SUBJECTS: High Speed Rail, Eastern Freeway busway, energy prices
ALBANESE: A Federal Labor Government will deliver $1 billion for the preservation of the corridor for High Speed Rail and for the advancement of this vital economic project. This will be a game-changer for the East Coast, travelling from Sydney to Melbourne or Sydney to Brisbane in under three hours, making an enormous difference to travel times, to convenience and also to reducing emissions. The other thing that High Speed Rail would do is to turbo-charge regional economic development in towns and cities along the route. Whether it be Canberra, Albury Wodonga, Shepparton, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Grafton, Lismore, or Newcastle. The fact is that this will make a major difference to our economic development. Australia is currently the only inhabited continent on the planet that is not building High Speed Rail. We’ve seen such a success in Europe, in Japan, of course where it was a major factor in its development after the Second World War, and emergence as an economic superpower. In China, and now in North America, in South America, and in Africa, High Speed Rail is being rolled out.
One of the things about Australians is, we’re great travellers, and so many Australians have travelled from London to Paris on the Eurostar, they’ve travelled from Rome to Milan, they’ve travelled throughout Japan, they’ve travelled from Beijing to Shanghai, they’ve travelled indeed, from Madrid to Barcelona. And all of those people are saying when they come back to Australia, “Why is it that we’re not doing it here? Why is it that Australia’s behind the world?”
When we were last in Government we did a two-stage comprehensive study into High Speed Rail at a cost of some $20 million. What it found, for example, was that from Sydney to Melbourne for every dollar that was invested the return would be more than two dollars. We know that Sydney to Melbourne at one stage was the highest number of passengers of any air route in the world. It’s consistently in the top four. Sydney to Brisbane is also in the top ten. We know that the population numbers are there to drive High Speed Rail. But we also know that one of the things that has occurred with the roll-out globally of High Speed Rail is that costs are coming down. The efficiency and travel times of High Speed Rail is getting better and the costs are getting less. So that’s why I’ve been trying, even in Opposition, to establish a High Speed Rail Authority. This won’t happen overnight. It will happen over many years. But the first principle is to establish a High Speed Rail Authority, to charge it with preservation of the corridor, to have representatives of the State and Territory Governments along the route represented on that body, and to have private sector representatives as well.
When we were in Government I appointed a High Speed Rail Advisory Group. It included Jennifer Westacott, the Head of the Business Council of Australia, to show and indicate that this wasn’t some airy-fairy proposal; this was a hard economic decision in Australia’s economic interest. We had Tim Fischer, to try to get bipartisanship and to make sure that it will continue into the future. Tim Fischer’s a very strong advocate of High Speed Rail. We had the Australasian Rail Association and we had Local Government and State bodies represented. A Labor Government, under Bill Shorten as Prime Minister, will advance this project. It will be good for regional economic development; it will be good for nation-building. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Why is $1 billion needed to preserve the corridor?
ALBANESE: Because you will have to purchase land along the corridor. What the study showed was that 82 kilometres of the 1750 kilometre route would be by tunnel, and of that, 67 kilometres of those tunnels will be around Sydney, and Sydney of course will be a focal point due to where it’s located. But you do need to get on first. And the reason why you need it as well is that as Infrastructure Australia said in a report it released last year, the cost of not preserving the corridor will go up over a period of time. You’ll have economic development over a period of time. So if you get on with the business now, we’ve already had six wasted years under the Coalition. This was ready to go in 2013, but Tony Abbott cut the funding for the High Speed Rail Authority at the same time as he cut funding for the Melbourne Metro, for the Cross River Rail, for Perth Airport Link, and for any other rail project anywhere in Australia that wasn’t under construction. That has meant a lost period of time. The return to government of Labor in Victoria and Queensland means that we are now partnering with those Governments, with Dan Andrew’s Government to build Melbourne Metro, and Annastacia Palaszcuk’s Government in Queensland to build Cross River Rail. We want to partner with governments right throughout the route including the Berejiklian Government to get on with advancing High Speed Rail.
JOURNALIST: So how much will this cost in total?
JOURNALIST: How much will it cost to build?
ALBANESE: Look the estimates when we did the study were just in excess of $100 billion. This is not a cheap project, but this is a project over a long period of time, and what we know is that if you act now, the costs will be less. If you wait around for five more years or six more years and then get on with the project, what you know is that it will cost more to preserve the corridor. This is about prudent management of the economy by getting on and preserving the corridor now. And we also know that international consortia are queueing up to participate in this project, to provide private sector funds. I’ve had discussion with superannuation funds who are very keen to support this project as well. I did that in Government and I’ve continued to do that while we’ve been in Opposition because this will produce a long term return. And that’s why we did that economic analysis, and certainly you have companies like the Japan Railway Company, that’s had an office in Sydney since the 1990s, waiting for something to happen here on High Speed Rail. They want to participate, as do companies in other parts of Asia as well as France, Italy, Spain. They’re all very keen in participating and bringing the knowledge that they’ve had to Australia. So we know costs are coming down, benefits are increasing and I believe that this is a project that does need to be advanced and it needs to be advanced now. And that’s why preservation of the corridor is the first step. The next step is going to international markets and looking for partners to participate in the project, including the financing of the project.
JOURNALIST: Isn’t $1 billion though just a drop in the ocean of that $100 billion you’re after?
ALBANESE: It’s about preservation of the corridor. We’re not saying that you’re going to start construction on this tomorrow. What we are saying is, we know where the corridor is, we need to get on with the business of preserving it so that it’s not built out. The real tragedy will be if in a few years’ time a government wants to proceed with this project and they’re unable to, and this is good planning. Good infrastructure development is about getting the planning right. That’s what this is about. We’ve had this study – preserve the corridor and then we can advance the project, including, we would be looking for, private sector financing of this project. We’d be looking for partners and we know that’s the case.
JOURNALIST: So if you get into government, when would you commit to construction starting?
ALBANESE: We would charge the High Speed Rail Authority with outlining a timeframe of that, once they go to market and engage in that.
JOURNALIST: What do you say to voters now though? In terms of, if they’re voting for this, when will they – will it be ten years, twenty years down the track? Or will it just be ongoing?
ALBANESE: I think what you’re looking at is a decade before you have an actual construction conclusion for a section of the track. But you don’t have to do it all at once, obviously. Sydney to Melbourne and Sydney to Newcastle are the first stages of this, and there is no doubt that that is the area that has the highest population, has the highest potential for value capture along the route, will attract financing and will attract support. So Australia’s two largest cities are to be joined in under three hours from CBD to CBD. I travelled to Melbourne yesterday, from door to door – I live almost on the runway of Kingsford Smith Airport at Marrickville – from door to door took me more than three hours. I will travel back to Sydney today. It will take around about the same time. The convenience of getting work done on that rail trip is one of the reasons why it would be so successful, I’m sure, a High Speed Rail line along that route.
JOURNALIST: Back to your announcement yesterday, with your commitment to the busway along the Eastern, does that completely rule out any possibility of a train line in the middle of the Eastern Freeway, which is what arguably, people say that freeway was eventually designed to do?
ALBANESE: That’s a matter for the State Government to do, planning – but certainly a busway that can be done, with a lane in each direction between Hoddle Street and Doncaster, between the Park and Ride there, will be of major benefit, will cut down travel times substantially. When you have a busway with buses travelling at up to 100 kilometres an hour, it’s a big difference, and what that will do is encourage the use of that route. We also of course, are supportive of the suburban rail loop. We’ve already put $300 million from each level of government towards planning of that and of course that will be towards, it will be obviously for more than planning. Some of that will be for corridor preservation as well. That will go through Doncaster. That will be a link to heavy rail in terms of Doncaster, which is something that people understandably want.
JOURNALIST: Just back to the High Speed Rail, Clive Palmer seems to be trumpeting his proposals for a High Speed Rail in his ads. Do you have any idea what they’re proposing?
ALBANESE: I don’t think anyone has any idea of what Clive Palmer’s proposing except they know that there’s self-interest in there somewhere. They know that Clive Palmer is a supporter, as was Scott Morrison, of $80 billion dollars of tax cuts for big business, something that Scott Morrison advocated on literally hundreds of occasions, so they know that that is the case. Thanks very much.
JOURNALIST: Quick question from my colleagues in Canberra.
JOURNALIST: So the Morrison Government will promise to cut power prices by twenty-five per cent, which apparently will save the average household up to $185 a year. What are your thoughts on that?
ALBANESE: Well, the Morrison Government are incapable of having an energy policy. Let’s get real here. Scott Morrison supported the National Energy Guarantee. Josh Frydenberg supported the National Energy Guarantee. Simon Birmingham supported the National Energy Guarantee. And then they walked away from it. The fact is, that they promised when they abolished the system put in place by Labor under Julia Gillard, that prices would come down. Wholesale prices doubled under them. There’s been a massive increase in energy prices under them. Under the plan that we’ve put forward for a transition to cleaner passenger vehicles – their own modelling shows that that would save $500 for every driver of a motor vehicle, and yet when we’ve come out with that policy they’ve said it’s a bad one. They can’t be trusted on energy, they can’t agree with themselves on energy. You can’t get four Coalition members in a room and get one policy. If you have four Coalition members you’ll get at least four policies, maybe even five because sometimes they disagree with themselves from hour to hour, minute to minute. The Coalition can’t be trusted on energy prices. All you have to do is to look at what they’ve done. And the uncertainty that they’ve created in energy has been directly responsible for an increase in prices because investors haven’t had the certainty that they require to invest in new energy infrastructure. That’s what they’re asking for and the Coalition simply can’t be believed, can’t be trusted. They’re going to an election that’s being held now in eight days’ time. They haven’t had their policy launch yet because they can’t agree on any policy for the next term. All they’re promising is more chaos, more disruption, more arguments within the Coalition. I don’t know how Scott Morrison puts together a Cabinet, given how many Ministers have walked away from their own show in a sign of no confidence. And on Sunday they won’t have Malcolm Turnbull or Tony Abbott or Julie Bishop, because none of them have been invited, because they are such a rabble. They need time in Opposition to get their act together frankly, including on energy policy. A Labor Government will provide investment certainty. Investment certainty will lead to lower prices.
JOURNALIST: Have you dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s on your transport costings Albo?
ALBANESE: Absolutely, and the fact is that we have put forward a comprehensive plan. Today Labor will be releasing our costings – transparent, all out there, even before the Liberals have had their policy launch, we’re releasing, not just have we had our policy launch, we’ve been advocating policies over a long period of time – over not days or weeks or months, but indeed years. We have a comprehensive plan to close tax loopholes for the big end of town, and to use those funds to invest in schools, to invest in hospitals, to invest in public transport and infrastructure. Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.