructure review, you ended up stripping funding away from the Hahndorf upgrade. Now, you’re funding two elements of that project. Why the change of heart? 

CATHERINE KING: So what we have done through the Infrastructure Investment Program review was really identify projects where we needed to get more information, we needed to make sure that we had better planning and that we needed to understand what the costs were that were associated with those. 

As I said at the time of the review, it was up to state governments, if there were projects that they’ve then felt were more ready for investment in the Infrastructure Investment Program, to bring those forward, either through MYEFO or through the normal Budget process. So projects can come back into the Infrastructure Investment Program at the request of State governments, but what I need to be able to be assured of is that we’ve got a good handle on the planning, a good handle on what the costs are, and that’s the problem we had with the previous government. They would make announcements, often without any reference to State governments about particular projects, had no idea how much they were actually going to cost and so we were then left with significant cost pressures, some $33 billion worth of cost pressures, in the Infrastructure Investment Program that we had to manage because of the way in which the previous government had not worked closely with state governments. 

For the first time in this budget, we actually had Infrastructure Australia where they had information about projects providing advice to me about not just cost benefit but assurance work, about what had needed to be done by State governments to actually get projects to be delivered. So that’s really the way in which this process works. The review, at that point in time, those projects weren’t ready, State Government is now telling us they’re ready for investment.

SPEAKER: Minister, latest Newspolls are showing 39 per cent of voters think this budget will increase inflation. [Indistinct]? 

CATHERINE KING: The way in which we’ve calibrated this budget is very carefully to make sure that we continue that downward trajectory of inflation. We know people are doing it tough, we know that there are many in communities across the country who are really finding life difficult at the moment. It’s why we have increased cost-of-living support. Every single taxpayer in the country getting a tax cut. $300 in energy relief. Putting investment into housing and infrastructure to ensure we continue to have jobs, but doing it in in a way that does not add to inflation. All of that has been carefully calibrated in this Budget to ensure we continue the downhill trajectory that we are seeing on inflation pressures.  

JOURNALIST: I know it’s not necessarily your area, we’re about to find out the fate of Julian Assange. Just wondering if you can comment? 

CATHERINE KING: Well, again, as you know, the Federal Government and right the way up to the highest level and the Prime Minister has made representations on behalf of Mr Assange and we’ve continued to do that throughout this process. We will see what the announcement is today. Thanks, everyone.