Subjects: Ballarat Airport upgrade; Daylesford to Hanging Rock bike path upgrade; lack of Coalition infrastructure in Victoria.
CATHERINE KING: Thanks so much everybody for coming out to what is very exciting announcement here. I’m joined by the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure Anthony Albanese, and my Victorian colleague Lisa Chesters, Member for Bendigo. This is a project that Anthony will announce, but we’ve been very envious of the city of Bendigo for having, and it’s great to have Lisa here because we’re also making an announcement that in fact links our two great electorates together in a terrific tourism, physical activity and infrastructure way. So, it is really fantastic to have Anthony here. He’s been travelling across the country. But I know that he understands the needs of regional communities deeply. He is a fantastic member of our Shadow Cabinet, and someone who I’m very proud to call a friend. Anthony, thank you so much for coming.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks very much. It is very exciting to be here today, and I’m pleased to be with my colleagues Catherine King and Lisa Chesters – two valued members, regional members, who speak up on behalf of their regional communities. We’ve already announced some funding for further upgrades at Bendigo Airport. But today we’re announcing $14 million for a major upgrade here at Ballarat [Airport]. What that will do is enable the extension of the runway to 1800 metres. That’s the sort of level that you need if you’re going to fly Dash-8s or the SAAB aircraft that are so common in regional flights into this great city of Ballarat. It will be a major boost to the economy. It will boost, of course, construction jobs in the construction of the extension in the short term. But also, of course, longer runways are safer runways; for all who use the airport, it’s a very good thing indeed. Can I also say that today we have a further announcement that is very relevant for both Catherine’s community and Lisa’s community. It’s also very relevant for the entire state of Victoria and indeed the nation. The bike path between Daylesford and Hanging Rock will be a major tourist attraction – uniting those fantastic communities and villages along the route, being able to produce jobs. A $5 million commitment from a Shorten Labor government will produce $4.1 million of economic benefit and activity each and every year. So this is a great example of whereby a small investment, relatively, will produce a return far greater and permanent over a long period of time. As well as of course being a tourist attraction, no doubt it will be used by local residents as well. We know that cycling is something that is currently enjoyed by eight million Australians. That’s why we’ve created a $260 million National Bike Pathways Strategy.
That strategy is about making it easier for people to cycle to work, for students to cycle to school or university or TAFE. It’s about also encouraging recreational cycling activity, and it will make a difference right around the country. This particular project though is as good as any that I’ve seen that have been submitted, and is a great example of an initiative that’s good for the economy, good for the environment. It’s good for Catherine’s health budget as well.
ALBANESE: Because if we can get more people on bikes, we’ll have a lower health budget. It’ll be a very good thing indeed. And one of the things about cycling with these trials that are more and more popular, is that it’s young and old, men and women, people of all ages and backgrounds enjoy it, and of course they stay along the route as well. So it’s money for accommodation, it’s money for food. After cycling for 30 or 40 kilometres, you get a bit of hunger up. So it’s a very good thing indeed. These two commitments that we’re making today are a great example of Labor’s commitment to regional economic development. We did it last time we were in Government, whether it be, of course, the Regional Rail Link, or of course the road upgrades that occurred that have benefited the regions, both Bendigo and Ballarat. Driving here this morning around Bacchus Marsh, just having a look and remembering the work that we did – Anthony’s Cutting, I tend to remember that –have created jobs, and have made a big difference to travel times. But importantly as well, have made the roads safer and have literally saved lives. So I look forward after May 18 to serving as a Minister in a Shorten Labor Government. I want to get back on with nation building. We’re doing things that make a practical difference to people’s live, and I look forward to visiting Bendigo and Ballarat in the future hopefully without that nasty ‘Shadow’ word in front of my name. Thanks very much.
KING: Thanks very much Anthony. We’ll take questions.
JOURNALIST: Anthony, has there been any commercial guarantees or any talks with Qantas or Regional Express about the potential of the airlines [inaudible]?
ALBANESE: No there hasn’t, because we’re just making the announcement today. The point is that this project stacks up even without that commercial guarantee because of what it does for emergency services. We know, unfortunately, that this part of Victoria is subject to natural disasters, and we’ve seen the consequences of that in the past. What this will do is make an enormous difference to that. Commercial airlines tend to make decisions after a period of time, and it’s taken a while to get the direct flights. For example, from Sydney to Bendigo, I was speaking to people in the airlines just in the last fortnight about how successful that’s been. The planes are full, and it’s making an enormous difference to the economy of Bendigo. And certainly, I would hope that in the future, one of the things that we’re going to see is that every single prediction on the number of people flying underestimates it. And that will continue in the future, and direct flights are, I think, something that will occur. That’ll be a matter for the Airport, and of course linked to the Council to negotiate.
JOURNALIST: How will you reach – overall this is one way. What are some of the plans you have to rejuvenate regional areas?
ALBANESE: We have major regional economic plans. Part of that is about hard infrastructure – rail and road. But part of it’s also about the other infrastructure that we have including regional communications. I mean we were rolling out mobile phone towers, making sure people had access to the NBN before the Abbott Government was elected and decided to trash the NBN, and decided that copper somehow was relevant to communications in the 21st century. That has consequences. So we will, when it comes to road and rail, we have an aviation announcement today. We have had various communications announcements, and we’ve had support for community infrastructure as well. The key is the Federal Government ensuring that there’s economic activity in the region.
I look forward to working constructively with the Andrews Government. I’ll be having further announcements today and over the next few days with Premier Andrews, with Minister Jacinta Allan, who knows something about this part of the world of course. And one of the things that we’ll be confirming is that the change of Government that we hope to happen in May 18 will mean that Victoria is no longer left off the map. Victoria has received that at its nadir, 7.7 percent of the national infrastructure budget. Victoria’s 25 per cent of the population. Victoria is Australia’s growing state, and Melbourne is Australia’s fastest growing city. It has not had its fair share. We are determined to give Victorians their fair share, to actually, as well, reward governments like the Andrews Government. They are coming up with comprehensive infrastructure plans to drive jobs and to drive their economy. And I’m quite excited to get the band back together – sitting round with Tim Pallas and Jacinta Allan and others who I worked with last time in Government.
When you look at Victoria, where are the new projects that have been begun that were funded by the current Government? In six years? I can tell you that projects are completed, be it Regional Rail Link or Anthony’s Cutting, or Bacchus Marsh or Western Highway. All of those projects – the pool around Bendigo – whether it’s community infrastructure or hard economic infrastructure, they were begun and in most cases completed. In some cases, what we’ve had is Ministers from the Coalition Government come to ribbon cuttings for things that they opposed and voted against. Federal Labor will deliver for Victorians, and will deliver particularly for people in regions. That’s why we have Cities and Regional Development. We see the growth of regional cities has been particularly important in taking the pressure off those capital cities. That’s one of the ways to deal with urban congestion. We want Bendigo and Ballarat to be growing cities, and ones that are regarded as being just as important. So one of the first things that we will do is to re-establish the Major Cities Unit. Not a Capital Cities Unit. A Major Cities Unit. And Bendigo and Ballarat are very much a part of that agenda.
JOURNALIST: Has the Federal Government failed regional Australia?
ALBANESE: The Federal Government has abandoned regional Australia. They’ve been too busy fighting each other. You know the National Party has been through three different leaders, three different Deputy Prime Ministers, three different Infrastructure Ministers. You know, Michael McCormack and Barnaby Joyce are too busy fighting over the top job to worry about the interests of regional Australians. And because of that distraction, they haven’t performed and they haven’t delivered. And they haven’t stood up for regional communities. They’ve sat back and watched while their Liberal Treasury counterparts have cut every school in Bendigo, every school in Ballarat, have cut hospital and health funding, have cut community infrastructure funding, have failed to support TAFE. And that has had an impact, particularly on regional communities. Thanks very much.
JOURNALIST: I was just going to say, what do you think will be the economic impact of the bike trail?
ALBANESE: Well the bike trail will be an enormous benefit. As I said, a $5 million investment which produces a $4.1 million economic boost annually is a damn fine investment. That is as good as it gets. And you know, to put it in simple terms. If I gave someone five dollars, and they said they were going to give me back more than four dollars this year, and next year, and the year after, and the year after that, I reckon I’d give them the five dollars. That’s what we’re seeing here. That’s what we’re seeing here. So short term, construction jobs. But long term, I think literally thousands of jobs long term, as a direct result of this. It’s a very exciting project. I congratulate the Councils who put this forward, but also I congratulate – I know when it comes – I’m yet to see a proposal for a bike trail that hasn’t come from the bottom, that hasn’t come from communities and cyclists themselves, and them campaigning, and I congratulate them. This is a great project.
REPORTER: Under a Shorten Government, how soon can we see work begin at Ballarat Airport?
ALBANESE: We’ll be sitting down with the Council. The funding model will be made available. We will make it available as soon as possible. Obviously there are some planning issues to finalise. But we know exactly what they want to do in terms of this upgrade. There’s been a lot of work done over a long period of time. We’re ready to go. I know they are too.
JOURNALIST: Can you see Ballarat Airport becoming a major base for emergency services?
ALBANESE: Certainly. Right now of course, Ballarat plays a role, as does Bendigo, in terms of emergency services. But the truth is that this runway will enable a major upgrade of that. It makes sense to have a presence of emergency services closer to the communities of where they are needed, rather than having to come from the major airports. It’s also much more efficient obviously. When you’ve got emergency services having to operate at the capital city airports, then there’s other activity going on. When you have an emergency in a local community, that will be prioritised above everything else. So this is a good policy outcome. It’s something that the Council has campaigned for for a long period of time. I’ve met with the Council. I’ve met with various community members here over a long period of time, and it’s a great outcome. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: Sorry, just one more question. Dan Tehan is in Killarney today, announcing tens of millions of dollars for the roads. Do you have any response to that?
ALBANESE: Oh Dan Tehan. Like, they sat there. All these Victorian Liberal and National Party MPs have sat there on Budget nights every year and watched Victorian schools be cut, Victorian hospitals be cut, and Victoria gets 7.7 per cent of the national infrastructure budget. And most of the commitments they’re making in this election campaign – that’s why they talk about this 10-year timeframe, are off in the never never. So, making commitments based upon them being in Government in 2026 or 2027, which is some of the commitments they’ve made, frankly, are fanciful. Victorians know they’ve been ripped off by this Government, and they know that Victorian Liberal and National Party members have sat back and have applauded that rip off, have opposed projects like Regional Rail Link, and then turned up to the opening of them, they have just failed to deliver for Victorians, and particularly for Victorians in regional communities. So what I say to them is: ‘too little, too late’.
The fact is that you had a Government that doubled the infrastructure budget here in Victoria, that was delivering on road and rail. It was replaced by a Government that, frankly, got a big funnel out of the budget from Victoria, and transferred it all to NSW. At the time when Victoria was getting 7.7 per cent of the national infrastructure budget, NSW was getting almost half – almost half, subsidising toll roads in particular in Sydney, some of which don’t even go anywhere. It’s just roads to more roads. So the fact is that they haven’t delivered. And I think people are entitled to be very cynical about discovery of their state of Victoria from a desperate Government that knows that it’s out of touch, and hasn’t delivered for this state. Thanks.
KING: Thanks everybody.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.