Dec 4, 2018

Transcript of Doorstop Interview – High Speed Rail – Canberra – Tuesday, 4 December, 2018


Subject: High Speed Rail.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I am very pleased to be joined here by the Member for Indi, Cathy McGowan, and just a little while ago we moved in the House of Representatives a suspension of standing orders that would ensure that the High Speed Rail Authority Bill was voted on and carried by the Parliament today.

This is a Bill whose time has well and truly come. We know that today the Premier of New South Wales is in the newspaper speaking about having some feasibility studies and looking at where routes might be for High Speed RaiI. I say to the Premier of New South Wales she doesn’t have to do that. There has been an extensive study done by the former Labor Government. It was done in two stages. It involved state governments. It involved local government. It involved international expertise and it was widely recognised as being comprehensive. It went down in detail to the actual design of rail stations and what it found was that not only is High Speed Rail viable and an economic benefit to the nation for the routes between Sydney and Melbourne and Sydney and Brisbane, but that it would super charge regional economic growth, which is why I am so pleased that Cathy McGowan has been such a passionate supporter of this project.

Now this project shouldn’t be partisan. That is why I asked Cathy to second today’s motion in the Parliament, to indicate the breadth of support which is there. And of course in the High Speed Rail Authority that we planned to set up, I intended to ask the High Speed Rail Advisory Group that recommended the structure to participate. That included Tim Fischer, the former Deputy Prime Minister and a real rail advocate and enthusiast. It included Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council of Australia, showing how important the economic case was for this project. It included the head of the Australasian Railway Association, the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, representing employees, local government.

It is one thing to talk about the need for High Speed Rail. The other thing though that is critical is actually putting in place the planning, preserving the corridor, getting that done. That is the first step. The real tragedy is that if we don’t do that the cost will be many tens of billions of dollars – not according to myself or Cathy – according to Infrastructure Australia in a report to the Government of just last year.

So we have an opportunity today to get something done. To show the Parliament at its best, doing what the Australian people want us to do – not squabble and fight, but recognise what is in the national interest and move forward in a comprehensive and, indeed, a cohesive way as a Parliament. This is a project that won’t be solved in just one term of Parliament. That’s why I have always looked for bipartisan support and I thank Cathy for seconding the motion and we’ll be pursuing it. The vote will be after Question Time and it’s an opportunity still for the Government to get on board, maybe take attention away from fighting each other for just a minute, vote for this and get something done for the nation.

MCGOWAN: Thank you. So my call to the Government – if not now, when? And to the people of regional Australia, if this Government doesn’t do it, then who is going to have the vision for the regions? When I got elected, I’m always saying I’m putting my electorate first. And we desperately need better infrastructure. And I’m really pleased we’ve been able to do some work on our current train line and get some of the mud holes fixed up.

But what we actually need is a long-term plan and we need to get the authority organised between Melbourne, Albury-Wodonga, Wagga Wagga and Sydney and further north. And I cannot see the argument of why you wouldn’t do it because it’s exactly as Anthony Albanese says: If you don’t do it now, when are you going to do it? And it just becomes so expensive.

So I’m a really pragmatic Member of Parliament and I’m really pleased to be working with Anthony Albanese on this and I really put a call out to the Government to come and join us on this nation-building activity. And the first thing we need to do is get the corridor organised and agreed to. We’ve done all the work, we’ve got all the expertise in and now we just want some bipartisan work to say, yes we’ll put the authority in place and we’ll do the work in a non-political way, which is I think what the people of Australia want and certainly what the people in my electorate want.

ALBANESE: Thanks Cathy, happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Cathy, you know the rail line down Albury-Wodonga, that’s just been a debacle it seems, hasn’t it? Is that because it’s owned by three different bodies or how many are responsible for all that?

MCGOWAN: Public transport is an issue in Victoria, but no more so than in my electorate of Indi where we have got a railway line that has had so many problems. It’s owned by the Australian Rail Track Corporation, it’s operated by V-Line and also NSW Railway and I’ve been really successful in my time here of getting $235 million to get the mud holes fixed up. But we’re nowhere near solving the problem of public transport.

So it’s one of the reasons why I’m such a great fan of doing the long-term planning and getting the corridor organised because, assuming that I can continue to do my work and get our train line fixed up, that will only take us back – and my community tell me – to the Ned Kelly days and now we’ve got to move into the 21st century and have something that actually is going to connect us up to the cities.

So there’s no planning for regional transport and I have to say even in Victoria with the last election with the Labor Party how seriously they’ve let down the regions. They’re doing work around Melbourne and out to the airport, but if you put the marginal seats or the very safe National Party or Liberal seats, we’re just completely off the agenda. So that’s why coming to Canberra and to work on a national approach to this is so important for me. But surely we’ve got really big problems in the regions with our current transport and my community keeps saying: ‘Well fix up the slow rail before you do the fast rail’. And I’m saying there’s no reason why we can’t do both – fixing up the slow rail and doing the planning for the fast rail in the future.

ALBANESE: It’s absurd that here we are in Canberra where it takes longer to go from Canberra to Sydney by rail than it did many, many decades ago. It’s quite appalling that that’s the case. But the difference is with High Speed Rail if you put Canberra under an hour from Sydney, Newcastle under an hour from Sydney, Albury-Wodonga under an hour from Melbourne, you change the economics of those regional cities.

We talk about urban congestion and pressure that’s on. We have to get serious about decentralisation. Decentralisation doesn’t mean moving 10 public servants to Armidale. That does nothing. What does drive that economic change and decentralisation is turning what is a tyranny of distance into a comparative advantage and that’s what regional High Speed Rail would do and that’s why this is such a visionary project.

And I must say over the years – Paul Fletcher: “We have seen a number of proposals in recent years for High Speed Rail and the benefits are easy to visualise’’. Michael McCormack, the current Transport Minister: “High Speed Rail could open new opportunities for regional Australia’’. Angus Taylor: “Now more than ever we need to talk about the future of the Hume Corridor and High Speed Rail’’. John Alexander: “Well connected cities and regions mean the opportunities can be distributed across a wider population. High Speed Rail can bring distanced communities within close proximity of each other’.

What I say to those Members is that words are good, but sitting on the right side of the Parliament in the division would be even better and there is an opportunity this afternoon to advance this project. Gladys Berejiklian, the Premier of New South Wales, has made an announcement with no route, with no funding, with no planning. That’s not good enough. The planning has been done. The route has been identified. Let’s get on with preserving the corridor and advancing this project.

JOURNALIST: Is it a bit like the Snowy Hydro Scheme – long-term thinking, but now with short-term governments they don’t think?

ALBANESE: Well there is no doubt that one of the issues that we have to deal with infrastructure in general is breaking the nexus between the short-term political cycle and the long-term infrastructure investment cycle. That is why we created Infrastructure Australia – to get that long-term vision and there is no doubt that a project like this will occur over many terms of government and that is why we are seeking cross-parliamentary support for this.

Members say they support it. Let’s get on now, today, with seeing this as a project which is advanced, not what has happened up to this point. I have had to introduce this Bill five times to the Parliament. We provided funding to the authority in the 2013 Budget. It was abolished by Tony Abbott’s Government. Today we can reverse that and get on with the business of High Speed Rail. Thanks very much.

McGOWAN: Thanks very much.