Transcript - Radio 4CA, Cairns with Murray Jones

MURRAY JONES [HOST]: You know, we have ongoing road issues in the far north, particularly with our wet season and the flooding we've had in the last year or so. But for the economic benefit of some of our more outlying regions, some of the remote regions in the far north and north west Queensland, it’s important to keep those roads in good condition and put in upgrades where possible, particularly for a lot of different things, including mining, livestock and just, you know, the economic benefits of so many of those small towns. My special guest this morning, Queensland Senator Anthony Chisholm, is the Assistant Minister for Education and Regional Development. Anthony Chisholm, good morning. Welcome to Cairns.

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

JONES: Nice to have you along. You're off to Normanton today because I guess that's, in a lot of ways, the centre of where some of these works are happening. You know, for Burketown, particularly Normanton as well. Tell me a little bit more about this. Thirty million dollars, just over $30 million that's been set aside specifically for some of these rural and remote roads.

CHISHOLM: Yeah, so we’ve partnered with councils, so it's an 80% federal government funding, 20% council funding. So, they're our partners on delivering on the projects. The good thing is the councils are really keen, so they've already got on and started some of the work already. So, when I'm in Normanton this afternoon, I'll be able to look at progress being made on the road projects there and it really is about safety. I acknowledge what you said about the wet season and how much damage that does to local roads. So, it's always a constant battle for those councils to maintain them. So, this is the federal government recognising that, working constructive effectively with councils to provide that money and ensuring that these important works can take place, making it safer. But I think the other thing is that this is important for these areas is the economic development that can come from these projects as well.

JONES: Yes, sure. And we were talking off air just before we started this morning about mining and, you know, the north west province that Bob Katter always reminds me about. I think there's a lot behind what he's saying. There's a lot of untapped potential. So, having these roads upgraded and sealed in a lot of cases, what we're talking about here certainly goes a long way to some of that potential, mining wise, in the future.

CHISHOLM: It certainly can and I've been really struck in the last few weeks. I spoke at a critical minerals conference in Townsville and there was a couple hundred people there. And then about two weeks later I actually spoke at a critical minerals conference in Sydney. Vastly different crowds, but they were all excited about the opportunity in the north west. So, I know what Bob's like. Bob's prone to talking a lot, but I think that what you can see from the interest, from boots on the ground in Townsville and people in Sydney who are looking to make investments that there is a real opportunity here that we need to take advantage of.

JONES: Yeah, sure. You know, with some of those more traditional, the nickel, the gold, you know, there's some, some real prospects there moving forward, but some of the rare earths as well. And I guess this critical road infrastructure is just so important. A little bit closer to home and I've been having a bit of a laugh. Just in the last week or so, I've been seeing all these memes coming up on social media saying the Romans managed to build these roads 2000 years ago that are still standing. And our barren river bridge there at Kuranda is falling apart since 1963 when it was built. Probably a few chariots and a few donkeys doesn't really compare to the buses, the trucks and of course the pure volume going across some of these bridges. So, I don't think the comparison really stacks up. But, you know, we do have some issues closer to the coast here and particularly, you know, the Kuranda range. We had a shocking accident just in the last couple of days. Some of that infrastructure and particularly that bridge work, which I understand is mainly a state concern, but some federal funding with respect to some of these issues would be certainly welcomed at this time.

CHISHOLM: Yeah, we understand there's enormous demand for road infrastructure across far north Queensland, particularly with the growing population that you have here as well. We did make before the election some announcements around money for the Kuranda Range Road, which I understand is a significant one for that part of the world. I'm aware of the bridge issue in terms of I'm aware that there is local concern about it. I know that there's a number of bridges across the state that are getting to that point where they do need upgrades to maintain their safety. So, I was in Ipswich recently where we made some announcements about an important bridge there that has been causing delays for important freight routes at the same time. So, we'll work constructively with state government and council as best as we can. There's obviously a lot of roads and a lot of bridges around the country that need support, but I do understand that it is a high growth area there and a really a well utilised part of the world as well.

JONES: Yeah and look, I certainly understand when you see some of the figures in relation to roads and bridges. I mean, they're eye watering figures too. They're not cheap.

CHISHOLM: No and unfortunately, they're not getting any cheaper either, so that we are constantly dealing with cost overruns. What we've tried to do is, the federal government is trying to be realistic about what can be delivered and when it can be delivered, because I think the public get pretty sick of politicians going around and making announcements and then they don't see actually anything happen. So, we're trying to be realistic and ensure that where we are spending money, that people can see that that work is going to happen.

JONES: Excellent and just over $30 million, basically put in the kitty there to deal with some of the roads, particularly in the north and the north west part of Queensland and particularly for some of those outlying regions that certainly have a lot of need. We talk about the Kuranda Range and us having needs here, but certainly in those parts of the world. And of course, Cairns being the centre, sorry Cairns and Townsville, I guess the need is there for quite a few of those areas. Having those areas working well is a good thing. Before we wrap up this morning, I just wouldn't mind having a quick chat to you, putting on your hat as the Assistant Minister for Education. Inclusive education. It's something that here in Queensland, that was actually put in by the LNP many years ago. I can understand that inclusive education is important. You know, special schools have got a very chequered history and, you know, unfortunately, abuse in a lot of circumstances in the history of Queensland. But, I mean, for so many teachers, having kids with special needs in your standard classrooms, with kids without those special needs presenting is a real challenge. I know that the answer is to have more support for teachers with teacher aids, but so many teachers are spending 60 per cent or 70 per cent of their time dealing with one or two kids with really serious behavioural issues at the cost of everybody else, the kids that want to learn. Bringing the standards down, inclusive education is not something we're likely to stand away from in the short term, but something really needs to change because we're just not retaining teachers and it's becoming a real crisis in education.

CHISHOLM: It is a real challenge and you're right, we aren't retaining enough teachers, but it's probably more difficult than that because not enough people are choosing to study in the first place. The ones that do, not enough are finishing their degree, so it becomes a really compounding problem. So, we need to do what we can to ensure that more people are choosing to study teaching. And every opportunity I get to talk to people in high school, I really encourage them to think about teaching. But we also need to do what we can to provide more support for those who are and then for those when they start in the classroom. So, for instance, the announcement we made in the budget about providing money for those doing their prac placements, which will start in July next year, will hopefully encourage those people who are studying. But also, we need to look at what we can do to ensure that those teachers, when they enter the classroom for the first time, they are equipped with the necessary skills to deal with some of those challenging circumstances that you mention, because this is a reality in the modern classroom.

JONES: Yeah, and a real challenge for teachers and unfortunately, having that wider impact on the rest of the students in the class as well. Well, look, we've covered some interesting territory from the north west, we even touched on the Romans back 2000 years ago and the modern education system as well. Queensland Senator, Anthony Chisholm is the Assistant Minister for Education and Regional Development. Thank you so much for your time this morning. Cheers.

CHISHOLM: Thanks, Murray. Good to be with you.