Nov 12, 2014

Effective Rail and the Importance of Integration – Ausrail Conference Speech


It’s great to be back at Ausrail.

You bring together key industry players from Australia and overseas and add value to our national transport policy debate.

I’m impressed that this year’s theme is Making Innovation Work.

In a nation like Australia, with a relatively small but well educated population, innovation is a critical pre-condition for the maintenance of our standard of living.

In today’s world, anyone who stands still will be overtaken.

I congratulate the ARA for encouraging this conversation.

As usual, this organisation is out there leading the community debate about rail.

It’s only a couple of weeks ago that I addressed your High Speed Rail forum in Canberra.

Labor supports this visionary link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

That’s why, in Government, Labor commissioned the most comprehensive study into the project and established the High Speed Rail Advisory Group.

Like the ARA, I believe we should bring it on.

The first step is to establish a High Speed Rail Authority. It would work with affected jurisdictions and councils to secure the corridor before it is built out by urban sprawl.

I’m disappointed that under the current government work towards this project has ground to a halt.

I agree with John F Kennedy who once said: Thing do not happen. They are made to happen.

When it comes to High Speed Rail, all of the preliminary analytical work has been done.

It is time to make it happen.


Labor believes rail – passenger and freight – is a critical component of Australia’s economic future.

 That’s easy to say.

 But I believe that our commitment can be judged by what we did.

 Labor came to office seeking to correct an infrastructure deficit left by our predecessors.

 At that time, Australia was 20th among OECD nations in terms of infrastructure investment as a proportion of gross domestic product.

 By the time we left, Australia was 1st.

 On freight rail, we invested $3.4 billion, including building or rebuilding 4,000km of track.

 Because of this, by 2016, the average trip from Brisbane to Melbourne will have been shortened by seven hours.

 The journey from the nation’s east to west coasts will have been reduced by nine hours.

 Big companies like Woolworths and Australia Post have moved some of their freight to rail.

 This is a welcome shift in the right direction.

 It shows that if we get the infrastructure right, freight rail can compete with road haulage.

 That’s good for all Australians, because it will take trucks off the road and reduce carbon emissions.

 On urban passenger rail, the former Labor Government invested more than all other previous Commonwealth governments combined since Federation up until 2007.

 We funded the recently opened Gold Coast light rail, as well as the Moreton Bay Rail project being constructed to the north of Brisbane, a project first promised in the nineteenth century but finally funded by the Labor Government.

 In Victoria we injected $3.225 billion into the Regional Rail Link, which will provide an extra 54,000 passenger trips a day when services are rolled out from next April.

 Regional Rail is the biggest single commonwealth investment in public transport in our nation’s history.

 It is untangling Melbourne’s suburban passenger lines from those serving regional centres of Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong.

 This will improve efficiency for both.

 We built the Noarlunga to Seaford line south of Adelaide and began the electrification of the Gawler line.

 Here in Perth we constructed the Perth City Link project to reconnect the CBD with Northbridge for the first time in 100 years.

 Labor also allocated funding Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross-River Rail project, Adelaide’s Tonsley Park project and light rail and an airport rail link here in Perth.

 Regrettably, the new Government has withdrawn that funding.

 That’s a mistake.

 But I’m proud of Labor’s performance. It sits firmly within Labor’s tradition of Nation Building.

 That’s a tradition that goes back to the transcontinental rail line, the Snowy Mountains Scheme and the late Gough Whitlam’s extraordinary rejuvenation of our nation’s cities.

 The former Labor Government also sought to do more with existing infrastructure.

 For example, ARTC’s Advanced Train Management System uses broadband technology to improve rail network capacity, enabling more intense time-tabling, cutting congestion and increasing reliability.

 We should never forget the importance of harnessing innovation to improve the performance on existing resources.


 Result always matter more than talk.

 Yesterday the Minister for Infrastructure released the collaboration between the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics and the ARA updating statistics for your industry.

 Many of the findings vindicate investment decisions made by the previous Government.

 It’s pleasing to see the report shows Australian railways carried more than one billion tonnes of freight in 2012-13 – up 57 percent since 2007-08.

 Rail freight now accounts for nearly half of all freight moved in this country. That’s up 36 per cent from the turn of the century.

 Rail and road now compete strongly on the freight rail journey between the east and west coasts, although rail is not competing as strongly between Brisbane and Melbourne.

 This difference will be addressed by the Inland Rail project.

 On public transport, Perth has experienced the strongest growth in the country, more than doubling patronage with the addition of the Mandurah line.

 But there’s also bad news in the BITRE report.

 It notes that compared with Labor’s $1.6 billion in investment in rail in 2013-14, the Abbott Government will reduce rail spending by 80 per cent by 2017-18.

 What is a greater indictment is that investment in urban passenger rail falls to zero in that and future years.

 Just think about that.


 The ARA summary of the report says, and I quote:

 The position of the Australian Government is in contrast with other governments around the world who are investing in their public transport systems to solve the challenges they face in cities and regional areas.

 Australia’s Federal Government has a key role to play in both setting polices and providing funding for public transport and rail infrastructure.

 Relying on state governments to pick up the pieces will not stand the test of time.

 There is a clear message here.

 You don’t need to be a Rhodes Scholar to work it out.

 If our nation wants an effective, properly integrated transport system that delivers productivity gains for our entire economy, the Commonwealth must invest in rail.

 The Commonwealth must invest in freight rail.

 The Commonwealth must invest in passenger rail.

 The Commonwealth must invest in High Speed Rail.

 If we want to reduce carbon emissions while still optimising business activity and lifting productivity, the commonwealth must invest in rail.

 If we want improved road safety by taking more freight off the roads, the commonwealth must invest in rail.

 And if we want to reduce traffic congestion to lift productivity, sustainability and liveability of our cities, the commonwealth must invest in rail.

 Anyone who thinks he is delivering the infrastructure of the 21st century simply by building new toll roads is kidding himself.


 That brings me to the issue I’ve been concentrating on in recent months – our cities.

 While Labor has historically seen itself as having a role in investing in the productivity, sustainability and liveability of cities, the conservative parties have always held the contrary view.

 Today I want to argue that changing circumstances in our cities mean our nation can no longer afford this arbitrary designation of governmental responsibilities.

 A buck-passing, roads-only approach might reduce a government’s exposure to community concern about public transport.

 But, on its own, it will not resolve the gridlock in our cities.

 Indeed, some of the pressures facing our cities in 2014 will never be solved as long as the Commonwealth refuses to engage in either investment or policy leadership.

 An immediate challenge is the mismatch between areas of population growth and jobs growth in our cities.

 Traditionally, population growth in Australian cities has been concentrated in the outer suburbs, where people have been able to access affordable housing.

 Until recently, there was also jobs growth in the outer suburbs in industries like manufacturing and retailing.

 But in the past decade or so, jobs growth has moved to the inner suburbs, driven by the growth of knowledge intense sectors like financial services and information technology.

 Because of this mismatch, more Australians find themselves living in drive-in, drive-out suburbs where they live but where there are no jobs.

 To work, they need to travel long distances to the inner suburbs.

 It is a tragedy that too many working parents spend more time commuting in their cars, than they do at home with their kids.

 But I believe the greatest risk of this trend is the threat it poses to equality of opportunity in this country.

 I worry that the lack of access to jobs in the outer suburbs will deny generations of Australians the opportunity to access well paid jobs that are a ticket to social mobility.

 I don’t want to see equity in this nation fall victim to the tyranny of distance.

 There are many policy responses that can reduce congestion and deliver productivity, sustainability and liveability in our cities.

 They include:

  • Reigniting jobs growth in our outer suburbs, through direct investment and incentives for businesses;
  • Increasing urban density around public transport corridors;
  • Increasing affordable accommodation options in the inner-suburbs, particularly for families.
  • Improving liveability in inner suburbs.

Of course, the most-effective response is to improve public transport.

 That’s why the former Government focused so heavily on investment in urban rail.

 It’s why we invested directly in cities and sought to provide policy leadership to other levels of government to implement a comprehensive approach to urban policy.

 The current government argues that its decision to confine its investment to roads will leave state governments the room to invest in rail.

 That is a nonsense.

 The decision by the Commonwealth to withdraw from any rail funding will encourage cash strapped State Governments to choose road over rail projects.

 At best, it is seeing rail projects scaled back.

 After the new government withdrew all commonwealth support for the Melbourne Metro, the Napthine Government redesigned the project.

 The inadequate replacement Melbourne Metro will not even pass through the city’s CBD.

 In Brisbane the Cross River Rail project, which Infrastructure Australia had judged was ready to proceed, has given way to an inferior bus and train tunnel for which we have not yet seen cost-benefit analysis.

 The problems facing cities that I am talking about require all hands on deck.

 They are the business of all levels of government.

 We can’t afford to have the commonwealth government go missing on these critical challenges.


 I mentioned earlier that the Inland Rail project linking Brisbane and Melbourne via Parkes is important.

 As the BITRE report released yesterday shows, we need to improve the competitiveness of freight rail down the eastern seaboard to achieve the same gains that had been achieved on the east-west line.

 If we do that, we’ll take thousands of trucks off the Pacific, New England and Newell Highways, improving road safety while also providing a clean and efficient rail option for people wanting to move freight.

 I note that in opposition, the current government promised to fast-track Inland Rail and claimed the previous Government was dragging its feet on the project.

 We now know they have slowed the project.

 Late last month Senate Budget estimates committee hearings revealed that in the current financial year of 2013-14, the Government expects to spend $11.3 million on Inland rail this year.

 The previous Labor Government had budgeted to spend $30 million this year.

 The Government seems to be falling behind schedule on this important project.

 Labor did all the work to plan for the Inland Rail.

 We had already invested $600 million to upgrade parts of the existing track that will be part of this project.

 This work has been completed and was to be followed by the $300 million we allocated from the current financial year.

 This project should be completed, not delayed.

 It is remarkable that, unlike every single Labor Government Budget, this Budget included not one new dollar for freight rail.

 Not one new project.

 Not one new dollar.


 I did want to make some comments on Ports policy.

 Here in Perth, which we launched the National Ports Strategy developed by Infrastructure Australia in January 2011.

 Infrastructure Australia highlighted the issues when it identified its key national themes for more efficient infrastructure:

 Rail and road freight infrastructure planning and investment can no longer be undertaken in isolation from each other, or worse, in competition with each other.

Traditionally, policy has been segmented by mode; for example, by road, rail, aviation and shipping, and by jurisdiction.

 This was followed by the National Land Freight Strategy.

 The challenge is to ensure that road and rail transport systems are as efficient as they can be and that, together, they transport goods to and from our ports as efficiently as possible.

 The aim must be a properly integrated system, one that delivers efficiencies that make our nation more competitive.

 That means taking action to separate rail freight lines from passenger lines.

 That’s why projects such as the Northern Sydney Freight Strategy and the Southern Sydney Freight Line are so vital.

 The Southern Sydney project eliminated a major bottleneck that existed because freight and passenger traffic shared the same lines.

 This meant there was a curfew on freight movements at passenger traffic peak periods.

 Rail freight to and from the port literally stopped in the morning and the afternoon.

 Sydney, an international city that had staged the Olympics, could not even guarantee a constant freight link to its port.

 If you want an example of why you need an integrated system for moving passengers and freight, this is it.

 Now this bottleneck has been eliminated.

 We also need to improve intermodal connections through such projects as the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal.

 I’m pleased to see that the work is continuing under the current government.

 I’ve talked a lot in the past about Nation Building and pointed to projects like High-Speed Rail and the Snowy Mountains scheme.

 But make no mistake: While these mega projects tend to gain most attention, the complex task of delivering greater efficiency for existing infrastructure, including in linkages to our nation’s ports, is a critical part of the Nation Building agenda.

 It requires real effort to wring out efficiencies in a system including multiple jurisdictions, governments with differing priorities and competing business interests.

 Here’s an example of the challenges that illustrates the effort required.

 In NSW the Baird Government is currently planning the Westconnex project, a key aim of which has been to provide a better road link for freight from the Sydney’s suburbs to the Port of Botany.

 But from the designs we have seen so far, the Westconnex proposal dumps traffic to the already congested area to the west of the Sydney airport at St Peters.

 Instead of a road to the port, it has become a road to a traffic jam.

 This makes no sense.

 In 2012, Infrastructure NSW released a report in which it identified its immediate concerns about Sydney’s infrastructure.

 In a section of that report under the heading First Things First, the report said:

 In recent years, rapid demand growth at Port Botany and Sydney Airport has impacted on NSW’s transport networks, particularly around these facilities.

With growth forecast to continue, investment is urgently needed in land side infrastructure to allow access to these gateways.

 The expert advice was very clear.

 Improving access to the port was a first order priority.

 It must be made a priority if the objectives of the project are to be realised.


 Proper integration of road and rail services when it comes to freight is simple common sense.

 There’s nothing like the prospect of better economic outcomes to focus the mind of people in business as to the desirability of reform.

 Before I finish today I’d just like to link that common sense observation back to the issue of the way people move around cities.

 Just as it makes sense to seek efficiency in the way we move goods to and from ports by integrating different modes of transport, so it also makes sense to properly integrate road and rail when it comes to the movement of people.

 The commonwealth must engage in public transport, not just roads.

 We need a properly integrated system of people movement around our cities – one that involves roads and rail and ferries where possible.

 We won’t get that if governments work in silos.

 We must work together.

 Just the other day I had the opportunity to attend the memorial service for the former Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.

 As much as it was a sad occasion, it was also a timely reminder of the need for vision in politics.

 Gough had his faults.

 But as we saw from the wonderful speeches made at that memorial service, his faults were completely overshadowed by his ability to exercise vision.

 Gough imagined a better Australia.

 He did not allow his imagination to be muted by arbitrary distinctions about intergovernmental responsibilities or by a timidity in the face of entrenched interests.

 Above all, he was not afraid to fail.

 Gough realised the outcomes he was seeking were more important than his concern about his own long-term political prospects.

 Gough had his eyes on the prize.

 We should follow his example.

 We need to imagine a better future.

 We must have courage and determination to turn that vision into a reality for this and future generations to come.