LOUISE MILLER-FROST: So, hi, everyone. It’s great to have you here and great to have Catherine King here in Boothby. No, I’m not in Boothby, goodness. Very close to Boothby. And we’re here to talk about a really important project for all of South Australia and all of Adelaide, but also very much for Adelaide and Boothby from a federal perspective. It’s great also to have Minister Tom Koutsantonis, and my state colleague Nadia Clancy, the member for Elder. Sorry I was late, the traffic’s horrendous. If only we could do something about this. So I’ll hand over on that note to Catherine King. 
CATHERINE KING: Thanks, Louise. It’s terrific to be here with my colleague, Tom Koutsantonis, and also Nadia from the South Australian Government, who I’m delighted to have here as well along with Louise Miller-Frost.
Well, this is an incredibly important project for South Australia and it’s great to be here. Now, an information centre which will be – people will be able to drop into, get a really good understanding of just how important this North-South Corridor project is for South Australia. This is not only South Australia’s biggest road project, this is the single largest road project that the Commonwealth is investing in in the country, in partnership with the South Australian Government.
We announced, as part of the Infrastructure Investment Program Review, a review that has been very important to really stabilise and ensure the delivery of the Commonwealth’s investment in infrastructure. We announced as part of that, that we are committing an initial $2.7 billion to this project, taking the total Commonwealth contribution to this project to $7.7 billion.
South Australia is an incredibly important state, it is a growing state. We know in terms of this project that the Labor state government and us, as the incoming Labor federal government, we inherited a massive, underfunded gap in this project. The Liberals did not fund this project properly and we’ve had to come to the party to actually make sure we can deliver it.
This project will see thousands of jobs across South Australia. It will see massive investment in small industry here in South Australia. It will, I’m told, from Tom Koutsantonis, mean you can get to the Barossa within about 30 minutes. It takes – it’s very important to be able to do that. It takes out about 21 traffic lights but, more importantly, makes the city more liveable for people, being able to get around, spend more time at home with your families.
We know this is an important investment for South Australia. We’re co-investing with the state and with local government here in South Australia in over 30 projects across the community from regional communities to this very large infrastructure project. I think this is a project of which South Australia can be incredibly proud. I do want to thank Tom Koutsantonis very much for the work that he’s done with us, letting us know how important this project is for the state of South Australia and we’re very proud to be co-investors and co-partners in what is going to be the largest single road project in the country, something I’m sure that South Australia can be very proud of. I’ll take questions after. I think Tom’s got a bit to say.
TOM KOUTSANTONIS: Thank you, Catherine. The relief is palpable. $2.7 billion extra taking the project contribution from each government, from the South Australian Government, the Commonwealth Government to over $7 billion each. This project, we were told at the last state election would cost $9.9 million, we conducted a review, we found that even if you kept old plans that the former government had done it would be over $15 billion to build their project.
We did a lot of reforms to the project, did a proper review, we put proper engineers in charge of it, what we’ve actually got now is a project that will work, we set it up, we use tunnels, exit points at the right places, got the right amount of lanes. We don’t have this silly exit on Anzac Highway which was one lane out of the tunnels landing in the middle of Anzac Highway to traffic merging to the left, which would be a disaster for South Australians. We’re going to get it right. We have got it right now.
What South Australians want from the Commonwealth Government and us is just to get on with it now. We’re sick of the waiting. We want to get on with it. We’ve got our partner, who done the right thing, and I want to thank Catherine for the hard work that she’s done to get that extra $2.7 billion, which is very, very important. Without that money we couldn’t have built this project. This is a partnership between South Australia and the country which will make this project the largest of its kind.
Nadia and I are very, very excited about this because it’s going to start, of course, in the south, we will see the tunnel boring machine outside, it will be digging a trench, lowering that tunnel boring machine, we will be finished by 2031. It’s going to transform Adelaide and change us completely.
We’re the last capital city in Australia to operate on the grid network. We’re the last capital city on the mainland not to have a non-stop corridor going through the middle of the city. It means that our grid network is failing. Whether it’s Marion Road, whether it’s South Road, whether it’s Goodwood Road, whether it’s Unley Road, you’re seeing those parallel roads to the South Road now creeping along with that running in between them. The average speed on South Road now is down to about 20 kilometres an hour.
We’re doing a lot of work to get ready, we’ve drilled hundreds and hundreds of boreholes, done all the surface relocation that we need to do, we’re ready to get started and today is the first day of operation of this new centre here in the north of that project which mean that local residents can come in to see an interactive map, they can talk about how this would work, how their kids will get to school, how they can cross over and Catherine’s been very, very firm on this with the South Australian Government, connectivity is very, very important.
We don’t just want a huge gash in the middle of the road. What we want is it to link communities. We want people to be able to ride their bikes over this road, we want people to walk over this road. We want people to be able to enjoy it. We’re also increasing our tree canopy by 20 per cent along the left of the corridor. More green spaces. We will be negotiating with residents about where they want their sound attenuation; do they want it closer to their homes or closer to the road. Where do they want those parks between their sound attenuation? So, all the works that we will be doing here in the centre to make sure you get the right outcome for the people of South Australia, and we are very, very grateful to the Commonwealth Government for being our partners in this and trusting us to get the review right.
Once we got it right, we went to them with new costs. They didn’t just say no, too hard, they actually worked with us to get the result we needed, and we are very, very grateful. Thank you, Catherine. Any questions you want to ask me or the minister?
JOURNALIST: Maybe can you just outline when major construction is expected to start?
TOM KOUTSANTIONIS: Well, major construction started now. So 2024 we’re really gearing up. Next year we will, of course, award the contract. We are now down to two tenderers who are slugging it out here in South Australia to try and win the rights to have the largest infrastructure program in Australia. We will begin digging on the entry points for the southern tunnel and hopefully have that operational in place by either the end of 2025 or the end of 2026, depending on supply chain issues. So construction is working overtime now. We are resealing parts of the road that won’t be touched by the tunnels or by a lot of motorways or open motorways. We’ve done all the surface relocation. We are beginning a program of demolition to make sure that the houses that we compulsorily required are ready to go. That work will begin earliest next year.
JOURNALIST: The Auditor-General has concerns about projects such as the North-South Corridor running – having delays and perhaps having an overspend as well. Have you had conversations with him or how do you, I guess, respond to his concerns?
TOM KOUTSANTONIS: I don’t share his concerns. My view is that there is such a vast contingency in this program that it would be very, very strange that there would be an overspend, but, of course, we’ve done the drilling, we’ve done the work, we know what we’re encountering. So we’ve taken a lot of time to get this right. So I have faith in the work the department have done. I have faith in the work the engineers have done. We’ve taken the reference design to where it should be to about 20 per cent completion. We now have tenderers working through that to make sure that they can get the right outcome. I am confident that we will build this on time, and on budget.
JOURNALIST: And the extra $2.7 million the federal government’s committed, and you said before that this project might not go ahead unless the government had provided that funding. So, at what point did you realise that you needed this extra funding for the [indistinct].
TOM KOUTSANTONIS: You might remember we announced in July earlier this year when we finished our references on it. So, when he came into office we conducted a review immediately of the North-South Corridor to find out exactly what had been designed wasn’t working. And the initial results that I received back from the department were that if we built the North-South Corridor tunnels, as had been left to us by the previous government, the tunnels would be redundant the day they were open. People would not use them because the exit points of the tunnels were such and that would have been a disaster.
And the other thing that they found was even if you build the tunnels the way they had been designed, it would still cost over $15 billion. I was always suspicious of the $9.9 billion number. As Catherine has found out across the country, with escalation, that $9.9 billion number that the previous government had forecast, that was a political announcement. That was a political number to get them past the election. Everyone I spoke to on my incoming briefs were saying there was no way this project is only going to cost $9.9 billion.
So we conducted an immediate review. We put all the engineers who had previously worked on every part of the North-South Corridor who had been excluded by the previous government from working on this project, this last section. They did that work, they came back and said to me this project will now cost $15.4 billion. That’s the accurate cost. I immediately informed Catherine. We went through the work. She knows how important this project is, it’s important for Louise Miller-Frost, it’s important to Steve Georganas, it’s important for Adelaide.
We went through the work and without that extra commitment by the Commonwealth Government, we would not have the funds to complete this project. We would have done it in sections which would have been more delays and more frustration. So this allows us to finish it. And I can’t tell you how important it is. Ask anyone using Unley Road, ask anyone using Goodwood Road, ask anyone using Marion Road, the South Road congestion is now a screen. We’ve got three major arterial roads funnelling into the North-South Corridor, and it is bottlenecking. So people are using alternative ways to try and get into the city because we’re using a grid network. That’s why this tunnel system is so important and so vital.
The important thing about the tunnel system is when you get on, the exit points are where you leave them. That’s why Anzac Highway’s critical, that’s why Richmond’s Road’s critical, that’s why the ring route is critical. Don’t forget, there are nearly $850 million worth of projects that are being spent around the corridor to improve the connectivity and the resilience of the network as part of this project. So, we are talking about making sure that the ring route exits work off the North-South Corridor, that the Richmond Road exit works off the North-South Corridor. That the Anzac Highway exists work off the North-South Corridor. None of these were dealt with by the previous plan, that’s why it’s costing us a lot more because we’re getting it right the first time. 
JOURNALIST: How big is this for the South Australian economy and how many jobs are we looking at to be created?
TOM KOUTSANTONIS: Thousands of jobs throughout construction, thousands. Nearly 5,000 jobs, of course. But, importantly, what this means for the economy is dramatic. We can now move freight from north to south quickly and efficiently without traffic lights. I mean, 21 traffic lights, the average speed of 20km/h or 25km/h the North-South Corridor is not conducive to freight productivity. What it means is you can’t move that freight. So what we’re doing is making sure that we can get to and from work quickly. Moving your labour force to and from work is one of the biggest productivity benefits that we can get.
Like I said, we’re the last city in Australia not to have a nonstop corridor throughout our city. We’re using a grid network, and it is failing. It is failing. And you can see it now in the south and you can see it now when you come out of the North-South Corridor at Torrensville, there is bottlenecks everywhere. We need to do this and do this quick otherwise the city will literally grind to a halt. 
JOURNALIST: And how confident are you in the review that you guys have conducted that no more houses or businesses are going to be taken up further down the track, so you get halfway through?
TOM KOUTSANTONIS: I’m very confident. Look, every engineer and every designer who worked on every other part of the North-South Corridor, whether it’s the South Road Superway, the Torrens-to-Torrens, the Darlington work, they weren’t included in the design work of this section of the North-South Corridor by the previous government. I don’t know why. That’s a question for them.
The moment I came back into office we put those people who live here, who know Adelaide, who know this road, back on this project. They came back with what I think is a world-class design and I have complete faith in them, as has the Commonwealth Government, because these are people, the career engineers for the South Australian Government who know our road network and I have complete faith in them. The Department of Infrastructure and Transport is one of, I think, the best departments I have ever had the honour to lead, and I’ve had nearly every department in the South Australian Government. And this is a department where I think excels and I’m very, very confident that we will meet those targets.
JOURNALIST: The South Australian Auditor-General’s also raised concerns about not been given access to the Cabinet documents so he can run his eye over the costings for this project. Why won’t you give him access to those documents just so South Australians can be assured that the spending is appropriate?
TOM KOUTSANTONIS: Okay, well, the Auditor-General’s role is not just decide whether spending is appropriate. The Auditor-General’s role is to audit the finances of the state. Access to Cabinet documents is made available after 10 years. The core governments after 25 years. You can’t have a system of government where you can have people sitting in the Cabinet room watching how Cabinet decisions are made.
The Auditor-General’s criticism isn’t about having access to the Cabinet documents, what he claims is his biggest concern is that he doesn’t know if the decision has been taken or not. Now, we offered the Auditor-General the ability to see that decision sets have been made but to see the discussions and the – within a Cabinet room are not appropriate and they are central to our system of government. You cannot run a democracy with an executive government without having deliberations held in private, as they should be, around the country. 
JOURNALIST: Has there been, I guess, any decisions made on the funding that the state government set aside for projects like the Truro Bypass and the Hahndorf Township Improvements. Now that these projects have lost their federal government funding, what is going to happen to the state funding?
TOM KOUTSANTONIS: Well, I just want to clarify that. In my discussions with Catherine, that funding is not lost. What Catherine has said to us, the government has said to us is those projects are not properly disclosed. They were announced probably for election timing and political purposes, but they do have merit. Truro Bypass has merit, the Mount Barker works had merit, we could have done these change works and had merit. We’ve done a lot of planning works. What the Commonwealth Government has said to us is if these are South Australian Government priorities, resubmit them again for consideration by the Commonwealth Government once the planning gets done, [indistinct] up in Truro. 
The moment the federal – the Morrison government were defeated, Tony Pasin came out and said that the Truro Bypass wasn’t scoped properly, it needed to be two lanes, not one. Yet he had only funded it for one lane. So the moment they lost the election he became a shadow deputy minister, or whatever the terminology is for Mr Pasin, he said this project was not scoped appropriately.
How can we proceed with a project, even though our opponents say it’s not scoped properly? So that means for it to be duplicated, it needs more to be done and it needs more revenue, more money put into it. So what the Commonwealth Government has said to the South Australian Government is if this is a priority for you, go away do that work. Now Mount Barker, Verdun, and Truro are priorities but they’re not ready. When they are ready, we’ll go out and make sure we put it to the Commonwealth Government to seek that funding.
JOURNALIST: So, is the Government currently reviewing it at the moment?
TOM KOUTSANTONIS: Absolutely, absolutely. We’re at planning stages of them anyway. They weren’t due to start for a period of time. I also point out that this package called Hahndorf are meant to be all things to all people. Meant to be everything for Hahndorf, everything for Mount Barker, everything for Verdun. Of course there is so much money you can stretch across three projects, and we prioritised Mount Barker and Verdun. But the Commonwealth Government at this stage are saying those projects need more work. We’ll go away and do more work. But Mount Barker certainly is a priority for the South Australian Government because those people up there, we have unfinished business with everyone at Mount Barker. We need to make sure we do the right thing by them. 
JOURNALIST: Have you put a time frame on when you want that review or planning to be finished?
TOM KOUTSANTONIS: It’s ongoing. It’s ongoing. Absolutely. We’re already funded to do the planning stage. A lot of those planning works are progressed. Look, and as the federal minister, I will let her speak for herself, has said, look, if these projects are priorities to the South Australian Government, we look forward to it, put them to us. But I mean, without speaking for the federal government, they have $33 billion worth of projects, 33 billion of compliance, I understand, of $100 billion pipeline. So, they had to find 33 per cent more funding just to keep projects as they were. So this was always going to end this way.
What I’m grateful for is that the North-South Corridor is now fully funded, and we’ll go away and continue to do that work. But we are ready, willing, and committed to continue those projects with the Commonwealth Government come back to the table.
JOURNALIST: What do you say to those South Australians who live kind of regionally, not in the city, they feel like they’ve been forgotten about again?
TOM KOUTSANTONIS: Not that we’ve forgotten about them. I work very, very hard. I will be visiting with Dan Cregan, the Speaker of the House of the Assembly about his community in Mount Barker and driving with him in his very, very famous Ford to have a look around at the Mount Barker duplication bridge, which is very, very important piece of infrastructure. Might note that we committed $40 million to a brand-new roundabout in Mount Barker to try and complement that bridge works. He wants to show me the first hand the impacts of this and I’ll be up there.
JOURNALIST: Can you start by, $2.7 billion extra that you’re providing for this project, exactly what will that money be used for?
CATHERINE KING: Well, it’s for the project, the $7.7 billion matching the South Australian Government’s contribution is for the entire project and we don’t fund [indistinct: particularly bit of it]. We provide that money in milestone payments to the South Australian Government that are agreed as part of our National Partnership Agreement. So it is for this project.
JOURNALIST: And what was it about the Truro bypass project that resulted in your decisions?
CATHERINE KING: So, the Infrastructure Review undertaken by independent experts just not ready for investment. As the Minister has said, the state come to us each year with the priorities for investment. The problem I have is I inherited a pipeline basically where substantial numbers of projects were put on the pipeline in the lead up to the 2016 and 2019 election and some in the lead up to the 2022 election which were not planned, not scoped, that were underfunded, and were political announcements, not necessarily announcements ready for investment.
What we’re trying to do with the pipeline, and this project, the Torrens to Darlington, is really an example of that, is get the planning right, get the costings right, then get the investment right and that’s really what we’re trying to do with the pipeline. The two projects, so the Hahndorf project and obviously the Truro Bypass, are just not ready yet. They haven’t been scoped, haven’t been planned, the planning work’s still underway and of course the state can come back to us through the budget process and ask for investment when they know exactly what the project’s going to do and how much it’s going to cost. But they’re just not ready for investment now. 
JOURNALIST: Was part of this $2.7 billion taken from those projects?
CATHERINE KING: No, and we haven’t looked at it in that way. It’s not a direct transfer. What it’s done is allowed us to be able to ensure that we are delivering the projects that are ready and ready for investment now. As I said, the pipeline is continuous. It’s a rolling pipeline so as projects are completed, new projects come on. But what the review found is that I had no capacity to put any new projects in at all, let alone fund the cost pressures on existing projects.
So what the review that we have undertaken allows us to do, it allows us to fund cost pressures for projects that are ready for investment now, and it then allows us to put new projects on that are ready, planned, scoped for, investment, when they are ready and the South Australian or other governments asked us for them. 
JOURNALIST: Minister, have there been any discussions with the state government about providing extra funding for the Tarrakarri Aboriginal Cultural Centre?
CATHERINE KING: That’s not a project I’m aware of. I suspect that may be the case but that’s not something that’s currently before me. Tom, I don’t know if you’ve got any – it’s not a project that I’ve been involved in. But, again, state governments talk to us all the time about projects that are important to the state. We’ve obviously got a budget process coming up in May and we are always happy to talk to our friends and colleagues here in South Australia.
JOURNALIST: What would you say to, you know, aggrieved community members up in Hahndorf, Mount Barker, Truro, and other projects that were not funded, what would you say to them?
CATHERINE KING: So what I would say, there are still $120 million in the investment pipeline for the Adelaide Hills, for safety improvements, and that money is all still there, and it will be coming into that community over the coming months and years and it’s important that that is still there.
But what I would say is that be wary of political announcements because really, from our point of view, we want to make sure that investment is ready, it’s properly planned. We understand that, and I understand the communities are disappointed when money is removed from the pipeline but that is not to say the project can’t be done, it can’t be done, but it needs to be done properly when we know the planning work is done, when we know what it is we’re actually going to do and then make that investment ready. I want to deliver projects, I don’t want to just deliver press releases. Thank you.