Address to AusRAIL 2018 – Australasian Railway Association conference 28 November 2018, Canberra
Subjects: Government investment in new rail projects.
Tim Fischer has written a number of books - and a number of books about rail. So, if you were thinking of what to give a loved one or what to ask for yourself this Christmas, then I can heartily recommend Tim’s steam locomotives book to you. It’s in hardcover, it’s available at all good bookstores. So, there’s the plug for Tim. And as I say, Tim’s not all that well at the moment and you would all well know in this room just how much he has contributed to rail, just how much he’s talked about it, just how much his knowledge is of it, and we all know him, we all love him.
But it is great to be here and I think Anthony Albanese’s somewhere in the audience; if he’s not, he’s expected to be and I would acknowledge him and his role too - he’s been either the Infrastructure, Transport Minister or Shadow Minister for many, many years, and he too has played a significant part in modern rail. And, you know, on a bipartisan note I will say that he’s been helpful to me in my role and I acknowledge that. Whatever we can do in a bipartisan way: I think people much prefer to see the two sides of politics getting on and doing what they can to build the nation and to build rail and to build all the other transport networks, rather than some of what we sometimes see and read in the press, which isn’t always exactly how it is.
I’d like to also acknowledge Bob Herbert, the chair of the Australasian Railway Association, for his contribution and his presence here today.
And it is a great pleasure to be here today to address you on behalf of the Government, on behalf of the Liberal-Nationals Government. Key investment decisions by this Government are helping to ensure that this is a very exciting time to be in rail. As the CEO of Pacific National Dean Dalla Valle said recently, Australia is now in the midst of a rail renaissance. A renaissance - what a great word to use when describing where we’re up to at the moment as far as the Government committing to rail, the nation contributing to even further rail investment.
This significant level of investment would not be possible without a strong economy, without an improving budgetary outlook and growing confidence throughout all sectors of the nation. It’s our fiscal discipline and our appetite to get the Budget back into balance that enables us to tackle the big issues such as providing more investment to rail.
During this term, no Government decision has had more impact on the Australian rail industry than our decision to green light the Inland Rail - it’s a game-changer. It’s transformational, not only for the rail industry and not only, dare I say, for regional Australia, but indeed for our whole country. Certainly for the wider freight and logistics industry and for regional exporters, it’s going to be something that for years to come we’ll look back and say: well, 2018/2019 when they actually got the thing started, they were game-changer years.
Two big trends underpin this decision to build the Inland Rail: Firstly, the volume of freight in Australia is expected to grow by 60 per cent by 2040. Indeed, many figures say that that would perhaps even more than double. We must read the future and the economic growth that puts strain on our existing freight network, particularly on regional and interstate highways. When we get some of the freight off the highways, of course it’s going to make our highways safer so that people can get home sooner and safer on our roads. Last year we had 1225 people die on our roads; we are working towards a zero number, of course. And by investing more in rail, that helps that process along too.
Inland Rail will provide the essential spine for Australia’s freight network for eastern Australia, connecting Melbourne and Brisbane inside 24 hours, and what a game changing transformation that will be - a transit time that is essential to meet market expectations as we look to our north and elsewhere - those markets in South Korea, Japan, China; we’ve even signed on with Peru in more recent times. We’re working on better trade relations with Indonesia and India and everywhere else in the Indo-Pacific. We need to make sure that we can get our world’s best food and fibre, indeed our mineral wealth, to markets quicker so that we can have that further access.
And secondly, Australia is a confident trading nation, of course, and that goes into that freight task. So, we’ve got the freight task, we’ve got the trade task and we’re going to meet both of those, largely on the back of Inland Rail. It’s a huge world market and as an export nation with world-class produce we want to make sure we actually get our product to port in the best possible way to take the fullest advantage. Inland Rail will make it easier for regional businesses to get Australian goods to domestic and international markets.
I must say, as the Leader of the Nationals, as Danny mentioned, of course rail is in our DNA. Soon we are celebrating our centenary and we’re proud of our commitment to rail and what we’ve done over many, many years. Our predecessor the Country Party - of course, we’re the one party, we just changed names - was responsible for standard gauge on the Indian Pacific Railway between Sydney and Perth way back in 1970. Now, as we fought the good fight to extend rail south and north across our vast inland continent, it took 100 years to debate the lead-up to the Alice to Darwin Rail, but it’s there and it’s making a huge contribution to economic output.
2018 has been the year of Inland Rail delivery. I want to acknowledge the hard work of both the Australian Rail Track Corporation, chaired by former Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, and Australia’s Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities. During this year, the Victorian State Government has signed bilateral inter-governmental agreement to ensure that we can get on with the job, so that we can spread the economic benefits through the states and I acknowledge the work of both Jacinta Allan, the Victorian Minister - she was the first to sign up - but also the New South Wales Government, through Mel Pavey and John Barilaro, for signing up to those inter-governmental agreements. And I’m working with Queensland at the moment in good faith with Mark Bailey to sign the inter-governmental agreement in the Sunshine State to ensure that we can have that full connectivity from Brisbane to Melbourne.
We’ve also been closely consulting with communities across and along the Inland Rail corridor. I had a meeting - a robust meeting I could say - with Gilgandra residents and of course you don’t build these sorts of pieces of infrastructure without there being some pushback along the way. I understand that - as a son of a generational farming family, I understand there are concerns - and I understand that whilst the route is still in some sections five kilometres wide, when we get that down to 40 or 60 metres of course many of those farmers will not be affected. But by and large there will still be property owners, landholders who will be affected, and for those people, I understand that this is a concern, that there are issues that we must and will address.
Two significant milestones occurred last month with the Inland Rail: the registration of interest process began for the delivery of a public-private partnership to build the Gowrie to Kagaru section, and the ARTC signed its first major construction contract valued at more than $300 million for the Parkes to Narromine section. Look at some of the small businesses in and around those areas which are providing ballast and all those sorts of things which go into construction, but also just the employment opportunities that are being made available. We want local contracting firms, we want local businesses, small and medium enterprises, to have a piece of the action, and of course we want to create jobs - it is creating jobs, but we want those jobs to go to local people as much as we can, and that is, I’m pleased to say, happening.
A key task in planning for the future is to link our food and our fibre and our manufacturing routes with our ports. Landside access to Australia’s major ports was identified as a key challenge in two reports: first in the Australian Infrastructure Audit published by Infrastructure Australia in 2015, and the Inquiry into National Freight and Supply Chain Priorities, which was published this year, which is informing the development of the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy. Two important documents are playing a key part. And both reports identified the need for investing in efficient freight rail access across Australia, and in particular between major ports and the inland freight terminals.
There’s an example in Victoria: the volume of containers, international containers moving through the Port of Melbourne is forecast to more than double in the next 15 years from around 2.5 million to over five million 20-foot equivalent units. These are significant numbers. They are big figures. Here we’ve committed $38 million towards a $58 million Port Rail Shuttle Network to improve the movement of containerised freight by rail between the Port of Melbourne and suburban intermodal terminals. So we’re getting on with the job. The Victorian Government is looking positively too at these sorts of things, and we want to work, of course, with private entities to make sure that we can collaboratively get these tasks happening. Last month it was announced that $16.2 million is being invested at Austrak in Somerton and $9.5 million at SCT Logistics in Altona to connect these major freight hubs to the Port of Melbourne by rail. They’re big investments. They’re significant investments. They’re worthwhile and they are certainly needed. They represent the first Port Rail Shuttle Network projects. Further project funding will be announced in due course. Both Sydney and Perth are faced with similar challenges, similar logistic challenges, and I'm pleased to say that WA and New South Wales Governments are working with us as well.
I can give you my assurance that a thorough review of these findings and recommendations is feeding into the National Rail Plan to be presented to the Transport and Infrastructure Council at its next meeting. This Government is leading a collaborative effort to develop the National Rail Plan and a key priority will be the development of a strategy to address a forecast increase in demand for rail industry skills. I know that the Jobs Minister, Kelly O’Dwyer, and the Small Business and Skills Minister, Michaelia Cash, are working with me to address where we need to obviously upskill people to take part in this rail upsurge.
My thanks go to ARA for its ongoing focus on this industry skills base and the market capacity. They are important. We want to work with Bob and the team to ensure that we get the best possible outcomes. I look forward to your report being integrated into what truly is priority process, not just for our Government, but indeed, for all Governments, Federal and State and Territory. Whatever their colour or creed, I don’t care what political stripe they are: If they want to work with us in good faith to build more and better rail, I’m happy to work with them.
As our population grows, efficient rail networks are crucial to shaping Australia's future, its productivity and its prosperity. The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics has estimated that congestion is going to cost $25 billion in 2017/18 rising to $40 billion in 2030. We all know we’ve been stuck in traffic in Sydney and Melbourne and elsewhere, Brisbane, and we want to make sure that we address that with good money in last year’s Budget towards busting through the congestion. We, the Nationals, have a decentralisation agenda. But rail forms part of that solution as well. We know that. A key commitment of our investment strategy is up to $5 billion towards the Melbourne Airport Rail Link and I know how delighted that Victorians and Melbournians, in particular, were when we announced that earlier this year. Also in Victoria we’ve committed up to $475 million to construct a rail line connecting Huntingdale to the Monash precinct in southeast Melbourne with a possible extension to Rowville. In South Australia, we’ve committed $220 million to the $440 million Gawler rail line electrification; and in WA, we’ve committed a further $1 billion towards the components of the METRONET.
But when you talk about these numbers, people’s eyes just glaze over. They are big numbers. And the other thing too is people expect Governments to build things – of course, they do. But what it does do – it enables both freight and passenger movement to operate more efficiently. What it does do – it gets people off the roads. What it does do – it eases congestion, and when you ease congestion and people are getting home and to work sooner and safer, it does give them more time at the end of the day, at the end of their shift, to spend with loved ones, to spend with family rather than be stuck in traffic.
Of course, moving freight is a key component of everything that we want to do as a Government and everything that you want to do, and so as I say, thank you for the role that each of you, each and every one of you, do individually and collectively to help in our task. If you've got ideas, if you’ve got suggestions of how we, as a Government, can do it better, I’m only too happy to hear; only too happy to take an e-mail; to listen to your solutions; to hear your ideas; and to see how we can work collaboratively, cooperatively together.
What we also want to do is connect cities through regions through faster rail. There are a large number of Australians who work in the major capitals. We announced the $390 million Beerburrum to Landsborough rail upgrade to make sure that we could increase the capacity for people to live on the Sunshine Coast, to work in Brisbane and to reduce their travel time by up to 40 minutes. That's a significant investment in those people's future and a significant investment in Queensland. So they’re the sorts of projects, and there are many right across the nation, where we can get those 30-minute liveable places just outside the capital cities so that people can commute to and from their home; getting to the capital cities; work there; and then get home when the day is done and spend more time with their families rather than being stuck in traffic looking at somebody’s brake lights ahead of them.
Now, in the 2017/18 budget, the Australian Government committed to faster passenger rail connections to such areas through a $20 million Faster Rail Prospectus to support the development of business cases. So we had to do the business cases first. They of course had to be ticked off and have those regulatory process put over them. But at the end of the day, we want to make sure that people are getting home sooner and safer by rail and less congestion on our roads.
The Sydney to Newcastle faster rail proposal would explore options for upgrades to the existing line; and also in places where we can improve on those existing lines just like has been promised in Geelong and elsewhere, then we will certainly look at it, put the business case over it, and then get on with it and do it when the economy gets better and we’ve got more money to spend. We’ve seen how the New South Wales Government – a Government in surplus – has $87 billion over the next four years to spend on major infrastructure and we’re of course spending $75 billion. We’re getting on with the job, but when you’ve got a stronger economy, you can do these things, and that’s why we are working towards getting back to balance in the next budget and then hopefully moving on to build even better and bolder infrastructure projects from then on.
The Melbourne to Greater Shepparton faster rail proposal has the potential to significantly reduce passenger travel times along the route and drive other flow-on economic benefits to Melbourne and regional Victoria. In this case, the applicant, CLARA, Consolidated Land and Rail Australia, originally proposed this route as a part of their wider scheme for high speed rail. And of course, I’ve mentioned the Sunshine Coast proposals – good proposals and certainly looking towards doing those in the future.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank you again. I know you have some major discussions to take place today and deliberations. I wish you well with those and I wish you well for the dinner tonight. I know this is an important event. I know that you regard the ARA and each other very highly in your role, in your commitment to building better rail; to making sure that we as a Government and other Governments get on with the investment that we need to make in rail. There is a bright future in rail. The Australian Government acknowledges that. We recognise that and we’re getting on with the job of building just that.
Thank you very much.