Transcript: press conference - Batman Highway event, Tasmania

BRIDGET ARCHER

Well, thanks for coming out here today on this beautiful summer northern Tasmanian day. We’re here to start the works here, or commence works, on the Batman Highway, part of the Northern Roads Package, a $55 million package of works to improve the freight corridors here in northern Tasmania.

I’m joined by West Tamar mayor, Christina Holmdahl, Minister Michael Ferguson and Acting Prime Minister, Michael McCormack. So, mayor, you might like to talk about what this means for your municipal area.

CHRISTINA HOLMDAHL

Thank you very much, Bridget. The work that’s being announced today is really most welcome – $55 million to undertake work that’s been probably on the books for a long, long time. But it’s going to, in my municipality especially, it’s going to address all the shortcomings that are going to improve road safety, and we welcome it very much and we look forward to working with both the State and Federal governments in ensuring that the work happens well. Thank you.

MICHAEL FERGUSON

Thanks, Christina, and good afternoon and a particular welcome to you in the northern Tasmanian region, of course, my friend and colleague, Bridget Archer, and Tasmania’s good friend, the Acting Prime Minister, Michael McCormack. It really is a delight this week to see work commencing on this major Northern Roads Package. It’s $55 million worth of work which has been co-funded by the Commonwealth and by the Tasmanian Liberal Government. We are very pleased to see jobs getting out, tenders being won by in this case a proud Tasmanian business, Hazell Brothers. We’ve already started the preliminary works. They started that on January 4. And next week the major works get underway for Batman Highway for particularly the road widening and strengthening, together with some realignment and road strengthening and widening taking place on the Frankford Highway and the Birralee main road.

This is actually about providing better measures for truckies to get product from our regional areas out to Bell Bay, one of our major ports. This is actually going to take pressure off the roads the Launceston, but it’s also going to enhance road safety. Importantly, it’s creating jobs right here, right now in northern Tasmania. For that, we say a big thank you to the Commonwealth for the funding partnership. Michael.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Thank you, Michael. When it’s raining, you drive to the conditions and it’s raining now and it does provide for slippery surfaces, it does provide sometimes for driver behaviour that is not conducive to the road conditions. And yet despite the fact that we are building better roads and we have better vehicles, people are still dying on our roads. And that’s why the Federal Liberal-Nationals Government is combining with state governments such as the Peter Gutwein Liberal Government here in Tasmania to promote road safety, to build better roads whether it’s the Batman Highway, whatever the case might be right around this amazing, fantastic, livable state. And it is a livable state. We want more people to come to Tasmania. We want more people to come to regional Tasmania. And that’s what Bridget Archer is all about. That’s what Mayor Christina wants to see happen. We want to see people to make Tasmania a destination point to visit, to holiday here, to come here and live. And these regional areas are amazing. They are fantastic. They have so much to see and do. And that’s why we are building better roads. Whether it’s through the $55 million Northern Roads Package, whether it’s the road safety package we’re rolling out, whether it’s the $110 billion infrastructure package over the next 10 years right across the nation, we are putting in place the roads that are going to safe people’s lives.

And I work very closely with Michael Ferguson. In fact, he rings me every other day about a particular project, one or another, throughout his fine State. And I know how hard he works. I know how committed he is to building a better Tasmania, as is Bridget Archer. I tell you what – she is an outstanding Member for Bass. She wants better outcomes for the people she represents. She wants better infrastructure. She wants more water infrastructure, better roads. And I want to work with her and will work with her into the future to see that happen.

But delighted to be here. I had, as I say, breakfast with Peter Gutwein this morning and Senator Jonno Duniam to talk about infrastructure across Tasmania as a whole. But here, for the Northern Roads Package, it’s really great to be with Michael Ferguson, really great to be here with Bridget Archer, and really looking forward to seeing this work started. Because it’s not only the road safety that it will enhance; it’s also the jobs in the construction phase. It’s also that little café down the road which will be selling more coffees, more egg and bacon rolls as the construction workers need to be fed and need to be watered for construction to go on. [Indistinct] save more lives on Tasmanian roads. Thank you. Any questions?

JOURNALIST

When will this start?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, very soon. We want to see shovels in the ground as soon as possible, don’t we, Michael? Where have you gone? Major works start on Monday. There you are. Got your answer. Well done. All over it.

JOURNALIST

And can you tell us specifically what work will be done on the bridge?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I’ll allow Michael to add to this, but what we’re doing is we’re strengthening, we’re lengthening, we’re making sure that all the abutments and the shoulder widening is being done. And any work, of course, that the engineers look at and see that that needs to be improved upon then we’ll do it. But, Michael, do you want to add to that?

MICHAEL FERGUSON

Thank you, Deputy Prime Minister, Acting Prime Minister. This work is about widening the road. As you’d have driven here you’d have noticed that there’s centre lines but there’s no lines on the sides of the road. That’s because it’s not regulation width to allow the full width. We’ll achieve that by the road widening, shoulder strengthening as well. This is a – there’s no work required on the bridge itself; that’s undergoing its normal maintenance. But the actual road pavement surface that makes up the Batman Highway together with the Frankford Road, the Frankford Highway, the Birralee main road, they’re a package of works together that are going to allow truck movements to occur in a safer way. A lot of truckies are not comfortable travelling from the Bass Highway through to Bell Bay using these routes in some cases and this work will allow them to be able to do that.

JOURNALIST

Can you tell us the timeline? How long will this take and delays for motorists?

MICHAEL FERGUSON

This project is due this year. I mean, this project is one of so many that are part of the Tasmanian Liberal Government’s partnership with the Commonwealth. In this current financial year, as I announced on the 4th of January, we’ve budged $485 million worth of work. It’s more than ever before, and it builds on last financial year’s record 38 projects, the most projects achieved in a decade in Tasmania. So we’re really cracking on and we’re seeing a lot of men and women in this industry getting work in some cases for the first time and, importantly, improving those road safety outcomes that the Acting Prime Minister has referred to.

JOURNALIST

[Indistinct]

MICHAEL FERGUSON

I can get you the month. I believe it’s around the middle of the year.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

July hopefully, weather permitting.

JOURNALIST

Out of that funding pool, how much do you think will be spent on upgrading this [indistinct]?

MICHAEL FERGUSON

I’d have to get you the specifics, but – thank you, Deputy Prime Minister.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I can add to that. It’s actually $15.5 million Commonwealth, and that’s our 80 per cent contribution to this particular stretch here. And, of course, there’ll be 20 per cent on top of that from the state contribution. So often with these – often usually with these particular projects it’s 80 per cent Commonwealth, 20 per cent the State, and that’s why when a Labor government is in charge in Canberra it’s only usually 50-50, so that’s why a lot of infrastructure doesn’t get built. But when you’ve got a Liberal-Nationals Government in Canberra it’s 80 per cent commonwealth, 20 per cent state. We’ve got a capacity at the moment. We’ve got a determination to build more infrastructure, and that is precisely what we are doing. It’s great to actually partner up with somebody as dedicated as Michael Ferguson. If I had every state minister as charged up and determined as Michael Ferguson, we would build a better Australia – we’d do it tomorrow. But, like I say, he rings me every other day about water and road and other infrastructure in Tasmania, and I thank him for it.

JOURNALIST

And besides this project, is there any other major projects in the North of the State that the commonwealth is contributing to?

MICHAEL FERGUSON

Absolutely there are. In fact, most of the projects that we are, in fact, embarking on with our $485 million investment program into the Tasmanian state roads and bridges program is, in fact, a partnership with the Commonwealth Government. Our departments and our offices work very, very closely together. You’re also looking at improvements right across the road network, noting that we have more than 3,000 kilometres of network, much of which we see co-partnering occurring between the two governments. There’s a special package of work we look forward to saying more about over coming months in relation to the road to Scottsdale on the Tasman Highway. That’s a major piece of work which we intend to do. Again, that is an 80-20 split with the Commonwealth to achieve better road safety outcomes and better productivity of the Tasman Highway route to Scottsdale in the north east.

JOURNALIST

Will you be able to get us the figure on how much the State Government is putting towards this, the 20 per cent?

MICHAEL FERGUSON

Yes, our contribution is $11 million. And I think that’s a great outcome for Tasmanians, that that incredible investment of 11 is able to unleash a total investment of $55 million in total from the two governments.

JOURNALIST

Is it realistic for us to build our way out of COVID given the state’s poor infrastructure record?

MICHAEL FERGUSON

Well, it’s actually happening. It’s happening here and now. And in reality, as I indicated, in the last financial year we achieved a record 38 projects, more than what has been done in a decade. So the Tasmanian Liberal Government has a track record of getting infrastructure built. We intend to maintain that momentum. Even though the funding profile continues to grow each year, we’re getting those great outcomes and you’re seeing women and men in this industry working, getting the jobs that they need but importantly providing that better infrastructure. Tasmanians elected this Government to deliver infrastructure, and they’re getting it.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

And could I just add to that Michael, if you don’t mind?

MICHAEL FERGUSON

Yes.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I mean, 17 of the last 21 dams in Australia have been built in this state. 17 out of 21 – that’s not a bad record. And Tasmania is actually leading the way as far as water infrastructure is concerned. And I applaud that. And I want to work with the Tasmanians even further and more to build on that record. If the Mainlanders could take a leaf out of the Gutwein government’s book as far as building water infrastructure, what a great nation we’d have. We’d be plumbing Australia even better than what it is now.

JOURNALIST

I just have another question for you given in Bell Bay the trucks we’re hearing, how important is it that this work is done?

MICHAEL FERGUSON

This is actually a vital enabler for further economic progress for Tasmania, products activity for our truckers, as well as making sure that goods can get to markets. We are seeing opportunity being realised with our export hub at Bell Bay, and it’s vital that the productive north-west of the State where it’s required to get goods to market are able to do so in a safe way and in an efficient way. At the moment many truckers are choosing to use the Bass Highway through to Launceston and the full extent of the East Tamar Highway out of Launceston. This will provide a further choice and, in some cases, a more productive route.

JOURNALIST

The health dashboard released this afternoon, elective surgery lists have skyrocketed. How will the Government bring those numbers down?

MICHAEL FERGUSON

Well, the Government will be investing a further $45 million in elective surgery over this financial year. We recognise that the Government has invested now $9.8 billion into the health system, and Minister Sarah Courtney is working very hard to ensure that Tasmanians who need the care that they deserve can get it. And also we are able to demonstrate our bona fides because in all regions of the state we’ve employed more staff and opened more beds so that Tasmanian community can get the care that they need when they need it.

JOURNALIST

Just going back to the bridge, obviously the Batman name has a bit of a history in Tasmania. Are there any plans at all to change the name of the bridge as part of the project?

MICHAEL FERGUSON

There are no plans for name changes. We’re always open to listen to different points of view on the matter.

JOURNALIST

How concerned are you by the increase in public housing applicants and the waiting lists?

MICHAEL FERGUSON

Well, that’s why the Government is working very hard to provide more housing opportunities. And that’s demonstrated as recently as last year’s Budget. We’re providing $300 million for more housing opportunities, and it’s hitting the communities where they need it. And by working so closely with the sector, Minister Jaensch is providing more housing options and, indeed, we’re doing that by building more houses, releasing more land and, of course, working with community housing providers to use the Government’s land stock in order to build more housing off their own balance sheet. It is working and we’re moving towards a thousand more houses in Tasmania directly for social housing.

JOURNALIST

There are calls for a hospice facility to be built here in the north. Is that something the Government would consider?

MICHAEL FERGUSON

Absolutely. We are always open to new opportunities. We did do a feasibility study into the potential for a hospice in northern Tasmania. At the time that that report was done it demonstrated that because of the rural centres and also the publicly funded beds at St Luke’s an additional stand-alone hospice wasn’t feasible at that time. We’re still looking into that, though. And there are opportunities for improving palliative care across the north are happening as we speak, including at the Mersey.

JOURNALIST

Do you think if we had more end-of-life care options it would decrease the pressure on our hospitals?

MICHAEL FERGUSON

Yes. And that’s why the Government is, in fact, investing more in palliative care. It is vital. We do understand the need for this, and as opportunities present, the Government will always give very close consideration to funding better options for palliative care, including the very noble goal of a future hospice in Launceston.

JOURNALIST

And I just have one question for Bridget do you think there’s a need for a hospice facility in your electorate?

BRIDGET ARCHER

Yes, certainly I’ve had a number of discussions with a lot of people in this space, and I believe that there is an opportunity to look at better palliative care opportunities in northern Tasmania. As Minister Ferguson has said, I think there needs to be more work in relation to what that looks like. There are already some excellent options for palliative care, but there’s no doubt that there is more need that has been identified. And certainly it would help to take some pressure off our public health system.

JOURNALIST

I’ve just got one more question in regards to corrections, if that’s okay?

MICHAEL FERGUSON

Yes.

JOURNALIST

Have corrections officers been given enough support in managing the pandemic in our prisons?

MICHAEL FERGUSON

Well, they have, and if there’s more support required it will be provided. The Tasmanian Liberal Government has totally understood and has followed the expert public-health advice about the particular risks that are posed in close physical proximity of prisons and looking after the prison population. Yes, they’re doing their time for the crimes they’ve served, but there’s also a duty of care at play here that the Government totally respects and is following the health advice. If there’s further advice that comes forward we’ll follow that.

JOURNALIST

And how many of the 64 recommendations from the custodial inspector’s report last year have been implemented?

MICHAEL FERGUSON

It’s a work in progress I’m advised. And the Custodial Inspector’s report is an annually produced report, providing advice to government which is publicly and transparently available to the community to allow us to find more and better ways that we are expected to provide safe environments in prison and correctional facilities. But I want to hasten to add that the correctional inspectorate was created by this Government. We created that role. We created the office, we created the legislation to enable it so that we can provide contemporary and safe facilities for people serving time.

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