FRIDAY, 14 JANUARY 2022
SUBJECT: Labor’s $4.5m commitment to Bendigo Airport.
LISA CHESTERS, MEMBER FOR BENDIGO: It’s good to be here at the beginning of 2022. It is an election year and as such we are here today with a very important announcement. The Bendigo Airport terminal upgrade has been on the books for our region, the number one priority, for the good part of five years. It’s a project that is desperately needed. As you can see, people are getting off the plane right now, they have to go stand and wait outside and wait for their bags to be delivered. Today’s an OK day to do it, but if it’s extremely hot, or if it’s raining, it is an unpleasant experience. We also have limited capacity at this terminal, to be able to expand and have more flights coming here. At the moment, the service that we have, Bendigo to Sydney, is a great service, but we want more. This is a growing airport. It’s a growing region. It’s incredibly successful. When I talk to Qantas, when I talk to local business owners, they all talk about how great this airport has been and how great the flights have been, particularly for local tourism, particularly for local business. So, I know how important this project is, Labor knows how important this project is, because we’ve been listening. It’s great to be able to welcome my good friend, Catherine King back to Bendigo and back to the airport. Catherine is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development and came here to the airport to see the project firsthand to learn about it so that Labor was fully across what the plan was. So now Catherine, welcome back to Bendigo, and I’ll hand over to Catherine to make the announcement.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Thanks, Lisa. Well, happy 2022. I know it’s been a rough start for many and particularly for businesses in our regions. Today we’ve got a terrific announcement. I want to thank Lisa Chesters for inviting me here again today, we were here back in July learning just how vital Bendigo airport terminal upgrade is to the economic future of Bendigo. It’s a project that’s been backed by business. It’s a project that’s been around for the last five years and I’m really delighted to announce that a future federal Labor government, if elected at the next election, which is not too far away, will commit the $4.5 million to upgrade the terminal facilities here. Lisa has been a champion of this project for a long period of time. It unfortunately has been rejected by the Liberals several times, through four rounds of the Building Better Regions Fund it’s not been funded. We hope certainly that they will match Labor’s commitment today to fund this important piece of infrastructure. We know that this airport has bought massive economic benefit into the region, and that the City of Greater Bendigo have estimated that immediately an additional $3.9 million of economic benefit will come to the city in its first year of operation of the new terminal. It is great to be here and seeing flights back, passengers getting off the plane, people heading up to Sydney to see family members or off on holidays. When I was here back in July, it was a pretty quiet place. So you can see life is returning, a little bumpier than we would like, but it’s really lovely to be able to be here to make this announcement today and I might ask Rob from Business Excellence Bendigo to make a few comments about why this is an important project to the area, but this is a solid $4.5 million Labor commitment and I think Lisa for championing this, not just this year, an election year, but for every year for the last five years. Let’s get this done, Bendigo.
JOURNALIST: Catherine, just before you go, a press release has come out at 11am from Barnaby Joyce, Bridget McKenzie, Sarah Henderson and Damian Drum, they’re committing the $4.5 million…
KING: How good is that? How good is it that Labor making this announcement here today has forced the Liberal Party to match. That means that this project is absolutely a reality. Congratulations, Lisa Chesters and the whole of the Bendigo community for actually making this happen. This project has been rejected four times by the Liberal Government, four times it’s applied for Building Better Regions Fund, and thank goodness that the council did persevere and has kept up with this project. But you know, terrific today, Labor is here on the ground making this announcement and it’s fantastic to see the government now matching Labor. This is what happens with the Libs, they always follow what we do. We take action, we deliver and finally the Libs have come to the party. So good to hear.
JOURNALIST: But do you need the election promise if it’s now being committed?
KING: Well, we’ve made an election promise and the Liberal Party has now matched our election promise. So that’s what they’ve done and that’s good. Does anyone here actually think that they would have made this promise had I not been coming today? They’ve had four opportunities. The only reason that this is being announced today is because Lisa and I are here at the airport, making the announcement. Labor has made this happen.
CHESTERS: Just quickly, great, they could do it tomorrow. They could actually not wait to the election. The Liberals are in government, they could give the money to the council tomorrow and this work could start. If they were genuine about this project, they would start it tomorrow. The only way it will happen is if people vote Labor at the next election. They’ve had five years to do it, they haven’t, how it will happen is by voting Labor at the next election. The only guarantee is to vote for me and to vote for Labor. That’s how we’ll get this airport upgrade done.
JOURNALIST: They’ve come out and said construction will start at the end of the year and that it will be completed by next year, so it sounds like if it is happening, what’s your response to that?
CHESTERS: Well, let’s find out the devil is always in the detail with this government, will it be an election commitment? The election will be in May. So are they committing to the money flowing now or are they committing to it being an election commitment. And at the end of the day, it’s too little too late. It shouldn’t take a federal election for this government to realise that this project needs to happen. They didn’t commit to it at the last election, they’ve had another three rounds of Building Better Regions to commit to it and they haven’t. Thankfully, I am so relieved that Catherine is here today to back this in and to announce the project, because it means now that the project and the upgrade will happen. But the way to guarantee it is to vote Labor at the next election, whenever it’ll be. Maybe it’ll be a bit sooner than we think because they’ve made this announcement today. I will note though they don’t even have a candidate yet in the field for Bendigo. So who will actually deliver this project that they’ve committed? How we will make it happen is by voting Labor at the next election here in Bendigo and in the region.
ROB STEPHENSON, BE BENDIGO: So I’d first of all, I’d like to welcome Catherine to Bendigo and thank her and Lisa for coming. Lisa has always been a real champion for this project which has been really important to Bendigo and particularly to our business community. I think that this announcement today is really important. As we all know, the airport has been fantastic for our visitor economy. It’s connected the art gallery, it’s meant Bendigo is no longer a day trip, it’s a destination in its own right. And the ability of people to come here and stay a day, extra day or an extra few days, it’s really important to hospitality and many of our retail businesses as well. Over and above that our business community also uses this airport to connect with the world and I know it’s everybody’s aspiration to build Bendigo into a world-class city and part of that is how we connect with the world. I know in some former roles it was fairly competitive to understand where this airport would connect people to and whilst we talk about the flights to Sydney, we should never forget that actually, that makes us one step away from Singapore, and New York and London. I think that’s the really important thing, it gets Bendigo on to the world city list if you like. As the airport continues to develop opportunities for a business park here connecting some of our businesses directly to purchasers internationally. So, some of that high risk, short lifetime, but really value added product can be sent directly from Bendigo across the world and I think that’s really important for how we grow our businesses or how businesses connect. For the people that can fly directly into Bendigo to be part of our businesses and I think as the city and as our businesses try and build our reputation and establish Bendigo as a really important name for business and a destination for business. A world class airport is an absolute essential for that. So, I thank Lisa and Catherine for the announcement today. I’m pleased that that it’s becoming everybody in and that everybody’s going to finance the airport in Bendigo and on behalf of the business community, we really, really look forward to the to the work getting started. Business is keen to get on with it. COVID, everybody wants to put it behind them. There’s a fair degree of optimism and excitement about what the next phase might be and businesses in Bendigo just want to get on with it. So, we really welcome this announcement today.
JOURNALIST: Rob, Damian Drum said that the council has known about this commitment to funding by the Morrison Government for a month. Were you aware of it?
STEPHENSON: Well, I’m not with the council.
JOURNALIST: You didn’t get any tips offs?
STEPHENSON: Well, I’m sure if the city council was given some advice in confidence, then I’m sure they respect the confidence and that’s what I would expect. And in the same way as if I was given the advice of something and that was done in confidence, we wouldn’t be talking about it. That’s not the way anybody wants to do business around the place.
JOURNALIST: With the election commitment made today, with the Liberals commitment of starting this project, will your commitment give the airport a chance to be upgraded for a second time or facilities improved upon again?
KING: So we’ve announced $4.5 million today and obviously, we’ve now had the government, literally in the last 20 minutes, match the commitment Labor made and council was informed of this last night. So, they were aware that we’re making this announcement here today. What that means is that that $4.5 million for the upgrade of the terminal is now on the table well and truly at the next election, but what I would say is this. I’ve been the Shadow Infrastructure and Transport Minister for a long time and there are thousands of projects that the Liberal Party have announced in elections previously, during election campaigns, that they have not been able to deliver because they haven’t done the planning work, they haven’t worked with local government. And if you just look at things like the Urban Congestion Fund, Commuter Car Parks funds, it’s been an absolute mess when it comes to infrastructure. So, I welcome the announcement today of the matching Labor’s commitment to this project, but only Labor’s actually going to deliver this. At the end of the day, when we’ve seen what’s happened with infrastructure across the board. They’ve just not actually been able to deliver it. So, we welcome this today. People will take that, you know, we’ve made the announcement and we’re here actually here on the ground, Liberals are nowhere to be seen, but suddenly they’ve rushed out a press release. That’s terrific. It’s good that there’s a competition here for Bendigo, but only Lisa Chester’s is actually going to deliver this project to this community.
JOURNALIST: Do you hope construction starts before the next federal election or after the next federal?
KING: I hope construction starts as soon as possible, that’s certainly my hope. I think it’s unlikely that it’s going to start before the next federal election in my view, but let’s hope it starts as soon as possible. We all want to see this project. This project has been on the city of Bendigo’s books for five years. Four rejected applications by the Liberal Party for the Building Better Regions Fund, a bit of cynicism about why suddenly now today, this is their priority project, which is fantastic. But that doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, there’s $4.5 million on the table to get this project done.
JOURNALIST: Leaving aside election results and commitments, you’ve been championing the project for a long time, what does it mean to have a guarantee one way or the other?
CHESTERS: Well, I don’t think it’s guaranteed one way or the other. I just don’t trust the Liberals at their word. They keep making promises at a federal level and don’t deliver. Look at the latest disaster when it comes to the pandemic. They haven’t ordered enough rapid antigen tests. They saying that you can, you can return to work once you test negative with a rapid antigen test, but can you find anyone in Bendigo that can buy one? All the chemists are out, we can’t actually get access to them. So, when the Liberals are very keen to get press releases out, but they fail on delivery, and it doesn’t matter whether its commitments to infrastructure funding, or whether its commitments to getting us through the pandemic. This government run government by press release, but fail with the delivery. I know that the only way we’re going to see this project done is by electing a Labor government. I have faith in Catherine and faith in Anthony Albanese that this project will be a priority and will get done. That’s part of my job to be the voice on the ground to be the champion and I’ll continue to be that voice into the future. I want the Liberals to do the right thing and put the money into the city and for it to flow immediately. But I just don’t have the faith that the will because they’ve let us down so many times before.
JOURNALIST: Is your work now to go talk to Rex and other airlines about getting flights to say the Gold Coast or Adelaide?
CHESTERS: Well, I’ve already spoken to Qantas. I met with them regularly to say okay, Sydney is booming, what’s next? Is it Brisbane, is it Adelaide, is it Canberra, what’s next and really starting that campaign. They are keen, they are looking at the numbers. They’re very proud of what we’ve achieved here at the Bendigo Airport. This is one of the first routes that they reopened in regional towns. Some regional towns don’t have their Qantas flights back yet. That’s how big the demand is. They’re already taking bookings for Christmas Day 2022. That’s how confident they are that the services will grow and continue here at Bendigo. We have a great opportunity here. We can get the right infrastructure here in place.
CATHERINE KING & LISA CHESTERS – TRANSCRIPT – DOORSTOP INTERVIEW – BENDIGO – FRIDAY, 14 JANUARY 2022