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Transcript of doorstop interview: Port Macquarie: 26 August 2009: completion of Ocean Drive Bridge; economic stimulus strategy; Bradfield by-election; infrastructure in Northern NSW; Greg Rudd; repatriation of Australians in PNG.

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26 August 2009 Transcript of doorstop interview Port Macquarie 26 August 2009 Subject(s): Completion of Ocean Drive Bridge; Economic Stimulus Strategy; Bradfield by-election; Infrastructure in Northern NSW; Greg Rudd; Repatriation of Australians in PNG

PM: It’s good to be here with Rob Oakeshott, the Federal Member for Lyne and of course Peter Besseling, the State Member for Port Macquarie. And I am pleased to be here to participate in what is obviously, having a look at the final works here on Ocean Drive, the Ocean Drive Bridge that we open to motorists as I understand, next week. Have I got that right? The project is part of a $550 million duplication of the 33 kilometre section of the Pacific Highway between Coopernook and Herons Creek. When this bridge opens it will allow earthworks for the construction of the Kew Bypass.

This duplication of the Pacific Highway will reduce, obviously, the travelling time. It will improve safety in this section. And one of the key things that we constantly hear about the Pacific Highway, the challenges of safety, I am advised that in this section we’ve seen 130 crashes resulting in nine fatalities and 50 injuries in the five years to the end of

2005. That’s a challenge. This will help in that. Of course, any road fatality is one too many.

The second point though is, apart from improving speed of travelling from destination to destination, secondly, improving road safety, the third thing is what I’ve been talking to all these blokes about today, and that is the impact on jobs, and the fact that this project has been able to generate such a large number of jobs in this area. There are 589 direct jobs, 1,300

indirect jobs, according to the New South Wales RTA.

And at a time when the global economy is being whacked around by the global economic recession, these critical infrastructure projects such as this bridge, such as this important duplication of the Pacific Highway, provides jobs, provides support for business, provides apprenticeships today, while investing in the infrastructure we need for tomorrow. It’s what we call nation building for recovery, nation building for the future.

The project I understand is intended to be completed in the first half of 2010, weather permitting. I understand you’ve had a few weather problems of late. Once the upgrade is done, this will lead to a continuous four lane duplication of 163km of the Pacific Highway between Bulahdelah and Port Macquarie. And I understand that once the Bulahdelah section is done, and that’s to be done by about 2012, I’m looking for guidance here, the Federal Member advises me and if he’s wrong, it’s his problem, that from Port to Sydney we then have the completion of the duplication of the Pacific. That will be an important day to celebrate.

That’s, however, part one. Part two, of course is what lies north. And there’s a huge amount of work to be done between here and the Queensland border.

The Government, Federal Government, is investing $3.1 billion in the Pacific Highway duplication project. It’s going to take time to complete. There’s much more work to be done, but having discussed just now with the RTA the jobs impact of the next investment we are making, the $600 million investment up the road in and around Kempsey, that in turn will generate 500 or 600 direct jobs, and a large number of indirect jobs as well.

So all this is about improving the ability of local people to commute, and to commute also to the larger centres, including Sydney. Secondly, improving road safety, because we’ve had some horrific crashes here over the years and thirdly, critically at this time of global economic recession, doing what we can to support jobs, business and apprenticeships today while investing in the infrastructure we need for tomorrow.

Let me just conclude on that point. There’s always a continuing debate in Australia about the Government’s stimulus strategy. Can I just say, when I look at projects which are linked to infrastructure, when I look at communities like I have been in Port Macquarie, when I look at the communities more broadly across northern New South Wales, these are communities which have benefited directly from an investment of a significant amount of infrastructure, a significant amount of stimulus in recent times.

All told, in northern New South Wales, the Government has invested some $1.58 billion in stimulus. A large slice of that is in infrastructure projects, like the ones we’ve just been discussing. But if the Government was not in the business of investing, through stimulus, then let me tell you, the unemployment rate would be much higher, businesses would be taking even more of a battering, and, therefore, we would have far deeper challenges than we currently have.

That’s why we believe it’s important to remain committed to our stimulus strategy, despite what criticism may come down the road towards us, because if you look at Australia’s economic performance, relative to other economies around the world, Australia has generated the fastest growth in the OECD, Australia has the second lowest unemployment of the major advanced economies, the lowest net debt, the lowest deficit of the major advanced economies, and on top of that, we’re the only one to have avoided so far to have gone into a technical recession.

And that’s because the Government has seen it necessary to step up to the plate, and make a difference. And we’ve done that through a stimulus strategy, we’ve done that through nation building for recovery, not just with great road projects like this, but also, across northern New South Wales, the fact that we’re investing, for example, $203 million in 193 separate major building projects, across 162 schools. All that makes a difference.

Again, supporting jobs, small business, and apprenticeships today, by building the infrastructure, whether it’s in schools or in roads, that our country and our community needs tomorrow. Enough from me, did you want to add to anything on the road here, Rob?

OAKESHOTT: Sure. Just very quickly, it’s probably the last time I’ll get to thank the Prime Minister for his visit over the last day and a half. In the words of one of the fellas behind us, he said it’s ‘absolutely

awesome’ that the Prime Minister takes the time to come to talk to someone like me. I think that sums up the visit of the last two days. The Prime Minister could’ve flown in and flown out. He could’ve done a paid fundraiser for political purposes. He hasn’t, he has met with real people about real issues on the mid-north coast. So thank you for spending two days in the region, and exploring some of the issues that local members, State and Federal deal with on a daily basis.

In regards to the Pacific Highway and this project in particular, there is a lot of local anticipation about the opening. It is going to change life in this region significantly and it’s rare to say that about one project, that it can be life changing. So this is going to bring 500,000 people within the region, the towns of Taree, Port Macquarie, and Kempsey, much closer together. And we will see better business, safer roads as a consequence. So the money spent is greatly appreciated, from both the State and the Federal Government on the ongoing Pacific Highway works.

As well, I’d like to make the point about integrated transport. For too long, Governments have looked at silos in regards to transport. I’m really pleased to see language starting to come out of Government about integrated transport solutions. We met last night about a regional aviation

plan, with the Prime Minister and the three councils. The Pacific Highway, once this is complete, will bring three airports within an hour and fifteen minutes of each other. That’s going to have significant broader benefits for our community.

So it’s not just about the Pacific Highway project, it’s about integrated transport solutions for the Mid-North Coast, and I think there is lessons in that for other areas of New South Wales, and Australia, in regards to what we’re doing on the Mid-North Coast.

Finally, the national point about the Pacific Highway for the whole north coast, and the connection between Sydney and Brisbane. We’ve already had the conversation about the Clybucca and the Grafton bus crashes which was largely the trigger for a lot of this. And there is still Coroner Kevin Waller in his ageing days, living in Sydney, commenting about that first recommendation he made in his coronial reports in the early ‘90s that we should have dual carriageway from Hexham to the Queensland border. We’re 60 per cent of the way there. The work done is absolutely fantastic. It makes better roads. It makes better business, it saves lives.

We still have a huge challenge and so there is a message, not only for the Prime Minister, but also for the State Government, that we need the job done, because half a job is almost complete, is almost more dangerous than none at all because we are seeing increased traffic flows as a consequence. So the remaining goat track is even more dangerous than it was before.

The Prime Minister knows that, that’s why he’s here. It is greatly appreciated that he’s taken the time to meet some of the 700 workers on this particular job, and the projects such as the $600 million committed to the Kempsey Bypass in this year’s budget is also greatly appreciated, and I think will be picked up by a lot of the guys behind us as far as important

work within the region. So as a wrap, greatly appreciate the visit here to the Pacific Highway, but more generally, to the Mid-North Coast. Thank you once again.

PM: Thanks Rob. The last thing I’d say before taking your questions is, I listened very carefully to what Rob had to say about integrated transport solutions and communications more broadly. There are some things which Government can really help with and one of them

is to make sure we have decent infrastructure. And it doesn’t happen overnight. You’ve got to plan it. And you’ve got to plan it in a coordinated way.

One of the big gaps nationally for a long period of time is that we have had no effective national infrastructure plan. Our state governments have

worked hard in the field, often constrained by finance. It’s time for the Australian Government to step in, as we have been through Infrastructure Australia and the Building Australia Fund. And a lot of the investments in the Pacific Highway have been made possible through the application of Australian Government resources.

This, for us as a Government, is the building decade. Building our schools, building our hospitals, building our roads, laying out our high-speed broadband network. And it’s not just necessary for the nation’s economic development, it’s also necessary for the region’s economic development. If we have 100 megabits per second rolling around this region, the mid-north coast, through broadband, if we have integrated transport networks, including dual carriageway to Sydney, and in time, through to Brisvegas, where I come from - it makes a big difference. It makes a big difference to how local economies function. It makes a big difference to tourism flows, it makes a big difference to the way in which businesses deal with each other.

Getting the infrastructure right in this building decade for Australia is important, so our motto as a Government is not just nation building for recovery, it’s nation building for the future to get the infrastructure right for the 21st century.

Over to you, folks.

JOURNALIST: You’re obviously a big fan of the stimulus package, and please don’t take this the wrong way, but how are you going to stimulate us in the future-

OAKESHOTT: That was the Full Monty yesterday!

PM: Look, our national stimulus strategy has been rolled out in three phases. The first, starting last October, when the global financial crisis hit and you saw banks falling down around the world, economies grinding to a halt, unemployment going through the roof in North America and in Europe and in other parts of the world, we stepped up to the plate with phase one, which unapologetically was cash payments to pensioners, veterans, carers and lower-income families.

The reason was to provide a push of activity into the economy when the private sector was in complete retreat. If you recall how grim things were around the world last part of last year, early part of this year, it was a necessary thing to do. Also, if you look at how Australia has performed, late last year, early this year, relative to the rest of the world it has represented a huge part of the difference.

Of course, the other difference has been made by businesses who have gone out there and taken often courageous decisions to remain active, retaining their workforces and having confidence in the future.

Phase Two is medium-term infrastructure, and that’s why I referred just now to 160-odd school building projects around northern New South Wales alone. That’s investing in this region a couple of hundred million dollars, and it’s to look back and say ‘here are the 21st century libraries, here are the language centres, here are the science centres, here are the multipurpose halls, that are lasting, not just legacies, but improvements to our kids’ education for the needs of the future, and all these blokes behind me have got kids, and they’d be very mindful of where their kids get to go to school and whether the schools are going to have a properly wired library.

Third phase infrastructure is long-term infrastructure. For example, the long-term completion of the duplication of the Pacific Highway, the roll out of the national broadband network, port improvements as well as rail freight improvements. These are all part of our infrastructure strategy.

Short, medium, long - that’s way we’ve structured it, and it’s all been about nation building for recovery, making sure we make a difference when the global economy is contracting but also with some 70 percent of our total stimulus investment going into infrastructure which is there for the future.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what about regions like Port Macquarie and the electorate of Lyne more generally, which to some extent is seen as a microcosm of what Australia in the future will look like, with high numbers of elderly people. Is it necessary to look at supporting these regions beyond the stimulus?

PM: If you look at the way in which we have structured stimulus, it has gone where the people are. If you have high concentrations of pensioners, frankly, you get a large delivery of the Federal Government’s stimulus dollar, but also, if you’ve got larger concentrations of schools, as I said, in this northern NSW area, some 162 primary schools, each of them being invested in, and therefore that is also providing activity to the local economy.

As we discussed yesterday at Port Macquarie Base Hospital, obviously where you’ve got a large aged cohort in your overall population growth, it actually presents additional needs for your local health and hospital community. That’s not unique to here, but it’s strong here, OK, and therefore when I and the Government will be looking at long-term decisions on health and hospitals reform, we’ve got to be mindful of

whether the distributional formula for the future for the Australian health dollar is fully mindful of where the population is growing, and where let’s call it the aging of the population is most acute as well.

So, this region’s got enormous potential, enormous opportunities. We’re here to support that to the greatest extent that we can. Just to add to one point Rob mentioned before - if you’ve now a three and a half hour commute, once this duplication is finished between Port Macquarie and Sydney, you’re also going to open a whole new corridor for weekend tourism, which I don’t think would have been as easily available as it was in the past.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister-

PM:- There, and there.

JOURNALIST: Just on another note, can you confirm that Labor won’t be running a candidate in Brendan Nelson’s seat?

PM: Well, my understanding from the, well, first thing I’d say is that last time I looked in the seat of Bradfield, I don’t think we have ever won it. I think even after the last election, the margin there was about 20 percent,

so I don’t know, what’s your advice, mate?

OAKESHOTT: Run an independent.

PM: Can I just say I’m sure there’s going to be a truckload of people trying to run for the Liberal Party, there’ll be a truckload of people running as independents, and I think from our perspective our priorities will lie elsewhere, and I imagine that will be the conclusions reached by the Party organisation.

Can I also say about Brendan Nelson, as I said yesterday, I think he’s made a great contribution to public life.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you obviously heard Rob mention, as you’ve probably heard it before, but at Claybucca, it will be 20 years this December where 35 people died in a massive bus smash. How do you go about prioritising infrastructure projects when there are just so many needs across the country?

PM: Well, the Federal Member, Rob Oakeshott, is absolutely right to refer to that coroner’s report. It sits there and it is a stern injunction to us all not to forget the past but to learn from it. What we have done, based on the advice of the transport authorities is move our way through to the

duplication of that entire network of, that entire part of the road over time.

Phase one, which is this $600 million plus investment takes us, I believe, as I’m now advised, 25-30 km south of that particular site. Phase two, once full planning is complete, will then be open for decisions to be made on its long-term funding as well. It’s one block at a time, but we’re absolutely determined to complete the task, which is to get this duplication through to the Queensland border. It’s been - what’s the polite word? - it’s been stuffed around on, and we actually just need to get it done, but we’ve also got to do it in a way where our traffic and transport authorities, each step of the way, have got the planning right, the design right, step by step, and I’ve got to say, this $600 million investment that we made was very mindful of a large slice of the road which is directly relevant to the challenges of road safety as well.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’re well known for your lengthy, erudite essays in the Monthly.

PM: What have I done now?

JOURNALIST: Thought of your brother’s lengthy, erudite essay on Australia’s relationship with China in yesterday’s Australian?

PM: First of all, I haven’t spoken to him about it. Secondly, I haven’t read it either, so, my apologies, can’t really answer that.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve spent a couple of days here in this beautiful the earth and you’ve seen some wonderful people, the great climate, and fantastic natural beauty. Now you can go and brand Australia. You’ve seen the best of it. Is that going to help you on this new campaign to brand Australia?

PM: Oh, look, I think it’s important that all these things are done as professionally as they can. The great thing about your region here is that in some respects it speaks for itself. Every time I come to Port Macquarie it just hits me again between the eyes what a beautiful part of the world you have here. It’s not just Port Macquarie itself, it’s the surrounding region, including Wauchope and communities like that.

So, it speaks for itself. Part of it also lies in making sure your transport links are right, hence the discussion earlier about the road connection to Sydney, and also in time, the road connection north. It’s also germane to

the conversations we had last night with Rob about regional air transport links into the future. We make no commitments on that, but it’s a

continuing discussion between the local authorities and the Transport Minister.

The key thing is making sure your local product is right. Can I just say the product speaks for itself. Making sure people can get to the product is the next part of the equation, and this is important. Weekenders from Sydney will be very important, and then there are other, of course, infrastructure

additions to be done well.

That’s what we’ve got to get the building blocks right on.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve obviously spoken to a large amount of people. What would you see as the key major challenges facing this local community, and where are the areas where you think we could be better utilising federal support?

PM: Well, fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Look, the meaning of wisdom is to know that which you don’t know, and I have travelled to Port Macquarie quite a number of times over the years, but I am not a local, I’m from the great state of Queensland, somewhere to the north of here, so - did someone scoff at that?

PM: Okay, thank you. What part of Queensland are you from?

JOURNALIST: Sunshine Coast - Maroochy high.

PM: Oh really? I’m Nambour high.

JOURNALIST: We beat Nambour High in-

PM: We’ll settle that later on.

But, we are very mindful of the representations from local Members in terms of priorities, and also part of the reason we had community cabinet here last night was to hear from the local community, and also to hear

directly from local authorities about their priorities. Obviously, if I stood back from it all, as a person who has been here for the last couple of days, it’s very hard not to have a conversation with somebody which doesn’t involve local health and hospital needs in the future.

All of us around here, we’ve got families, ourselves, accidents or illnesses or kids that crook in the middle of the night, making sure we’ve the decent health and hospital set of services, I think, is obviously looming up there as a major priority.

Getting the transport challenges dealt with - this is part of it, but I’m being frank about the fact that we have a lot of work to go to the north, still. I think that’s another part of it.

Making sure that in communities like this we’re also rolling out broadband, because businesses in this community are going to discover a whole series of new opportunities for themselves once they’ve got 100Mb/s with the world-competitive bandwidth and bandspeed which has been denied them up until now. That, I think, while people may not be talking about it in the streets, will have a fundamental effect on the way in which small businesses and others operate in communities like this.

Lastly, on the education front, really important to make sure that any kid growing up in the mid-north coast, northern New South Wales, has the best access to the education opportunities of future. That’s why we’re on about rolling out the education revolution.

So, we’ll be listening to what Rob’s got to say in the future, agreeing with some things, disagreeing with others, and getting on with the business of proper government.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the bodies of the Australians killed in the Kokoda plane crash are on their way back to Australia today, obviously. (inaudible)

PM: It’s a really sad time for the families. This has taken a while to sort out. This is a very difficult and sensitive time as we work through the proper procedures, but the Royal Australian Air Force is providing support, as I’m advised, through Hercules transport. Those arrangements are, the details of those arrangements remain between us and the families, and it’s very important for families to have the opportunity, quietly and with dignity, to lay their loved ones to rest. It’s a really sad time for them, for their communities, and I say what I think all Australians would say as their remains return home, that our thoughts and our prayers are with them all.

Thank you very much.