11 May 2017
Subjects: Funding for Queensland infrastructure projects
Ben Davis: Darren Chester, Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. Good afternoon, Minister. Appreciate your time.
Darren Chester: Good afternoon, thanks for the opportunity.
Ben Davis: Cross River Rail—what happened? Why don't we have any money for it?
Darren Chester: Well, the door's not closed. There's a pathway pretty clear to there now for the Queensland Government in terms of the National Rail Program, which the Treasurer announced last night. And it's $10 billion over ten years and we want to work with the state exactly on the type of project you're describing. Now the valuable project planning work is still underway as part of our government—the Federal Government's—$10 million contribution for the planning of Cross River Rail. That's on top of the Queensland Government's $50 million commitment. So look, largely I believe that the two levels of government are working quite well together on the project. There's more work to be done in terms of that planning work and the Prime Minister's made it very clear he's keen to work with the states on rail projects and the Cross River Rail is obviously a priority for Queensland.
But I do take exception to the suggestion from the Premier that it's the number one infrastructure project in Queensland because …
Ben Davis: What is?
Darren Chester: … well as I travel up and down the coast of Queensland and visit dozens of country towns and every one of those communities has a number one project and some of them are being funded through the Bruce Highway package.
Now, Queensland is a vast state, as all of your listeners know. There's a huge amount of infrastructure work going on. There's funding of $6.7 billion being rolled out by the Commonwealth for the Bruce Highway which is actually saving lives today and it's been a great program and there's plenty of other work going on in terms of the M1 Motorway activities, the Toowoomba Second Range crossing which is the biggest single road project I've got underway anywhere in Australia right now. And the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail announcement last night of $8.4 billion. Most of—or not most, but a very significant part—of that money is going to be spent in Queensland because of the terrain we're working through in Toowoomba to get the rail up the crossing will be expensive tunnelling work.
Ben Davis: Alright, Minister, I'll ask about Inland Rail at the moment. You just said $8.4 billion, so that's out of the ten right? That doesn't leave much for the …
Darren Chester: No, no, sorry mate, that's on top of the ten.
Ben Davis: That's on top of the ten.
Darren Chester: So the $8.4 billion for Inland Rail is an equity injection by the Commonwealth to ARTC. That is completely separate to the National Rail Program.
Ben Davis: Brilliant.
Darren Chester: The National Rail Program is $10 billion. It hasn't been touched by anyone at this stage. It's a question now for myself and the Urban Infrastructure Minster, Paul Fletcher, to work with our state counterparts on urban projects and regional projects that might be suitable for rail investment.
Now, when I go to the Sunshine Coast, as I have a couple of times for different announcements recently, the number one project for people in that part of the world is the Nambour to Brisbane duplication project, which I think is a very good project as well. So I think we've set up a pathway now where we can work with the states if they get the business cases to us and get the planning work done with us that we're going to have a very productive ten years of infrastructure investment, the type of things that our kids and our grandkids will thank us for.
Ben Davis: What's the hold up on the business case? You've had it for some time; it came through just after the last state budget, which was June.
Darren Chester: Well, Infrastructure Australia needs to provide—so Infrastructure Australia is a separate body to the Government, as you're aware, and it provides us with an assessment of these major projects worth more than $100 million and we're still waiting for its assessment of the Cross River Rail business case before any funding commitment will be made by the Commonwealth.
Ben Davis: Alright so you're saying Infrastructure Australia is holding this up?
Darren Chester: Well I don't think they're holding it up. I think there asking questions of the Queensland Government on more detailed aspects of the project. I mean these things don't happen quickly and I understand people get frustrated but I have an obligation and as you would fully expect, I have an obligation to get value for money for Australian taxpayers and I can't commit, you know, millions and sometimes billions without having a lot of detailed work done. Now in the case of Inland Rail, obviously that work's been going on for many years now and it reached a pinnacle last night with an $8.4 billion commitment. But I'm very keen to work with the Queensland Government on this and other projects because we're seeing the growth pressures going on in southeast Queensland just as we're seeing the great development work that's going along right along the east coast all the way up to the …
Ben Davis: Yeah and Minister, big fan of the regions and they do need to be looked after but we've got a population here in south east Queensland, that's where the bulk of Queensland population is and we know if it's a choke point—which it is—I've got people sitting in cars right now listening to this, going we need help with congestion here. The figures that have been done—69 billion lost in southeast Queensland's economic output over the next 15 years if this thing isn't built—the Cross River Rail. So surely that is a priority, even on your desk?
Darren Chester: Well couldn't agree more. Couldn't agree more. The—for people sitting in their cars now listening to us talk now they're saying “God this guy in Canberra's got no idea”, well I sit in my car and suffer through traffic as well in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and I just want us to get on with the sort of works that get people out of that congestion, get them home with their families, get them enjoying their lives, particularly in southeast Queensland, where obviously it's a lot better weather than we enjoy here in Canberra at times.
But we need to do the planning work and we need to then invest with the states in a fair dinkum way, and they've got to put money on the table themselves, which I understand the Queensland Government is keen to do. But it does take some time, and I know it's frustrating for people. I want to see further investments in rail in Queensland, just as I want to see further investment in the road network, particularly the road network when we're talking about the Bruce, which we announced more funding for last night, because it actually saves lives in our community. Now, we're talking …
Ben Davis: [Interrupts] Was that half a billion to widen the highway between Pine Rivers and Caloundra Road? What's that, six lanes, I think?
Darren Chester: Yeah, and all credit there. This is part of the $6.7 billion we've been working in partnership with Queensland on. There's been some savings from the earlier work which is now being reapplied to Queensland. We haven't taken it back and put it into consolidated revenue in Canberra, or Sydney, or Melbourne, or anywhere else; it's been left in Queensland for more important work. So that's $530 million for some work on the Pine River to Caloundra section; the Wide Bay Highway-Bruce Highway intersection is getting an upgrade; the Deception Bay interchange work; and there's another $182 million for work we haven't even decided yet with the Queensland Government where that will go. It will be for safety upgrades because we've had such a terrible spike in road trauma in the last couple of years. So we are getting a lot of things done, and I understand people get frustrated, but we really do want to build the infrastructure that our kids and grandkids will thank us for because we know that that's really going to make a difference in peoples' lives.
Ben Davis: Darren Chester, my guest this afternoon. He's the Federal Infrastructure Minister, Minister for Transport as well, just coming out of Question Time in Canberra where last night Scott Morrison handed down his second Budget.
Just on the Inland Rail, can I ask you about this, Minister? Again, I'm a fan of the idea of Inland Rail and what it will provide and how it will open up different channels. I know the Palaszczuk Government has offered to basically give to Canberra, or give to the Commonwealth, the existing rail corridor here in Queensland. I mean, we've already got a track; we've already got rail.
Darren Chester: Absolutely. We're going to need to work with …
Ben Davis: [Interrupts] Will you take it up?
Darren Chester: Well, let me just clarify for a second. Obviously I have to work with the Queensland, New South Wales, Victorian governments on the final route. Now, there's a big discussion in Queensland in terms of the access point to the port and how we develop that, and that's a conversation we need to have with the Port of Brisbane and industry sources, and that's part of the reason why we announced a National Freight Strategy quite recently, to work through an investment blueprint on that really large piece of work closer to Brisbane. But the other big pieces of work that are going to occur with Inland Rail, as I described to you before, is getting up the range to Toowoomba then heading south, down across the Downs, into New South Wales. There's a lot of new track to be constructed, and there's been a fair bit of community consultation going on in recent months as we try to make sure we get the best alignment that suits the community's needs and doesn't disrupt them unnecessarily to deliver that important national bit of infrastructure we're after.
Ben Davis: I personally, about six weeks ago, drove out between Warwick, Yelarbon, all the way out to Goondiwindi, and I was following a rail track there that goes across the border. It's there.
Darren Chester: Yeah, and this is the important thing about the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail project. It is 1700 kilometres of route, but there's only about 600 kilometres of actually brand new track. There's a lot of—if I say only it doesn't sound like much—there's a lot of work, but then there's a lot of upgrading of the existing tracks as well, and that's why we need to get intergovernmental agreements with each of the states to get access to their tracks. We want to have a long-term lease with them so we can invest with some level of security that we're not wasting taxpayers' money. So that's a critical part of the project, and that's why I'm keen to have more discussions with the Queensland Government—we've already had some—but have more discussions with the Queensland Government and the other governments along the route to get this project underway. Let's not underestimate how big the announcement was last night. That will really open up that eastern corridor. It's the biggest rail project undertaken in Australia in 100 years. It's one that Queensland …
Ben Davis: [Interrupts] It's been 100 years in the making, exactly. Minister, appreciate your time. Thank you for stepping us through it. Darren Chester there, the Infrastructure and Transport Minister.