15 September 2014
Transcript - #2014093, 2014

Joint press conference, Sydney

with
the Hon. Mike Baird MP
Premier of NSW
Minister for Infrastructure
Minister for Western Sydney
and
the Hon. Duncan Gay MLC
Minister for Roads and Freight

TREASURER:

(Inaudible) This is the Federal Government’s Budget at work; this is our last election’s promises at work. We promised to help fund, with the NSW Government, the WestConnex project and in the Budget we committed a concessional loan of $2 billion to this second stage of WestConnex. This is going to employ 10,000 Australians during construction, it will save about 40 minutes in the travel time between Parramatta and the airport, but most significantly, it is a driver of productivity in Australia. This is our Economic Action Strategy at work. It’s employing people, it’s improving national productivity, and most significantly, it is building the infrastructure that is going to help to drive the Australian economy over the years ahead. Our total infrastructure package, which in partnership with State Government and the private sector is over $100 billion over the next six years alone, is going to increase the size of Australia’s economy by 1 per cent. Now, that is a lot in terms of new jobs, in terms of improving our capacity to compete with economies around the rest of the world. I pay tribute to my colleagues at a state level, particularly Mike Baird, from the very beginning Mike Baird has been a great advocate for better infrastructure here in New South Wales. He is a deliverer as a Premier. He is someone who honours his word. It is easy to deal with the New South Wales Government. We are prepared to put Federal Government money into these sorts of projects to get on with the job and Mike Baird and his team are the sort of people that get on with the job of building the infrastructure that Sydney and New South Wales needs and I’ll ask Mr Baird to say a few words and also perhaps Duncan Gay and then we’ll go to questions. So, over to you Premier.

PREMIER BAIRD:

Today is another exciting day for Sydney. Great to be here with the Federal Treasurer and I want to pay tribute to his work and the Federal Government’s work in understanding that this city desperately needs infrastructure, the Federal Government no longer just says, ‘well, get on with it’,  it says, ‘we’re here to help you get on with it.’ and that’s what we saw in the recent Budget and that’s what we have seen ever since Joe has come into the role as Federal Treasurer; find the funds, work alongside State Government, let’s make it happen. Great to be here with Duncan Gay, a Roads Minister that is overseeing the largest roads project in the history of this country and many projects across this great State making a huge difference in delivery in terms of safety, congestion and productivity. Also, the WestConnex team – a huge effort. Today is a very significant day and it’s significant as you’ll see from the Members that are on my left are all representing communities that day in day out have to put up with the congestion that they have on this road. They’re excited because their communities are soon going to have the capacity to have less congestion which impacts their daily lives. In simple terms, it’s been a long time coming. We have waited to get on with the duplication of those M5 tunnels. All of those in the south-west that look at the congestion know the need for this to take place and today’s the day that we get under way with drilling on the M5 duplication and the WestConnex project as a whole. A significant milestone for the western Sydney, a significant milestone for the city of Sydney and that is how you go about reducing congestion. Ultimately, what you see today is another sign of our Government getting on and delivering. Just a week ago, with the Transport Minister we put the boring machines into the ground on the north-west rail link. On the weekend, we completed the construction of the south-west rail link and that’s close to having commuters using that early in the new year and today we have drilling going into the ground on the WestConnex project, to duplication of those M5 tunnels; about time it happened, well we are delivering it and that’s what the Roads Minister is doing across all of these projects. We’ve secured the funding, we’re getting on with the job, and working incredibly constructively with the Federal Government and that is enabling it to make it happen. Previously in this state, when infrastructure was announced, funding didn’t go with it. With the Federal Government’s support, with discipline on the Budget, our Asset Recycling Programme, we’ve got to a capacity that you’re starting to see cranes from one end of the city to the other delivering the infrastructure that the community has long waited for but we are actually now delivering. It’s an exciting day and I’ll certainly hand across to the Roads Minister to say a few words as well.

MINISTER GAY:

Thanks Premier and Treasurer. This is an important day. A couple of milestones here today: the expressions of interest are out on the M5 east section of WestConnex and we’re starting the geo-tech drilling behind us. The geo-tech is the first part of the in ground work, so as we have an idea of the soil and the rock below us, so as when we go out for expressions of interest, industry has a basic model of the area they will be working in and they will come back from a design and construct point of view on where we should go. This is a model of how a road should be developed. Just behind us is the crappiest piece of infrastructure that this state has seen – the Labor M5 east tunnel. It’s a monument on how roads should not be constructed. What the Premier has given me the job to do, and with the money from the Treasurer, is to provide a monument on how you should go about building the infrastructure for the 21st century. So, that’s what we’re doing here. It’s not only the works that we’re doing in the tunnel, it’s the King Georges Road on to the M5, it’s the whole duplication from Beverly Hills through to the end of the tunnel near the airport connectors.

REPORTER:

What would you say to people who are angry about new tolls (inaudible?)

PREMIER BAIRD:

Well, we’ve said all along, I mean ultimately, if there is a benefit that is delivered to the community we want them to pay a contribution for that benefit. That is something that we’ve been very consistent about. You need to be able to deliver the projects and we have secured funding, we’re looking for a contribution for those who receive the benefit and if they don’t want the use the benefit, then they’ve got a free option, that has been the way we have approached it.

REPORTER:

So why should people who don’t want to pay those tolls have to put up with say, double the travel time on Parramatta Road which is what your EIS says they are going to have to?

PREMIER BAIRD:

I mean, it’s not surprising that there is, across this city, an amazing amount of congestion and that congestion has come because we’re growing, it is an attractive place to live and we want it to continue to grow. In doing that we have to improve the infrastructure and that’s what today is about. It’s improving a critical artery, the WestConnex, which is 33 kilometres which goes up the M4 and down to the M5 and connected between, that is going provide reduced congestion across this great city and that goes hand in hand with what we want to do with the rail network which is the second harbour crossing, which is part of our rebuilding New South Wales plan, which will provide a capacity for 60 per cent increase in capacity across every rail line in this city. Those together provide an incredible powerful message to the community: we are doing everything we can to reduce congestion across this great city.

REPORTER:

Is there a risk Premier, that there two tiers of people; those can afford to use these roads and those who simply don’t have enough money?

PREMIER BAIRD:

Not at all. I mean, there is a capacity in terms of the tolling to be reasonable, it is capped along the M7 and that’s the model that we’re working towards here, that it is distance based, which means there’s a capacity to use it from one end to the other but only capped for a certain amount. You know, we say to everyone that we have a capacity to build the infrastructure, it does require a contribution from motorists, if you don’t want to use it and receive the benefit, well then at the same time there is a free option.

REPORTER:

(Inaudible) Deal with toll avoidance and therefore increased traffic in places like Parramatta Road (inaudible).

PREMIER BAIRD:

Well, I can let the Roads Minister talk about specific measures but there’s no secrets here, there’s a simple plan that we are bringing forward. You might wonder why for many years we saw, as the Roads Minister said, ‘a piece of infrastructure that was never fit for the future’; you might wonder why you see congestion from one side to the other and why the former Government used to announce projects but never deliver them. Well, the only way you can do that is if you have the funding and you’re responsible and honest with the community and in doing that we’ve got a strong partner in the Federal Government, the Federal Treasurer, that’s provided a contribution, the State has occurred some capital and the final piece, we are looking for a contribution from commuters who benefit. Now, that package is honest, it’s upfront and what it actually enables us to deliver this project and I think if you go from one end of the city to the other, they want to see this sort of project delivered because they’re sick of the congestion. Still want to answer something on that Duncan?

MINISTER GAY:

Look, the key to this is, as the Premier said, first of all we have got money from the state and secondly, money from the Federal Government. In previous times, with the previous Government, those contributions weren’t there. On top of that, they used to try and squirrel a few bob into consolidated revenue. Why will people travel on this? Because it gives them better times and better value for money. You’ve got the choice of being off it or on it it. People will make the choice voluntarily. We will not be having tunnel funnel, the same as Labor had in the past, we will not be doing that at all. People will be on there because they want to be. The major part of Parramatta Road will be better. The first part won’t be better, certainly in the early part but the rest of the Parramatta Road will be better and we’ll have better travel times. So, that’s what we’re doing in this area to provide a better service for people but there is one important fact, you cannot ignore, in 2031 there will be 1.5 million extra people in the city of Sydney and they’ve got to go somewhere. We’re building better transport, at a huge rate but we’ve also got to put in place roads as well.

REPORTER:

The money from the Federal Government is a loan; how long will it take to pay that back?

TREASURER:

Well, it’s a concessional loan and I am happy come back to you about the details of it but I just make this point: you know, we’re probably approaching the 200th anniversary of the first tollway in Sydney. Governor Macquarie actually set up the first tollway from Sydney to Parramatta. So, it’s not as if tollways are new to Sydney. I mean, he set it up nearly 200 years ago; it must be close to the anniversary now and obviously, the Harbour Bridge has been a tollway for some years as well. So, tollways are not new in Sydney. They actually help to deliver the infrastructure that you get – that you expect, from a nation that doesn’t have a massive population and Australia does not fund itself every year. Since 1788, we haven’t funded ourselves from our own savings and that’s because we’ve got a huge country with a small population. So, we have to borrow money in order to build, and in this case we are building infrastructure that is going to deliver a dividend. Now, thousands of trucks are going to use these sort of tunnels and they can pay their way. This is not just about commuters getting a better deal, it’s also about truck transport and logistics, and speed is money in those situations. So, they’re prepared to pay the tolls for these sorts of facilities, in order to get to market quicker because they make money by getting to market quicker. So, that’s how it helps to pay itself and from a Federal Government perspective, it’s a damn good investment because if we increase the speed of delivery of logistics right across Australia, the economy will strengthen, you’ll get more jobs out of that as well.

REPORTER:

So the bottom line is: there was money from the Federal Government (inaudible)

TREASURER:

Well, it was $1.5 billion from the Federal Government, fully accounted for in our Budget and a $2 billion concessional loan which obviously is factored on completion of the work and also, meeting the projected volume of traffic and toll outcomes but the bottom line is, we are undertaking this sort of investment right around Australia. The mining investment phase has come off – massive contribution to our economy. Mining investment has come off; we now need to fire up the rest of the 90 per cent of the Australian economy. This sort of work is about firing up the other 90 per cent of the Australian economy which overall represents about 97 per cent of Australian employment. If you want jobs, these are the sorts of activities we need to undertake. It’s one of the reasons why the unemployment numbers seem to have stabilised and start coming down. Very encouraging numbers last month. Why? Because we are delivering on our Economic Action Strategy.

REPORTER:

Can I just ask a quick question on Arthur Sinodinos: last week you said he was keen to re-join the Abbott Team; now that the public hearings of ICAC have wrapped up, is it appropriate for him to re-join (inaudible).

TREASURER:

Well, of course. He only ever stood down temporarily. Arthur is a wonderful person; a man of great personal integrity and from my perspective, obviously I’d like to have my Assistant Treasurer back, but you know, these things need to be resolved and I think everyone’s still waiting for the final report from ICAC.

REPORTER:

Is the cost of the military deployment to the Middle East accounted for within the existing defence Budget, and if it isn’t, how much is going to cost?

TREASURER:

Well, obviously we properly account for those things as they unfold and you’ll see it in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook., Defence has the capacity to absorb a significant amount of these sorts of costs but after that, it does come out of the rest of the Budget, but ultimately you can’t put a price on protecting human beings and that’s what we’re doing. This is a humanitarian mission in the first instance. It is a deployment, at the specific request of the President of the United States but it is a partnership deployment as well, with a number of other countries. Never forget, there are Australians over there fighting for ISIL. They’re fighting against us. They are fighting against us and we’ve got a responsibility to step up to the plate for humanitarian reasons but also in the defence of our nation because their tentacles reach into our community and we’ve got to sever those tentacles and it’s best to sever them at the base of where ISIL is at its meanest and worst.

REPORTER:

Is there a concern that our involvement there will increase the chances of a terrorist attack here?

TREASURER:

Well, they still – the terrorists still attack us and attack our interests, well before many of the recent responses to terrorism by previous Australian Governments, such as in relation to the Bali attack and September 11. There were Australians killed in September 11. These terrorists groups want us to die. And if we don’t defend ourselves, our nation and our people, then they will have their way and we’ve got to fight back.

REPORTER:

Does fighting back mean we are at war with ISIS?

TREASURER:

No, there’s specific definitions about those sorts of things but we have deployed; it is the right thing to do. This is a humanitarian initiative but understand, ISIL is determined to kill Australians and in some cases there are Australians over there fighting to kill us, to extend their reach to our community and we have a responsibility firstly to protect our people here in Australia, and secondly, ensure that there is not a genocide on a scale that the world’s seen previously and never taken action about. That’s exactly what we’re doing now. We are doing what is right and you can’t put a price on what doing what is right.

REPORTER:

(Inaudible)

PREMIER BAIRD:

We’re obviously very confident in the actions that our authorities are taking. Our police are working very closely with intelligence agencies and the Federal Government and we’re very confident in the measures they are. Obviously, we want to be alert, but everyone across Sydney should be very assured that the Government is taking all the actions needed to ensure their safety and to stare down this terrorist threat.

REPORTER:

(Inaudible)

PREMIER BAIRD:

The Commissioner is involved in the discussions. Obviously, he is front and centre of what we’re doing and our response. We will obviously take direction from him and direction from the intelligence agencies and we have said we are ready to do whatever is needed, obviously the number one priority is the safety of our community and that is what is our overall priority in this and we’ll obviously take direction, whether it be from the Commissioner, the intelligence agencies or the Federal Government in terms of additional responses we might need to take.

REPORTER:

Has the Government been advised by the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund that it’s likely to have a funding shortfall by 2017? If so, what is the Government planning on doing about that? Will there be any extra funds that you’ll contribute?

PREMIER BAIRD:

As I understand there are some preliminary reports in relation to that. I haven’t seen a final position, but obviously, we will, once we have got those full details, be responding accordingly.

REPORTER:

Premier, there’s a lot of disquiet about Craig Baumann and why he was allowed to stand as Parliamentary Secretary given he was (inaudible) at ICAC many weeks ago. Why didn’t you ask him to stand down?

PREMIER BAIRD:

Well, I think what you saw in ICAC has led the inquiry finish (inaudible); it has finished its work. Mr Baumann stepped down from his roles from the Parliamentary Party and now sits on the crossbench. That was the appropriate thing to do. We now wait for the final report to come forward. Once that final report comes forward, we’ll obviously have plenty to say, we are taking action, there is a zero tolerance approach and you’ve seen it from us consistently and you’ll see it regularly.

REPORTER:

Does that mean you are not going to re-open pre-selections (inaudible)?

PREMIER BAIRD:

I mean, I’m obviously not going to sort of run into what the Party might do in various pre-selections but what is important in this is we need to have the inquiry bring down its report. There’s obviously a range of discussions, interviews that have been taken, we’ve seen them all, let ICAC finish its report and publish it and then obviously we’ll have a lot to say.

REPORTER:

Would you support a Parliamentary Inquiry into planning decisions in the Hunter and Newcastle?

PREMIER BAIRD:

I mean, I’ve said consistently, what you get from Labor is trying to hold back an A-grade city, an urban renewal opportunity that I think would be the envy of the nation; indeed Asia Pacific. We are very confident in the decisions we have made. That is something that we are determined to push on with because it is in the interests of the city and the interest of the region. So, individuals might have different views but we are determined to get on with the job to renew a great city and that will provide (inaudible) to that great region.

REPORTER:

Premier, with Australian troops – Australian forces sorry, heading overseas, is there a greater risk, greater threat to us here in New South Wales?

PREMIER BAIRD:

Well, you heard the Commissioner make the comments last week; it’s really two fold. Yes, there is an increased security threat that we have heard about but everyone across New South Wales should be assured that we’re taking every action possible to ensure their safety so I want to pay tribute to those troops and as you’ve heard from the Federal Treasurer, there are troops that are going to represent us, represent freedom and represent a fight against a group of people that I don’t think anyone’s ever seen. The barbaric acts they’re taking are beyond words, beyond comprehension and we should be doing everything possible to ensure that is not happening. So, I pay tribute to the Federal Government, the leadership of the Prime Minister and we will do everything possible to join up with them to ensure that our community here is safe.

REPORTER:

(Inaudible)

MINISTER GAY:

Look, of course (inaudible) indicate that that’s where the road will be going but what they do indicate, that this is a Government getting on, providing better infrastructure and that’s why people will welcome them. We will work with the community to give them plenty of time to know where they’re coming in. They’ll mostly be on public land but there will be the odd spot where they’re in a residential or an industrial area.

REPORTER:

Is the M5 West toll going to be included in the daily WestConnex charge?

MINISTER GAY:

Yes, there will be an M5 toll but not until the road’s completed. We’ve put a large amount of money in. The Federal Government’s put $1.5 billion, the State Government’s put $1.8 billion. The rest of the money to construct will come from tolling.

REPORTER:

I’m talking about the existing toll; (Inaudible)

MINISTER GAY:

There is no M5 East toll.

REPORTER:

(Inaudible)

MINISTER GAY:

The M5 West toll is the M5 West toll. Decisions that we make in the future are decisions we make in the future. We haven’t made a decision on what happens to the M5 West toll at this stage.

REPORTER:

(Inaudible)

MINISTER GAY:

We’re going to under promise and over deliver. That’s always the case. (Inaudible)  Look, large amounts of the geo-tech are known from previous tunnels that have been put in here. It’s just a pity that the previous government didn’t put the proper infrastructure that was needed at the time. So, there is not going to be huge surprises, we know that certain sections are going to be great and easy and certain sections won’t be as easy. Certainly it is our view, if at all possible to avoid the Tempy wetlands.

REPORTER:

Isn’t it a risk to do the EIS at the same time as (inaudible)?

MINISTER GAY:

No, No. The EIS will be done after we have the project back from the tender, the expression of interest area.