Transcript - ACT Light Rail Press Conference

7:28AM

ZED SESELJA

Well, thank you all for being here. It’s great to be here with my good friend Michael McCormack, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Chris Steel, for what is, I think, a really important announcement in Canberra’s transport infrastructure – that is $132 million of Commonwealth contribution to the next stage of light rail. Now, this is part of a massive Commonwealth investment in Canberra across the board, not just in transport infrastructure, but when it comes to transport infrastructure all around Canberra we are investing. Whether it’s the Monaro Highway, whether it is the Tuggeranong Parkway or whether it is the Kings Highway, the Barton Highway, we are seeing investments right around the city and this is the next stage of that. Of course, it comes back on the $68 million investment in Stage 1. I know this will be welcomed, as we’ve seen this project unfold. Of course, I think it is important that we see the links across the town centres and of course, the next stage over to Woden. So well done to Michael McCormack on this. As a Canberran I welcome it and I welcome the record Commonwealth investment that is happening in Canberra and this $132 million is part of that. With that, I’ll throw to the Chief Minister.

ANDREW BARR

Thank you very much, Zed and I particularly acknowledge and thank Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack for taking time out of a busy schedule on a sitting day to be here and for this very significant Commonwealth commitment towards Stage 2A of light rail. This is a significant project for the ACT. Its significance is long term in terms of good transport infrastructure that will reduce congestion. But it’s also got a really important short-term jobs impact and bonus for the ACT for our construction sector and a spill over into economic activity. This 2A project will be an important marker of renewal within the Canberra CBD. And in the post-COVID environment there will be a need to focus on CBD renewal. So this project together with numerous others in the city are going to be important drivers of economic activity in the CBD.

I want to particularly thank and acknowledge the Commonwealth for this announcement. They’ve built on a number of others as Zed has indicated where we’ve had strong collaboration in the development of projects through an Infrastructure Australia pipeline, engagement early with the Commonwealth on infrastructure priorities and then an agreement to share funding to make things happen. This approach to collaborative federalism has been a real feature of Australia’s COVID response.

As a group of national leaders, first ministers and treasurers have met more in the last year than in the previous decade and that frequency of engagement, sharing of ideas has led to these sorts of practical outcomes. And I think that’s what Australians expect. I know Canberrans want just their fair share of the national infrastructure pie and this announcement today goes a long way to Canberra receiving its population share of what is a very large Commonwealth infrastructure program. It’s a great thing for Canberra. It’s a great thing for the transport sector and it will make our city a better place to live in in the long-term. That’s a really positive outcome out of this period. It would, of course, be remiss of me not to have a little shout out to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. We’re possibly unlikely collaborators, Josh and I, but we have been working incredibly well together and this is another practical example. And I do want to acknowledge that Josh listens when we talk. We talk frequently, and this is another practical example of that. So, Michael, to you and the Prime Minister as well, thank you for this announcement. We very much look forward to continuing our collaboration and the next major infrastructure project that will be funded 50:50 between the ACT and the Commonwealth.

CHRIS STEEL

This announcement today gives us real confidence that we can move to the next stage of this important infrastructure project for Canberra with the submission of NCA works approval around quarter three of this year. This will be a disruptive project in the short term, but it will provide long-term benefits for our city, both in terms of public transport but also wider economic benefits with high-quality mass transit powered by 100-per-cent renewable electricity. So we’re looking forward to getting on with the project. We still anticipate that work will begin as early as 2021-22 on raising London Circuit and other early works. We’re looking forward to getting on with that work with the support now of two governments. Happy to take questions after that.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I acknowledge that we are on Ngunnawal territory and I acknowledge my good friend Senator Zed Seselja. I acknowledge my good friend Chief Minister Andrew Barr and of course, Minister Chris Steel. It won’t be too long and we’ll be all aboard – all aboard this congestion-busting, job-creating, hope-building, confidence-creating project. This is so exciting and as the Chief Minister has just said, this is what happens when governments collaborate and the commuters here – the Canberrans walking by – they don’t care what particular stripe of government is up on the Hill or here in Canberra, they just want to get things done. They want to get things done because they want to get to where they need to be sooner and safer. And this is what happens when you’ve got a Commonwealth Government working with the ACT Government and that is what we’re doing, not just here in Canberra but right across the country. $110 billion of infrastructure that we’re rolling out over the next decade, right across the nation. And that’s so important because as we come out of the back of COVID-19, as the vaccine rolls out, as we get on with the recovery, it’s not just a health recovery, of course, it’s an economic recovery and it’s so needed. All of these commuters know that, all of you good people who’ve turned up here today for this exciting announcement know that, too. And we’re building for a better future. We’re building for a better future with the ACT Government, with every state and every territory government. And I’m really excited to be announcing this today with my colleagues here, my parliamentarian colleagues, because I know how much this is going to mean for Canberrans. I know how much it’s going to mean for visitors who come to this great city. This is a very liveable city, as Minister Chris Steel has just said. This is a renewal for Canberra. This is an exciting project. Fantastic to be here today announcing it – $132.5 million of Commonwealth money and of course, Zed and I were announcing the funding for the upgrade of the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge. So there’s a lot of things happening in and around Canberra. That will continue to happen as Andrew and I and of course, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer – who the Chief Minister has just so kindly talked about – we get on with building a better Canberra, a better future.

JOURNALIST

Deputy Prime Minister, you speak about getting on with it. With this money, does this mean that you and your Government will push for those approvals to go ahead so they can start the project?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, as Duncan, one of the planning people, announced earlier, of course the planning is well underway. We expect that planning to continue through the year. And by next year we’ll start construction.

JOURNALIST

You talk about the infrastructure spend across the country being $132 million here out of $110 billion. Can we expect more funding for Canberra in the future?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Absolutely. This is but one project – one project of many. You heard Zed Seselja talk about all sorts of things earlier – Barton Highway, we’ve got all sorts of linkage roads and Commonwealth Avenue we announced just a few short weeks ago. This is building for a better Canberra. This is building our future and this is helping Canberra, like the rest of the country, construct out of COVID-19. This is going to create jobs – 1,000 jobs for this very project. 1,000 jobs. That means, you know, a lot of procurement, indeed, for local businesses. That means confidence for the Canberra economy.

JOURNALIST

Senator, you haven’t always been a fan of this project. What changed your mind?

ZED SESELJA

Well, look, obviously the people have spoken and what I’ve always said is once the first stage of light rail was completed it made absolute sense to expand that and turn that into a network and not just have it from Gungahlin to the city. So that debate is over. The question now is making it work and, of course, making it accessible to as many Canberrans as possible. Of course, [indistinct] goes to south side. I still am sceptical that as a Tuggeranong resident I will see it come to Tuggeranong any time soon. But you never know, and the first stage is to get it to Woden. Look, I think it will be welcomed in Woden. I think it will be welcomed in that area. I think linking those town centres is going to be [indistinct].

JOURNALIST

Can you push some funding to get it to Tuggeranong?

ZED SESELJA

To Tuggeranong, look, it’s obviously a way off. But what I’ll continue to push for is more commonwealth funding for Canberra, because it’s record investment in Canberra at the moment. So, you know, we haven’t been choosing between public transport and car-based transport. We are investing in both. So this is now $200 million for light rail in total but, of course, the Monaro Highway, the Barton Highway, the Molonglo Valley bridge, Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, the investments are huge, as well as our national institutions where $1.4 billion has been announced just in the last couple years from the federal government in Canberra. That’s a huge investment. If we can do more, we absolutely will.

JOURNALIST

So just in regards to [indistinct], will you be pushing for [indistinct] Stage 3 of light rail?

ZED SESELJA

Well, I’ll keep pushing for more funding for transport infrastructure. And so there will be other priorities. Light rail will be one very important priority amongst many. And when I have the conversations with Deputy Prime Minister McCormack he knows I’m in there regularly saying, “We want infrastructure funding here in Canberra.” We’ve been getting a lot of it in recent years, and those conversations will continue.

JOURNALIST

[Indistinct] I’m just wondering now if we can just get an understanding of when [indistinct].

ANDREW BARR

There’s still a series of rather complex EPBC approvals required for Stage 2B. As I understand it that’s perhaps more on a heritage aspect as it goes through the oldest part of Canberra, the Parliamentary Triangle. It does also require approval of both houses of parliament. So I’ll be calling on these two gentlemen for their advocacy and support and their vote for the project when it ultimately comes before parliament. But you can’t get to Stage 2B until you’ve got stage 2A complete, and this is a really important signal today.

I think we should reflect on the history of the light rail project. It was perhaps considered unlikely that I’d get Joe Hockey over the line as a funding partner. I’ve been persistent in this. I think it’s a great project for Canberra, and I want to acknowledge that, you know, the commonwealth has recognised this. They did fund stage 1 and now they’re stepping up for Stage 2A. So I think that’s a pretty good basis to have a conversation about stage 2B and beyond. And I’ll certainly take the senator’s indication he wants it to Tuggeranong and talk to him about some financial support for that – happy to go 50-50.

JOURNALIST

So have any submissions been – any planning applications been submitted to NCA at this stage or are they –

ANDREW BARR

For Stage 2A?

JOURNALIST

Yes.

ANDREW BARR

That’s coming –

JOURNALIST

No, no, 2B.

ANDREW BARR

No, not yet. We’ve got to go through the EPBC approvals first. So Stage 2A planning approvals, which have to go to both the NCA and the ACT [indistinct].

JOURNALIST

Are you still saying that you’re hope it will be completed through this term of government or are you still not sure?

ANDREW BARR

Sorry?

JOURNALIST

Are you still saying that you want [indistinct] to be completed in this term of government?

ANDREW BARR

It won’t be completed in this term of government, no. I mean, given the approvals process [indistinct] be able to get 2A done, and clearly we’re in a position to get that underway, get works underway and get on with it. That’s what we’re going to do.

JOURNALIST

You’re asking for Commonwealth funding for this for quite a while. How [indistinct]?

ANDREW BARR

Well, in terms of the 2A contribution this is a very significant contribution, and we acknowledge that. It will make a big difference in terms of the ACT Government’s approach to finance through the project. Clearly now is a very good time to be in the market to buy or be going to be refinancing some of our debt. That will reduce our interest costs. But at the moment access to finance is a major issue. This contribution certainly helps, and what it will do across the entire territory balance sheet and the entire territory infrastructure program is free up some capacity for some further collaboration on other projects into the future. We are, of course, mindful of the need to protect our credit rating and to have a manageable level of debt, but every little bit helps, and $132 million is nothing to sneeze at, and I do want to acknowledge that. That’s very significant for us and for this project.

JOURNALIST

You were talking about the renewal of the CBD in general. What other projects should we keep an eye on?

ANDREW BARR

There are numerous. I’m very conscious of the time of these two gentlemen, so we might take that offline, but there are a number, and we’ll get that information to you.

JOURNALIST

Mr McCormack [indistinct] on a different matter, would you consider hiring Craig Kelly? Would he be a good fit for the Nats?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, Craig Kelly has indicated to The Sydney Morning Herald that he is going to be not coming to the Nats, that he’s going to be sitting on the crossbench. He told the parliament yesterday that he would be sitting on the crossbench for the remainder of the parliamentary term as an independent.

JOURNALIST

[Indistinct]

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, he’s going to be sitting on the crossbench as an independent for the remainder of the parliamentary term. He’s told The Sydney Morning Herald that; he’s told the parliament that.

JOURNALIST

What’s your opinion [indistinct]?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

What’s my opinion of what?

JOURNALIST

Would he be a good Nat?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, he’s not going to come to the Nationals. He’s actually – as I say again – he’s going to be sitting as a crossbench independent. He’s told The Sydney Morning Herald that he’s not going to go to One Nation, he’s not going to go to the National Party; he’s going to be an independent.

JOURNALIST

Were you surprised as everyone else when he resigned?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Yes.

JOURNALIST

[Indistinct]

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, the government will continue as per usual. We will continue to deliver for all Australians. We will continue to rollout the vaccine. We’ll continue to build infrastructure right across the nation. It’s great to be here today announcing a project with the Chief Minister. That’s what I do all the time. I don’t know care what political stripe or persuasion States or Territories are. I’ll work with Chief Ministers, I’ll work with Premiers, I’ll work with people like Chris Steel. We want to get on and build a better Australia. We want to get on and make sure that we build out of COVID-19.

It’s been a very challenging 12 months or more. This has been very challenging for Australians, and most Australians don’t care what seats people occupy up there on the Hill. They just want to see delivery. They want to get out the back of COVID-19 and make sure they’ve got a job for themselves and their futures. They want to make sure that their children have got good health services, good education services. And that’s what the Liberal-Nationals government up there on the Hill is concentrating on – every day and every night, working for Australians.

JOURNALIST

What concessions did the Government have to make to get Facebook to reinstate the news?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

What concessions did...?

JOURNALIST

The government have to make to get Facebook to reinstate the news?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, look, that was a discussion that the Treasurer had with Mr Zuckerberg. The important thing is that news is going to be back on Facebook. And Facebook were shown by the Australian Government that what they did by pulling down those websites, by pulling down those important government and perhaps more important health websites was just not on. It was not on. I’m glad that they’ve seen reason. I’m glad that they’re coming to the party. I’m glad that they’re going to pay media organisations such as yourselves. I mean, you’ve all come out here this morning –

JOURNALIST

[Indistinct]

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, they’re going to be paying. Like I say, your media organisations have sent you out here this morning. You’re doing a wonderful job, as you always do. And it’s important that we do get journalists and cameras and reporters out to these sorts of events to report the news for and on behalf of Australians. And why shouldn’t the organisations which send you out here for these important events get paid to have those stories online and on Facebook?

JOURNALIST

Just with Craig Kelly, before his conversation with The Sydney Morning Herald the morning did you have any conversations about him joining the Nats?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I reached out to Craig some weeks ago as a colleague. Craig and I came into the parliament together in 2010, and I reach out to colleagues of all political persuasion. In fact, I had a good chat to a Labor member yesterday who’s under the pump a bit. And I spoke to her and, you know, said I was thinking of her. But that’s just me. I spoke to Craig Kelly because I reached out to him as a friend. I didn’t discuss joining the Nationals with him. Thank you very much.

ENDS 7:46AM

Media contacts:

Jo Williamson, 0418 475 668

Dean Shachar, 0418 202 860