Interview with 104.9 Sunshine Coast FM

LYNDA PROUT [HOST]: A petition has been launched fighting for every sleeper of the rail line to Maroochydore on the back of the Federal Government’s announcement last week that it’s taking another look at the project. Two other local projects were cut following the Federal Government’s spending review. The Mooloolah River Interchange Upgrade and the Nicklin Way Third Avenue connection at Caloundra. We had a couple of local Federal MPs on the show last week. Today we’re joined by a representative from the Federal Government, Assistant Minister for Regional Development, Senator Anthony Chisholm. Thanks for joining us today.

ANTHONY CHISHOLM [ASSISTANT MINISTER]: Good to be with you, Lynda, and your listeners.

PROUT: Well, first, let’s get some clarity over the rail line to Maroochydore last week, how Federal MPs said it’s as good as shelved. In other words, the language that was used around it is basically political talk for it’s not happening. Can you give us some clarity, though? Will the project be delivered and when?

CHISHOLM: The money is still set aside in the budget for construction, the $1.44 billion, but what we’ve done is we’ve set aside $160 million to do the proper planning. And I think what’s disappointing about the local Federal LNP MPs is actually they didn’t own up to basically plucking a figure out of the air when they initially said they were going to support the rail line, because we went through the Infrastructure Review when it became pretty clear from that that they’ve significantly underfunded this rail link. And it really highlights why this Infrastructure Review was necessary to ensure that we can actually get these decisions right and the funding in place to actually build these things.

PROUT: Okay, so the 2032 Brisbane Olympic and Paralympic Games was something that the Sunshine Coast was using as leverage to get this infrastructure investment. The project is estimated to take eight or nine years to build. So, is there a chance now of this being delivered in time for the games? Is that a priority?

CHISHOLM: We’re still committed to the project, but we really need the proper planning to be done-

PROUT: Now, they said they had done the costing?

CHISHOLM: Well, I think they did it on the back of a beer coaster, to be honest, Lynda. And we’ve gone and got the Infrastructure Review done. They’ve identified that this project is significantly underfunded. So, we’ve committed the $160 million to do the proper planning, and we also still have the $1.44 billion in the Budget. We’re committed to the project, but we want to ensure that it can be done in a cost-effective way and also work in conjunction with the State Government, which the previous Federal Government didn’t do.

PROUT: Okay, so if you’re committed to the project and it’s going to cost more than was initially estimated, does that mean that you’ll find the money for it?

CHISHOLM: Well, obviously that’ll be a decision that we’ll have to make once we get the full costing and that planning work is done and then obviously working in conjunction with the State Government. But we understand it’s a significant growth area for the country, in particular in Queensland, and obviously it’s linked to the Olympics, but it does need the proper planning to be done and the proper costing to be done.

PROUT: So, chances of it getting delivered by 2032, are they good still?

CHISHOLM: I’ll leave that for a decision for Government to make. But what we signalled last week is that we want to be a government that invests in infrastructure that’s vital to Australia’s needs and Queensland’s needs. But we also want to ensure that we deliver on what we say we can deliver on as well.

PROUT: Back to the Mooloolah River Interchange and the Nicklin Way Third Avenue connection at Caloundra. Both are essential road projects. Why were they cut?

CHISHOLM: Effectively, the Infrastructure Review identified a number of projects across Queensland that they said shouldn’t receive Federal Government funding at this stage, and that’s the decision that the Minister accepted. So, there were a couple of projects on the Sunshine Coast that basically do not demonstrate that they are an effective investment of Federal Government priorities at this stage.

PROUT: Inflation and easing pressure on inflation has been cited as a reason for these budget cuts. If inflation continues, won’t they just get more expensive, isn’t it better to do things now than later?

CHISHOLM: Well, there’s also the challenge of workforce and ensuring that we can build these projects on time, as scheduled. And remember, there wasn’t a cut in money towards the infrastructure program. The program is still the $120 billion pipeline that the previous Government was committed to, that we’re committed to. What it’s reflective of is just projects are costing more to do.

PROUT: Assistant Minister for Regional Development, Anthony Chisholm. Thank you so much for joining us today.

CHISHOLM: Thanks, Lynda. Good to be with you and your listeners.