Transcript - interview - ABC Radio Capricornia, Rockhampton, Queensland

PAUL CULLIVER [HOST]: Well, Senator Anthony Chisholm is the Assistant Minister for Regional Development. He arrived on a plane, well, about an hour ago. Came straight to the studio. We recorded this conversation just a little bit earlier, and so I can bring it to you now to get an update on the Rocky Ring Road. Senator Anthony Chisholm, good morning to you.

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

CULLIVER: What announcement do you have about the Rocky Ring Road today?

CHISHOLM: Yeah, exciting news today. I’m in town with Queensland State Minister Mark Bailey to announce the first packages of works of the Rocky Ring Road. So, I think the local community will be really excited about that. It’s obviously been a project that’s been talked about for a while, but this announcement today will see work starting later this year, which will be fantastic news.

CULLIVER: All right, so, yeah, what details can you tell me about exactly what is going to get started on?

CHISHOLM: So, there will be some work starting on the North and some starting on the South. So, the northern package will focus on works around the connection between the Rockhampton-Yeppoon intersection at Parkhurst, and then the southern upgrades will include work around the Capricorn Highway and the embankment there as well. So, that will be the start of works on the southern section of the approach into Rockhampton.

CULLIVER: Right. Is there an actual start date for this?

CHISHOLM: Not an exact date, but we are confident it will start by the end of this year.

CULLIVER: Okay, and in terms of who’s doing it – because there was big talk about how many locals would actually be involved in this versus how many people would have to be visiting Rockhampton and there was, you know, would we need workers camps because housing is a big issue. What’s the makeup there? Who’s actually doing the work?

CHISHOLM: What I know is that the announcement today will include some Queensland contractors, which I think is good news. But I’m confident they will use a local workforce and the way that this will be staged over time means that there will be good opportunity for local businesses and local workers to be engaged in the project.

CULLIVER: Yeah. Who are the contractors?

CHISHOLM: That will be announced when we do our press conference a bit later today.

CULLIVER: All right. You’re here now – you don’t want to just tell me?

CHISHOLM: No, I’ll save it for the press conference a bit later.

CULLIVER: All right, sure. How much is this going to cost overall?

CHISHOLM: So, this initial package is $280 million, this was part of the announcement that was brought forward following the October budget and then the money was put in the Federal Budget. It will be $80 million contribution from the Federal Government and $200 million contribution from the state as part of the initial package to get the project started.

CULLIVER: Okay. Do we have a final cost? What do we actually expect this to cost overall?

CHISHOLM: At the moment the estimate is just over a billion dollars as part of the Federal Government project. But as you’d be aware, there is a 90-day review of infrastructure project funding across the country. So, it is possible that there’ll be an updated figure as a result of that, and as everyone knows, at the moment the cost of everything is going up and infrastructure isn’t immune from that. That’s why we’ve conducted this review – to ensure that we can adequately fund what the government’s intention is in terms of infrastructure delivery.

CULLIVER: Okay. I’m surprised by that because we, of course, thought the Rocky Ring Road was fully funded and was going to happen and then it was in the October Labor Budget, when all of a sudden, we were told the cost of the Rock Ring Road was going to blow out, the numbers we were told were something around 1.7 billion. I understand that a billion dollars give or take was funded through the State and Federal Government at roughly an 80‑20 split. So, I’m just curious where’s that extra $700 million at?

CHISHOLM: Well, as I said, the infrastructure review is being undertaken now. So, one of the people on that panel is Mike Mrdak, a former Secretary of the Department. So, we’re confident they’ve got the expertise to actually ensure that we have adequate and accurate information on how much these projects will cost – not only on the Rocky Ring Road, but the entire infrastructure pipeline across the country.

CULLIVER: So, if we’re going to have the project started by the end of the year, but we don’t actually know how much it’s going to cost and we don’t have a commitment of funding from the State and Federal Governments, does that put us in a precarious position?

CHISHOLM: No, I’m confident that people have seen the intention of the Federal Government and the intention of the State Government. We’ve listened to community concerns about the initial announcement, worked constructively together to ensure that we could start the project now. I am confident that there’s a Federal Government that’s absolutely committed to seeing it through, and I get a sense the State Government is as well.

CULLIVER: Yeah. I mean, is this effectively writing a blank cheque, though? Because whatever it costs you’re going to have to finish the thing.

CHISHOLM: Well, I suppose the focus of the government in terms of the infrastructure pipeline review is ensuring that, one, we get good in my view for money but, two, we can deliver on what we say we’re going to deliver on in the time frames that we’ve allowed as well. So, we think that’s important to restore the confidence that the Australian community have in government and the way we operate. So, we want to ensure that we can deliver on our promises, but we can do it in a way that gets good value for money for taxpayers as well. And that’s what part of the infrastructure review is about.

CULLIVER: Right. So, what would change about the project? Because if you’re going to have this review complete after the project has already started, what would actually change about the project?

CHISHOLM: Well, I suppose what the review will focus on is have we got accurate costs on these projects?


CHISHOLM: And importantly, what timeframe they can be delivered in, and then how does government sequence its funding as part of its budgetary commitments?

CULLIVER: Okay. So, it’s not going to be a, “yes, we should be doing this” or a, “no, we shouldn’t”?

CHISHOLM: It’s not on projects that have already started.


CHISHOLM: And that is the case, obviously, from a government point of view in terms of the position of the Rocky Ring Road.

CULLIVER: So, it can’t get mixed halfway?


CULLIVER: Okay. So just on that then, so to be clear, there is no current timeline for how long this whole build is going to take?

CHISHOLM: Not yet. So, this initial work will be completed by the ’25-’26 year. And that’s when we anticipate the next round of funding would become available for the next stage to be completed.

CULLIVER: Okay. So ’25-’26, and how much will have been built by that stage? How much does that actually involve for this first part?

CHISHOLM: Well, that’s basically those two packages that I talked about – so the northern package and the southern package that will be awarded today.

CULLIVER: Okay. We obviously started talking about those contractors. Is there a requirement for local workers and local material there?

CHISHOLM: That gets determined by the State Government, who are the delivery partners on this. My understanding is they do have discussions with those contractors that are awarded these projects about how they can engage the local workforce. I’m familiar with one of the contractors, who I know has a very good record on delivering on those sorts of commitments and has a strong record, particularly in Queensland.

CULLIVER: So today, Assistant Minister, you’ll announce the contractors that will be responsible for delivering this first package, and then there will be potentially different contractors that will work on that second section beyond ’25-’26?

CHISHOLM: Yeah, the State Government would go through a new process in terms of awarding those future contracts. When the governments fund them and get ready to make those announcements.

CULLIVER: Yeah and when that funding for whatever the price tag ends up being for the Rocky Ring Road, when it comes time that the State and Federal Governments have to fund it, do you expect it will continue to be that 80-20 split?

CHISHOLM: That’s my expectation with a project of this significance, I think it is something that is beneficial to the local region but also to the whole of Queensland given the Bruce Highway is really the beating heart of Queensland, and regional Queensland in particular.

CULLIVER: Yeah. We had a caller call through earlier asking about the Rockhampton Ring Road saying a bridge will be built in the process – of course that’s part of the Rocky Ring Road you need to get over the river - asking if there’s been any thought into making that bridge able to carry cars and trains to divert the train line out of town? Is that at all possible in the scope of it?

CHISHOLM: It’s not something that I am aware of. But I’m happy to do that as part of my Regional Development portfolio when working in conjunction with the Infrastructure and Transport Department as well.

CULLIVER: So, does that mean the design is not totally locked?

CHISHOLM: Well, my understanding is that that initial work has been done, which has enabled us to release these first packages and support for that. My understanding is the detailed work on the whole design is still being completed.

CULLIVER: All right. Assistant Minister, thanks for your time today.

CHISHOLM: Thanks, Paul.