Interview with Katie Woolf, Mix 104.9 Darwin

KATIE WOOLF

Now, the Federal Government will deliver a $1.8 billion boost for road and community projects through local governments across Australia. The package of support will help local councils support jobs and businesses by delivering priority projects focused on infrastructure upgrades and maintenance. So, how could the Northern Territory benefit? Well, joining me on the line is the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Michael McCormack. Good morning.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Good morning, Katie.

KATIE WOOLF

Now, Minister, is this new funding?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

It is new funding inasmuch as it's part of the $100 billion infrastructure roll-out that we're doing right across the nation. But it's been brought forward. It's money that is new money for local councils. And certainly, I know the 17 local councils that are going benefit from this funding in the Northern Territory are going to be delighted with the prospect that it is going to provide local jobs and perhaps even more importantly, local procurement. So for those small to medium enterprises around Darwin and indeed, right across the regional Top End, it's going to be so beneficial for them because built into the criteria is the fact that there is a component of it where they have to use local procurement.

KATIE WOOLF

I think that's such an important part here and we know that so many businesses are doing it tough around the Territory, as they are all around Australia at the moment. Minister, which councils are going to benefit and what are some of the bigger ticket items?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, I could run through the full list. The biggest beneficiary will be Litchfield, they'll be getting $1.1 million. But each and every one of the other 16 councils throughout the Northern Territory, whether it's Barkly Regional or Alice Springs or City of Palmerston, Roper Gulf Regional Council, Tiwi Islands Regional Council, the whole lot, West Daly Regional Council are going to benefit to the tune of $14.5 million in the Northern Territory. So right across the nation every local government area is going to be a beneficiary. The funding is based on what the councils receive as part of their Roads to Recovery funding and so the money will be available from 1 July. It needs to be spent within the 12-month period. But the Infrastructure Department and I will be working closely with councils right across the nation, they'll be bringing forward projects. They'll say, look, this is the town hall that we think is a priority for our local community. This is the road that needs bitumen. This is the bus shelter or the rest stop that we believe is important for Katherine Town Council or MacDonnell Regional Council, whatever the case might be and that's the project that will get funded.

KATIE WOOLF

Minister, was Darwin City Council eligible or not for this funding?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

City of Darwin Council is going to get $862,060.

KATIE WOOLF

Okay, any idea what they're going to spend that money on?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, that will be up to them and they'll, of course, they'll bring forward their budget. Look, I wrote to each and every one of the councils on March 6. Many of them responded. So we'll work with that list that they've already provided us. But there might be other priorities that they see that are important to their local areas and they'll obviously take community feedback as local councils do. But one way of ensuring that there's going to be local jobs through this pandemic crisis is getting this sort of stimulus out the door through the local council areas because we know that if we're going to have jobs on the ground, we're going to have high-viz workers and bulldozers pushing dirt around and building better roads, fixing potholes, doing all those sorts of things, then it's through this. It's through this process.

And I know that the local mayors will also be very pleased with what we've announced. We're also bringing forward, yes, this is $500 million for this particular initiative, but we're bringing forward $1.3 billion in what's called Financial Assistance Grants. So there's in fact $1.8 billion to be distributed amongst the local councils. So, I appreciate the Northern Territory has done very well, 30 cases, all patients recovered from COVID-19. That's been really well managed. Well done to the Northern Territory. Appreciating the fact too that, you know, each and every jurisdiction, you know, the two territories and the six states have complied and done very well through the National Cabinet process. And people generally have followed the advice given by Professor Brendan Murphy, the Chief Medical Officer and that's why we, as Australia, are the envy of the world when it comes to the limited number of cases and certainly the limited number of deaths compared to other countries elsewhere.

KATIE WOOLF

Yeah. And there's no doubt here in the Northern Territory we've done a good job. Look, on the ground though, in the Territory at the moment, there's a lot of discussion about whether the borders should be reopening soon or whether there should at least be a plan for reopening those borders. I imagine that that's something that's being discussed all around Australia. What are your thoughts?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, again, it comes down to the jurisdictions. Look and I appreciate that, you know, different states and territories will have – you know, they'll have different reasons for wanting to either shut down or indeed relax restrictions and I appreciate that they have jurisdictional control over their areas. I get that. I've been speaking on a weekly basis with Eva Lawler and you know, other Transport and Infrastructure Ministers right across the nation and as best we can, we've had those trucks going through delivering goods, etc. But, of course, the sooner each and every one of the states and territories lifts the restrictions on internal borders, the sooner we can have a domestic air network back up and flying.

KATIE WOOLF

Yeah. And look, I think it's very important but obviously juggling it with those health concerns as well. Now, I'm keen to have a chat to you about gas, if I can. We know that gas and manufacturing are a major part of the broader plan, really, to restart the economy. Is the Northern Territory part of that plan, at the centre point of that plan?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Absolutely has to be and I only spoke yesterday with our Energy Minister Angus Taylor about this very thing. I know Lia Finocchiaro, the CLP leader, she is very conscious of, you know, Northern Territory to enjoy their resources – well, let's call it a boom that we need to have, not only for our own domestic energy needs and supplies but, indeed, to export to the world. And whilst I appreciate there are some trade tensions at the moment, we need to make sure that whether it's gas, whether it's all the minerals that we've got in good supply here, we can export them to the world but also use them for our balance of payments, but also our domestic energy needs and the like. So I know Lia wants to see these sorts of things happening to create more opportunities and more jobs in the Top End. That's my desire. That's Minister Taylor's desire and that's what we spoke about at length late yesterday afternoon.

KATIE WOOLF

Well, and I think it's so very important for the Territory because, being honest, we were in a tough economic spot before COVID-19 hit and I think that, really, if we're to stand on our own two feet, it's going to have to happen through industry. I know there was an article –

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

The Northern Territory is on the cusp of, you know, something really exciting, you've got everything up there. You've got a young population. You've got the ability to attract people there. Even, you know, housing and rental prices are, reasonable compared with some other areas in the nation. And there's so many good prospects. There's no reason whatsoever why the Northern Territory can't be a leader in this field. It should be. I think once we get the Territory's finances in order and I appreciate you've got an election coming up in August and that's going to be a chance for people to have their say. But the Northern Territory has got so much going for it. And you know that, that's why you live there.

KATIE WOOLF

Yeah, absolutely. Look, the thing I'm a bit concerned about though is, I read an article in the Australian Financial Review earlier in the week and they floated the idea of a $6 billion trans-Australia pipeline linking large gas fields off WA to the east coast. The idea has got a new lease on life under the Neville Power-led National COVID-19 Coordination Commission. The aim, obviously, of reviving gas-based manufacturing despite the serious doubts about its economics. Now, the Federal Government, I know, are still looking at WA to fill that space. But the Beetaloo Basin here in the Territory is obviously a very important one as well. I'm assuming that you can't really have two gas hubs. Which state are you going to go with?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, there's no reason why we can't. We need to harness all the resources we have got and I know the Resources Minister, Keith Pitt, is very conscious of exactly the potential that the Northern Territory has. Yes, Western Australia's gas fields and mining generally is probably more advanced than perhaps any other area in Australia, perhaps except for Queensland. But, you know, there's a willingness and a desire to, you know, explore and utilise the resources that we have. That's long been the case in Western Australia. That's why it is in the position it's in. But we need to do more. And that's not to say that we can't explore and utilise more gas fields and more mineral reserves in the Top End either.

KATIE WOOLF

Minister, yesterday I spoke on the show to Labor's Member for Solomon, Luke Gosling, and also CLP Senator Sam McMahon, about the potential for a fuel storage facility here in the Northern Territory. It followed on from that announcement a few weeks ago that Australia would be spending $94 million to begin building up a stockpile of crude oil but initially, as we know, store the fuel in the United States. Is there capacity for the Northern Territory to have fuel storage, a fuel storage facility here?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

I believe so because you've not only got, you know, a growing resources sector but you've also got huge defence facilities and amenities there. And, you know, when we get the US utilising the Top End as a base, when you have those requirements for resources, oil, to be stored, it makes good sense. Of course, it comes as a cost though too. And so what we've decided to do as a government in the early stage is to utilise the facilities that we do have. And obviously we're storing a lot of it in the US, but there's also potential there for places in the eastern states, Parkes and Toowoomba, places that are on rail, places that are not only going to tap into resources but also the big agricultural areas of Australia. But, look, I can see no reason and I'm sure that Luke and Sam probably both agreed that the Top End would be an ideal place, if we are going to go down to that infrastructure investment, to look at a potential fuel reserve there.

KATIE WOOLF

Just finally, obviously talking infrastructure, is there any infrastructure that is planned for the Northern Territory at this point in time, you know, with the Federal Government and working obviously with both tiers of government? Any of that crucial nation-building infrastructure?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, I know we're looking at the Tiger Brennan Drive, I'm very pleased with some of the things that we have done in and around and certainly the Outback Way, we are making sure that that is getting bitumen on it because that is far too important a link road, let alone a tourism road, for not only the Northern Territory but also, of course, Queensland and WA. But, look, there are any number of projects that Darwin needs, wants, expects and most of all, deserves. I know I speak to Senator Sam McMahon all the time about, you know, the expectations from Darwin and I'll certainly be working closely with her to make sure that we get a bit more infrastructure money out the door for the Northern Territory.

KATIE WOOLF

Well, Michael McCormack, of course, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, we really appreciate your time this morning. Thanks so much for having a chat with me.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Any time. Let's talk again soon. Thanks, Katie.

KATIE WOOLF

Thank you.

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