SUBJECT: High Speed Rail.
FIONA POOLE: Anthony Albanese, welcome to Breakfast.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT, CITIES AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Good to be with you Fi. Thanks for having me on the program.
POOLE: So tell us about what you’re announcing today – a fast train that could potentially boost the regions?
ALBANESE: Well, it will be a major boost for regional economic development. That was found when we did the two-part study when we were last in Government. Unfortunately, the election of the Coalition in 2013 meant the pause button was hit. Nothing has happened over the last six years. But we want to get it back on track, and the first thing that you need to do is to preserve the corridor. We’ll allocate a billion dollars to do just that. We will establish a High Speed Rail Authority; task it with going to market. There are a whole range of international operators from Europe, from Japan of course, from China, who are very keen on being involved in High Speed Rail in Australia. And this is a game changer. How do you take pressure off the capital cities? How do you ensure that the quality of life for people in places like Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie where there’ll be stops people are able to access, in the Mid North Coast’s case, Sydney or Brisbane in around about two hours?
POOLE: In two hours. How long will it take? If a billion dollars is just for the first step to acquire land in the corridor, when do you think a fast train will be a reality?
ALBANESE: Look, one of the things I don’t want to do here is to create unrealistic expectations and say ‘it will happen, you know, in five years time’. But I think it can happen with vision, with determination, over the next decade and a bit. There’s no doubt that it stacks up. We’ve done the economic analysis. For example, Sydney to Melbourne produced well over two dollars of return for every dollar that was invested. Up the North Coast, it would transform – a city like Newcastle, of course, would be put around about under an hour from Sydney. And cities like Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie, that are of course growing, will be transformed if you had that access to a capital city over that period of time. So it will produce a return. It will require bipartisan support. That hasn’t happened before now, because it won’t happen in one term of government. But the first step, from what Infrastructure Australia have said very clearly in the report that they produced just a year ago, was that there was enormous benefit from preserving the corridor now. If we don’t do that, then costs will blow out. One of the interesting things about High Speed Rail, it’s a bit like renewable energy, is that as time’s gone on, and it’s been increasingly common, and High Speed Rail is being rolled out on every continent on the planet except for Australia and Antarctica of course, the costs have actually come down. The technology’s got better and the costs have come down.
POOLE: Labor’s Shadow Minister for Infrastructure Anthony Albanese joins us this morning. We’re just talking about the announcement today of funding a fast train from Melbourne, Brisbane via Canberra and Sydney, including stops: Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Newcastle. Anthony Albanese, you know you talk about that this could potentially take over a decade. At the same time, electric planes are coming onto the market. I mean, are we sure that we are investing in the right infrastructure here? If it’s not going to be ready till 2030-35, maybe by that point the whole transport market will have transformed to electric planes?
ALBANESE: Well, electric planes are coming on. There’s an airline in Canada that’s gone fully electric at the moment. So we are seeing transformation. But we’ve seen High Speed Rail as being increasingly popular, in part because of the experience for travellers. If you can jump on a train and go from the CBD to another CBD with convenience, there’s no down time, it takes you maybe a couple of minutes to find your seat and to get settled. Then you can do work, or read a book, or enjoy the experience. It’s very different from plane travel, where you’re travelling to an airport, you’re then waiting, going through security, waiting again, queuing up to go on to the tarmac or through the air bridge. Then you’re sitting there waiting to take off. There’s a lot of dead time during that period, and if you look at the study that’s online for all to see on the Department’s website, the fact is that you can get from between capital cities down the east coast quicker if you take into account the full travel time by High Speed Rail, than you can by air. And that’s what the study found, was that in order to be competitive, the three-hour distance was essentially – when you look at the big routes that have been successful: London-Paris, Rome-Milan, Barcelona-Madrid. One of the things that they found as well with the study, is that not only are those type of journeys between cities important, but you would also have trains that stop. So you’d have express trains, and then you’d have trains that did stop at Grafton, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Newcastle, and that would be what really uplifts the value of having High Speed Rail because of that regional economic development.
POOLE: Sure, understood. In the past – I mean you’ve been pushing this for a long long time now.
ALBANESE: I have.
POOLE: You’ve come on this program and you’ve – we’ve chatted about this, you know over, almost a decade. Even probably, you’ve been pushing it even longer. Is this, you know, a week out to the Federal Election, is this just an election unicorn?
ALBANESE: No. I’ve had the Private Member’s Bill to establish a High Speed Rail Authority. I moved it in – it was ready to go in 2013. I moved it in 2014. It dropped off the agenda. I moved it again in 2016, and I moved it earlier this year. I’ll continue to push for this. One of the things I did when I was the Minister is establish an advisory group, and I did my best to make it a bipartisan proposition …
POOLE: No, but do you really think it’s going to happen this time?
ALBANESE: Yes. Yes I do. Because increasingly, one of the things that happened last time was that you had – Tim Fischer was one of the people I appointed. He’s a genuine advocate of this project. I had Jennifer Westacott, the head of the Business Council of Australia …
POOLE: Do you have support from the Coalition? Has Scott Morrison, you know, is anyone on your opposite camp behind you on this too? You said you need bipartisan support. Do you have that?
ALBANESE: Well, I didn’t ring up Scott Morrison and ask him for permission to release this policy. But I think that pressure from the public will come on. What happened last time, of course, is that Tony Abbott happened to be elected Prime Minister, and he cancelled all funding for Cross River Rail in Brisbane, Melbourne Metro in Melbourne, the Perth Airport Link, Adelaide Light Rail, and the High Speed Rail Authority where we did have some funding in the Budget for it to establish it – $54 million. He just cancelled all funding for rail, because he didn’t support it. Now there are people in the Coalition who do support rail. Malcolm Turnbull, for example, I think would have been a genuine advocate. But unfortunately, of course, his own party removed him.
POOLE: All right. We’re going to have to leave it there. Anthony Albanese, thanks for making some time for us.
ALBANESE: Thanks Fi.