Subjects: High Speed Rail, public transport funding, infrastructure; value capture, Malcolm Turnbull; banking royal commission
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks for joining me. Today it is three years to the day that I received as the then Infrastructure Minister the report on High Speed Rail. This was a $20 million study that showed that there was economic benefit to our nation in having High Speed Rail from Melbourne to Brisbane via Canberra and Sydney.
That it would be a game changer, not just in terms of capital city travel between Sydney and Melbourne and Sydney and Brisbane, of under 3 hours between CBDs, but also for those regional cities along the route that would benefit substantially from High Speed Rail access, that would enable them to grow and therefore take pressure off our east coast capital cities.
As a result of that report, I established a High Speed Rail Advisory Group. It consisted of serious people. It was chaired by my Department. Tim Fischer, the former Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National Party. Jennifer Westacott, the CEO of the Business Council of Australia.
Brian Nigh, from the Australasian Rail Association, and others participated in that advisory group to give advice to the government of what the next steps would be. They recommended that there be a High Speed Rail Authority established, made up of representatives of the state and territory governments along the route – Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT – and also private sector representatives. A representative of local government.
And that that High Speed Rail Authority would be tasked with ensuring the preservation of that corridor. We provided funding in the 2013 Budget of $54 million for that High Speed Rail Authority and just a couple of weeks ago I announced at the Sydney Institute that we would task that High Speed Rail Authority with calling for expressions of interest from global companies that had successfully built and operated High Speed Rail lines in Europe and in Asia, to put forward their ideas that they had for how they could participate in the establishment of a High Speed Rail network down the east coast of Australia.
When the Abbott Government got elected, of course they cut all funding for any rail line that wasn’t under construction that invovled passengers.
They cut the Melbourne Metro funding. They cut the Cross River Rail funding. But they also cut $500 million from public transport in Western Australia, the Tonsley Park line in South Australia, the money that was there for the feasibility study for light rail in Hobart.
They also cut the $54 million that had been allocated for the High Speed Rail Authority. As a result I introduced a Private Members Bill into the Parliament and the Government refused to debate it.
When Malcolm Turnbull became the leader of the Liberal Party and therefore the Prime Minister, I had my Bill reintroduced to the Parliment because it had lapsed because the Government refused to have it debated.
Of course, the Turnbull Government has refused to debate that legislation as well.
And it will lapse when the Parliament is prorogued in the extraordinary action that the Government has taken pretending that there’s been an election stopping anything that’s before the Parliament that takes place this Friday prior to the ceremony associated with the opening of Parliament that will take place on Monday the 18th of April.
I’m indicating that I will be reintroducing my Bill and giving notice on that day of a High Speed Rail Authority.
Malcolm Turnbull is out there today on the front page of The Australian newspaper purporting to suggest that now he’s in favour of High Speed Rail and that it can be done for free. That is a fantasy.
You can involve the private sector and we should involve the private sector in value capture along the route because of the benefit that will be there for real estate in towns like Canberra and Newcastle, Albury-Wodonga, Shepparton.
But there will need to be a government contribution. And most importantly you don’t build such a nation building project by having a headline in a newspaper.
You need a structure. You need an authority. That’s the recommendation. Not of a partisan group, but a group that included the former Leader of the National Party, Tim Fischer, and the CEO of the Business Council of Australia.
So the first thing that Malcolm Turnbull can do next week if he wants to advance High Speed Rail is adopt my Bill.
Adopt my Bill, that’s precisely the recommendations of this Advisory Group, adopt it and then set about preserving the corridor and making sure that that planning work in what is a very complex infrastructure proposal can proceed.
That is what is required. I notice that Malcolm Turnbull seems to be foreshadowing as well that value capture will replace actual investment by the government in infrastructure.
He used as an example last Friday here in Melbourne the Melbourne Metro project.
Well, if he bothered to look at the business case for the Melbourne Metro, he would see that the Victorian Government have already built in value capture into the proposal, as they did prior to the funding being cut by the Federal Government that had been agreed to by the former Federal Labor Government and indeed the Victorian Coalition Government of $3 billion from each level of government, and then $3 billion contribution from the private sector through value uplift that will occur as a result of that project.
Just like Cross River Rail in Brisbane, and factored into it value uplift. Malcolm Turnbull is relying upon people having the memory of a goldfish.
He comes up with ideas that are old, that have been progressed, that indeed his government and Tony Abbott’s government have wound back and stopped the advance of, and then pretends that somehow this is some new whiz-bang initiative.
Malcolm Turnbull spent the year prior to him knocking off Tony Abbott coming to Melbourne and travelling on trams and trains and taking selfies. He did the same in Sydney.
If it was good enough for him then to ride on trams and trains, it’s good enough for him to actually fund public transport.
Here in Melbourne through the Melbourne Metro, in Brisbane through the Cross River Rail, in Perth though the Metronet project, in Adelaide and indeed in Sydney through the rail line that is needed for Badgerys Creek Airport.
This is what is required by Malcolm Turnbull. When he became Prime Minister he said one of the big distinctions between him and Tony Abbott was that he was going to fund public transport.
Well, what we had last week here in Melbourne was $10 million for further work on value capture, which has already been included in the business case for the Melbourne Metro, but $3 billion quarantined for the East-West Link road project that is a dud, that will return 45 cents for every dollar of investment as opposed to the Melbourne Metro that has an actual positive business case.
REPORTER: The Liberal MP Angus Taylor has been on radio this morning criticising, or making comment on your approach suggesting pretty much that it wasn’t enough and that this approach is substantially different. What’s your response to that?
ALBANESE: Angus Taylor hasn’t done anything. Angus Taylor is a part of a government that has taken the $54 million that was allocated to preserve the corridor and do the planning work over the last three years and stopped it happening.
This is a government that has had three wasted years on infrastructure. They all talked big when they were elected and in the lead-up the election about infrastructure.
Well, I ask you this: What major infrastructure projects have begun on this government’s watch? You have Perth Freight Link, where nothing has happened. It’s been held up by the courts.
You have the East West Link here in Melbourne – 45 cents return for every dollar of investment.
You have WestConnex in Sydney where they don’t seem to know where the road is going, where there is a new idea every day and which has a blowout in cost from $10 billion to $16.8 billion and you have a National Broadband Network where Malcolm Turnbull is rolling out copper rather than fibre to the home.
So you have an NBN that is half the speed but double the cost, which Malcolm Turnbull said it would cost under his plan.
That’s a plan that he can’t walk away from.
That the head of the NBN can’t bring himself to say that the plan which he is presiding over of copper rather than fibre is better because that’s a bit like arguing that you can get to Sydney from Melbourne here by walking quicker than you can by other forms of transport.
REPORTER: We’ve heard so much about High Speed Rail over the years. What is going to get it over the line? What is going to get us to the stage where we actually do see fast trains?
ALBANESE: Well let’s get on with it. We did a $20 million study. It’s there. It was tabled on this day three years ago.
This is a government that has rejected it for three years, that has taken the money that was there to establish the authority and put it in the kit, spent it on things like the $1.5 billion that was advanced to the Victorian Government to make the last year of the Labor Government’s finances look worse and make the Coalition Government here in Victoria’s finances look better.
That’s the only reason why a billion and a half dollars was forwarded in June of 2014 for a project that was not shovel ready and which did not have a business case.
That’s the sort of project that the money came from.
There isn’t a short cut here. You don’t build a High Speed Rail line by putting a headline in the newspaper and by coming up with buzz words like value capture as if they were new.
What you need to do is preserve the corridor as the first step. Everyone knows that that is what is required.
Unless you do that, over a period of time there will be urban sprawl, growth that will make the project more expensive.
Now we know there are already, because of the development that is there in Sydney, there will be 82km of tunnel required – 67km of that tunnel would be required in Sydney for the route that was identified.
So we need to get on with that planning and in the wake of an election coming up with this as if it’s a new idea I think is quite laughable from Malcolm Turnbull.
He is yet to fund a significant rail project anywhere in the country.
The only contribution that we have seen is $95 million for Gold Coast Light Rail Stage II after the former Federal Labor Government funded $400 million for Stage I that is up and running and a huge success and that money came from a save on the Moreton Bay Rail project that will be completed this year.
For infrastructure to happen you’ve got to start and you’ve got to start construction, do the planning first get your business case, then have construction, then get it opened.
The problem for this Government is that they have spent the last three years on a Magical Infrastructure Re-announcement tour, running around reannouncing projects like the M80 and the Regional Rail Link here in Melbourne, pretending that they had something to do with, those projects, because they haven’t had any projects of their own.
They haven’t commenced any of them and now they are going back to projects like Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement of last week.
The M80 where they are putting back some of the money that they cut in the 2014 Budget. The Monash Freeway, where they are putting back money that was cut in the 2014 Budget for the Managed Motorways Program.
You don’t cut money in your first year of office, put some of it back in your third year and say that you’ve got an infrastructure agenda. They don’t.
REPORTER: What do you say to some in the government who say that a banking royal commission would be class warfare?
ALBANESE: I say they need to talk to some of their constituents. They need to get out more.
They need to talk to people in their constituency who’ve been the subject of bad financial advice, who’ve been the subject of being ripped off.
Who’ve been the subject of great anger out there in the community about what has happened in the banking and finances sector.
I think if they actually talked to some people out there, go knock on some doors, and ask them what they think of the behaviour of some of the Liberal Party’s friends at the big end of town.
What you’ll see, I think is that people are fed up.
We have a system here where we need to make sure that Australia continues to have a sound financial system. One of the things we need to do is to get to the bottom of some of the issues that have been raised, because it’s been week after week, issue after issue, and that’s why the call for a royal commission has the support of not just the Labor Party but many members of the Coalition as well.
So I say to them if they think that they’re too worried about talking to some of their constituents, they might like to talk to some of their colleagues who’ve been calling for this. People like Senator Williams and Luke Hartsuyker and others who are backing in this proposal.
You know it’s alright for them to have inquiry after inquiry into the former Labor Government, which is essentially what they’ve been prepared to use taxpayers’ dollars to do. This is actually in the national interest for it to happen.
Might I say, it’s also in the interest of the overwhelming majority of very good people who are involved in the banking and finances sector to make sure that this is got right because this a drag on their reputation and on the sector as a whole.
REPORTER: Do you think the public might have royal commission fatigue?
ALBANESE: I think under this government, they’ve held a range of inquiries. We’re not suggesting a royal commission into Arthur Sinodinos, or into any of the other people who’ve had difficulties in terms of the Coalition.
This is a royal commission that is clearly in the public interest designed to assist the public. Thanks.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.