Subjects: The Overland Great Southern Rail.
LEON BYNER: Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese – Anthony, Merry Christmas and thanks for coming on today. Can you shed any light on this?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Merry Christmas to you, Leon. Unfortunately I don’t think that information is correct. What the Victorian Government are saying to me is that they are doing more than their bit, which is a fair statement. They have a million-dollar-a-year subsidy. They have had that for some time. They’re saying that unless South Australia will continue with that subsidy – they’re not asking for anything new here. So that’s $330,000 a year the South Australian Government puts in. It gets more than that back if you take into account the fact that it’s taking cars off the road – off local roads that require maintenance and upkeep. If you think about the jobs that are created because of the stops at Murray Bridge, at Bordertown, Horsham and all along the route in both South Australia and Victoria. And it is quite an extraordinary decision. About 30,000 people take this journey every year. Why the South Australian Government have had such a hostile response from the Liberal Government, reminds me of Tony Abbott’s hostility to trains that he had when he was elected to government.
BYNER: Well, again I can tell you that the public sentiment, Anthony, in Adelaide – judging by the very big response we’ve had – is that we need to keep the Overland.
ALBANESE: It’s beneficial for the economy, it’s important for tourism, it’s important for those regional communities. It’s a no-brainer. I just can’t understand why the State Liberal Government is so hostile to it. Particularly if you look at the sort of people who take the journey as well, which is another factor, plenty of them are older – from South Australia, from Victoria. People who for various reasons want to take the train rather than drive. Many of them aren’t people who live close to the airport. They take it from one of the regional destinations or to one of the regional destinations along that route. Once train services cease to operate, this is the experience everywhere, if you look at (inaudible) once they stop it’s very hard to get them back. And they’re due to stop at the end of this year 31 December , when it is scheduled to make its last journey. And that of course is right in the middle of the holiday season.
BYNER: I noticed yesterday there was a flurry of enthusiasm from a number of very dedicated rail groups saying that this is imminent and it will happen. But you’re saying at this point not so?
ALBANESE: You need dollars for this to operate. The Marshall Government have withdrawn their funding, or are saying they will. They made that decision very recently on 28 November, so just last week. And what the Victorian Government are saying to me is that they can’t do it on their own. It’s very much proportionate – they’re doing the heavy lifting at the moment. Of course the Commonwealth stopped its subsidy in 2016 under the Coalition Government. If you have circumstances whereby it is only Labor Governments that will fund these rail lines and when there is a change of government, then you have a withdrawal. Then what you will have is a decimation of our rail system particularly in regional communities.
BYNER: Anthony, thank you for joining us. You may want to stay on the line. Just quickly let’s talk to Steve. Steve, what’s your latest on this?
CALLER: Well, the information that I’ve gathered from transport related – transport people both in SA and especially in Victoria, is that is exactly what’s going to happen. The Great Southern Rail are promoting a new rail experience from Brisbane through to Adelaide via Melbourne. It will take about three nights their campaign says. It takes coach transfers to go and visit the Twelve Apostles along the Great Ocean Road and all that sort of stuff along the way. That can’t happen if the Overland is not there, and the people that I have been liaising with on social media from Victoria, are very confident. And these people have been pressed quite a lot by a lot of other people, including myself, as: ‘Is your information correct?’ And they are most adamant that it is, that there will be an announcement shortly. But whether it maintains the name The Overland remains to be seen. But a service will more than likely continue by the sounds of it. And there seems to be a feeling that there’ll be an announcement probably today or over the weekend, maybe Monday, along those lines. And it will come under the ownership of the Victorian Government i.e. B Line.
BYNER: Okay. So you’re pretty sure of this. Let’s talk to Shadow Treasurer Steve Mulligan. Steve, can you add anything to this?
STEPHEN MULLIGAN: Well it’s absolutely imperative that Stephan Knoll does his job as the Transport Minister and maintains these regional rail services. This is not the commuter service. This is an important tourism service. It delivers a huge economic benefit to South Australia. There are tourists who travel over from Melbourne to Adelaide, either a holiday in Adelaide or even to catch it again up to Darwin. So it’s an important tourism link and of course it provides all those other services that both Shadow Minister Albanese and your caller Steven have spoken about, providing benefits to towns along the route. I think there are eight or nine stops along the road in regional South Australia and Victoria. It is a mere pittance. We are talking, the Government subsidy of between $330,000 and $350,000 a year, which is one senior public servant executive salary. In fact it’s less than that Leon. It’s the decision that needs to be made and if Mr Albanese is correct, for the sake of a few hundred thousand dollars, in a $1.5 billion transport budget in South Australia, we lose this service. And Victoria doesn’t bump up their money because they’re getting sick and tired of doing the heavy lifting while South Australia is not putting any money in. Then this is going to be a disaster for our tourism industry, for rail service and those communities that rely on this service along the route.
BYNER: Steve Mulligan stay on the line. So, Steve Lucas, are you sure this is not connected at all to the Indian Pacific? I just want to clarify something here, that this is definitely a Melbourne-Adelaide service.
CALLER: Completely a Melbourne-Adelaide service because of B Line. I don’t know whether you’re aware, B Line line run an extensive country rail network, both with their rail and also coach services under the B Line banner. And we’ve even got B Line coaches that come to Adelaide. And in conjunction with their new – I think it’s called the Southern Experience or something, they’re going to call it – is they will utilise their B Line coaches to transfer people down to the Twelve Apostles and various other places around for that experience. Like Mr Mulligan has just said, the Overland is part of the rail experience, just like the Ghan, just like the Indian Pacific and numerous other rail journeys around Australia, most of them on the eastern seaboard. And the Overland, whether it remains under the name Overland, I’m fairly confident a service will still remain because the people that I’ve been speaking to on social media are being pressed: ‘Are you sure it is?’ And yes they are most sure. So they haven’t backed away from it and a couple of their sources are a bit like mine. We’ve got people in certain areas, in the area of business and around the place. And from a Victorian level say, and they’re [inaudible] and that new service that they’ve been starting to promote, that’s from Brisbane, Melbourne to Adelaide – can’t happen unless you actually have the passenger rail link from Melbourne to Adelaide.
BYNER: Alright. Well, Steve it’s interesting because yesterday we had Alex who rang in and said virtually the same thing, it was one group, we’re getting this all over the place. Now Anthony Albanese – election next May. What is the Federal Government, if it’s Labor, what’s their attitude going to be on trains?
ALBANESE: Well, we fund rail. That’s why we did the [inaudible]. That’s why we have for the last two elections, campaigned with Steve Mulligan to actually deliver on expanding light rail there in Adelaide. The fact is, with respect to Steve, talking to people on social media, I’ve just spoken directly to the Victorian Government. And the idea …
ALBANESE: Just think about this, the idea that Victorian taxpayers should fund things in another state, I reckon would be a triumph of hope over experience. The South Australian Government unfortunately have to come to the party or else I can’t see the circumstances whereby Victoria will say yes: ‘We all operate this system and provide all of the subsidy for another state’. I just can’t see the circumstances in which that happens. And that’s why the South Australian Liberal Government there really have a responsibility. Steve Mulligan said this is not a huge amount of money in terms of the state transport Budget. And the Marshall Government should walk back from what was, a real error of judgement.
BYNER: Anthony Albanese, thank you.
FRIDAY, 7 DECEMBER, 2018
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.