Subject: Bridges Renewal Programme
KEN O’DOWD: Today I’m with the Minister Darren Chester and I wanted to show him this wooden bridge on the Capricorn Highway. We’re somewhere about half an hour west of Gracemere and this is the last wooden bridge on the Capricorn Highway. And as you can see behind me, this bridge is in desperate need of repair. So I’ve asked Darren to come and look at this bridge and hopefully we can get some funding to replace the bridge in its entirety. So, welcome Darren to the Capricorn Highway and to Valentine’s Creek.
DARREN CHESTER: Thanks mate, thanks. Well can I just say Ken has been successful under the Bridges Renewal Programme in the past. There’s been two rounds of Bridges Renewal and in total there’s $420 million in the fund and we’re considering round three right now. And you can read as many reports as you like in Canberra, but until you get out and actually see some of these structures and understand the impact it’s going to have on the community if we can replace the bridge, you don’t really appreciate the full extent of the opportunity. Ken’s a tireless worker for his electorate and he’s been lobbying me very hard on this particular project. He wanted me to come out and have a look at it to get a full understanding of what it might do in terms of replacing the bridge and getting rid of the last wooden bridge on the Capricorn Highway. So it’s good to be here. I can’t make any promises today but I can see the value in improving this structure and making it better for the heavy vehicles that use this route, but also safer for light vehicles as well.
QUESTION: When would you know if it’s going to get funding?
DARREN CHESTER: I’m currently considering applications under the Bridges Renewal Round Three. So in the next few weeks I hope to be able to make announcements around Australia and this is one of the projects that I’m closely considering.
QUESTION: How much money do you think would go towards a project like this?
DARREN CHESTER: Well, I think we’re talking several millions of dollars. It’s a matter of checking through the plans and establishing exactly what the costs are going to be, but multimillion dollar improvements would be required. This is the last timber bridge on the Capricorn Highway and it would mean we’d be able to increase the load limit; it will mean more productivity in terms of local industries, but also have a safer bridge as well, so I think it’s a project well worth considering.
QUESTION: Surely it’s not something that had to be considered too hard though. The Capricorn Highway, it’s one of the major roads for Central Queensland. It shouldn’t be something that has to be thought too hard about to update this.
DARREN CHESTER: As you understand, we’ve got to get value for money for Australian taxpayers and under this $420 million program, we’re trying to make sure we spread the benefits right throughout regional Australia and the Capricorn Highway I think is a very worthy candidate.
QUESTION: What kind of inconvenience would we be looking at if it were to go ahead?
DARREN CHESTER: Well, that’s a consideration in terms of the planning works. What you try to do in any of these projects is minimise the impact on the local community and seek an alignment where you can build alongside the existing facility wherever it’s possible. So, if we’re successful in securing funding our aim would be to minimise the impact on the travelling public but also the heavy vehicle freight routes.
QUESTION: When did this sort of come to your attention? And do you think it’s dangerous or a hazard or it could become that?
KEN O’DOWD: Well, it could be. As you can see under the bridge there’s already been reinforcements of steel to support the wooden infrastructure that has been there for many, many years. So, there comes a time when it just, you know, it’s just end of its current life and it’s got to be replaced. And as Darren has said and as I impressed on Darren, this is the last wooden bridge on the Capricorn Highway. It carries a lot of industry products, from grains, to fuel, to cyanide, all sorts of things that supports the mining industry, the grain industry and general commerce in the Central Highlands and the Duaringas, and the Dingos, and the Blackwaters, and the Moranbahs – they will all benefit from this new bridge. It’s keeping up with the times. And I know money is scarce, but you know, I’ve been successful in eight bridges so far, this will be the ninth if I can get it up and that’s what I’ve got Darren here for.
QUESTION: Ken, is this bridge something that you’ve known is going to need updating for a while now?
KEN O’DOWD: Oh yes. It’s been on our radar for some time now and as we work through them all then we’ll move off this bridge – if I’m successful – and then I’ll look at other bridges back in the shires.
QUESTION: What other projects like this can locals expect in the coming future?
KEN O’DOWD: Well you know, let’s get this one out of the road first. But then there’s the bridge in Gracemere itself, from the hotel across the to the main part of town, that narrow bridge that goes across the railway line, that’s another one I’m keen to work with the Rockhampton Shire Council on that. It needs widening and probably replacing. But there’s all sorts of bridges around my electorate which covers a huge area as you know. But we’ll work on them in a progressive style and knock them down one by one.
QUESTION: How much has the Federal Government funded this bridge?
KEN O’DOWD: This one’s only been applied for at the moment. I suspect that it’ll be around- a very rough figure – around about $5 million or something like that. The one I just did in Monduran, north of Bundaberg, that was a $3.18 million job. So I think this is bigger and takes a lot more traffic than that one we just did for $3 million.
QUESTION: You mention it takes a lot more traffic. It’s about securing the safety of the Capricorn Highway going into the future?
KEN O’DOWD: As you can see, like timber will only last so long and it’s already been supported by steel to reinforce the timber infrastructure so it’s well due for replacement.
QUESTION: On another note, Chris Ketter says the apprentice numbers have dropped by 45 persons in Flynn since the election. Have they?
KEN O’DOWD: Well look, industry has been in a downturn. But it really goes back to the funding that the Labor Government cut out of apprenticeships back when, and this hasn’t helped and the downturn in industry hasn’t helped, but we are very conscious of the fact that apprenticeships are a good way of building a very skilled workforce for the future and we are all behind that.
QUESTION: And what could be attributed to this decline?
KEN O’DOWD: Well, when you cut over a billion dollars out of funding for apprenticeship schemes, that’s a fairly big catalyst for not giving the incentives for employers to take on new apprentices.
QUESTION: And what’s being done to address this?
KEN O’DOWD: Well, we are very conscious and we have got our apprenticeship program in place and it is working.