Subjects: Inland rail, Barnaby Joyce Radio National interview
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning. I’m joined today by James Jackson, the President of NSW Farmers and Adrian Lyons, the chair of NSW Farmers Inland Rail Taskforce. The task force has been consulting widely with farmers in NSW communities, in particular in western NSW, but also, it must be said, across the border in the southern Darling Downs. What we have with Inland Rail is a project which undoubtedly has merit, which is why we provided some $900 million dollars for the project when we were in government. That funding was in order to assist the existing 1,100 kilometres of the track that will be existing track on the 1,700 kilometre length of the route. Inland Rail is a project which is visionary. It’s about getting trucks off the road. It’s about making sure that our productivity is lifted. But it also has to be got right. In the Budget just a couple of years ago, it was announced an $8.4 billion dollar equity injection to fast track the project. That was in spite of the fact that the Government’s own inquiry, undertaken by John Anderson, indicated that it wouldn’t produce a return on capital for 50 years, even though it was, even though an equity injection requires not just an ongoing profit but requires, of course, the amount paid for the capital injection for the project to be returned. The head of the ARTC John Fullerton has stated very clearly that he doesn’t expect it to make a positive return.
So the first issue here is around the decision making processes that led to this injection on the basis of equity rather than a single dollar of grant funding from the Government. At some stage, what that means is that there will need to be a reckoning if that is indeed the case. And what you can’t do with an equity injection is use the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s balance sheet as a whole to cross subsidise this investment. That in terms of the rules of financing of projects doesn’t stack up. Of course the other issues are that the route has not been the subject of proper and genuine community consultation particularly for the greenfield area of the project, both in western NSW, in central western NSW and in the southern Darling Downs.
This project of Inland Rail has been taken far too literally with the stopping of the project some 38 kilometres short of the Port of Brisbane at Acacia Ridge. What’s more, there are real questions to be asked about the fact that the route that has been selected goes through some prime agricultural land including some floodplain areas that make it vulnerable to weather events and could have a real impact on the agricultural sector, which is why for some time I’ve been meeting with affected groups. I’ve had a meeting with them in Parkes. I’ve also been talking to the NSW Farmers who are joining me here today and we have decided to say that a Federal Labor Government will conduct an independent inquiry into Inland Rail. It will be transparent. It will have public hearings about the route selection, about the financing, about the processes around this project and we will make all of this information available for all to see. It will be an opportunity for affected farmers to come forward with hearings in those regional communities, to have their concerns properly investigated with proper processes. At the moment, all that has happened is they have been talked down to. They haven’t been listened to and I think the fact today that I’m being joined by the NSW Farmers shows the concern which is there and I want to congratulate NSW Farmers who’ve been speaking with myself, with Joel Fitzgibbon, our agriculture spokesperson, and liaising with us about the concern which is there and truly representing the views of their constituency.
I’m going to ask James Jackson, the president, to make some comments and then Adrian Lyons, the chair of the Inland Rail Taskforce, will also make some comments.
JAMES JACKSON: Thank you very much, Anthony. It’s, it’s a once in a generation chance to actually change the, or to improve the productivity of the, of inland NSW. This railway line, we’ve actually supported the idea of it all along and we, we’re delighted with the bipartisan support for the actual line. However, we have one chance to get this right and we’ve got one chance alone. We’ve got to make sure that the alignment is, you know, the route alignment especially with the greenfield site is actually in the right place, it’s in the right place. What we have been asking for an inquiry into the alignment of the inland rail for over 12 months, two years I think, and we’re delighted that, that the Labor Party is proposing an inquiry if they gain office after the 18th of May. So we’re delighted with that. We reinforce that we’re actually very, very confident that this is actually going to deliver some productivity gains for especially the agricultural sector. It’s not just the through traffic. It’s the potential for, you know, our agricultural supply chain, you know, our bulk grain guys, to cut significant costs out of their supply chains.
So we’re delighted with the concept. We just wanted to get it right. Adrian?
ADRIAN LYONS: Thank you very much. I’d like to thank you, Anthony, for, for supporting NSW Farmers in what we’ve attempted for the last two years to have people listen. And you’ve been very generous in your comments to us and in our personal conversations to, to work out that we want to protect these grassroots farmers that we have as members, and to show that dividing these greenfield, in this site, with their farms being destroyed without consultation from the Government, without economic justification, without social impacts that are happening to these communities. We’ve been at this for two years. We’d like to keep these alignments for the case of freight forwarders of 24 minutes. Well we’d like to see that it was taken on existing corridors and use all those existing corridors so we don’t have any stranded assets, so we can have economic backgrounding for our communities in the severe drought we have. We want to be able to have drought preparedness, we want to be able to have cost path supply chain savings. We want to be able to enhance these decentralising communities, it’s really important to us but thank you for Anthony for supporting us in this. Good luck with the election and hopefully we can have this inquiry and get back on track and support this inland rail. Thank you.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Adrian. Can I, can I say in particular, Adrian got up at 3.30am this morning to get here which shows his commitment to represent many people who feel like they haven’t been given a voice, and that’s what this inquiry will do. Happy to take questions.
AUDIENCE: Is it losing support at all, in any of those areas?
ALBANESE: I think farmers certainly that I’ve spoken to support the concept of the project. The idea of getting freight, whether it be agricultural or, or other freight, off roads and on to rail, is the most efficient way to move large volumes. The most efficient. So it makes sense.
The concerns which are there though, in particular communities, particularly the greenfield sites, in terms of Yelarbon to Gowrie, Narrimine to Narrabri, and in the southern Darling Downs, are real concerns there, about the route that has been chosen, and the impact which is there and I think with any infrastructure project, from time to time it creates issues, no question about that.
But what you’ve got to do is to talk it through and if people can feel confident that they’ve had the right to have their input, that their concerns have been addressed, that options have all been considered, then that will give more support for the project. And I want to see this, this project go ahead. It’s something I supported in government. It’s something that I funded the initial stages of in government. The problem here has arisen due to the decision to fast track with this significant equity injection, so it’s off budget and doesn’t hit the bottom line, and I might add that the equity injection is larger than the Government’s projected surplus in the coming year. This is a significant contribution put off budget, fast tracked in order to, I think create the impression that the Government was getting on with it.
Well, what the Government needs to do is to get it right. A Labor Government is determined to get it right and we were, last time, in terms of the work that we did with re-sleepering, fixing up the existing track, with allocated money for the purchase of some corridor. There $300 million dollars in the 2013 budget and the Government spent not a dollar of that in their first year, not a dollar of that in their second year, not a dollar of that in their third year and then came this rush having done nothing except claim the $300 million dollars that was already in the budget as their own.
And so it appears that there was a go-slow and then a go-too-fast, in terms of this project.
REPORTER: Can I just ask you on one other topic?
REPORTER: Just quickly, what did you think of Barnaby Joyce’s interview last night?
ALBANESE: Well I don’t think we’ll see Barnaby Joyce giving too many more interviews during this election campaign. Barnaby Joyce has failed to answer questions on this appropriately. He can’t get away with bluff and bluster because people are on to it now. And he of course talked over the interviewer as is his style rather than had a question then answer process which is the way that people conduct interviews in proper civil discourse. The other thing is, though, to at least give Barnaby Joyce some credit, he at least came out of hiding if only for one interview. Where is Angus Taylor? This is a senior cabinet minister who has gone missing and this Government has so many senior ministers who are missing. Melissa Price can’t be seen anywhere because of questions that would be raised of her as Environment Minister. Angus Taylor can’t be seen anywhere. This Government is indeed a rabble. I this morning, it’s not 10 o’clock yet. I’ve done Alan Jones’ program, I’ve done Sky News Live. I’m doing a full media interview and a press conference and I’ll do another media conference on the Central Coast in a couple of hours’ time and a couple of hours after that I’ll do another full media conference in Newcastle about the Pacific Highway. People need to be accountable during election campaigns and Barnaby Joyce and Angus Taylor should both front full media conferences and answer questions and they should also ensure the Government should ensure that all of the documentation around this water purchase that is so controversial be made transparent without redactions. It should be made transparent. This is taxpayers’ money. Taxpayers are entitled to know what is happening, just like, with this inquiry, it is just about transparency; getting it right; ensuring we have confidence from the public in our government processes.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.