On the first full day of her week-long campaign in western Sydney, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has promised funding for the western Sydney motorway network, provided the state government comes up with an acceptable business plan.
Speaking beside a noisy motorway with Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese and Labor MPs from western Sydney, Gillard stipulated several conditions for her government’s support for WestConnex project.
She said the NSW government needed to ensure direct routes through the central business district and Port Botany, and ensure that freight can be taken directly from the M5 to Port Botany. She said existing roads should remain toll-free.
“I’ll make a funding offer on the day I see an appropriate plan,” she told reporters at the media conference.
Gillard was flanked by Labor MPs Chris Bowen (McMahon), David Bradbury (Lindsay), Jason Clare (Blaxland), Ed Husic (Chifley) and Michelle Rowland (Greenway).
- Listen to Gillard’s media conference (27m) – transcript below
- Listen to comments from NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell
Statement from Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Federal funding for Western Sydney Motorway
The Federal Government has committed to providing funds towards the Westconnex road project, if planning currently underway identifies a detailed business case and direct routes through to the CBD and Port Botany.
This is part of our commitment to support jobs and growth in Sydney.
This infrastructure commitment is also helping western and south-western Sydney residents to cut back on travel times and improve the quality of life they can enjoy with their families.
The Federal Government has already provided an initial $25 million – announced in last year’s Budget – to the NSW Government to undertake initial planning work and identify a process for bringing it to market.
The Federal Government will provide a detailed offer to the NSW Government in the coming budget.
The NSW Government’s current proposal does not connect motorists along the M4 motorway directly to the City nor does it does take freight directly to Port Botany from the M5. Infrastructure Australia will continue working with the NSW Government to ensure the project achieves these objectives and is delivered in a way that ensures best value for tax payer’s money.
Our first priority is to work with the NSW Government to resolve these issues and ensure the early planning work can identify detailed routes which will take people to the City and freight to Port Botany.
The Federal Government believes that new tolls should not be imposed on existing un-tolled roads.
The congested western and south western Sydney road network will put the handbrake on the state’s economic future, with the cost of urban congestion in Sydney expected to rise to $7.8 billion by 2020 if no action is taken.
Currently, over 200,000 vehicles use the M4 and M5 every day. Over the next twenty years, one out of every three new jobs created in Sydney will be along the M4 and M5.
All levels of government need to make sure that the western and south-western Sydney roads network is able to support future jobs and growth.
This funding commitment comes on top of the $3.2 billion we have already invested in the Sydney basin. That includes:
- $840 million for the Northern Sydney Freight Corridor Upgrade (underway);
- $172 million for the Port Botany rail improvements (underway);
- Construction of a new intermodal at Moorebank (in planning);
- $980 million for the construction of the Southern Sydney Freight Line (completed);
- $93 million to widen the F5 at Campbelltown (completed);
- $300 million to upgrade the Great Western Highway (underway).
Work is also underway on a joint $17 million project under our National Smart Managed Motorways Program to help the M4 function better by looking at putting in new variable speed limit signs, traffic lights on entry ramps, better lane control, closed circuit TV and variable message signs.
Over the last five years, the Federal Government has more than doubled annual infrastructure spending in NSW, from $132 to $265 per person.
All up, the Federal Government is investing $11.6 billion in NSW under the Nation Building Program – which is more than 30 per cent of the federal transport infrastructure budget.
Transcript of press conference held by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese and local Labor MPs Clare, Bowen, Bradbury Husic and Rowland.
Gillard: I’m delighted to be here today with the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, Minister Albanese and also with my colleagues. We are here to talk about the traffic and congestion issues in Western Sydney.
What this means for people who live here is just too much time on the road getting to work – a frustrating journey often in traffic gridlock.
It means you have to leave very early in the morning, get home very late at night. It costs you precious time with family, time you would rather be spending at home rather than travelling to and from work.
It can mean that you need to leave before the kids are up and you get home after they have gone to bed.
At the same time, the traffic in western Sydney imposes a real cost a businesses here.
This is a great manufacturing region. It’s a great transport and logistics hub. But the longer trucks spend in the traffic, the more money it costs. So getting freight to the port efficiently is a big productivity issue for western Sydney.
We are determined to see these issues addressed for the people of western Sydney and for the businesses here.
Put simply, I want to see people able to get into town; I want freight to be able to get to the port.
So I am prepared to fund a proposal that sees the M4 extended so it gets people to the city, and the M5 extended so it gets people to the port.
Premier O’Farrell has put forward a plan. He is calling it WestConnex. The problem with Premier O’Farrell’s current plan is it doesn’t get people to the city, it doesn’t get freight to the port and people are at risk of paying tolls on sections of road they currently use for free.
So my offer to Premier O’Farrell is the day that he produces for us a plan that meets those three conditions – people to the city, freight to the port and no tolls on current roads – we will make a funding offer.
We will make that funding offer out of the funds available in our Nation Building 2 package.
We have been rolling out Nation Building 1. We have made budget provision for Nation Building 2. But we have to see that plan from Premier O’Farrell.
What we have so far is a plan that doesn’t meet those vital needs. We don’t have a final costing. Estimates are between $10 and 13 billion.
We don’t have a schedule of works, a start date, when this vital work would start.
We have funded planning for this important proposal; $25 million was made available in the last Budget to get the planning done.
Now we want Premier O’Farrell to produce that plan and we will make a funding offer so that the people of western Sydney can be relieved of much of the congestion that gets in their way today.
I will turn now to Minister Albanese for some comments and then we’ll be happy to take your questions.
Albanese: Thank you Prime Minister. I’m very pleased to be here today for this announcement.
We have been working with the New South Wales Government constructively on making sure that the proposals for western Sydney motorways are actually up to scratch.
Everyone knows that when you get on the M4 and it stops at Strathfield, that isn’t good enough.
But the solution isn’t to take it a bit further and then stop it again. That will just transfer where the existing problem is.
What we need to do is make sure that people who are on the M4 can actually get into the city.
Importantly also, we need to make sure that freight that needs to get to and from Port Botany can get so directly.
So that’s why we have put as a condition of further funding offers, making sure that people can get to the city through the M4, and people can get freight to the port through the M5.
In last year’s budget, we put on the table $25 million for the planning for western Sydney motorways.
In addition to that, this is a part of the $3.2 billion under Nation Building Program 1 that we have committed here in Sydney.
Part of that includes projects such as the widening of the F5 near Campbelltown. It includes also important rail-freight projects on the southern Sydney freight line that we opened just a month ago at a cost of $1 billion, and also the northern Sydney freight line.
That’s about separating passenger rail from freight rail.
Previously to and from the port, the port stopped and had a curfew in the morning peak and afternoon peaks for some eight hours a day.
Now that’s why these issues of dealing with freight, but also dealing with passenger transport, are related and that’s why we have insisted that Sydney and the New South Wales Government get this proposal right.
All up $11.7 billion under Nation Building 1 has been allocated to New South Wales and that’s making a big difference to transport infrastructure here.
One in every $3 nationally comes here in New South Wales. And for Nation Building 2 and Nation Building 3 beyond it, given that this is a ten-year proposal from the New South Wales Government, there will be funding made available if these criteria are met.
But at the moment we don’t have a route for the project. We don’t have any costings or business plan for the project. And prudence and good use of taxpayers’ money requires governments to ensure that those details are built in up front, not as an afterthought.
And that’s why we have made these three conditions – people to the city, freight to the port and no tolls on existing motorways that people have already paid for – as a condition of this funding.
I hope that the New South Wales Government takes this offer in the constructive way in which it is being put and that we do get this right, which is why we allocated the $25 million in last year’s budget to make sure that the planning actually occurred properly and before people made just on the run commitments. Thank you.
Journalist: When could you give this money to the State Government? Is it before the State Budget?
Gillard: I’ll make a funding offer on the day I see an appropriate plan but we are clear about our conditions for an appropriate plan.
It’s not good enough to invest billions of dollars and not ease peoples’ journeys all the way into the city.
It’s not good enough to invest billions of dollars and not get freight all the way to the port. And it’s not good enough to ask people to pay tolls on roads that they currently use for free.
So, on the day we see an appropriate plan we will make up a funding offer.
Gillard: Well, you’ll need to ask Premier O’Farrell on what day he will produce that plan for us.
Journalist: Is it good enough for the New South Wales Government to be required to meet your conditions when they’re getting not even a clue as to how much money might come from the Commonwealth?
Gillard: The New South Wales Government has submitted a proposal into Nation Building 2, so they are clearly interested in federal government support for this project.
I can understand that, it’s a very sizable project. The estimates are between $10 billion and $13 billion.
But if you are going to invest money into a project this big, then you want to get it right and everybody knows that the bottlenecks happen when you’ve got a big road that suddenly ends and then you are back on the normal streets and roads.
As Minister Albanese says, this is moving gridlock from one place to another, not solving problems.
So we are very clear on the conditions here, we have provided money for planning and we are asking Premier O’Farrell to put forward a plan that will work for the people and businesses of western Sydney.
I will actually get Minister Albanese just to address the New South Wales Government’s submissions for Nation Building 2.
Albanese: The New South Wales Government had made a submission, as have other state and territory governments for Nation Building 2.
Their submission asked the Commonwealth for $1.8 billion for this project.
This project has had an initial assessment from Infrastructure Australia that has raised a number of questions, including some of the costings that have been made.
Now the instructions to Infrastructure New South Wales when they did some work for the New South Wales Government, was to come up with a proposal with a final costing of around $10 billion. And guess what?
The figure they came up with was $10 billion to $13 billion but’s a matter of whether that adds up in terms of the rigour.
Previously the M4 project itself and the M5 project itself were costed together at greater than $15 billion.
So we need to make sure that the costings are got right. We need to make sure so that there aren’t cost blowouts as we have seen on other road projects in New South Wales and around the country.
That’s why we have a rigorous process of Infrastructure Australia making these assessments. They will be doing that.
If you look at the map that was put out on the original proposal, it had the suburb of Waterloo being in between Marrickville and St Peters.
Anyone who knows Sydney’s geography knows that was a detail that was lacking to say the least.
So we need to actually make sure that this work is got right. That’s why not only have we provided funding, we have also provided the secretary of my department to be available, to be on the committee that is overseeing some of this planning work.
Half the funding for the planning, $50 million, $25 million from each level of Government and that has been confirmed with the New South Wales Government.
Journalist: Would you be prepared to reallocate the money from the Parra-Epping rail link towards this if Barry O’Farrell does what you want him to do? And separately on infrastructure in this region, local government level support the second airport out at Badgerys Creek. Is that something you’ve been prepared to reconsider?
Gillard: Let’s go through both questions. The source of these funds is Nation Building 2 as I have outlined and has been outlined by Minister Albanese.
On Parramatta to Epping, Parramatta to Epping is a project that Sydney needs. And at some point it will need to be built for Sydney.
It is, of course, a rail project. We have got to be developing proposals to deal with congestion, not only by roads proposals but also proposals for rail.
It’s a rail project and it’s a project to bolster Parramatta as the second CBD for Sydney.
So at some time, Parramatta to Epping will need to be built but it is abundantly clear that when Premier O’Farrell is Premier of this state it is not going to be built.
The source of funds for the road projects we are talking about today – extending the M4, extending the M5 – the source of funds for that is our Nation Building 2 source of funds which is already budgeted for.
On the question of a second airport, I don’t accept Premier O’Farrell’s analysis that there is no need for a second airport and that the current airport can cope with all future traffic. I don’t accept that.
We have been involved in a joint study with New South Wales which unsurprisingly said that there was a need for a second airport.
We since that time have been involved in studying the site at Wilton and that is our focus and we are still working on all of the assessments to do with the Wilton site.
Journalist: How can voters have any faith in your promise today when you’re not putting a top dollar and a bottom dollar on what you’re going to do for this road?
Gillard: Well, in terms of having faith in infrastructure proposals, I think that you best build people’s understanding about future infrastructure when you are able to put before them a clear plan, where they can look at it and they can see how it is going to make a difference for them or for the business that they work for.
And at the moment there is no such plan before me or the people of western Sydney that you could look at and see and understand the difference it’s going to make for you.
We are talking about a huge infrastructure investment, huge infrastructure investments need to be properly planned, properly costed.
We have made available $25 million to do that and when we see a proper plan then we will make a funding announcement.
Journalist: Prime Minister, those voters will need to have that clear plan well in advance of the election. What sort of timeframe?
Gillard: Premier O’Farrell will need to produce that clear plan, and we have assisted him with $25 million of planning money to do just that.
Journalist: Are you just playing a game of political bluff with Premier O’Farrell?
Gillard: I’m being very practical here. In order to make a difference for the people who get in their cars every morning and try and get to Sydney’s CBD for work, they need a better way of getting there.
Not getting part of the way there, they need a better way of getting to the city. That’s what I want to see for those people doing those long commutes currently.
For the businesses in Sydney’s west that need to get products to the port, I want to see them get their products all the way to the port, not to some other location.
I do not have a plan before me that does that. It’s in the interests of the people and businesses of western Sydney that we see an infrastructure proposal that gets people to the city, freight to the ports, and doesn’t charge them tolls on roads that are currently there.
Journalist: It’s now been revealed that the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty wrote to your Government in October last year.
It’s quite worried about the reduction to the single parenting payment and it believes that it might put Australia in breach of its international obligations. Why hasn’t the Government responded and what is your response?
Gillard: We will respond to the correspondence in due course as we do, and our response will be that we don’t agree with that analysis given all we are doing with parenting payment is equalizing the treatment of a class of recipients currently grandfathered with the conditions that apply to people generally.
They are not being put on new conditions unknown to the Australian population. A class of people who have been the subject of grandfathered arrangements are being put on the same rules as everyone else.
Journalist: On foreign workers, Labor has been in power for six years but six months before the election you have discovered you have an issue with 457s, what do you say that you’re just playing to peoples’ prejudice and xenophobia?
Gillard: We inherited from the former Government a 457 temporary foreign worker visa program that was out of control. And every step of the way we have been putting in place new conditions to crackdown on the rorts.
We have done that in the past and we will continue to crackdown as necessary.
I understand that there can be legitimate skills shortages where businesses need to source labour from overseas.
But I also understand there are too many times when people have got the skills to get the job and they don’t get the job. And in those circumstances I want to make sure that Australian workers are coming first.
That’s what Minister O’Connor has been talking about as Minister for Immigration.
Journalist: Prime Minister, where did the figures about the impact of Mr Abbott’s policies on families come from and what do they say?
Gillard: The analysis is obviously an analysis that we have generated using ABS data to feed into the analysis.
Put at the most simple; it means that families can lose up to $2,300 a year because of Mr Abbott’s plans.
That happens because Mr Abbott wants to get rid of the Schoolkids Bonus. This is the money that helps with the cost of getting the kids to school.
It’s the money that would give you $15,000 over the journey of two children through school; typical family, raising two kids, seeing them through primary and secondary school, $15,000 worse off.
And then of course, too, Mr Abbott is saying that he will take away our changes to the tax-free threshold. That means that people can earn $18,200 without paying a cent of tax.
More than 40,000 people in Western Sydney now no longer pay tax because of that measure. More than half a million have got a tax cut, and Mr Abbott wants to take that away.
I will turn to the Assistant Treasurer who is very familiar with the details of this.
Bradbury: What we have seen from Mr Abbott is a plan to jack-up taxes, to rip away assistance to families and wait for it, to cut pensions.
We have been a Government that has been increasing pensions. We are now heading into an election where Mr Abbott would have to be the first Opposition Leader in living memory to go to the election with a plan to cut pensions.
Now there are hundreds of thousands of pensioners in western Sydney, in places like the Rooty Hill RSL playing the bingo or the pokies that need to know that a change of Government means a cut to the pension.
And we have been increasing the pension, that’s made a big difference.
But it’s not just cuts to pensions. It’s also jacking up taxes. At the moment your first $18,200: tax-free under this Government.
Previously you started to pay tax after $6,000. Well he would unwind that.
And of course, families all around the country, but in particular here in western Sydney, have been receiving increases in their family payments.
They will be ripped away.
Now it’s about time Mr Abbott came clean with the people of western Sydney and the people of Australia about his plans to put his hand in people’s pockets and to rip away the assistance that we have provided.
Journalist: Prime Minister, two children were killed in Afghanistan last week. The local Governor says it was Australian forces who fired the deadly shots. Can you confirm that? We have heard nothing yet from the CDF confirming or denying that. Can you confirm it?
Gillard: What the Chief of the Defence Force said yesterday is that there will be a proper investigation, and until the Chief of the Defence Force has worked his way through all of the facts and circumstances here I’m not going to offer you a conclusion. It would be wrong of me to do so.
What we obviously find about circumstances in Afghanistan is because people are there on operations, in such a difficult environment, it does take some time to get all of the facts of operational incidents clear.
But what we do know is that there have been two children who have lost their lives. That is a genuine tragedy.
The loss of life is tragic, the impact on families is tragic and the impact on soldiers involved in the operation is tragic too.
I’m not in a position to give more details than have currently been released by the Chief of the Defence Force. I’m sure when the Chief of the Defence Force is in a position to release more details of this operational matter, then he will do so.
Journalist: This is running down the clock though. It must be not that complicated to get some basic facts down about what might have happened and to keep people informed?
It’s plainly a device that can be used quite usefully to just let time pass and eventually deliver some information well-past the event.
Gillard: Hugh, I don’t know what your experience is in an operational theatre war fighting but the people who have that experience say that it does take time to clearly establish facts.
I’ve known myself across other instances in Afghanistan, that the first reports you get of an operational matter are later clarified by subsequent information.
This is the Chief of the Defence Force being very proper and very appropriate, making sure any facts that are released are right, rather than rushing to judgment, putting something out that later has to be clarified.
Journalist: Can you tell us how many years it will be before the NDIS is fully funded and how long before every resident of western Sydney can access the National Broadband Network?
Gillard: Well, we have got the rollout plans here. And I refer you to the rollout plans and you will be able to see it suburb by suburb.
On the National Disability Insurance Scheme, we have got an agreement with the O’Farrell Government to roll it out right around New South Wales, so that means in western Sydney and the rest of New Sydney South Wales.
What that actually means is this is the first state in the nation that has got a plan for the full rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
This is the kind of reform that would not be done without a Labor Federal Government.
It would never have been on the political agenda if it wasn’t for this current Government and we are determined to see it benefit people here in western Sydney, across New South Wales, and around the nation.
But to do that requires us to strike further agreements with other states and territories.
Journalist: Is this an election campaign because it certainly feels like one?
Gillard: That’s probably the way in which you are dealing with each other. I know that you like wandering around and being in a pack together. Look, I can see the smiles!
For me I’ve been very clear; we have got a lot of governing to do. As we govern, we make announcements which are important for the people of our nation, including the announcement we are making today about infrastructure in western Sydney, about new roads to get people through to the city and freight to the ports.
This is a big infrastructure project and I’m very proud to be here today announcing the Federal Government’s approach to it.
Journalist: If Barry O’Farrell doesn’t come good with his side of what you are asking him to do, will you take a proposal about this road and the roads that people need fixed up to the election?
Gillard: Well, let’s take a step at a time. Why would Premier O’Farrell stick with a plan that doesn’t take people where they need to go or freight where it needs to go?
Journalist: You are demanding that the O’Farrell Government provide a business plan for this project.
Isn’t that the same criticism that’s been made in relation to the NBN, and how can people in New South Wales have any faith in the Labor to deliver infrastructure when there was such a monumental failure over so many years of state government?
Gillard: Let’s unpack all of that. Number one, we have made $25 million available for the planning.
When you are planning major roadworks then you have got to get every detail right as to where the construction is going to go and you have got to understand the expenditure over years.
On the National Broadband Network, I would refer you to the very detailed work that’s been done on planning. You can access that yourself on the National Broadband Network website.
And I’d have to say one of the most common things that gets raised with me as I move around the country, is when is it going to get to my street, when is it going to get to my suburb, can you do everything you can to make sure it gets here first.
Now the National Broadband Network is a piece of basic infrastructure in the modern age, the same way that the electricity grid was a piece of basic infrastructure in its age.
The choice for people is whether we complete the National Broadband Network or whether its rollout is stopped.
To stop it would be like stopping the rollout of electricity half the way through.
Journalist: Prime Minister, what are you going to do about truck noise that makes press conferences a nightmare?
Gillard: Hughesy, I knew you would get a question in and I knew when you did I would probably regret answering it.
What we are going to do is we are going to make sure that The Project is actually getting you a better microphone with a clearer directional sound so you don’t have to worry about it.
Journalist: So it’s our fault?
Gillard: I’m urging your network to make sure that you have got the right equipment.
Journalist: We don’t have any money!
Gillard: Well you need to speak to Lachlan and others about that.
Okay, that was supposed to be the last question. I’m not sure we will be able to top that but very last one for Phil Coorey and we’re going to go.
Journalist: Just back on to the airport. You said Wilton is your focus at the moment. Does that mean you cannot rule out revisiting Badgerys in the future?
Gillard: We have been very clear about that, about all of this. I’d refer you to my words.
We are engaged in a study of Wilton and that is what we are focusing on now.
Thanks very much.