Interview with Aaron Stevens, 4RO Rockhampton

1 November 2022


SUBJECTS: Federal Government October Budget; Rockhampton Ring Road; skills shortages; $6M for Beef 2024

AARON STEVENS, HOST: As we're joined by Labor Senator Murray Watt this morning. Some good news and obviously a reflection on some bad news for Central Queensland that came out of the Budget last week. Murray Watt, good to talk to you. Thanks for your time.


AARON STEVENS: Let's start with the bad news, the Ring Road, obviously, that's been put on the backburner. How do you feel about it? What reaction are you getting?

MURRAY WATT: Yeah, look, I can understand why some of the tenderers are disappointed that this project won't be able to start as early as they had hoped for. But the reality is that the construction market that we're operating in at the moment is just so overheated. And this project came back in over $700 million over budget. So we've obviously got a responsibility to try to manage taxpayers’ money wisely, including taxpayers here in Central Queensland. And I was thinking about it yesterday, it's a bit like if you were a young first home buyer here in Rocky and you had your house and land package for $500,000 and the builder came back and told you it was going to be closer to a million, you'd have to reassess. But the important thing really is that this project will go ahead. There is money in the Budget for it, so this nonsense that's going around that it's been cut altogether, that just isn't right. And basically, the plan is that we need to try to smooth out the infrastructure pipeline so that we don't have such an overheated market. The other issue with this project is that we've got such a workforce shortage in Central Queensland after the last Government failed to do anything about skills, that workers were going to have to be flown up here from Brisbane, put more pressure on the housing market. It's just not possible to build this project, no matter who is in government right now. But we want to get on with it, we want to get it built as soon as we possibly can once this market just cools down a little bit.

AARON STEVENS: What about the argument that all government projects seem to blow out?

MURRAY WATT: Well, to be honest with you, I think at the moment, all projects are blowing out, Aaron. I mean, I'm just coming to the end of renovating my home back in Brissy and that's blown out. And every home builder I speak to, their projects are blowing out. And certainly every government infrastructure project is as well. And that's just a result of that overheated construction market that we've got at the moment. But there's so much building work going on right around Central Queensland and the country with so few skilled tradies. We've got material shortages. And it's a bit rich of the likes of Michelle Landry and Matt Canavan to be standing up criticising because they were in government for ten years, they could have built this project at any point if they wanted to. They didn't even build a hole and they certainly didn't develop the skills locally, the tradies locally, the housing locally to be able to do it. So, as I say, we want to get on with this project. We're committed to doing it and let's not forget, it was actually a Labor government back in Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard's days that actually started the planning for the Ring Road and it will be a Labor Government that delivers this as well.

AARON STEVENS: All right, well on the good side, there was a promise that's been held up to give us some funding for Beef Australia.

MURRAY WATT: Yeah, well it's actually one of quite a number of commitments we've made through the Budget in Central Queensland. I've worked out that there's over 25 budget commitments that we made for Central Queensland, whether it be road announcements - because we are going to be dual laning properly, the Rocky to Gladstone leg of the Bruce Highway, so that people have got that to look forward to - there's going to be health care announcements, there's improvements to the NBN, there's all sorts of things that we're doing through the Budget, but Beef Week is a big one. I'm sure you've been to Beef Week yourself, Aaron-

AARON STEVENS: Absolutely.

MURRAY WATT: I've been to the last two events and it's a really special and important event here for Rocky. So we're putting another $6 million into it as a federal government. And what that means is that they'll be able to expand, have even more visitors, have even more stalls and commercial exhibitors. And I think one of the really exciting things about Beef 2024 is that we'll be able to see all those international guests come back again, because I remember last time around, we were in the middle of COVID and they weren't able to quite get as many international guests as they've traditionally done and I know I'm really looking forward to having a steak at Beef 2024, and I'm sure everyone else is, too.

AARON STEVENS: Absolutely. Well done. Great to hear that announcement. We'll see you at Beef 2024!

MURRAY WATT: Absolutely. But anyone who's coming in from out of town, my experience is get your accommodation early, because it sells out fast.

AARON STEVENS: Yes, it does, Murray, we're going to catch up more and more over the next couple of months, so I look forward to that.

MURRAY WATT: That would be great. Good on you Aaron, nice to talk.