Address to the Inland Rail Conference

Conference on, steel delivered. Contractors sorted. You’re all here. As Elvis Presley would say, it’s now or never.

[Laughter]

You can do better than that. That’s you know…

[Laughter]

I mean, you did better for Robert. Anyway, and I do acknowledge Robert. He’s a powerful figure in the Parkes area, and certainly amongst the Wiradjuri people, and as he said, look, listen and learn and that I think would be a good conference theme, Robert, for everybody to look around you; listen, certainly at the coffee urn and the water cooler and learn, learn from others and learn from what we can get organised together over the next couple of days because it’s an important conference. It’s the inaugural Inland Rail Conference and I’m pretty excited to be here to open it and I know how excited Robert was to provide the Welcome to Country, which of course is always so important. 

I’d like to acknowledge, and I know they’ve already been acknowledged, most of all, but I’m going to do it again, because I think it’s important. Melinda Pavey, the Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight in the New South Wales Parliament. The Honourable Warren Truss, my former boss, former Deputy Prime Minister. I still hold him in very, very high regard. He knows as much about logistics and transport and rail as perhaps anyone in Australia and I’m proud to have him on board looking over this project and making sure that we get it right. So to Warren, thank you for coming to Parkes, I’m honoured to have you here, as we all are. To John Fullerton, the Managing Director and CEO of ARTC; Ken Matthews AO, Vice Chair of Australasian Centre for Rail Innovation; regional council mayors and CEO, in particular Councillor Ken Keith OAM, the Mayor of Parkes Shire and I know Ken was on the television this morning talking about the drought and we need to be cognisant of the fact that it is dry and that when it rains again and when we get that food and fibre up to the levels that we can, we know that the Inland Rail is going to be playing an important part to get that to ports quicker and to markets in double quick time. 

ARA board members and chair Bob Herbert, who reliably informs me last night, that over the over the next decade in this country, we’re going to be spending $100 billion on rail alone. So, great to have you here, Bob. Danny Broad, Chief Executive Officer of Australasian Railway Association. Former New South Wales minister, and a great friend of mine, Duncan Gay, great to have Duncan here. And I know there are many, many others in the audience. You are all special. You are all in Parkes. It’s a very special part of this network. 

And I couldn’t go without mentioning too my great friend and colleague Mark Coulton, the Member for Parkes. Now, I’m actually the Member for the town of Parkes, Mark Coulton is the Member for Parkes electorate, which comprises 49 per cent- is that right, Mark? Forty-nine, might as well be 50, 50 per cent of the state. Mark alleges that Riverina truck drivers actually go into his electorate just to be able to turn around. He describes the Riverina electorate as a horse paddock and I know he’s been most unkind. But Mark is doing a great job as the Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. They’re three very important portfolio areas. I couldn’t have a better person in that role, in those collective roles, and Trade, Tourism and Investment are reliant, of course, on Inland Rail succeeding and making sure that all those three facets of our nation are well-served, both by infrastructure, to complement the great service they’re getting from the Assistant Minister. So, welcome Mark to Parkes.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to open the Inland Rail 2018 Conference and to see so many of the key players in the construction, rail, logistics sectors; government officials and farming and business community here today. This conference is a first of its kind, a very first, and I particularly welcome the collaboration between the Australasian Railway Association and the Australian Logistics Council. It’s sort of a wedding of sorts, as we heard earlier, to make this happen. This speaks volumes about initiative and vision – values which are mirrored in the Inland Rail project itself. So the organisers, can I say how appropriate that it is that you’ve chosen Parkes for this inaugural Inland Rail Conference.

Parkes is the epicentre of the Inland Rail project. It is Australia’s emerging inland freight hub. Just ask Anna Wyllie. The is the junction of the rail links between the East West and North-South, and it’s sitting proudly on the mighty Newell Highway, and I mentioned Anna because Anna is the economic development manager of Parkes Shire Council, and between her and Kent Boyd and the other progressive and enthusiastic team down at Parkes Shire, they are really kicking some goals, let me tell you.

But of course, I’m proud that Parkes is in the electorate of Riverina. I warmly welcome you all here and I know that when I talk of Mark Coulton, almost 11 years ago, he stepped off his tractor at Warialda and came to Canberra to fight for the Inland Rail. He delivered on that commitment and he continues to do so as an assistant minister. Inland Rail has been talked about for a long time. In fact, if records could show it, and they probably do, it was first talked about in 1890. But today, it is becoming a reality. As Elvis would have said, it’s now or never. Being delivered- almost as good a laugh as last time.

[Laughter]

Being delivered by this Liberals Nationals Government. Along the 1700 kilometre long alignment, work is underway to progress this project and the ARTC has already committed more than a quarter-of-a-billion-dollars in contracts - $250 million - and it’s here in Parkes that we’ll see the beginning of construction on the Inland Rail project and I was very, very proud – I was there with Mark on 15 January – when the first 600 tonnes of steel were dropped off, Whyalla steel, Australian-made steel, the first of the 14,000 tonnes of steel for the Narromine to Parkes section. That’s just for that section. In total, the Inland Rail will need 262,000 tonnes of steel. That’s the equivalent of five Sydney Harbour Bridges; 745,000 cubic metres of concrete, they’re big numbers. It’s a big project. 

This town is also going to benefit certainly from having the Inland Rail, and I was in the Clarinda Street office this morning, and I urge and encourage you to drop into that office just to see one of the good visuals that they have there, but also to talk to the friendly staff about what it means to a regional town. And as you all know, from whatever regional town you come from, indeed capital cities, the whole nation is going to benefit from this project. It’s going to have Australian-made sleepers from the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. It truly is not only nation-building, but it’s going to certainly provide many more jobs for many more Australians. And as we meet here, we’ve got advice from the ARTC that Parkes-based business Calvani Crushing and AusRock Quarries have been awarded Inland Rail contracts, totalling some $7 million. So, that’s encouraging, it’s positive, it’s well deserved. Altogether, they will supply more than 195,000 tonnes of ballast and 120,000 tonnes of capping for the first section of Inland Rail between Parkes and Narromine. And the immediate word back from both companies is more jobs, more jobs, up to 16 new local jobs have been created. So, that’s great news. Another first-hand example of how this strategic commitment is delivering for Australia. 

The Inland Rail is a project that the Coalition Government, the Liberals and Nationals, have fought hard for. But it’s a project that has, importantly, very, very importantly, bipartisan support. And later today, I know that Anthony Albanese’s speaking here and he will no doubt tell you, in no uncertain terms, that he supports Inland Rail. And so, the Federal Opposition should support it. It’s a good project. It’s worthwhile. It deserves government support. It deserves Opposition support and it’s getting it. The Liberals and Nationals Government is committing more than $9 billion in financing to build it. It’s a good investment. Every dollar the government invests, it’s your money, it’s taxpayers’ money and Inland Rail will return $2.62. So that’s for every dollar - $2.62 is returned to the Australian economy. 

And quite simply, it’s a nation-building infrastructure that’s in the national interest. It will deliver vast productivity gains from our farmers and agribusinesses, while strengthening regional businesses and communities. It will save lives by reducing the reliance on heavy vehicles to do the heavy lifting in the national freight task, which we know is going to only double in the next 20 years, so getting more of the freight task onto rail is going to ensure that peoples’ lives are going to be saved. It will give our farmers greater capacity to access expanding lucrative markets, such as those in the booming Asian region, more efficiently and at reduced freight costs. It enhances the Australian Government’s trade deals already secured with South Korea, with Japan, with China and others including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is a $12 trillion opportunity for our farmers, for our small businesses, particularly in our regional areas and particularly that’s why the Inland Rail is so important. Products such as beef and wine are being absolutely lapped up our Asian friends, that rising middle class in those countries I mentioned and many more besides. And the Inland Rail, once completed, will only enhance the ability for our farmers to access those markets quicker and more efficiently.

Many food and fibre producing companies are value adding their businesses and seizing the opportunity for increased economic growth by tapping into these markets with innovation and expertise. And we hear Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister, talking about innovation all the time and certainly expertise is something that I know is going to be brought on in spades with the Inland Rail project. It gives them a pathway to improved productivity. Inland Rail is all about productivity so that we can move the right load on the right lane, getting that world-class food and fibre to market quicker…indeed moving freight between Melbourne and Brisbane 10 hours faster by rail than it’s possible today. We’ve enjoyed 27 years of continuous growth, that’s a record, that’s an absolute record in the OECD…and if it’s not, it’s so close to it, it doesn’t matter. But that’s been underpinned by strong structural and economic reforms that have facilitated our participation in global markets. But we can do more. And with projects such as the Inland Rail, with the hard work of Mark Coulton and the Trade Minister Steven Ciobo and with better infrastructure on roads and at ports and indeed in aviation, we can do just that. And we will continue to invest heavily in infrastructure, $75 billion, a record, a pipeline of investment over the next decade. 

The Liberals and Nationals Government, which Malcolm Turnbull and I lead, is creating the right settings so that businesses can have the confidence to invest in themselves, to back themselves, to take those risks and to move forward. Twenty-seventeen was the best year on record for jobs growth in this nation. Coming to government in 2013 we set the right policy settings so that we could provide the right parameters for businesses to back themselves and to create jobs. And we set ourselves a target of creating or helping business to create a million jobs in five years. And we did it five months early. So, we’re pretty proud of that. But again, we can do more and we will do more. And projects such as the Inland Rail will enable us to do just that. Employment is now at a record high of just over 12.5 million Australians. And on average, some 900 Australians are finding work each and every day, 900 Australians. We’re helping small business; the budget included an extension to the $20,000 instant asset write-off and we’ve got taxes at their lowest rate at the moment for 78 years. Our Government has delivered on income tax relief and we need to do more. We need to do more for hardworking Australians and we need to back these sorts of nation-building infrastructure projects, and indeed we are.

Now, our capacity to meet the future freight challenge is directly linked to Australia remaining competitive in the modern global economy. Getting goods to market in a timely and cost effective way can mark the difference between the business, particularly an agriculturally-based business that’s doing well or a business that has stalled. That’s why the supply chain and the logistics sector, which contribute around 10 per cent to our gross domestic product, is so critical. A vital aspect of the supply chain is recognising that governments don’t have all the know-all or the answers or the ideas. I don’t need to tell you that but that’s why it’s important we have conferences such as this so that we can feed-in, we can tap-in to the expert advice in this room.

In May I released the final report of the industry-led Inquiry into National Freight and Supply Chain Priorities; this will inform the development of supply chain strategy for Australia. And I look forward to working with this my state and territory infrastructure minister colleagues. A total of 54 priority actions were identified by the independent expert panel who undertook the inquiry in consultation with industry. And I recognise that Maurice James, who is with us today played a vital role in that imperative work. So, thank you Maurice. I also want to thank the ALC and the ARA for their extensive engagement in the inquiry, in the process and their ongoing assistance with development of this particular strategy. Both submissions highlight the importance of leveraging the Inland Rail project through the strategy to meet Australia’s freight task in the future. 

But as I say, the Government- the Coalition Government has laid down a firm, clear strategic $75 billion infrastructure commitment over the next 10 years. There should be little surprise that with Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister investing in rail, both passenger and freight, that that’s becoming an increasing focus of our infrastructure spend. Malcolm likes rail, indeed he invested – or we invested as a Government - $5 billion into the Melbourne Airport Rail Link. Now, I prefer that it’s the Melbourne Airport Link because if you take the rail out of it – not that we want to, it’s a rail project – but you just get Melbourne Airport Link, it’s the MAL, it’s the MAL Turnbull.

[Laughter]

And certainly when I said that, he sort of liked that too. But I think he was just supporting me because I’m the Deputy Prime Minister and he needs to support me and he needs to support projects like this. And he is. He loves rail. He loves being on rail and I don’t think there’s been a prime minister probably since Chifley who spent more time on rail. And we know that because we see so many selfies of him on the rail, which is great too. 

But nearly $20 billion will be spent by the Federal Government on rail projects in the next few years. And as we’ve heard Bob this morning, we quote Bob, saying $100 billion through state investment, through corporate investment and through federal investment $100 billion over the next decade. 

We're working closely with the Australasian Railway Association to ensure that the industry is well-prepared to capitalise on this $20 billion pipeline of freight and passenger rail projects providing a vision for the coordination of your sector, your very important sector. In  the major cities our $5 billion commitment for as I say projects such as the MAL, the Melbourne Airport Link from Tullamarine to the CBD, the single biggest infrastructure commitment in this year’s budget, will ensure that people can move around Melbourne more efficiently and that’s vital for all Melburnians, but indeed all Australians and tourists alike. As with our investment in the first stage of the North-South Rail Link in Western Sydney and that’s helping Western Sydney’s growth and supporting thousands of new jobs and homes. It’s not just confined to there, Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland, wherever you go there are rail projects that are happening and happening because of our commitment to rail.

Now, it’s not just the new rail lines that relieve congestion. For example the electrification of the Salisbury to Gawler section of the Adelaide suburban rail network will result in better utilisation of the fleet and capacity across that particular network. And better connections between our cities and our regions are critically important to all Australians and indeed to our national economy and it’s all about as well getting people home sooner and safer. 

Now just yesterday we’ve had that confirmation that the commute to and from Baxter in Victoria will be easier and quicker under a Victorian Coalition Government following a commitment of $225 million for the electrification and duplication of the rail line from Frankston and that’s important. As the Prime Minister said only yesterday the upgrade will enable high capacity metropolitan electric trains to operate on the line increasing capacity, slashing travel times, and improving service reliability. 

But our flagship rail project is of course the Inland Rail. That’s why you’re here. That’s what we’re here to talk about in much the same way that the Hume, Pacific, New England and Newell highways now underpin interstate road freight movements, Inland Rail will provide a highly efficient, cost efficient inter-capital freight rail line for access to domestic and export markets. This 1700 kilometres is truly a corridor of commerce. Every way you look at it, it is an absolute winner. The project enjoys the support of both sides of federal Parliament, both sides of politics. It has the clear support of industry, it’s got the support of course of the New South Wales and Victorian governments. We signed those intergovernmental agreements. I know Queensland is onside. I look forward to signing the intergovernmental agreement with the Queensland Government in the not-too-distant future and we’re working very hard on that. 

We’ve got the right people in the right positions doing the right job. I know that I welcome the recently appointed Richard Wankmuller as well to his vital role in helping this project, helping with logistics. He’s very experienced. He has international experience, knows the project, is enthusiastic about it as I know all of you are. It’s an exciting time, certainly an exciting time to be in Parkes, an exciting time to be involved in a project such as this. I'm pleased also that we've announced a planning tool, a strategic planning tool called; Are you Ready for Inland Rail?  It's going to be available later this year with information that regional communities need to consider to identify and realise the benefits that Inland Rail brings. 

I’d also like to announce today that further action has been taken to maximise local employment benefits of Inland Rail. This is a significant step. The Government will be establishing a one-stop-shop for an early section of the Brisbane to Melbourne route. The one-stop-shop will co-locate with the Parkes to Narromine construction contractor as well as operating closely with the Department of Infrastructure Regional Development and Cities, Inland Rail, regional liaison officers – I appreciate that’s a mouthful – those staff members are located in Dubbo, so that’s a good announcement. That's going to maximise local people getting those local jobs on this project which I appreciate is nation-building but it’s also a very local project as Robert Clegg announced today in his welcome to country. 

The one-stop-shop will bring together job and training programs from within the New South Wales and Federal Governments who have worked closely always with the aim of strategically supporting local employment opportunities during the construction phase. The one-stop-shop will support the ARTC and its contractors to maximise the local benefit. It’s a good project. It’s a good announcement. It’s good for Inland Rail and it’s good for jobs.  As I mentioned earlier, contracts let to local businesses to supply the ballast and the capping of the first section have occurred. But overall 3.6 million tonnes of ballast and 3.4 million tonnes of capping will be required. So there’s plenty of local jobs, plenty of local contracts to be let yet.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is nation-building infrastructure. They’ve talked about it since 1890. You’re here to talk about it a little bit more but it’s already started. It’s happening. It’s an exciting project for Parkes. It’s an exciting project for New South Wales, for Victoria, for Queensland. It’s an exciting project, not just for our nation but also for our trading partners. They know that they want our product, our food and fibre sooner, they want it more efficiently and Inland Rail is going to help them get it. It’s going to help us. It’s going to help our balance of payments. It’s going to help our economy create more jobs. I’m excited about it, I know you are. I certainly look forward to hearing all about what your deliberations have decided upon over the next two days.

I wish you all the very best with those discussions. I thank again all the sponsors and the supporters of this particular conference and I thank each and every one of you, individually and collectively for coming to Parkes to discuss this important nation-building project. Thank you very much.

Sam Edwards