Subject: High Speed Rail.
ANNA VIDOT: The New South Wales Government says a fast rail network around the state will help transform New South Wales. You looked at this in a much broader perspective in 2011. What’s changed?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We had a serious look at it, not just a media release. We invested $20 million in the study that looked at international experience, that looked at the route of a High Speed Rail network between Brisbane, through to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.
ANNA VIDOT: Surely it would have started with a media release though. Isn’t that what the NSW Government is intending to do?
ALBANESE: Well, they haven’t put any money in.
VIDOT: As yet.
ALBANESE: They’ve got one person in charge who’s an expert. If they looked at the study that had been done, what you need essentially is population and it looked at the economics of High Speed Rail and whether it would work or not – the feasibility of it. With the greatest of respect some of the routes that have been identified, certainly to the west of the state – it certainly would not stack up in terms of the economics of High Speed Rail. Canberra to Sydney does stack up, as it does right through to Melbourne as part of the route. It found that the cost would have to be pretty similar to air travel. It found that for distances essentially of just under 1000 kilometres High Speed Rail was ideal. But one of the things that lifted up the benefit, as opposed to the cost, of the project was the benefit for regional economies along the route. In particular the Southern Highlands, Canberra, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton, in between Sydney and Melbourne.
VIDOT: So do you think that perhaps the NSW Government could benefit from looking at your past research, or have things changed too much?
ALBANESE: No. The research stacks up. It was looked at again by Infrastructure Australia last year. They found the cost of a failure to preserve the corridor, the entire corridor from Brisbane to Melbourne, could be $22 billion additional cost, unless that was done. I have a High Speed Rail Authority Bill. What I did was, after the study, I had an advisory group that included Tim Fischer, the former leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister and a great rail enthusiast. I had Jennifer Westacott, the head of the Business Council of Australia, just to make the point that this was a hard-headed economic analysis. We had the head of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, Bob Nanva, the head of the Australasian Railway Association, a representative of local government. And it looked at how this project could be progressed, and what it suggested was that you needed an authority because it crosses jurisdictions both local government – of course many jurisdictions, but particularly the four states and the territory down the east coast. And it needed that to get the planning right and to get on with the preservation of the corridor, as the first step and then what you would do is to go out to market. There’s lots of international experience. The effectiveness and efficiency of High Speed Rail is increasing, at the same time as the costs are coming down. And it’s being rolled out in every continent – inhabited continent – on the planet, except for Australia.
VIDOT: Mr Albanese, when I spoke to Andrew Constance the NSW Transport Minister earlier, he was discussing how initially the idea will be to have faster rail. So improvements and upgrades to the current tracks as they stand. Is that something that we need to start seeing some work on sooner rather than later? You keep talking about a High Speed Rail, but is that something that’s very, very far off into the future?
ALBANESE: Well, that would be welcome. And there are a number of things that could be done to improve the network. In particular if he is talking about down to the South Coast and the Illawarra, the building of Maldon to Dombarton, taking those freight trains away from that track and doing some work just south of the National Park, would make an enormous difference, and that study is being done by the transport department. There are things that we could do. There is work that has been identified between Sydney to Canberra, that would improve the route. But if we’re serious about making rail competitive with air travel and really making a difference, then what we need to look at is to be ambitious. The rest of the world is doing it, there’s no reason why we can’t do it from Sydney to Canberra, for example, would mean that this great national capital would be under an hour from the CBD of Sydney. Now what that does is change the economics of businesses being located here, from one of disadvantage to one of all of a sudden having an advantage, because of the lower establishment and operating costs of businesses here compared with in Sydney. But it also would mean for the people of Canberra, much more attractive, or the people from Sydney for that matter, they could travel up very quickly to events that are in either city. Be it something at the National Museum, or the National Gallery, or the Sydney Opera House. It would change the way that the two cities relate to each other.
VIDOT: My guest here on ABC Radio Canberra Drive is Anthony Albanese, the Federal Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. We’re taking a look at the fast rail network, something that the NSW Government has announced it will look at come the next election or post the next election. A couple of text messages here, Mr Albanese, Ron from Bungendore says: ‘My parents used to talk about the highway to the coast being upgraded to two lanes both ways from Canberra to Batemans Bay. They finally admitted that it would not happen in their lifetime and it has not,’ Ron says: ‘This fast rail will not happen in my lifetime and I hope to be around for the next 40 years.’ I think there’s a lot of sentiment like that. I know that it was talked about when I was in high school, this particular issue.
ALBANESE: I understand why that cynicism is there, and that’s one of the reasons why, when I was the Minister I appointed a committee – that wasn’t a committee for Labor, or a committee for the Coalition – it attempted to get the head of the business community for Australia, in Jennifer Westacott, a former leader of the National Party in Tim Fischer. There were no former Labor MPs on the committee that I established. I wanted to try and create momentum for beyond one term, or beyond any particular party being in office because this is a project that won’t be done in one or two terms. And that’s why today, to bring on the legislation that I have before the Parliament about establishing the authority, now I’ve moved and there’ll be a vote in the Parliament very soon to try and bring on a vote on that deal. And it was seconded by Cathy McGowan the Independent Member for Indi because I’ve tried to reach out. Many people across the Parliament, if you took a conscience vote, if you like, particularly for members on the east coast: ‘Do you support High Speed Rail?’ it would be overwhelmingly carried. And we need to take that sentiment and turn that sentiment and aspiration into a reality, and that takes a structure and that structure is having an authority that will drive this project.
VIDOT: Both the New South Wales Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, and the Transport Minister, Andrew Constance, say this is not an election stunt, that they’re looking ahead to the future and it’s a matter that’s important to people living in the regions as you just said. You’ve spent a lot of time travelling. Is that what you’re hearing from people?
ALBANESE: Oh absolutely. It would make an enormous difference to the regions. Both the route in inland NSW, between Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, but also up to Newcastle, which would also be under an hour from Sydney. But towns like Taree and Port Macquarie, Lismore and the Gold Coast would be transformed by such a project. One of the things that we’re talking about, those of us who live in the capital cities, is urban congestion. And we need to do something about decentralisation. Decentralisation won’t be driven by moving 15 people from a government department from Sydney to Armidale. How it will be driven is by making the economics of private sector investment and economic activity better in the regions than it is in those capital cities. I think that is the way that you really promote that change and people in the regions get it. My in-laws will be travelling up to Port Macquarie from Sydney at Christmas time, and it’s a dreadful drive, that’s the truth , as much as the highway has been improved, when all the cars are there wanting to head up the coast at the same time. If you could jump on a train and be there in half the time that it takes you to drive, that would be of enormous benefit.
VIDOT: I don’t think anyone disagrees with you on that one. Anthony Albanese. Would you be, is this something that’s going to be back on the agenda if Labor wins government in 2019, dare I say it, after May.
ALBANESE: It certainly will be on the agenda. And the bells that you may be able to hear ringing in the background, are for the Division to get the vote on the High Speed Rail Authority.
VIDOT: Then I will let you go.
TUESDAY, 4 DECEMBER, 2018