Joint doorstop interview at University of Tasmania, Inveresk Campus with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham, Minister for Urban Infrastructure and Cities Paul Fletcher, Treasurer of Tasmania Peter Gutwein and Acting Vice Chancellor of University of Tasmania Professor Mike Calford
Topics: UTAS relocation; Launceston City Deal; GST.
Peter Gutwein: It’s my very great pleasure to be here with the Prime Minister today. The Acting VC of UTAS, Mike Calford, Ministers Birmingham and Fletcher, Senators Jonathon Duniam, Eric Abetz as well. This is a fantastic project for Launceston. It’s a collaboration between all levels of government – federal, state, local government – and the university. This project will change this city forever. There is no doubt that as this building comes out of the ground, as the project starts to emerge, that there will be conversations about education going on around lounge rooms, in lounge rooms and kitchen tables in this city, where they’ve never discussed education before. It will have a significant economic impact on the city both during the construction phase and then in an ongoing sense. It will be transformational for our economy and for the many people that live in the north of the state.
Importantly, what it will do is strengthen both the university’s presence, but also the underlining economy. This would not have been possible without the very strong support of the federal government and the Prime Minister will say more in regards to where those processes are at the moment, the University and the vision that they’ve shown, but also the City of Launceston and the Mayor Albert Van Zetten and his council should be commended for the work that they have done to ensure that this project can be brought to fruition. So, Prime Minister?
Malcolm Turnbull: Well Peter, thank you. Thank you and Vice Chancellor, it’s great to be here with you and my ministerial colleagues and my Senate colleagues and to know that we are really getting on with this big City Deal here in Launceston. We have signed the funding agreement with the University of Tasmania. So now – no pressure – all you’ve got to do now is build it! The Mayor said a moment ago there won’t be any problems with the DA. Where’s Albert? There he is. Albert says there will be no problems with the DA so you’ve just got to now lodge it and get on with it and we’re looking forward to construction this year and getting the project completed by next year, I assume, is your plan Vice Chancellor?
Mike Calford: As soon as possible.
Malcolm Turnbull: As soon as possible. Well, the sooner the better because it is a real priority for us. This is such an important City Deal for Launceston. It is such an important deal for Tasmania. It’s so important to see more Tasmanians go through the higher education. You’re doing a great job here, you’ve been very innovative with associate degrees and I think the Minister for Education, Simon Birmingham may have a little bit to say about that in a moment. So I just want to commend everyone for the hard work that has brought us this far.
I’m delighted that our funding agreement has been signed. So now – as I said no pressure, that was a joke, there’s plenty of pressure – what we want now is to see this built. We want this underway. The funds are there, you’ve got some great plans, some great visions and Vice Chancellor, we’re just delighted to be working with the University of Tasmania, with the state government – Peter, thank you very much for the great leadership you’ve shown – and of course to the City Mayor Van Zetten, thank you so much for the great leadership you’ve shown.
Of course our City Deal goes beyond the relocation of the University of Tasmania. Of course it involves a contribution to the City Heart Project. That was really Albert’s great, his big idea to really revive and reinforce the magnificence of this great city of Launceston.
So thank you all very much and it’s good to be here. Birmo do you want to say a little bit about the University and perhaps introduce the Vice Chancellor?
Simon Birmingham: Indeed, thanks very much PM. Great cities require bold vision and today we’re celebrating the delivery of bold vision for this university and this city of Launceston. From my appointment as Minister for Education and Training, at the outset, I was in many ways harassed relentlessly by Peter and his colleagues in the Hodgman Government to say delivery of this project in Launceston is critical. My federal colleagues of course, particularly Senator Abetz and Senator Duniam equally driving this as a priority. And of course the University of Tasmania under its former vice chancellor now, really highlighting that this was key not just to the university but importantly to the city and to the entirety of northern Tasmania because it’s not just a vision for transformation of the city of Launceston or improvements to the University of Tasmania, it’s of course a vision as well that is delivering new education and training opportunities for this city and for the entirety of Tasmania. It’s doing so not just in a way of business as usual but the application of the new associate degree model is creating new opportunities for students, new pathways that are attracting, importantly, mature students, students who many not have had the chance to finish high school.
Happily we can see thanks to the Hodgman Government more students now finishing high school in Tasmania than ever before because more schools offer Year 12 than ever before. That’s a great achievement. It means pathways are increasingly open. But these associate degrees are also providing avenues for those who missed out in previous years and it’s a very welcome initiative particularly because they’re built upon a relationship, a partnership with business and industry. These are pathways that are designed, programs developed to give intensive education opportunities to students who have missed out, that are highly relevant to local job opportunities, to local business, to create the entrepreneurship, the innovation, that will continue to stimulate growth in the Tasmanian economy in the future.
So it’s my pleasure to be here to see this deal sealed today having been here with the Prime Minister during the election campaign to make our commitment to see it happen. We’re now advancing where over the next couple of years you’ll see intensive building activity on this site and then by 2021 you’ll see it become a thriving, beating heart of student activity, of learning, of education, but ultimately the new economic centre for northern Tasmania.
Acting VC thank you very much for all the work that you’ve put in to deliver this and for welcoming us today and no pressure, as the PM said, to get the job done.
Mike Calford: Thank you very much Minister, Prime Minister. It really is a pleasure to have everyone here today to kick-start this in a big way. On behalf of the university, I don’t need to say a lot more, I think it’s all been said. We’ve done well working with the Minister because he has seen our vision and he can express our vision.
It’s now up to us to get going. Were very keen to get going. We will get the plans in as soon as possible. We will get those machines here testing the soil. Everyone knows about this site needing a little bit of special work. We are keen to see as many Tasmanian companies involved in the construction. We’re keen to see Tasmanian timbers involved in the construction here. In fact, there’s a great opportunity to kick-start a bit of a new industry in Tasmania timbers being involved in smart construction. So we’re very keen about this. We’ll be underway as soon as possible.
In the meantime, we are continuing to run our associate degrees. We’ll kick off another six new associate degrees this year on the back of the very strong pilot we ran last year with applied business and agribusiness, applied design, health associate degrees, applied science associate degrees.
It’s a great time for Launceston. As someone that grew up in this town, it’s a generational-changing event. I’m incredibly proud to be part of it. Thank you.
Malcolm Turnbull: Well said. Well, do we have some questions?
Journalist: Prime Minister, do you agree with the assurance of the Chinese Embassy officials that China couldn’t exert influence on students in Australia? Does that match up with the information and advice that you receive?
Malcolm Turnbull: Before we move on to that can we just have some questions on Launceston and the university and the City Deal.
Journalist: Can we answer that first and I’m happy to come back to it.
Malcolm Turnbull: Well thank you, that’s very gracious of you but we’re here to talk about the university.
Journalist: When will the money start flowing for Launceston City?
Malcolm Turnbull: It is available now. So it’s really just a question, as we were saying earlier, of the university lodging its DA’s and getting its work underway. Our financial agreement has been signed.
Journalist: Prime Minister, what kind of checks and balances are on that $130 million contribution to make sure that the taxpayer money is being spent as it should be?
Malcolm Turnbull: Well we have both, there’s also Tasmanian Government money going in as well by the way. We have the Treasurer of Tasmania is here and his officials and our officials will be making sure that the money is spent well and wisely and in accordance with the agreement. You can be assured of that.
Journalist: Do you have a timeline of when you want to see it start and get going?
Malcolm Turnbull: Well, the Mayor had suggested earlier that the DA, he would happy to receive the DA tomorrow, so as soon as possible. But obviously as Mike said, there is preliminary work to be done with soil testing and so forth. But I understand, Mike, the bridge, the pedestrian bridge could be one of the first pieces of work that is done. I think Paul you were saying that – this is Paul Fletcher, who is the Minister for Urban Infrastructure and Cities, as you know – so we’re working very closely on that. What do you think that you can get underway in 2018?
Mike Calford: There are certainly possibilities for the bridge to get underway. There is a second bridge being built in Launceston at the other end of the river closer to the port area and we tend to work off that design so we don’t have to design the uni bridge which will fast track the bridge.
Malcolm Turnbull: Okay, very good.
Journalist: Prime Minister, you mentioned the other elements of the City Deal and one that is of particular interest is the Tamar River. The report with the task force is coming along well and is nearly ready for completion. What kind of scope is there to get extra funding for the Tamar River based on those recommendations?
Malcolm Turnbull: We have committed I believe $1.5 million towards the work on the Tamar River so that is our commitment. Paul, do you want to say any more about that?
Paul Fletcher: The simple point that I would make is that with that element of the City Deal, as with every other element of the City Deal, the strategy and the approach is to gather the facts, gather the information, working with the Tasmanian Government, working with the city council, Launceston City Council and with other stakeholders. And then when we gather the facts, we can then work out the further steps that are required. But the whole approach of the City Deal is to take an integrated approach. What we’re trying to do is bring to bear a number of policy levers that will have an impact, a very positive impact on the liveability of Launceston – obviously a very liveable city – but also its economic performance and we’re seeking to do that across a range of fronts. And certainly, Mayor Van Zetten has been a champion on the issue of the Tamar and so we will look forward to getting the outcome of that.
Journalist: Prime Minister, will you see out the Hobart City Deal if Labor are elected in March?
Malcolm Turnbull: Absolutely, this is an agreement that we believe we will continue past the election when we expect the Hodgman Government to be re-elected strongly and emphatically. We’re looking forward to the re-election of the Hodgman Government. It’s well deserved. You’ve only got to see the difference that a strong Liberal government has made to this state. Look at the levels of employment. Look at the levels of investment. Look at the levels of business and consumer confidence and in fact, of course, they’re at high levels nationally too. We’ve seen the highest levels of consumer confidence just this morning in over four years. Now that is a great achievement. But Tasmania has been leading the way with strong government and I am confident that the Tasmanian people will recognise that the best interests of their state is served by returning the Hodgman Government at the election that will be held in the future.
Journalist: But to clarify, the deal will stand no matter who is elected?
Malcolm Turnbull: Well, we have agreements. We enter into agreements between governments and, of course, from time to time, governments and political parties in government come and go but it is a commitment that we’re entering into, the Heads of Agreement that we’ve entered into today. But of course, it will require – it requires the vision and the commitment of a government and a premier to make it happen. Now, it is not an accident that you have a City Deal here in Launceston with the money provided, the plans agreed in considerable detail and it’s happening nor is it an accident that there is a second City Deal where the Heads of Agreement have been agreed today in Hobart. Two in the same state. There’s no counterpart for that elsewhere in the country. Why is that? It’s because of the vision and the enterprise and the commitment that Will Hodgman and his government, including the Treasurer Peter Gutwein who is here with us today.
Journalist: How long until you could sign that City Deal in Hobart?
Malcolm Turnbull: Paul, I think you’d say about six to nine months – is that how long you think it will take to negotiate? Something like that.
Paul Fletcher: What we want to do is make sure that we take the time to get it right. We certainly expect it will take quite a number of months. I would be hopeful that by the end of this year, we will have made very significant progress.
Journalist: On the university development – are there milestones which have to be reached as keeping to the whole of funding?
Malcolm Turnbull: Do you want to comment on that Birmo?
Simon Birmingham: Well obviously as you can see it’s a significant building project encompassing a number of different stages. And of course, as we proceed now from the strategic business plan that the university lodged with Infrastructure Australia late last year, which we’ve now approved, will get into the detail of exactly which stages will be undertaken in which order. As the Acting Vice Chancellor has indicated there is a range of work to be done around soil testing and other things that will help to influence that and then, of course, performance payments will be made along the way as is consistent practice with any of these types of government funded projects.
Journalist: Obviously, there was a wait for the business case so is that part to make sure that that kind of delay doesn’t happen again?
Simon Birmingham: We’re always responsible with taxpayers money to make sure that the I’s and dotted and the T’s are crossed. We’ve done that. But the university has always shown its conviction to this. There’s no delay in terms of the end point. The university has always said that, in terms of having a fully functioning new campus in 2021, was their vision, their plan and that’s exactly what they’re still working towards.
Journalist: Do you have discussions with the university about what you’d like to see them offer in the new campus up here or is that solely up to them?
Simon Birmingham: We’ve absolutely talked about the educational attainment that we’d hope to see and of course, that’s a big part of this. The university campus – yes, you want to see it contribute to the local economy, but its core attribute is, of course, delivering high quality teaching, learning as well as research.
Now I’m confident that what we’ll see here is a campus that attracts more Tasmanian students, encourages more people to achieve university attainment and university qualifications but also importantly, will attract more international students who will see this as a very attractive place. To come into a beautiful city, a wonderful state, with unique course offerings that have been developed and targeted to make sure that they get practical skills, employable skills that help their future.
Journalist: I just have a question for the Treasurer – are you worried these City Deals could be compromised if the GST carve up changes?
Peter Gutwein: We’ll always fight very hard to receive every dollar, every cent that Tasmania is entitled to. In terms of these deals, at the end of the day they’re not reliant on GST. What they are is a partnership between three levels of government that will ensure that with other partners like the university, that we provide both economic outcomes but also, importantly, very strong social outcomes as well.
Malcolm Turnbull: That’s very important what Peter has just said, very important what Peter just said. This is about a partnership. This is not a case of the federal government doing, the Commonwealth Government doing its thing, the state government doing its thing and local government doing its thing in an uncoordinated manner like ships passing in the night. This is working together as a team, it’s a collaboration and that is the big difference. It’s never been done before in this way in Australia and we’re seeking, we want to do this right around the country.
Everybody complains that levels of government aren’t talking to each other. Sometimes they say departments in the same government aren’t talking to each other. So it’s really important to make sure that we work together and this is all about partnership and you can see the fruits of it here. Now, you had one more question and then we’ll wrap up.
Journalist: Can I go to China now?
Malcolm Turnbull: Why would you leave Launceston? There are so many Chinese tourists in Launceston.
Journalist: Do you agree with the assurance of the Chinese Embassy officials that China couldn’t exert influence on students in Australia? Does that match up with the information and advice you’re receiving?
Malcolm Turnbull: I haven’t seen those assurances. You know, I accept what you’ve put to me but look, can I just say that it is critically important that we recognise the very strong relationship, the very strong friendship we have with China at every level and the contribution of so many Chinese students coming to Australia, including coming to Tasmania. They are very welcome. They’re safe. They get a great education in Australia and a great experience and we want to make sure that they enjoy that here, particularly here in this beautiful state of Tasmania.
Thank you very much.