TRANSCRIPT: Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry – Infrastructure Breakfast address - Sydney, 26 July, 2019
Thank you very much Terry Wetherall, and to Tony Shepherd – I remember your name, Tony; I know your football club well too, because it actually uses the Riverina where I come from as one of the great nurseries for talent, and why wouldn’t it be so? Many young people come out of the Riverina and not just young men now, also women joining AFLW. It’s a fantastic breeding ground for football talent, a fantastic place to live.
I do like Terry, he’s a great mate of mine and I loved when I caught up with him again this morning and he said to me: You know, I saw Peter Dutton in the gym this morning. So first of all he’s dropped Peter Dutton’s name into it and then he dropped the gym, to impress me about the fact that he had already been to the gym. Well the fact is you’ve made me come this morning so I have actually missed getting to the gym this morning, and I’m rather annoyed about that because that’s now 33 successive years I’ve missed going to the gym.
It’s great to be here. Paul Nicoloau hosts a morning better than anyone – put your hands together for Paul. (Applause). And when I mention Terry I can’t go without mentioning James Pearson. Now I have to say that when we were on that united trip around Australia to talk up small business, the fact is we spent so much time together I think our partners were getting a little bit worried; he’s a great mate of mine; he does a fantastic job for small business. And Terry’s right – small business is the engine room of the economy. James and I both know that. You all know that. You all rely on small business. Many of you are running small businesses. Many of you have turned small businesses into big businesses. . And that fact is you are employing, as Terry just said, five million Australians – I’d actually say it’s probably more than that – and you will continue to do just that.
Our Government is putting in the lowest tax rate since 1940 – that’s 79 years, the lowest tax rate – we’re going to make you grow even more.
Stephen Cartwright, running here the NSW Business Chamber – and I have to say, being a member of a business chamber is the best tax deduction you can have, so if you’re not a member of a business chamber you should be and you should encourage others to do the same – see Stephen about how you can do just that.
I couldn’t go by without mentioning Romilly Madew – she’s doing a fantastic job for infrastructure – and as you all know, infrastructure is vitally important to our economy.
And I suppose it makes good sense to have someone who has run a small business, has been a Small Business Minister, now to be playing an important role in infrastructure.
I particularly appreciate the chance to be with you after a very full week in Parliament, where we got some things done. We’ve been a Government which – not quite having chalked up 100 days back, but in our third term – it feels as though we have pressed a refresh button. It feels as though, even though we’re a third term Government, we are a first term Government because we have a renewed sense of duty, a renewed sense of purpose in Scott Morrison; he’s making sure we are getting things done.
That was essentially the theme of this week.
He’s a Prime Minister who I know wants to build a better Australia, to build our future. He wants to build business. Indeed, when it was said we wouldn’t and we couldn’t and we shouldn’t win the election we did.
There are a lot of people who have come up to me, many people in the room, who have been very relieved at the fact that we have done just that - won the election and now getting back to work, rolling the sleeves up and making sure that we’re doing the job that we said we would do, doing the job that people have entrusted us to do and doing the job that people want us to do.
We need to make sure that we get on and build that infrastructure that Australians not only want and need and expect and demand – but deserve.
Water has been front and centre of Parliament since we have returned. Of course we are in, some would argue, the worst drought – those who have lived it, those who are responsible for making sure they collect the data to compare one drought with another – many are saying that this is the worst drought on record. Having lived through a few as a generational farming family member, I know that the 1982-83 drought was pretty bad.
There’s part of Australia always in drought in any given year. That’s why we’ve passed in Parliament, just this week, the Future Drought Fund. That has a $3.9 billion down payment on a better future. It’s making sure that each and every year, with the part of Australia that is experiencing a prolonged dry spell or a dry spell that has just started to bite, there’s going to be a $100 million down payment to build resilience in that area, in that community, for those people.
But we will get through this drought. It will rain again and we will probably curse the fact that it is raining so much. Rest assured that’s just Australia. Dorothea Mackellar of course said it – droughts and flooding rains – and we will return to the flooding rains, but when we do we will need to have more dams. We need to make sure that we build that infrastructure that is going to capture the water, store the water, harness and harvest the water for when we need it most.
I’m absolutely intent on this Government – I know Scott is as well – being known as a Government that delivers: a Government that’s as good as its word. People gave us that faith on May 18; we will return it. It’s something my parents drummed into me – be as good as your word. Make a commitment, get on and do what you said you would do, and make sure you do it in a timely fashion.
As I said, the Future Drought Fund is going to be an important part of that.
Late last year we injected another half a billion dollars into the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund. That has taken that figure to $1.3 billion, to work with State and Territory Governments. I want to make sure that we are able to get this job of building dams done. If the petty politics is going to come into play, if the petty politics is going to get in the way and stop us from doing that, that’s where the National Water Grid will come into play.
I want to make sure that we use the best available and scientists with local stakeholder engagement to make sure that we can get on and build those dams that we need.
Wherever I go, whether it’s the city or the country, when I talk about dams people nod their heads. People in country areas raucously cheer; I know it’s too early for you to raucously cheer. Paul Nicoloau – I’ll get you to give it a go! But I’m not – thank goodness for that, you’re saying. But the fact is people know and understand that dams are important, not just for flood mitigation, not just for building agriculture but for building resilience and creating jobs. That National Water Grid will help us do just that.
So where there are dams projects where we find there is a bit of a stumbling block or a stall, we will be able to use the best available science with local stakeholder input and engagement and get through that mire of bureaucracy.
We’re not afraid to build dams. We’re going to lengthen, strengthen, heighten weirs. And we’re going to put down the pipelines that make sure that we connect dry areas with water, connect those areas so they can build on their growing the world’s best food and fibre. And our farmers are the world’s best environmentalists, make no mistake. They get a bad rap sometimes. That’s why I was really pleased when I stood beside the Prime Minister with him having just shorn a sheep, believe it or not, out near Trangie. I wasn’t sure whether I felt sorrier for the sheep or the Prime Minister. It still had plenty of wool on it when he had finished; not too many red marks; if I had done it I would have shorn it yes but it wouldn’t have had much skin on it at all.
But we announced an education program by which urban areas in particular are going to learn where their food and fibre comes from, and I think that’s really important.
We want to make sure that they know that milk does not just come from a refrigerator in a capital city supermarket. We want to make sure that they know that the cotton in their shirts actually comes from an Australian farm. So we want to make sure we are getting that education filtering through because it is so important to the future.
Sometimes you have to force the issue which we did with the Future Drought Fund this week. We finally got Labor on side.
Over the state border, the Emu Swamp Dam is one of those projects which is possibly one of our greatest prospects for actually getting a dam built. It’s going to create jobs – 700 indeed – delivering local water security. We’ve put $42 million on the table, but this is the point, just to show you how determined that Granite Belt irrigators are, they have put in $23.4 million of their own money. So you have local stakeholders willing to put up 23 or so million dollars; you’ve got the Federal Government willing to put up 42 million dollars and then you have us putting up another $5m for enabling roads. I can’t see, if the science says yes, if the local people say yes and if the Commonwealth says let’s get on with it, why a Government would stall on this project. That is why the National Water Grid is in place, to force that issue, to make sure that we just get on and build those dam projects in the areas where the catchments show there is plenty of water and the local community demands it.
Five years ago, then-CEO of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia Brendan Lyon said the Coalition’s $50 billion infrastructure package, “represented the largest-ever national infrastructure investment program.”
He was right of course. But we’ve now doubled that. It’s now $100 billion.
I know how delighted that Romilly and Tony and others are in that particular investment.
Records are made to be broken. This is a record amount of money.
In the Budget, not April this year – a good Budget – but the one before that, we had $75 billion. We’ve grown it by another $25 billion to $100 billion, over the next 10 years.
I commend the NSW Government here – they are spending $94 billion.
So there’s a lot of work and activity happening. The international crane index – yes there is one – affirmed that Sydney and Melbourne, Australia indeed, has more cranes over it at the moment, particularly in our capital cities, than does indeed the United States of America. That’s an impressive statistic because it shows that not only are the Commonwealth and State Governments investing in our future but indeed there is also private investment – and much of that comes because of the initiative and inventiveness of people such as you, people who are willing to back themselves, people who put you money where your mouth is, people who are willing to make sure that we build a better future and are doing it together – doing it in partnership with Government, but doing it because you want to see better communities, a better society, a better Australia.
A rolling infrastructure pipeline over the next decade provides certainty for industry to retain skills and plan resources. I was delighted when I was down talking at the side of the Bass Highway in Tasmania where I said to the gentleman who had the contract to do the particular project there: Where do you get all your staff, all your skills? It’s fantastic – there are so many young people particularly, in hi-vis. He said: Well you know, because we are Tasmania we can’t just pinch them from the mainland all the time; what we’re doing is actually creating the workforce ourselves. And whether they are stop-go people right up to geotechnical engineers, he said, we are creating them here in Tasmania to build the State to where it needs to be.
How impressive is that! And that’s not just happening in Tasmania; that’s happening all around Australia. We’re creating the skills; we’re doing the project management and we’re building from within. It’s creating new employment opportunities; creating better supply lines; improving the freight task and getting on with creating employment.
We are engaging with industry and State and Territory Governments to foster a sustainable construction sector that provides opportunity for all levels of the market to participate. That’s important.
Through the Transport and Infrastructure Council, all States and Territories have agreed to a seven tier, seven high level principles including the importance of developing market capacity. What I want to see – absolutely critically important – is that when we do build these projects for the future that all companies, whether large or small, are getting a slice of the action. It’s all well and good, building a better Australia, all well and good to talk up what we are doing, but we want to make sure that some of those tier two and tier three companies are also getting a part of the action. They need to. That’s why we are doing a review; it’s whey we are going through a construction tier review to make sure that all State and Territory Governments will report back to the Transport and Infrastructure Council later this year on how they are implementing the principles of making sure that all business, large and small, can get a slice of the action. I think that’s so important. It’s not just about tier one companies getting all the activity.
We’re setting up the next stage of our investment pipeline by funding 20 business cases for major projects. You’ve got to do the work; got to do the planning - you have to have the vision of course, but you have to do the right planning to get these major projects up and off the ground.
We’re also putting in place policies to make the money work that much harder such as improving road safety, planning for population growth – you heard Terry before talking about Australia’s population of 25 million growing to 30 million before we know it - developing a freight strategy, and working cooperatively across all levels of government to develop our cities and regions.
Yes, sure, I’m a National Party member. Yes, sure, I’m a Coalitionist through and through, I’m proudly part of the Liberal and Nationals Government, re-elected on May 18 – but I don’t care what persuasion or politics State and Territory Governments are. I want to get on a build a better Australia. I want to work with States no matter what their colour or creed, what their political persuasions are, to make sure we get that done. I don’t care what the electoral cycle is; if it means that we get roads built, to get people home sooner and safer, then let’s get on and do it.
In the three years before the Coalition came to office, Commonwealth infrastructure spending averaged about $6 billion a year. Now it is averaging more than $10 billion each year across the period to 2022-23. So there’s a lot of work to be done, a lot of jobs being created and a lot of difference being made.
Since 2013, the Coalition has announced more than 900 major infrastructure projects and initiated more than 25,000 - I think the figure is actually 25,595 - smaller projects across the nation.
I’m sometimes tempted to take in the spread sheets for all those projects and plonk them on the Despatch Box in Question Time, but I think that might be a bit of a stunt that mightn’t work that well with the Speaker.
There are more than 280 major projects under construction or development, including generation-defining projects such as the Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport – I acknowledge Maryanne’s presence here in the room today - and Inland Rail. And more than 280 major projects have already been completed.
Right now there is activity in every capital city and across dozens and dozens of regional centres, particularly regional capitals as part of the $9.8 billion we are investing in transport infrastructure in this financial year alone. The bulldozers are roaring, the witches hats are out – I know it’s sometimes a bit of an inconvenience when people get pulled up – but rest assured when you get frustrated you are getting pulled up by a stop-go person just think about this: If the song that has just started on the radio has actually finished by the time you are going, I reckon that’s not such a bad thing.
I don’t think you ever get held up by any more than three minutes. Later on today when it’s up to six or seven minutes are you are cursing me, well just ring Damian – we’ll give you the mobile number.
Whether it’s water roads or rail, whatever infrastructure, as I said I want to work with the State and Territory Governments. I’ve had a good rapport with the State and Territory Governments. Just in the last few weeks along I’ve caught up with Jacinta Allan in Victoria, a Labor Minister; I’ve caught up with Mark Bailey, Anthony Lynham and Annastacia Palaszczuk, Labor Ministers and Premier of Queensland. I’ve caught up of course with John Barilaro, my Nationals friend and colleague here in NSW; Gladys Berejiklian and Andrew Constance, Liberal Premier and Minister; and of course Stephan Knoll from South Australia – how good is the Marshall Government – Stephan Knoll texts me every other day of the week.
But I want to make sure we do what we say we are going to do and work together co-operatively and collaboratively. We want to get cracking on all these projects as quickly as possible.
Persistent feedback from the construction sector is that some limit to the speed at which these projects are being delivered may stem from specialised skill shortages and concern around access to construction materials. That is a fact – you can’t build it all at once – but we are working closely with our state and local counterparts to make sure we do it as efficiently as possible.
Given the time schedules involved in the larger scale projects, it is even more essential that we get fast traction on the smaller ones.
You probably have heard the Prime Minister talking about bringing local projects forward as much as possible, as quickly as possible, and that’s why it was really great to have some of the smaller local councils – North Burnett Regional Council from Queensland – in Canberra this week to talk about who we can bring some of those roundabout projects and some of those sorts of things forward. It’s to help them through the drought, to help them particularly in North Queensland through the dreadful flooding that they had – again, Dorothea Mackellar taking over – but making sure that we get on and help these regional communities.
But here in capital cities, particularly Sydney and Melbourne, we have the congestion-busting projects under the Urban Congestion Fund: $4b, topped up by another $3b in the Budget on April 2 – the public wants and expects Governments of all levels to work together to get those urban congestion-busting projects up and underway.
Our investment in infrastructure is evident for anyone who has recently visited particularly Sydney. Congestion was a theme in the recent election We heard Terry talk about the national population before but in 2017-18, Sydney grew by 93,411 people or 1.8 per cent, outstripping London, New York and Paris – that’s pretty impressive but it also sets a challenge to Governments.
Since coming to office in 2013 our Government has committed more than $32.9 billion for land transport infrastructure projects in NSW. Two weeks ago with Gladys Berejiklian I helped cut the ribbon on the first underground stage of the nation’s biggest road infrastructure project, the $16.8 billion WestConnex project. WestConnex Stage 1 – the new M4 – will cut up to 20 minutes off a trip from Parramatta to Sydney’s CBD. That’s significant. 20 minutes.
The second stage, the New M5, from Beverly Hills to St Peters Interchange, will provide motorway connections to Alexandria and Mascot by mid-2020. That’s not far away, just next year. That’s after GSW wins the premiership.
When fully complete, WestConnex will bypass up to 52 sets of traffic lights, and cut travel times between Parramatta and Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport by up to 40 minutes.
Our Western Sydney infrastructure plan is $2.9 billion of Commonwealth funds. So we’re kicking in nearly $3 billion of that project. I know we have a few State colleagues – hand up all the State MPs in the room. They’ll often take all the credit for the money but we’re tipping in – I do like you Jonathan, you’re a great bloke doing a fantastic job for the State – but we’re tipping in and it’s great to be able to work with a like-minded Government. It’s great to be able to work with Andrew, with Paul Toole, Roads Minister here doing regional roads, and with colleagues Dom Perrottet the Treasurer, with Gladys Berejiklian the Premier, to get things done.
NSW is booming, When Jonathan and his mates took over, Andrew Fraser was still in Parliament, NSW was lagging behind a lot of the other States – it’s now number one again. So congratulations to you.
NorthConnex is supporting up to 8,700 direct and indirect jobs and transforming the local economy. Next year, when complete, travel times will be reduced by up to 15 minutes; I know I’m going on ad nauseam about this saving of time, but rest assured if you are a tradie trying to get to the next job, that’s money – time is money. If you’re an ambulance driver trying to get into the hospital or trying to get to a job, that could be a life. That could be a life saved. So whether it’s 15 minutes on NorthConnex, whether it’s 40 minutes on WestConnex, whether it’s just five minutes – that travel saving is time, money, saving lives; it’s reducing frustration; it’s getting people home sooner and safer.
From 2013-14 we are providing $5.62 billion towards the duplication of the Pacific Highway between Hexham and the Queensland border. Completion is due next year, reducing travel times by up to two and a half hours. I know that is going to be so important. For the Coffs Harbour bypass – we’ve put down $971 million. The Coffs tunnels that we’re now going to build - and we will, thanks to Gurmesh Singh, thanks to Patrick Conaghan and thanks largely to Andrew Fraser and Luke Hartsuyker - Andrew Fraser fought hard for this, 27 years in the Parliament; when he went into the Parliament, let’s face it, the Pacific Highway was a goat track and now thanks to his advocacy, thanks to his fighting spirit and thanks to those new colleagues of ours in Parliament – we’re going to get that done, with tunnels for the Coffs bypass, and we are going to make sure that when that particular stretch is finished it will make such a difference. It will take years but rest assured the wait will be worth it.
Fatalities on the Pacific Highway have already fallen significantly, down from more than 40 each year prior to the upgrade commencing in 1996 to less than 20 per year. Everybody in this room would sadly know somebody who has lost their life on a road. The eleven hundred road toll that we had last year, well it should be zero, it really should. We’re working towards a vision zero. Our road safety initiatives, our infrastructure initiatives, are to be helping us achieve a lower and lower road toll.
The new Office of Road Safety in my Department is operational and no stone will be left unturned to cut the national road toll.
Under the Urban Congestion Fund, we are investing $541 million across NSW to improve the bottlenecks causing frustration on daily drives. This includes $154 million to build commuter car parks. I know the Urban Infrastructure Minister Alan Tudge has been big on this, building commuter car parks near public transport. It’s going to make such a difference. Alan Tudge is committed to doing it.
The debate over Sydney’s second airport, Western Sydney’s first airport, went on for decades. Now – it’s happening. I acknowledge Maryanne, I say again, along with our $5.3 billion investment in the Nancy-Bird Walton Airport, is transforming the Western Sydney landscape. Our $3.3 billion Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan will deliver a quality surface transport network, ensuring the efficient movement of passengers, employees and freight. 28,000 jobs – just think about that. That’s in 2031, five years after construction is completed: 28,000 jobs being created by that project alone.
In Victoria, Melbourne Airport Rail Link which we kicked off with our $5 billion commitment, begins construction in 2022. North East Link, another great project, to which we have allocated $1.75 billion – it opens in 2027. I know it sounds like a little way off but rest assured, as we all know, it’s really not. The East West Link would have opened this year had it not been unfortunately cancelled. It still needs to be built and we’ve still got our money on the table for that.
In Perth we have the transformational METRONET project. It will construct approximately 70 kilometres of new heavy passenger rail and up to 18 new railway stations. That’s huge and anybody who goes to Perth knows the traffic flows reasonably well, Perth is growing reasonably well, but we need to make sure that it does even better.
We have committed around $1.3 billion towards a series of new projects in Perth, on top of our $820 million for the $1 billion NorthLink WA project, and we continue to make sure that improved connectivity for heavy vehicles between Kewdale and Fremantle Harbour happens, as part of the Perth Freight Link. We’ve put on the table $1.2 billion for that.
Across Queensland, with the $10 billion Bruce Highway upgrade: I know the $800 million we have put down for the Section D Cooroy to Curra is going to save lives, and I know how much that mean to Llew O’Brien, a former Highway Patrol officer, a former police officer who far too often…it really brings it home to you when you stand beside someone at a press conference and they get quite emotional; I know pollies sometimes get quite emotional, but he was quite moved by the fact that we finally announced that significant spend, $800 million for that section, the Gympie bypass, because all too often as a police officer he had gone and done the death knock at three o’clock in the morning to tell somebody that their loved ones weren’t coming home.
For anybody who has a chance later on, when you’ve got nothing better to do, just Google Toowoomba Second Range Crossing and have a look at that engineering masterpiece; the pictures of it are quite stunning - $1.1 billion and is due for completion later this year with a travel time saving for heavy commercial vehicles of up to 40 minutes.
As Australia’s population grows, so do the demands on our freight network. I note Mike Gallacher is in the room. He’s doing a great job for ports. We want to make sure our ports operate more efficiently. We want to make sure that our freight task, whether by sea, whether by land, is being addressed in a batter and better way.
Demand for freight transport along the Melbourne-Brisbane corridor is expected to grow substantially from just under 5 million tonnes in 2016 to almost 40 million tonnes by 2050.
The Inland Rail is a $9.3 billion investment in Australia’s rail future. It’s going to make sure that 1,700 kilometre corridor of commerce delivers a freight task saving. It’s built on a premise of a $10 per tonne saving. It’s now, according to the CSIRO, going to be as much as $94 but an average of $76 a tonne saving. That’s significant because that’s going to help every one of you in this room and particularly for small regional businesses and the farmers up and down the route but indeed right across Australia.
Businesses are really benefitting from that already. We have one stop shops created; people are working on the line, and ballast and sleepers are being provided for this particular project.
I’m excited about what we’re doing right across Australia.
I know that whether it’s rail, whether it’s road, whether it’s airports, whether it’s seaports, we’re getting on with the job of building a better Australia.
But we can’t do it alone.
I thank you for your enthusiasm and your initiative, turning up this morning. I thank you for what you do for Australia but particularly for business, because business makes this country run. We are a Government which acknowledges that, recognises that. We want to make it as easy as possible to do business in Australia.
One way you do that is by building better infrastructure. Another way is through tax relief. We’re doing both and again, I say thank you from a very grateful Government to you.
Thank you for the job that you are doing. Thank you for the job that you have done in the past and most importantly thank you for the job that you will do in the future.