Subjects; Rail; Rural and regional infrastructure, Public transport; Cities
CATHERINE KING: Welcome, it’s lovely to have everybody out here, and it’s particularly terrific to have my friend and colleague Anthony Albanese here at Ballarat Railway Station; he’s been on the train with us meeting with the Committee for Ballarat to talk about a couple of things.
First, Labor’s important investments that we made when we were last here in Government, in regional rail, in Hallett’s Way, in Anthony’s Cutting, really vital infrastructure here for our community. And also to meet with the Committee for Ballarat about their campaign for a 59 minute service and the next improvements that are needed along this railway.
We’re trying to get that on the agenda. So I want to welcome Anthony here today, thank you very much, this is I think probably about his fifth or sixth visit to Ballarat in the not too distant past. It’s been terrific having you here and I might hand over to Anthony to say a few words.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks very much Catherine, it’s great to be back here in Ballarat again, a great regional city in Victoria. Earlier today I had the opportunity to have a look at Hallett’s Way, the work underway, funded by the former Federal Labor Government in our 2013 Budget.
Just as we funded the upgrades to the Western Highway, just as we funded Anthony’s Cutting, just as we funded the largest ever investment from the Commonwealth in a public transport project since Federation – was of course the Regional Rail Link. A project that has made a big difference to Ballarat, to Bendigo and to Geelong, and today we had the opportunity in travelling from Bacchus Marsh here to Ballarat, to be briefed by the Committee for Ballarat – I met with them in Canberra just about a month ago, at that meeting I committed to come and see for myself, and have a discussion with the Committee here in Ballarat, about their vision. Their vison for a 59 minute journey from Ballarat through to Melbourne. But also the changes that are required both in the short, medium and long term.
We know that the State Government has campaigned strongly and is putting some 550 million dollars as part of their regional rail revival plan, and I have had discussions with Jacinta Allan, the Minister, about the importance of rail and she is committed to it as is the Andrews State Labor Government, as is the Federal Labor Opposition.
We regard rail as being absolutely critical in the 21st century. And that’s why, when we were in government, we didn’t just talk the talk, we invested real dollars. Indeed more funding for public transport when we were in government, during that 6 years, than all previous governments combined before or since. So six years beats the rest of the 111 years.
We know that Malcolm Turnbull of course likes taking selfies on trains, he just doesn’t like funding them.
So one of the first acts of the Abbott and Turnbull Government was to rip $3 billion away from the metro project in Melbourne. One of the concerns that we have is that infrastructure spending for Victoria from the Commonwealth consists of about 8.2 per cent of the federal infrastructure budget.
Now we know that one in four Australians live right here in Victoria. So Victoria is being short-changed. When we left office the figure was in the 2013-14 Budget, that figure was some 26 per cent and it has dropped off a cliff, and that is continuing to occur over the forward estimates in the budget this year. We see Victoria’s infrastructure spending in decline, each and every year up to 2020-21.
That’s not good enough and I will continue to have discussions with Daniel Andrews, with Tim Pallas the Treasurer, with Jacinta Allan, with Luke Donnellan and other Victorian Ministers about Victoria getting its fair share.
Because it is just not reasonable, and I say this as a proud Sydneysider, it’s not reasonable that NSW is getting 48 per cent of this year’s infrastructure budget from the Commonwealth, and Victoria is getting 8 per cent of the Commonwealth budget when it comes to infrastructure. I’m happy to take some questions.
JOURNALIST: Anthony, the Melton Electrification Project has been listed as a priority by Infrastructure Victoria and Infrastructure Australia. Given that neither the State nor the Federal Government has made any movement on actually forwarding that project, do you think that it would be something that a Federal Labor Government would consider?
ALBANESE: We will consider all of the proposals, and we’ll also consider the advice of Infrastructure Australia in particular. But it’s not true to say that there is no progress.
These projects are all connected. The Regional Rail Link was an important precondition, the separation that occurred of the lines in the inner part of Melbourne, has been critical in terms of allowing the capacity to increase on these lines. And we know that from Ballarat to Melbourne there used to be one train in the morning; I’m advised that there are five that are pretty full now during peak hours. So Victoria is of course, as prioritised, are the $550 million that they received as a part of the privatisation of the port.
And they’ve prioritised that money – that is the largest allocation from the Regional Rail Revival Project so Victoria is certainly continuing to prioritise these projects. They can’t be done overnight and one of the things that the Committee for Ballarat have done, is really step out a program of what they would like to see happen between now and 2030.
I commend the Committee and it’s organisations that make it up, for coming up with constructive proposals that take into account the fact that you can’t change everything overnight, these things do take time. But quite clearly I want to work constructively with, obviously, Catherine as the Local Member, with the Committee for Ballarat, with the State Government, with local businesses, about how these objectives can be achieved over time.
JOURNALIST: Trains are obviously a state issue, what can the Government actually do specifically to make the train trips shorter from Ballarat to Melbourne?
ALBANESE: The Federal Government of course can play a role in providing funding, and the truth is that apart from the asset recycling that was got out of the Federal Government with a crow bar, you know after years of delay. The truth is that the Commonwealth Government withdrew all funding for public transport projects.
They cut funding for the M80 as well, and they haven’t prioritised infrastructure spending, particularly here in Victoria. There’s been, that noise that you hear in the background, there has been a vacuum cleaner sucking dollars out of Victoria into New South Wales, into their friends, where they have a Coalition Government. Now that is not good enough.
When I was the Minister I worked with governments, including the State Coalition Government, and delivered regardless of what the political colour of state governments was, because national governments have a national responsibility.
Victoria is growing faster than other states, Melbourne is growing faster than other capital cities, and one of the ways that you deal with that pressure is to make sure that regional centres like Ballarat, like Bendigo, like Geelong, can grow as well, and that’s why you had that investment in the transport network whether it be rail or road here in Ballarat.
JOURNALIST: So what will you specifically do if your government gets into power next election?
ALBANESE: Well what we will do is …
JOURNALIST: For the Ballarat line?
ALBANESE: We will be making our announcements. One of the things that today was about, was sitting down with the Committee, traveling on the line myself, engaging in that constructive dialogue about what the vision is. I spoke to Jacinta Allan the State Minister this week. I’ll sit down with her before the end of the year, constructively as I always have.
It’s fantastic that you’ve got a champion of Regional Victoria as the State Minister Jacinta Allan is that. She has been a champion for this line; she has prioritised this section in terms of the Regional Rail Revival money that will be going into the line here, $550 million. We committed $3.225 billion to the Regional Rail Link Project, the largest ever contribution, by a long way, of any project that the Commonwealth has funded since Federation. So I stand on that record as the Infrastructure Minister in a Labor Government. Bill Shorten is a great supporter of infrastructure and has been very supportive of projects that we have committed to, and we will be developing our specific policies. At this stage in the timetable we’re developing policies that we will take to the next election, so that we can work with state governments to deliver these improvements.
JOURNALIST: Anthony, one of Committee for Ballarat’s major priorities is the full duplication of the Ballarat Line within the next couple of decades. Given the constraints, the capacity constraints that we are facing at the moment, do you think that is a reasonable target?
ALBANESER: The good thing that they’ve done is, they’re not saying that it can be done tomorrow, they are saying that’s their target for 2030. And I tell you what, if you don’t have vision of where you want to go, you will never get there and having a practical realistic time frame of stepping out the improvements is what their vision is.
We had a discussion today as well, about the airport rail line and access and where that should go through in terms of the route. That’s obviously the subject of studies as well. So it is, I think, a good thing that you have an organisation of substance and standing, like the Committee for Ballarat, that invites people to come here and have a look, and as well goes to Canberra to make sure that it lobbies.
Other regional cities could certainly benefit from having an organisation such as the Committee for Ballarat. I stand here not just as the Shadow Infrastructure Minister but also the Shadow Minister for Regional Development and Cities. Why have we put those two things together? Because one of the things we have to do in this country, is take pressure off particularly the big east coast capitals of Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne, and we can do that by growing regional centres like Ballarat.
JOURNALIST: Just back to that regional air link, one of the major priorities that’s been looked at the moment, is a train from Melbourne to the Tullamarine Airport; do you think that is a service that should be connected with a regional service?
ALBANESE: One of the proposals perhaps there, is to connect up around the Sunshine area, so that you can then have that access. That’s obviously something that should be looked at.
One of the things that is important is that the people who are the engineers and the experts are able to do that, free of political interference, but one of the considerations for that rail line has to be how people from the regions get access to Tullamarine. Tullamarine Airport is obviously very important.
I’m also a big supporter of the airport of Geelong growing as one of the ways in which Geelong can boost its economy, and so those two things how they work together, I think are very important. Thank you, thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.