ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
TIME TO GET RAIL ON TRAINS
Australia is about to undergo a public transport revolution.
Over the next two decades, our governments will invest billions of dollars in ne public transport dollars in new public transport projects.
There’s the Western Sydney Rail, the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail, the Perth Metronet, the Melbourne Airport Rail and Canberra’s Light Rail.
Then there is the Inland Rail freight link from Brisbane to Melbourne.
It is anticipated that at least 11,000 new rail cars will be required in the three decades leading up to 2053.
This presents a real challenge.
But it is also an opportunity.
We should build the new trains here in Australia, creating jobs for Australians and developing our heavy manufacturing expertise.
I was shocked to hear recently NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian say were can’t build trains in Australia.
We are no good at it, the Premier said.
This is nonsense.
Australians can build trains.
Downer EDI has been building them at its factory in Maryborough, Queensland, since the 19th century.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has just announced they will be building trains for the Queensland rail network, providing jobs into the future.
We can also build trains in Newcastle, Dandenong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Perth.
Yet, like Premier Berejiklian, too many Coalition state governments so lack ambition for local manufacturing that they buy rolling stock overseas.
We have seen several cases where overseas products have arrived unfit for purpose.
We’ve seen that with trains built overseas 20cm too wide for the Blue Mountains line in NSW.
Last week I visited Varley Group in the Hunter Valley.
There, workers are fixing rail wagons built in China that need structural modification before they can be used here.
If we had just built them here, none of this would have been required, saving costs, creating jobs and building our skills base.
It’s a no-brainer.
That’s a why a Labor government will create a National Rail Manufacturing Plan to ensure that, wherever possible, we build the trains we need here, rather than offshore.
This plan will be a blueprint for co-operation between governments, businesses and unions in the national interest when it comes to buying trains.
It would ensure that more trains are built in Australia by local manufacturing workers and that every dollar of federal funding spent on rail projects goes towards creating local jobs and protecting our rail industry.
It would also ensure that Australian products, like steel, were used in the production.
Our plan will focus on investment in research and development, so that as we build trains here, we are developing our capacity to reduce costs and improve quality.
We would also ensure that while building the trains, we train apprentices so they have skills to take the heavy manufacturing sector forward into the future.
Key features of Labor’s plan include:
- Establishing the Office of National Industry Co-ordination to audit the adequacy, capacity and condition of passenger trains nationally;
- Reinstating the Rail Supplier Advocate — abolished by the Coalition in 2013 — to help small and medium-sized enterprises identify export opportunities and link with government buyers;
- Establishing a Rail Industry Council to prevent the loss of more jobs and address the need for more local research and development.
If we get it right, we can also create certainty for manufacturers by ironing out the peaks and troughs in market demand through better co-ordination between state governments.
If every state government orders a new fleet of trains at the same time, local industry cannot deliver.
Better co-ordination of tenders would allow for a steady stream of work that could sustain and indeed grow the local industry.
Our National Rail Industry Plan has potential to help revive Australian manufacturing.
According to the most-recent census, between 2011 and 2016, the number of jobs in Australian manufacturing fell by 24 per cent to about 680,000.
The expansion of rail provides a chance to reverse this trend and create thousands of new, well-paid jobs, including apprenticeships for young people.
And if we can focus on existing rail manufacturing hubs, many of these jobs will be in regional Australia.
In the 21st century, there are two sure-fire ways to generate economic growth — investing in infrastructure to lift capacity and boost productivity, and investing in people through education and training.
A National Rail Manufacturing Plan can address both.
Anthony Albanese is the Leader of the Australian Labor Party
This opinion piece was first published in the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, 20 October 2020.