Press Conference Westconnex Motorway Control Centre, St Peters NSW

Transcript
05 Nov 2021
Prime Minister
E&OE

Dr Fiona Martin MP, Federal Member for Reid: Alright, well, I'd like to firstly acknowledge the traditional owners on the land in which we meet and acknowledge all Indigenous people across the country and their connection to land, seas and the community.

It's very exciting to be here this morning to see the progress that has been made on the M5, M4-M5 interchange here at WestConnex. I believe above me here is Newtown, which is very close to where I went to university, the University of Sydney, so it's really exciting. This project is going to have incredible, significant changes to the people's lives in my area of Reid. Parramatta Road, which is a very busy road in Reid, trucks will be taken off Parramatta Road. There'll be less pollution. People will be able to get home faster and safer from work. It's going to make a big difference to people's lives and this is a significant project. A State Government and Federal Government initiative, $16 billion. It's going to change the way we get around Sydney.

I'd also like to just quickly welcome back the Prime Minister from Glasgow. I'm sure you're still jetlagged. I'd also like to acknowledge the Premier of New South Wales Dominic Perrottet, who is here, and all my state and federal colleagues who are here to see the progress that is going on.

I will hand over to the Prime Minister now. Thank you very much.

Mr Scott Charlton, Transurban CEO: No, that's okay. Thank you. Thank you, Dr Martin. Thank you for that Welcome to Country. I'm Scott Charlton. I'm the CEO of Transurban. We're very privileged to have all of you here, and welcome to the M4-M5 Link, and we're very privileged to have all our guests here I think, Dr Martin, you introduced. So thank you very much for that.

Again, just to give you an idea where we are, we're 50 metres below Newtown. And if we go back out that exit there, we're about a kilometre away from St Peters Interchange, where we'll meet Sydney Airport and move on to Port Botany. And if we go six kilometres in that direction, we’re at Haberfield and we meet the M4 Tunnels. We all know that WestConnex is a city shaping project and we're very, very proud to be a part of it. We know that within 10 years, about 40 per cent of Sydney's population will live within five kilometres of this 33 kilometre road network, and it is one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Australia. That being said, last year there were over 150 million trips taken on the first two projects of WestConnex, and that was saving a tremendous amount of time, safety, and not only time in these roads, but time on the, the competing roads or the alternative roads as well. And the Prime Minister is going to mark the milestone we hit today, in just a few minutes.

But I'd like to thank the over 9,000 workers who have so far created this project. They’ve put in over 10 million man hours, and when you combine that with the other two projects that are part of WestConnex, that's over 50 million man hours that have been worked on this project. And thank you to our partners and JV and Acciona Samsung Bouygues, it's around here somewhere, who are doing an excellent job, safety and efficiency, and going to produce a world-class asset and on time.

And also would like to thank our partners in the New South Wales Government and the Federal Government, who without their vision, their planning and their foresight, and the original funding, this project would not be possible and we wouldn't have been a part of it. So thank you very much for allowing us to be a part of it.

But mostly, we'd like to thank the community, Dr Martin and every other MPs along the route, we'd like to thank you for your patience and understanding in completing the project. We're very excited. It's almost over for you. And now I'll turn it over to the PM to mark the occasion.

Prime Minister: Thank you. Well, thank you very much, Scott and Fiona. It's great to be here with Dom Perrottet, Premier of New South Wales, and my state and federal colleagues, and to say thank you to them for the breakthrough that we're marking today. Can I particularly acknowledge the 9,000 workers who are making this amazing project a reality here for the people of Sydney. It is a breakthrough.

There's another breakthrough that we're going to go through today, and that is that 80 per cent of Australians aged over 16 will be double vaccinated today. We will pass through that mark today and that will be another massive breakthrough for Australia. And, so, as we're breaking through here on the M4, M4-M5, we are breaking through in the economic recovery that will now follow from the success of that vaccination program, which the Premier understands has been led right here in New South Wales with that fantastic job. We are seeing Australia open up and this is something that we're all terribly excited about, and it's wonderful to return home and see those scenes, whether it's here in Sydney or down in Melbourne, the ACT, the news about the borders opening up in Queensland, and even the changes that are being made in Western Australia. Australia is recovering and is emerging from this COVID-19 pandemic.

And I want to particularly congratulate the workers here who have pushed through during COVID and ensured that we've been able to continue to deliver on this city shaping and changing project. Of course, the Federal Government put $1.5 billion into stages one and two, some $2 billion in concessional loans. But the State Government now pressing ahead with stage three of this project. In talking to those, the workers here on the site, you think back to what it must have been like when the Harbour Bridge was built in Sydney. And you think about the change that that made to the city at that time. WestConnex is no different. WestConnex has been a city shaping and city changing piece of infrastructure. It's had its opponents, there's no doubt about that. But I can tell you, the Liberal Government’s at a federal and state level have always believed strongly in this project. And we’ve pressed ahead at it over the many, many years, because we know how big a change it is going to mean for people living in Australia's biggest city.

It means 40 minutes off your journey from Parramatta to the airport. I mean, that's massive. It means 10,000 trucks coming off the roads. 10,000 trucks coming off other roads, which means that those roads are safer. That means those, those congested arteries of our cities are freed up. That's how important this project is. And, you know, we're working together at a Commonwealth level and a state level like never before to deliver these big projects.

It's not just here, but of course, what's happening out at the Nancy-Bird Walton Western Sydney International Airport. These are the big projects. The inland rail making its way all the way through New South Wales. These are the nation changing projects. Snowy Hydro 2.0. All of these projects has been driving Australia through what has been one of the most challenging economic times through the COVID-19 pandemic and COVID-19 recession. And here we are, emerging now, positively, optimistically, looking forward to the future. I'm certainly looking forward to that as Australia re-emerges, whether it's the, achieving these, these record rates of vaccination, or the breakthrough projects that we're seeing here today.

I really want to thank the New South Wales Government. I want to thank the Premier. Premier obviously today and also as aTreasurer, as we both were when these projects were going through their earlier phases. I really want to thank Dom for his strong leadership on that. And of course, I want to thank the former Premier Gladys Berejiklian. I'm sure Dom would join with me in saying that and our colleagues who had the strength also to be pushing through with this project.

So, as two Liberal-led Governments, we’re getting on with it, for projects that are changing the lives, getting people home sooner and safer, getting them to work sooner and safer. And that's what busting congestion is all about with these nation building, game changing projects. And with that, I'll pass on to Premier Perrottet.

The Hon. Dominic Perrottet MP, Premier of NSW: Well, thanks, Prime Minister. It's great to be here with you, our ministerial colleagues and our state MPs and federal MPs for this important announcement. This is a game changer for our city and state. And as Scott Charlton spoke about, he used the word vision, and that's exactly what this announcement today and this progress today is all about.

We, for many years, for many decades, Sydney and New South Wales stood still. The Prime Minister spoke about the Harbour Bridge or the project's $108 billion of infrastructure investment that's occurring right across our state today, is not just driving economic growth and jobs growth, it's going to transform the way that we live and play for decades to come. This is all about projects like this saving time so people can get home to their families faster. This is a breakthrough of a tunnel, but it's a massive breakthrough for Greater Sydney. These investments, billions and billions of dollars, they're big numbers, both from the partnership between the State and Federal Government, in partnership with Transurban. They're they’re big figures, but behind every one of those dollars is a person in our state who these transformative projects will make a real difference to as we move forward. Imagine now, when these projects are complete driving from the Blue Mountains all the way to the Sydney CBD without having to pass one traffic light. These are the changes. These, this is the visionary infrastructure investment that will take our city from good to great.

As Sydney grows, we want it to grow well, whether it's public transport, and I was down with Minister Stokes, who’ll speak shortly, down with the Metro at Barangaroo the other day, another major project in the pipeline. When we came to office, the Northwest Metro in North West Sydney had been promised for decades and decades and decades, back when I was a kid at school, but we got on with the job. We built that project and we're on to the next one. There's a wave after wave of these major infrastructure projects here in our state that will make, that is making a real difference to people's lives today and well into the future.

The Prime Minister spoke about the pandemic and the economic challenges that we've had. It's been the infrastructure investment in this state that's driven our economic growth and laid strong fiscal and economic foundations prior to the pandemic beginning. We didn't just turn the switch on, and the Prime Minister spoke about the 9,000 people working on this project, including Maddie Turner, who I just ran into, I was at college with, these these projects, and this strong pipeline, provide certainty for all workers across our state as we head into the future. It's, in the lead up to the pandemic last year, just our public investment of $108 billion over four years was contributing around half a percentage point to our economic growth each and every year, plus the tens of thousands of jobs. That's providing opportunity and prosperity for people in Sydney and right across our state. And it's great to be here today with the Prime Minister and our colleagues to announce another important milestone as we take our city and state from good to great.

The Hon. Paul Fletcher MP, Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts: Well, as Commonwealth Minister for Urban Infrastructure and Cities, I'm very pleased to be here to join the Prime Minister, the Premier, Minister Stokes, New South Wales Minister for Transport and Planning, Fiona Martin, Member for Reid, Scott Charlton and all of the crew from Transurban, all of the workers here, all of my state and federal colleagues, and we're here, as the Prime Minister and Premier have said, to mark a very significant breakthrough on this project. And of course, the continuation of what's been, throughout the lives of the New South Wales and Commonwealth Liberal National Governments, under different leaderships, but we've continued to get on with delivering WestConnex and so many other important projects around Sydney, Commonwealth and State Liberal National Governments working together.

And one really important feature of WestConnex is the way that it will improve access to so many parts of our enormous metropolis, for people from south western and Western Sydney, Liberal National Governments, State and Federal, working to deliver infrastructure for the people of Western Sydney. Of course, this joins with the Western Sydney International Nancy-Bird Walton Airport,  $5.3 billion. The new metro that's being built to the airport, over $10 billion, joint Federal and State. The new M12 that will go to the airport $2 billion, Federal and State. The Northern Road being upgraded to four lanes all the way, Federal and State investment. Liberal and National Commonwealth and State Governments,  the Morrison Government, the Perrottet Government working together and particularly delivering better access, better facilities, transformational infrastructure investment for Western Sydney and for our whole city.

The Hon. Rob Stokes MP, NSW Minister for Transport and Roads: Thanks, everyone. Well, as has already been said, this is a case study in collaboration. It proves what can be achieved when governments work together in the public interest. I remember talking to an old planner many years ago who said that many returning servicemen and women from the Second World War thought that they were coming back to help build Sydney's motorway network. Yet while governments have talked about this for 70 years, we're actually getting on and delivering these important links that we know provide $14 billion in productivity benefits to everyone in society and help us with our 60, 60, $66 billion freight task here in New South Wales alone. These are big figures, they’re big projects, but ultimately, as Fiona Martin said, it's about the people. It's about the people who can get home quicker and more safely. And as the Prime Minister said, it's about the 9,000 people who have worked so hard to make today a reality. Thanks.

Prime Minister: Well, happy to take some questions, but just before I do that I should have mentioned, when I met with His Royal Highness Prince Charles at Glasgow, one of the key things he raised was the great urban projects that are being done here in partnership with the New South Wales Government, and made particular mention of the work that both Premier Perrottet’s been doing and Rob Stokes was doing as well. And I think that's a great recognition of what is happening here in New South Wales, and particularly here in Sydney. And, so, congratulations, Dom. It was, it was great to hear his keen, keenness, and I know you both have worked closely with him on that, but happy to take some questions.

Journalist: You did just return from overseas, you didn't have to quarantine, are you grateful for the Premier sorting that out for you?

Prime Minister: Very. I can assure you. It would have been my fifth quarantine in the last 12 months. So I think it's tremendous and I think that's a demonstration of what Australia has achieved. Today, not only has New South Wales and Victoria and the ACT reached 80 per cent double vaccinated for those aged over 16, but the whole country will be past that 80 per cent mark over the course of today. And when we get the figures tomorrow, I'm quite certain that will be confirmed and as we meet together, the premiers and chief ministers and I later today, that will be a moment to reflect on. I mean, we've achieved that in the first week of November. That means we overcame all the challenges that we had with supplies that didn't show up from Europe and things like that. And we pushed through and we've got it sorted. And I particularly want to commend General Frewen for the great job that he has done, supported by, of course, Professor Murphy and Greg Hunt and here in New South Wales, Brad Hazzard and all of them. Achieving that 80 per cent milestone here in Australia in this timeframe, Australians have rolled up their sleeves. They've kept their part of the bargain and governments are keeping their part of the bargain. And that's why I can join with you today. 

Journalist: [Inaudible]

Prime Minister: Well, what's most important, whether it's in WA or Queensland, is they need to get those vaccination rates up to those marks and now until you hit those marks, then those opportunities that are now being realised here in Sydney and across New South Wales and Victoria and the ACT. What those same things can be enjoyed in Western Australia and in Queensland. So the real task is to get those vaccination rates to those same levels we're seeing in other states. And you know, those numbers are lifting. They obviously haven't moved as quickly as they have in New South Wales and Victoria and the ACT. But if we keep driving forward on that, I'm particularly pleased to see how the 12 to 15 year olds vaccination rates have lifted. Our kids are back at school. How good is that. How good is that, Dom?

Journalist: What do you think is the main differences, the comparison between the states and territories, why has New South Wales and Victoria gone faster than Queensland and WA? What do you think the reason is?

Prime Minister: Well, look, I think an obvious part of it has been the third wave that hit New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT. I think that's a very fair assessment. And you know, when you're in a state where there's been effectively no COVID, there's a different level of urgency in that state compared to what happened here in New South Wales. And you know, we understood that. I mean, New South Wales was facing the worst of that third wave, and that's why we were able to secure those additional doses, those Polish doses. So I was very pleased to see the Polish Prime Minister in Glasgow and to thank him very much, particularly on behalf of the people in New South Wales. Because when I spoke to him, what I said to him, I said, you know, we've got a real big challenge here in our biggest city and this will really help us to be able to try and break the back of the challenge we had here in Sydney. And that's indeed what happened. And so I was very grateful to him and of course, the UK government to Boris and everyone there and Sajid Javid. That really helped us breakthrough here in New South Wales. And that breakthrough in New South Wales led to the breakthrough in Victoria, the breakthrough in the ACT. And I believe it will lead to the breakthrough right across the country. 

Journalist: [Inaudible] travel to Bali before Christmas?

Prime Minister: Yeah, I believe it is. President Widodo and I did have a good discussion about that. He is really pleased that Australians are travelling again just as pleased as Prime Minister Bainimarama is that about people being able to travel to Fiji and the Pacific Island leaders who I met with overseas are very thrilled about that. You can imagine what that's going to mean to  their local economies, and the same is true in Indonesia. So they're looking to see how they can reduce the number of days that would be required when anyone or particularly Australians are going into Bali. And I would expect over time to see that fall, but they're obviously being cautious about that and and that is entirely appropriate for them. And but as we know on the 21st, I was able to announce with, when I met with Prime Minister Lee that we'll have that open arrangement with Singapore from the 21st of this month. And what that is showing is particularly here in New South Wales, we're just taking it step by step and demonstrating how this works, giving Australians confidence all around the country, that this is working, that we're opening up the economy. You know, we've got $110 billion worth of infrastructure that we want to see get built. And for that to happen, the country has to be open, ports have to be opening and working well, and we'll be focusing a lot on that issue as well. 

Journalist: Prime Minister, on the French contract, the US President suggested that was handled clumsily, do you concede that?

Prime Minister: We've moved on from that issue, that's what I said when I was in Dubai. 

Journalist: You spoke about the economic breakthrough, in hospitality we're suffering from critical shortages, [inaudible]? 

Prime Minister: Yeah, I know the Premier will want to speak about this, and we share a view about this. I'm keen to see that happen. I'm keen to see it happen this year in whatever staged format we can, and I think it's going to be particularly important for our agricultural workforce. We're already moving quite well on our Pacific programmes for workers. We've got the new agricultural visas as well. We spoke to, I spoke to President Widodo about that, ensuring that Indonesia could participate strongly in our agricultural visa programme and there was keen interest in that. But we, you know, as we're, as we're now in economic recovery mode, in fact, beyond that, we're in growth mode with our economy, realising that means we've now got to deal with the supply side challenges we're going to have. And that is in the labour markets. It is on the ports. It is ensuring that our cities are functioning well, which the timeliness of projects like this is so important coming out of COVID, we need to be removing those blockages, ensuring that red tape is not going to dry up investment or stymie investment. We've got to get on with the clean energy technology changes that we're putting in place and developing all that. But Dom, I'm sure you'd want to talk about that. 

The Hon. Dominic Perrottet MP, Premier of NSW: Well, let me begin by saying that it's a better problem to have that high unemployment. And the good news about some of these shortages is it provides an opportunity for people right across the state to get into work and in a challenging time. Over the last two years, we lost close to 300,000 jobs last year, recovered every single one of them in this state, plus 30,000 more. We've had a challenging time during Delta. We want to get everybody back into paid work and the financial stimulus by the federal and state government here has allowed us to provide opportunities for businesses to remain open, for our workers to remain paid in what's been a challenging time now. In relation to labour shortages,  it's a serious issue. It's a major issue facing our state, the Commonwealth Government and the Prime Minister is completely across that. We've, as he has pointed out, we made some substantial changes in relation to agricultural visas. That was most important because we didn't want to have after droughts and bushfires in our state, a situation where our produce was left to rot on the ground. And that's been crucial in ensuring that regional New South Wales continues to recover from the pandemic. But obviously in the hospitality sectors and in those other areas where shortages are, we need to address that. We'll continue to work closely with the federal government. As the Prime Minister has said, it's a staged process by ending quarantine for fully vaccinated people in Sydney. That has been a great start. Obviously, with the returning Australians that then moved to other areas and we need to ensure as we move through this period that businesses have the support. The other thing that's important as well is we've had pretty flat wage growth in this state for a, and across the country, for a sustained period of time. There's great opportunity now for our workers who are sitting at home to get out, get a job and get paid well. 

Journalist: Prime Minister, do we still need purpose built quarantine facilities given the two biggest states no longer require quarantine?

Prime Minister: Well, the decision we made to go ahead with those was not a short term decision. I will never forget that first weekend when the events of Wuhan had become very clear and there were planes on their way to Australia from Wuhan that weekend. And it's important that in the future, for whatever pandemic we may face in the future, that we have that initial bank of facilities in Victoria and that one is progressing well. We've changed the scale of the one in in Queensland, Western Australia. So at three points, we can ensure that there are facilities in place at those arranged. So that was not from our point of view, as much about dealing with the current situation, although it can, particularly in Victoria, provide some support because we're still quarantining unvaccinated Australians coming back into the country. That is still the case and that could present some challenges so that it's, I think, provides a positive contribution. But this is about a longer term capability and they have been built to be multi-use facilities as well. So they had their own longer term, not just their shorter term advantages.

Journalist: Last month you accused the Queensland Premier of extortion on hospital funding, what's changed and how much are you prepared to provide?

Prime Minister: Well, we announced today we're going to keep the block funding arrangements in place out till the end of this year, and we've extended out also for some time ago, the COVID arrangements, which are 50/50 arrangements. We have the National Health Reform Agreement, which provides record funding into hospitals. But I got to say, and I'm sure Dom might want to comment on this as well, but when we were looking at the modelling for what the impact on our hospitals would be and, you know, tremendous work was done collaboratively at a federal-state level to really understand all the scenarios that we might face in terms of the pressure on the hospitals. Those worst fears have not been realised. The worst case and they weren't even the worst case scenarios, there were far worst case scenarios we had to be mindful of. And it reminded me a lot of that early part of the pandemic when we were preparing for the absolute worst and thankful for the best. And I think that's what we're seeing now. We were prepared for the worst and we're thankful for what is one of the best results that we're seeing. I've had the last couple of days had the opportunity to share experiences with other countries who have been going through this and a lot of their experiences have been very similar. So it is, you know, we have put in place the plans to deal with the surges here in New South Wales and Victoria, and I commend the Victorian Government as well. They planned well and that I think gives a lot of confidence to Queensland and where there hasn't been the big number of cases for them to deal with. And in Western Australia and others which will eventually when their borders open up, face some demand on their system. But I think the states in New South Wales and Victoria that it can all be managed well. You plan well, we've modelled it and worked through those issues. And I think that has been a good result. But Dom, I think you've got similar a experience. 

The Hon. Dominic Perrottet MP, Premier of NSW: Well, I think it's one of the untold stories of the pandemic was initially from the outset we invested record amounts in our health system. I remember saying to the Health Minister at the time, whatever you need financially, you will have, to ensure our public health system particularly was ready for the worst case scenario. Now we didn't go anywhere near that, but that's been a substantial benefit to our health system here in our state, and we're incredibly confident as challenges come our way moving forward and the pandemic is not over. As we open up, case numbers will increase, hospitalisations will increase. We know that, but we're ready. And ultimately, from the state's perspective and as a former treasurer, I'm always going to try and get more money out of these guys. But ultimately, what our strategy and our approach and plan during this pandemic is to stand out own two feet in this state, to not blame the Commonwealth, but to actually deliver for our people. And that's what we're focused on. We're going to make the investments. We spent, I announced yesterday, since the pandemic began, we've invested $44 billion in this state and whether that's on business support or the health system right across the board. That's close to half our annual expenditure to keep people safe, to keep people in work and to get businesses open. So we'll continue to do that as we move through this difficult time. But we're confident we're in a very strong position here in our state. 

Journalist: Premier, just on this project here, you say it'll be open to travel in 2023, will it be open before the 23rd of March 2023 and the material we've received still has the Beaches Link on it, obviously all this talk we've had today of Coalition governments working together, to deliver projects, will you deliver the Beaches link? 

The Hon. Dominic Perrottet MP, Premier of NSW: Oh, well, that's part of our infrastructure programme and pipeline. We've got $108 billion over the next four years. We've allocated money in the 21/22 Budget, close to $500 million for the Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link project, and we continue to work through it. In relation to the opening of this project, well, you know, we don't build infrastructure for the sake of winning elections. We build infrastructure to make a real difference to people's lives. So obviously it's, you know, open in 2023. What's most important is that we get it done and we get it done properly and with the 9,000 people working on these projects, we're very confident we'll get it open as quickly as possible. 

Journalist: Paul Toole's failure to declare [inaudible], is he well and truly across his disclosure requirements?

The Hon. Dominic Perrottet MP, Premier of NSW: Well, look, I spoke to the Deputy Premier yesterday, obviously after Estimates. He's rectified that. He had disclosed his properties as he was required to. He just hadn't mentioned in the rent aspect that he was receiving an income. He's spoken to the legal team at the Department of Premier and Cabinet. He's made the appropriate change. 

Journalist: He didn't do it for seven years though, is that a pretty big oversight? 

The Hon. Dominic Perrottet MP, Premier of NSW: Well, look, let's you know, it was an oversight. But in terms of the scheme of things, it was a mistake and he's rectified the mistake. And that's most important. 

Journalist: [Inaudible]

The Hon. Dominic Perrottet MP, Premier of NSW: Well, there's a review being currently undertaken by the Commonwealth Grants Commission in relation to GST reform. We've always held the view here in our state that GST distribution should not penalise states that reform, but incentivise states to reform. You know, it goes back to Michael Egan days where we've argued for a per capita basis in New South Wales, but we haven't always got our way. I've taken the view that we have an obligation to support smaller states. That's still, that's still our perspective. But there's always going to be these discussions. And I think as we move forward post this pandemic, there's going to be a real discussion between the Commonwealth and state governments in relation to federal financial relations and those arrangements moving forward and we should welcome that. 

Prime Minister: Just as we go. To all of our Indian community in Australia, I'm sure that Premier Perrottet would join me, we wish you all a very happy Diwali and Namaste.