Minister for Infrastructure and Transport The Hon Darren MP: Doorstop, Bendigo Airport

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17-May-2017 Bridget McKenzie: Well, it's great to be here at the construction site of the new Bendigo Airport, which will be opening next week on the back of a $75 billion investment by the Federal Government into infrastructure. Here with the National Party's Minister for Infrastructure, Darren Chester. You know, the Federal Government has put $5 million into this airport upgrade, which is going to provide significant opportunities for us locally. But right across the board, I'm looking forward to showing the Minister the $2 million that we've put into the Bendigo Tennis Centre, and indeed, in addition to the $1.7 million we turned the sod on this morning with the Soldiers' Memorial Revitalisation Project.

Having the National Party in the infrastructure portfolio means that we have our eye on the ball when it comes to regional Australia, and central regional Victoria is no different, with our significant investment in road and rail right across the country. I know the Minister's very, very keen to talk up how we are investing as a party and as the Government in Central Victoria's infrastructure.

Minister, welcome.

Darren Chester: Thank you, Bridget. It's great to be here. And we're seeing the finishing touches here to the $15 million redevelopment of the Bendigo Airport. It's a great example of the Federal Government working in partnership with state and local government to get the infrastructure the community wants. Right across the greater Bendigo area we're investing in better road infrastructure in terms of the Ravenswood Interchange, the Roads to Recovery programs, the recently announced Black Spots funding, and $10 million from the Federal Government for the Calder Highway safety improvements. So we're getting on with the job of delivering infrastructure that the community wants, and we're very keen to work very positively with other levels of Government to keep delivering infrastructure right around regional Australia—but particularly here in Bendigo.

Question: Given Victoria's contribution to GDP, Darren, do they deserve more investment in infrastructure, particularly regionally?

Darren Chester: Victorians deserve a Government which is going to work positively with the Federal Government to deliver the infrastructure that Victorians want. We've got a billion dollars on the table right now for the Victorian Government to work constructively with us to deliver the road and rail improvements, and airport improvements that the community needs to see. The Budget last week had a billion dollars of funding—an additional billion dollars of funding for the Victorian Government—of which $500 million is allocated for regional rail. I want to sit down with the Premier, or his Public Transport Minister, and actually get the job done on behalf of all Victorians.

Now, in terms of future projects and future needs, there's always additional infrastructure projects that will require partnership funding; but we need to have a constructive working relationship and I'm quite simply not going to engage with the silly political games we're seeing from the Premier at the moment.

Question: Will you be meeting with Jacinta Allen today while you're in Bendigo to discuss regional rail?

Darren Chester: I won't be meeting with Jacinta today, but my expectation is we'll have the opportunity to meet later in the week. We've certainly had several meetings in the past month or so in relation to regional rail projects. We've had a constructive working relationship.  I have to say, things have taken a turn for the worse in the last couple of weeks but, you know, we'll get it back on track as quick as we can. I think once the dust settles after the two budgets we do need to start working together constructively on the projects that regional Victorians want to see built.

Question: Will there be anything for the Bendigo Echuca rail line?

Darren Chester: I think that's an open question. I mean, we've got $500 million on the table we announced last week and highlighted the priorities that the Federal Government has in terms of regional rail; but we also established a pathway now for the Victorian Government to access more money. I mean, the National Rail program has $10 billion in it. It's up to Victorians to come to the table now with detailed plans on how they'd like to spend the money.

If I've got any criticism of the Victorian Government in the last couple of weeks, it's that they've claimed $1.4 billion from the Federal Government without any plans whatsoever. They've given me a letter. I've got one letter from Jacinta Allen asking me to spend $1.4 billion. Now, I can't spend Australian taxpayers' money on the back of a 300-word letter. I actually need the detailed plans, and I think we can work our way through this. I've had a constructive working relationship with Jacinta in the past and I'm sure we can work our way through it.

Question: So is this poor relationship, you're punishing Victoria, regional Victoria. Is that what you're saying?

Darren Chester: No, I reject that entirely. There's no question of anyone being punished. We've got a billion dollars on the table of Federal Government money available for infrastructure projects. We've specified $500 million for regional rail. Right now, the Victorian Government doesn't have a cent on the table for regional rail. They've announced $1.4 billion of federal funding they say they're entitled to—no detailed plans, no costings whatsoever—and then just simply demanded the money from the Commonwealth. It just doesn't work like that. I mean, look behind us; we've got a $15 million project where the local government, the State Government, and the Federal Government all contributed. There's no such thing as a free ride in politics and Daniel Andrews can't expect us to pay the entire regional rail program on his behalf.

Question: Bendigo Council's after $5 million to do stage three of the airport here, can you offer any hope?

Darren Chester: Oh, there's always hope. I had a brief chat with the Bendigo Council here this morning. There's no formal application before the Federal Government in relation to the next stage. I'm very pleased to see this stage being finalised and the official opening is only a few days away. Right across regional Victoria, the issue of connectivity is a critical one for us—that means airport connectivity, road and rail links, telecommunication links. It means that our communities can certainly be linked in to each other but linked in to the capital cities and around the world, and an airport project like this is all about the great future of this magnificent part of the world.

Question: Can you elaborate on how important it is that regional airports are boosted?

Darren Chester: Our regional airports are critical, not just in terms of the local economy, but also in terms of the safety of our communities in terms of accessing healthcare in emergency situations. And in terms of disasters like bushfires, being able to stage the helicopter bombing operations out of a regional location will absolutely save lives in the future. So I think it's a tremendous bit of innovation and foresight by Bendigo City Council to get this work undertaken because it will be real investment in the future. You know, in years to come our kids and our grandkids will thank us for the fact that we've fixed this airport and made it more appropriate for future needs.

Bridget McKenzie: Yeah, I just wanted to say, in terms of the benefit to the local community, we've signed free-trade agreements with South Korea, we've signed free-trade agreements with Japan, with China and we're trying to develop more. That means there's more opportunity for our small to medium manufacturers and our local producers. The quicker we can get that clean, green product out of the ground, on to transport and off to those markets of the world the better off our local communities will be, and more jobs in the regions.

Question: And can you specify how that would impact Bendigo?

Bridget McKenzie: Absolutely. We've got fantastic local manufacturers here that are already exporting to the markets of the world. Rather than sending it to Melbourne or sending it to Sydney by road or rail, being able to use the facilities of the new Bendigo Airport to actually get that product to port faster will actually benefit them to grow and develop their businesses locally and employ more locals.

Question: Darren, the announcement about the Morwell mill today. What's your response to that?

Darren Chester: Well, it's terribly disappointing news for the workers themselves. There's a lot of uncertainty at the moment about exactly what it will mean. I certainly, as a local member, stand ready to help in any way possible and to access any Federal Government assistance that may be required for the workers. Obviously the Latrobe Valley has copped a hammering in recent times with the Hazelwood closure and now this threat to jobs at the timber mill. It just underlines the point that the Victorian Premier needs to work with our community very closely on issues like the Heyfield timber mill, whose future remains uncertain. But in terms of workers at Carter Holt Harvey, I'm deeply disturbed by the news and I want to see more details to get a better understanding if there's anything we can do to keep that mill operating into the future.

Question: [Indistinct] basically saying it seems like [indistinct].

Darren Chester: This came as complete news to me, I must say it was quite a shock when I read the company press release. I wasn't aware that their situation was so dire. The fact that they didn't have enough wood as a result of bush fires, it really is disappointing news. It underpins another point; the fires that caused this damage were deliberately lit. So the long-term impacts of arson are being felt right now in our community. That's devastating for the workers who seem set to lose their jobs. And that is just sad news for everyone involved, and I just hope we can work out a better solution with Carter Holt Harvey in the near future.

Question: You touched on it, but the broader context of what's been happening in the Valley, particularly in Gippsland, with jobs, has been distressing

Darren Chester: As a local member, you obviously feel the pain when people in your communities lose their jobs. The biggest issue in regional Australia right now is jobs, and for Latrobe Valley to lose those positions at Hazelwood and now the threat at Carter Holt Harvey, it is extremely disappointing. We have an extraordinarily resilient and tough community and we will bounce back from it, but it doesn't make it any easier when you're losing jobs in the tens and dozens at a time. That obviously has flow on impacts on the small business community and other industries in the region. So yeah it's a tough day for the Latrobe Valley and we've had too many tough days recently, but we need to try to work together at local government, state government, federal government level to give the community confidence and hope for the future that we can recover from this. So yeah, it's a tough day, it's a very tough day.

Question: Aside from politicking, what needs to happen for that to actually happen—all three levels working together?

Darren Chester: Are you talking about Latrobe Valley specifically, or generally?

Question: Well, in any region.

Darren Chester: I think if we're going to get on a soap box and talk about the future, we need a new wave of pragmatism in Australian politics. We need people to put aside their petty political differences and make sure they're representing the interests of their regions, whether they're at local level, or state level or federal level. That's why I'm very optimistic that I'll be able to negotiate a deal with the Premier in relation to the billion dollars for infrastructure in Victoria, because at the end of the day the Victorian people expect and are demanding us to deliver on their behalf. So put aside the petty politics and focus on the outcomes that people want from us—a new spirit of pragmatism and bipartisanship would go a long way in Australian politics right now.

Question: Bridget, the Regional Investment Corporation has been announced in Orange, Bendigo has missed out.

Bridget McKenzie: Look I'm celebrating with the community of Orange that they're going to have those high paid jobs out in regional Australia. That's the main aim of the game. I was again in Wodonga on Saturday able to announce then Murray-Darling Basin Authority jobs going to that community. I think what we see by the announcement by the Deputy Prime Minister is that we're putting our money where our mouth is when we talk about high paid, great jobs out in the regions. We're actually delivering on that, and that's what the announcement of Orange says.

Now, I will always be a very, very proud advocate for regional Victoria and communities like Bendigo to get their fair share in the Government's decentralisation program. We weren't successful this time, but we'll just keep on batting, because it's absolutely a key driving platform for us as Nationals in Government and you'll see more announcements as time goes by. What we do know is if you grow up in a town like Bendigo, or Bendigo more centrally, you're more likely to return to the regions. You may not return to the region you grew up in, so having a facility like the Rural Investment Bank in a place like Orange, there might be people growing up in regions here, in regional Victoria, that once they go to Melbourne or Sydney and get that commerce degree, will be able to seek out a job opportunity like they will be able to now have in the Rural Investment Corporation in Orange.

Question: And Bridget, can the Bendigo Chinese Association expect funding for a new dragon in the next 12 months do you think?

Bridget McKenzie: Look, I know I'll be doing everything I can to find the new Sun Loong and find whatever funding opportunities are around in terms of the local council, State Government funds, and indeed from the Federal Government. We've got a couple of grants projects, no grant submission has been received by the Federal Government yet. But I have been working with the local community to make sure when that opportunity arises from a Federal perspective, that we'll be there front and centre. We know that the Chinese Festival over the Easter Weekend is an iconic tourism attraction for our local community and we want to see it continue well into the future.