SUBJECTS: Southern Sydney Freight Line; Alain Delord; Federal Labor’s record rail investment; National Transport Reform; Second Sydney airport; gun violence; mining tax
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m very pleased to be here, and to be joined by John Fullerton, the CEO of the Australian Rail Track Corporation, for the opening of the Southern Sydney Freight Line.
Freight’s an issue that is often not given its due importance when it comes to our transport networks. But it is absolutely vital that for reasons of productivity, efficiency, and also reducing our emissions, that we maximise the amount of freight that goes by rail.
That’s why we’ve invested, through the ARTC, some $1 billion in this Southern Sydney Freight Line which we’re opening here today. That’s why we’ve invested $840 million into the Northern Sydney Freight Line. And that’s why we’ve invested, on top of that, some $3.4 billion into the Interstate Rail Freight Network.
That will make a huge difference. In practical terms, we’re cutting the time for rail freight to go from Brisbane to Melbourne by some seven hours. On the East–West network, we’ve cut the time some nine hours. That’s an extraordinary difference, which will result in businesses making rational decisions to shift freight off trucks and on to rail. What that does is make a big difference in terms of our productivity; it makes a big difference in terms of reducing urban congestion on our roads; it also makes a big difference in terms of safety by taking heavy vehicles off our congested inner urban roads, freeing up for cars and vehicles going about their day to day business.
This project here has separated the rail freight network from the passenger network. It’s a 36 kilometre, dedicated rail freight line from Sefton through to Macarthur, and it will result in a tripling of the capacity of the rail freight network.
As we can see, the passenger train there is running separately from the rail freight line that is below.
Imagine, in practical terms, not if I had to stop speaking to this media gathering here to wait for that passenger train, but if rail freight train had to stop because there’s a passenger train on the network. That’s what happened for over a hundred years, and that is what we’re prevented here today.
Indeed, there was a day time curfew in effect during peak hours, whereby for up to eight hours of every day, the freight network couldn’t operate because the passenger network was taking up all of the space and it, quite rightly and understandably, got the priority during those peak periods. So that, in practical terms, is what we’re preventing – a passenger train stopping the rail freight network to Port Botany, one of Australia’s most important ports.
Together the work that we’re doing: the Southern Sydney Freight Network; the Northern Sydney Freight Line, with $840 million to separate passenger from freight at Strathfield, similar to what we see right here now; together with the Moorebank Intermodal Project, means we are transforming the way that Sydney does its business, providing a huge boost to productivity, a huge boost to efficiency, and a huge boost for rail. That is good for our overall approach to issues such as reducing our emissions and climate change, as well as reducing urban congestion.
So, I’m very proud to be here. I want to congratulate all those, including the ARTC, who’ve worked and contributed to this, Leighton’s Contractors, the workers who’ve done the hard yards to make this very difficult and complex engineering project a reality.
I might ask John if he wants to say something.
JOHN FULLERTON: This is a very important day for ARTC, and the rail freight customers. The Southern Sydney Freight Line is a milestone project in terms of us rebuilding that track between Melbourne to Brisbane, to enable us to operate additional freight trains at times that are going to be more conducive to our customers, in terms of avoiding the curfew in Sydney and a congestion with the Metropolitan Freight Network.
A very important day, and we look forward now to being able to complete the full upgrade of that Melbourne to Brisbane freight line, and we encourage more customers to utilise that network and get more of those trucks off the road system.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I just want to make two other points.
One, I’d like to congratulate AMSA, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, on the work that they’ve done with the sailor Alain Delord in terms of coordinating the rescue effort. They have responsibility for something like one sixth of the world’s oceans and seas. It’s a huge task, this is very complex work, and I congratulate AMSA. I also want to acknowledge and congratulate the Orion, and all the crew there who participated in this rescue, it was a fantastic effort.
Australia does have big responsibilities because of where we’re located in the world, but it’s important that those responsibilities be fulfilled in accordance with international law and practice and, certainly in this case, a fantastic effort from all involved.
Secondly, today also the National Transport Regulators in rail, based in Adelaide, and in heavy vehicle, based in Brisbane, begin. We’re reducing 23 transport regulators once AMSA takes control of maritime regulation in March, down to three. In practical terms that will make a huge difference to our economy – some $30 billion in benefits over 20 years. Removing red tape, removing contradictory and complex regulations, the sort of regulations whereby 66 head of cattle were allowed on a truck in Queensland and 60 in New South Wales. What do you do when you get to the border? Offload six head of cattle?
These absurd complex and contradictory regulations are being gotten rid of, hundreds of them, literally being gotten rid of. I want to thank those state and territory governments who’ve cooperated with this reform. Some 112 years after Federation, we are finally moving towards a seamless national economy when it comes to transport. There’s a bit more needs to be done and sorted out in terms of the details, but we’re working through that in a cooperative way, and this will make a huge difference to the national economy.
QUESTION: This track was first promised in 2009, how come it’s taken so long to do?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: This is a pretty complex piece of work. If you have a look just at this particular cutting here at Sefton, which is a cutting below a cutting in order to separate the grade, you can see the work that’s been done in terms of the engineering. And to make sure that it was gotten right, the separation of work including from utilities such as water, energy lines, et cetera, all needed to be done and this required, of course, the cooperation of the New South Wales Government. So you are dealing with different levels of government and complexity.
And as we can see here, the work had to take place while the rail lines, both passenger and freight, were continuing to function. It wasn’t like it was a Greenfield site, where you shut everything down and got on with the work. You had to deal with all of those issues as they arose. The work’s now complete, and I think it’s a very positive outcome.
QUESTION: Do you expect there to be any teething problems with it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I would expect with any new piece of infrastructure that there could be some teething problems. You know, when you get something new in your house it doesn’t always run absolutely perfectly 100 per cent of the time, but you get it right. This is now in practice, the train’s started running today, and I’m sure the ARTC will deal with any issues as they arise.
QUESTION: How do you account to taxpayers that you spent $1 billion on this project when it was first meant to cost $300 million?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: This is an investment. This is an investment that’s been got right.
This isn’t a loss to taxpayers. This is an investment that will produce by getting it right. This isn’t something that’s on the balance sheet as a reduction to taxpayers in terms of the budget. The Australian Rail Track Corporation is getting higher revenues because the system is being made more efficient. By cutting seven hours off the Brisbane to Melbourne line, we’re already seeing big corporations such as Woolworths putting dry goods onto rail. We’re seeing on the East–West network Australia Post using rail to replace heavy vehicles. That produces an outcome for taxpayers in terms of revenue to the ARTC, a Government–owned corporation. It also means less money has to be spent on roads. Every time a heavy vehicle uses a road that causes wear and tear, that causes a cost to taxpayers at federal, state and local level.
So this is a great outcome for the nation. I think that Australians want to see more freight going by rail. It has a number of advantages over other forms of transport, and what we’ve done, and we made no apologies whatsoever, since we came into office in 2007, is increase investment from the Federal Government in rail by more than 10 times when compared to our predecessors.
QUESTION: [indistinct] …company increases in the costs?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The complexity of the work was greater than what was first envisaged, in terms of moving the utilities in particular. As well, there have been a number of benefits for the line that have occurred with upgrades to stations which have been done in partnership with the state rail organisation.
QUESTION: A $700 million cost blow–out, you must’ve looked at that and wanted to ask some questions about where that money’s going? [Indistinct] …answer to that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: If you have a look through Senate Estimates and look through these processes you will see that it’s fully accountable. There were issues such as signalling that required a complex changes with New South Wales. That’s what happens when you do a project in terms of this size. We wanted to make sure that we got it right, that no corners were cut. This has been got right, which in the long term of great benefit because it will produce revenue. If you’re talking about a tripling of the capacity of the line, you are obviously talking about a greater return as a result of the investment that has taken place.
John might want to add some specifics.
JOHN FULLERTON: This is quite an important part of our total strategy for the Melbourne to Brisbane corridor. This project is the largest project that ARTC has undertaken. The whole objective here is to build – is to triple the capacity to enable us to become more competitive with the road network on that Melbourne to Brisbane corridor. It’s quite fundamental to separate freight from passenger, along with the work that we’ve done on the North Coast with curve easing, the additional crossing loops on the Southern line, upgrading the whole rail network with concrete sleepers, all part of that total package and total strategy to get the rail corridor far more competitive than what it was before, and we can offer far better services to our customers, both in terms of reliability and capacity, and I think that is an important thing for ARTC in being able to plan for the future.
QUESTION: Who paid for the infrastructure upgrade for CityRail? CityRail’s benefited from this, with new stations and new platforms and that type of thing.
JOHN FULLERTON: It was $18 million was contributed by the State Government. Of course, ARTC, as part of their commitments to the project, invested into those stations as well in terms of building access lifts for accessibility purposes at six stations along the corridor. I think it’s important to note also that we built across about 9.5 kilometres of that 36 kilometre line a lot of noise attenuation, noise walls, treatment of houses and so on to ensure that the impact that we had on the community through this network was kept to a minimum.
QUESTION: Can you… [indistinct].
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m sure that the New South Wales Government will be enthusiastically out there congratulating the Federal Government for making the contribution that we’ve made to Sydney. People talk about Federal investment in Sydney, and the State Government from time to time speak about it as if there hasn’t been a massive increase. Well, there has, and this is just a reminder. Our $840 million contribution to the Northern Sydney freight line will transform the way that Strathfield operates.
And there are huge benefits for the community here. Six stations upgraded in terms of accessibility. Now, every time a station is upgraded in terms of accessibility – I know the one at Newtown in my electorate. It can cost in the tens of millions of dollars. Now that’s happened, contributed to by the Federal Government, along this line as a result of this project going ahead, and I think that’s a very good outcome for the CityRail network, and I’m sure one that the New South Wales Government would acknowledge.
QUESTION: Speaking of what the New So… the Federal Government can do for the Sydney electorate, where are you up to with the Sydney Airport report regarding Wilton?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The report is being done, and when I receive it the Government will consider it, and then we’ll make it public.
QUESTION: How far away is it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, January’s a quieter time, in terms of downtime, for my Department and for those processes. After Australia Day I’m sure you’ll see things kick in a lot faster when it comes to issues such as receiving reports. The Cabinet hasn’t met at all this year so far. But we’ll receive it, we will consider it, and then we’ll respond to it.
QUESTION: The Prime Minister was talking last week about her concerns in terms of gun violence in Western Sydney. Do you share her concerns and the possibility that might play in the Federal Election, Western Sydney [indistinct]?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I certainly do share her concerns. It’s pretty clear when you wake up in the morning and hear about gun violence in Sydney that that is an issue of concern. I know there’s been another tragedy as a result of gun violence in the last 24 hours. So yes, it is of concern, and I think the Prime Minister has done the right thing by asking Jason Clare to examine this. I had a chat with Jason on Saturday and he will I’m sure, be working towards it as a local member. We’re in Jason’s electorate, actually, right now.
QUESTION: Are you worried that the Government will have to reveal how much the mining tax was raised?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, those processes are a matter for Treasury and for those processes that take place.
QUESTION: The Greens are saying, the Greens are saying today…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, the Greens say lots of things. I have regard to what the Government says and to what Treasury says. The Greens, you know, are pretty keen on their costings not being released, I note, according to Treasury advice, and I think this should be an issue in which you don’t play politics.
QUESTION: So… is not playing politics releasing how much revenue?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, come on. Common sense tells you that if I was to say that we were going to release your interim tax and income details which were available to a Government department that you’d probably object to that, would you not?
QUESTION: Well, I’m not personalising it, so…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: You’d probably object to it though, I’d suggest.
QUESTION: I’m not going to personalise the question.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’d suggest you’d object to it, and common sense tells you that taxation occurs as a result of relationships which individuals and companies have with the Australian Taxation Office, and there are privacy issues there. Let’s have a bit of common sense here, and if people just think about that, and think about their own situation, they’ll come to the obvious answer.
QUESTION: Mr Fullerton, can you just on the 300 million to 1 billion, can you list the things that you ended up having to deal with in the 1 billion that would help the price tag get to $1 billion, that you didn’t think you’d have to when it was 300 million?
JOHN FULLERTON: I think the Minister’s covered the reasons why it’s happened.
QUESTION: Just some specific examples.
JOHN FULLERTON: But there were – the relocation of services was a very complex issue. The original budget made some assumptions on how we could build our line over 36 kilometres adjacent to a metropolitan line, but when we got into the project we realised that a lot of the services covering off Sydney Water, a lot of the Rail Corp services to do with signalling, electricity lines, all those sorts of things had to be relocated, and that comes at a significant cost over 36 kilometres.
That was the primary reason why the cost did increase but we are looking at building a – it’s a very complex project through 36 kilometres from outer Sydney into inner Sydney and the complexities in relation to the relocation of all that – of those services was far greater than was originally envisaged.
And that’s why the cost went to nearly a $1 billion. And of course the – it wasn’t just the cost of relocating the services; the projects themselves were delayed because we had to take more time to do that work as operations continued on that metropolitan freight network.
So you know, the project is still a very important part of our strategy for the north-south corridor. We only enjoy a market share of 20 per cent compared to east-west, between Sydney and Perth that enjoys 80 per cent market share on rail. Projects like this are critical in being able to lift that market share up from 20 per cent as it is today, to get to 30 per cent and higher. And it will only occur through investments of this type that we’ve made on this corridor.
QUESTION: How many trains will use the new line and how many trains can you… [inaudible]
JOHN FULLERTON: Well currently we’ve got capacity for about 16 trains per day operating on the corridor and that reflects the market share that we have today. But this line will enable us to treble that to 48 trains.
QUESTION: So you have to spend more money to be able to actually… [indistinct]
JOHN FULLERTON: No, no the capacity’s now been built into the network.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s done.
JOHN FULLERTON: It’s done – and really the project to upgrade that whole Melbourne to Brisbane corridor is now virtually completed. And our work now’ll be very much focused on working with our customers and industry to convert that freight back onto the rail system because it’s far more competitive than it was before.
QUESTION: So when might 48 trains a day be using this corridor then?
JOHN FULLERTON: Well, we’re doing a lot of work and the Minister talked about. Woolworths are just one example of where a lot of customers out there would like to use rail to a far greater extent.
QUESTION: Can you give me a year? Like is it this decade?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, no we’re not dealing with hypotheticals here. What we’re dealing with is facts, and the fact is that at the moment – and I think this is really important cause I don’t think people in Sydney would know – that for eight hours a day the rail freight system shut down. And it was during the peak periods, during the mornings and afternoons, it just stopped because passenger trains dominated the line quite rightly. What this does is free up that capacity so one of the concerns in terms of where the growth will be, the growth will be during those peak periods which will make a huge difference in terms of efficiency, in terms of the transportation of goods.
If you put together this with the Northern Sydney Freight Line and the Moorebank Intermodal Project, I think you really see a transformation in Sydney. And Sydney is difficult. There are issues when it comes to building infrastructure in Sydney, which is why governments a lot of the time say, ‘oh, we won’t do it today; we’ll just put it off till tomorrow’. Well guess what? Putting it off makes it more difficult when you eventually have to bite the bullet.
And I think in terms of this project, you could take the view of, ‘oh, we’ve got to move all these utilities, therefore there’ll be an increase in costs, oh, we won’t proceed with the project’. I think that would be the wrong approach.
The right approach is to proceed, is to build the infrastructure. We’ve built the infrastructure, it now has a massive increase in terms of capacity. We’ve done it in a way which is sympathetic in terms of local communities, rebuilding the train stations, sound barriers, investing in benefits if you like as a bonus to the building of this rail freight line.
And I think it’s very good and what Sydney needs is a little bit of positive when it comes to infrastructure because for too long it’s been just negative and what that’s led to is governments not making decisions that should’ve been made a long time beforehand.
This should have been a separate line, not years ago, not decades ago, but maybe a 100 years ago. What we’ve done is increase the rail budget by more than 10 times. That’s making a huge practical difference.
It’s good for jobs in that there were many hundreds of jobs created directly in terms of construction but also thousands of jobs indirectly created as a result of this project.
Importantly, during the Global Financial Crisis this is part of the investment that kept people in work in Australia unlike our North American and European counterparts.
Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.