SUBJECT: Maldon-Dombarton freight rail line
SHARON BIRD: It’s fantastic to be here today with the Shadow Minister, Anthony Albanese, obviously myself, Stephen Jones and Dr Mike Freelander. I hope that he’ll be the next Infrastructure Minister. We hope that because Anthony understands our region. He understands why infrastructure is so important to opening economic opportunity, jobs for our region, connecting the Illawarra and South West Sydney where Mike represents. It’s a really important opportunity for us to grow so many businesses, to create so many jobs. We see nothing from the Liberal Party. Mike and I, with Shadow Minister Albanese, the other day announced $55 million for Appin Road. We are here for another announcement today. The Liberals neglect our region all the time and so I’m really pleased that Anthony is here because he understands and is committed to our region. I might ask him to explain what the announcement is today.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s great to be here with Sharon, Stephen and Dr Mike today here in the Illawarra making an important announcement, not just for the Illawarra, but for South West Sydney and, indeed, for the national interest. We’ll put back the money that was ripped out by Tony Abbott when he came to office for this vital project. This project was assessed by Infrastructure Australia. It’s a priority. That’s why it was begun before it was cancelled by the NSW Liberal Government back in 1999.
The tragedy of that is that this freight project would make an enormous difference to passenger rail between the Illawarra and Sydney as well. It’s so vital here for the Port, in that it would maximise the economic potential of this magnificent Port that’s been a driving force for the economy here in the Illawarra, but for the state and the national interest as well. A $50 million contribution would provide risk mitigation for the private sector to undertake this work and it’s been very clear that the proponents of this project want to get ahead and get it done. The Port wants it to happen. People in the Illawarra need the jobs that will come from this project and indeed people throughout New South Wales and the country need the productivity boost that would come from this project.
So, jobs in the short term in construction, but a long-term impact on jobs. Economic growth doesn’t just happen by giving tax cuts to the big end of town and allowing the trickle-down effect to somehow work. What you need is to invest in productive infrastructure that will then drive that economic growth, drive those short-term jobs, but drive the long term economic activity. This port is an amazing asset. What we do with this project is to maximise the value of this port and that’s why this project is so important and that’s why, if we come to office on May 18, we’ll get on with the job of making sure this happens.
ALBANESE: Well the State Government, of course, are sitting on a report that has been reported upon, for transport for New South Wales, that recommended as a way of improving the efficiency of the Illawarra to Sydney Line, the Maldon to Dombarton rail project proceeding as a precondition for that. See you need to separate out freight rail from passenger rail. The State Government knows that. State Governments of all persuasions have supported the Southern Sydney Freight Line that was over $1 billion. The Northern Sydney Freight Line is still under construction now and was funded when I was the Minister and this is the missing link in terms of that separation of freight from passenger rail.
So, this is common sense and I’m confident that the State Government would see common sense. They just need to ask their own bureaucrats, because they’ve been told that this is the best way to improve the transport links between Wollongong and Sydney. But also you have a considerable investment taking place around Badgerys Creek and the new airport. That airport has some major advantages by its location in South West Sydney, far closer to, for example, agricultural production and other production that won’t have to go all the way through the suburban streets of Sydney. If a rail link was able to link up and then go further on through to western New South Wales to the other side of the Mountains, where we have considerable resources and agricultural production, that would be a big bonus. That is why this rail freight project makes sense, connecting it up with the Port.
So, I’m very confident that Infrastructure NSW would recognise that this is an important project and that the State Government would get on board. This is about jobs and productivity for New South Wales and everyone knows it; everyone’s known it for some time. This project has been stalled for too long. It’s not like it’s a brand new project. It’s one that has been stalled and one of the disappointments of the last six years is so many areas where you essentially have had infrastructure in a holding pattern, not being advanced. That means that there is a longer-term cost to the economy and that’s why this project should proceed.
JOURNALIST: In 2016, Tanya Plibersek was down here; promised the same amount of money for the same project. Why three years on has the funding not increased?
ALBANESE: Because we’ve been consistent about what we’ve been saying and what we’re putting up front. It was in the 2013 Budget. So this isn’t a new commitment, this is something that we were going to do when we were in government, but unfortunately with the 2014 Budget, what Tony Abbott did was take money out of this project, Perth Airport Rail, Parramatta to Epping Rail Link, Melbourne Metro, Cross River Rail. The Coalition Government hated rail and they refused to invest in any of it. What we’re saying is this is an initial commitment. We’re happy to have discussions, if further discussion is required, but the advice that we have is that what the private sector are looking for is essentially a signal. When you have a private sector project, if you have a contribution from government what that does is make it far easier for borrowing to occur and raise private capital for a private sector project.
This is about moving goods and freight and we’re very confident that the private sector would be able to get on board here, but what they’ve asked for for years is a government commitment, for a government injection. When we had a report about the financing of infrastructure and the way in which you could increase private sector infrastructure investment in a report commissioned by the Government and Infrastructure Australia back in 2012, one of the things that they pointed out that you can do is to mitigate risk and to facilitate that private sector investment and encourage it, if you like, through a small, but vital, public sector contribution. That’s precisely what we’re doing here. This is best practice and one of the things what we tend to engage in in Government is best practice. That means funding the right project. That means funding projects that have been identified that would produce that long term economic benefit. That’s how you grow the economy.
JOURNALIST: And in terms, I guess, of the funding, will there be ongoing funding or are you expecting the private sector to pay for the whole cost of the project?
ALBANESE: No, this will produce a return on investment. This will be a productive, good project that will produce a return, not just for the investors, but, more importantly, will produce a return to the national economy, which is what justifies a government injection to facilitate that private sector investment.
JOURNALIST: What time allocation would you give to it? Would it be done in the first term?
ALBANESE: We want it to be done in the first term, in terms of begun in the first term. We want to sit down with the New South Wales Government, if we’re successful, and then essentially go out to market for proponents of this project. Look, even in opposition I’ve been approached, and I know that the local Members have been approached by people who are keen for this project to occur. Certainly, the Port here has been advocating for this project to occur for a very long time.
JOURNALIST: And, given the private sector is building it, would you rule out a toll on users or would you allow the private sector to charge people to use the line?
ALBANESE: The private sector would be able to use the line as they do in terms of other lines that are used for freight – there’s a charge made. But I’m very confident that this project stacks up. It stacks up more today than when we put in money in 2013, because now as well you have an airport being built in Western Sydney that will service the people of Western Sydney, but will also be about job creation. This is a logical step in terms of maximising the value of the Port here, but also maximising the benefit for the population of Western Sydney as well as the Illawarra.
JOURNALIST: The State Government has said the Dombarton Line is not needed yet. Are they wrong?
ALBANESE: They are wrong and they should talk to their own Department, because their own Department, in reports that have been leaked, indicate that they’re wrong and they’ve just been elected for a four-year term. This is the time where you make smart decisions and I’d be very confident of sitting down with the State Government. If we’re successful, I fully intend to ask for a meeting with Premier Berejiklian. I’ve worked with the Premier on projects in the past. Look at the airport. We did a joint study between the Commonwealth and New South Wales that produced a report that, when it was first handed down, the New South Wales Government, under Barry O’Farrell said: ‘No, that’s not needed. We don’t need to do that’. Well, that’s not the New South Wales Government’s position now and it shouldn’t be their position now either, because it does make sense, as does this project.
JOURNALIST: And given the long delay, do you think it’s something the Federal Government needs to take control of? Be the lead agency?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s not possible, in terms of we have structures, such as I just made an announcement about the Princes Highway additional Federal funding – three times the funding for the Princes Highway in the next term than the current Government has on the table; $150 million rather than $50 million. What we will do though is sit down with the State Government. The State Government runs our roads and our rail systems. That’s the structure of Federation that we have. So, we have to work with that, but I’ve shown in the past, as Infrastructure Minister that I can work cooperatively with governments of all persuasions. That compares with the current Government who haven’t been able to work with the Labor Governments of Victoria or Queensland and that’s unfortunate because what people want to see isn’t partisan politics. People just want things to get done and people here in the Illawarra deserve outcomes, not arguments, and I always look for outcomes not arguments and I’m prepared to negotiate, sit down in good faith and I’m sure that would occur.
JOURNALIST: This is something that has been announced year after year. What makes today’s announcement different?
STEPHEN JONES: Over the last three years, both Anthony, Sharon and myself have had representations from private sector investors who have said, ‘We want to get involved in this. We want to get this line built’. What we need to do is get the Federal Government, the State Government and the private sector lined up. $50 million on the table ensures that the Commonwealth is there, we need the State there and we know the private sector is ready to invest.
Can I just make a point on the rail usage fees? Whether it’s a freight train going over a private sector rail line or a public sector rail line, they all pay a fee to the owner and this line will be no different. We know the private sector is very, very hungry to get involved in building this, because they know they can make money out of it.
Can I just say one other thing too? It’s great to have Anthony here and Sharon here with me today, with Dr Mike Freelander making this important announcement. It really does speak of the importance of having candidates representing the major parties in the field, because they can advocate to their parties big projects that can make a difference for the region. It’s very, very disappointing that neither Sharon or I have a candidate running against us, because hopefully they’d be able to put their hand up and say: ‘Yeah we back that, this a bipartisan commitment’. But Scott Morrison has had nothing to say about the Illawarra or the South Coast. He’s had nothing to say about the Southern Highlands and that’s because he doesn’t have a candidate in the field and I think the people of the Illawarra and the Southern Highlands are being let down by the Coalition because of that.
DR MIKE FREELANDER: One point also, for the people of Macarthur, this is really important because this will actually save lives. We’ve had a number of fatal crashes on Picton Road and on Appin Road and if we can get heavy vehicles off our roads it will make them a lot safer. So it’s really important from that point of view for Macarthur residents, as well as the business case for connecting with the Western Sydney Airport.
JOURNALIST: Why do you think this will get off the ground now?
FREELANDER: Because we are pushing it very hard and have been for the last few years. It’s very important for all our electorates and we know that and we know that it will not only save lives it will improve business links, which are increasing between the Illawarra and Macarthur, South West Sydney and on to the Western Sydney Airport. So it really is something that is very important to all our electorates. We have a united front. I should point out, I don’t have a candidate against me either that can stand up and agree with it. So it does make it very difficult from Opposition when you don’t have a candidate against you.