Subject: High speed rail (Brisbane to Melbourne; Sydney to Newcastle); second Sydney airport; election promises; parliamentary reform; Climate Change
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Government welcomes this study into high-speed rail by Infrastructure Partnerships Australia done in conjunction with AECOM. This is a welcome contribution to the debate. Its theme is in line with the Government’s approach to infrastructure development – that we need a considered approach that deals with the strategic planning that is necessary.
What this report says is that we need to look at preserving the corridor from Brisbane right through to Melbourne in order to save costs for what is a long-term vision for high-speed rail down the east coast of Australia.
We know that high-speed rail is making a big difference in Europe and in Asia. We know that there are challenges here in Australia because of the relatively small population compared with, say, China or Japan. But what we need to do is to take the general support that is there for high-speed rail and have a thorough examination.
That’s why during the election campaign the Gillard Government announced that we would allocate $20 million into a high-level feasibility study for the eastern seaboard corridor, concentrating on the Sydney to Newcastle route.
We need to look at the geotechnical challenges that are there due to the geography of that route. We need to define what the precise costs are and identify the corridor. We need to look at the economics and financing of such a project, including the possibility of some private sector financing being an option.
We know that high-speed rail has a number of advantages. It can get people from A to B very quickly and conveniently; unlike air travel, it can put people right in the centre of a capital city; and it can also be part of the whole-of-government approach to tackling climate change. We know that rail is particularly climate friendly in terms of a form of transport, and we need to take this to the next step.
This is a valuable contribution to informing the $20 million feasibility study that the Gillard Government will conduct into a high-speed rail corridor.
Happy to take questions, if you’ve got any.
QUESTION: When you say this is a long-term project, is it a pie in the sky? Is it – do we ever have a time frame for this [indistinct]?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m very hopeful that when we look at this – the economics and financing of this proposal – that it will stack up, and then we can put a timeline to it.
It’s pretty clear that there’s a lot of public support for high-speed rail, but before now it’s been theoretical. There hasn’t been a thorough examination of the costs, of the routes, of the geotechnical issues associated with developing a high-speed rail network down the eastern seaboard. So we know that there’s public support for it. What we need to do is put dollars next to this proposal and then have a debate in the community about whether they want it to go forward.
The reason why we’ve chosen Sydney to Newcastle for a concentrated look is that is the area which has the highest density of population. And it’s pretty clear from this report and other studies that have been done that it’s the density of population that’s important. You need to have, essentially, the passenger numbers in order for the economics of high-speed rail to stack up. That’s why Sydney to Newcastle, as a first step, would be considered.
QUESTION: But there’s no date at all? There’s no – you can’t give us anything?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: What we’re doing is having a proper study. That study will look at what the economics are and look at time lines for investment.
What this report shows is that we need to – if it is going to move forward – to preserve the corridor. That’s what we did with the inland rail study where we had a study and now the Government will allocate funds for the preservation of that corridor.
What we need to do is not be in a situation whereby in five or 10 years time people say ‘high-speed rail’s a good idea but it can’t go ahead because the costs are just too much’.
QUESTION: [Interrupts] Why has it taken…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: What this report shows…
QUESTION: Why has it taken so long in the first place? I mean, you’re saying 10, 15 years’ time.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, I’m not saying it has to happen in 10 or 15 years time. What I’m saying is we need a considered approach so that it can move forward. The way infrastructure should be done is to have a proper examination, find out the feasibility, find out the costs and then go forward. I’m very confident that high-speed rail will be a part of Australia’s transport and infrastructure future. What we need to do is make sure we get the planning right.
This report is a valuable contribution to that, and I look forward to receiving that report in the coming year and then being in a position to make decisions as to time lines, as to the preservation of the corridor and, if the recommendations show that it stacks up, then to have a debate about time lines for the actual construction in terms of a first stage from Sydney to Newcastle. But in the longer term, a high-speed rail network right down the eastern seaboard corridor.
QUESTION: And is there any country that you’re modelling it on?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: What we will do is look at all of the overseas experience – be it in Europe, be it in Asia. We know that there are a number of high-speed rail projects being rolled out, particularly in China, at the moment. Of course, China has a substantially higher density of population. So we need to look at the lessons that are there and take all of that on board in terms of this study to make sure that we get it right.
I think high-speed rail is an important part of our future. We need to make sure that we get the economics of it right because it has significant benefits for our economy, for our environment and I think will make a big difference in terms of overcoming the tyranny of distance, which in a country such as ours has been such a challenge.
QUESTION: Can you tell us a bit more about Sydney to Melbourne three hour trips?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: This report indicates that Sydney to Melbourne could be conducted in three hours. The advantage, of course, is that it could be Sydney CBD right in to Melbourne CBD with no waiting, as opposed to the time that air travel takes – waiting at the airport and travelling to and from the airport at either end. So it’s pretty clear that there are a number of advantages that high-speed rail would have.
We’re concentrating on the eastern seaboard from Brisbane right through to Melbourne, and it could make a substantial difference. In terms of Sydney to Newcastle, it could cut down the time of that travel to just over half an hour. That would bring enormous opportunities, particularly in terms of regional development, to an area such as the Hunter.
QUESTION: Can you guarantee that it will be a cheaper alternative to flying?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No. That is why we’re looking at the economics of the proposal.
QUESTION: It’s just that flying is, like, shorter time, so why would people choose to – choose the train if they can fly cheaper?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, people take time to get to the airport, they then wait around at the airport, they then get on the plane; when they get to the other end they wait for their bags, they then have to travel from the airport to their destination – quite often into the city. There are a number of advantages, and the European experience shows that projects such as the Eurostar from London to Brussels and Paris has been extremely successful, has been extremely competitive because of the advances in technology which are there.
We need to make sure planning for infrastructure gets ahead of demand and that we make sure that we’re looking forward, that we’re embracing the technologies of the future – whether it be the National Broadband Network or whether it be high-speed rail. We need to make sure that we have a proper examination of our future infrastructure needs and that we provide proper analysis of that. This [IPA/AECOM] report is an important contribution to it, but we have a much more detailed report coming as a result of our election commitment – $20 million to look in great detail at all of the challenges and to look at, importantly, the economics and financing of any high speed rail proposal.
QUESTION: As the minister responsible for airports, would you relish this opportunity if it meant that we didn’t have to build another – second Sydney airport for a couple of years at least?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: In terms of Sydney’s airport needs, the Government’s made it clear that we think that Sydney will need a second airport. High-speed rail won’t solve all the issues in terms of access to the city. Aviation will continue to grow and expand, and all the studies have shown that Sydney will need a second airport. That’s why we’re having a study in conjunction with the New South Wales Government into a second airport as part of Sydney’s growing transport infrastructure needs.
QUESTION: Is the minority Parliament – Federal Parliament finding itself in a convenient excuse to walk away from a lot of election promises?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Not at all. The fact we have inherited the Parliament that the Australian people voted for on 21 August. What that means is that there will need to be negotiation in order to get legislation through the House of Representatives and through the Senate. We think that also presents an opportunity to change the culture of the Parliament so there’s much more consensus. We intend to work constructively with the Parliament, with our parliamentary colleagues – be they members of the Coalition, or be they members of minority parties.
QUESTION: Do you think we’ll see a price on carbon in the next three years after your leader ruled it out during the election campaign?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: What Julia Gillard, the Prime Minister, has said very clearly is that we have inherited a Parliament that was elected on 21 August, and as a result of that we will work in a collaborative way, including dealing with the challenges of climate change.
We’ve said there are a number of priorities for dealing with climate change. Energy efficiency is the low hanging fruit. We will also provide support for renewable energy, and we’ve said that there is a need for a price on carbon but we’ve referred that to the committee which will engage in a constructive fashion about developing a way forward.
QUESTION: So is she going to break her election promise or not? She ruled out a price on carbon. Are we going to see one [indistinct]?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We have established a committee, we will participate in that committee. I would hope that all those in the Parliament who support action on climate change will participate in that committee in a constructive way. And I note Malcolm Turnbull has been out there twittering and on his Facebook page welcoming the comments of Marius Kloppers from BHP Billiton.
QUESTION: Do you think housing about 1000 extra asylum seekers at remote defence bases across the country is a…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: [Interrupts] Look that’s a…
QUESTION: … [indistinct] use of infrastructure?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That…
QUESTION: You’re the Minister for Infrastructure.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s a matter for the Minister for Immigration.
QUESTION: Just back to high-speed rail – this has been promised for a long time or talked about for a long time. Can you understand that people might be sceptical or frustrated that there are so many studies that need to go ahead before you can commit to anything?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Indeed. What’s happened is that there’s been discussion of high-speed rail for a long time. No one has funded a study such as we’re doing – $20 million to actually look at the financing and economics of the proposal. If we’re serious about it, we’ve got to get down to identifying the corridor, identifying geotechnical issues, identifying the financing of the proposal. That’s what we intend to do. We need to stop the broad discussion about high-speed rail. We know that there’s broad support in the community for the concept of high-speed rail. Let’s actually put a route to that discussion, let’s put money next to how much it would cost as a way forward.
This is the first time that there has been a serious analysis of the details of high-speed rail. I appreciate the fact that it’s been welcomed by the Coalition – during the campaign they followed our commitment by supporting it – and also by the Greens and other minor parties. So there’s broad support for this study. I think it will be important in terms of making that next step forward.
Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.