Subject: Parramatta to Epping Rail Link; Federal infrastructure spending in NSW; Senate’s youth allowance legislation; health reform; Labor’s election review
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I welcome Premier Kristina Keneally to Canberra, who’s here with me today with Julie Owens, the Federal Member for Parramatta, for this important milestone in the delivery of the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link.
It’s known as PERL around infrastructure circles because it’s a pearler of a project. It will make a big difference for Western Sydney by extending the line from Parramatta to Epping and, therefore, linking up with the section of rail that has already achieved a status in terms of commuter use much greater than the projections that were there.
This will go a big step towards ensuring that Parramatta is indeed Sydney’s second CBD in real terms. The Commonwealth has committed $2.1 billion towards this project to go with the $520 million which has been committed by NSW.
This is a Commonwealth Government that believes in engagement with our cities. We believe in a whole of government approach to lowering emissions and therefore we’ve been determined to make a serious investment into rail.
With this project, the Commonwealth will be supporting a major rail project in every mainland capital city. All of these projects are underway.
This signing today will ensure that preconstruction activities can occur on this rail line this year. It will make a big difference in terms of giving access to young people, in particular, in Western Sydney to the jobs and economic opportunity that exists around Macquarie Park and Ryde.
It will make a big difference also in conjunction with the Western Express rail proposal that’s fully funded by the State Government in terms of taking pressure off that main western line. That is why it has benefit, not just for the people who will directly use this rail link, but for all those who live on Sydney’s main western line.
This is a great project. I’m very pleased to be here with the Premier. It’s a 14k rail link. It will take some 25 minutes off the journey between Chatswood and Parramatta. It doesn’t make any sense to go all the way into the city and then out to Chatswood.
This will make sure the missing link is completed and along with the South West Rail Link – which is fully funded by the state government and under construction – this is a fully funded project between the National Government and the Government of NSW.
KRISTINA KENEALLY: Thank you, Minister Albanese. It’s wonderful to be here today with the Federal Minister for Infrastructure and with the Federal Member for Parramatta as the State of New South Wales and the Commonwealth Government come together to sign this agreement, sign the deal that will deliver $2.1 billion for Western Sydney for a new heavy rail line in Western Sydney, supporting Parramatta as the second CBD of Sydney, supporting the high growth corridor in the North Ryde area, supporting the development of Parramatta, supporting the University of Western Sydney, supporting our economy as a city in the state.
Now this is a federal government that gets it. This is a federal government that gets that it has a role to play in the development of our major cities and particularly in Sydney as Australia’s only global city.
So we certainly welcomed last year’s announcement of the $2.1 billion commitment. Today that commitment from the Commonwealth becomes very real as we sign this agreement. This agreement which will not only establish the funding contributions from the Commonwealth and the state but also establishes the project team to oversee delivery of the project and of course work already underway within the New South Wales Government, Transport New South Wales and as the minister said, that preconstruction work able to begin later this year.
Now, what this agreement signed today means is that the only risk to the Parramatta to Epping rail link being built is the election of an O’Farrell Government.
Barry O’Farrell has already said that if he is elected, he will not proceed with the Parramatta to Epping. That means that Barry O’Farrell, if he’s elected, will be the first premier in the history of this nation to come to the Commonwealth Government and return money for public transport.
It is unimaginable that we have in this day and age someone who wants to be the premier of New South Wales who thinks that Sydney needs less public transport and not more. What we are doing here today is securing the future of Parramatta with this agreement.
The minister makes a very good point that the development of the Parramatta to Epping rail link, standing alongside the Western Express line, which in particular increases capacity at Redfern, Central, Town Hall and Wynyard, giving every train on the network a clearer run through the network.
That, alongside the South West rail link under construction right now, means that Western Sydney has the transport that it requires to become the economic powerhouse of Sydney. Already we are seeing that occur, the growth in Parramatta, the growth in Western Sydney and the growth in jobs in particular is extraordinary.
This sort of investment from a Commonwealth and a state government ensures that the heart of Sydney, which is Western Sydney, will continue to beat and beat strongly.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thank you. If I can get some water, please. Do you want to say something, Julie?
JULIE OWENS: Sure. Look, I spend a lot of time at the railway stations up the Carlingford line and I’m there probably every month at about six in the morning and when you’re there, it’s absolutely clear that this should be built.
Anybody who goes and stands on those railway lines would understand that this is essential. People in those areas, you can stand at Carlingford, you can almost see Epping, you can almost see the beginning of the Epping to Chatswood line.
Yet they take the long road round, across a level – across a crossing. They actually have to shut Parramatta Road to let the train across. There’s actually a level crossing on Parramatta Road in Parramatta to let the train across.
It takes them up to an hour and a half to get into the city if they don’t get the express train. It is absolutely clear, this is absolutely good governance and the sooner we build it the better. Thanks.
QUESTION: Premier, Barry O’Farrell says your visit here to Canberra is just an election stunt. Is it necessary to come down here to sign this agreement?
KRISTINA KENEALLY: Absolutely, absolutely. This was a project announced last year and we have always said there would be an inter-governmental agreement. Today we sign that. We sign that, having gone through the budget processes and we sign that fully committed to this project.
As I’ve said, we’ve already established a team within Transport New South Wales focusing on the delivery of this project, that we anticipate preconstruction work to begin later this year.
The only risk, the only risk to this project going ahead is the election of an O’Farrell Government and the unimaginable commitment made by Barry O’Farrell that if he is elected premier, he will take this $2.1 billion from the Commonwealth and he will hand it back.
QUESTION: But he’s asking for the Commonwealth to invest the money in other projects.
KRISTINA KENEALLY: I might ask the minister to speak to that.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The fact is that I don’t want to pre-empt the outcome of the election. Barry O’Farrell seems to think that he can do that. What I do know is that at election time, the Government’s commitments made at a Federal level are not negotiable.
We don’t renegotiate our commitments, we deliver on them. It’s very simple. We have a very specific commitment for this project. We have worked very hard with NSW to get a team together to deliver this project, including the infrastructure coordinator from the Commonwealth.
We want to be engaged. This is consistent with our commitment in terms of delivering a project that is fully funded, consistent with our commitment to major cities.
Now, look at the Commonwealth’s commitments: Gold Coast light rail; the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link; Regional Rail Link in Victoria; Noarlunga to Seaford and Gawler extension in Adelaide; and the Northbridge rail project in Perth.
Every dollar that is committed by us is one dollar more than was committed to urban rail during the 12 years of the Howard Government. They committed not one cent to urban rail during their entire period of office.
Now we want to partner with the NSW Government. We have $37 billion of commitments as part of the existing Nation Building Program, consists of 158 projects. All of those are not negotiable. We are rolling out the Hunter Expressway, a major project, employing people right now. It’s actually running ahead of schedule.
Right up and down the Pacific Highway there’s more than 1000 people employed. What we don’t do when an election is on, regardless of the outcome, is say well we’ll stop and we’ll renegotiate all again. You can’t actually build infrastructure that way. Infrastructure needs certainty, needs proper planning. That’s what we’ve done here and all political leaders should understand that if they want to actually be fair dinkum about delivery.
QUESTION: So are you saying, Minister, that you’re going to push ahead with this project even if Barry O’Farrell wins the election? Are you trying to push ahead with this 2.1…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well we’re committed to doing it.
QUESTION: Even if Barry O’Farrell doesn’t want it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’re committed to doing it. The way the Nation Building Program works, of course, is that the Commonwealth partners with state governments or with the private sector to deliver on projects. The Commonwealth doesn’t have a public works department that goes out there and builds them. Now, if it is the case that Barry O’Farrell, if elected, wants to walk away from that project then there will be a consequence for him.
We are funding this specific project. What the Commonwealth doesn’t do is say: here’s a pot of money, use it however you want. The fact is we have provided here a fully funded project between NSW and the Commonwealth that can deliver real change, where pre-construction can commence this year. Planning has already occurred. There’s been a lot of work done on this project already.
QUESTION: But isn’t that unfair on the people of New South Wales? It’s a very narrow elective. Isn’t it unfair to take away that $2.1 billion…
KRISTINA KENEALLY: Well that’s a question, Mr O’Farrell will be answerable to. That is a question that Mr O’Farrell needs to answer.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We have a right to determine where our funding is allocated. Now, Ted Baillieu was elected Premier of Victoria a few months ago. Ted Baillieu didn’t say: well we’ll just renegotiate all of the road and the rail projects that have been underway in Victoria. That’s not the way it works and that’s not the way proper infrastructure delivery can work.
If you have a situation whereby commitments and agreements reached between the Commonwealth and the state government are renegotiable depending upon election outcomes – be it of the Commonwealth or the state – then you simply will not have a situation whereby proper infrastructure can be delivered.
QUESTION: So Minister, are there any financial ramifications if the O’Farrell Government does renege on the agreement you signed today?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well that will be a decision that they will make if they are elected. They will have to decide whether to turn their rhetoric into reality. But I’ll say this as well. I’ve seen a number of comments from Mr O’Farrell, who chose to come to Canberra last week and speak at the National Press Club, about my good self. So I might return the favour.
I’ll say this about Mr O’Farrell. When you deliver infrastructure what you have to do – whether the projects worth $2 billion or $5 billion or $10 billion – is say where all of the $2 billion or $5 billion or $10 billion is coming from. Because of the way projects are delivered through the private sector, whether by individual corporations or whether by alliances which is more common, you can’t actually start the process until you know where the all money is coming from.
That’s why the NSW Government is delivering by themselves the South West Rail Project, fully funded, fully budgeted with construction begun. That’s why we were able to deliver on this Parramatta to Epping Rail Link. Fully funded, fully budgeted.
So I think the people of NSW are aware of smoke and mirrors and they’re aware that you can’t actually promise a new rail line without saying where all of the money will come from. There are a range of infrastructure projects which are worthwhile in NSW, as there are right around the country. There are budgetary pressures on the Commonwealth budget, particularly as a result of the floods, where we’ve had to create space for infrastructure rebuilding particularly in Queensland.
But I do think people will have a good close look, as it comes closer to the election, at the political promises by all parties, whether it be Ms Keneally or Mr O’Farrell, and will look to see where all the money is coming from, rather than the glib statements that we will build a rail project which costs many billions of dollars without knowing where the money will come from.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, let’s be very clear. We’re trying to put money into the system. We want to put money into Sydney’s urban public transport. $2.1 billion is $2.1 billion more than Mr Howard and Mr Abbott ever provided. Indeed Tony Abbott is on the record when it comes to urban public transport as saying that that is the business of state governments.
So it’s not surprising that Tony Abbott and the Federal Liberals say this is a project that they don’t support. They’ve never supported it. Tony Abbott is on the record on that.
But I do think that John Alexander, who in the election campaign in Bennelong, put out a letter supporting this project on the day that we announced it. He’ll have some explaining to do. But I think it is inconceivable that any political leader would say no to Commonwealth funding for such a vital infrastructure project.
QUESTION: So what financial obligations does the agreement put on New South Wales, and then what would happen if Barry O’Farrell is elected and decides not to proceed?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The obligation is this to be precise: $2080 million from the Commonwealth and $520 million from the NSW Government. We have the governance arrangements in place. This is a construction project that is ready to go, that’s consistent with the overall planning for Sydney. This is a vital project. There are other projects that are needed but governments have to be fair dinkum about what they promise in terms of the dollars being attached to them.
QUESTION: So in actual terms, it’s half a million dollars that they will actually have to pay?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Half a billion. $520 million is the NSW contribution.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Section 53 and section 56 of the Constitution are very clear and they state that you can’t have bills considered which appropriate money from either the senate or as private member’s bills.
The House of Representatives has a lot of practice on this. So it’s contrary to the Constitution, contrary to the advice of the Attorney-General, contrary to the advice of the Parliamentary Council, the standing orders and House of Representative’s practice. I’d expect that the House will act responsible.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
KRISTINA KENEALLY: Thanks for the question. [Indistinct] some of Mr O’Farrell’s uninformed comment after the COAG Health Reform. One of the excuses he sought to give in refusing to commit to COAG Health Reform even though Labor and Liberal first minister’s rolled up their sleeves and got it done. One of the excuses he sought to give was that he was worried about how inefficient a national efficient price per service would affect New South Wales.
Well it says right there in the heads of agreement, that the efficient price will be set to reflect jurisdictional variations such as those that you’ve just outlined. So yes of course we have already in our discussions with the Commonwealth, highlighted a range of differences in relation to New South Wales. New South Wales, unlike Victoria, has big metropolitan areas and vast regional areas. New South Wales, unlike some other jurisdictions, does have higher wages when it comes to nurses and doctors, and so New South Wales has a different price – efficient price per service. Of course then it will be delivered in WA or Queensland or Victoria, and of course we will, but that’s already written into the agreement.
I’d invite Mr O’Farrell to have a read of the agreement before he starts to provide commentary on it.
QUESTION: Do you honestly believe that this is a rail project that Sydney needs most, or is this just an attempt to buy votes in Western Sydney?
KRISTINA KENEALLY: Well let me just go straight to the heart of the what you’re asking there, and look at what’s in our metropolitan 10 year plan. Fully funded, $50 billion metropolitan transport plan. South West rail link, under construction right now. If you listened to my opponent you’d be forgiven for thinking that it wasn’t because one of his big announcements yesterday, he would build the South West rail link.
Well go there right now, real people, real machines, a real line being built right now. He also is walking away from the Western Express line. Let’s understand what the Western Express line does. It adds capacity, at Wynyard, at Town Hall, at Central and at Redfern. Without that, nothing else Mr O’Farrell promises to do will work. You will have quite simply, congestion right across the network. Mr O’Farrell is going to walk away from that western express project.
He says he’s going to put additional services. We already have express services on our train system. In order to grow those, you need to deal with the capacity on those city line stations. He has said he will not to do the Western Express line. He therefore, cannot deliver what he’s talking about in his launch yesterday.
Lastly, he is walking away from the Parramatta to Epping rail link. Now, I’ve just identified there, three important rail projects. Let me talk about a fourth, the North West rail link in our metropolitan transport plan. Again, the North West rail link only works when you deal with the congestion on Wynyard, Town Hall, Central and Redfern. Mr O’Farrell walking away from the Western Express line just means that the rail system will come to a grinding halt. You can’t grow the services unless you deal with those city line stations.
QUESTION: Just quickly, do you think Labor should release the full campaign review, and do you think the power of the factions is too great and they should be abolished?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think that it’s pretty hard to abolish behaviour that exists everywhere including, where are you from? The ABC? I’m sure there’s one or two factions in the ABC as well. There’s certainly a couple I can think of. Every time I listen to my 702 in the morning and see the run the Greens get, I think about it.
So in terms of the way forward, we’ve released the reform proposals that will go to the National Conference in December. I think they are very worthy proposals, worthy of consideration by delegates. With regard to the details of how we run our campaigns, there are some things that should remain confidential. We’re in the business of winning elections, not in the business of assisting our opponents.