Minister Madeleine King Press Conference at Fitzroy Crossing

ROGER COOK: It’s great to be here at Fitzroy Crossing to celebrate the opening of the Fitzroy Bridge. I’m joined by local member Divina D’Anna; the Minister for Northern Australia, Madeleine King; and, of course, the Minister for Transport and Deputy Premier, Rita Saffioti.

We know just nine months ago this region was devastated by once-in-100-year floods which devastated this community, wiping out homes, wiping out businesses and wiping out absolutely fundamentally important transport infrastructure. The taking out of the Fitzroy Bridge devastated the community, but not just this community; it is an important part of our national highway network, which meant that communities in the East Kimberley and beyond, were all cut off from being able to traverse the Kimberley. So, it was an incredibly important job that we made sure that we stood up this transport infrastructure as quickly as possible.

Just nine months later, we now have a 250-metre bridge, a $250 million bridge, which has remarkably sprung out of this community. I want to thank the alliance partners but everyone who’s been involved in this incredible construction miracle that has brought this piece of infrastructure back together so quickly. Pleasingly, we have had significant engagement of the local community, in particular local Aboriginal groups who were able to get opportunities for employment, for skills and development, and to get on a pathway of sustained employment into the future. Around a quarter of the construction labour hours on this bridge were contributed by Aboriginal employees. That’s a remarkable achievement, but what is more remarkable is the way that communities have been brought together. This was a single mission – a single mission from the community to see this bridge built back and built back better than ever, as quickly as possible, and to see it built in time for the wet season is really a remarkable achievement and is just an absolute credit to the construction firms, to the government, Main Roads and Department of Transport and communities and, of course, the local community.

Today was a really wonderful day where we got to celebrate the whole community achievement and it was wonderful to be on the bridge for the ribbon-cutting, to see it celebrated by everyone. I think the community is immensely, and rightfully, incredibly proud of what they’ve achieved here today, and we very much look forward to seeing them build on the success as we look to other opportunities and projects to continue the task.

Now, we always said that the road to recovery for this part of the region was going to be a long one – around about a three-year recovery project. But it’s great to see everyone now out of emergency housing, some still in temporary housing, but you can see the large amount of works which are going on right across the community, bringing this community back together, putting lives back together. It’s going to be a long road, but the achievement of getting the Fitzroy Bridge up and running inside nine months is an incredibly important start and we’re very much looking forward to seeing further success in the future.

I’m going to hand you over to Minister King.

MADELEINE KING: Thanks very much, Premier. It really is hard to underestimate how important the rebuild of the Fitzroy Bridge is to the whole nation. This bridge is highway number one. It connects northern Australia and north‑western Australia to the south. Without this bridge, trucks and transport, everybody that wants to travel around the north has to go another 7,500 kilometres and that is entirely unsustainable and that just points to why it was so important to get this work done so quickly.

The Federal Government through the emergency management funding is very pleased to have paired with the state government, and I pay tribute to the Premier, Roger Cook, and Deputy Premier Rita Saffioti and their departments, and all the work they have done to make this a reality in really a very short several months. It could have taken years. It was estimated to take years and it didn’t. It’s happening now and we’re opening it today for that traffic to flow.

I do want to acknowledge quickly the work of Senator Glenn Sterle, Senator for Western Australia, an incredible advocate for the north of this great state. He is a truck driver. He has driven over the old bridge over 300 times and today he will probably be, and I hope he will be, the first truckie to drive over the brand-new Fitzroy Bridge. So, thank you, Glenn, for the work you’ve done and also thanks to the local member, of course, Divina and the WA Labor State Government for the advocacy she does for great places like Fitzroy Crossing.

Again, it’s a pleasure to be here today. The work that has been done and the work of the workers and the local community, both from Fitzroy Crossing, right across the valley, right across the Kimberley, that have been able to have excellent job opportunities over the past number of months to rebuild what is a true asset of the community: a bridge that connects north and south and will be here for a long time to come.

With that, I’ll hand over to the Deputy Premier.

RITA SAFFIOTI: Thank you very much. This is an incredible achievement for all of those who worked so hard over the past nine months to deliver this bridge. Of course, we saw the devastating floods in January this year and as Minister for Transport, we met to discuss how big a priority it was to reconnect the Kimberley. We knew that loss of connection had a massive impact on the local community and the national economy so our number one priority was to reconnect the Kimberley.

Through the work of my Main Roads team – I want to acknowledge Peter Woronzow here today, the Director General of Transport – we fast-tracked a procurement process; a process that normally takes six months took about four weeks. We entered into an incredible alliance with the team that is here today: Georgiou, BMD and BG&E. So basically an alliance with well-known contractors, and can I thank the contractors who then went with the Main Roads team to develop a plan to deliver this project.

We were hoping we could get it done this quickly, but we thought the task was very, very significant and I remember the discussions very early where it was estimated that we would finish in the middle of next year, but because of the work done by the team, and by all the contractors involved, in particular, those other contractors who helped produce the supplies to help build this bridge. Of course, our local engagement with the community has been exemplary. It’s been the best I’ve ever seen. And, of course, what we have seen is many local opportunities go to young people, to local people, and we’ve seen, as the Premier outlined, 24 per cent of the working hours were delivered by Aboriginal people. There was support for local businesses and what we’ve seen is a genuine partnership between government, the companies and the community to deliver an incredible project.

As I’ve said on a number of occasions, this meant, for example, talking to the fabricators who were building other projects, asking them to prioritise this project. It was our number one priority. It was a stretch target to get it done by Christmas and I’m so proud; I’m so happy to have it delivered. And to all of the community, to Divina, who was, of course, here with me every time we came up, when we saw the old bridge dangling here in the river, to when we looked at the plans for the new bridge and the work that’s been undertaken, this was an incredible effort, an effort we’ve never seen, I think, and something that will be remembered for generations to come.

Any questions?

JOURNALIST: You talked about all the local employment and all the jobs that have come out of the local community; it’s a really very exciting moment for people in the community to have got all those employment opportunities. Has there been conversations about specifically what’s next and when that might happen?

RITA SAFFIOTI: Absolutely. There’s a lot of work throughout this area, but one of the key parts of what we’re doing with Main Roads and with our contractors is training the local workforce. There may be some of the workforce that then moves on to other projects. They may not be within government. They may be with the mining sector, for example. So, it’s always about trying to train young people to get the skills and then, if they wish to, move to other projects.

We’re always looking at our budgeting situation, looking at how we can fund other projects and we’ll continue to do that knowing that we have a skilled workforce and a local community who’s very keen to keep people employed. Of course, across government, whether it be in the community sector too, there’s other projects that will be upcoming too. So, there’s a range of projects that are already committed, but more generally we’ll continue to look at how we can deliver more to improve the resilience of the Kimberley.

JOURNALIST: In terms of things that need to be fixed as well from the tourism perspective, you know, that Danggu Geikie Gorge also still needs – isn’t open yet and there’s a few other tourism spots that might need a bit of work too. Is that effort able to be put into that – like, the effort put in here into those sorts of repairs too?

RITA SAFFIOTI: What we’ll do is we’ll look at all the projects that are required throughout the Kimberley and we think we need a long-term plan, a sustainable plan, which allows continued work in the Kimberley both, as we said, as part of the recovery package that there already are significant funds in communities to help deliver, but also what other funding needs to be allocated to continue that program of work. And as we said, it’s a resilience package and what’s so important about having this road completed, of course, is particularly in the East Kimberley, who relies so much on these road connections, having that reconnection will help support them, in particular next year in the tourism season.

JOURNALIST: With other projects and jobs as well, there’s a lot of single-lane bridges and those sorts of things. Is that what you mean by – 

RITA SAFFIOTI: Yeah, the single‑lane bridges – we’ve got an aspiration, of course, throughout the Kimberley to replace the single‑lane bridges with the dual lane. Of course, that requires a partnership with the Commonwealth, which we will engage with, to make sure there is a good partnership in doing that. We’ve already got some that are funded and being delivered throughout the north west and the Kimberley, but there’s others that will need to be done. And there’s always been the aspiration of Main Roads and the team to prioritise those projects because they’re seen as a key part of the program to again build the resilience and improve connectivity throughout the Kimberley.

JOURNALIST: Six months ahead of time – have we set a new standard for the rest of the country now?

ROGER COOK: Every hospital now will be built six months ahead of time!

RITA SAFFIOTI: Look, I think what we learnt and what we continue to learn that working with companies – so we’ve taken an approach of alliance contracting, which means government working with companies and trying to solve the problems together. We believe that working with companies, being around the same table, and working together. So, when there were possibly issues down the supply chain that sometimes we would not have been able to resolve just by one company, but government getting involved really helps. So, that form of working with industry, working with companies, is fundamentally important.

This is an extraordinary project, but, as I said, we put on hold other works in some situations to get this done. So, the whole of our supply chain turned its mind to this project. So, this was, in a sense, a unique situation, but the lessons continue to be for us working with companies, working with contractors, having that strong relationship around the same table, addressing problems, meeting challenges, taking opportunities is what we need to continue to do.

SPEAKER A: Any questions for Minister King?

JOURNALIST: Yeah. I suppose in the region, you know, speaking [indistinct], will you also be trying to keep that employment and, you know, those jobs going up here too?

MADELEINE KING: I think credit to the State Government and the Main Roads Department and all of the bureaucracy of the Western Australian Government, they’ve built up this momentum and it will be important to keep it going. There’s a workforce that has been mobilised and we would want to make the most of that. That’s an advantage now that exists in this community. So, it’s really super important.

So, as Minister for Northern Australia, I’ll speak to my colleagues. I will be in Canberra later tonight sometime for tomorrow’s meetings and I’m more than happy to raise it straight away because this is imperative, that we work hard for the north of Western Australia. Northern Australia as a whole, from Exmouth right across to Gladstone in Queensland, is a very challenging environment, challenging for the regions, challenging for all those communities in terms of, you know, events like we saw in Fitzroy Crossing last year, where they get unduly affected more so than our metropolitan friends and colleagues in the south of the country.

So, yeah, I will be talking to my colleagues about how we can continue to work really productively with the state government. And as the Deputy Premier said, the need to have a sustainable package into the future so we can stage it well, build it well and build resilience so that we can meet the challenges when these weather events happen.

JOURNALIST: We might move on to other issues.

ROGER COOK: Can I just say to finish off, look, I think the secret to the incredible work that’s gone on here is around collaboration. It’s collaboration from the top of government down, so the cooperation and collaboration between the federal and state governments has been amazing, the collaboration between the state government and the alliance partners and the community has been incredible. So, I just want to acknowledge Minister King and the work that she and her government have done, working with Minister Saffioti who’s done an incredible job with Main Roads to bring this together. So, congratulations to everyone.

JOURNALIST: You recently reported on the Police Commissioner who highlighted the need for alcohol restrictions across other parts of WA. We particularly saw that in the Kimberley, you know, towns like Fitzroy Crossing have really high levels of alcohol-fuelled crime, but we’ve seen restrictions in places like Carnarvon. Is there something that’s been missed?

ROGER COOK: Well, we’ve seen the success of the restrictions in Carnarvon and it’s important to remember that alcohol-fuelled violence contributes significantly to the impacts on community safety. Community safety is our number one priority and we need to make sure that we maintain that as our key objective in relation to remote and regional communities right across Western Australia. So, if the restrictions have a role to play in keeping people safe and helping kids get to school and helping people go to work, well, then obviously we need to look at that template to see where else it can be applied.

The Liquor Commissioner is an independent authority who brings these measures into play. We work closely with her and she works very closely with the police and other departments and agencies and interest groups to make sure we get the balance right.

JOURNALIST: There are some towns as well that have really high levels of alcohol-fuelled crime and violence as well that have no bars and didn’t sell alcohol in the town. The Alcohol Stores Association, they said that it needs to go beyond restrictions; there needs to be other things. There’s deeper problems that need to be solved.

ROGER COOK: Well, this does impact – sorry. This does tap into a deep societal problem that we have and as a result of that, we need to be ever-vigilant about opportunities right across the community to see what we can do to drive down the impact and incidents of alcohol-fuelled violence and crime.

We will continue to work with all the stakeholders to make sure that we can do everything, bring every measure to bear, because it’s a range of measures and a range of tools that we can use to reduce the impact of alcohol-fuelled violence and crime. I’ve recently appointed Minister Papalia as the Minister for Racing and Gaming. He is one of the architects of the Banned Drinkers Register and I’ve said to him that I want to see that brought into being much faster and at a much greater scale. So, that’s another element that we can use to reduce the incidents of alcohol-fuelled violence and crime.

In addition to that, we know sly-grogging remains a problem and the police have through the Regional Shield program, which we have funded, is all about making sure we’ve got more eyes and ears on the ground to ensure that we can reduce the incidence of that sort of behaviour. This is a big problem, but it’s an ongoing problem and it’s one that we’ll need to continue to resolve. But let’s make sure that we have our absolute priority as community safety, making sure we keep our kids safe, our women safe, making sure that we keep our schools full and people going to work.

JOURNALIST: On that, actually sort of combining the two, the story of today but also speaking with some people in communities, it’s been highlighted that having this job opportunity or this moment of all these job opportunities out here has had a deeper impact on the community in the sense that, you know, people have employment, there’s been less crime or – is that – this is put Fitzroy on the map now. Is this an example to know what needs to happen to drive down those other issues?

ROGER COOK: Look, I think we should have ambitions to make sure that we can replicate the level of community engagement in these big transport infrastructure projects. And I know Minister Saffioti and her team are absolutely focused on getting this sort of social dividends out of future projects as well.

And we know that if we can bring people into the workplace, provide them with the habits, the opportunities and the skills to get further employment, as Minister Saffioti said, in the mining industry, other aspects of government, other aspects of the private sector, well, then that produces a significant outcome for the community, not just in terms of economic bonuses or benefits, but, of course, the social dividends. And it’s the social dividend on this particular project – despite the remarkable achievement of building it within nine months, despite the remarkable achievement of bringing such a complex engineering program in such a logistically tough area, I think the thing that people are most proud about is the social dividend of people in the community being engaged, getting the job opportunities, getting those working life habits and the skills that they need for jobs of the future.

Thank you very much.