Subjects: High speed rail; National Broadband Network; Impact of Coalition’s broadband policy on regional Australia; Tony Abbott’s anti-public transport policy; Second Sydney Airport
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Today I’m releasing phase two of the study into the feasibility of high-speed rail along the east coast of Australia. This is the final report and it builds on the first phase which I released in August 2011. This follows a commitment that was given in Melbourne during the election campaign in August 2010. I do note the Leader of the Greens at a press conference attempted to say that this was as a result of the agreement after the election. If you actually have a look, we committed $20 million for the study prior to the election. We not only did that, but on the same day I note, the Coalition through Warren Truss also committed $20 million for a study following our announcement.
High-speed rail is indeed a hot topic. Everyone seems to have an opinion. And it has grabbed the headlines ever since I announced back in 2010 that the Gillard Government was putting high-speed rail back on the national agenda. No doubt the release of this report will again prompt widespread debate among the public and the business community, and that’s a very good thing. I am firmly on the record as a supporter of high-speed rail. But starting from scratch to build our own system does pose a number of complex challenges. That’s why we did what we had to do and that is to get all of the facts on the table.
As you can see, the report is here on the table. It is an extensive report: 500 pages plus appendices, plus maps. Let’s begin with what the report says. Firstly, it identifies a potential route between Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne via Canberra. It estimates likely costs and benefits and examines issues around construction, patronage and economic viability. And it considers population growth, travel demand, regional development opportunities and implications for our major cities.
Of course this isn’t the first time that high-speed rail has been considered for Australia. However, unlike previous studies, this is not a desk-top publication. It goes down to the detail of where stations would be and the design of those stations. It goes through in great detail, for example, when it gets to Sydney, it proposes a station be below Central Station. It considers other options: Parramatta, Eveleigh, other options as well, just as Melbourne chooses the Southern Cross Station, whilst considering other options as well as the corridors into the capital city CBDs.
What you have before you today, therefore, is the most detailed and comprehensive study ever undertaken into high-speed rail in this country: 450 pages of analysis, 1900 pages of appendices, and nearly 300 detailed maps. People will be looking at the maps online in relation to where they live and where they work. The preferred alignment has been chosen to best meet market needs in terms of economic sustainability, journey times and service reliability. It also addresses the many environmental sensitivities. For example, with the Tamborine National Park in Queensland, it recommends a tunnel through that corridor because of its particular sensitivities.
Stations would be located at Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, as well as Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, Central Coast, Southern Highlands, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton. The forecast suggests that demand could be around 84 million trips per year in 50 years time, at least 19 million trips between Sydney and Melbourne alone. It would require 144 kilometres of tunnels, almost half of which, 67 kilometres of tunnels, through Sydney. This represents around 30 per cent of the construction cost.
It considered other options but came up with this as the most viable way of dealing with an issue such as getting through Sydney and clearly Sydney is the focal point – as the mid-point of the proposed line. And speaking of costs, with nation-building projects, there is no doubt that this is an expensive exercise. The report estimates the construction cost for the complete network would be around about $114 billion in today’s dollars. This is known as a P-50 cost estimate in terms of risk. It’s calculated using the best available Australian cost estimate data as well as international benchmarking.
For this investment there will be around about 1750 kilometres of dual electrified track with trains running up to 350 kilometres an hour. Inner-city capital and regional services would operate 18 hours every day, and there will be high-frequency peak services and at least hourly off-peak services. Each train would be up to 300 metres long and carry up to 780 passengers. Business and economy class fares would be competitive with other transport modes.
The system would be built in stages, reducing the up-front funding, smoothing future capital requirements and allowing for revenue to be generated as sections open for business. The report concludes that the financial returns from investing in construction would be insufficient to attract major private funding. These costs would have to be largely borne by government. But it also says that once the stages become operational, and provided the traffic projections are met, high-speed rail could generate enough revenue to cover its operating and asset renewal costs.
Importantly, the report also shows that high-speed rail could produce significant economic benefits for Australia. A return of abound $2.30 on every dollar invested. This is a reasonable return for transport projects. Many of these benefits would derive from business travel between CBDs, under three hours from Sydney to Melbourne and under three hours from Sydney to Brisbane. There would be considerable productivity benefits.
The report also identifies many benefits for regional Australia. For example, the trip from Coffs Harbour to Sydney would take under two hours while Melbourne to Albury-Wodonga would take just over an hour. If Newcastle was well under an hour away from Sydney, it would transform the way Newcastle could compete with Sydney’s CBD. It rightly cautions that high-speed rail itself can’t guarantee regional development, what it can be though is a catalyst for that regional development. It would be contingent on the right range of complementary policies and close coordination between Government and communities.
Finally, the report confirms that high-speed rail has significant environmental benefits over the alternatives. Of course, with other major infrastructure projects, there would be considerable energy-intensive activity during the construction phase and it takes that into account.
The report throws up a myriad of issues. Like all major projects, this one would mean some tough decisions and potential trade-offs. The route, the costs, the environmental consequences – these all have to be thoroughly examined and understood before decisions can be finalised. We are talking about the equivalent of building two Hume Highways from scratch.
The report is a sobering reminder that with or without high-speed rail, moving people up and down the east coast is going to be become more and more of a challenge. By 2065 in just over 50 years time, travel on the east coast will more than double, up to 355 million trips every year. This will place enormous pressure on our transport infrastructure. Without high-speed rail this will have to be met entirely by existing modes. As we know, these modes already face serious capacity, cost and logistical constraints, notwithstanding the significant additional investments by the government in recent years.
In addition to that, I note Tim Fischer’s comment this morning that the Shinkansen has operated in Japan for 50 years without a single fatality. I wish we could say the same about the Hume and the Pacific and other modes of transport particularly in terms of our roads.
As we know, one issue that is often conflated with high-speed rail is aviation capacity. Some have claimed this proposal would remove the need for a second Sydney Airport. This study demonstrates that this is not the case. It is true that some of the demand for high-speed rail would be diverted from air travel and that’s the experience overseas. But high-speed rail simply would not absorb all of the growth in aviation which we are seeing now, let alone over the next 50 years. The capacity constraints at Sydney Airport are causing congestion right now. There are also the land transport constraints due to the location of Sydney Airport.
The most sensitive issue of all with the report is, of course, cost. And there is no doubt there is substantial cost. But the long-term transformational potential of high-speed rail is both real and exciting. The critical judgment call then is between the high up-front financial cost versus the long-term economic benefit which is why we believe this public debate must be advanced.
It puts all of the issues on the table, I have mentioned a few, but there are many others. It provides a solid basis for an informed debate about the role of high-speed rail in meeting our nation’s future transport challenges. Decisions about if, where, when and how high-speed rail would proceed, ultimately are decisions for governments but they are also a process which should involve the business community and should involve the broader community.
For example, with the report, I want to emphasise it is not the Government’s position. I am releasing it for public discussion, consistent with what has been my approach to public policy making as the Infrastructure Minister. I believe, for example, that whilst the report recommends Sydney to Melbourne, I believe there is merit in considering Newcastle to Melbourne given the demand and the population that is there from Newcastle and the Central Coast. But that’s part of the discussion. I will have my input and so will others.
We will have a process from now whereby community input will be encouraged through our website between now and the end of June. In the meantime, my department’s high-speed rail unit is starting to consult with local councils along the preferred route, with community groups, Regional Development Australia committees and industry organisations.
In addition to that, yesterday I spoke to the Chief Minister of the ACT Katy Gallagher along with Ministers Berejiklian, Emerson and Mulder from New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria to give them a heads-up about today’s announcement. I will form a subgroup of the Standing Council on Transport and Infrastructure – the Ministerial Council will look at ways to get Federal and State cooperation going over issues such as preservation of corridors.
I look forward to their ongoing constructive engagement in these issues and each of the Ministers I spoke to were constructive in their initial position with regard to the concept of high-speed rail, whilst of course reserving their right to have input as State Ministers of course should and are encouraged to do so.
In addition to that, I am convening a high-speed rail advisory group to be chaired by Lyn O’Connell, the Deputy Secretary of my department who has had responsibility for the Nation Building program. It will be made up of industry and community leaders.
Firstly, the former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer, a long-time supporter and advocate of high-speed rail and a man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of rail issues; the chief executive of the Business Council of Australia Jennifer Westacott has agreed to participate on behalf of the BCA, recognising the opportunities that are there for business and economic growth as a result of the potential of high-speed rail; Professor Sue Holliday from the University of New South Wales will represent the urban policy forum that I have established as part of our national urban policy. Sue Holliday is one of Australia’s best planners. She’s someone who has experience of engagement in high-speed rail issues and has worked also at different levels of government and has an ability to participate and make I think a very constructive contribution; Professor Peter Newman, a member of the Infrastructure Australia advisory council who has a particular emphasis on sustainability when it comes to transport issues; Bob Nanva, who’s the national secretary of the Rail, Tram, and Bus Union and is able to connect with people who have an on-the-ground knowledge, or on-the-track knowledge perhaps, of rail issues; and Jenny Dowell who is the president of the Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils, is also the mayor of Lismore. Jenny is also a member of the Australian Council of Local Government. And Jenny will represent local government interests. We will be perhaps appointing more members to the advisory council as it begins its work.
We want to make sure that this project has full community engagement. The report represents the challenges that are there with high-speed rail. It is not as simple as just saying well, just get on and start construction tomorrow. The planning that’s required for example of something like building 144 kilometres of tunnels is extensive. The route has been designed to minimise, for example, the amount of private resumptions that would be required for the corridors. Some of those things have already been considered. But the planning should not be underestimated for a project of this size. Unless the route is protected now, the growth of cities and towns along the preferred corridor will make the project even harder and more expensive in the future. So I believe route protection is absolutely vital.
The report also warns of consequences if high-speed rail doesn’t proceed in the future. We must ensure that the decisions we make today do not deter the possibilities of tomorrow. As Infrastructure Minister, I am very proud that we’ve have had the vision to commission this study. High-speed rail would be a national transport game changer and, as I mentioned, I am on the record for a long time as being a supporter. But it won’t happen overnight. We need to ensure that it happens in an orderly way, that we get the planning right, we get the community engagement right. I am looking forward to participating in that national debate and having more to say on high-speed rail in the months ahead.
Happy to take questions and then my department are here as well if people want more technical details.
I’ll start at the back.
QUESTION: Minister, given particularly the cost, what is the likelihood of this ever happening?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I believe high-speed rail will happen in Australia. I think that we need to make sure that we get the facts out there. We have done that. We haven’t gilded the lily. In the past, there has been an idea that the uplift factors that can come through high-speed rail will provide all of the funding. What this report does, following on from the first stage of the report, is say that that is not a realistic option.
Yes, there are some uplift value factors along the corridor that would come, not just in terms of cities but particularly in terms of regional development. It does state upfront that there would be a substantial government contribution required but that is over a long period of time. A long period of time. You could roll it out in phases and that’s one of the things the report recommends.
The consequences of not moving to high-speed rail are also considered in the report. The report is a conservative document, it is not a political document. It has been done by companies listed on the front there, AECOM, Grimshaw, KPMG, SKM, ACIL Tasman, Booz & Co, and Hyder. There was no political interference in this report. It is what it is, out there for community debate to occur. And I think that’s very important because if you had political interference with it, you might get something that sounds easier but, when it came to actually achieving it, would be more difficult. So it is a realistic but a conservative option.
I also think over a period of time and international experience suggests that this is starting to occur, that perhaps the costs could come down in terms of high-speed rail operations as it gets rolled out more. A bit like some of the clean energy options. Demand and supply. The market does work. The more it’s rolled out internationally, the more efficient it gets. So, in terms of some of the options in the future, perhaps that has some weight as well. But it doesn’t take into account those assumptions.
It is very much a pretty hard economic analysis and I think that’s what is required. Because if you go out there in the community and ask people do you support high speed rail, they’ll say yes, and do you think it should happen tomorrow, and they’ll say yes. What you need to do to actually deliver infrastructure is to have serious hard economic analysis, have proper costings, have financial models, proper patronage forecasts that are realistic as well. I believe the report has done that.
I have had discussions with international companies. Today there are briefings for the representatives in Australia of Japan, China, Spain, France, and Italy. There are companies in each of those countries that are very much engaged in this study and want to participate and be involved. The challenges in Australia are more difficult than in countries which are talking about smaller routes with higher density of populations.
We are not Japan. We are not Europe. The challenges are harder but, nonetheless, the opportunities are there and the experience shows that it is trips under three hours where you get real take up rates. And if you look at what’s occurred on routes in Japan over 50 years, in France since 1981 and in other European countries in more recent times, the take-up has been very strong indeed.
QUESTION: Couple of questions. Firstly, is there going to be provision in the Federal Budget for any of this?
ANTHONY ALBANESE:No. This is not a funding proposal for this year’s Budget.
QUESTION: More broadly, you said protecting the land corridors is vital. Now, are you suggesting State Governments now should start quarantining the corridors?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I am suggesting one of the reasons why we will engage on these issues is that good infrastructure planning means looking not just at today and we are dealing with the challenges of today through the Nation Building program. We have doubled the roads budget and rebuilt one-third of the interstate rail freight network and we’re investing in urban rail in spite of what the Leader of the Opposition seems to have forgotten – projects like the Regional Rail Link and other projects.
So you do those, but what you also need to do is make sure that you don’t discount possibilities of tomorrow. It may well be that a State Government says, for example we are planning to do something that would interfere with this particular corridor so it’s got to be shifted a little bit. I’d be surprised if a blueprint like this is perfect. Inevitably, you will have some engagement. We did involve of course the States and Territories in this process, but you really need to make sure that good infrastructure planning is about the long-term.
That is why we have put this out. It envisages that the earliest construction could commence is 2022. This is a substantial piece of work but would also require substantial engagement with States and Territories and that’s why we have engaged with them during some of the consultation phase but we have also engaged with them by establishing this subcommittee of the Ministerial Council.
QUESTION: Minister, do you perceive this being in fact Labor Party policy? We had policy to have a look into it, $20 million spent. When will it be policy – Federal Labor Party policy – to actually begin building?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: One of the things I have done, Paul, very consciously, and the media often want to have it both ways in terms of processes – is I have released this report. This report hasn’t been considered by the Cabinet or Government. It is released out there as I said I would do. Released out there for everyone to see, without a political finesse, if you like, to it. I think that’s appropriate. I think people are entitled to have a rigorous analysis so we have fulfilled our commitment. Future government decisions will be up to the government to make. And we will be considering that over coming months.
QUESTION: It will be shelved for a few terms?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, I didn’t say that at all. What I have said is that we will have a consultation process, it will close on 30 June. I am establishing today an Advisory Council. A pretty high-powered Advisory Council I must say and every person who was asked to serve agreed to serve enthusiastically in this process. We also are establishing a Ministerial subgroup to work with the high-speed rail unit in my department. We established that high-speed rail unit. It is a permanent function.
I believe that I am taking this report very seriously indeed but it is appropriate that we consider the input that comes in between now and 30 June and that the Government has an ability to properly assess it and that we have that community input as well.
QUESTION: But some railway economists were consulted on this.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yes.
QUESTION: Was there a majority view that Sydney, Melbourne high-speed train was commercially feasible, valid?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yes, there was. The report finds a BCR, a cost-benefit ratio of $2.30 for every dollar invested.
It finds that the operation not only could meet cost but meet maintenance costs and upgrade costs. To keep a corridor that’s 1750 kilometres long requires substantial ongoing costs. It found that it would be viable based upon the economic assessments that are there. The modelling is all being made available publicly. So that whether they’re CEO of a company or Billy Bunter in Port Macquarie today they can look online, have a look at all the analysis and make their own judgments.
Can I say I’ve had consultation last week with European companies involved in high-speed rail and I must say, the feedback on the work that’s been done by this team has been extremely positive. Feedback indeed from those organisations who are on the ground running the SNCF in France and Spanish companies today. Japan has had of course a high-speed rail office in Australia for some time and is very keen on engagement on these issues as well.
QUESTION: Is your emphasis on preserving corridors in part driven by the fact that Bob Carr’s Government allowed the sell-off of long preserved corridors in Sydney after the Keating Government killed off high-speed rail link? And is 67 kilometres of tunnel through a city the longest tunnel in the world?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It is certainly a cracker of a tunnel. There is no doubt about that. The analysis goes through what the options are. For a high-speed rail line, you need essentially a 200 metre wide corridor because high-speed rail trains go fast. Therefore, you can’t just put it, you know, next to the suburban rail line. It looked at above ground. It looked at other options and what it came up with was tunnelling 144 kilometres in total, much smaller amounts of tunnelling required into Melbourne and Brisbane. Into Canberra from memory the tunnelling required is only four kilometres.
When looking at Sydney, the large part of the cost is the tunnelling. But it looked at that as the only viable option.
QUESTION: So, there’s no corridors left? They were sold off.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s difficult to see, frankly. I’m not about apportioning blame, how you could have a corridor through a city that has developed as Sydney has in a non-planned way. I mean, Sydney is not Canberra in terms of planning or in terms of its geography and topography. It is a difficult city to build infrastructure. Historically, infrastructure in Sydney is more expensive than in other capital cities because of the nature of the city and its development.
I don’t think it is fair to blame any government in the 1980s or 90s for Sydney’s development. It is pretty hard to see a corridor for high-speed rail from Central going north, south, east or west frankly that would be preserved more than 100 years ago. The study envisages a station underneath Central as well as a station underneath Southern Cross.
It makes the point that people want to be able to travel right into the CBD. That is a big advantage of high-speed rail over other modes. If you are going to attract patronage, part of it is convenience. For example, compare travelling to airport, waiting for the plane, seeing if it is on time, which in some airports it is less likely than others, waiting at the other end, waiting for transport at the other end, getting to your final destination by getting on a train, not going through the same sort of security measures, it leaving on time, it leaving at particular junctures. The study envisages multiple peak hour services along the main routes of Sydney-Melbourne, Sydney-Brisbane. Express services which would deliver real convenience and people would be able to work on their laptops, use IT with the convenience of being able to get up and walk around.
People who have used high-speed rail will know the convenience and comfort are very attractive. If you can make it so that the time to destination is equivalent and the cost is equivalent to other forms of travel, then it becomes very attractive indeed.
QUESTION: Do you envisage State Governments will also chip in on construction costs? And are there any rough estimates for train fares?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The rough estimates are in the report. Essentially what they envisage is comparable to existing air fares – comparable in terms of both economy and business. In order to make it convenient, it needs to be around about the same price as existing air fares. Comparable experience shows in Paris to London routes, or other routes. I was on a Madrid to Valencia trip last week, and Paris to Lyon. The comparable trips, if they can do it at the same price, people will choose rail for the advantages it has in terms of convenience.
People shouldn’t expect a $20 Sydney-Melbourne fare. High-speed rail would not be viable with that. And the report envisages not public subsidies on an ongoing basis. The report envisages how you would get a system that was financially viable in the long-term and whilst pointing out that the up-front capital costs are a challenge.
QUESTION: Minister, just following on from the question earlier about when you said route protection is absolutely vital. It wasn’t clear to me how vital you thought that was. When do you need to start nailing down and protecting this route for it to actually happen in 2050 something?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I got the report this week. We are releasing it this week. I don’t want to – verbal State and Territory Ministers who have just had a phone conversation. I have written to all of the first Ministers. They will have received the report today. We did provide some briefings this morning for State Governments who by and large will be responsible in terms of planning, in terms of route preservation, but clearly the report envisages, if it is going to happen, that work has to begin once the report is considered by State and Territory governments. That will be one of the things that is on the agenda at the Standing Committee on Transport and Infrastructure which will meet in May.
QUESTION: It would have to be the most important thing, wouldn’t it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely. Unless you do that, what you do potentially is increase costs as well. What the report has taken into account is many of those issues. When I was talking to one of the Ministers, they asked have you taken into account some of our plans? And it is appropriate that they be allowed to have input to that. We want to work in a constructive way with State and Territory governments. That’s why we are engaging them very directly at the Ministerial level as well as, of course State Governments have had input through the bureaucratic level to the conduct of this report.
QUESTION: We have been having this discussion for 30 years, what makes this time different? And further to Lisa’s question, what do you envisage this State contributing in dollars and cents?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, firstly this isn’t a desktop study. This isn’t a do you think high-speed rail is good study. That’s easy. Most people will say yes. So it doesn’t do this. Nor is this a study that says we can do it, go from A to B and it won’t cost anyone anything. This is a realistic study, a full proper economic analysis. When you look at the maps, the detail is literally down to not just where the track goes but where the tunnels go as well. So there will be a debate, for example, about where the exhaust stacks go which are identified in the report.
I would expect, for example, there are some environmentalists who really like the idea of high-speed rail until they see where it goes. It can’t go around everything. It has to go in pretty much a straight line. It has to have tunnels. It has to have exhausts. With any major infrastructure project, there are downsides as well as upsides. This is a report that has it all. In the past, what we’ve had is frankly some well-meaning but perhaps romantic notions you can build it and build it for free. Someone else will pay for it. This study doesn’t say that. It is out there for full communication and full community engagement.
With regard to State Governments, obviously some of the State Governments’ contributions would be in terms of their cooperation, in terms of planning issues. We’re not putting the bite on State Governments today over these issues and I would envisage that the majority of the Government costs would need to be borne by the national government. This is a national infrastructure issue but it is also one that would involve some cost to State and Territory governments. It would also involve some real potential of private sector investment.
And one of the things that will occur is that private sector operators will have a look at this, both in Australia and internationally, and will see opportunities for their engagement.
QUESTION: Your shadow today, Mr Truss, suggested this is, well – the great Australian dream and he seems to suggest that it would have been easier to progress if Australia didn’t have a gross debt of around $300 billion.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well Warren Truss is a nice fella. But, you know, he sometimes gets a bit confused. He has forgotten that in August 2010 he committed $20 million for a study on the same day I did. When he read the papers that morning, they got up and matched our commitment for a study with the same amount of funding, $20 million, to look at high-speed rail down the same corridor. It was a straight lift of our policy I was announcing at the Infrastructure Partnerships Australia Conference in Melbourne on that day.
I mean the National Party have a real problem because the National Party used to stand up for the bush. What we know with the National Broadband Network is that they’ve forgotten about standing up for the bush. The National Broadband Network, we had Bruce Scott, who is a fair dinkum old-style Nat standing up yesterday saying that he wanted parity of pricing and parity of service. Well the Coalition’s plan does neither. It is more costly for the bush compared with the city with less service for the bush than people in the city will get. That is what their plan is.
And on high-speed rail, having promised the same day that we did to match our commitment, he is out there today disparaging the report, having not read it. So I’d suggest that Warren Truss might like to actually have a look at the report. He also spoke about the inland freight corridor. Having been Transport Minister in the former government for years, he never committed anything to it. We have committed $300 million in the Budget as part of Nation Building. It is there for everyone to see for the inland freight corridor.
But the inland freight corridor doesn’t provide the opportunities that high-speed rail does for passengers. It is a freight line. There are opportunities there which is why we are providing the funding in the budget, for corridor preservation, for land resumptions – for that project to proceed.
QUESTION: Two questions if I may. What’s your priority? New airport in Sydney or this? Second airport for Sydney or this, what is the infrastructure priority for this country? And secondly, given you said the Commonwealth would fund the bulk of this, and given it’s got such a feeble rate of return for private investors, could you envisage this being something like the NBN where you fund it off budget, and then, you know, like a cash for asset transfer?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We are not at that stage. I do note the headline on your article today which didn’t really reflect the article but that’s not your fault. I understand the difficulties of working with the media.
But in terms of financial viability, it is significant that there is a $2.30 return on every dollar invested. The statement at the beginning of the process before phase one wasn’t, come up with a desk-top idea, come up with a feasibility study, is it a good idea? Everyone knows people think it is a good idea. It was have a hard look at the economics of it and what are the circumstances in which it could be financially viable? And this report suggests that, when fully operational, 84 million passengers producing a return that is significant enough to pay for costs as well as maintenance.
And I think from the interest expressed by companies and the people who have travelled to Australia to have meetings with us, the fact a number of international companies were prepared to engage with the authors of this report, suggests that there is a great deal of international interest in this.
Sydney needs a second airport. It needs it sooner rather than later. There is congestion there right now. This project would not obviate the need for a second airport. The growth in domestic aviation will exceed the growth in terms of the rail capacity. Certainly there will be some transfer and some people who would have caught planes will catch the train. No doubt about that. But the growth we are seeing is enormous.
And at the risk of stating the obvious, it is very hard to catch a high-speed rail line to Asia, or Europe, or the United States or New Zealand, or Tasmania for that matter. So in terms of the growth that’s there, we need a second airport. We have had two major pieces of work undertaken, this is one, I am releasing it out there for the public, I will do the same with the airport study that is taking place into Wilton and into whatever limited services can operate out of Richmond. But Sydney does need a second airport and this doesn’t obviate the need for it.
QUESTION: Barry O’Farrell thinks that with high-speed rail, Canberra can be the second airport.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It is not a serious proposition and anyone who looks at the report will know that that’s the case.
QUESTION: Why not just have a faster train service as opposed to high-speed service? I mean you would know in Britain, you can go from Waterloo up to Edinburgh, at a very nice rate that isn’t high-speed rail, but still very effective.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yeah and hardly anyone takes it which is why they are looking at high-speed rail in Britain. We really have some hard data not in theory but in practice of what occurs. All the experience and the advice to me as Minister and the advice would have been the same to the people who authored the report, advice from the Italians, and the Chinese, and the Japanese, and the French, and the Spanish and the Germans, is that if you go over three hours, people will fly. That seems to be the cut-off point where you have to get it below that, otherwise people will just jump on the plane.
So, for example, the idea of high-speed rail between Sydney and Perth that has been suggested will probably never be viable. This study envisages the two under three-hour trips, Melbourne and Brisbane from Sydney respectively, but also envisages separate trains – a regional network that will operate for Canberra as well as going south, Wagga, Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton, Central Coast, Newcastle, Taree, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Grafton, Casino, Gold Coast, Brisbane. Gold Coast and Canberra operating as a spur line with specific services, also a station at Southern Highlands as well. It also envisages in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane a non-CBD link. But you need express services – unless you cut it down to under three hours, people would not jump on the train, they’d keep jumping on the plane.
QUESTION: Given the huge time frame of this, do you think that Barry O’Farrell now has to engage with the airport debate? He’s kind of used the high-speed rail as a way to deflect and never give an opinion on an actual airport. Does he have to front up to it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Hopefully the good people of the fourth estate will hold him to account. He gets away with, you know, a bit of nonsense, frankly. I don’t believe that someone as intelligent as Barry O’Farrell believes that Canberra is Sydney’s second airport option. I just don’t believe it. And if he did believe it, why is he allowing housing development under the flight path at Tralee, in spite of the Federal Governments – this and the Howard Government’s consistent opposition to such a proposal that will actually undermine Canberra’s operation as an airport.
I also note that this week again Barry O’Farrell now has a different strategy. His deflection is to say myself and Joe Hockey, which he always mentions in the same breath, which is a comfort to both myself and Joe, he always speaks about some figure that he has plucked out of a Wheaties box in the morning, of the cost of building a second Sydney airport. He doesn’t seem to understand that a second Sydney airport would be operated by the private sector and in terms of the infrastructure costs of building is not a great amount. For this project, a large amount will be required. For a second Sydney airport, because of the way that airports operate, because they are money-making exercises that are leased by the Commonwealth Government to the private operators, I would envisage there would be a very small cost indeed.
And what Barry O’Farrell should do is stop making up figures and stop saying that we haven’t committed any money to the proposal and will ask the State Government to. The State Government hasn’t been asked to commit any money to the second airport. What we are doing is trying to ensure there is proper planning. There needs to be bipartisan support for a second airport, like this project will need bipartisan support over the long-term. When you have long-term infrastructure projects, what you can’t have is them dependent upon political elections. This is obviously far beyond a three-year term, as is the operation of an airport. And Barry O’Farrell should listen to the business community and listen to what they have to say.
I note that Tony Shepherd is addressing the Press Club next week. Listen to what people in the business community, people who use Sydney airport, have to say. Sydney’s position in terms of jobs, economic growth and its position as a global city of the future is endangered unless Sydney gets a second airport sooner rather than later. I note a number of senior Coalition members have been very constructive in their approach. I think people want politics to be set aside and for a bipartisan approach to constructive engagement on nation-building infrastructure to occur.
QUESTION: Mr Albanese, by 2050, is it more likely Australia will have high-speed rail or flying cars?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I am not sure whether that’s a serious question or not. What I deal with is facts, and I deal with proper analysis. I think with due respect, this report is worthy of more respect than the question.
QUESTION: Mr Albanese, is there anything in here that gives an overview of the economic impact by around 2050, like impact on GDP, jobs growth?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yes, there is economic analysis in terms of what it could potentially do for jobs. It recognises, for example, in terms of regional economic development that it is just a factor. It doesn’t try to say, if you do this, this will be the outcome in and of itself. But it also recognises the more than doubling that will occur in east coast trips. The figure I used before shows 355 million trips per year by 2065. Think about what happens if that is all in the air or on the road.
The great advantage of a high-speed train is that you can have many hundreds of passengers travelling at one time in a very seamless way. If you look at the Paris to London route, for example, and the Eurostar is operating now effectively, it had some issues in its initial stages, and that’s one of the things that was looked at. For example, one of the reasons why the Eurostar is now doing much better was that originally on the other side of the channel – the English side of the Channel, you had a high-speed rail line that then went not high-speed. And that had an impact in terms of its patronage.
What we have done here is look at all of that research. No doubt there will be further economic analysis and a critique of what is in this report, I think that’s a good thing. As I said, it is not a Government report. It is not a Government policy. It is a report that’s been commissioned by the Government in order to create debate. And I must say that that is one of the things that your august journals often call for. You call for exactly this sort of process of long-term policy development, analysis, input, critiquing, making sure that we get it right. We have ensured that that occurs and I think this is a part of Labor’s future agenda, our approach towards getting future policy right in the national interest, just like we are doing with the National Broadband Network.
It is preparing Australia for the future. There is no doubt that there are challenges with this but I think high-speed rail will be an important part of Australia’s future and I thank you very much for your attendance today.