Transcript - Radio 5AA Adelaide with Matthew Pantelis

MATTHEW PANTELIS, HOST: Now, there’s money in the federal budget for the Hahndorf bypass. That is back on the table, and that is certainly good news. Catherine King, Federal Transport and Infrastructure Minister, is in Adelaide today and on the line right now. 

Minister, good morning. 

CATHERINE KING, MINISTER: Hi, Matthew. It’s good to be with you. I’m sorry I can’t be in the studio this time. 

MATTHEW PANTELIS: That’s okay. Now, this is back on the table, and obviously you’ve heard the message from locals particularly. 

CATHERINE KING: Well, it’s back on the table in the sense that we have now properly planned how much this project is going to cost. It’s obviously part of improvements to the South Eastern Freeway and then also making sure that we’re actually putting – taking some pressure off that intersection as part of those safety improvements. What we also said as part of the Infrastructure Investment Program Review was that states could at any time put projects back into the investment the Commonwealth had, but we needed to make sure and have confidence that we knew how much it was going to cost and had planned them properly. And that’s really what’s happened in these circumstances. 

We’re putting an additional $100 million into the South Eastern Freeway. That takes our contribution up to $220 million. And that’s really about trying to manage that motorway better using some of the smart transport systems we’ve got to really make sure that we’re getting that safety and traffic improvement. And then obviously the Mount Barker and [indistinct] interchanges upgraded at those to make sure that we’re reducing traffic through Hahndorf as well. 

MATTHEW PANTELIS: Okay. There’s a lot going on at the moment. There’s other road projects, including South Road, the North-South Corridor. As part of that, the tram overpass was one of those things - work on that was supposed to start in about a month or so. But that’s been put back to next year now. Why is that? What’s happened there? 

CATHERINE KING: Well, I think that really what we’re finding across the board is that infrastructure costs are going up, obviously. We’ve got labour shortages that are happening not just here in South Australia but right the way across the country which, to be blunt, is why some of the messaging from Peter Dutton around immigration is so shortsighted. I’m not sure where he thinks some of the construction workforce that is building all of this infrastructure currently comes from. So we’ve got that sort of pressure across the board. And, again, really what we’ve got to be able to do is make sure from a Commonwealth perspective that we’ve got confidence that projects are fully funded and that we can actually deliver them. And really with that project, it’s just making sure that we’ve got all of the construction timelines and the money available when it’s needed. 

MATTHEW PANTELIS: But that’s been planned for years now, hasn’t it? And suddenly the timelines and – without, you know, very quietly, work was to start and it was just in a conversation with John Whelan a few weeks ago here on FiveAA where he said well, you know, that work won’t start. He was talking about relocating trams to the other side of South Road so they can service the Adelaide area. And he dropped that work on the bridge now is not scheduled to begin until mid-next year. 

CATHERINE KING: Yeah, they’re big projects managed by the state government, and they’ve got to manage the pipeline of projects as well as making sure that we’ve got that construction workforce in place. And, you know, that’s the reality when you’re investing millions, and in the case of some of these projects in the North-South Corridor, for example, billions of dollars, that you’ve just got to – you know, they do just take time, and that’s the reality of it. And I think being upfront with people about that is important so that people can expect, you know, this is what’s happening and why. 

MATTHEW PANTELIS: Okay. One of the promises Anthony Albanese made as Opposition Leader here in SA was for work to begin on a tram overpass over Marion Road and Cross Road, something that’s really desperately needed for that part of Adelaide where traffic banks up around ANZAC Highway and leading up to ANZAC Highway for traffic heading south and the other way for traffic heading north with Cross Road just past the intersection as well. Now, we haven’t seen much happening there in terms of work starting. I imagine all the preparation has been done over the last couple of years. Surely that must be imminent? 

CATHERINE KING: Again, that will be – timelines for that will be a question for the South Australian Government. We’ve invested in that project. I know how important it is. It’s also important, obviously, to the North-South Corridor as well that we get that and take that relief off that road in particular. But I would expect that that wouldn’t be too far away. I’ve been and visited that site a couple of times now. But, again, we’ve got to get the planning right before we start the work. 

MATTHEW PANTELIS: Okay. We’ve had a serious accident. You’d be well aware the South Eastern Freeway the way it drops, and a number of trucks since the tunnels were put in 20 years ago now have come barrelling down, they’ve lost their brakes along the way and through the intersection at the bottom. Now, I know your funding announcement today and in the budget doesn’t allow for upgrades there but that has to be looked at as a matter of priority, doesn’t it? Is that on the table at all, are you aware? 

CATHERINE KING: Yes, it is. Obviously the $100 million that we’re putting into the South Eastern Freeway in fact is actually to look at – we’ve already started the work on that. So when you put in traffic management systems that provide opportunity to have digital technology that alerts you that there is a truck that is out of control or has lost its brakes or something has happened, it allows you actually to signal very quickly slowing down of speed, moving people out of the path of a truck if it’s not able to stop itself, really getting that intersection, all of that signalling, all working together so you can actually improve safety. 

It’s a really important freight route, but it is also a freight route that, as you quite rightly point out, was built 20 years ago on a pretty – you know, incredibly steep incline. It’s just a continuous decline all the way, you know, into town. And you don’t get a lot of flat to sort of try and get trucks to slow down. So that’s really what the announcement today has been about – is getting that managed motorway in place where you actually can signal very quickly to get people out of the pathway if there’s a circumstance. And that’s all, you know, controlled from a control centre and you can actually then really try and manage incidents as they occur. 

MATTHEW PANTELIS: Do you think we need trains back in places to help with road traffic? And here in SA there’s been a debate about getting trains back on the Eyre Peninsula, the grain trains that used to run, because trucks are doing enormous damage to roads up that way as heaps of trucks now replace trains and a lot of truck movements as a result of that and other parts, not just of South Australia, through the Murraylands for instance is one where a train line closed about 10 years ago now and a lot of trucks through there as well. But this has been happening around the country in various places. Is it time to look at revisiting trains? 

CATHERINE KING: Well, I’m a big fan of both rail from a public transport point of view and light rail as well as getting more freight onto our rail network. What we’ve done in this Budget here in South Australia is invest some planning money, again, as I’m trying to really emphasise through the infrastructure investment pipeline, we want to spend that money trying to get the planning right, get a real handle on what the costs are. So Tom Koutsantonis asked specifically for planning money, both for passenger rail and freight rail here in South Australia, to have a look at, you know, what can we do to improve efficiencies and to extend the capacity of rail here in South Australia. 

We’ve also invested through the Australian Rail Track Corporation almost a billion dollars in getting resilience into our rail freight network. We’ve had almost 40 days where the Australian Rail Track Corporation freight line was shut due to flooding events over the course of the last year. That’s not productive for anyone. We couldn’t get food up into the west of the state. We had more heavy vehicles coming through South Australia as a result of that because we just couldn’t get food up into the top end. So spending a billion dollars. 

And that’s really what the Infrastructure Review allowed me to do – is really redirect and be able to get money into some of those big nation-building projects that are so important for productivity. It was a hard – you know, a hard review to actually do and make those decisions, but that’s the unique role the Commonwealth has got, to invest in those really big nation-building projects like the North-South Corridor and like fixing our Australian Rail Track Corporation, our rail freight network and making it more productive, making sure we’ve got Inland Rail coming in building that to Parkes so then that gives us the east-west connectivity with Inland Rail as well. So really building that freight network, building that productivity right the way across the country is really something I’m very focused on. 

MATTHEW PANTELIS: Okay, it does take planning. You’ve mentioned that a few times for a few different projects. It’s starting to sound like code for, “We don’t want to rush this, we want to take our time, not spend all the money all at once.”

CATHERINE KING: No, not that. I think you’ve got to plan it properly. And I think the mistakes that the previous government made, it was more interested in getting a press release out and getting the big shiny photo op and saying, “Look what we’re doing,” rather than actually planning the projects and delivering them. I’ve had that right the way through the Infrastructure Review. What that’s meant is that we’ve got massive projects that were underfunded in the first place, never planned properly, we didn’t have a handle on how much it cost. So I’ve really had to clean up the mess of the previous government and really get our infrastructure investment pipeline and every single dollar of that pipeline actively working to the productivity of the country, and that’s what the review was about. And, you know, really trying to make sure that we do know how much something is going to cost, we’ve got a really clear idea about where it’s going to go, the scope of the project before we actually start committing construction money or trying to pretend we know how much it’s going to cost when we don’t. 

MATTHEW PANTELIS: All right. Catherine King, appreciate your time. Thank you.