Doorstop - WestConnex M4 tunnels official opening

Gladys Berejiklian: Well, today is an exciting day. It’s the official opening of these M4 tunnels. At least three years in hard construction and now we see this project completed and what excites me is the fact that people using the tunnel will save 20 minutes off their travel times, bypassing 22 sets of traffic lights. I’m incredibly proud of the fact that our governments worked hard to make this project a reality and from Saturday morning, from 2am, the people of this great state will be able to use these tunnels.

I want to, in particular, thank the workers who’ve been involved in this project – the 4000 odd workers including 200 apprentices. Many of them who are here today and I want to thank you for your efforts because building a project like this takes a team effort and in that vein, I want to welcome in particular, in addition to my state parliamentary colleagues, the Deputy Prime Michael McCormack and thank the federal government for their contribution towards the WestConnex Project as well.

This has been a really strong team effort and it shows what can happen when Government works closely with different levels of government, but also with the private sector to deliver a world-class project which will deliver world-class outcomes to the community. I also want to thank the local community here for their patience. We know that when you're building a major project, disruption happens, uncertainty happens and the community has been with us the whole way. We've taken a lot of learnings from building these tunnels and what it means for local residents and we've applied those learnings to future projects.

So I do want to thank the community of the Inner West here for their patience and for keeping the Government accountable during the process. I also want to acknowledge all of the local members who are here today because we know for their communities, saving valuable time, being able to use that time to spend with your families or doing what you need to do, is much better than sitting in traffic.

And I also want to stress today that there is a free option for people. I know people worry about paying tolls and I don't blame people for worrying about that. But please know that we have free registration in New South Wales for people who pay tolls a certain amount every week. We have discount registration available and our cost of living measures can mean households save about $2,000 a year depending on their circumstances. So, everywhere you look, the State Government does have a keen eye on the cost of living. But we also appreciate that to build the road networks in the future, we do need the help of non-government bodies, we do need the help of private sector, and I want to acknowledge all of our partners when making this project a reality. And I can't wait for local residents, especially those in western Sydney who travel those longer distances, to get the benefit of this wonderful new project. DPM.

Michael McCormack: Well, thank you Premier Berejiklian. And this is what happens when you have a New South Wales Liberal-Nationals Government in surplus working with a federal Liberal-Nationals Government in surplus. We're getting things done. We're building things for the future. Today is a day that's a moment in history but it's also a day very much for the future. It's for the future of Sydney residents. It's for the future of busting through even more congestion and that's why in the recent federal Budget, we put even more money down to bust through congestion. Now, $4 billion busting congestion in Sydney and elsewhere. This is a fantastic day and I'd like to particularly commend Fiona Martin, the new member for Reid, because every time her and I have had a conversation, it’s been about infrastructure, it's been about what she can do to help the people in her electorate, to help the people she represents, to make sure that they get home sooner and safer, to make sure that they get to work sooner and safer because this is what this M4 tunnel is all about. This is what the whole WestConnex is all about. This is what our congestion busting is all about. It's getting people to home, as the Premier just said, sooner and safer. It's about getting people to work so that they don't have to sit all day in traffic just looking at the brake lights ahead of them.

So it's a fantastic day. I congratulate those workers who've spent so much time, put so much hard work and engineering and diligence into this fantastic piece of infrastructure. This is nation building. It's a great outcome and I’ll now ask Andrew Constance to make a few comments as well.

Andrew Constance: Thanks. Well, I mean this is an historic day for our nation in many ways. I mean, this is now taking, without doubt, one of the most congested roads in the nation and making it liveable for those communities above ground. This tunnel is congestion busting at its best. It's going to transform so many lives just by having it open, reducing the travel time from Western Sydney into the city by 20 minutes, communities from Mulgoa, Penrith, Parramatta are all set to benefit in such an enormous way as a result of this tunnel.

Can I also just echo the words of the Premier and the Deputy Prime Minister in relation to the workforce, particularly our partners CPB, John Holland and Samsung, Sydney Motorway Corporation and Transurban for what's happening here. This is going to transform communities. There's no doubt about it and it's absolutely tremendous. And just in relation to- again, Parramatta Road – it's there for people to continue to use it in the same way they have for generations. The great advantage of tolling is it gives us the ability to build infrastructure generations ahead of time, and we are providing people the option, the free alternative, with the road network that they've always experienced. But I'm pretty convinced when you take 10,000 trucks off Parramatta Road, we're going to see a very, very different outcome in terms of the road network for this part of Sydney.

Journalist: Is that 10,000 a year or- the trucks?

Andrew Constance: No, 10,000 trucks a day. I mean, that’s the power of this. And I think one point I’d make is this is the only the first of four tunnels that are opening in relation to WestConnex. I mean, this is the first stage. We’ve got the M5 duplication opening next year and then by 2023, the link between the M4 and the M5. That is WestConnex. We’re only going to get a taste of the power of the WestConnex with the opening of this part. We’re expected to see by 2021, 67,000 vehicle movements through this tunnel, 10,000 trucks a day off Parramatta Road. I mean, that is going to transform those communities from Haberfield to Homebush in a way that we’ve never seen before in terms of their liveability and their way to get around. So, it’s going to have an incredible impact. And in that regard, as I’ve pointed out, this is the first of the four tunnels which are going to transform this city forever.

Journalist: This is a motorway link that’s been missing for decades. People in Western Sydney, obviously, rightly think the rest WestConnex must be decades away. How quickly, realistically, like can that be delivered? I mean, I know you’ve got a deadline for it. But what’s- I mean, how can you guarantee that we’ll actually be seeing that this term?

Andrew Constance: Oh well, I’ll go first up. Yeah, I mean look, you know, if you go and have a look at the project in terms of M5 East, we're taking a four-lane freeway in terms of the M5 motorway and turning it into 10 lanes. And that's going to be open middle of next year. By 2023 the link between the M4 and the M5, the true Westconnex component, that connection is going to be opened by 2023. Gateway, which is going to link Westconnex to the airport and Port Botany are going to be, again, opened in 2023.

So, you know, these are big projects. They’re announced years ahead of time and we see incredible work that is undertaken to get to this point, this historic day today. So there is going to be an opening in stages in relation to Westconnex but I'd urge everybody to have a look at it online because it's a phenomenal project which will completely transform freight movement, the way our tradies get around, our motorists get around. And it's going to ease enormous pressure on the existing roadway.

Journalist: You’ve just said the M5 tunnel is middle of next year, and the website says early next year. Is there a delay on the M5 tunnel?

Andrew Constance: I mean, Sean, as I said these projects take years to plan, years to build and ultimately we're going to see this project open next year. I mean you predicted today was going to be August; well, here we are in July. So we're getting on with it and we're going to continue to build very, very quickly – as quickly as we can – in partnership with the private sector.

Journalist: I think the Government predicted August but what is the opening date then, month at least, for the M5 tunnel?

Andrew Constance: Well I’d expect to- hopefully the second quarter of next year.

Journalist: Premier, it’s opening on a Saturday. Are you expecting a smooth run?

Gladys Berejiklian: Look I am. Not only we are opening it in the early hours of Saturday morning but it is during the school holidays as well and that's a pretty good time to open a major project. It allows people to get used to the circumstances and to allow traffic to ramp up. So, of course we won't see the full effect about the decisions people are making until the school holidays are over, but I think it's a really good time to open the tunnels. Any time is a good time to open a major project, let me just make that clear, but in particular I think the timing works well for the local community, for motorists, and gives people to adjust to the options they now have coming to and from work or for getting around their business.

Journalist: With drivers who plan on taking that trip tomorrow, is there anything they should be preparing for or looking out for in terms of the road conditions around this area?

Gladys Berejiklian: Well hopefully they'll find the road conditions to be world class. For the first time there will be lead-in lights and a concrete surface. So there are particular things in these tunnels that makes them unique and hopefully the experience will be a very positive one. But more than anything I hope when school's back and traffic's normally what it is that people experience those travel time savings which will mean a lot to them and their families.

Journalist: Is that travel time saving of 20 minutes, do you think, worth the amount of the toll?

Gladys Berejiklian: Well I- definitely it is and at the end of the day that's a choice for people to make. People can use the free option, or they can choose to use the new tunnels, or they can choose to use public transport. Alongside the opening of these road tunnels we’re investing billions in our Metro rail network but also in upgrading the existing rail network. So the real opportunities we're giving the local residents of Western Sydney and beyond is choice. You can use public transport, you can use the free road services or you can use these brand new tunnels. And that's the important thing, to give the community the choice and depending on the person's circumstances they can choose whichever mode works for them and whichever way or method works for them.

Journalist: So Premier, all up if you’re using it from, you know, woah to go it’s around $10 isn’t it?

Gladys Berejiklian: Well at the moment it's $7.89 if you're using it from woah to go, but obviously as the new sections open there'll be additional payments there. But at the end of the day that is an option for residents to take up, for motorists to take up. What I really want to stress is I know a lot of people aren’t aware of the free rego, the discount rego, and the other cost of savings measures we have through Service New South Wales. So, New South Wales families can save around $2,000 a year on a whole range of cost of living measures. And I asked families to take that into account when they’re considering their options about their future transport needs.

Journalist: Was the introduction of a one of those rebates, so initially it was 25- you spend $25 and then you introduced the one with the lower amount. Is that done to run in conjunction with the opening of this, so people using this motorway could potentially claim back?

Gladys Berejiklian: It was done because our data was telling us that a lot of people choose to use tolls now and then and may not get up to the $25, so we wanted to create an opportunity for people to save if they weren’t using $25 a week in tolls and give them the opportunity to make savings as well.

Journalist: Was it timed to be released because [indistinct].

Gladys Berejiklian: No. No.

Journalist: Deputy Prime Minister, what was the Federal contribution to this project?

Journalist: [Interrupts] So can I ask the Premier one more question before we swap around, just quickly? Oh, sorry, Gladys, I was want to say it’s not often a Government gets to see their babies come to fruition. It must be a very special moment for you?

Gladys Berejiklian: Yeah. I'm just grateful, I’m grateful to the people of New South Wales for having confidence in my team and myself to get on with the job of delivering things for the people of this state. Yes it is satisfying when you open a brand new project, but it's more satisfying to know the benefits it's going to bring the community and that's why we do this, that's why we're in public life, to make a difference to people and that's what excites me every time we have the chance to open projects like this.

But again, I automatically turn to the workers – the people who designed the project, who told us it was possible to actually plan in detail and then constructed it. Today belongs to the 4000 people who made this possible and to the millions who’ll benefit from it potentially in decades to come.

Journalist: Sorry Deputy Prime Minister so- what was …

Michael McCormack: Yes. No, no, I did hear the question. The question was how much did the Federal contribution amount to? It’s $1.5 billion as well as a $2 billion loan. But the fact is this is part of our $100 billion nationwide, 10 year infrastructure build. And I commend the New South Wales Government – it's rolling out $94 billion of infrastructure over the next four years.

So that's what you can do and I reiterate that that's what you can do when you've got governments in surplus, governments who know how to handle money. It's public money, where we're putting this sort of infrastructure in for public good. As the Premier has just said it's making lives of the people that we represent better, it's getting them home sooner and safer, and we're doing that right across the nation.

Journalist: But is that, you know- is the Federal Government leaving New South Wales to go it alone because New South Wales has such good financial management?

Michael McCormack: Absolutely not. Look, New South Wales is getting well and truly its fair share of Commonwealth spending. And indeed I work not only with Andrew Constance but Paul Toole right around the State to make sure that we've got better infrastructure in place, not just for the M4 but if you go on those dusty dirt tracks around regional New South Wales we're now putting bitumen down on them. Bitumen that was never even dreamt of, which is making the lives of rural and regional people from New South Wales so much better. We’re increasing supply chain efficiencies as Andrew Constance said, we're making productivity gains. When you actually put money down, whether it's in metro areas, whether it's in rural areas, you are increasing productivity, you're actually saving lives as well and that's what infrastructure spending is all about.

Journalist: What about Metro West, is there any money from the Feds for that?

Michael McCormack: Well we're putting money down on the table all the time for these sorts of projects. I appreciate that this is a more than $16 billion build but when you look at this, Western Sydney Airport, other projects right around Sydney – indeed other projects right around the state – the Commonwealth is more than stumping up its fair share for New South Wales.

Journalist: But our State Treasurer has attacked the Federal Government for not putting in enough?

Michael McCormack: Well, the State Treasurer has also talked about roundabouts and I'm more than happy to talk about roundabouts. Everything from roundabouts to Western Sydney Airport, we're helping the state build it. The fact is I know the Treasurer very well, we get on very well. We'll continue to have discussions about what we can do to make the lives of Sydney people, to make the lives of New South Wales people right around the state even better. We do it hand in hand, we do it shoulder to shoulder with our state colleagues. We’re all Liberals, we're all Nationals and we're getting on. We know how to manage money prudently. We're doing just that and we're building the infrastructure the people of New South Wales need, want, expect and most of all deserve.

Unidentified speaker: Other topics of the day?

Journalist: Just in regards to Indigenous recognition in the Constitution, there seems to be conflicting positions coming from inside the government. Does the Coalition support enshrining an Aboriginal voice to Parliament in the Constitution?

Michael McCormack: Well what the government is supporting is Aboriginal recognition in the Constitution.

I've said it; it’s been my personal view for as long as I've been in public life. I know that Ken Wyatt gave an outstanding speech to the Press Club the other day, the National Press Club in Canberra the other day. He is supported by Linda Burney in this regard.  Aborigines should be represented in the Constitution. I believe personally that so should local government. I believe it's the first tier of government. I also believe that local governments should be recognised in the Constitution. But in this NAIDOC week I think it's important that we do put in place the first steps to make sure that we get this issue resolved. It's been discussed before. The fact is we've never been quite able to agree before.

Thankfully we've now got Ken Wyatt and Linda Burney working in a very bipartisan way to ensure that we get the right question to put to the people of Australia because when we do put the question to the people of Australia we want the right outcome. No point going to a referendum if you're not going to get the response that I think Australians need and I think Australians have asked for many, many years.

Journalist: But can you clarify exactly what the Coalition is hoping to achieve through a referendum if it’s not an advisory body to government?

Michael McCormack: Well those sorts of issues will be sorted out in the weeks and months and perhaps in the next year or two. We won't be having a referendum – I wouldn't think – until the next election. Fact is, you know, it needs to be resolved in the right way so that when it does go to the people of Australia it's done in a bipartisan way so that there's not conflict, so that there's not people going on a partisan manner, so that we get the right outcome for Aboriginal Australians, for Torres Strait Australians and indeed for all Australians.

Journalist: What can you tell us about the Chinese spy boat that's off the coast of Australia?

Michael McCormack: Well I can't tell you anything quite frankly. You know, these are matters of national security and as a member of the National Security Council I don't talk about anything that comes up before that committee.

Journalist: Is it in Australian waters?

Michael McCormack: Well again I say, I'm not about to say anything that comes out of national security. The fact is I know that national security is the first and foremost provision of government.  I know that's why we've worked so hard to stop the boats, I know that's why we work so hard as a government to put national security front and centre because it's the most important thing as a Commonwealth government that we can do. But on matters of national security to this end, we’ll just have to leave that question for now.

Journalist: Can you assure the people of Australia that measures are being taken to stop the spy boat hacking into our defence information?

Michael McCormack: Well of course we place cyber security at the front and centre of everything that we do and, you know, in the last budget we put even more money down to enable our cyber security measures to be exactly what they need to be. But of course we're always- it’s a constant watch, it’s a constant protection process that the government puts in place at a Commonwealth level to make sure that our computer systems at every level of government are indeed what they ought to be.

Journalist: There's a terrible case of a teenage Sydney girl being taken to Lebanon to marry her cousin. She was then abused heavily by her uncle. What's the Federal Government – and Premier I'll ask you as well – the state government doing to protect our young people and stop them being taken overseas for exploitation?

Michael McCormack: Well indeed we do take these matters very seriously and very compassionately, and of course at an international level we always make sure that we are in constant contact with other countries to make sure that if needed, we get our Australians back, particularly our young Australians who are our future. We always want to make sure that young people are afforded the very most protections that they should be and can be under our law, under international law and I know that ministers always work very hard in this regard to ensure just that.  I know the Foreign Affairs Minister does, know the Home Affairs Minister does and will continue to do that.

Journalist: Premier, she's just a girl. I mean is there a gap in the system that has allowed her to be taken from her family or sent by her family like that?

Gladys Berejiklian: I would just like to take the opportunity to thank the very courageous people that brought this to the attention of authorities, it takes a lot of courage to let people know what’s going on. And of course it’s the responsibility of government to protect children in all circumstances at all times. But we also do ask people to be courageous and come forward if they know of anything of this nature because protecting children is the first and foremost priority of governments.

Journalist: Deputy Prime Minister, can we ask just quickly there’s an aged care crisis unfolding on the Gold Coast. A nursing home shut last night, 71 residents, paramedics had to come and get them because the family couldn’t pay. Are we in need of aged care reforms as a start…

Michael McCormack: Well we've got a royal commission occurring at the moment into aged care and I'm sure these and other matters are going to go before that royal commission. Of course this is an urgent crisis and I know that the government will be doing everything it can to protect those elderly and vulnerable people. But that is why – indeed – we have got a royal commission happening at the moment.

Journalist: The state government’s called on the federal government to step in and offer assistance in this particular case. Is that something the government is looking at?

Michael McCormack: And we are looking at that.

Journalist: What position will Australia take if it receives an official request from America to assist securing the Strait of Hormuz for the world’s oil supply?

Michael McCormack: Well again we'll look at that as a government in Cabinet, and again I don't discuss what goes on in Cabinet.

Journalist: Are those developments concerning though?

Michael McCormack: Well of course they are, I mean any international incident that is occurring is of course concerning for Australia. I mean we want to make sure that, Anna, we live in a stable and peaceful environment and we always want to make sure that our international relations are what we should be and that's why I've got every confidence in the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the government to do exactly that.

Journalist: Premier, on another matter, you’ve discussed the recent apartment defaults around Sydney when will you appoint a new building commissioner?

Gladys Berejiklian: Hi. I answered this question yesterday. Imminently, we're going through the process as quickly as we can. We want to make sure we get the right person and of course we’ll announce that to the community as soon as the person's been identified. But we are working night and day, not only in appointing the building commissioner but also in putting together legislation to be presented to Parliament this session to overhaul the entire system.

Michael McCormack: Thank you.

Gladys Berejiklian: Thanks everybody.

Journalist: Premier, have our friends across the border stumped up with their bet?

Gladys Berejiklian: Not yet. Can you get onto her?

Journalist: I will.

Gladys Berejiklian: Thank you.