Subjects: High Speed Rail, road safety
SHAW: I want to speak to Anthony Albanese; he is on the line now. Anthony Albanese welcome to 2CC Breakfast.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you again.
SHAW: Look it’s great to have you on the program, because I saw that announcement of the $114 billion expenditure; Prime Minister Rudd, you were standing there. Anthony, what was the response in the broad sense from the community and from business about the proposal.
ALBANESE: The response was very positive indeed. What we had had when we made that announcement of $54 million to establish a High Speed Rail Authority to coordinate what was required was an advisory group and that included Jennifer Westacott, the CEO of the Business Council of Australia, as well as people like Tim Fischer, the former Deputy Prime Minister and a former National Party Leader in the Parliament and, of course, a great rail advocate.
It included the late Brian Nye, the head of the Australasian Rail Association. It included the union. It included a local government representative. So it was a very broad group. We’d had the $20 million study that identified the corridor, that identified what steps were required to go forward, that did the economic analysis that showed for example that the corridor between Sydney and Melbourne via Canberra would produce $2.15 benefit for every dollar invested. So the next step, though, was to establish an Authority because you need to deal with the different jurisdictions.
The states, of course, have planning responsibility and there are three of them and the ACT. You have local government, has a lot of responsibility, through the corridor, and to engage with the private sector as well. So you need something, a body, a structure that drives this project forward, rather than what we’ve had is another report, that John Alexander chaired the committee, that reported to Parliament this week. I spoke on it yesterday in the House, and of course that recommended, I think it’s recommendation two, was very clearly that it required a body to drive it forward.
I’ve got a Private Members Bill. We could establish that Authority by voting for my Private Members Bill today.
SHAW: And what’s holding it back Anthony?
ALBANESE: Delay from the current Government, at the top levels, rather than from, I have no doubt that people like John Alexander and a number of members. This was a unanimous committee report this week, so at the grassroots level the support is certainly there. I think people are scared about some of the big numbers that are involved, but big numbers can produce big returns. And the economic analysis has been done. AECOM did the study; it was a very comprehensive study indeed. It’s available still on the infrastructure department’s website for people to have a look at; down to the design of stations it went to.
The Government in its 2014 Budget cut the funding that we put in the Budget for that Authority. It was modest funding, to make sure that environmental approvals, if there needed to be some initial purchasing of the corridor. See, the big danger here is that if we just talk and don’t preserve the corridor, then what I wouldn’t want someone to do in 2021 or 22 or whenever is to say, yes we’re all agreed this is going to happen, whoops because of decisions made today to not preserve the corridor, it’s not possible anymore.
That’s why it needs that decisive action. We know there are big challenges; that tunnelling in particular, it doesn’t work unless it goes through Sydney and there were 92 kilometres of tunnel identified that would be required, 67 kilometres of which would be in Sydney, simply because of build-up density, as an example, there aren’t alternatives. Whereas in other parts of the route of course, running it down by the highway and through lands that don’t present as big a challenge as obviously coming through the cities would do.
SHAW: What you’ve said to me, which I find extraordinary, for every dollar spent, a $2.15 return as part of that 2013 analysis and some stellar people on that board. If Bill Shorten was leading the Federal Government today, what would Labor be doing right now in terms of the expediting of this project?
ALBANESE: If that was happening, I would be the Minister, and an Authority would be established. I’d make sure, as I did when I appointed the advisory group, I’d make sure that it was intended to be a group that would last beyond a term of Parliament that lifted beyond politics.
One of the reasons, the only person with any political connections I appointed to the advisory group was Tim Fischer. That was a very conscious decision to do that and to have Jennifer Westacott in order to break down some of the cynicism that was there; this is the business community, it’s all right for the government to say this, but the business community and economic analysis say this would work. Well the business community is behind this project because what it would do is not only, for business travellers, for example, if they could get from the CBD to Sydney and Melbourne and Sydney and Brisbane in under three hours.
Frankly it takes you longer than that when you take into account the time to the airport, sitting around waiting for the plane, sitting on the tarmac waiting for the plane to take off, circling around waiting for a slot to land. You’d remove all that and what’s more it’s productive time.
I’ve met so many Australians, I think one of the things that are changing is that so many Australians have travelled by train from London to Paris, from Rome to Bologna, from Beijing to Shanghai, from Tokyo to Osaka. And what they do, once you’ve done that, you know that it’s so much more comfortable than travelling in a plane and the regional economic development opportunities. I mean, it would turbo charge Canberra to be about 40 minutes from Sydney, would make it viable even for people to live in Canberra and work in Sydney and that would change the whole economics of businesses being located here.
You’d be not that much further, under two hours from Melbourne, potentially, and for the regional towns and cities along the route, places like Albury and Shepparton and Wagga, it would transform them as well as, of course, up along the north coast. We need to take pressure off the big capital cities; this is one way to do it.
SHAW: And road safety is a big issue and you released that story, which was published in the Huffington Post. I’ll get on to that in a minute, Anthony Albanese, who should build this very fast train network? Do we involve the Chinese because they’ve done so well in their own national cities? You know, you and I have been to China, you go there a year later, and there’s a city over the hill that wasn’t there the year before with a very fast train link. Should the Chinese, being such close trading partners of Australia now, would they be the major contractor and expertise on this project?
ALBANESE: What I have suggested, and we went to the election saying, is that the High Speed Rail Authority would be tasked with asking, essentially, making a request for expressions of interest from international consortia that has experience in building and operating High Speed Rail. Not just the Chinese, of course, but the Japanese would be very interested. Indeed, Japan has had a High Speed Rail office in Sydney for 20 years, waiting for an opportunity to participate but certainly, the Japanese, the Chinese, but also the Europeans, in particular the French company TGB have been here, the Italians and the Spanish would all be interested. There’d be indeed a competitive process, with international companies falling over themselves to participate in such a project here in Australia.
SHAW: All right, you and I are going to go on the fast train from Canberra to Sydney and Elizabeth from Garran says, Tim, how much would you and Albo pay for a ticket to go from Canberra to Sydney? Any idea on what the ticket cost would be?
ALBANESE: One of the things that the report looked at was the economics of such a project and essentially it wouldn’t be as cheap as you can travel now I know on a bus very cheaply. It would be competitive with airfares. That might come down over a period of time, but essentially it would be competitive with a normal – medium priced airfare, so you would be talking in the order of $150 return, something like that, up to $200. But it wouldn’t be bargain basement prices; you would be paying for the comfort. And what the analysis did, they went out and talked to a lot of focus groups, there was a lot of research went into it. If people were faced between the same price airfare and the same price rail, they’ll take rail.
SHAW: They will, because the productivity, the Wi-Fi on board. Listen, Phil from Queanbeyan says costs of major projects blow out all the time, like the NBN. Would the High Speed Rail contract be done such as Andrew Barr’s done here in the ACT, where there’s a price fixing around this territory contract. Would the Commonwealth achieve the same thing to limit costs not exceeding what the contractor says it’s going to cost?
ALBANESE: Smart infrastructure development always does that and it’s not correct that infrastructure projects actually always blow out. The truth is that infrastructure projects over the last ten years have actually decreased in price. Projects like the Majura Parkway, for example, that was funded when I was the Minister…
SHAW: We thank you for that. It’s a great parkway mate.
ALBANESE: It is. It is a fantastic piece of infrastructure and it came in slightly under budget and there are lots of examples where that has occurred. Most road projects are certainly under budget over what they were expected to be essentially because the price of steel and concrete and the raw materials, with the drop-off in construction from the resources sector means that the price has gone down, effectively.
SHAW: All right, two quick things. I want to talk to you about road safety. You’re concerned about the fact that the tribunal in relation to remuneration has been removed by the Federal Government. We rely on the transport industry and the truckers of Australia particularly around here in the capital. What’s your advice to those of who are, like you and me, driving up and down on the Hume, a B double comes along and you think I’ve got to get out of the way. What are we doing on road safety for the trucking industry Anthony Albanese?
ALBANESE: Well the problem here is that the Government when we were in office in 2012 established the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and its task was pretty simple, which was the whole concept of safe rates to stop what was occurring, and can occur again now. If there’s a task to take goods from Canberra to Brisbane and it should take 12 hours with various drop offs, having the business say to the truck driver next to truck driver A, well, how long can you do it in? You can do it in 10 and therefore creating this enormous pressure on individual truck drivers to engage in unsafe practices, to drive too fast or to take stimulants to stay awake. There are all sorts of horrific examples that we know of of drivers who stayed up for days on end because of the pressures that were on them to keep their business going, to feed their families essentially.
ALBANESE: The idea of safe rates was essentially to put the chain of responsibility through the supply chain so that the person who was making demands if you like, of truck drivers, also had some responsibility to ensure safe practices through safe rates. It was abolished, the tribunal, in what was essentially a political action, but not replaced by anything at all. So we were prepared to have a look at modifications that might need to be made to the tribunal. But you need a heavy vehicle safety strategy and the Government simply doesn’t have one since the tribunal was axed last year.
SHAW: Look, great to talk to you Anthony Albanese. I look forward to the opportunity again soon. Have a good day.
ALBANESE: You too Tim.