Prime Minister - Transcript of Press Conference (Wollongong)

PRIME MINISTER TRANSCRIPT OF JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE WOLLONGONG 18 OCTOBER 2011 E & O E – PROOF ONLY

Subjects: National Broadband Network; Maldon-Dombarton Rail Link; Jobs; Clean energy future; Carbon price; Vietnam; Sri Lanka; Visit by Her Majesty The Queen

PM: Thank you very much, I’m joined this morning by our local Members, Sharon Bird and Stephen Jones and I’m also joined for the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese.  We also have available to answer any technical questions the CEO of NBN Co, Mike Quigley, and I thank him for being here.

I’m here today in the Illawarra and I’ve got three important announcements to make.

One is the announcement you’ve just seen made about the next stage of the roll out of the National Broadband Network. This is an announcement for the nation. It is the 12-month rollout plan of the National Broadband Network Company, of NBN Co. This plan will be updated on a quarterly basis so Australians can see where the National Broadband Network is going to be rolled out next.

Today, the plan that is being launched has 49 sites for the rollout of the National Broadband Network. Included in these 49 sites are 28 new locations, so there will be 28 communities very happy to learn today that they are being included in the roll out of the National Broadband Network over the next 12 months.

The National Broadband Network is about jobs. It’s about the future of health services and the future of education. It’s about making sure that our nation can be competitive in our world and is not at risk of being left behind. It is about opportunity for all - about economic opportunities and job opportunities right around our nation.

It is about ending the tyranny of distance that so many people in regional areas have felt for far too long. I’m very pleased that included amongst the new sites for rollout of the NBN are Wollongong and Dapto. I’m here in the Illawarra, and this is a community that is redesigning its future. It’s had to absorb some tough news with the loss of jobs at BlueScope, and I came to this community to talk about that tough news and to work with Sharon and with Stephen and the local community, to stand in partnership with the Illawarra as it moved beyond the announcement of the job losses to looking at the economic future for this region.

The NBN will play a big role in that economic future. It will bring new productivity to businesses who are here today and it will enable the creation of new businesses, too. Businesses that need the connectivity that the National Broadband Network will bring, and this region will be able to work in partnership with this great university and its steady stream of ICT graduates, because we are standing in a university that graduates more people in ICT than any other university in the country.

So, the NBN will be an important part of this new future for the Illawarra. In direct construction of the NBN here in Wollongong and Dapto, at peak construction there will be 500 jobs, so that is welcome news, I believe, for the region, as people are thinking ‘what are the job opportunities here following BlueScope’s announcement?’

Second today, I want to announce that we are taking the next step in the Maldon to Dombarton Rail Link. This is a project that has been talked about for many, many long years. It was more than 20 years ago that the Liberal Greiner Government stopped this project and put it to one side. To breathe new life into this project, into this rail link, has required the dedicated work of your local members, Sharon Bird and Stephen Jones, and it’s required us as a Government to make a determination that this rail link is an important project that requires work.

First and foremost we had a feasibility study. Now, today we are taking the next step and that is allocating $25.5 million to make this project shovel ready. After more than 20 years of being set aside it would be of no surprise to people that what we need to do now to make this project shovel ready is in-detailed design work for civil, structural, geotechnical and track work - all of the work necessary to realise this project. And we do need to do work to finalise a realistic construction timetable and to make sure that we have a realistic costing of the project. For those in the community who are wondering what this mean for the local area, I can say to them it means that the Maldon to Dombarton Rail Link will be shovel ready.

For anyone who is sceptical about what this means for the future, there are 25.5 million reasons to take us seriously. We are working on this project to make it shovel ready because we understand how it can be an important part of the future of this region.

Third, when I last came here to talk to local community members following the loss of jobs at BlueScope, we talked about working in partnership for the future of this region. On that day, together with State Government colleagues, I announced that we would be making available a $30 million fund to assist in innovation and investment in the region.

We have used this model in other regions undergoing change, and when we’ve used this model we have found that local businesses have stepped forward; that we’ve been able to work in partnership with them to create new job opportunities.

I’m pleased to be able to announce today that the fund is now open for applications.

The first round of applications from local businesses can now come forward - they open today and they close on 16 December. For people locally who want assistance with making an application, or to understand everything about the application process, Peter Masterson, the AusIndustry Illawarra and South Coast Regional Manager, is standing by to assist people.

People can also obtain assistance from the AusIndustry hotline, which is 13 28 46.

We want businesses to step forward and make the most of these innovation funds to help with designing the next future for the Illawarra, full of the job opportunities that it should contain.

I’ll turn now to Minister Albanese, who might want to say something about the rail link, and then we’ll take questions.

MINISTER ALBANESE: Thank you, Prime Minister. I’m very pleased that we’re able to take the next step in the realisation of the Maldon to Dombarton Rail Link. Today we’re also releasing the feasibility study, is available on my Department’s website. We did that study because after the decision of the Greiner Liberal Government, the project had been dormant.

This project could be vital - 35km of rail line. Of course, the corridor has been preserved, but what we need to do is to do further work, the study shows, in terms of the geotechnical and other preconstruction work.

It is also the case that the feasibility study highlights what will improve the BCR, the benefit-cost ratio analysis of the project. We know that this will link the Illawarra region with the south-west and into the western mining region.

So I’ve been approached, not just by people in the Illawarra, but people across the other side of the Great Dividing Range, could receive great benefit from this, in terms of Lithgow, in terms of that region and also the potential for iron ore deposits in the Wagga Wagga region and the potential that is there.

Lastly is this project isn’t just about freight. If you separate freight from passenger rail you have a big benefit for commuter transport as well here in the Illawarra.

So, I think this is an important next step. We’ll give consideration to future funding, both private sector, but also under the Nation Building Program of the future, but we need to get this work done. This announcement today will make sure that can occur.

PM: We’re happy to take questions. Yes?

JOURNALIST: You said this will create 500 jobs, the NBN roll out in the Illawarra, but it’s saying here in this timetable that it will roll past 5,600 premises. Is that enough premises to create that many jobs?

PM: I actually think you’ll find, we’ll have to make sure that we’re all working off the same figures, but with the roll out here locally it will be rollout past 10,000 premises.

That’s the roll out for Wollongong and Dapto, and you’ve already got the more than 7,000 premises that are being rolled past because of the works that you’re already familiar with that are displayed on these boards.

JOURNALIST: So 10,000 homes (inaudible)

PM: Mike just might want to make a comment there.

QUIGLEY: That is in the first stage. The rollout keeps going and once we put what’s called a (inaudible) we start expanding out from that, and I’ve just confirmed with Peter that’s, what we’re talking about is a much larger number of premises over the next years. We’re only talking here about the first 12 months, making and starting and growing from there. So, that’s where the numbers come from.

JOURNALIST: So the 500 jobs will come a bit further down the track?

QUIGLEY: Yeah, they’ll start, and then they’ll keep going. If fact, if you see in Kiama the numbers of people who were employed, and they were local people who were employed in Kiama, you’ve just got to scale that up.

JOURNALIST: So will that peak be reached in the next 12 months? Is that the peak job period?

QUIGLEY: Yes, over, it starts in 12 months. Over the following 12 months that should then start. So you’re looking at probably at 24-month period getting up there.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, will those jobs offset the steel jobs that have been lost in the region?

PM: Clearly, we’re wanting to bring jobs to this region, not only in the next 12 months, or next two years, but jobs that will be here for the long term and for the future. So, in this economy what I want to see is the benefit of the direct jobs that we’ve just talked about in the construction of the NBN, but also the benefit that will come from the productivity advantages of the National Broadband Network; productivity advantages for current businesses, access to new markets for current businesses, because they’ll literally be able to deal with the rest of Australia and the rest of the world as if it was at their door, and also that generation over time of new businesses which will come into existence because of the speed and power of the National Broadband Network.

Now, that’s one important strategy for job creation. Obviously, continuing to work on local infrastructure is another important strategy for job creation, which is why today we’ve announced the next stage in the rail link.  And third, and important strategy in job creation is this partnership for innovation with local businesses, which is where the $30 million fund is so important.

So, there’s not just one thing here that will help generate jobs and opportunity. There are three important announcements today that can work together in combination with the great work that’s been happening locally amongst community members and community leaders to make sure that the Illawarra has a strong and vibrant future.

And of course Sharon and Stephen have been very involved with other local community leaders in that work of discussion about what the future looks like.

JOURNALIST: Could a steel worker who’s lost their job walk into one of those construction jobs?

PM: In terms of the skills sets for rolling out the NBN, and Mike will add, I’ve had the opportunity to see people rolling out the NBN, I saw that in Tasmania.

There are electricians involved, obviously some of the work is very close to live power lines and you need the skill sets that come with being an electrician. There is also some unskilled work involved, there is obviously the driving of the trucks that take the fibre around, so those kind of jobs. Mike might want to add to that – the kind of jobs that are involved.

MIKE QUIGLEY: Yes, Prime Minister, there are obviously a lot of work, construction work, which is both electrical – trenching, boring, operating machines, it’s really quite compatible with the types of skills that are in this part of the country.

PM: Yes?

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) BlueScope announcement play in the roll out happening here in Illawarra?

PM: Of the NBN? Well, the thing that played the big role here is the local community advocacy and the advocacy that this community wants to be part of the National Broadband Network. Now ultimately NBN Co, Mike and his team, make selections about sites and there’s a series of technical criteria that Mike is far more expert in than I am and which you’ve seen him describe today. But one of the things that they take into account is the willingness and preparedness of the community to work with NBN Co and to embrace the National Broadband Network, and the presence of the university here has also been of significance in the decision. So, Sharon Bird and Stephen Jones, as local advocates, have been consistently saying ‘this is a community that wants to see this future; this is a community that’s ready to go; this is a community that if the NBN comes here will jump on it, embrace it, use it and can imagine the possibilities of it.’ That’s part of the mindset of your community. It’s obviously reinforced by the work that happens at this university.

JOURNALIST: In relation to Maldon-Dombarton, is construction going to go ahead or is it possible that (inaudible) engineering issues could turn up in this next phase that make it unviable?

PM: We are taking a prudent approach here. and that’s the approach we take to infrastructure. You need to make sure that you have done the studies, and that’s what the feasibility study was all about, and then you need to make sure you’ve done all of the work that makes it shovel ready.

I don’t think that it would be surprising to anyone that a project that as a result of the actions of a State Liberal Government has been dormant for more than 20 years needs detailed work done, planning and design so that it can be a project that meets the standards of the modern age. Now, we are obviously very focused on this project or we wouldn’t be committing $25.5 million to make it shovel ready.  In terms of the kind of design work that happens, I’ll get the Minister to comment on that.

MINISTER ALBANESE: There are three phases to any infrastructure project.

The first is the feasibility – done.

The second is the pre-construction work. What will engage in detailed design work costings, because the Federal Government doesn’t go out there, I don’t have a department of civil construction, we obviously tender out these arrangements.

What we’ll be doing is sitting down with the Australian Railtrack Corporation, as well as the State Government in terms of planning issues but there is nothing to suggest–this isn’t a project that’s come from thin air. This is a project which everyone in the Illawarra knows has been around for a very long time. There is nothing to suggest that there will be any geotechnical barriers to its construction. There are two bridges involved. There is a long tunnel involved. That information’s all in the feasibility study. Construction standards have changed since the original project was proposed in the 1980s by the State Labor Government.

This is a part of the $3.4 billion we are investing in rail freight around the country. We have rebuilt or are rebuilding one third of the interstate rail freight network - a remarkable achievement. Part of our commitment, as well, to rail freight is of course part of dealing with the challenge of climate change: urban congestion.

There are a range of benefits from putting freight onto rail, getting trucks off roads, improving productivity and improving the way that our ports operate with our national freight strategy, and this morning we had the benefit of visiting the port, and certainly Port Kembla very much welcomes the announcement today.

JOURNALIST: What about bipartisan support? Do you need support from both sides of politics for the project to go ahead?

MINISTER ALBANESE: I spoke to the New South Wales Liberal Minister - National Party Minister actually - last night, Duncan Gay, and informed him as a courtesy of the announcement this morning. We are not seeking any co-funding for this announcement today. We want to make sure that it got done and it is our commitment. We of course will be talking to the State Government about potentially them making a contribution to this project, but we’ll have those discussions down the track.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, are you confident that the Telstra shareholders will vote to pass this NBN deal when they vote today?

PM: The Telstra shareholders are meeting today and clearly it’s a meeting for the shareholders to make a determination.

As a Government we are awaiting the outcome of the shareholders meeting which we hope will give a green light to the agreement that we have reached with Telstra which is of benefit both to the Government, to the rollout of the NBN, and, we believe, to Telstra shareholders.

This is an arrangement which enables us to get access to Telstra’s infrastructure as we roll out the National Broadband Network and makes a series of arrangements about the movement of Telstra customers onto the NBN, and the shareholders meeting is today and we’ll – I believe it’s probably in train as we’re standing up here now so I’m not going to give a running commentary on the meeting - but we will have the conclusion by the middle of today.

JOURNALIST: On the carbon tax, the Coalition wants to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation if it’s elected. What effect would that have on investment if the Coalition did go ahead with it?

PM: The statement of the Coalition today would destroy jobs and the whole purpose of making the statement is for Mr Hockey and the Opposition to send a message that they want to destroy clean energy jobs. And at the same time they’re sending a message that they want to see electricity prices go up. The Business Council of Australia has warned today that the Coalition’s strategy will put electricity prices up, and at the same time we’ve got experts who advise government in Senate estimates saying that the Coalition’s strategy will put electricity prices up and create more bureaucracy.

So let’s go through the list of what the Coalition’s talking about today: destroying jobs, electricity prices up, and more bureaucracy - that is what the Coalition is aiming for.

But I do also want to say this: Tony Abbott and his team, I believe, will continue this campaign of fear between now and the next election because Mr Abbott believes that’s in his political interest. But, we should also remember the days when Mr Abbott was in favour of putting a price on carbon. That is, Mr Abbott had the same position as every other living Liberal leader in this country, that he wanted to put a price on carbon, and I was very interested to note yesterday that the environment spokesperson for the Opposition is now saying that if they were elected to government they’d have a white paper about all of this. Well, we all know that that is code for in government they will look to walk away from these blood-oath promises to repeal the pricing on carbon.

Underneath all of this, all of this carry on, all of this feverish campaigning, Mr Abbott is on the record as supporting a price on carbon. His so-called promises to repeal it are absolutely hollow.

JOURNALIST: On another matter, have you seen the (inaudible) by the RSL for a (inaudible) with Vietnam? Is that something the Government would support?

PM: Look this is a matter for the RSL and its members to work through.

JOURNALIST: If the Opposition walks away from the NBN, how would that affect the rollout that you’ve just announced today?

PM: Well, there would be no NBN, so the only way of having the National Broadband Network is for the Government to continue rolling it out. Tony Abbott has been crystal clear with his spokesperson Malcolm Turnbull and with the Australian people: he’s on a mission to wreck the National Broadband Network.

JOURNALIST: And on the Maldon-Dombarton study, I understand the feasibility study was actually going to look at (inaudible) engineering cost modeling, that sort of thing, so why do we need another phase, and is this just a stalling tactic given that the Government’s (inaudible) to return to surplus (inaudible).

MINISTER ALBANESE: No, not at all.  The feasibility study looked at the circumstances, including it found a BCR of 0.5, and it was therefore in terms of the economic case, but it also outlined the circumstances which could change to lift that BCR. Now, they involved a range of issues including what happens at Sydney Port in relation to goods at Port Kembla. It is determined by what happens in the resources sector in particular in the West and other parts of New South Wales. It also looked at a range of issues in consultation with the consultative group that was established of representatives here in the Illawarra.

That’s a very different thing from looking at the detailed work in terms of precise costings, construction schedules. Looking at that sort of work does cost money. The feasibility study, from memory, was $3 million. What that provides is, if you, like an academic work.

That is very different from having engineers go down drilling, doing all of that preconstruction work that needs to take place. Once the preconstruction work has taken place, then it will be absolutely shovel ready and ready to go.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on the issue of the Sri Lankan Ambassador, what did he Government know of allegations of war crimes against the Sri Lankan Ambassador? Before the appointment, did they check that out?

PM: Thanks. As I’m advised, these allegations have come to light since the Sri Lankan High Commissioner has come to Australia. These allegations are now being looked at by the Australian Federal Police.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) question from our Canberra bureau. There’s been the republican debate is once again raised its head. With the Queen visiting, do you think it’s a time that that is revisited?

PM: I think what will happen with the Queen here is there will be many, many excited Australians who will want to be involved in the events that she will be attending, not only in Canberra but around the nation, and then of course in Perth at CHOGM.

Thanks very much.

[ENDS]