Transcript - Singleton Bypass press conference

9.50 AM

MICHAEL JOHNSEN

Well, welcome, everyone. I’m particularly pleased to welcome the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack; the New South Wales Minister for Roads and Transport, Paul Toole; we’ve got the Member for New England, Barnaby Joyce; we’ve got our Mayor of Singleton here in Sue Moore and representatives from Transport for NSW.

This is a wonderful occasion where we can have The Nationals in Government at both State and Federal level coming along to make further announcements about the all-important Singleton Bypass. This is a project that the locals have been crying out for for many, many years. And it’s a project since I’ve been the member since 2015 that we’ve pushed very hard for and we’ve been able to now get the full funding to be able to complete the Singleton Bypass. It’s a very major project. We know that over 20,000 vehicles a day get caught up in a conga line of traffic here, and it’s an economic bane of commerce through the Hunter up the New England Highway here. It’s proven over the years to be unsafe, inefficient and what we need to do is build this bypass as soon as we possibly can.

On that score, we expect that construction will begin by late 2023 and it’s a four-year project to be able to complete this all-important bypass. A lot work literally has to – a lot of water has to go under the bridge in this particular project, but it’s a very exciting project and the engineering feats around this are going to be absolutely enormous. And for the State and Federal Governments to work together along with council as we have, to be able to deliver this project for the community of not only Singleton and the Upper Hunter, but the wider Hunter, indeed, New South Wales. It’s a very, very important route for all of New South Wales.

At this stage I’m going to hand over to Mayor Sue Moore to put a council perspective on this.

SUE MOORE

Thank you, Michael. It’s great to be able to be here today and thank you to the Deputy Prime Minister for calling in to see us in beautiful Singleton in Townhead Park here. Look, absolutely great that we have a partnership agreement now with the State and Federal Governments to build the bypass. The community, as Michael has said, has been asking for this for so long they’d actually like it built tomorrow. So we’ll get the shovels out now. We do have some issues still with the design plan which we will continue to discuss with Transport NSW and Paul and we’ve had conversations yesterday around that. But it’s great news and partnerships achieved and things like this can only happen by partnerships. So thank you for being here and thank you for the announcements to actually see the design plan completed and the construction start by 2023. Thank you.

BARNABY JOYCE

Well, first of all I’d like to also acknowledge everybody who’s here – and I haven’t met you.

SPEAKER

Yes, we have.

BARNABY JOYCE

Sorry. It’s so important –

MICHAEL JOHNSEN

[indistinct], Barnaby.

BARNABY JOYCE

And that’s Michael. Michael came in a suit and I came in a tie – between the two of us we’re properly dressed. When I was living out at St George and we’d go through Dalby and we’d go through Toowoomba and the big issue for Toowoomba was the Second Range Crossing. And if you went to Dalby the biggest issue for Dalby was the Second Range Crossing. And if you went to St George the biggest issue was Second Range Crossing. Because to try and get the commerce to go up the New England Highway – or in that case, across the Warrego Highway – you needed the arterial road to bring it out.

They say it was JFK who said that cities don’t build roads; roads build cities. Now I can’t actually find where he said that, so I’m going to claim that quote, because it sounds pretty good. What this does, it shows the Federal Government and The Nationals – most especially The Nationals – driving for a better regional Australia and most especially a better Hunter Valley. This is the sort of investment that should have happened years ago but it’s taken The Nationals in Government to actually provide it at both a State and a Federal level.

And we also see the hard work that Michael Johnsen and Paul Toole are doing at a state level for the next one up, the Muswellbrook Bypass. And we’ve already done the Scone Bypass and we’re working on the Bolivia Hill realignment and we’ve got the money aside for the Tenterfield Bypass, so that goes to show you the sort of impetus you get with a Government that is focused on regional areas delivering for regional areas. And between those projects, it’s well in excess of a billion dollars.

Now I know that people are starting to understand that in the Hunter Valley. They’re getting that. They’re getting that in the seat of Paterson. They’re getting that in the seat of Shortland. They understand what The Nationals can do for them. And I want to make sure that we all work together because this is important for Tamworth, it’s important for Armidale and it’s absolutely essential for the coal workers who every day have to go through this absolute trap and bottleneck to get themselves to work to earn our nation the money it needs to survive.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, thank you, Barnaby, and it’s great to be here with my Nationals colleagues. And, of course, Barnaby Joyce, you’ve just heard from him, the Member for New England. I’ve got Senator Perin Davy behind me as well doing a fabulous job for the Federal Government right across this great state. Paul Toole, who is the New South Wales Minister for Regional Transport and Roads and Deputy Leader of the New South Wales Nationals and, of course, Michael Johnsen, the Nationals Member for Upper Hunter in the State Parliament.

They’re all Nationals. They’ve all fought for this. They all know how important the Singleton Bypass is. And just consider some of the numbers about the Singleton Bypass – 8 kilometres, $700 million, $560 million of which is being provided by the Federal Nationals in a Coalition Government. What we’ve got is 1,370 jobs over the lifetime of the project. That’s going to be local businesses are going to benefit, local workers are going to benefit and, indeed, the road safety and time-saving opportunities for people of the Hunter are enormous. You can’t measure that by numbers. But certainly you can measure it by efficiency. You can measure it by productivity and you can probably measure it by those road safety options which are going to enable people to be less frustrated on the roads. And when people are in less congested traffic, they get to where they need to be sooner and safer.

And our $110 billion infrastructure rollout right across Australia and certainly in regional Australia is improving road safety outcomes for regional Australians who are, sadly, overwhelmingly disproportionately in those road toll statistics. And we want to make sure that we get towards Vision Zero for road safety, for the number of deaths on our roads.

The Singleton Bypass is going to provide such an economic boost for the Hunter region. And it’s because of The Nationals behind me and The Nationals in those branches fighting hard for this project, fighting hard for many, many years that we’ll start this work in 2023. I know the Singleton Mayor, Sue Moore, has indicated that she wants us to get the shovels in the ground. We’ve got to do a bit of planning, design and environmental work and all that, but once that is done and once those boxes are ticked we will get shovels in the ground. We will get excavators on-site and we will get these jobs happening.

And what that will mean will be the 26,000 vehicles that are travelling through Singleton, many, many of which are heavy vehicles, well, they’ll be using the bypass. They won’t be rumbling through Singleton. They won’t be holding up traffic and they’ll be adding to the productivity and efficiency of the Hunter region – a region which The Nationals support. A region which The Nationals will always fight for, whether it’s coal jobs, whether it’s the great wine-making region that it is, we’re in there fighting hard. We’re in there striving and it’s for people like these just behind me who get into Government, who get in around that cabinet table, those ministerial tables, and fight and make sure the right decisions are being taken all the time.

I will ask Paul Toole to add to my remarks.

PAUL TOOLE

Thank you, Deputy Prime Minister and today is a significant announcement. Today is another milestone, another investment that we’re seeing in regional New South Wales. And I want to say that from the onset that projects like this happen because of hard-working local members. When you have Michael Johnsen, when you have Barnaby Joyce advocating here for the community for safer roads, better roads, that’s exactly what we’re delivering.

And then I’m able to speak to people like Perin Davey, talk to the Deputy Prime Minister and to roll that investment out into our regions. And that’s creating safer roads. It’s easing some of that congestion, but it’s also reducing travel time. So this bypass is going to take around about 50 per cent of vehicle movements out of the centre of town each and every day. So when we’re talking about 26,000 vehicles, you know, that also means around 3,700 trucks. You know, that means they’re going to be using the bypass. It also means that we’ll give these local streets back to the local community so they won’t have the same level of traffic movement on them that we’ve seen in the past.

I congratulate Sue and the Council as well because their work advocating for investments like this in roads are important in this area. The Deputy Prime Minister has made it very clear that our investments across the area at the moment, we’re bringing them forward. So we’re bringing forward as many shovel-ready projects as we can. There are some that we’re going to do the concept designs, the environmental assessments, the planning that has to take place, but it’s about creating jobs. And when you are coming out of droughts and bushfires and COVID, the most important thing in our communities right now is about jobs, jobs and jobs. And this project alone is going to have over 1,300 jobs created here directly.

And then there’s all the indirect spend that we’ll see back in the local community. There’ll be all the local suppliers, the local contractors that will benefit from these projects. And as Barnaby has said, you know, you look at it, we’ve already done the bypass at Scone, we’re working now on Muswellbrook and Singleton. And that’s where our focus is going. And, again, it’s more investment in our roads right across New South Wales.

PERIN DAVEY

Just quickly, I’ll be very brief, but thank you all for coming out here today. This is just another announcement today of the Singleton Bypass that shows our commitment in Government to regional areas. Regional areas like Singleton where we have seen through the COVID pandemic people are now starting to look at the regions with a different lens. And they’re excited and there is so much opportunity for the regions, but we know as a Government that the only thing that will help people move out to the regions and invest in the regions is infrastructure. If they can travel safely to and from, if they can have the health facilities they need, if they can get the mobile connectivity – and our Government is delivering through the Mobile Phone Black Spots Program and through infrastructure programs like the Singleton Bypass, like the Roads to Recovery and Roads Black Spots Programs – we are committed to improving our regions so that we can get people to look to the regions, to move to the regions, to invest in the regions. And our regions will grow and will prosper and will help drive our economic recovery post COVID. Thank you.

MICHAEL JOHNSEN

Just to finish up, I’d like to also mention that not only are we talking about the Singleton Bypass beginning construction by the end of 2023, I’d also like to note that we’ve got another major project that we’re currently out on tender, calling for tenders for and that is the extension of the dual lanes from Belford up in the Golden Highway and the flyover of the Golden Highway and New England Highway intersection. Well over $100 million project in itself. We’re out to tender, which simply means that what we will do is award that tender in due course and we can look to begin construction on that – another major piece of infrastructure construction – in the first quarter of 2021.

So there are literally hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars being invested into infrastructure in the Upper Hunter to support our mining industry and to support all other industries that operate here in the Upper Hunter. And I’ll just remind everyone as a closing statement – the Upper Hunter is the home of world-class mines, wines, equines and bovines and we are a very diversified economy, a very diversified communities and we deserve this investment. Thank you.

JOURNALIST

Is there any chance when construction starts in 2023 that the bypass will be dual carriageway? We know State Government has bought enough land to allow for that. There’s no chance that will happen straight up?

MICAHEL JOHNSEN

It will not be a dual carriageway initially. The road reserve is purchased and set aside for dual carriageway. And I’ll just remind you of one thing: at the moment when you go through Singleton there are pinch points, there are stoppage points and pinch points. When the bypass is built it will be quite a wide bypass in itself and there will be no pinch points. There’ll be no stoppages. You will enter and exit that bypass at 100 kilometres an hour, so as you would expect on a major piece of infrastructure like this.

JOURNALIST

And a question for yourself or Michael: is there any chance that the project could be fast-tracked? I mean, with the pandemic and wanting to get those jobs and money into the region, is there a slim chance we could see it starting before 2023?

PAUL TOOLE

We’re certainly pushing for it to be fast-tracked, but I’ll defer to the Minister and possibly the Deputy Prime Minister.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, what happens with these projects is that the Commonwealth writes a very, very big cheque. We then give it, certainly that commitment, to the State Government. They go and do the tendering, they go and do the contracting. There’s a lot of planning and design work that needs to be put in place before the first shovel can go in the ground. There is, of course, environmental conditions that need to be met. And, look, I’ll be certainly working with Paul Toole to see what we can do. But, at the moment it’s slated to start in about mid-2023. And we will get on with the job of building it as soon as we can. That’s what Paul Toole and I do – we talk just about every other day about road projects and getting, making sure that we’ve got those transport options in place for regional New South Wales. And we work very well together, as you’d expect Nationals in Governments to do. And that’s why this project is happening – because Nationals in Government are caring and committed to the people we serve.

JOURNALIST

You mentioned the commitment to the region. Is it a coincidence that there’s so many senior Nationals here? It’s almost like a convention this week. We’ve got Senator Canavan tomorrow. Is it a coincidence as it is after Joel Fitzgibbon stood down two weeks ago?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we’re all good mates and this was always in the pipeline to come up here and talk about and make sure that these announcements were made for the Singleton Bypass. It was in the Federal Budget, which came down on October 6. I know I drive around the country and when I can at the moment, fly around the country talking about infrastructure, listening to communities and delivering on their needs and wants and expectations. And I know Senator Perin Davey is all over New South Wales doing exactly the same thing.

We are committed to country areas. Barnaby is, Paul is, Perin is and Michael Johnsen certainly is. Local communities getting local outcomes. And the fact is, Hunter would be best served, this area would be best served, with a National Party Member, Federal and State, in the Parliaments because, first of all, we are passionate and very passionate about our local communities. Secondly, they get a Member who was actually in Government. And when you’re in Government you’ve got control of the Treasury Benches. And when you’ve got control of the Treasury Benches you make sure that the regions – as Nationals in Government always do – you make sure that the regions get their fair share and more than their fair share of infrastructure delivery. And that’s what we’ve always been committed to and that’s what we’ll always be committed to.

JOURNALIST

Can I ask a few questions on the vaccine? Do you support Qantas’ decision to require international travellers when they travel to prove they’ve got the vaccine?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, Alan Joyce, the CEO of Qantas, has said that he is looking into it. So there’s an important distinction between saying he’s doing it and he’s looking into it. And certainly when people take an airline ticket they agree to the terms and conditions of that airline ticket. And what we want to see is the ability for planes to be back in the air, because planes back in the air means jobs on the ground. And I’m very pleased that at this point in time there’s 40 per cent of domestic travel has returned to pre-COVID levels.

Now there were many people who were prepared to write the entire industry off and said that it wouldn’t be back to anywhere near the level it is now and we are doing very well in that regard. And what we need to see is those border restrictions lifted even further so that more people can travel interstate, not just intrastate but interstate. We need to get travel happening around the nation and certainly leading up to Christmas.

JOURNALIST

Has the Government been involved in the planning for this or will Border Force be used to help administer?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Administer what?

JOURNALIST

A potential requiring proof of a vaccine?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, obviously this is a decision that has been espoused by Alan Joyce. He said he will look into it. He hasn’t said he will do it. He is just looking into the legalities of it obviously. But what the Australian Government wants to assure people is that the vaccine won’t be mandatory. We would certainly encourage people to take it up when it becomes available. And very pleased overnight with the progress and the development of the vaccine by Oxford. We’ve worked very hard as a Government to make sure that we’re going to have the vaccine available and freely available. When it is fully developed and all the trials and tests have been done and it is proven that it does work, they will be freely available to not only Australians, but also to our South Pacific Island friends and our South Pacific region, because that’s what a good neighbour does.

JOURNALIST

But is the Government providing assistance on the planning side?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we always work closely with companies like Qantas. And that’s why Qantas and Virgin and other airlines were able to have that COVID-safe travel, that protocol that I put in place in July. And certainly I know that the airline industry was very appreciative of the assistance that we provided – billions of dollars’ worth of assistance to ensure that they did have all the measures in place when the planes were very much grounded. JobKeeper, certainly the additional airline assistance for returning travellers from overseas, the domestic routes, the regional routes and particularly the regional routes. Because there would have been many, many regional communities which would not have seen an aviation service and that would have prevented them from receiving personal protection equipment, face masks, respiratory devices and, perhaps most importantly, frontline medical personnel but for the assistance that we provided. As I say, many billions of dollars’ worth of assistance that kept the airline industry going.

JOURNALIST

And what’s the Government’s reaction to the Qatar authorities charging police officers involved in the invasive search?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, this is a matter obviously for Qatar. Very distressing, very distressing, for the women involved and this is the right thing to do.

JOURNALIST

And how urgent – has Qatar handed over investigations yet into this to the Australian Government?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I’m sorry?

JOURNALIST

Has Qatar handed over their investigations into this to the Australian Government?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Not as I’m aware. You’d have to ask the Foreign Affairs Minister that. But I think the Qatari Government has done what it needed to do, and, of course, we would always work, as we have, closely with the Qatari Government, given the fact that there were Australian women involved.

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