May 10, 2024

PAT CONROY, MEMBER FOR SHORTLAND: Well it’s a great pleasure to be in Charlestown with the Mayor of Lake Macquarie City Council, Kay Fraser, and Councillor Adam Shultz to be announcing the first stage in the delivery of the Lake Macquarie economic development strategy that I took to the last federal election. This is about the Lake Macquarie Grouting Fund. We know that our region has great economic potential, but too often we are competing against regions that don’t have issues around mine subsidence, and that causes developers to have second thoughts about whether they can put development in our region.

So this Grouting Fund that we are announcing has begun operations of the first stage, and that is all about giving certainty to developers. Certainty to take projects to the bank. Certainty for banks to then lend money for those projects. Certainty for them to deliver thousands of jobs into our region and affordable housing.

The first stage is a $2 million study paid for by the Federal Government - conducted by Lake Macquarie City Council - to map mine subsidence in our area, to understand where the seams are in places like Charlestown, Glendale, Cardiff, West Wallsend, and Morisset. Then that will then inform the design of the Grouting Fund that will begin operation in the middle of next year, and that Grouting Fund is about capping the costs for developers so that they know that when they build a large development like the one behind us, that the amount they will have to pay for grouting will be capped. That is good news for developers and it’s good news for locals. And Dantia Economic Development Corporation when we announced this package in 2022 said in Charlestown alone, they believed that that would bring forward $450 million worth of development and drive 2,500 jobs alone.

So this is all about jobs for Lake Macquarie, and more affordable housing in Lake Macquarie, and I want to thank the Council, Lake Macquarie City Council for their partnership in this vital project to deliver for the people of Lake Macquarie.

I’ll hand over to Kay to say a few words and then we’ll answer questions. 

CR KAY FRASER, MAYOR OF CITY OF LAKE MACQUARIE: Thanks Pat, and can I say congratulations to the Federal Government. It’s something that Lake Macquarie Council and Dantia has been working towards for a number of years. We want to be on a level playing field with the rest of New South Wales and this will ensure that will happen. So this is really exciting for Lake Macquarie. This is going to untap so much potential in our city. As Pat said, around $450 million worth of investment, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We can see that development has been hindered here in Lake Macquarie. We can see what’s happened in other cities like ours in Newcastle, so we want to make sure we have that investment in our city. We want to give certainty to investors and developers and make sure that we’re open for business which is something I like to say a lot.

So this is really important. We know that our city – there’s a lot of mines under our city. We don’t know how big the voids are and this will make sure that there’s certainty out there for investors and developers. We need to have more investment in our city and we need to have more affordable housing, and this will ensure that we can get that higher development coming into our city.

So I’m really pleased to be here with Pat and Adam to announce the first stage, and as Pat said, that will be completed – that mapping and geotechnical work – by early next year, and then after that we will be able to start looking at that investment in our city. Thank you.

 JOURNALIST: Pat, you mentioned Newcastle had been doing a similar thing, so there’s one way of looking at it there, what they’ve found, and hoping they can (inaudible) as well, is that the return on investment is quite extraordinary, isn’t it? 

CONROY: Oh it’s massive. For about $2 million worth of actual payments out of the Newcastle Grouting Fund, they helped stimulate $3 billion worth of investment. You just have to go into Newcastle’s CBD to understand the power of that. We want that in Lake Macquarie. Lake Macquarie has more people living in it, it’s a bigger geographical area, there’s been as much if not more coal mining in this area, and so this is about levelling the playing field not just against places like Newcastle, not just against the rest of the state, but against the rest of the country. Because developers have choices. They can look at development in Charlestown, they can look at it in Gosford, or they can look at it in Melbourne. This makes it a level playing field, and as Dantia found, just in Charlestown alone, this will unlock $450 million worth of investment, 2,500 jobs, more affordable housing in this area which is a transport hub. This is where we want the affordable housing to be, and we hope to see that replicated in places like Cardiff, Morisset, West Wallsend, and Edgeworth. So this is the tip of the iceberg as Mayor Fraser said.

JOURNALIST: Are there any particular sites that are in limbo because it needs this work done? Is there anything that you can – is there any particular sites in Charlestown perhaps that really need this work done before development can start?

CONROY: I’ll let Kay answer that one.

FRASER: Well the Charlestown CBD as we can see, that’s been hindered for some time. So investors have been coming to Dantia and to Council saying ‘we want to build a certain height, but we are concerned about what’s underneath the ground with the mining’. So that has been stalled for probably 10 years, for a decade, and also other places like Glendale and West Wallsend and Morisset. So we need to give them surety and certainty so they can actually invest because there’s investors out there who are wanting to improve the CBD, we’ve had them come in a number of times, so this is a really exciting announcement.

JOURNALIST: And how important is it for going up rather than urban sprawl, you know to actually build taller developments?

FRASER: Well we want to make sure that investment is around our town centres. This is our major strategic centre at Charlestown. It’s got medical professions, it’s got hospitals close by, it’s got the shopping centres, it’s got all of your essential needs you may need, so we need to make sure that people live close to those centres. You know, we have urban sprawl out at the likes of Cameron Park and out at those areas. We don’t want to continue doing that. We want to make sure that we have more people closer to these major centres, and that’s where we need to have those good transport connections at all of those essential services.

JOURNALIST: What’s the time scale on it? So how long would the Grouting Fund exist for? I mean is that something that will be done over 10 years or thereabouts?

FRASER: Well I think it will probably depend on the investment. I think you’ll see that once this goes ahead early next year, you’ll see a lot of investors looking at Lake Macquarie because they’re looking at it already. They know it’s a great city, and they’ll want to invest here. So this fund can continue on for as long as it’s needed.

CONROY: And I should say, the money was fully funded in the Budget last year, so that money is sitting there ready to be used. And if we can use the example of what happened in Newcastle, I think $17 million was allocated, they’d only drawn upon $2 million in the first five or six years of operation, but it unlocked all of that development. So it’s about providing certainty. I actually think that this fund could exist for quite a long time, it just means that developers know that their exposure is capped which lowers the cost of projects which means more projects in our area.

JOURNALIST: And it does work as we know, as we can see.

CONROY: Absolutely. This is about levelling the playing field, and it means our projects will be cheaper in comparison than they would otherwise be which means more investment. That $450 million figure I quoted from Dantia was Dantia looking at projects that they’d been in discussions with for Charlestown alone where this was a major stumbling block.

JOURNALIST: Are there any projects that you’re aware of that have fallen over in Lake Macquarie because of grouting issues?

CONROY: I think that’s – I’ll see if Kay has an answer to that, but that’s really from my point of view a question for Dantia who day-to-day deal with the economic development issues. Kay, was there anything you wanted to add?

FRASER: Yeah, I just want to reinforce that investors have come to Dantia and to Council to put higher development around the Charlestown CBD and because of the uncertainty of the mine grouting, they haven’t proceeded. So I think it’s fair to say that we have lost out on some of that investment and that development in our city, but this now will ensure that that development comes back. You know, Lake Macquarie to me is the best city in New South Wales. We’ve got our beautiful lake, our beautiful beaches, and why wouldn’t you want to live here? And we know the investors are coming here and our city is one of the fastest growing cities. People are leaving from metropolitan to come to regional New South Wales, so the secret’s out for Lake Macquarie and obviously this will be a big kicker for us and for the economy.

CONROY: And I should say on that point, there’s probably a bit of reluctance to nominate individual projects because that would potentially provide commercial in confidence information in case they want to revisit those projects now that the Grouting Fund is being established, and they probably don’t want to tip off their developer competitors.

JOURNALIST: Mr Conroy, just in terms of your defence industry portfolio, obviously there’s a lot of money going into manufacturing, into defence in Australia but it seems people and skills are a bit of a stumbling block, that we need more skilled workers. The Federal Government is yet to announce the six training Centres of Excellence I believe that were announced in 2013 and obviously the Hunter is well placed to host one of those centres. Do you have an update on that?

CONROY: I think you’re referring to the Centres of Excellence under Brendan O’Connor, the Minister for Skills? Happy to be corrected. In terms of what Defence is doing, you’re absolutely right. We are providing record levels of investment in the Australian defence industry including up here in the Hunter. I announced a massive contract with Lockheed Martin for integrated air and missile defence at Williamtown only two weeks ago. We’ve got the stealth coating facility that BAE is building at Williamtown as well, and there is work going into companies like Nupress in Cardiff around potentially building missiles for Australia.

So we’ve got 100,000 people who work in the Australian defence industry. I’ve announced projects that will increase that by about 25,000. Workforce is a critical challenge. We’re doing a funny thing, we’re actually going to be training Australians to do this work. So I’ve got the shipbuilding and submarine training academy that we are establishing. I’ve got the Schools Pathway Program that I have reconfirmed more funding for, and importantly when I released the Defence Industry Development Strategy in February, I announced a continuation of the Hunter Manufacturing Excellence Skills Program which is all about getting defence industry into local schools so that kids can be attracted to studying STEM and working on the most advanced projects in the world. And in fact that program has been running since about 2010 and I shortly will be going to another Open Day which will be targeting school students, particularly female school students who are learning about aviation. So we’re putting record money into training because you’re absolutely right, we need the workers there, and it’s a great career for them to undertake.

JOURNALIST: It may not be your portfolio but will you be putting pressure in the hope that we do receive one of those six training centres?

CONROY: I’ve had a number of conversations with Brendan O’Connor about that. The one I’m really excited about to be honest in terms of those Centres of Excellence is a renewable energy Centre of Excellence. I think there’s a great opportunity up here for that. In terms of Defence, we’ve got our own separate program that we’re funding. Brendan will say to me ‘you’ve got a pretty big budget in Defence, why don’t you fund it yourself?’ and we are funding it ourselves.

JOURNALIST: Just on the renewable energy Centre of Excellence, obviously that goes to the Government’s Net Zero Authority, have you got any insight into when the Government’s going to be announcing a new Chair?

CONROY: No we’re still working through that now. Greg Combet, my predecessor did great work setting it up, and we’re going through the process of appointing a new Chair now. The legislation has passed Parliament and you can see announcements in next week’s Budget about a Future Made in Australia focused on renewable energy which is the cheapest form of energy. You saw that announcement last month at Liddell Power Station that we’ll be doing large scale manufacturing of solar rooftop cells in the Hunter Valley employing more people at Liddell than were employed at the power station before.