Transcript - Interview - ABC Afternoon Briefing

GREG JENNETT [HOST]: In the meantime, though, a high-powered delegation from Queensland is here in Parliament House today, pushing back against the Albanese Government’s huge shakeup of infrastructure spending. Now, you might remember Catherine King has cut dozens of projects from that ten-year pipeline of works. Rail projects and parts of the Bruce Highway are affected in Queensland. Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Queensland Senator Anthony Chisholm has been meeting with Queensland’s Deputy Premier and others. He joins us live in the studio now. Anthony, welcome back. Now, somewhat predictably, I’m saying, we’ve got a huge stink on our hands, especially in Queensland, over these projects that have been kicked out of the pipeline. Now, Minister King is adamant, I think six times she said no funding cuts to Queensland. But how credible is that? If you’re pushing – I think it’s nine, nine projects out of the pipeline in Queensland, you by implication deprive them of federal funding, don’t you?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM [ASSISTANT MINISTER]: Well, it’s absolutely correct what Minister King is saying, because they’re actually receiving extra money as part of this review to complete some of these projects. And I think this is exactly the point that we’ve been making all along, is that we did the Infrastructure Review and what it came back is it said the previous government hadn’t adequately planned and funded these projects. We know that there are inflation challenges as well. So, some of these projects are going to cost more. We are accounting for that now in a proper way, which means we’ve contributed more money for infrastructure in Queensland. The discussion we had with the State Government today was really constructive. I’ve known Steven for a long time, a lot of the mayors were there I consider them friends as well, and we had a good, constructive discussion. But the reality is that we are dealing with significant challenges when it comes to costs, and we need to deal with that in a responsible way. And that’s what the Government has done.

JENNETT: So, are you holding the line? Were any concessions offered on particular projects? We’ll get to funding mix in a moment, by the way. But on particular projects that he is concerned about Commonwealth funding for, have any concessions been made today?

CHISHOLM: They’d be matters for Minister King, but the Minister has been clear that the Infrastructure Review will stand and our response to it will stand. And it is something that we have provided additional money to complete some of these projects. So, the Rockhampton Ring Road is one that needed additional money. The Faster Rail to the Gold Coast needed substantially more money, and we’re dealing with it. And Minister Bailey, at the State Government level, he’s under significant pressure on cost overruns. He should be upfront with the people of Queensland and actually say these things are costing more. That’s what we’ve tried to do federally. The State Government need to be upfront about that as well.

JENNETT: Okay, so it’s not just the State Government that was in town today. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Steven Miles also brought with him a delegation of mayors, truckers and farmers. You’re going to have a fight on your hands with all of these sectoral leaders through to the next election.

CHISHOLM: It was a really constructive meeting today. I know Gary Mahon from the Trucking Association as well. It was a real opportunity for Minister King to explain the process that we went through as part of the Infrastructure Review. The mayors that were there were really constructive as well. They welcomed some of the additional money that we’re providing for Black Spot funding at the same time, which we’re only able to do because of being responsible on the Infrastructure Review. So, it was constructive. The Deputy Premier was constructive as well. And I’m confident that we’ll have an ongoing, strong working relationship as you’d expect of the Federal Government.

JENNETT: All right, then tell us about the funding split, because I know that’s a major pinch point for Queensland as other States actually. So, at present, the major projects are 80 per cent Commonwealth, 20 per cent State. Catherine King has stated what she calls a preference… I don’t know how firm that is, but the word is a preference to take it to 50/50. Where’s that at with Queensland as of today?

CHISHOLM: Well, the important thing to note is that doesn’t impact existing projects that are underway, but that’s the model that we want to move to in the future. From our point of view, it ensures that we will get accurate cost estimates on these projects. So, if the States and the Federal Governments know that they’re responsible for 50 per cent each, it means that they will be able to be accounted for. And if there are overruns, they’ll be evenly split. But also what it means from a Federal Government point of view is, as I’ve said, we’ve committed to that $120 billion pipeline. So, that is still there. It means that if the State Government are putting in more money, it means that more money will get spent. So, for instance, the Bruce Highway is a great example. We’ve maintained our commitment to $10 billion. If the State Government contribute 50 per cent, then that means $20 billion is going to spend on the Bruce Highway and we’re going to be able to make improvements much faster as a result.

JENNETT: Right, but this is the sticking point, isn’t it? This is exactly why Steven Miles is here. He’s not up, evidently, for that 50/50 split. So, can you accommodate anything above that? Even if it’s not 80/20? Can you go 60/40?

CHISHOLM: Well, our view is that given the challenges that we’re dealing with and the need for this infrastructure, we think it is the best pathway forward. We obviously want to be constructive and work with the States and Territories of all jurisdictions to ensure that we’re building this important infrastructure. And I’m sure Minister King will be, but that’s what was recommended as part of the review. That’s what the Minister is committed to and we’ll obviously work with jurisdictions on how we administer that and agree on funding for projects into the future.

JENNETT: All right, well, I know you found yourself today, Anthony Chisholm, in the thick of those negotiations around the State of Queensland. Just stepping back to more conventional federal matters. Cost of living pressures are enormous and building it’s almost a political liability for the Government now in the sense that some backbenchers are talking about new ways to address cost of living pressures. Should a reconsideration of the generosity of stage three tax cuts be included in that?

CHISHOLM: That’s not something that the Government is considering at this time, Greg, but I certainly know that it’s not something we’re considering. What I know, though, is that we’ve got really great backbenchers who are out about in their community and it’s something that I met with Catholic Social Services from many parts of the country yesterday. They talked to me about the challenges that they’re facing with families. So, we know that inflation and cost of living is significant. The numbers reported today were encouraging, which is great, but we know it is the central focus of the Government in doing what we can, but getting that balance right between providing cost of living relief, but not adding to that inflation challenge is obviously significant. We think we’re getting that balance right. The Prime Minister and Treasurer have indicated that there’ll be more to do at the next budget and I’m sure that they will take on board feedback from their great hardworking backbenchers who are out talking to the community and providing that in tough commentary that you’d expect.

JENNETT: It does sound like there’s a fair bit of that feedback coming through and when I hear words like at the moment, they ring loudly in my ears. So, I’m going to store that one away for future conversations on this topic of cost of living. Anthony Chisholm, thanks so much for joining us on a busy day for you.

CHISHOLM: Thanks, Greg.