Subjects: High Speed Rail; drought; Luke Foley; Governor-General; Julia Gillard; tennis.
TIM SHAW: Now the Liberals and Nationals Government in New South Wales have committed every cent of the proceeds, under the Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund, to spend in regional NSW backing big projects. Including a very fast train between Canberra and Sydney. I have to ask whether this fast rail link between Canberra and Sydney being back on the agenda, is it really going to happen? We’ve been talking about this since 1967 and a bloke that talked about it a lot in 2013, of course, is my next guest – The Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development, Shadow Minister for Tourism, Mr Anthony Albanese the Member for Grayndler. Albo, welcome back.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to talk to you, Tim.
SHAW: Is it good – is this right – are you and John Barilaro and I, going to be on a very fast train any time soon from Canberra to Sydney?
ALBANESE: Well, I certainly hope that there’s a very fast train, not just from Canberra to Sydney, but right down the east coast. The first viable link we found in the study was Sydney to Melbourne via Canberra, but the study that we undertook in two stages, in the lead up to 2013, said that there’s essentially two components to it. One is the big inter-capital city routes from Sydney to Melbourne and Sydney to Brisbane and of course, Sydney and Melbourne at one stage was the world’s highest number of passengers by air travel, so there’s certainly the potential demand there. And if you could do it under three hours then that effectively is quicker when you’re taking the time into account – all the time waiting for the plane travelling to airports.
But the thing that really lifted it up was the regional economic development, including the Sydney to Canberra route. So I think it certainly is viable but it needs something other than good intentions and that’s why the committee that I had appointed included Tim Fisher from the National Party and included a former National Party Deputy Prime Minister, a genuine train enthusiast, that included Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council of Australia. It was heavily weighted towards an economic analysis of viability. It said that you had to create an authority that would coordinate this, preserve the corridor, make sure that it got on with the planning that’s required across the different jurisdictions, both local and state government. And I’ve had a Private Member’s Bill – I reintroduced it again just last Monday before the Parliament, to do that.
SHAW: That is good news. Now, a couple of things that we need to consider here. Luke Foley, the Leader of the Labor Party in NSW, he’s put a lazy $5 million down. If his Government – his Opposition is elected, he is saying $5 million to boost Andrew Barr, the Labor Chief Minister’s request for a faster link using the existing track. Now Andrew Constance is a bit busy trying to clean up that problem with light rail up there in Sydney. But here’s the question, how very fast is this very fast train, if it’s got to stop eight times on the road on the line from Canberra to Sydney? It’s got to stop at Goulburn, it’s got to stop at Bowral, where do we go to from there? Do we run a tunnel under the seat of Grayndler? What happens after Bowral to get it into Sydney Central Station?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s right. That’s really faster rail, rather than High Speed Rail. High Speed Rail was envisaged to have – the study that we have would be a dedicated line rather than trying to fix the existing line. And there’s no doubt in the short term that you could do some things to fix the existing route between Canberra and Sydney, that sees people choosing to go by bus rather than by train, because the bus is faster. But what you would have is essentially a stop at Southern Highlands, a stop on the outskirts of South-West Sydney, but that was all that was envisaged. But it would also envisage direct routes, that is, no stops between Sydney and Canberra as well, which would be well under an hour. And that would make an enormous difference, it would transform Canberra. Because what it would do is change the economics of businesses being located in our national capital. If you could be located under an hour from the CBD of Sydney, which is very competitive, much better indeed for some of the outer suburbs of Sydney. I live in Marrickville which is pretty close to the airport, I have to allow three quarters of an hour if I’m driving into the city.
SHAW: Well that great Majura Parkway that you and the ACT Government built, of course, we’ve got Stephen Byron there at the Canberra Airport, he’s made an infrastructure capacity to be able to have a very fast train station there. Is that the kind of far-sighted thinking we need? Secondly, we had Mike Kelly – Dr Mike Kelly – the Member for Eden-Monaro, he said: ‘Tim the value capture is a great idea but we’ve got a lot of land acquisition, could be up to $1 billion to get that corridor for the very fast train track to run along the Hume Highway.’ There’s a lot of dough attached to this, Albo?
ALBANESE: There is, which is why you’d need to get that planning started. And one thing that we know is that the more that it’s delayed – I’m very confident that it will happen, if you look overseas at Europe, in our own region. Australia is indeed the only inhabited continent that won’t have High Speed Rail in a few years’ time. It’s being built in South America, North America. It’s being been built in Africa. So we need to, I think, plan now; if we do that then the cost is cheaper. Infrastructure Australia have certainly pointed towards that as a priority. They’ve been very supportive of the project and common sense tells you that because we do have an advantage for a change. Usually it’s a disadvantage the fact that our population is concentrated in that small area on the East Coast. But that concentration of population is what makes it viable and you can get some value capture out of the growth in regional cities. But the truth is, it will also require a commitment from government and the report made that very clear. Always be aware of people who say you can do something for nothing.
SHAW: Well, if you were in government today would you be committing to this very fast train? The Government led by your Leader Bill Shorten?
ALBANESE: We would. And we’d create the authority, we had that in place at the time of the last election. We had $54 million allocated for the authority to begin its work. And that was cut by Tony Abbott when he got elected and it hasn’t been replaced. So there’s been some musings from time to time from the Federal Government, but essentially we’ve had five lost years and I know that has been a cause of much frustration from the people who worked on the report.
SHAW: Yeah, we’ve got Labor Premiers coming with their colleagues from states and territories to the summit today to be held at Old Parliament House. We’ve got the Prime Minister whacking $5 billion on the table. Anthony Albanese, this is the drought relief plan going forward, ironic that there was no word ‘drought’ in the 2015 White Paper. Is this Government on the right track? Michael McCormack, the Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, $5 billion, a lot of money, will it fix the problem?
ALBANESE: Well look, we will work constructively with the summit and with any proposals that come out of it. It is a pity that the Government had a White Paper on these issues without mentioning drought, when it comes to agriculture. But Joel Fitzgibbon is working very hard. He’s someone who is really connected with people in rural and regional Australia.
SHAW: Yeah, your old mate Luke Foley is in a bit of trouble over these allegations. Front page of The Daily Telegraph about alleged harassment of an ABC journalist. Should Luke Foley get on the radio and dispel these allegations today? He refused to do so yesterday on Sydney radio. What’s your advice to your mate Luke Foley, the Leader of the Labor Party in New South Wales?
ALBANESE: My advice to him is to hang in there, in terms of – what we have is, I think, it’s quite extraordinary that there is so much publicity without there being a specific allegation made by anybody.
SHAW: Brought down the leadership of John Brogden. We know there was some subsequent mental health issues there. Is Luke on track to become the next Premier or is he going to step aside for someone else?
ALBANESE: Luke is on track to be the next Premier. He’s doing a fantastic job. And the fact that this is a desperate tactic by the Coalition Government, under Parliamentary Privilege with vague smears; there isn’t even a specific allegation.
SHAW: Yeah, take it outside is what Luke said yesterday. A quick one on Governor-General. What a great man, Sir Peter Cosgrove, he’ll leave that role 27 March. Do you support the idea of Sir Angus Houston being the next Governor-General of Australia?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s not a decision for me to make.
SHAW: Good bloke, though.
ALBANESE: I would say about Sir Angus Houston, he is a fantastic Australian. He is a real gentleman. He undertakes every job he’s ever been given with class and dignity and he’s someone that I appointed as Minister to head Airservices Australia and I’m very proud of that appointment.
SHAW: Yeah, absolutely. They’re looking for new board members at the ABC. Kevin Rudd is looking for a job, do you reckon he’d make a good contribution as a board member in the ABC?
ALBANESE: I think Kevin’s doing a great job as head of the Asia Society in New York and as someone who is talking about some of the really big issues – of the rise of China what the implications are between the relationship between China and the US, as the two great superpowers. And he’s someone who, I think, does Australia a great deal of credit on the international stage.
SHAW: What a class act is Julia Gillard, what a beautiful portrait and seeing that dignity by which she returned to the Parliament for the first time – very moving, Albo?
ALBANESE: Oh look it’s a fantastic portrait. It’s very different from all of the others and I think it does capture – I listened to quite a wonderful interview by the artist who spoke about the amount of time that he had to spend with her, to really get to know her and to capture her in that portrait. It’s a portrait that captures her dignity, her humility and I think it’s a wonderful addition to a building that I very much love, Parliament House.
SHAW: Who won the tennis by the way? You and your Davis Cup partner John Alexander, was it the pollies over the press in the tennis?
ALBANESE: We won. It helps when you do have a Davis Cup Captain, a former Davis Cup Captain on your team.
SHAW: My oath.
ALBANESE: But Kevin Hogan from the National Party and Peter Khalil, we make up the pollies team, so it’s very much cross party. But it was it was a very close match. It was just a bit of fun that we have and one of the things about parliamentary sport is that a lot of money is raised for charity over the years and it’s a good thing.
SHAW: Thanks for being there, Albo. We appreciate it.
ALBANESE: Nice to talk to you, Tim.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.