The Senate last night called for the establishment of a National Rail Manufacturing Plan to maximise the benefits for Australians from the $46 billion investment in rail expected over the next decade.
While demand for new railcars is expected to grow by 11,000 in the next 30 years, it is critical we make the right choices now to ensure the manufacturing capabilities associated with their production remain in Australia supporting Australian jobs.
The Plan should include a mechanism to remove the peaks and troughs in market demand, to create some certainty for manufacturers.
The Senate’s Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee report also recommends that a National Rail Procurement Strategy complement the Plan. The Strategy should coordinate the procurement contracts of the states and territories, consistent with international trade obligations. It would allow for the development of capabilities in small and medium-sized enterprises, including:
- Maximising local content in the manufacture of passenger, freight and light rail rolling stock.
- Ensuring consistency with the new Commonwealth Procurement Rules by considering whole of life costs, quality, innovation and environmental sustainability.
- Requiring contractors to implement training programs for apprentices and engineering cadets.
- Developing and managing supply chains.
- Harmonising safety standards.
The committee also recommends that the states and territories use the National Rail Procurement Strategy to maximise investment in research and development, including engagement with universities and research agencies.
A Commonwealth coordinating body should be established to oversee the National Rail Manufacturing Plan, the National Rail Procurement Strategy and industry consultation.
The Commonwealth coordinating body should be given terms of reference that allow it to work directly with supply-chain firms to develop rail-industry capabilities.
A Rail Supplier Advocate should be appointed to promote the industry.
The Australian Government should also work with the states and territories and the industry to develop rail industry skills centres at TAFEs and colleges.
Under current arrangements states are doing their own thing on procurement, with 36 different train models in our public transport fleet, many being purchased overseas.
For example, NSW recently placed a $1.7 billion order for new Waratah trains with a Chinese manufacturer, and their new $2.3 billion intercity trains are to be built in Korea.
We must standardise the rolling stock platform used in this country instead of designing a new model each time a government decides to acquire new trains or trams.
Action must be taken to preserve the strategic capabilities of Australian rail manufacturing.
We must maximise the amount of work that goes to Australian firms and create Australian jobs.