Transcript - NorthConnex press conference

GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN:

This is such an exciting day for New South Wales. This is a culmination of years of planning and work. I want to thank the Federal Government for their contribution and support and Minister Tudge, who is representing the Prime Minister and the Federal Government here today. I want to thank Minister Constance and the transport team in New South Wales as well as all of my parliamentary colleagues who have made sure that the community has been consulted along every step of this important project.

[Indistinct] partners, Transurban, who came to the government some years back through an unsolicited proposal and said they had an idea to build a wonderful connection which would transform the way people moved between the Central Coast and Sydney, which would transform the way in which people who live above ground around Pennant Hills Road would see their lives change. And here we are today.

So this is a really partnership between Transurban, the state government and the federal government, and also the community. And I want to thank everybody from the community who has had their say during this project’s construction. Can I also thank all the workers who are joining us today. When you see the amount of people involved in a project of this scale, it demonstrates the complexity. This is one of the deepest road tunnels there is . It’s eliminating 21 different traffic lights, making sure there are trucks, 5,000 trucks a day, taken off above ground and really transforming the way in which we move.

So if you’re a Central Coast resident or someone who wants to get to the Central Coast, imagine saving 15 minutes from your journey time every time you go to or from that region. I am deeply grateful as the Premier of this state that even through the darkest months of the pandemic this project has kept pushing forward. Through the darkest months that all of us had to endure, we’ve made sure that construction continues, projects like this come to life so that our citizens continue to have a good quality of life, but also that we keep jobs going. This project has made sure that thousands of people have been employed, not just on the project directly, but we’ve also relied on local suppliers and local businesspeople to provide all that support which is required to get a project like this to scale.

So today is a wonderful day. I’m deeply grateful. Today is a day we thank everybody for their efforts. And we also appreciate even when times are tough how strong and resilient we are and what we’re capable of achieving together.

I’ll now ask Minister Tudge to say a few words and Minister Constance. Then I’ll give a quick COVID update and we’ll take any questions. Thank you.

ALAN TUDGE:

Thank you very much, Premier, Minister Constance and colleagues behind me, including Lucy Wicks, and Julian Leeser, my local federal colleagues here. Premier, I’ve opened a lot of roads as the Federal Minister, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen such excitement as opening NorthConnex, and I can understand why. Because this fixes one of the worst roads in Australia – being Pennant Hills Road – and it means, as you indicated, a daily commuter will save 15 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes in the afternoon every single day. That means that daily commuter over the course of the year will get a week of their life back as a result of this road.

It is an absolute gamechanger like very few that we have seen in Australia. So I also want to congratulate you, Premier, and Minister Constance for the way that you have worked so constructively with the federal government on this project along with Transurban. The Federal Government has contributed over $400 million to this project and its one element of the huge $110 billion infrastructure program which we have rolled out across the country.

I equally want to say congratulations to Transurban for leading the construction effort here. But importantly there’s been hundreds of smaller businesses which have also been involved in construction efforts here, and 17,000 individuals who have been involved with it. So a very big thank you and congratulations to each of those 17,000 workers. And you will be immensely proud of this because it really will stand as a truly phenomenally good project over the course of time.

I’m a Melburnian. It’s great to be here in Sydney. I can assure you, I quarantined for a couple of weeks and have been in Canberra for a couple of weeks, so you’re safe. But I’ve got to say also just as a Melburnian, being here in Sydney and seeing how almost normal it is again is just a testament to the work which Premier, you have led here. It almost pains me to say this but I wish that Melbourne was a bit like Sydney in this regard where we could be a bit more open in Melbourne, too.

But with this road it means that you’ll be able to go from Newcastle to Melbourne without going through a single set of traffic lights. Just an incredible achievement. So congratulations once again to all of those involved. It’s been a great partnership between the federal government and the state government. Well done everybody.

GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN:

Thank you, Minister Tudge.

ANDREW CONSTANCE:

Well, Alan, thanks for coming, and it’s great to have you. But to the Premier and my colleagues, and to everyone, this is a lifechanger. It’s a lifechanger for millions of people. And we shouldn’t lose sight of that. I mean, millions of people are going to travel through this tunnel every year, getting home quicker, more time with your loved ones. For those who want to travel from Newcastle to Melbourne, I’d say why, but, you know, at the same time, you’re not going to experience a traffic light.

And I want to particularly pay tribute to those local members and their communities who are, I think, probably 90 metres above us whose lives are going to change. Those kids who were part of the ribbon-cutting today, there’s 10 school communities set to benefit by not having trucks outside their school gates. The kids can cross the road much safer now. And, you know, when you take the most hated road in Australia and it’s now going to become one which is better for those communities with the NorthConnex tunnel underneath it, we can’t lose sight of that.

I mean, I know we talk about travel times, but let’s also talk about safety – safety of our kids, the safety of our community. You know, we’ve seen unfortunately 420 people injured on Pennant Hills Road in the last five years. This is just going to improve that safety no end.

So I want to thank everyone who’s been involved in the project, I thank those communities for their patience. The big winners in this are going to be the Central Coast and Western Sydney, there’s no doubt about that. But I just want to thank everyone for their patience.

To Scott Charlton and the team at Transurban, you know, you guys coming to government and saying, “Right, we need to build this, and the feds and the states work together,” thank you for what you’ve done. I mean, it’s delivered thousands of jobs – 17,000 people registered to work on this project. And it couldn’t have come at a better time to be actually opening infrastructure at a time when we’re dealing with a pandemic. So, Scott, thank you for what you’ve done here and thank you in terms of the risk that you’ve taken, the vision that you brought to the project, and it’s great that the federal and state governments have been able to work together.

SCOTT CHARLTON:

Thank you, Premier; thank you, Minister; and thank you Minister Tudge. We’re so proud of Transurban. This is actually almost a 10-year journey since we started this. I know we talked about the benefits and the Premier and the ministers have talked about the benefits. I just want to thank the community for their patience. Construction of infrastructure is hard, and hopefully once we see the benefits as we do when we provide parks and bike lanes and the amenity, we can hopefully turn big parts of Pennant Hills Road back over to the community their patience and their time during the construction will be worth it.

So I want to thank the community, and I particularly want to thank the boldness of the New South Wales Government. So we did come to them with an idea. They were able to sit down with us, work through, make sure obviously value for money for the state, its safety benefits, customer benefits. It’s been a fantastic journey. So I just want to thank the New South Wales Government for your boldness. And this is actually being delivered 10 years earlier than would have been planned if it not been for the partnership with the state government, Transurban and our partners as well – QIC, Canadian Pension Fund and all of the LL joint venture that built this. So, so many stakeholders, such a fantastic journey. Just so proud. Thank you.

GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN:

It’s a great day. Well done. And I know many of the workers here want to celebrate the wonderful occasion that it is, which we’ll get to do in a second. But I also just want to say very briefly that I can’t express my deepest gratitude that this project is opening in a time when we are in a pandemic. Overnight we had more than 12,000 people get tested. We [indistinct] of community transmission until 8 o’clock last night. We had six in quarantine. But there has been one case since 8 o’clock last night. It was another child at the trampoline centre, and Health will be issuing further updates during the day. We please ask everybody, especially in southwestern Sydney to watch the health updates during the day to make sure that the community transmission is stopped in its tracks.

So thank you again, everybody, and pleased to take any questions.

JOURNALIST:

[Indistinct]

GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN:

If the health experts give us the tick, we will be moving quickly. We don’t want to have the border shut to Victorians one day longer than it has. We’ll rely on the advice. But unlike Queensland and WA, who have been dragging their feet for months and months and months for no logical reason, we’ve demonstrated in New South Wales our capacity to be resilient, our capacity to get on top of outbreaks when they happen, but also our ability to keep pushing through with economic activity, which is really important. And projects like this remind us how important jobs are. Come March next year when JobKeeper runs out, where will New South Wales and Australia be if we can’t even move around our own country creating jobs, reuniting families and living as we should.

We should be very proud as a nation, and Minister Tudge and the Prime Minister and the team have done an outstanding job as a nation supported by the states in dealing with this pandemic. Let’s live freely as Australians. It’s painful to me that New Zealanders can come and go in New South Wales comfortably but I can’t go to Queensland, I can’t go to WA. And I don’t think that’s right.

JOURNALIST:

[Indistinct]

GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN:

Well, my message to all the premiers who continue to deny residents reuniting with each other or businesses to flourish is please just dig deep and think about the compassionate issues here. If there were health concerns I’d be the first to say I understand your position. I mean, I’ve had to be in that position with Victoria, and I didn’t want to be in that position. But we moved to disclose the border after consultation with the Victorian Premier and the Prime Minister. It wasn’t a decision we took lightly or one that we wanted to do. And as soon as we can open that border we will. It could be a matter of weeks, depending on the health advice. But we certainly won’t keep that border closed a day longer than we have to, because we have confidence in our system. We have confidence in our people. We have confidence in our health system. We have confidence in our police and Service New South Wales to work together to make sure we keep our citizens safe.

JOURNALIST:

[Indistinct]

GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN:

Well, with gyms, you still need to make sure you have a COVID mask. You still need to make sure equipment has to be cleaned. We assess all of the restrictions on a daily and weekly basis, and we feel that we do have COVID-safe plans in place. But unfortunately it doesn’t mean – I don’t want to cast aspersions on those businesses that have been identified today – but what Minister Dominello and myself have been particularly vigilant about this week is the need for compliance, the need to make sure every business, no matter what type of business you are, stick to the COVID-safe plans, have the QR code so that when there is an outbreak we can get in touch with people in minutes. That is so critical because when you get in touch with people within minutes you can warn them, they can isolate, they can get tested and we know that we can get on top of the virus.

And the compliance levels have been great. You know, on the Service New South Wales we’ve had a until kind of clicks in the last little while – half a million users. We want to increase that. We don’t want to go down the path of making it compulsory for all businesses to have QR codes, but if we find take-up is a bit slower than what we’d like, we may go down that path.

But the important thing is that there are always exceptions. No matter how good a business is, we cannot forget – and that’s why it’s even important today – for everybody to be COVID safe at all times – maintain your distance, hand sanitise, make sure you follow the rules. Because no matter how COVID safe any business is or any environment is, this virus is extremely contagious, and it’s easy to forget that when our numbers are so low. But we have to be aware that this virus is extremely contagious and we have to be on our guard at all times. And that is what’s really important.

JOURNALIST:

[Indistinct]

GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN:

It’s been illogical. And Tasmania, I throw Tasmania into that lump as well. I mean, a number of states have chosen to lump New South Wales in with Victoria, which has not been a common sense approach in my view. The two states have been vastly different in their approach and how they’ve managed the pandemic. The is what it is, and I suspect the election cycle in both those states has had something to do with it.

But I’m the first one to suggest – I’m cautious. I’m the first one to suggest you should put safety first. But the lengths that those premiers have gone to is beyond the realm of logic. And unfortunately, as has been highlighted, it’s hurting families, it’s hurting individuals, it’s hurting businesses, and it shouldn’t be the case. As Australians we should be able to move around freely and safely. And I urge all the premiers to consider that. I’m certainly considering that in relation to Victoria.

And once Premier Andrews allows Melburnians to mix with the rest of Victoria then, you know, the countdown will start for New South Wales as to when we take down our border.

JOURNALIST:

[Indistinct] there’s a New South Wales police constable now in isolation after working in a quarantine hotel. Now he entered the room of a man who was quarantining. He then left the room and finished his shift at the local police station. Now he’s having to quarantine, [indistinct] close contacts. What do you say to that? [Indistinct]?

GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN:

Look, I don’t know the specifics of that case. But I’ll say this: I’ve been very open about the fact that we welcome 3,000 Australians back through Sydney – 45 per cent from other states – every single week. We have 5,000 people in our hotels at any given time. Is this a high-risk venture? Absolutely. Is it something we battle every day? Absolutely. So this isn’t an easy job, and Victoria demonstrated how difficult it is, because their lack of systems in place around quarantining obviously led to their second wave.

So I don’t shy away from the fact that managing the quarantine system is extremely difficult. It’s complex and, yes, you’re going to have cases from time to time where people have to take extra precautions or where there could be cases spreading because of that. And, again, overnight we had six cases from overseas in our quarantine system. Now that means health officials have to be involved, police, the federal forces, ABF, ADF.

So this is a complex operation. I’ve never for a second taken away from how complex it is, and I hope people appreciate really the burden that New South Wales has carried during this process. But we’ve done it because we think it’s in the best interests of Australia and the best interests of New South Wales. That’s why I’ve also been saying to the other states, “Okay, you’ve got your borders up, but at least take your fair share of residents coming back to Australia.” Unfortunately, they haven’t been. And so this is a constant reminder to us about how hard it is. We’ve got our normal quarantining, we’ve got our health quarantine. It’s a major complex operation every time you welcome Australians back, and we’re doing 3,000 a week.

JOURNALIST:

The report into the natural disaster [indistinct] is about to be released. [Indistinct]?

GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN:

Look, absolutely. I don’t think we can learn enough from those catastrophic bushfires. And I know Minister Constance lives with it daily in his community. And we’ve been having a number of discussions within our government about how we can approach this. Minister Elliott, who is here, did an outstanding job in coordinating the government’s response to the New South Wales inquiry. And he is already putting a number of those plans in place. And I want to thank Minister Elliott for that.

But obviously all of us have to learn more. And I look forward to reading the final report, which is I think being tabled today. Looking forward to doing what we can as a state to adopt the recommendations there. And the last thing people want to see is important reports handed down and ignored. We’ll do the opposite. We’ll make sure we take on the learnings, because there’s too much at stake. Protecting lives and properties has to be an absolute priority, and that’s what we’ll do moving forward.

JOURNALIST:

[Indistinct]

GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN:

Liz, good question. We’ve actually already started implementing a number of the recommendations from our own inquiry. We actually asked the two very highly qualified individuals who did our inquiry in New South Wales to actually make sure they gave us the report ahead of our season. And, again, without pre-empting anything, we know how important the work of the RFS is, so we’re actually moving our state emergency operation centre for COVID out of the RFS this week to make sure that RFS can focus on natural disasters and we’ll be relocating that elsewhere.