Subjects: Maldon Dombarton line; Labor’s commitment to rail infrastructure.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It is fantastic to be back here at Port Kembla with my parliamentary colleagues Sharon Bird and Stephen Jones to announce that we will commit $50 million to the Maldon Dombarton line.
This was included in our May budget. Since then we’ve had discussions with potential private operators of this line.
Because it stacks up, this project, it will be an attractive place for investment to come. The $50 million will make sure that this project can go ahead. It comes on top of the funding that we committed early last year into pre-construction work. That work has now been undertaken and will be completed next year. So a natural transition with this $50 million being available from 2014 to facilitate private investment into this rail line.
This Port has a great future. But in order to do that we need to support rail freight. We’ve rebuilt one third of the interstate rail freight network since we’ve come to office – either rebuilding new or renovating over 4,000 kilometres of track.
That’s because of our commitment to productivity, our commitment to jobs, and our commitment to doing it as efficiently as possible. What that means is getting trucks off the roads.
The Maldon Dombarton line would improve the efficiency at this Port, would ensure that jobs and economic growth continue to be in the Illawarra, but would also have improvements for the Illawarra local community by taking trucks off the road and putting freight onto the rail line.
So this is an exciting project and I want to congratulate Don at the Port here, but also Stephen and Sharon on their unwavering advocacy for this project. This is a project that is about jobs here in the Illawarra. It’s consistent with what we’ve done in establishing the smart infrastructure facility at Wollongong University; with our funding for roads here in the Illawarra, with our support for community infrastructure.
It’s a pity that when Tony Abbott was here just weeks ago he rejected any funding whatsoever for rail freight here in the Illawarra. But that’s consistent with what the Liberals have done. Of course we know that this project was actually started by a State Labor government back in the 1980s. The Libs came to power in 1988 and they stopped it stone dead.
Since then the Federal Liberals have said they won’t contribute any funding to this project and it stands in stark contrast to Labor’s commitment to this project to providing real funds that will create real jobs, that will support real infrastructure.
JOURNALIST: How will the money be spent and if it does get built, who will ultimately pay for it?
ALBANESE: What it will do is in a similar way to what we’ve done with the F3 to M2 project, a road project in Sydney. If you are going to attract private investment you need to sometimes have some seed funding. What that does is it brings confidence to the project and provides an underpinning about private financing options.
We know that in terms of private financing that there are at least two consortiums – one Australian and one international – that are very interested in investing in this project. This announcement today takes that to the next step and provides that certainty after 7 September so that the New South Wales Government can also engage in this process and make sure that this happens.
JOURNALIST: So will it ultimately be owned by a coal company?
ALBANESE: Normally what is occurring is that these rail lines are owned by a consortium that would not be a particular company, but would be open access as well – that would be a condition.
We need to make sure that whatever goods travel, want to travel on a rail freight line, they do so. And we’ve put in place important measures in the Hunter for example to make sure that that has occurred.
But with this investment there is no doubt that it would be attractive to particularly one of the Australian consortiums that is looking at this project very closely and has been to see me, I know has been to see the State Government, is essentially a transport company here in Australia.
JOURNALIST: So are you saying that the Liberal Party has ruled out supporting it and do you know what the stance of the Greens is?
ALBANESE: Well Tony Abbott has ruled out supporting this project. When he was here just a while ago he made a very clear comment that I think I have here, that’s in the release, with regard to his position. That he didn’t see it as a priority.
And that’s consistent with what the Liberals have done when it comes to infrastructure, that is they haven’t really invested. We’ve increased funding for rail since we came to office by more than ten times – more than ten times. We’ve rebuilt one third of the rail freight network.
The Liberals haven’t been interested in investing in nation building infrastructure, particularly when it comes to rail. The Liberals and the National Party that seem to always control the transport portfolio are interested in investing in some regional roads, but they aren’t interested in regional rail. It’s just regional roads, and I think that is a very narrow approach that they have.
JOURNALIST: How important is this to the port facility that we have here? Is it going to be (inaudible)
ALBANESE: This is an essential component of growth at the Port. This is about jobs in the Illawarra. If you don’t have rail access, then you restrict what you can do at the Port.
Rail is far more efficient, far more efficient at both importing and exporting. So rail you can travel in terms of the volume of traffic that you can take to the Port here, rail wins hands down.
That’s why all the best ports in the world – not just Australia – rely upon rail very much in terms of getting goods to the Port. And the Port itself has been very keen on this proposal.
When we announced the funding, which has meant that all the preconstruction work can be undertaken, it was certainly welcomed by the Port and I’m sure the Port will welcome today’s announcement as well.
JOURNALIST: This is a project that has taken a while to get off the ground. Do you have any idea if it goes ahead what sort of completion date might be looking at?
ALBANESE: In terms of completion, because we’ve funded the preconstruction work – what that’s done is it has enabled the EIS processes to be gone through – environmental approvals. It’s meant that the funding is there for the geotechnical work that’s required.
Good infrastructure requires it being done in a series of stages. First the feasibility study we know that bit is in. The second is the preconstruction activity, that’s being undertaken now. The next phase is to move to construction. It’s ready to go in terms of next year and this announcement should be able to bring that forward.
One of the things the preconstruction work is doing is doing an assessment of how long it will take to construct. It’s about 35 kilometres, the line, so it’s a significant challenge because of the geography of the area, but it is certainly achievable.
And of course what occurred, and the tragedy is what occurred with the stop work with the Liberals when they came into power in New South Wales, was that you already had some of the preconstruction work done on the bridges that are required as part of this project, and it just stopped.
JOURNALIST: In terms of this election campaign on infrastructure, is this turning into a rail versus road battle? I mean you’re out there announcing rail lines, the east coast rail line, Maldon Dombarton. Tony Abbott is talking about roads, his priority is roads, is that what it is all about?
ALBANESE: We’re doing rail and roads. That’s the difference.
We have doubled roads funding compared with the Howard Government. But we recognise that in order to deal with the challenges of the future, you also need rail.
What I don’t understand is someone who says that he wants to be the infrastructure prime minister, except he’ll wreck the NBN, which is the infrastructure of the future, he’ll stop any rail funding – including completely ruling out any urban rail funding at all – and he’ll rule out as well and trash the funding that’s there and available for private sector investment through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
This is a very narrow approach that he has. Today also we’re announcing in terms of the inland rail line, some $300 million, confirming that that’s in the budget for new sections of the inland rail line to be delivered.
And we’ve already spent $600 million of investment on existing parts of the inland rail line that needed upgrading so that you could have that inland freight line. Now that will be very important going through regional towns such as Toowoomba and Parkes, making a big difference. Parkes, so it’s on the north-south corridor, but also on the east-west corridor, making Parkes a freight hub for Australia, for the nation.
That’s why this inland freight announcement, reaffirming that the $300 million additional on top of the $600 million we’ve spent on the upgrade. Now this is an upgrade that is all in seats not held by the Labor Party. It was talked about by the National Party, they just didn’t build or upgrade a single metre of track.
It has taken a Labor Government to invest in rail freight, whether it be down the coast, whether it be new projects such as Maldon to Dombarton here, or whether it be the inland rail freight line.