Transcript - Radio interview with Matthew Pantelis, FiveAA Adelaide

MATTHEW PANTELIS [HOST]: But starting off talking about infrastructure funding and other elements, because joining me in the studio this morning is the Honourable Catherine King, minister – the federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Local Government, air travel – you name it.

Minister, good morning, welcome.

CATHERINE KING [MINISTER]: Good morning, Matt. It’s really lovely to be here on this incredibly beautiful South Australian day.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: It’s magnificent, isn’t it?

CATHERINE KING: It is unbelievable.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: Great weather this time of year, yeah, absolutely. Now, you’ve made a big announcement regarding road safety and a boost in funding for black spot funding, particularly the Black Spot Program that has been running for some years. So tell us about that. What’s that mean for South Australia?

CATHERINE KING: So what we’ve done is we’ve doubled – we will be doubling over time the amount of money that goes to local councils for their local roads. We know that with massive weather events we’ve had across the country over the last few years, the state of those really local roads that most of us drive on every day really have been in decline, and councils are struggling with their rate base to keep up with maintaining those. So adding – you know, doubling – it’s 500 million a year now, we’re going to get it to a billion dollars a year to local councils, will really help with that – local roads.

We’ve also increased the amount of money that goes into a program that’s called the Black Spot Roads Program, and that councils nominate and apply each year, or you can also go online on to my Department of Infrastructure website and you can nominate a black spot and ask for funding for that particular area. And it’s really focused on trying to change the way in which some of our intersections work, really looking at those local roads to improve that. So we’ve added some more money into that as well, knowing that, again, it’s those local roads in local communities that really are – that we drive on every single day around our schools as we’re doing school drop-off, around our childcare centres, getting to work, that those roads really do matter, as well as the really big projects that we’re investing in here in South Australia.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: So we’re not talking just regional here? We’re talking everywhere – metro, regional?

CATHERINE KING: Every single council in South Australia will be having their Roads to Recovery money doubled. Every single council will get double the amount of money that they’re getting now.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: How does this work? Because councils will put their hand up wanting money. The State Government runs a funding program. The Federal Government runs a funding program. How do you determine what gets up?

CATHERINE KING: So with Roads to Recovery basically the councils have their capital works program. They determine their own capital works program each year and they just use the money towards that. They determine what the priorities are. And obviously local communities have opportunities in – with your councils to go and say, “We think this road is really important.” Something I’ve got in my own council, you can report a pothole and get it fixed really quickly.


CATHERINE KING: You can do that online. Many councils are doing that now. So, really, the councils determine where that money gets spent on their capital works program.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: So it would be up to people, then, to get on board in this, get involved and email the council particularly in the first place?

CATHERINE KING: I’m sure councils get lots of emails about particular roads.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: I’m sure they do.

CATHERINE KING: Yeah; and that’s really – it’s really up to councils each year in their own budget. They determine what their capital works program is, and the Roads to Recovery goes to that. And this will really help. They’re meant to keep their efforts in, so we’re doubling the amount of money we put in and they’re meant to still continue to make their efforts. It’s not an excuse to withdraw money anywhere.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: $500 million to a billion, over what period is that?

CATHERINE KING: So we’ll start increasing Roads to Recovery from the next year’s budget. So it will go up every single year until it hits a billion dollars, which will be about three to four years’ time.


CATHERINE KING: But every single year it will start increasing from now. We’ve had to do it gradually mainly because we know there’s already a lot of money in the system at the moment with road projects flowing through at the local level. And we want to make sure that we’re not adding to inflation and problems that we’ve all got getting people to actually work on these projects in the first place.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: So it’s about $150 million a year roughly?

CATHERINE KING: Around about that. I haven’t got the profiling in front of me, but around about that to get it up to a billion dollars.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: Okay, over that period. At the same time, though, I mean, is that money there now because you’ve cut so many other projects, including the Hahndorf bypass and Truro and everything else?

CATHERINE KING: So what we’ve had to do – so I inherited when we came into office an extra pipeline of - basically we’ve got $120 billion we spend every decade on infrastructure. And that does include money that goes to councils. It includes the big road projects that we fund and rail projects that we fund. But the problem I had is when we last left office there were 150 projects. When I came to look at the infrastructure pipeline there were 800 projects. A lot of them had been added in the lead-up to elections often with not enough money to really even do the planning in some cases. A lot of planning hadn’t happened. I had – was getting complaints from people about why hadn’t these projects started, what’s going on.

So we took a really detailed – I got some independent experts to come and have a look where all of these projects – not the ones – all the ones under construction, all of that is still happening – but really have a look at these projects and tell me can we actually deliver them, have we got enough money to deliver them, where are they in the planning cycle. And I had to make some hard decisions to really say, “Look, in order to fund the projects that we’ve got, I can’t fund them all. There’s not enough money.” They showed that there was $33 billion worth of known cost overruns, probably more to come that we just don’t have the money for. So what I’ve had to do is look at those projects that are ready now, that are priorities now that we can actually deliver, put extra money into those.

So you’ve seen we’ve put $2.7 billion extra for a project that both, you know, the Labor State Government and the Labor Federal Government has inherited that was drastically underfunded. We’ve had to fix that. And what that has meant is that we’ve had to take some projects off getting Commonwealth funding now. It doesn’t mean that they can’t come on later, but what I really want communities to do and state governments to do and local councils to do, do  planning work, let me understand how much they are actually going to cost and what it is you’re going to build, then come to the Commonwealth for funding and we’ll look at whether there’s capacity in the pipeline to invest in those projects.

But what I’ve got at the moment and what I’ve had to clean up are projects – I’m sure they are important, communities are really – you know, not happy about them not getting Commonwealth money now, but I just don’t know how much some of them are going to cost. Some of them have doubled, and we just don’t have the money to fund all of them.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: You’re saying basically the North-South Corridor has sucked the money out of Hahndorf, Mount Barker, Truro and those other places?

CATHERINE KING: Well, we’ve put $2.7 billion in and there’s not that much that’s been taken out of those road projects. They also were – both of them were – would require substantially extra money, and they’re not ready for investment yet. Like, they’re not ready for investment or construction yet. It doesn’t mean they can’t come back on later, but let’s do the work. The state needs to do the work with the local community to actually determine what it is you want to do, what it is, get – you know, get that planning, start to do the planning and then really understand what the costs are. Make sure you engage Infrastructure Australia along that process, because I’m going to ask them for advice about it, and then come to the Commonwealth for extra money or for money. We’ve still got $120 million going into the Hills on road safety that hasn’t been spent yet. So those projects need to also happen. So we’re not abandoning the Hills; that money is still there. But what I really want to do is make sure I’ve got a good handle on the costs of this project before we are ready to invest in it further.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: Are you saying the Hahndorf bypass wasn’t planned sufficiently to the level ready to go?

CATHERINE KING: Yeah, basically. As I understand it, we hadn’t quite got there yet as to what was going to happen, and there isn’t enough money to fund what some of the suggestions were. So we’re just not ready yet.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: $250 million not enough?

CATHERINE KING: Not enough, no. It would require – well, what I have been told is it required almost double that to actually do what some of the plans are. But, again, we’re not a hundred per cent sure. So do the work, make sure you engage Infrastructure Australia, come back to us and it might come back on the pipeline later. It’s not to say never, but it’s just saying it’s just not on the list right now because we’ve got to actually deliver the projects that are in there that we have got money for.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: Have you spoken with Rebekha Sharkie, the federal member for Mayo, who’s put out a release in the days last week after your announcement to axe the money from her electorate, which has suffered significantly through the cuts? She says, “An appalling decision by a city-centric government. The one-way freeway exchange was built in 1974 – 50 years ago – remains unchanged despite exponential growth in the region.” So what have you told her?

CATHERINE KING: Well, certainly, you know, Rebekha has asked me questions about this in the parliament and that’s fine. And I would expect local members to advocate strongly for their communities. But I have got a really big mess that I’ve had to clean up, left to me, frankly, from the Morrison Government that has seen a pipeline littered with projects that just simply cannot be delivered. I want to make sure that every project in that pipeline we can actually deliver, that we’ve got the money to deliver. And that’s really what the review has been about – trying to get that – work that out. And I would expect local members absolutely to advocate for their communities. Rebekha is someone I respect enormously. She’s been in the parliament for a long time now. And I’m sure she’ll work with her local community and the state government to ensure we’ve really got this right before we come back to the Commonwealth to ask for money for this project.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: We’ve got a $3 billion bill across the state – this was reported as far back as May – to fix crumbling roads across South Australia. And the billion you’re talking about from a few years’ time, $500 million today, is a long way short. I mean that’s national. And here in SA alone, $3 billion to fix our roads. So where do we go with that? Because we’re only going to be patching up – as you say, fixing potholes essentially.

CATHERINE KING: Sure, we’ve got in addition to the North-South which we’ve put the additional $2.7 billion in, we’ve got over another 29 projects we’re investing in across South Australia, including money going into the Augusta, the Stuart highways as well and the Dukes Highway as well. There’s a project there that’s really important for our national freight. But what it points to is that we’ve got a really significant problem with climate change that has seen – we’ve got two things happening. One, we’ve got – we’ve had a lot of wet weather events. Water is not a friend of roads. The roads, the road base, that’s why you get potholes.


CATHERINE KING: We’ve got a lot of work to do there. We’ve got more and more information coming about what the – you know, better road bases are. Some of them are quite expensive, but trying to learn from that. We’ve got a cooperative research centre that’s actually doing some big work on how you might do – you know, do better. But also we know we’ve got bigger and heavier freight tasks. That road freight task, so trying to get a bit more on to rail as well as important. It’s a big task right the way across the country, and part of what I’ve had to do, what the problem I’ve had with this – what the review found is because we had so many projects in the pipeline many of them sitting there that couldn’t be delivered, that money wasn’t being activated. I couldn’t commit a single new dollar to a new road project for the next decade. That’s what the review found. So let alone deliver what I needed to deliver, I couldn’t actually announce anything new.

Cleaning up the pipeline has meant what we’re able to do is actually look at new projects in the outcoming years to actually start to resolve some of these really big issues around resilience, freight movement, liveability. And that’s why we put out an infrastructure policy statement that really sets –this is what the Commonwealth in its unique position should be investing in in our roads to help states and local governments really meet that demand. States are always going to ask for more, so that’s what they’re there for; they should do that. But I’m also going to make sure that taxpayer money is going where it should do as well.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: Yeah. Got an email here yesterday, as a matter of fact, from Dave who’s a resident. I’m not sure if he’s a farmer. I think he is, actually, but certainly a resident on the Eyre Peninsula. He says, “Our western approach road is still being worked on after starting in April ’21 the roadworks have not stopped. They’re repairing damaged sections of the road that only just resurfaced. This is in the middle of harvest season. Multitudes of trucks carrying grain to the Port Lincoln port. I travelled to Cummins 55 kilometres away. It took in excess of an hour. When is the Transport Minister” – it doesn’t say state or federal – “going to take some action and stop this waste of government funds and inconvenience to the public?” Dave’s called in before. Lives in Port Lincoln and has told me about this road that has just – it’s under constant repair.

CATHERINE KING: Yeah, and I think that’s one of the things that people will see. Like, the weather events have meant, you know, we’ve had that road base erode and often when we’re trying to fill potholes we’re doing it on a – we hope that it’s going to last but often it doesn’t. So I think that one of the things that we’ve done with the Roads to Recovery is really start to try and how do we lift the quality of what’s actually happening. I know the unions are very keen to see more council road crews employed rather than subcontractors on some of these roads. That also helps with long-term quality and investment in those roads.


CATHERINE KING: I’m not aware of any – the investments we might be making in that particular area. I’m happy to have a look at it. But, really, this is about how do we actually get the best possible bang for our buck when we’re investing money in road improvements. And that’s, you know, particularly with freight, heavier trucks, they’re going to get heavier as we start to electrify some of these trucks. They’re going to get heavier with the batteries when that comes.


CATHERINE KING: And there’s a lot of work being done. One of the things that might be worth, Dave, having a look at is, I’ve got this Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Research Economics that’s got a great report at the moment that’s looking at the resilience of our freight route.


CATHERINE KING: It’s put a big report out and it’s basically risk-ranked all of the freight routes in the country. Worth having a look at that. It’s about to do another piece of work. That’s work that will come to me when they advise me about when you’re going to invest in road freight, these are the roads that really need our help to build their resilience, and that may well be one of them.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: Yeah. You’re almost better, though, aren’t you, in helping Viterra, the grain company up around Lincoln, refund the rail network that the grain train that was running up there which closed because it was too expensive to maintain? You’re almost better off spending money on fixing that, keeping the big, heavy trucks off the roads – less repair?

CATHERINE KING: Yeah, in terms of – and we actually, the Commonwealth, through the Australian Rail Track Corporation, you’ve got here in this building the Rail Safety Regulator sits here.


CATHERINE KING: That’s one of my agencies as well. The Australian Rail Track – we own a lot of track and freight rail track right the way around the country. And one of the issues we’ve had is obviously trying to invest in that again when you’ve got a pipeline that has put a whole lot of projects in it. Money for that has to also come out of the pipeline and out of the money they raise from rail. So that is one of the things we’re looking at, is how do you actually improve the resilience of rail freight. We had quite a few incidents last year where the rail went down, and that’s hugely expensive because it means everything transfers to road. So rail has got to be absolutely part of the freight solution.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: Yeah, indeed. You’re also looking after air travel as well.

CATHERINE KING: I’ve got all the fun stuff. Look at that.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: You do. You do. Now, just last week we had this issue here in Adelaide where a lot of people inconvenienced on their way to Perth to see Coldplay. Virgin pulled a flight Thursday night and Kelly has emailed in saying, “Our 19-year-old daughter due to leave Adelaide on the flight. Cancelled. Virgin rescheduled their flight to Monday. Not helpful.” They were travelling to Perth to see Coldplay Saturday night. “So we helped them out, my husband and I, putting them on a flight Adelaide to Brisbane $1800 to be hopefully reimbursed with insurance. They arrived in Brisbane, a 5-hour wait, which became another 2 hours longer. 11.30 pm their flight was cancelled again from Brisbane to Perth.” Now, Virgin are putting on another flight on Friday, but they were told to leave the airport, given no accommodation or the address of potential accommodation. They’re in a strange city at midnight. Virgin suggests they find themselves accommodation, get a receipt. These girls are at uni. Have saved hard for the trip, only to be told they have to go out, spend more money on accommodation. There’s no duty of care by the airlines. “Grace and her friend are not the only teams involved. There’s a heap of Adelaide young adults. Our daughter’s trying to find accommodation as I type this” - she did this last week - “Frightened, and I’m furious.”

CATHERINE KING: Well, she had every right to be furious. If it was my kid, I’d be absolutely furious, too. And frightened for them. That’s awful. You know, in a strange city and you can’t get to them. Our airlines need to do better. I think we’ve seen delays across the network again. You know, they’re experiencing staff shortages and Covid outbreaks and all of those things, but they absolutely have to do better. We’re investigating the possibility – I’ve got a White Paper for aviation coming out next year, and one of the things we’re consulting on at the moment and people can go, again, on my department’s website, is around consumer rights and what the obligations are in terms of consumer rights and quality of service from airlines we can expect.

I've got - you know, I'm open to looking at, you know, do we have to have a similar system as Europe has where there's automatic refunds for delays and those sorts of things.


CATHERINE KING: That potentially some people argue might add to the costs of flights. So you’ve got to weigh all of that up.


CATHERINE KING: So we’ve got that out for consultation at the moment. But there is no doubt that we are all experiencing significant delays, and if that was my – I’ve got a 15-year-old. Hopefully he’s not going to be travelling too much on his own; I’m hoping he stays home for a little bit longer. But that’s what we all did as kids. And that would have been absolutely terrifying for her, and Virgin needs to explain what happened and, really, I think they should apologise to that family and all those kids that had that experience. You know, how lucky – what an amazing thing to be able to go over and see Coldplay, but to have that – all of that happen and have to fly so far across the country then just to get back –

MATTHEW PANTELIS: Yeah, in the wrong direction, you know.

CATHERINE KING: Yeah, exactly.


CATHERINE KING: It’s just really, really awful. And I think, you know, Virgin, Qantas and other airlines, they absolutely need to do better in their service standard to people. It’s not been good enough at the moment.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: You have to go in a minute – what are you doing in Adelaide? Why are you here?

CATHERINE KING: Well, I’m going to stand up with your Infrastructure and Transport Minister, my good friend Tom Koutsantonis. We’ll be talking about the North-South Corridor. You have got the biggest single infrastructure project in the whole country happening here in South Australia. As I said, we’re putting an extra $2.75 billion into this project to get it done, finally Torrens section to – is happening, the D 2 – is it T2D? I always –


CATHERINE KING: I always get that wrong.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: Yes, that’s it.

CATHERINE KING: That’s what’s happening. So we’re standing up to talk about that. I’m sure I’ll get some other questions about other things, but that’s great. Because you’re literally going to be employing hundreds of people, this massive infrastructure project. The biggest and most expensive in the country is being delivered right here in South Australia. And then I’m going to go and have a hit at some cricket nets that we put some money into in Louise Miller-Frost’s area, and then I’m heading to Brisbane.


CATHERINE KING: Hopefully my flight will be on time, but let’s see.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: All right. Hopefully ministers are better cricketers than prime ministers of late.

CATHERINE KING: I’m pretty bad, I have to tell you. I’ll need to be shown how to hold the bat. That’s how bad I am.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: When is the project actually start? When are we going to see shovels?

CATHERINE KING: Well, I’ll be talking to Tom about that, but the last piece was really making sure this money – the money was available. You can’t put shovels on the ground if you don’t have the cash. And so we’ve now stumped up with the rest of the cash. I’ll talk to Tom about the start dates, but I’m going out to the information centre – which I’d encourage people also to have a look at – to really get a sense of the project and the timing. But this has really been the last piece of it, making sure the money is available. Couldn’t do it without it basically.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: All right. Minister, appreciate you coming in. Catherine King, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Thanks for your time this morning.