Press conference with Senator The Hon Richard Colbeck, Mr Brett Whiteley and Daryl Quilliam, Mayor - Circular Head Council

Brett Whiteley: Well, thanks for coming, and look, it's terrific to be here in Wynyard, and thank you to mayors Robby Walsh and Darryl Quilliam for being with us today, as the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack is here to listen to the issues that are facing this region when it comes to the Bass Highway.

What a strategic road the Bass Highway between particularly Wynyard and Circular Head is, producing over $1.5 million of the state's economy each and every day. It's a very busy road, it's increasing in its busyness and importance, and that's why it fits perfectly into the $400 million that was announced by the Deputy Prime Minister in the Budget for a road of strategic importance.

So, my job as the candidate for Braddon is to ensure that the Deputy Prime Minister is fully aware of the importance of the road and the need for funds to actually upgrade that road over a period of time, and it's been terrific to have Robby and to have Darryl, and alongside Senator Richard Colbeck this morning, just talking about that importance; to have the consultant, Paul Arnold, who wrote and prepared a report just a few years ago to explain not only what's happening now, but on the back of the economy growing and confidence at record levels, that whether it's agriculture, whether it's aquaculture, whatever it is, this road is only going to get busier, is only going to carry more and more of the wealth of this state.

And so it's important to have Michael here. I'm thrilled that he is here. He's a regional member of Parliament himself out of the Riverina. He understands the ramifications of roads that aren't up to scratch. It would be my contention that this road isn't up to scratch for the work that it's doing, and it's been great to have you here, Michael, today, to listen to that story. So I'm happy to hand over to the Deputy Prime Minister.

Michael McCormack: Well, thank you very much, Brett, and I look forward very much after the Braddon by-election to work with you in government, in a Liberal-Nationals government, to make sure that the planning, that the vision and that the preparation that we're putting in to making sure that these Roads of Strategic Importance are funded, are guaranteed. That we put the money towards these, not necessarily national highways, but the secondary roads. As this very important report, prepared by Paul Arnold Consulting, shows, and it's been great to have a discussion with, last night, Jeremy Rockliff, the Minister for Infrastructure, perhaps more importantly the Deputy Premier here in Tasmania. Fantastic to have a discussion with Jeremy Rockliff, as well as Senator Richard Colbeck, and, of course, Brett Whiteley, to see what we can do.

And, in fact, what we are doing is $400 million Tasmanian roads package. Compare and contrast that with what Labor is offering: $6 million. There's no comparison whatsoever. We want to have Brett Whiteley back in Parliament. We want to have a member representing this area who is actually in Government, who is around that table when things are being discussed, when things are being funded. I know Brett Whiteley. I've worked with him well in the past as the Member for Braddon and me being the Member for Riverina. Now that I am the Deputy Prime Minister, I look forward to working with him to see what we can further deliver for the people of Braddon.

Fantastic to be here, of course, with Senator Richard Colbeck. He, just a few short weeks ago, announcing a $25 million water infrastructure project for Scottsdale, because that's what the Federal Government is doing: we're actually delivering for the people of Tasmania. $400 million worth of roads of strategic importance. Infrastructure: $235 million towards 14 water infrastructure projects.

As Brett Whiteley has just indicated, $1.5 million of produce from Circular Head just each and every day. Each and every day. So, that sort of produce needs a road which is going to deliver, needs a road which is going to get it from farm gate, to port, to markets. Now, we can take advantage of those free trade agreements that we've established in Asia, but we can only do it with proper infrastructure.

Great to be here, of course, with Robby Walsh and Darryl Quilliam, the local Mayors, because they're at the local level. They know what's needed, wanted, demanded, and deserved by the residents of Braddon, of the residents of this local area. Fantastic, as I say, again, to be here with Brett Whiteley. He's a man who delivers. I've got the full confidence in him and I'm very much looking forward to, after the by-election in July, working with him in the Government to see what we can get further done for residents and constituents of Braddon.

Question: Minister, if Brett is elected at the by-election, when is that money for the Bass Highway likely to start coming in?

Michael McCormack: Well, there's $10 million already dedicated in the 2018-'19 Budget for the next 12 months, and certainly, $400 million over the next decade.

There's a decade-long pipeline of investment. These roads need, obviously, they need to have a lot of preparation, a lot of… not just business case, but a lot of the engineering tech specs and all those sorts of things. So we'll be working towards investing that $400 million for the Tasmanian Roads package, but the Bass Highway is very much a part of that: 263 kilometre corridor of commerce. We've just heard from Brett Whiteley: $1.5 million just coming out of the Circular Head region each and every day, every day. So that needs a road, a proper piece of infrastructure that's going to deliver that produce from farm gate to port and to markets and domestically around Tasmania.

Brett Whiteley: Can I just add on that if I could, that, in speaking with both Darryl and Robby—and they're the people on the ground—what they are looking for is a long-term vision, a long-term plan that they can bank on, that their people can know that we are actually committed to an ongoing development of that road.

So it's not out of the question that this road could take eight to ten years to build over a period of time, and the people of Circular Head and Wynyard are okay with that. They understand these things don't happen overnight, but we are committed to $400 million of Roads of Strategic Importance. It is actually there to be delivered.

This is the Deputy Prime Minister. The National Government, under the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull, has delivered that. My opponent is talking about $6 million. My opponent hasn't even had the courage to actually step up to the Deputy Prime Minister over the last three months to actually put the case. So she complains a lot but has no solution. I'm about delivering solutions. I'm about delivering outcomes, and as a part of the Government, I can do that and that's what I'm doing. I was only pre-selected a week or so ago. He was one of the first phone calls I made, and here he is today. We're serious about this. I wanted to make sure, though, first and foremost, he was up to speed with the needs of that community and up to speed with the potential of that road, and he certainly has been briefed very well and fully by Darryl and Robby today.

Question: So what decisions have come out of this morning's meeting?

Michael McCormack: Just a good discussion, a very, very good discussion. Of course, last night we met with Jeremy Rockliff, the Deputy Premier, Minister for Infrastructure here in Tasmania. So, when you get the ear of the State Minister, when you get the ear of the local Mayors, you know full well what's needed, what's required. I've got this report from Paul Arnold Consulting and we'll go away and see how we can best do this. We've already got $10 million on the table. It's a $400 million Tasmanian Roads package dedicated to making sure that we have the infrastructure for this state that it needs and deserves over the next 10 years.

Question: So you have no clear idea of what you're going to spend the $10 million on in the next 12 months?

Michael McCormack: Well, I've got a far better, clearer picture, having had those meetings with the Deputy Premier and the Mayors, and of course Richard Colbeck and Brett Whiteley today.

Question: So that would average $39 million a year for the next nine years. So wouldn't you want to be having a better idea of what you're going to do with 39 million per year?

Michael McCormack: Well, there's already a significant build in Tasmania. We've already invested heavily in the Midland Highway; we've already invested in other roads. The Bass Highway is now the focus. We need to look at what we can do, how we can do it, and we've already got $10 million on the table to do just that.

Brett Whiteley: And I think it's important to note, too, that it's about community consultation. It's not about a Deputy Prime Minister, or a Deputy Premier, for that matter, just superimposing what they think. We need to consult, we need to take very much notice of the consulting report that's been provided. This is about a Government that actually wants to step through a plan.

We have a strong plan on a range of issues. This is one. We want to make sure that it is well thought-out, that it's not wasted money, that it's spent where it needs to be spent.

It will take a year or two to even get the planning underway, but people get that. It wasn't that long ago when we were making a similar announcement of over $400 million for the Midland Highway, and for those that are travelling it far too regularly would be knowing full well what's happening on that section of road.

So it's really important to understand that we need to make a start. My job as the candidate is to convince Minister McCormack and Deputy Premier Rockliff, who doesn't need much convincing, I have to say, given they've already put $40 million on the table at the State election. They've also allocated $25 million for the Bass Highway between Deloraine and Latrobe. So between the State and Federal governments, the Roads of Strategic Importance total package is $480 million, compared to a wish of $6 million that may or may not turn up by my political opponent.

Question: However, most of that, according to some claims, is not going to actually be on the table until after the forward estimates are over. In other words, after the four-year period. So, if you're not in Government then, what happens to it?

Michael McCormack: Well, we're intending to be in Government, and certainly we need people like Brett Whiteley in their Government fighting hard and delivering for the people of Braddon. We don't intend to not be in Government.

We intend to continue to deliver, and just in this region alone, since we've come into Government, there's been a job a day created. Compare and contrast that to, under Labor, under six years of Labor, 490 jobs were lost out of this area.

Now, that's a significant number of jobs. When I go around regional Australia, spend each and every day just about in regional Australia, that's the thing people are telling me is important to them. So the sorts of things that Brett Whiteley knows and understands that's important to the people of Braddon, and that is jobs.

Jobs for themselves, jobs for their kids in the future, and making sure that there's future hope and prosperity, and that's why we're talking about Roads of Strategic Importance, that's why we're talking about water infrastructure projects. It's all about jobs.

Richard Colbeck: The only threat to that $400 million, from what I can hear, is from the Labor Party. We've put $400 million on the table over 10 years. We've made that commitment, just as we did for the Midland Highway. That commitment is now being delivered.

We said there's $400 million over 10 years for Roads of Strategic Importance in Tasmania. That is our policy, that is our plan. If there's any threat to that, it's the other side of politics who are saying you can't be sure it's there. Well, they're saying that, not us.

We're saying it's there. The planning needs to take place for that. We're not imposing our view on anybody, but we are doing the required consultations between Local Government, State Government and the Commonwealth Government. The reality is the Labor Party have to do exactly the same consultations, whether it's with their $6 million or us with our $400 million. The difference between the two plans is $394 million.

Question: Just to be clear, only $100 million of this fund would be released over the next four years. Is that correct?

Richard Colbeck: Well, that's the phasing at this point in time, but you still have to do the planning of the projects. So, we're putting a considerable amount of money on the table for these projects. We recognise that there is a requirement for funding of Roads of Strategic Importance in Tasmania. That's our commitment. If there's any threat to that, it's the Labor Party, not us. Our commitment is very, very clear, there's $400 million over 10 years for these roads. It's now up to the Labor Party to (a) make a commitment, and then (b) confirm it.

Question: I think most people here would be interested to know when the digging starts. So you've said about consultation, having to do the consultation. You've got $10 million for the next year. When do they actually see the work starting?

Daryl Quilliam, Mayor—Circular Head Council: I spoke to the Premier after the election because the Premier has promised $40 million, and then my understanding from the Federal Government, the money that they're going to put in to it will be given to the State Government and that will add to the $40 million.

So, the more the better from our point of view.

But I did speak to the Premier and I said to him: within the next month or two we need to start a plan. And so it would be nice to know exactly how many dollars we've got to work with and what years that they're going to be done. But we also realise that it's going to take 10 years at least to do all the work that needs to be done because it's in a pretty deplorable state. It's an issue because we've got school children being picked up on these roads as well, and so we need to have the right plan to be doing the right work over that period of time.

So, the plan, we know what needs to be done. All we need to work out now is what we do first and what order we do it in and that's going to be done within the next few months. And so, once we get a better idea of the total funding, we know the State is doing $40 million from Wynyard through to Marrawah. We need to know now how much the Federal Government is going to top that up, and as soon as we know that we'll be able to get a plan pretty quick, because I agree with you, we do need to have a plan. Without a plan, where do we go? But we need to know the dollars and then we'll … we know the work that needs to be done, but we just need to know the order that we're going to do it. So, that will be done in the next few months.

Brett Whiteley: So let me wrap this up by saying this. A very good summary, is that we have $400 million. The Turnbull Government, the Liberal-National Coalition Government, has $400 million committed over ten years for Roads of Strategic Importance and the story around that is that it's committed to the Bass Highway.

My job as the candidate, together with Robbie and Darryl, and that's why we're here today—is to bring the Minister up to speed; to convince, to persuade him of the importance of this road. That's what I will be doing over the next eight weeks. Then we know that we have a bucket of money, together with the State, that we then altogether can make sure we get it right. We put a plan in place. But we have $400 million, my Labor opponent has $6 million with no clue as to where to spend it or when or on what timeline. That's the difference. I will deliver. I'm about solutions, not complaining. So thanks for coming.

Question: There's a lot of projects nationwide which is on the table. I mean, realistically though, where does Tasmania stand in your eyes?

Michael McCormack: Front and centre. And certainly we've heard from Brett Whiteley, the candidate for Braddon today, just how important this is. We know that there's $1.5 million worth of produce coming out of this region each and every day and that's kicking goals.

I mean, Richard Colbeck keeps telling me: you plant nails here, you get crowbars. And we want to make sure that that produce is able to be taken to port on the very best possible roads.

But right around Australia, the Government is getting on with building the sorts of infrastructure that this country needs, but it's been lacking for far too many years. We saw infrastructure fall away under Labor, the six years of Labor, and we're outspending Labor $2.1 billion each and every year on infrastructure. So, we're an infrastructure government, we've got an infrastructure treasurer, we've got an infrastructure-building prime minister and we're getting on with the job.

Thanks very much.