Subjects: Eddie Graham; High Speed Rail; Inland rail; National Broadband Network.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I am here with Tim Kurylowicz, our candidate for Riverina. Last night I gave the Eddie Graham Lecture here in Wagga Wagga, in honour of a great representative for this area. A great Labor stalwart and a great Labor Agricultural Minister, who brought so many services, infrastructure and jobs right here to Wagga Wagga. It was a great event attended by the community, a packed house, and it was a very positive thing to do. It was the tenth time it has been held.
This morning I am here with Tim and Rod, the Mayor, to recommit Labor’s support for a High Speed Rail line. A High Speed Rail line would transform regional Australia, in particular, and have enormous benefit right here in Wagga Wagga. It would bring jobs. It would bring economic activity. It would bring tourists. It would bring enormous benefit for this city and this region. It would ensure that Wagga Wagga remains the capital of the Riverina and southern New South Wales. The High Speed Rail line between Brisbane and Melbourne has been shown by the study that we did, when we were last in government, to have a transformative effect. Not just on inter-capital transport. What lifted it up in terms of its economic benefit is the impact on our regions.
And we are here at the airport, which would be the site of the station that has been identified by this comprehensive study. It has looked at precisely the route, where the stations would be, what the patronage forecast would be, what the environmental benefits would be. We know that from Sydney to Melbourne it has the benefit of $2.15 for every dollar that was invested. Importantly, it would bring tourists here to Wagga Wagga from both Sydney and Melbourne. The two big capitals would be under two hours by direct route to Wagga Wagga. That would enable not just tourists to travel, but importantly – together with the National Broadband Network – businesses that are located here in Wagga Wagga would have an enormous competitive advantage over businesses that are located in the Sydney or Melbourne CBDs. Due to the lower cost structures that are here in Wagga Wagga, in terms of the establishment of the bus iness but also the lower cost structures for housing the workforce. It would make Wagga Wagga extraordinarily attractive as a place to establish a business. It would ensure that you could have an even better lifestyle if you could live with all of the benefits that are here in this great regional city, but still be able to travel to and from Sydney/Melbourne in a day trip with absolute ease.
There are benefits also, of course, for the environment with a shift to rail transport. In addition to that it will make our roads safer by taking cars and movements off the road and putting them on to rail, our most safe form of transport. As well it would reduce the need for costs in terms of maintenance of roads. This is a win-win-win situation.
When we lost office in 2013 we had the High Speed Rail report. We had established a High Speed Rail Advisory Group that included Tim Fischer and Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council of Australia. We put $50 million in the Budget for the establishment of that authority and for the preservation of the corridor and for the planning to occur. There will be a need to coordinate planning through local government, through the state and territory governments, and through the private sector.
The Government stopped that process, stopped the Authority being formed, which was the unanimous recommendation; including from Tim Fischer, Jennifer Westacott, Bryan Nye and other business leaders. We are absolutely committed to making sure that we progress this project. If Bill Shorten is elected on July 2 we will establish the High Speed Rail Authority this year. We will make sure that it is funded to the tune of $50 million. And we will make sure in the terms of the work that is done that we progress this project. We will engage with the community through local government here in Wagga Wagga and on other stops along the route, to make sure the community is engaged with this exciting and transformative project.
REPORTER: Being where we are, we do have a lot of producers excited about the Inland Rail. What are your thoughts on that and does it have a date?
ALBANESE: When I was the Minister we funded $900 million for the Inland Rail; $600 million to improve the existing parts of the line through the Australian Rail Track Corporation, that will be part of the Inland Rail route, including right here in Wagga Wagga. That was work that was done by the former Labor Government. In addition to that we put $300 million in the Budget for the new parts of the track that will be needed for the Inland Rail route.
During 2013-2016, under the Coalition, not a dollar in addition to the Labor Government funding has been spent on Inland Rail. Not one dollar. They haven’t even spent the money that the former Labor Government put in the Budget for this project. They’ve promised to fast track it, but all they have done is put it in the slow lane. Now again it is election time and they’re promising to do something on Inland Rail.
They put some money in the forwards for future activity. But you have to have a look at what they haven’t done this term. It has been a great disappointment that all they have done is try to claim that $300 million as their own, that they haven’t actually done anything to progress the project. They had an unnecessary study to tell us what we already knew: that the Inland Rail project is good and that is should proceed. They spent three years on that without actually progressing the project. It’s been three wasted years, when it comes to advancing the Inland Rail project. A Labor Government will actually get on with the business of achieving it.
REPORTER: These are two massive infrastructure projects, and last night Tim touched on it, that here it is a “safe seat”. Do you think the people locally recognise the fact that it has been, as you put, a wasted three years and Labor’s commitment would hopefully swing the seat?
ALBANESE: I think they know that I was the Minister who came to the Holbrook Bypass opening and completed the Hume Highway duplication, with the Tarcutta, the Holbrook, and the Woomargama bypasses when we were in government. Bringing forward that funding, making sure that it got completed sooner than it would have done otherwise. I think they know that it is Labor that progressed the Inland Rail project, and they have been wondering what has been going on with re-announcing the $300 million – that Labor put in the Budget – over and over and over again. I think they’re very disappointed that they are taken for granted by the National Party. This is a seat where the National Party think they don’t have to do anything. The money has been in the Budget for years, that was put in there as part of the Regional Development Australia Fund for the intermodal terminal here in Wagga Wagga. &nbs p;And yet that project has not advanced.
That, again, is a lost three years. That’s three years of job losses. That’s three years of less economic activity. That’s three years of handbrake on economic growth. It is Labor that takes economic growth and jobs seriously and it is Labor that has been prepared to not look at things politically, in terms of who holds what seat. We do things in the national economic interest. That’s what I did as the Infrastructure Minister. That is why I was a regular visitor here and to other regional centres around Australia. That’s why I am here again, to say that we regard regional cities as absolutely vital.
When we established a Major Cities Unit when we were in government, we made it very deliberately not the Capital Cities Unit. What you need to do, if you are going to take pressure off the big east coast capitals in particular, is to grow our regional cities. Wagga Wagga is the city that needs to be grown here in southern New South Wales. It has extraordinary potential. It is on the routes of not just the east coast capitals but of course on the route to Adelaide as well. It has extraordinary advantages and we should be, as a nation, utilising that. It is always fantastic to be back here. I was a regular visitor as a Minister. I don’t think there are too many Liberal Party ministers who have come through here in the last three years.
REPORTER: You also touched on the (inaudible) broadband network last night. I want to bring it up because three or four years on, fibre to the home is potentially cheaper than copper. There are a number of schools here locally that have been doing some pretty extraordinary things; hooking up their own satellites to access NBN for a teacher’s house because they couldn’t get fibre to the school.
ALBANESE: That’s a failure of Government policy. We need fibre to every home, to every school and to every business. In the 21st century, the idea that a Government would be purchasing copper for its Fraudband network – rather than having 21st century technology, doing it right, doing it once, doing it with fibre… one of the documents that the Government has sought to cover up shows that NBN Co have actually done a pilot, looking at fibre to the home, which is cheaper than copper to the home.
New technology ensures that costs come down of rolling out that new technology. The NBN needs to be got right. It is as essential in the 21st century as energy or water in terms of access. And that is why it should be universal. What the Government doesn’t seem to understand is that this isn’t an option that should be delivered on the basis of being able to afford to pay, that only those people in the cities who can afford to pay should get access to the best technology. It should be universal. It is an equity issue and it is an issue of particular impact to regional Australia. I find it extraordinary that the National Party have allowed Malcolm Turnbull to wreck the National Broadband Network. I find it absolutely an abrogation of their responsibility as representatives here in regional Australia.
REPORTER: Anthony, this $50 million that you have announced – is that going to go towards building the High Speed Rail in ten years? Can you build it in ten years if you are elected?
ALBANESE: You certainly can’t build it for $50 million. What you need to do is to make sure – and I am not putting a timeline in terms of the commitment – you establish the Authority, you make sure the coordination is there, you make sure that the experts are there. And you make sure that the engineers determine, rather than the politicians, the rollout and how it can be done. You also call for expressions of interest. There are a range of international consortia who have visited Australia – from Japan, from China, from Spain, from Italy, from France – who are saying ‘we want to participate in this project’. You establish an Authority, you call for expressions of interest, and those international corporations that have experience in effectively building a High Speed Rail network, you enable them to put forward their proposals. It is a bit like what we did on the NBN, and wh at the Government should do on the NBN: listen to the experts, get them involved. We set the framework. High Speed Rail would have extraordinary benefits here in Wagga Wagga and for other regional cities. It is time we got on with progressing this visionary nation-building project.
INTERVIEWER: High Speed Rail is really the focus of this morning. For you, has it been hard after the last election campaign to see this sit on the bench?
TIM KURYLOWICZ, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR RIVERINA: The frustrating thing about this has been the double speak. Mr McCormack will take every opportunity he is given to sing about the benefits of High Speed Rail. But then in Parliament he voted for the cut to the High Speed Rail Authority. What we are doing is announcing today that we are going to put it back on track. But there have been three lost years.
REPORTER: Why do you think voters should be excited and invested in the High Speed Rail?
KURYLOWICZ: This is something that would change our way of life. We can talk about the economic benefits, the social benefits, and a change of what our town would look like. There’s a couple of things to be excited about. Sixty per cent of the entire Australian population would be within 50 kilometres of a terminal. If you can imagine, 60 per cent of the Australian population potentially stopping in for a coffee in Wagga Wagga. That’s an extraordinary thing and it would completely change the way we think of how our city would interact with the rest of Australia. But I am most excited about a school kid in Wagga, hopping on a train and going on an excursion to Sydney, going to see a performance at the Opera House and being home by 3pm. That becomes possible if High Speed Rail is built.
REPORTER: I think you summed it up pretty well there. We need a big swing here in this seat –
KURYLOWICZ: We certainly do!
REPORTER: You’ve only been campaigning for close to a month now –
KURYLOWICZ: Three months actually. Started the 4th of March. Malcolm Turnbull is only doing eight weeks, so I could teach him a few things about long campaigns.
REPORTER: You’ve got four weeks to go. Are you confident of a swing?
KURYLOWICZ: What I am confident of is that I have interacted with thousands and thousands of people right across this electorate. I have been standing out the front of school gates, I have been standing out the front of shopping centres and inviting people to tell me what they want out of a potential leader. I hope those conversations have allowed people an opportunity to see what I stand for, and they have certainly got that opportunity to think about those conversations on polling day.
KURYLOWICZ: As Anthony said, there are a lot of different ways that you can build a big infrastructure project like this. As Anthony Albanese has said so far the process of where you go next, that is a question for tomorrow. Today what we have to be doing is securing the corridor. We know exactly where it’s going to go, just through the paddocks over there. What we have to do is make sure no one builds anything on those paddocks. That’s our first priority. Anthony Albanese has made it very clear that he is canvassing a whole range of options on how you pay for it. There are some great suggestions being put forward and there are huge variations on what this will cost. Recently people have said that it can be done for a lot less than what the Government study found.
REPORTER: When the Government committed $600 million to Inland Rail, you said that at that rate of spending it is going to take 80 years to build the freight route. This is $50 million of a $116 billion project. How long is that going to take?
KURYLOWICZ: Those are two different things. Obviously in government that depends entirely on how much investment is coming from the private sector and how you divvy up the costs of the build. Is it going to cost $114 billion or is it going to cost half that? Those are questions that have to be settled by the experts. I have never built a High Speed Rail network myself, I can’t tell you.
REPORTER: Do they plan to move the airport to the other side –
KURYLOWICZ: I believe that is on Council’s radar. I am not across what Council plans to do. It is a Council facility, but there are obvious and clear opportunities for there to be a regional transport hub that links High Speed Rail and airport and would really turn this airport into the hub-point where you fly to other regional centres.
REPORTER: If the Government doesn’t allow development here at this airport, because it is Commonwealth land… Committee for Wagga, the Business Chamber, they want to see aeronautical companies come in and develop here and bring in new jobs. Would this Government take a different approach to that should the terminal be moved, or the High Speed Rail come here?
KURYLOWICZ: I think what has been made clear here is that there are a lot of options on the table that have to be explored and nutted out. I certainly couldn’t give you a definitive answer on that and I don’t think anyone could. Sorry mate, I don’t have a crystal ball.
REPORTER: Rod, what implications would it have for the airport here should this be built?
MAYOR OF WAGGA WAGGA, ROD KENDALL: It would increase the patronage of the airport, there’s no doubt about it. The High Speed Rail route skirts around the eastern and southern boundaries of our airport and there would be that potential to co-locate a rail terminal with our airport terminal. That would result, of course, in this facility being an intermodal transport hub for passenger transport. And a great boost to the city. When you look at High Speed Rail – and I’ve been to every one of the High Speed Rail forums held in Canberra, where the proponents of High Speed Rail, the builders, the constructers and the operators have all spoken – this is a must for the future development of not just regional Australia but the whole of Australia. It will be a game changer for our economy.
REPORTER: Last time we spoke you said you were still trying to get the airport off Defence, and for council to take ownership: is that crucial in this too?
KENDALL: The ownership of the airport is not necessarily the critical issue. Of course the terms of the leases are critical; we would like to have airport ownership. That’s almost a secondary issue. The location of the High Speed Rail co-located with our airport, similar to the proposal in Canberra, I think is absolutely critical to High Speed Rail. That interconnection between air travel and High Speed Rail travel – where people would hop off an aeroplane to hop on the rail – will be a critical part of the infrastructure and the exact opposite to what we see now.
REPORTER: Tim spoke before about needing to secure those paddocks to allow for a High Speed Rail. Is that on Council’s agenda as well?
KENDALL: In attending the High Speed Rail forums, the critical issue for government is to secure the corridor and to undertake the environmental studies and pass the legislation that is required to build it. That would then de-risk the project, from a constructor/operator point of view, and then the Government could then go to expressions of interest for the building and operating. My understanding is – having attended two of the High Speed Rail forums in Canberra – that there are constructor/operators who are prepared to build and operate the High Speed Rail at no cost to government, providing government has done those first two parts of the job. Secured the corridor and passed the legislation that would require it to be built, having undertaken all of the environmental studies and community consultations: that’s the role of government.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.