Transcript - radio interview - ABC Ballarat with Steve Martin

STEVE MARTIN, HOST: The Federal Budget was handed down officially last night and there wasn't a lot of new stuff in there, particularly a lot of the bigger spending commitments I guess we'd already found out about it, particularly some of the ones that will affect regional Victoria. Things like some of the roads funding, some of the other general funding that will come to renewable energies and the like had been talked about and around, including tax cuts and some of the other bits and pieces like the Future Made in Australia Innovation Fund. Catherine King is the member for Ballarat and is also the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government and is our guest this morning. Catherine King. Good morning.

CATHERINE KING, MINISTER: Good morning, Steve.

STEVE MARTIN: Can we stick primarily with your ministerial portfolios because we have central Victoria with us this morning as well. What are the key announcements for regional Victoria, particularly western and central Victoria, as you see it from this budget?

CATHERINE KING: Well, the first thing is that this budget enacts the decision I took last year to double roads funding to every single local council across all of Victoria but across all of the country. That's through the Roads to Recovery Program. We know that, you know, as a local member, one of the things I get the most complaints about are local roads. So, providing double the money to local councils to be able to deliver roads, local roads is really important. So, in my own home patch, for example, the four councils that cover the electorate of Ballarat over the next five years is $45 million going from the federal government directly to those councils to improve roads. And that's mirrored in every single council across the state. The other big project which has been on the cards for a long time, is the Portland to Maroona rail line. I've provided additional money to the Australian Rail Track Corporation to really build resilience and improve the national freight network for rail. There's over $540 million in this budget, ARTC will put in 700 mil themselves. But that Portland to Maroona line replacing those sleepers, which are in some areas just absolute dust, will bring the Port of Portland into the national freight network in a way that it has not been before and it's a huge initiative, I know that's been called for, for a long time out west.

STEVE MARTIN: So, does that make it easier for farmers and farm businesses to get their goods to the Port of Portland?

CATHERINE KING: Absolutely. Given that Portland is such a big deep-water port, it's a really important part of infrastructure and that providing that rail connectivity, it's been called for, for a long time. I think the previous government put money into a business case. It's now ready for investment and we're delivering on that.

STEVE MARTIN: Alright. The Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program and the Bridges Renewal Program, they've merged, as I've been told, into the Safer Local Roads and Infrastructure Program.

CATHERINE KING: Yes, that's right. And we've put an additional $50 million into that, as well as putting more money into the Black Spot Program. Again, those programs are very specifically focused for local government to be able to improve local roads that we know so many of our community drive on every day.

STEVE MARTIN: Alright, Catherine King, I'll put this simply. Is it enough? And I ask that in the context that for many years I hear local government members, mayors, CEO's saying, "we simply cannot keep up. Even if we doubled the funding, we would only scratch the surface". So, given that that's a very long term, ongoing request from them, I just wonder, while you've doubled it, what you think is the actual need in local government for those roads?

CATHERINE KING: Well, look, I certainly think the need is strong, it always has been. And this Roads to Recovery from as long as I can remember, I don't think it's had this significant an injection of funding since its inception. It's been around since the Howard Government days. It hasn't had that level of increase. This is permanently baked into the budget. Often what happens with local government funding is that they have to come cap in hand every budget to say, well, “can you extend this program for another year? Could you do this?” This is baked into the budget permanently, that this money will be doubled. And always getting that money out to local councils. It, of course, comes on top of financial assistance grants. We pay to local government billions of dollars in that money, that does include a roads component. And then, of course, there are Competitive Road Programs, the Black Spot Roads Program, the New Safety Program that they can apply for as well for some of those projects that are a bit bigger than they would normally be able to deliver.

STEVE MARTIN: Question on the SMS, Catherine King. Question is Western Highway duplication. Buangor to Ararat section, is the federal money still available for this so there's no delay once the state end is sorted out with the cultural issues? That's a question from Michael.

CATHERINE KING: Yes, that money is still there and in fact, in the mid-year economic financial outlook, we put a bit extra in there because there's some cost pressures, obviously, with that project now that, because it's been delayed. We understand that those cultural issues are still being worked through with the state, but that money remains there. Got to remember in a budget that it only reports on new things, doesn't report on things that are already existing in the budget, it builds on top of that. So, yes, that money is still there.

STEVE MARTIN: Alright, I did see, and I'm just struggling to find it in front of me now, some money for regional airports. Can you explain the intent of that money?

CATHERINE KING: Yes. So, we've put $40 million into the Regional Airports Program. There's also a Remote Airstrips Program. There's not too many of those in Victoria. A lot of those are in the Northern Territory. And that money is to upgrade. So, the actual runways themselves upgrade terminals, upgrade safety measures at regional airports. And again, that's on an application basis. And as we know, a lot of those airports are run by local councils.

STEVE MARTIN: Alright, so is any of that money likely to touch regional Victorian airports?

CATHERINE KING: Oh, absolutely. If regional airports apply, then certainly they'll go through a competitive process.

STEVE MARTIN: So, that money is there as well. The overall reaction to this budget and some of the other spending, if I can just ask you more generally, I've noticed a few economists and economics writers are suggesting with this budget, this is basically a 'better off now, worse off later' Budget, because we have a surplus this time around, but future deficits. There is some criticism of that, that there's still too much money being spent. So, on broader terms, what do you say to those criticisms this morning, Catherine King?

CATHERINE KING: Well, this is a really carefully calibrated budget. We know that there are people in our community who are doing it tough. It's why we've put the $300 into energy relief. It's why we've put more money into trying to accelerate the planning and approvals and infrastructure for housing to try and deal with the supply issue that is causing significant stress on rental and on availability of housing for people as well as in social housing. So, we've carefully calibrated it for how do we deal with the now, but also how do we set our economy up for the future? One of the areas the Future Made in Australia is a really big issue for regional Australia. It is actually about what are the new manufacturing jobs, what are the new initiatives that we can have that help build the renewable energy superpower we know we need to be in order to deliver that energy, to keep manufacturing going and to make sure that we continue to grow jobs. In my space, there is a concentration on low carbon liquid fuels and really invigorating that energy. We're about to put out some discussion papers on the possibility of production credits for that. We know that all of the feedstock pretty much comes from regional Australia. Being able to actually process that, get that into refineries and make sure that we've got low carbon fuels for our aviation industry as well as heavy vehicle, and that we produce that in Australia is one of the initiatives that we've got in the budget as part of Future Made in Australia.

STEVE MARTIN: And I did want to ask you about that because it's essentially some of it is biodiesel, is that correct?

CATHERINE KING: Yeah, that's correct.

STEVE MARTIN: Okay. So, and the determination is that that will be made here, not made offshore. So, we won't be sending the raw material away, having it made, bringing it back?

CATHERINE KING: Exactly. Because at the moment, we export a significant amount of our canola, our tallow, to other countries where they make low-carbon fuels and then sell it back to Australia. That is absolutely, in my view, something we could be making here. We should be having the jobs here. Our farmers should be benefiting from those jobs here as well, and we should be able to do that in regional Australia. So, that's really the initiative we've put in. And if you look across from critical minerals, green hydrogen battery, really, it's that Future Made in Australia. That is what we're concentrating on making those things that we know are part of the transition, making those things here and benefiting for the jobs here.

STEVE MARTIN: Catherine King, thanks for your time.

CATHERINE KING: Really good to be with you.