WestConnex media conference
SCOTT CHARLTON: Great. Good morning, everyone. My name is Scott Charlton, I’m the CEO of Transurban and I’ve got the great privilege of representing WestConnex and all the workers and everyone who has been part of this fantastic project. First of all I’d like to thank the Premier, Minister King and other Members of Parliament for joining us today for this auspicious occasion. And this is a great example of a public-private partnership where we’ve been working with the public sector and private sector and all our partners over the last few years to deliver this amazing infrastructure. And our other partners, in particular, Transport for NSW, who has done so much with us over the years and, of course, our contractor, Acciona, Samsung and Bouygues, who are all represented here today. So thank you very much, team, for that.
I particularly want to acknowledge that for this project we’ve actually delivered the project ahead of schedule and on budget, which is a pretty fantastic effort given the situation and what we’ve had to deal with over the last few years. Again, I really want to thank the Premier and the Coalition for driving this project for so many years. It’s been a long time coming. There’s one final section to come in the Rozelle Interchange. But the majority of WestConnex is now completed and we’ll see all the benefits now here shortly. And the government has really driven this development, the construction and the transactions as well, which is pumping tens of millions of dollars back into additional infrastructure.
And the project has not been without its enormous challenges. We actually delivered this project during COVID. And, again, with a 12,000 workforce, we really thank you for all your efforts [indistinct] you’ve done during that period of time with construction shutdowns with restrictions, again, still delivering it ahead of schedule and on budget.
And we also want to thank the community who’s had to obviously deal with the disruption for so long. But it’s coming to the end and it will obviously have tremendous benefits with the projects, with community open space, more open space than any other major road project as well as safer roads and faster travel times on the surface.
So on behalf of Transurban and the board of Transurban, our investors, all our partners, we really want to thank you, the workers. We’re so proud of your legacy, everything that you’ve done, and I know you are very proud. We can’t wait till the road opens tomorrow.
And now, Premier, thank you for coming. Thank you.
DOMINIC PERROTTET: Well, what an historic day for the people of Western Sydney and the great state of New South Wales. As Scott has said, this has been a long, long journey. [Indistinct] difficulties and challenges, as Scott has said – COVID. We began this project back in 2018. I actually want to start by thanking the workers. [Indistinct] 4,000 workers on this project. Not only will this provide a great benefit for the people of Western Sydney and the people of New South Wales but ultimately with a massive infrastructure investment, $112 billion, over the next four years we are so blessed in our state to have the best workforce who have worked through difficult times to get this project completed on time – ahead of time. And one of the pleasing things for me as Premier going from project to project across the state is seeing so many people working on our infrastructure and being able to go from one project to the next. And that provides opportunities for them and their families.
On WestConnex alone 60,000 – 65,000 workers on that project. The infrastructure has driven our economy before the pandemic and through the pandemic, and now today as an incredibly historic day for the people of our state.
I want to thank Scott and Transurban. It’s been a great partnership, a great partnership, between our government and Transurban. As I said, there’s been challenges and difficulties along the way. But better to have those challenges and difficulties and keep driving our state forward. And this is part of the Liberals and Nationals long-term economic plan to keep New South Wales moving.
These are the projects that set up our state not just for success today but for generations to come. It’s great to be cutting the ribbon with young school children who one day will have the benefit of the use of this road and their children as well. It’s 52 sets of traffic lights we bypass through the WestConnex, saving families 40 minutes. That’s 40 minutes they can spend with their families, not on the road.
And ultimately as well with WestConnex, Parramatta Road flows faster as well. This project, I want to thank the Federal Government for their support of this project. I’ll make this point – this was a project opposed by New South Wales Labor. The project was opposed every step of the way. This project now will ensure that people can spend more time with their families. The transaction that we completed has unlocked $5 billion that we can invest in Western Sydney to make Western Sydney the best place to live, to work, to run a business and raise a family.
This is a great day for our state. We have to keep New South Wales moving forward. Why have to keep driving that direction, not just for us but for generations to come. And today I just want to really thank the workers. I know a lot [indistinct], they’ll be on to the next job tomorrow because there’s so much happening in our great state.
This project is not complete. As Scott has said, we’ve got the Rozelle Interchange [indistinct] families of Western Sydney no traffic lights from Western Sydney all the way to the airport. That’s what progress looks like. That’s what reshaping our city and state looks like. It doesn’t happen easily – you’ve got to push through, you’ve got to continue to drive the difficult decisions to set up our state and our people for success. Today is an historic day for the people of Western Sydney and for the people of our state. And, most importantly, it’s part of the Liberals and Nationals long-term economic plan to keep driving New South Wales forward.
I now pass on to Catherine King, the federal Infrastructure Minister. We’ve also been in close partnership with the Federal Government. We appreciate their support for the subject [indistinct].
CATHERINE KING: Well, thanks very much, Premier. Can I start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we gather and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging, and acknowledge Transurban’s great work with the local community to ensure that that culture and heritage is recognised through this project.
I, too, on behalf of the federal Labor Government want to acknowledge this incredible workforce [indistinct] you built this. Every single day [indistinct], you can tell your kids, your grandchildren. And construction has been so critical. It basically kept the economies certainly of Victoria and New South Wales going through really difficult times. And the fact that you’ve delivered this project on time, on budget is very pleasing to the ears of ministers like myself and Natalie, but I particularly do want to say to the workforce well done. It’s a great job and an incredible built legacy for this state of New South Wales and this fantastic city.
Of course, the Commonwealth has contributed $1.5 billion in addition to a $2 billion concessional loan to this project, major funding going into this built infrastructure. What this will do, of course, is for people it will make commute times quicker, make people be able to connect in with their families – 52 traffic lights that have gone past. But, more importantly, it’s getting 10,000 trucks off Parramatta Road, and it is already improving air quality in that region – a really significant improvement. Forty-five thousand cars will be off Parramatta Road due to this project.
So I do want to say congratulations to the workforce, congratulations to Transurban. This has been a complex and long-term build. It’s been one the commonwealth has been pleased to partner with the New South Wales Government on, and we’re very pleased to be part of what is an historic opening for more projects to come in this particular area. But, again, I want to say that $1.5 billion contribution and the $2 billion concessional loan really has been our pleasure to provide. And it is a partnership. We don’t get things done without working together, and it’s very much a partnership with the New South Wales Government, and we thank them for the work that they’ve done and the Transport Secretary, who’s here with us as well.
I’ll hand over to Natalie, then happy to take questions after.
NATALIE WARD: What an exciting day to be here delivering. It’s not every day you get to open a tunnel. But it’s because of the vision of this government, having a vision for the future to say we can do better and we’ll build a brighter future. Of course, [indistinct] this infrastructure, and here we are today opening it up.
It’s the great economic [indistinct] management of the Perrottet Government and the Government of New South Wales that has seen this delivered. And good economic management isn’t just a theory – it changes people’s lives. And what we’ll see in this tunnel and the completion of WestConnex [indistinct] is that we will be transforming people’s lives as they sit behind a wheel in their car. Forty minutes of travel time, 52 sets of traffic lights. That makes a huge difference to families, to tradies, to truckies and to people trying to get across the network.
My job as Roads Minister is to [indistinct] on our roads and off them, particularly [indistinct], and that’s what we will do today. No longer will the kids say, “Are we there yet?” because they’ll be there [indistinct]. It’s really exciting.
Can I say to Transurban and the team and everybody here that’s worked so hard throughout the construction time, pleasingly we’ve seen some of the workers here – 12,000 workers, 40 per cent, from Western Sydney. The people who have worked on this project and other projects. Pleasingly, 21 per cent of those workers are women on site. And our support of women in construction has seen developments like this really encouraged them into the sector, and I encourage more to join. And that’s ahead of the national average [indistinct].
A really exciting part of this project is the fact that it’s been delivered early. Can I thank Transurban and Terry Chapman and all the team here that’s worked so hard to make sure that drivers can be on this road earlier than normal. Where we’re standing right here will be cars tomorrow getting to where they need to go fast and efficiently.
And so we have more to come. This is not the only thing. The Perrottet Government’s vision in New South Wales is that we will provide connective, transformative transport. And you will see this linked eventually [indistinct] Rozelle Interchange and it will provide a great big green backyard to the inner west and put all of that traffic [indistinct] returning that local area to the local community. And that’s what big infrastructure does. We’ve seen that on Parramatta Road where the reduction in air pollution [indistinct] 15 per cent. Local communities get their local roads back, easing congestion, putting those cars underground, getting where they need to go [indistinct].
So it’s really exciting to be here. Yet another [indistinct] delivery, and we’ll see this eventually connect in to the Sydney Gateway, which is just over there and eventually through to our historic [indistinct] with the Western Harbour Tunnel. So a really exciting day, and thanks to everybody for being here and really exciting to see the kids here today. They will be driving through this future tunnel and it will benefit them. [Indistinct].
DOMINIC PERROTTET: I want to thank [indistinct] and Terry for his leadership on this project. We have the best project teams anywhere in the world – not just anywhere in the country; anywhere in the world. And to everyone who worked on [indistinct].
JOURNALIST: You talk [indistinct] both used the examples of savings between Parramatta and the airport. Is it fair to say, though, that drivers won’t actually realise the true savings until Gateway is built? Because while you’re leaving a lot of heavy traffic from this area, aren’t we just going to see general motorists from the west come into this area heading to the airport until Gateway is done?
DOMINIC PERROTTET: The benefit is there already, but there’s no doubt once this project is complete. That’s when we will see the true benefits and realise the true benefits to motorists across our great city and state. And these projects don’t happen overnight. As I said, the end of the year, we’ll get the Rozelle Interchange. 2025 Gateway. And then the Western Harbour Tunnel after that. I mean, these projects, if you have the vision, if you have the commitment to just keep going despite the opposition that comes our way, they’ve transformed our city and state.
As I’ve said in the past, the New South Wales Labor opposition called the M2 the road to nowhere. Could you imagine if the M2 was not built? Could you imagine if people were still crawling up Epping Road every single day to get to work? Could you imagine Parramatta Road today if we did not build the WestConnex? These projects are challenging, but, importantly, they’re part of that determination and our long-term plan to keep our state moving forward and setting it up for our children and their children. That’s what happens when you make the financial decisions and have the perseverance and the commitment.
And I want to thank as well my predecessors, Mike Baird and Gladys Berejiklian, as well because there were many – these projects and the cabinet Expenditure Review Committee, all those years and years that we’d gone through to get to this point today. And [indistinct] there’s no doubt once Rozelle Interchange is built, once Gateway has been completed in 2025 our city will have been reshaped before our very eyes. And what a great thing that’s going to be – not for the sake of it. Yes, we’ve created jobs during construction. Yes, it’s driven our economy and provided opportunity for people. But ultimately at the end of the day it’s all about families. It’s all about making sure people spend more time with their families and less time travelling, and that’s what [indistinct].
JOURNALIST: How many years [indistinct] subsequent reform, and will your government need to re-up that tolling subsidy that you announced in the last budget, would you need to keep rolling those subsidies over, the rebates for people before any major reform [indistinct]?
DOMINIC PERROTTET: Well, obviously I’ve made it very clear that I want to see tolling reform in this city. And we are working the Treasury’s adviser to get that done as soon as possible. But we ultimately determined it couldn’t be done in the short term in terms of the work that had to go into that, and that’s why we announced our plan to provide a 40 per cent rebate on tolls up to $750 for motorists if you spend more than $375 per year.
Now ultimately what I want to see is a united network. I wanted to see a united network with lower pressure and lower prices and put more money back into household budgets. That is our focus. But ultimately I want to make this point as well: the great social benefit of building motorways like WestConnex means that the other roads flow faster as well. If we hadn’t built this road, Parramatta Road would be a complete car park. So by driving, by investing in building roads like this one, people choose to use the motorway, they can save 40 minutes on travel time. If they want to use Parramatta Road they can as well. It’s a win-win-win for Western Sydney.
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] saying that tolling reform work won’t be released before the election, when you said it wasn’t possible to do in the short term, are you saying we won’t see that [indistinct]?
DOMINIC PERROTTET: It’s going to take some time. It will be completed sometime in the next term of government. Obviously we’ve always had toll relief plans in place.
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] half a billion dollars in the last budget, 500 million-odd or something that you gave over to Sydney drivers for tolling. I mean, are we, are New South Wales taxpayers going to be left footing the bill for Sydney drivers for the next two, three, four years?
DOMINIC PERROTTET: I mean, with respect, we subsidise public transport in this state as well. That’s the role the state plays so that people can get around our city and state faster. That’s what this is all about. At the same time we’re going through a challenging economic period and our long-term economic plan of the Liberals and Nationals in this state ensures we continue building [indistinct] prosperity for the people of our state.
Now, I’ve made it very clear I want to move to a network, one network right across our city. Now that will take [indistinct] interim period we have those rebates in place to help household budgets across our state.
JOURNALIST: Premier, [indistinct]. Do you think [indistinct] cost of living?
DOMINIC PERROTTET: Well, this is the point I make. It’s very [indistinct]. I back in motorways 100 per cent. Our government builds motorways. That’s what we’ve done. We built the NorthConnex, the WestConnex. Could you imagine our city without these roads? This is transforming our city for our people. Western Sydney are the big winners out of this project opening today.
Now, we have a toll cap of $11.60. A toll cap. But ultimately as well, you don’t have to use the road. You can use Parramatta Road. Everyone is a winner. If you don’t want to use the motorway, you don’t have to. And you’ve got a much faster journey on Parramatta Road. And if Labor were in you wouldn’t be able to drive on Parramatta Road. It would be an absolute car park. So this is – these are the transformative projects opposed every step of the way, now opening.
And you know what? Watch all the cars come through, over 100,000 cars, motorists, a day will be using this road. That is success. That is success that comes from drive, determination and actually making the decisions that benefit the people of our state. And it’s our plan that’s going to keep driving New South Wales forward.
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] $70 for heavy vehicles, however.
DOMINIC PERROTTET: Yeah.
JOURNALIST: Are you pushing all the trucks on to Parramatta Road?
DOMINIC PERROTTET: No, look the, the same argument was raised about NorthConnex. The same arguments were raised about NorthConnex. Who doesn’t like NorthConnex? It’s one of the best tunnels anywhere in the world. Once again opposed every step of the way. Pennant Hills Road has been transformed by the construction of NorthConnex. Today – today – we see that this road as well, this tunnel as well, what can happen if you have the drive, the determination, the perseverance to change our state for the better. And that’s what we’re seeing today.
You don’t go – heavy vehicles, yes, they go through, but they go through those – they go through the tunnels. That was opposed at the time of NorthConnex. But what a great [indistinct].
JOURNALIST: Trucks are forced to take NorthConnex, though.
DOMINIC PERROTTET: Yes.
JOURNALIST: Are you considering forcing trucks to –
DOMINIC PERROTTET: No, the point is on NorthConnex they are.
JOURNALIST: They are, yes.
DOMINIC PERROTTET: Yes, but not – no, what I’m saying is that you will get many trucks using these tunnels. This one of the safest roads you’ll see anywhere in the world. One of the safest roads.
DOMINIC PERROTTET: Well, let’s see what –
DOMINIC PERROTTET: Let’s see what they do. I mean, there are always naysayers. We have dealt with this as a government for years – opposed every step of the way. The New South Wales Labor shadow transport minister still opposes this road. What are they going to do? Are they going to come in after the election and fill it up? Are we going to – what are they going to do? This could have been a dump site if New South Wales Labor were in. Opposed every step of the way. And success will be shown.
Success will be shown by the motorists that come here, come through this tunnel every single day. Success is about having our families across New South Wales spending more time together and less time travelling. And as Sydney grows, it needs to grow well. People opposed the Opera House. People opposed the Harbour Bridge. People oppose every construction project that we have built, but you have to persevere and do what is right to set up our people for success. That’s what it’s all about.
JOURNALIST: In your opening answer you mentioned three projects coming – Gateway, Rozelle Interchange, Western Harbour Tunnel. You didn’t mention Beaches Link. If you win the election is there any hope work will start on that in the next term of government?
DOMINIC PERROTTET: Well, that’s – Beaches Link is in the long-term plan. And that’s always been part of the plan. You’ve got to keep building the network for the future. Now, what we’ve said is once we’ve gone through the stages, you’ve got Rozelle, you’ve then got Gateway, you’ve then got the Western Harbour Tunnel. Now they are the projects we’re focused on now. Western Harbour Tunnel will have the capacity to then come off that tunnel into the Beaches Link after that. So we’re building these roads with an eye on the future and linking up our cities and state for generations to come.
JOURNALIST: So [indistinct] timeline, where does that leave the timeline for Beaches Link?
DOMINIC PERROTTET: We haven’t got a timeline on that. All we’ve got a timeline on is delivering the Western Harbour Tunnel, Rozelle and Gateway. And we’ll keep doing that because these projects change lives for the better.
DOMINIC PERROTTET: [Indistinct].
JOURNALIST: Your very first press conference as Premier, you declared WestConnex as a tourist attraction. Do you maintain that?
DOMINIC PERROTTET: It’s a tourist attraction. [Indistinct]. Yeah, it is a great day. It is a tourist attraction. And we turned Pennant Hills Road into a tourist attraction with NorthConnex. And I know that road because I use it every day. And I know many, many parents driving their kids to school in that area now have a much safer trip to school because those trucks are off Pennant Hills Road. So, yeah, I’ll back it in. It’s a tourist attraction.
JOURNALIST: Just on another issue, Premier, Labor has released its koala plan, [indistinct] protecting koala habitat. Do you think there’s a tension within your government over protecting koala habitat and land clearing rights [indistinct] held back the protection of koala habitat over the last decade?
DOMINIC PERROTTET: No, and [indistinct] habitat in national parks. We have expanded more national parks and preserved more national parks than at any point in the history of our state. And not only have we invested in our national parks, and under the previous leadership of Treasurer Matt Kean and the work that he did with national parks in this state, we’ve also invested more in our infrastructure so that our people can enjoy national parks. So we want to preserve our native habitat and at the same time we want our great people to enjoy the rich natural environment that we have in our state.
So there are always discussions from time to time and you want to get the balance right. But, you know, our track record, particularly on the environment, $2 billion of investment by the Liberals and Nationals. I believe we’ve done more than ever – than any government before us when it comes to the expansion and enhancement of national parks in this state.
JOURNALIST: It doesn’t seem to be working, though. I mean, koalas [indistinct].
DOMINIC PERROTTET: How many times have they announced this park? Third time. Third time lucky. No, it just shows you the lack of policy depth and ideas. It’s the same old, you know, policy that they’ve re-announced. What we’ve done, what we’ve done here in our time in government is expand national parks. We’ve set up national parks and invested in national parks right across our state. No other government has done more than we have in that space. There are always different – there is no doubt there are different points of view on these matters. But look at the record. Judge us on the record. Look at the record.
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] what do you make of [indistinct] announcement today that [indistinct] address the rural teacher shortage [indistinct]. Your Education Minister said yesterday that there was no [indistinct] New South Wales.
DOMINIC PERROTTET: Well, a couple of points. I welcome any initiative that governments put on the table to drive whether it’s in metropolitan Sydney or regional New South Wales a greater workforce in the industries where there are shortages. Nationally [indistinct] we are all working together [indistinct] shortages in those areas are addressed. And no doubt teaching, health care, construction, hospitality, there are challenges right across the board.
The good news is we’re seeing immigration come back. We’re seeing that backlog addressed. I mean, I think by the end of the year a lot of those challenges we’re facing today will be rectified. But I haven’t seen Jason’s policy, but what I’d say is you welcome all ideas and all initiatives that help address shortages in the industry [indistinct].
SPEAKER: Last question, please.
DOMINIC PERROTTET: We haven’t got a plan on that. What we’ve got a plan on, as I’ve said on Narrabri and gas, is I want that project up and running as quickly as possible. I’ve called it in as critical infrastructure and there’ll be a reservation policy attached to that. We are working very closely with the Federal Government in relation to putting downward pressure on household bills. We worked very closely with them, as other Premiers around the country did as well, putting those caps in place, at the same time setting up energy security for the long term.
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] the former Nationals leader John Anderson has urged the New South Wales Nationals [indistinct] cashless gaming system, he says it won’t have an impact on regional communities like some may have feared. What do you make of these comments?
DOMINIC PERROTTET: Well, I’ve always said from the outset – and I saw John’s comments today – that this issue needs to be addressed. And we’re moving to cashless gaming in New South Wales. We have more pokie machines in New South Wales than anywhere [indistinct]. Now, that was caused – that was caused – by the previous Labor Government. We’re fixing that up.
JOURNALIST: Are you and the Nats on the same page?
DOMINIC PERROTTET: Yeah, we’re having very constructive discussions. The details, the finer details – the finer details – are being worked out. The finer details. The finer details. The destination is cashless gaming. The policy is this – the policy is this – we are having cashless gaming in New South Wales. That is the destination. We are going to stop money laundering through pokie machines. We are going to stop the proceeds of crime being flushed down pokie machines, as clearly recommended by the head of the crime commission here in our state. The number one – number one – recommendation is cashless gaming. That’s what we’re doing. And at the same time we’re going to do everything we can to help those people who are in difficulty, and we’re going to stop family breakdowns occurring through problem gambling in this state. That’s where we’re going.
And whether it’s John’s comments or anyone else’s comments, I believe the public are completely onside with moving to cashless gaming in New South Wales because they know it’s right and they know a friend or a family member who’s been affected.
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] loophole [indistinct] and should it be closed?
DOMINIC PERROTTET: Which loophole?
JOURNALIST: Including the political donation from gambling companies [indistinct] but clubs cannot.
DOMINIC PERROTTET: You know, I mean, when it comes to donations, we need to have the highest integrity when it comes to political donations – political donations – in this state and in this country. Now, in addition to that, I am all in favour – all in favour – of donations. We need the public to have complete faith. Politicians, governments [indistinct]. I am a longstanding advocate of public faith. A longstanding advocate of public faith, because we need to be in a position where the public have the greatest confidence possible [indistinct]. Anything that we can do to increase that we should. Thanks, guys.