Feb 24, 2010

Question without notice – Rail infrastructure

Mr WINDSOR (2:55 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. The minister would recall announcing on 12 December 2008 an amount of $290 million as part of the infrastructure stimulus package to go towards funding a new rail alignment through the Liverpool Range, on the boundary of the New England and Hunter electorates. Could the minister update the House on the spending of that stimulus money and the status of the project?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —I thank the member for New England for his question. I do indeed recall being very proud that day as the government intervened to cushion the impact of the global financial crisis on the Australian economy and on jobs. Part of that was the $1.2 billion that we injected into the Australian Rail Track Corporation—$580 million of that was allocated to the Hunter region. Indeed, at least one of the loop lines that we announced on that day has already been completed.

With regard to the Liverpool Range, I am aware that the member for New England has a keen and legitimate interest in this issue. As I advised the House in October last year, the ARTC is undertaking this project in close consultation with industry. This is a very complex engineering exercise, and last week the ARTC and industry agreed to undertake further geotechnical investigations to narrow down the alignment options. Those options will be narrowed down to three from the existing six and then the ARTC will go to industry to ask them for their views as to which alignment should occur. That concept assessment report will go to industry by the middle of this year for consideration.

Industry, of course, has an important role to play in this. We fund the ARTC, but the ARTC receives funds from the access fees from private industry. Hence, they not only get the clear benefits but also have a role to play in financing. This will lead to a major increase in productivity once the alignment is chosen. In this regard, there is a fundamental issue of whether you tunnel or whether you go around some of the landscape there. Once those issues are resolved and after we go back to the industry in the middle of 2010, the next step towards construction can commence. I thank the member for his question and I indicate to him, as he knows, that I will keep him fully informed of how this important project proceeds.