Interview ABC Radio Alice Springs

STUART BRASH [HOST]: And they won’t get it, but the Tanami will get an extra $200 million. Senator Anthony Chisholm is the Assistant Minister for Regional Development. Good morning to you.

ANTHONY CHISHOLM [ASSISTANT MINISTER]: Good morning, Stuart. Good to be with you.

BRASH: Now, Senator Chisholm, just confirm this is new money? This $200 million is new money for the Tanami?

CHISHOLM: That’s correct, yeah. It’s additional to what was already in the budget, $200 million. And that shows the importance of this infrastructure review because it did highlight what were the priorities. But it also highlighted how badly the previous government had underfunded some of these promises. So, this enabled us to prioritise what was important, but also ensure we provided adequate money to complete these projects so that the public can have confidence in doing what we will say.

BRASH: So, in totality, how much money is now available to seal the Tanami?

CHISHOLM: From the Federal Government, the contribution is $353 million.

BRASH: Okay, now this $200 million is for the Territory side. It’s not going to the WA or anything.

CHISHOLM: That’s my understanding. It’s the Alice Springs – well, it goes to the corridor. So, it does go to the Alice Springs to Halls Creek corridor. And that’s the Tanami Road progressive updates, which is how we work in conjunction with the NTG on it.

BRASH: Yeah. Now on the Territory side, we’re zooming ahead and ceiling works continue. I’m not sure WA has been moving along at a fast lick. What do you know about what’s happening in the WA side?

CHISHOLM: I do know that they have had some constraints on the WA side, and we’ve also found that with the Outback Way at the same time, which I’ve been briefed on as well. So, we’ll certainly be working constructively. But it does go to highlight the capacity constraints that we’re dealing with when it comes to infrastructure right across the country and that’s particularly felt in remote communities as well.

BRASH: Will the money, which is on offer, which is on the table, plus the WA and NT government’s contributions, will that finish the road?

CHISHOLM: I don’t have a brief as to how quickly that will ensure the road is done. But what I do know is that it will ensure, from a Federal Government point of view, that we’re providing our contribution to get that done from a progressive upgrade point of view.

BRASH: Now, $200 million, we tend to work I think at about a million is it per kilometre of seal in the Territory? So, that would be another 200 kilometres. Is that your understanding?

CHISHOLM: Look, I wouldn’t like to promise that, Stuart, but that’s my broad understanding of how these things have worked previously.

BRASH: Okay, we’ll look forward to that. Let’s look at the problems with the projects which have gone by the wayside. Have any projects been ditched from the NT?

CHISHOLM: No. All projects that were in the pipeline in the Northern Territory continue. The Tanami Road one was the only one that was identified that needed additional money. But the Buntine Highway upgrade, Litchfield Park Road safety improvements are there. Tiwi Islands Road upgrades, as well as some other priorities are all there, and the funding is continuing.

BRASH: Okay. Now, there are concerns about the move to a 50-50 split when it comes to funding roads and infrastructure. Now, Louise Belato from the road transport industry in the Northern Territory had this to say.

LOUISE BELATO [NT ROAD TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION CEO]: It wouldn’t be in anyone’s best interests, let alone the Federal Government’s, because there’s a knock-on effect to education, to health, to welfare, to every aspect of our community’s lives. When we don’t have bitumen roads, everything costs more.

BRASH: So, Minister, we’ve heard from Catherine King that we’re going to move to a 50-50 split across the country in terms of funding. Does that apply to this project? What’s the go with the Tanami and other projects which are underway in the Northern Territory?

CHISHOLM: The ultimate principle behind the 50-50 proposal, Stuart, is that if we do get to that, it means that more money will be spent on roads and infrastructure. So, that’s the point that we’re making. It’s not seeing that the Federal Government, we’ve maintained our commitment in terms of money. What this would mean is that more money would get spent if we did get to 50-50. But we understand that in some jurisdictions, that there is going to be a capacity problem, and their ability to raise revenue is not as great as others. So, we’ll continue to work constructively with our partners on this, obviously the NTG, to ensure that we can get these projects done, and they’ll be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

BRASH: And I think what Louise Belato is pointing to is the fact that, A, when self-government happened, self-government from the Feds, we had a massive infrastructure deficit already, and we still have that. And secondly, you probably know that the Northern Territory Government’s capacity to generate income is quite limited, and 80 per cent of our income actually comes from the Feds already. So, would we be a prime candidate for getting more assistance on that front?

CHISHOLM: Absolutely. We understand that there are constraints from the NTG when it comes to funding projects like this. So, we’ll work constructively with them, because I’ve been to Alice Springs a couple of times this year. I’ve been to Tennant Creek a couple of times, I know how important roads are in that part of the world, and ensuring they’re safe all year round is a really important part of responsibility for the Federal Government working constructively with the NTG.

BRASH: I’ve just got a text from someone in the tourism industry. They want to know how we got the Mereenie Loop Road, which is underway, will that still be a funding of 80-20? When it comes to Federal versus Northern Territory funding?

CHISHOLM: My understanding is that the existing agreement would remain in place.

BRASH: Okay. So, Marini would be the same? Outback Way would still be the same?


BRASH: And it will still be the same now for the Tanami work as well, I’d assume?

CHISHOLM: That’s my understanding, yep.

BRASH: Okay. And I know Catherine King has said that she will look at considering further funding for those people, like the Northern or those jurisdictions like Northern Territory. But your understanding is that the current projects will still be an 80-20 split.

CHISHOLM: That’s my understanding.

BRASH: Okay. That doesn’t sound categorical, though, Assistant Minister?

CHISHOLM: That’s my understanding.

BRASH: Okay. I don’t know if I can take that anymore. We’ll find out. Can we get clarification on that? Because I think that would be very important for these future projects.

CHISHOLM: Happy to, yeah.

BRASH: Okay. I’ll let you go. Thank you.

CHISHOLM: Thanks Stuart.

BRASH: Senator Anthony Chisholm, Assistant Minister for Regional Development.