Transcript - radio interview: 2NM Muswellbrook 'Hunter Valley Today'
JOURNALIST: We're out of the studio coming to you from a road that's got more names than states and territories in Australia. MR. 358 we'll call it, the road between Merriwa and Willow Tree. And we're on the Willow Tree end of it here with the Federal Minister for Roads, Local Government, Infrastructure and 50,000 other things Catherine King, along with Hunter MP Dan Repacholi, Mayor Morris Collison, the general manager of the Upper Hunter Shire Council, Greg McDonald. And last but by no means least Peree Watson, the new Labor candidate for the Upper Hunter in the upcoming election. So Minister, to Catherine King, you've seen what you've funded. Is it as bad as you thought? It's worse than I have heard about really. I think the photos don't do it justice. So when the mayor came up to Canberra to tell me about it I thought there would just be a little bit of ridge that's collapsed or something that's cut it off and that's what it is. But it's pretty shocking, I mean, this is a fairly new bit of road and for it to fail like this is not what anyone would have wanted it and you can clearly see it's obviously a road that was needed. A lot of money's gone into it and we're gonna have to fix it. How quickly will the money flow?
KING: So it's really of the New South Wales government coming to us and saying that they're ready to go and ready to go out to tender. So the money's available. It's profiled at the moment in some out years, but we can bring that forward at any stage. So really, it's up to the New South Wales Government to come to us and say they're ready from their end, they've got some money on the table. We've got $38.6 million on the table. I think they've got nine with a little bit of money from the heavy vehicle regulator as well, to try and get this done. So really, it's a matter of just getting that together, get the contract signed. And really then when you can get a contracted out to start.
JOURNALIST: Okay, this is what I call the free kick question. Now looking at it, standing here, can you understand why the former government, and local member Barnaby Joyce, didn't do this sooner?
KING: He made representations to me alongside the mayor shortly after the election. They've been in office for a decade [inaudible] and it's been shut since then, but really they had a bit of time to do something about it in the March budget, they could have found the money for it. They hadn't done that, but made announcements during the election campaign. And really, it's taken me to have to try and work out how to fix it. And I think that's been the problem. We've got this infrastructure investment pipeline that I've inherited. There's some 800 projects and they are just a dog's breakfast, to be honest. There are projects that are underfunded by a billion dollars in some instances, projects where there's no land to put car parks on and I'm having to clean it all up. And that's really been quite a job. It's not going to be something I can fix in five months’ time but happy to have found the money for this project in the budget.
JOURNALIST: How lucky we are to have this funding? from in other parts of the country and particularly in New South Wales at the moment. And even on our Hunter Valley local news, the talking, a lot of stories now is from the various councils about the roads emergency that they've declared and the fact that they need millions and millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars to actually fix the roads properly.
KING: Well, I think it's clear it's beyond any one local government to be able to resolve all the road issues that we've got at the moment when these roads haven't deteriorated since the Labor Government local government has been here federally, it's been a long time coming. The weather obviously has not helped. The volume of heavy vehicles we're seeing also seeing on local roads is also proving pretty challenging. It's why during the election campaign and now in the budget, I topped up spending on local roads, in the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure fund, there was $500 million in the budget for that. I've increased that up to $750 million. The additional products are particularly for rural and regional local governments. They’ll get a bit more in their local roads and community infrastructure funding they normally would. So there's money there. There's obviously the regular Roads to Recovery, Black spots road funding and Financial Assistance Grants roads component. all of that is there in the budget as well as additional projects like this across the community. But where there have been flood-declared areas and there's that partnership with the National Disaster Recovery arrangements to come into play with the state governments. Then there's also additional money for flood affected roads right the way across those declared areas and that comes out of the Emergency Services portfolio. So we've had to make room in the budget and I put a budget that's got a trillion dollars of debt. The thing that's growing the fastest is our repayments on debt. That's what we've inherited. But we know we've still got to make room to be able to do the things that are important to people and that's why in the budget in October, we did take some pretty tough decisions about actually finding savings and any of the additional money that was coming through resource income, we've actually put 99% of that almost back into the budget rather than doing what the previous government did was spend it because we know we've got some tough times coming and we've got [inaudible] .
JOURNALIST: It sounds like a never ending money tree there, I mean, obviously it's not, how do you manage the expectations of people in the Upper Hunter about, well, we need the roads fixed. That's what we elect Governments to do but you can't just turn off the tap until the Mayor here, Maurice Collison, says 'oh yeah, that's enough now, turn it off'?
KING: Well, I think the first thing is to deliver on the things that we said we're going to do in the election campaign. That's why I'm out here today in the Hunter is to say this is what we said we would do and this is what we're going to do. We've obvious got a budget in May coming up. But I think it is really important to say there is a lot of money sitting in the infrastructure investment program already, over $123 billion worth of road funds projects already announced. Not a lot of them have been delivered. And so part of my job is actually to deliver on that program and to make sure we get the money out the door. I want that money employing people, I want it improving roads, I want it improving road safety. I want it for a productive use in the economy. I don't want it sitting, as I said just last week, you can't drive on a press release. The previous government were pretty good at those, not so good at actually delivering the roads.
JOURNALIST: Thank you Minister.