Jul 10, 2012

Transcript of interview with Emma Silikins – ABC North West Queensland

Issues: Mount Isa to Townsville Economic Zone (MITEZ); Regional Infrastructure Funding and Federal Labor’s mining tax; Regional Development; National Broadband Network (NBN)

EMMA SILIKINS:  A plan to improve the efficiency of moving freight in the north-west is getting a boost.

The Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, is in Mount Isa today to announce a funding commitment.  It is part of a plan drafted by the Mount Isa to Townsville Economic Zone and it’s called the 50-year freight infrastructure plan.  But what will the money actually be used for?

Minister Albanese joins me this morning.  Minister, what’s the money going to be invested in?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  What it will do is an initial investment of $1.7 million, and that will fund the appointment of a Supply Chain Coordinator.  What the Coordinator will do is work with transport operators, government agencies, mining companies and local councils to look at how we improve the efficiency of the supply chain, be they through changes in practices – the way that things are managed – or be they the need for investment in physical infrastructure.

So, we’ve got this 50-year report.  It is a great piece of work by MITEZ.  The seven local government areas have come together and last night we had dinner here in Isa with Bob Katter and with the mayor Tony McGrady and the mayors of the local government areas right along the supply chain, who are prepared to sit down and come up with what’s a really exciting plan for the region.

EMMA SILIKINS:   Now, you mentioned a figure of 1.7 million before.  Is that the amount that’s invested by the Government?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yes, that’s right.  That’s the initial investment to appoint a Supply Chain Coordinator, and that’s been welcomed already by the State Government, and certainly welcomed by the local governments that are represented along that supply chain.

It’s funded through the Regional Infrastructure Fund, which comes from the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, which came into operation on July 1.  This is a funding stream which will deliver infrastructure investment for the communities that have produced so much to the nation’s wealth.

EMMA SILIKINS:  Now, you’ve mentioned Supply Chain Coordinator, and that’s a role that the money will fund.  But what exactly will they do?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  They’ll talk with the different levels of government, and also the private sector, including the mining companies, the transport operators right through from rail, road and the port, to make sure there’s a seamless supply chain.

Where there are bottlenecks, and we know that that’s occurred in the past, it will identify how we can improve that and how we can put something back into the community.

They’ve already produced a lot of work through MITEZ plan.  This group has only come together in the last few years, and they’ve been working with Infrastructure Australia and Infrastructure Australia has regarded the report that they’ve produced, with 26 recommendations in total, as being the most practical regional plan that they’ve seen anywhere in the nation.  And that’s big praise from the Infrastructure Coordinator, Michael Deegan, who’s flown up here with me and is at the announcement today.

EMMA SILIKINS:  And, just quickly, back to the Supply Chain Coordinator, what’s their salary going to be?  Because you’ve mentioned that figure of 1.7 million.  That seems a lot of money for a wage.  What’s the amount that’s going to go towards that role?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, that’s certainly not going to be the wage.  That’s there to make sure it’s a properly funded operation and able to produce reports.  That’s for the overall coordination.  We wanted to not skimp on it.  We wanted to make sure that the Coordinator is able to do their job by being fully resourced.

So, that’s for the ongoing work of coordination, including the ability to hold conferences.

Importantly, too often infrastructure’s fallen down because it’s based upon plans for two or three years – they haven’t looked into the future of what’s really need.  This funding will ensure that that is able to occur.

It’s a good reward for the hard work that’s been done by MITEZ up to this point.

EMMA SILIKINS:  So, is the Federal Government relying on private investment as well to prop up the contribution to the supply chain?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Oh, absolutely.  The private sector will be very engaged in this process.  We know that infrastructure development can’t all be done by government alone.  The private sector has an interest in ensuring that their freight can travel in a way that’s the most efficient manner possible, and the private sector will be very supportive of this process and will be engaged at each and every level.

EMMA SILIKINS:  Okay.  How much is our contribution to the economy supposed to rise?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  The contribution to the economy is enormous.  Here, it’s now already worth some $15 billion, but it is forecasted to grow to around $40 billion by the middle of this century.  So, that’s an enormous contribution to be made, not just from mining, but also in terms of the agricultural industry.  This is a region that has, I think, extraordinary potential for growth.

Coming from Sydney where people are concerned there’s too many people and urban congestion, et cetera, the possibilities of growth of these local communities is quite exciting, and to be able to make a contribution, not just to the region, but to the national economy as well.

EMMA SILIKINS: Eighteen past seven on ABC North West Queensland.  We’re speaking with Minister Anthony Albanese this morning, the Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.  He’s in Mount Isa to make an announcement this morning.

Now, the Member for Kennedy Bob Katter says there’s been a history of under-investment by the government in regional areas.  What do you say to that, Minister?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I think he’s got a point.  Bob’s a very strong advocate for the region.  He’s a passionate advocate for Mount Isa and the electorate of Kennedy.

I don’t always agree with everything he says, but I never doubt his commitment and his passion.

Clearly, one of the things that have got to be understood is that regional economic development is absolutely necessary for national economic development.

There are pressures on our cities and we need to grow our regions.  That’s why we’re investing in projects like the National Broadband Network.  That’s why two-thirds of the $36 billion we’re spending on the nation’s road and rail infrastructure is going into the regions, including the Kennedy Highway and the Cloncurry bypass.

EMMA SILIKINS:  And aside from transport, what do you see as the big infrastructure needs in the North West?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I think, unless you get transport right then other things don’t flow.  But obviously, there’s an opportunity as well to have better use of water in this region through investment in infrastructure, and there’s been some work done on that already through the Regional Development Australia process.

But, of course, energy’s a big issue in this region as well, and there was a proposal for the CopperString project which the Commonwealth Government was prepared to commit to.  That hasn’t quite come to fruition at this stage, but no doubt energy will continue to be an issue as well as water.

I think communications will certainly be dealt with through the roll out of the National Broadband Network.

EMMA SILIKINS:  Well, thank you very much for your time this morning, Minister.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Great to talk to you and it’s great to be back in this region once again.

EMMA SILIKINS:  Enjoy your time in Mount Isa and the North West.  It’s a great part of the world.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  It is, indeed, thank you.