Subjects: Bruce Highway, infrastructure, tourism, Great Barrier Reef UNESCO decision
CRAIG CRAWFORD MP, STATE MEMBER FOR BARRON RIVER: Well it’s a pleasure to be out here today on the side of the road at Smithfield, with Anthony Albanese, our federal Shadow Minister for Transport, Infrastructure, Tourism and Regional Development, and Allan Dale, who is our own Regional Development Australia Chair, for this part of the world.
Today we have been meeting in relation to the current road situation of the Northern Beaches of Cairns, particularly around the federal funding models that currently apply in the Cairns area.
For those that aren’t aware, the federal funding for the roads, the highways, in and around Cairns, essentially stop at the Port of Cairns, in the centre of town and doesn’t extend any further north. So it doesn’t take into consideration anything on the Western Arterial Road, nor on the Captain Cook Road, and certainly not on the Kuranda Range.
So today we have had a briefing for Albo from the Department of Transport and Main Roads about the current state of play as well as a briefing from Allan about what the big picture situation is in relation to the roads. So I will let Albo talk and we will have a bit of a workaround with questions.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks very much Craig, and it’s good to be here with Allan. I’m very proud that when I was Regional Development Minister I created Regional Development Australia, and we did that to create an organisation at arms-length from government, that could be responsible for providing a coordinated regional planning approach.
Coordinated planning looking at the long term, ensuring that there was coordination across the three levels of government, but also with the private sector and engaging with the community, and the RDA has done that here successfully in Far North and North Queensland.
This road circumstance that we see behind us, is one that does need to be addressed. The truth is that Cairns has a population of just above 200,000 people, but each and every day there are around 50,000 visitors to this great city, placing pressure on the infrastructure.
The National Highway goes up the Bruce Highway as far as the Port of Cairns, but doesn’t extend any further north. When we were last in Government we addressed the southern approaches to Cairns, but here in the north what we see with the Northern Beaches in particular, is a growth not just in terms of locals with an expanded population, but real pressure due to the visitor numbers who come here.
Now those visitor numbers are contributing to the national economy, and that is why the circumstance, whereby the national government doesn’t play a role in the highway for the area north of the Port of Cairns, needs to be addressed.
Of course it doesn’t even go as far as the airport, and clearly the existing legislation speaks about networks to intermodal transport, and of course are there as an important freight hub not just a passenger hub. The role that Cairns Airport plays needs to be recognised.
But further I think, the role of tourism and the number of people who use the area in the Northern Beaches means that, that pressure should be a responsibility in part also of the National Government.
So I am calling upon the federal government to give proper consideration to extending the recognition of the National Highway north of the Port of Cairns.
Certainly at least to the airport, but in my view also, you could give consideration to it going right up to Ellis Beach, so that the area of those Northern Beaches, which are used by tourists could benefit from that national support.
PROFESSOR ALLAN DALE, CHAIR OF REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT AUSTRALIA FOR FAR NORTH QLD & TORRES STRAIT: Today is a bit of a chance to celebrate the real progress that has been made over the last seven years.
About seven years ago the RDAs from all of North Queensland, together with local government, worked very hard with the state and the federal governments, back in Anthony Albanese’s time, to really get a big set of strategic priorities on the table.
Out of that came the major investments into the Bruce Highway that we’re now seeing, significant investments into Cape York Peninsula Development Road, and on recent developments around the North Australia White Paper, we have seen big investments into the Hann Highway and the Ootan Road.
So we’ve seen some great progress over the last seven years, it’s now time to start thinking about the next generation of big things, and as Anthony has been saying and Craig has been saying, that ring of transport and freight issues around Cairns needs to be addressed.
Access to the Tablelands, completion of the Peninsula Development Road and some of the issues of access around Mourilyan Port, they are the big next strategic issues that we need to face.
So one of the ways forward has to be, I think, local government, RDAs, the community, state and federal governments coming together to start some of that planning for the future so that we are really able to have that long term strategic and stable influence on budgets both from state and federal governments.
Today has been a great chance to brief Anthony around that, and I am really looking forward to working across the players, continuing to work across the players, to see that next generation of big strategic investment in our road infrastructure network across Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait.
REPORTER: Why stop at the Northern Beaches? There is lots of local frustration about the road, the Captain Cook all the way up to Port Douglas, west on the [inaudible] range all the way up to the Tablelands.
ALBANESE: Sure, and that could be considered as well. What I am suggesting is that there needs to be consideration by the national government of a gradual extension. The first stage immediately should be to the airport, but also I think further to the Northern Beaches is where the pressure is on.
Past there, in terms of the road to Port Douglas it’s difficult to expand that further due to the nature of the geography . But the pressure that is on in terms of the traffic into those Northern Beaches is a real issue.
Can I say this; we haven’t seen a single new dollar put into road infrastructure from the government that has now been in office for four years. This government can’t continue to simply point towards projects that were funded as part of the package put together with Regional Development Australia, when Labor was last in government federally, in partnership with the Queensland Government and local government.
The Cape York Roads Package was put in the budget in 2013 and announced in 2013. Just because the current government has reannounced it multiple times doesn’t make it a new project.
One of the things that I got briefed on today about that, that I’m very proud about, is that Indigenous employment on the Peninsula Development Road and the other roads that make up that package has been between 20 and 25 per cent.
That provides an upskilling in the short term, employment for Indigenous people but giving local Indigenous people, particularly young people those skills, that training, that opportunity.
That is a by-product of good infrastructure development; it produces a short term outcome on employment and skills and training but in the long term opens up opportunity.
Yesterday we met with the Indigenous rangers from the Cape. Now, that opportunity for growth in tourism on Cape York has been improved substantially through that improvement in infrastructure. So, long term job development as well as those short term jobs.
REPORTER: Have you been given an indication about how much upgrades to this road here might cost the federal government should it take the project up?
ALBANESE: Well of course, what we’re talking about is a cooperative approach. There are upgrades and ongoing maintenance issues on the highway. When we were in government we contributed $6.7 billion over six years to the Bruce Highway.
We inherited a circumstance whereby only $1.3 billion had been committed by the Howard Government over 12 long years. Now, the government isn’t spending the money that it itself budgeted for the Bruce Highway, said would be spent over the last year.
There have actually been underspends. When you have this need on the Bruce Highway which is of course Queensland’s most important road, then that should be addressed by the Commonwealth Government.
What we’re saying is there’s a national responsibility here, in particular because of the pressure that Cairns as a gateway to Northern Australia has that the national government should step up.
REPORTER: Doesn’t it set a bit of a precedent if this were to happen, I guess any state government that didn’t want to pay money for certain roads could wash their hands of it and it falls under federal responsibility?
ALBANESE: No. There are very clear definitions of the National Highway and for example, the National Highway has a definition in it about key intermodal transport.
Now, it stops at the port rather than the airport. That’s really just an accident of history. The fact is that whether it’s called Sheridan Street or Captain Cook Highway or the Bruce Highway, it’s the same piece of road.
Everyone knows that that’s the case. Everyone knows that the Bruce Highway is a critical piece of national infrastructure. Now, the government may choose to just make a contribution.
Certainly the Cape York Roads Package was not about including it in the National Highway network and of course it shouldn’t be in the National Highway network.
We made a decision though as a government that it was a priority in terms of opening up economic opportunity on the Cape and it’s been extremely successful.
Those figures of 20 to 25 per cent Indigenous employment on that project. $215 million with of course a contribution from the state government lifting that entire investment up to over a quarter of a billion dollars.
An investment that will produce a long term economic return but also a short term return in terms of uplifting the human capacity of the Indigenous population along the Cape.
REPORTER: Funding for roads has been a particularly sore point between this state and the feds on several occasions over the last couple of years. Is this throwing another road into that mix actually going to see any results?
ALBANESE: The federal government needs to stop having a view that Australia stops when you cross the Tweed River. This government in spite of the fact that a majority of seats in the federal parliament from Queensland are held by the LNP has ignored it.
They’ve relied upon when it comes to infrastructure the former Labor Government funding whether it be to the south here of Cairns, the roads around Townsville. I was at the opening of the Townsville Ring Road. The Mackay Ring Road is progressing.
That was all money that was provided by the former Federal Labor Government. This government has ignored the interests of Queenslanders. It is presiding over a halving of infrastructure investment nationally.
The Parliamentary Budget Office just yesterday produced an outlook over 10 years of the budget. What they found was that infrastructure investment as a proportion of the national economy, of GDP will fall from 0.4% to 0.2%.
That’s a disastrous outcome that would have real consequences for economic growth over that period of time. Good infrastructure development requires that longer term planning. As Allan said, we sat down and planned the Cape York Roads Package to be rolled out over five years.
The Bruce Highway Package was a long term proposition over the forwards. That money is in decline in future years and that needs to be reversed.
The government needs to recognise that investing in roads, investing in railways, investing in ports produces a return to the budget by expanding the national economy.
REPORTER: Albo, can I get you on one other thing quickly. Just since we spoke yesterday [inaudible] UNESCO’s decision to not change the status of the reef. Do you have a take on that?
ALBANESE: This is good news. We need to make sure that the Great Barrier Reef is protected. It is threatened by climate change.
But the fact is that there’s a great economic asset so it’s good news that UNESCO have made a decision to maintain the existing status of the reef.
It is so important for employment in Far North Queensland and also important for the national economy as well as of course being a source of great pride that one of the Seven Wonders of the World is just off our coast.
REPORTER: The Climate Council’s been out today saying that both the Turnbull Government and the State Labor Government are a bit too focussed on this particular UNESCO listing and not looking at the broader picture of climate change and the reef.
ALBANESE: Climate change is important but it’s also important to welcome good news when it comes, and this is good news. Thanks.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.