Transcript - Radio interview - ABC Shepparton

NIC HEALY: Right now, though, Echuca Aerodrome – it’s one of 44 airports right across the country who have managed to get funding under the third round of the Australian government’s Regional Airports Program. So all up the pool was $27.9 million. It’s about improving safety, about improving accessibility of airports or aerodromes around regions. Echuca Aerodrome managed to get $2,350,000 that’s going to upgrade the airstrip, do a bit of resurfacing, it’s going to push out the main runway, improve drainage, a whole bunch of things.

So ABC’s Jo Prince actually spoke with Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Minister Catherine King, noting that $2.35 million is a lot of money for a small aerodrome.

CATHERINE KING: Yes, absolutely. It’s to resurface and upgrade the airstrip and to extend the main runway, to resealing the taxiways and aprons and basically really making the aerodrome much safer for people using it. We know that councils like Campaspe Shire Council, who are the recipients of this grant, have often inherited these airports that are incredibly important for local economies but because they’re such big infrastructure, making sure that there’s money available to keep them safer or to really upgrade the facilities and provide opportunities for economic development in the region that a bit of help is needed. And, really, that’s what the Albanese Labor Government has announced with this grant.

JO PRINCE: So how much of a difference do you think this will make for that northern Victoria region, having an upgraded aerodrome at Echuca?

CATHERINE KING: Well, it certainly makes it safer. So when you’ve got better lighting that allows aircraft to land at night, it’s supporting particularly emergency services and medical evacuations as well – that’s part of what this grant is for, to really help install a patient transfer station and a dedicated aeromedical helipad so that you can actually get helicopters in and out of the airport. So, again, from the safety point of view, if there’s roads accidents or people who need to be medivaced out of there quickly, then upgrading the aerodrome helps for that.

But, really, it is about making the aerodrome, I guess, more accessible to people as well. So a lot of private pilots use regional airports all the time. They use them for training, they use them for opportunities to – for business and to do business in towns as well. So the better your airport is, better you’ve got an opportunity of attracting that sort of benefit.

JO PRINCE: I imagine also the recent flooding in that region, the Echuca-Moama area, makes different sort of transport access very important as well.

CATHERINE KING: Absolutely. If you’re trying to get essential goods and services in and your roads are cut or they’re just inaccessible for a certain – even if it’s only for a day, there can be obviously medical supplies or equipment that absolutely has to be in and it’s time critical. So having a really functioning, safe airport that some of those planes can get into is really important. So I think, you know, this program overall I think we’ve spent about $71 million in funding on about 150 projects across the country, all in regional Australia.

JO PRINCE: And so are there avenues for ongoing funding for maintenance and things like that once upgrades have been done?

CATHERINE KING: Really that’s a matter for the council. And, again, when they think about applying for this money, that’s the things that they have to bear in mind. Sometimes some of the money is used for when these grants are out – this is round 3 of the program – when these grants are out some shires actually apply for money for resurfacing or some of the maintenance work. But, really, that’s up to councils and that ongoing maintenance cost is a matter for councils.

JO PRINCE: And how important are regional airports and aerodromes for connecting, I guess, communities around the country, that access to each other’s backyards, I guess?

CATHERINE KING: Yeah, look, very much so. And, as I said, like, often these old World War II aerodromes, very old airstrips that have been – they’ve got great and amazing histories about them in the town, but they are big pieces of infrastructure, so actually connecting regional communities to each other. You know not everybody has the opportunity to have commercial flights like Bendigo does in and out of their airports. But certainly being able to have private planes, being able to have emergency services land there providing a base for firefighting, providing a base for medical evacuations, those sorts of things just mean that people can get to services much more quickly in an emergency but also have that infrastructure that attracts economic activity into your region.

JO PRINCE: And speaking of Bendigo, $100,000 there for fencing upgrades to reduce wildlife hazards.


JO PRINCE: That’s just part of –

CATHERINE KING: Part of living in the country.

JO PRINCE: That’s right. And I guess that ongoing project with the Bendigo Airport to get it to that sort of standard of travel for passengers.

CATHERINE KING: Yeah, look, very much so. And they’ve got a great upgrade. I think we committed money during the election campaign, and that’s underway. Their terminal is being refurbished to accept more and more passengers. And I think it’s been the real surprise. I don’t think Qantas, when they started flying in there imagined that the flights would be just so busy. And that’s – I think everyone sort of envisaged, “Oh, it will be business travel,” but it’s really a huge amount of tourism that’s coming in and out. So even day-trippers from Sydney saying, “Actually, I can go to Bendigo for the day. Why don’t I do that.” That’s been really interesting to see how that’s worked.

So I think the sort of expansion of regional airports into that commercial market I think has been, you know, really – well, it’s certainly been very beneficial for Bendigo and we certainly appreciate the support of the regional airlines flying into those places as well. But, you know, it’s great to see those upgrades continuing for Bendigo as well as other regional communities right the way across the country.

NIC HEALY: That’s Catherine King, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government speaking with Jo Prince about the $2,350,000 funding grant upgrade for Echuca Aerodrome. And as mentioned, the City of Greater Bendigo got $100,000 for a fencing upgrade hoping to reduce wildlife hazards. And at Maryborough Aerodrome, they got $110,000 for upgrades to water infrastructure and fencing as well. It gives you a sense of just how big that $2.34 million was in terms of a slice of the pie for Echuca-Moama. And it’s not the whole funding for the project either. Campaspe Shire Council is going to commit another $2.45 million of their own money.