21 May 2015
Transcript - #2015133, 2015

Doorstop interview, Townsville

TREASURER:

Well it’s great to be here in sunny, warm, beautiful Townsville, with my colleague and friend Ewen Jones. We met with Townsville Enterprise yesterday, we had excellent discussions. We talked about the development of North Queensland but also importantly, how local businesses and more than 10,000 of them, have the capacity to take advantage of our Budget, and our focus on getting small businesses tax cuts and importantly, giving them the opportunity to access 100 per cent depreciation on things they purchase to build their business over the next few weeks. So, this is a good initiative. It is going to make Australia more successful, it’s going to make North Queensland more successful, and it’s certainly been embraced by a lot of locals.

EWEN JONES:

Look I’d just like to reiterate what Joe is saying. Townsville is a microcosm of Australia, we have a diverse economy, we have great needs, we have good people. What the Budget is saying and what Joe said to the business people of Townsville last night was have a go. We have businesses like the McManus Group, we have businesses like Entropy, that don’t need to be in Sydney or Melbourne or Canberra to develop and to become those exporters to the world. That’s what Joe is on about here, you don’t have to be [inaudible]. You can do it all from here. We have a competitive advantage, living in the best part of the world, we can lead the world when it comes to ideas, we can lead the world when it comes to innovation, and we can lead the world when it comes to actually getting out there and having a real dig.

TREASURER:

We had a further discussion about the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility and there was a great sense of enthusiasm amongst business people about accessing the $5 billion loan facility that I announced on Budget night. This facility will help to build the major infrastructure that is going to grow the region and going to grow jobs. We’re providing concessional loans for very large projects in partnership with the State Government, in partnership with the private sector. To build the pipelines, to build the railways, to build the roads. We’re going to further develop Northern Australia. The Prime Minister has already committed an additional $100 million for new cattle trails and there’ll be further announcements involving Ewen Jones and the Prime Minister over the next few weeks.

JOURNALIST:

The State Treasurer seems to think that assets might need to be sold to access concessional loans, is that true at all?

TREASURER:

No, not at all. He’s actually got his facts wrong in that regard. The asset sale program is entirely different to the Northern Australia concessional loan facility. I’ll be seeing the Treasurer later today, and I’ll be explaining to him two things. Firstly, that he shouldn’t shoot before he’s worked out what his target it. The second thing is, that the Northern Australia facility is available to Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia, covering the whole of Northern Australia. The people here in North Queensland want to access that facility for the major infrastructure projects that are going to build prosperity.

JOURNALIST:

How will the states access that funding?

TREASURER:

The states will access it by working with the private sector and coming to the Commonwealth Government. We have already provided concessional loans for major infrastructure projects in the middle of Sydney, in the case of WestConnex. A $2 billion concessional infrastructure loan that made a $20 billion project come to fruition and importantly, helped to create 10,000 jobs immediately.

JOURNALIST:

With where the world economy is at, access to capital is quite cheap at the moment. Can you shed any light on how cheap these concessional loans would be versus what’s already available on the world market?

TREASURER:

Well, we’re prepared to be very flexible. Our borrowing cost is around 2.5 per cent per annum. But, in certain cases we will waive the interest requirements for a certain period of time. In the case of New South Wales, we said we’ll pick up the interest cost for a number of years, until the income is generated by the asset that allows them to pay off the longer term debt. So, it is a very good way of indicating Commonwealth support for projects, but at the same time ensuring that the project has a good cost-benefit analysis that delivers the outcomes that people want.

JOURNALIST:

What’s going to be the benchmark for what goes ahead and what doesn’t? I mean there’s already here in Townsville alone dozens of ideas of what people think should be built.

TREASURER:

Great…

JOURNALIST:

I’m sure everywhere else around NT or WA has the same thing, so what’s going to be the benchmark?

TREASURER:

Well, the benchmark is that there has to be investment in a productive asset. So, it’s not going to be a building for a purpose that doesn’t generate money or generate jobs. It’s got to actually be something that helps to facilitate the growth of a region. That’s why I talk about pipelines or ports, airports, railways, they’re the sorts of things that generate real income for the community and real jobs for the community.

EWEN JONES:

Can I just add to that, the thing that excited me as a backbencher from North Queensland the most, is that this $5 billion facility is not in place of our normal infrastructure spend. We will still be doing infrastructure, we’ve still got $6.5 billion for the Bruce Highway, all that stuff. What Joe has done, what the Government has done with this loan facility, is we’ve not been proscriptive. We’ve put this facility out there and said come to us with your ideas, be as imaginative as you possibly can. If we had an idea of exactly what we wanted to do with this money, we’d have just made the announcement. We want the ideas to come from our region, to sit there and say this is what we can do. So, it’s important, it’s important that we as a government take that flexible approach and say we’re not going to be proscriptive on what actually makes this thing work. Come to us with a plan. We want you to be imaginative, we want you to develop the North and we know that the people in the North have the answers for this, that’s the big thing.

JOURNALIST:

Joe, you heard from Townsville Enterprise yesterday who I’m sure spoke to you about the integrated stadium and entertainment precinct. What do you think of that project? Is that something – or a part of that project that could be eligible under these concessional loans?

TREASURER:

Well, we spoke about the entire precinct and what I pointed out is the Federal Government isn’t in the business of paying for stadiums. That’s the responsibility of State Governments. As the Queensland State Government has paid for stadiums throughout the South East of Queensland, they’ve got an obligation to pay for stadiums in North Queensland as well. But, we are prepared to look at the entire precinct, which has the capacity to have more commercial space and further development that lifts the productive potential of Townsville. I’ve asked them, with Ewen Jones, to go back and have a look at a more consolidated plan and certainly Ewen Jones has been an advocate for a more consolidated plan that looks at the entire area, rather than just a single stadium.

JOURNALIST:

Can you explain the $50 million towards the SCG upgrade last year and that [inaudible]

TREASURER:

Well, that’s not something that we approved in the Abbott Government.

JOURNALIST:

The $5 million to help master plan that entire PDA, does that sound like something, or do you think that’s something that the Government could support? It could be beneficial to that whole project?

TREASURER:

Well with a master plan, it’s vitally important that you’ve got the local city council involved as well, I think that’s absolutely essential. Ultimately, they’ve got zoning responsibility for the area and they’ve got control of the planning issues for the area, so they have to be involved. The Federal Government will come to the party as a funder of any idea that helps to build an economy. That’s our primary role and we’ve got competing interests all across Australia, so that’s why we’re very focused on how we can build a stronger economy.

JOURNALIST:

Funding for the Hann Highway, that’s going to be separate to the concessional loans as well isn’t it?

TREASURER:

The Hann Highway…

EWEN JONES:

That’s the stop routes. The cattle runs.

TREASURER:

Oh yeah, yes, yes. That’s separate, totally separate.

JOURNALIST:

There’s money in the Budget for an insurance taskforce, can you shed more light on when we can start to see some detail on that?

TREASURER:

We will have more to say about that in the future. Obviously, North Queensland and Far North Queensland suffers more than their fair share of terrible weather events, it’s something that I’m very familiar with. What we’ve endeavoured to do is look at options to try and ensure that we can get insurance premiums down in the local area, including creating a more localised reinsurance pool that the Government supports. So, we’ll have more to say about that in due course. But, it’s something that local Members have been very active about, in engaging us with. Okay, thanks very much.