Subject: Inland rail
ALAN JONES: We have asked Anthony Albanese to join me this morning and he’s agreed to come to the studio. He’s here beside me. This bloke has forgotten more about infrastructure than most people in the Parliament know. There are a million things I would like to discuss with him and we may have a chance of that again. But today I just want to go to the heart of this issue that people west of the Great Dividing Range are writing to me about every day and this is this Inland Rail project and the route – Melbourne to Brisbane. The bill we’re told will top $10 billion if you’re lucky. But at that amount of money you’ve got to get it right. Bit like the old submarine job. The Federal Member for Parkes, Mark Coulton, who is yet another National Party member who doesn’t listen to his constituency; he says he’s concerned that people have shut the gate on information. I don’t know what that means. A group of families impacted by the Inland Rail are calling for an independent inquiry. Now this thing is 1,700 kilometres long, the largest freight rail infrastructure project in Australia. And they are saying the first service will run somewhere around 2024-25. I don’t think there’s anyone who disagrees with the concept. The issue is the detail. Trains will be double stacked and up to 1,800 metres long. That’s 18 football fields. Tens of thousands of trucks theoretically could be taken off the highways and that would significantly reduce the cost of taking Australian produce from paddock to port. That’s the principle but the detail I think is rubbish and I use that word advisedly but I have not discussed this with Anthony Albanese but I thought I’d discuss it with him this morning. Good morning. Thank you for your time.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks for having me on the program, Alan.
JONES: Well, what do you make of this?
ALBANESE: Well this is appalling. The Government has botched this from day one which is why today standing next to the NSW Farmers I’ll be announcing a Federal Labor Government will have a full public inquiry into this debacle. It is very clear that the Government has failed to consult properly. It’s very clear that there are real issues with the route going through prime agricultural land; that the locals aren’t being listened to about the issues with regard to the route. Now this project as well is 1,700 kilometres long but 1,100 kilometres is existing tracks. So there’s just six hundred kilometres of new track. There are two areas in particular, greenfield, from Yelarbon to Gowrie and Narromine to Narrabri, where communities are raising major issues and also in the Southern Darling Downs, just the other side of the border.
JONES: Just interrupt you for a moment. This man is sitting here without a note. This is what we expect of the detail when it comes to policy. Good on you. All these people have spoken to me. Just keep going.
ALBANESE: Now the other issue is, Alan, the financing of the project. It’s being funded off-budget as an equity injection, as if it is going to produce a return on …
JONES: Profit, yeah.
ALBANESE: … on capital. The truth is, John Anderson did an inquiry for the current government that said it wouldn’t produce a return in 50 years. So the whole financing of the project; if you get that wrong then you’ve got to fix it up later on. Someone will have to fix this up. The other issue that’s a big one is when you talk about Inland Rail it shouldn’t have been taken literally of being just inland. It doesn’t go to a port. It stops 38 kilometres short of Brisbane Port at Acacia Ridge. Now if you’ve got these incredibly long, as you say, the size of many football fields long, double stacked trains stopping 38 kilometres, what happens for that last 38 kilometres? Do you get those double stacks and put them all on trucks to go through suburban streets. Does it go through? How do you fix up the rail to the port? It doesn’t go to Melbourne Port either. And the reason why they did that, Alan, is if you’re saying that it’s an equity injection and will produce a return, what you’ve got to do is to bodgy up essentially the costs and you do that by removing the most expensive section of the route. Because when you go through a city, an urban, area it’s obviously more expensive than if you’re going across a flat area of land in western NSW. Now you can’t bodgy up the cost and then fix the benefit in order to somehow make it stack up but it’s worse than that, because the CEO of the Australian Rail Track Corporation that’s delivering this project, John Fullerton, conceded to us in Senate Estimates that it wouldn’t produce a return. So what they’re doing is counting the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s balance sheet as a whole in order to defend this equity injection into the project. So you have problems with the financing, problems with how the decision was made in the first time. I’m told that Matthias Corman the finance minister opposed it being funded this way but Barnaby Joyce just pushed on through because he wanted a big announcement and this was part of the payoff that was done in terms of where Malcolm Turnbull took over, that the National Party would get a couple of things out of it and this is what Barnaby Joyce wanted. But you’ve got to get it right.
JONES: You are quite right. Just a couple of things which you’ve mentioned there; my information is there is over 300 farm businesses are going to be impacted. What’s wrong with using the 100-year-old rail corridor as it now exists and building upon that?
ALBANESE: Well nothing’s wrong with that Alan which is why we need this inquiry so that the experts; I don’t want politicians deciding the routes of, of, of train lines. What we should have is engineers, but with the experts. So we will appoint someone, who’s…
JONES: This is a major initiative and the inquiry that he’s announcing. This is a major initiative and this will please farmers. As we will always run out of time here, I don’t want to run out of time on this. The flood plains; now there’s a concern about the Condamine River flood plain, which then the railway line being such going across that floodplain. Now you put a railway line and of course the water will back up.
ALBANESE: Well absolutely.
JONES: Will back up on one side. These people are at high risk.
ALBANESE: It’s a huge concern and all of these issues haven’t been dealt with adequately. The fact that the farmers’ peak organisation will be standing up at a media conference with me at 9.30 this morning to indicate the concern that’s out there. I went to Parkes. I talked to farmers outside a conference that was being held on Inland Rail. I was one of the speakers inside the room. They were outside because they couldn’t afford the fee to get inside that conference hall, and they were being ignored. None of the other politicians went and spoke to them. I went and spoke to them and I heard their concerns and I have been speaking regularly with the farmers, and making sure that we’ll represent them.
JONES: Just to interrupt you.
ALBANESE: Joel Fitzgibbon, I must say, has been very supportive of this as well.
JONES: Just to interrupt you here. Now the Mayor of Goondiwindi has written to me. I suppose you’ve spoken to him. He says they are using flood maps from 1976 and he said in a letter to me; he talked about a flawed process; the Mayor of Goondiwindi – outdated information used to make the decision. He says that since being advised of the Minister’s decision, we’ve come across mistake after mistake and it’s hard to believe that all of the concerns of the region were relayed to the Minister prior to his decision. Here we have one of the nation’s greatest infrastructure projects, this is the Mayor of Goondiwindi, crossing one of the largest floodplains on the eastern seaboard and the flooding criteria hold a weighting of only 2.5 percent of the total project. So virtually don’t even take that into consideration.
ALBANESE: That’s right Alan, and that’s why there’s this project or the design of it is flawed at the moment which is why we need a public inquiry. I support the project. The idea of getting goods onto trains and off roads; it’s good for road safety; it’s good for productivity; it’s good for the nation. But we need to get it right and at the moment very clearly we’re not getting it right.
JONES: Just one final thing and we’ll talk again if we have to. My understanding is even though the route is an issue a part of the construction has begun for this.
ALBANESE: Well that’s right. They’ve pushed on.
ALBANESE: Now there needs to be a transparent process. We will make sure that this inquiry is established immediately.
JONES: And how the route was selected?
ALBANESE: Absolutely, because there are some issues there, Alan, that may well come out as well.
JONES: My word. Look out. How the route was selected. We’ve run out of time, Anthony Albanese. Thank you for your time. Keep in touch.
ALBANESE: I will indeed.
JONES: Excellent stuff. There you are; an inquiry into all of this. Something has to be done. How the route was selected is the key issue here but of course they’re pushing ahead with it because they’re terrified that if Labor were to win government the whole thing will be stood on its head.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.