Interview ABC Radio Capricornia

KARYN WILSON [HOST]: While other projects were shelved or just totally thrown out the window, the Federal Government announced yesterday they are adding another $347 million to put to the Ring Road, the Rockhampton Ring Road. I spoke with Queensland Senator and Assistant Minister for Regional Development, Anthony Chisholm, about the announcement.

ANTHONY CHISHOLM [ASSISTANT MINISTER]: Well, as part of the infrastructure review that we undertook across the country, this was about ensuring that the Government could fund the really important projects that are going to make a difference. So, that’s why the Rockhampton Ring Road, there’ll be an additional $347 million, $500 thousand that the Federal Government will invest into that project. And it really goes to show you how important this review was. Because this project was underestimated by the previous Coalition government, they didn’t provide enough funding for it. It really proves why this infrastructure review was so vital to ensure that we have an accurate cost estimate of how much this important project will cost.

WILSON: Where does this take the project to? Because it’s expected to cost over a billion dollars.

CHISHOLM: That’s correct. And this will ensure that the Federal Government are meeting their contribution. So, the overall project cost now will be $1.171 billion. So, it is much over $400 million more than what was estimated by the previous government. So, it shows you that this was an important review, but it also shows you that the Federal Government are committed to important projects like this to the Rockhampton community and surrounding areas.

WILSON: You’re making this announcement on the day when we’ve heard that other projects have been postponed or scrapped because of costs. What had to miss out in order for the Ring Road to get this injection?

CHISHOLM: Well, the important thing to note is that the Federal Government commitment to infrastructure has not been cut. We’ve still got the $120 billion pipeline that will be supporting infrastructure around the country. What this infrastructure review did is actually highlight that the previous government was good at making announcements, but not actually adequately providing the funds to do these things. We know that it is getting more expensive to build things, so we wanted to ensure that the public could have confidence that we can deliver on what we say we’re going to do. There’s no better example of that than the Rockhampton Ring Road, that the Federal Government are ensuring that we’ve made our commitment to that it is fully funded and that it will get done.

WILSON: Okay. As you said, it’s going to cost over a billion dollars. Could the feds be coughing up more money in the future?

CHISHOLM: Well, we’re absolutely committed to seeing it done, but we’re contributing our fair share to it, which is what you’d expect the Federal Government to do. But we want to work constructively with States, we want to work constructively with Councils on other programs. Because we know that we are a growing State and that our regions are growing and they need that vital infrastructure that’s going to improve economic activity, but also make it easier for families to get around in a safer way as well.

WILSON: It was announced in December of last year that works were going to start at the end of this year. Where are we at with the project?

CHISHOLM: The State Government are the ones who are responsible for delivering on the project. My understanding is the expectation is that works will start by the end of the year. So, I was there a couple of months ago where we made the first announcement with Minister Bailey as well as the State Members. My understanding is that is still the expectation that that work will start before Christmas.

WILSON: It sort of comes at a week as well, when we heard that Barry O’Rourke, the Member for Rockhampton, he is not contesting the next election. Was this in mind when you made this announcement today about the extra funding?

CHISHOLM: Well, the reality of this is that it’s a good project, it deserves support. But what the Infrastructure Review did was really highlight how much it will actually cost. So, again, I go to the point that I made, that the previous government was good at making announcements, but they didn’t actually reflect what it would cost to do these projects. I know Barry well. He’s been a passionate advocate for the region. I admire what he did to ensure that this remained front and centre of government decision making. And it is really pleasing that the extra money from the Federal Government that will go to ensure that this road is built and I’m confident it will make a significant difference to the local community.

WILSON: I mean, this is a bit local, but is Labor a bit concerned about who can take up the role?

CHISHOLM: I know Barry has been a fantastic advocate and he will leave a big hole to fill. But I know that Labor in Rockhampton has a really proud record from Robert Schwarten to Barry O’Rourke. And I’m confident that when we do go through our processes, we’ll have a really strong Labor candidate for Rockhampton at the State Election.

WILSON: Just one more. I just wanted to ask. We heard that the Inland Rail corridor is one of the ones that is axed or on the shelf right now, and the Ring Road has gotten this money, is it sort of – we’ll have that road infrastructure, but it’s going to be harder to export produce?

CHISHOLM: Well, I think the challenge with the Inland Rail has been that the previous government didn’t actually allocate enough money to do it. So, again, we’re just trying to be honest and upfront with the Australian people about what it actually does cost to do these projects and ensure that they can have confidence of when these projects can be delivered. So, that’s exactly what this Infrastructure Review has done. And that’s why I think that the majority of Australians will welcome it, because they know they can have confidence that the projects the government says they will do, they’ll actually have the ability to deliver on. And that’s an important thing for the Federal Government to stand on.

WILSON: But for that Inland Rail, what do you say to those people who’ve now lost that, as they were hoping for it to happen?

CHISHOLM: Well, the Federal Government is still committed to it, but it is just one that we’re dealing with the financial reality that we need to ensure that we can deliver on what we’re saying we’re going to deliver. And that’s exactly what we’ve done as part of this infrastructure review.

WILSON: That is the Queensland Senator and Assistant Minister for Regional Development, Anthony Chisholm there speaking about I said we got a call into the office yesterday from his office saying that the Ring Road is getting an extra $347-plus million dollars for the Rocky Ring Road. And by all accounts, he said it’s supposed to start by the end of this year. Works on that. We’ll keep in the know about that for you here on ABC Capricornia.