Subjects: Western Sydney Airport & Western Sydney rail, Budget cuts to Tourism Australia
HARMER: Well according to the Treasurer they are going to look at funding a rail link to Badgerys Creek quote ‘subject to a business case’. So where does that leave us if there is no rail? Well someone who is a bit concerned about this is Margy Osmond. She is the Chief Executive of the Tourism and Transport Forum Australia. Hello Margy and welcome to the program.
OSMOND: Good morning Wendy.
HARMER: And we also have with us today Anthony Albanese who is the Member for Grayndler, the Federal Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development. And he’s also Minister for Tourism, so you two have concerns in common of course. Hello Anthony.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: G’day. Good to be with you.
HARMER: Thanks for joining us. Now Margy you are quoted this morning as saying that well, you know we still need that rail line. Were you disappointed?
OSMOND: Oh look no doubt about it. Not to be churlish, we are very happy to see the money committed to the Western Sydney Airport and finally and at last for us to get up and running. But the really critical thing here is to remember that the airport is not just about the tourism outcome; it’s about a huge economic boost to Western Sydney. And there will be been an awful lot of businesses and jobs around that airport and we have to have a way of getting people to work and home.
HARMER: Why is this back to front? I know that the NSW Transport Minister, Andrew Constance, has been complaining about this as well. He says the most expensive option, which would cost $25 billion – that is an extraordinary amount of money.
OSMOND: Well yes but I think the issue here is; think about what airports look like in every other part of the world and think of them as an integrated mechanism. They are a tourism and travel mechanism but they are also an employment and jobs and wealth generation mechanism. They’ve all got rail lines and there is a reason why this Government has at least put a bit of extra money into funding a research piece into a rail line at Melbourne Airport for example, finally and at last. Major airports need that kind of rail network.
HARMER: What did you make of it all Mr Albanese?
ALBANESE: Well rail is absolutely necessary and it is necessary from day one of the airport opening. The airport proposal isn’t just about a runway and a terminal; it’s about how an airport can be a catalyst for economic growth and jobs in Western Sydney. Now we are already seeing just to the north of the airport – the stop that would be to the north of the Badgerys Creek site – around the Science Park we will see a development there which will create 12,000 jobs. It has within it 4500 homes and units, a whole lot of high end science and research facilities. It has within it an agreement already signed with an MOU with the Catholic Education Office for a K-12 science technology engineering and maths school.
We need access for the people of Western Sydney in that corridor between Campbelltown and south-west Sydney right up through the airport, up through the employment lands to St Marys and that main western line then up to the north west of Sydney. What we have in the Budget is a whole lot of rhetoric but Infrastructure Partnerships Australia themselves have said, so it’s not just Labor saying it, that this is a cut to real budgeted infrastructure spending to the lowest level in more than a decade. The only actual new on Budget expenditure announced last night over the next four years is $13 million for a Far North Collector Road.
HARMER: Well I’ve got a text here Anthony saying what’s everyone whinging about – I mean the airport will take ages to build, there’s plenty of time to put in a rail line.
OSMOND: No Wendy. Sorry to leap in here but this is the classic argument – don’t worry about, leave it until the last minutes. It’s as nonsense. If you’ve got the opportunity to plan a new airport, you plan the services that support it up front if you want the growth that should come from this mechanism. It’s just crazy to say leave it until the last minute. They need to reserve the ground, they need to reserve the boxes, which is part of the planning, but they need to give a commitment that the railway line is going to be there from day one because people need to invest and have the certainty that their workers can get from A to B.
ALBANESE: I tell you what the problem is and it is identifiable to anyone who has ever been to Melbourne Airport – the fact that there isn’t a rail line there. Some 50 years later. It is far more expensive to retrofit infrastructure. Now the corridor is largely owned by the State or Federal Government. It’s largely flat, there’s not development here because of the protections that were put around the Badgerys Creek Airport. Everything tells us, every lesson of history says get the infrastructure right from the beginning because that is the cheapest and most effective way to do it.
HARMER: All right, does that mean that the airport should be put on hold until we get this sorted then?
ALBANESE: Not at all.
OSMOND: Certainly not.
HARMER: No? Ok.
ALBANESE: Well they are delaying that too. I don’t quite understand why the earthworks, they’re saying, will commence in late 2018. All the planning’s been done, the approvals are there. The land’s been reserved for the airport since 1984. I think it’s probably ready to start doing the earthworks.
HARMER: Now if I can ask you before I just go back to you again Margy, I wanted to ask you something about tourism in this Budget here. Well which option would you favour Anthony? As I was saying the most expensive option would be a you beaut direct express service from the CBD via Parramatta. Underground, of course. 160km an hour, fabulous train. But that could top $25 billion because you need tunnels pretty much all the way. What option do you think we should go for?
ALBANESE: That misses the whole point of what Western Sydney Airport is. It’s the first airport for Western Sydney. It’s not the CBD’s second airport. There is an airport next to the CBD. It’s called Kingsford-Smith. What we need to do is get the point that Western Sydney itself now has 2.2 million people. It will grow to 4 million. The airport will serve those people and those communities and needs to go along that north-south corridor. Even if an airport wasn’t being built it would be worthwhile.
HARMER: And tell us Margy, I notice you made some comments this morning about the effect this lack of train line will have on tourism.
OSMOND: What an absolute joke. I mean if you get off a plane in any airport in the world you’re much better disposed towards those that you can just get on a train. I mean you go to Rome, you go to Paris you go anywhere, London; you can get straight on the train. And even all though we think it could be a better service; you can do it in Sydney at Kingsford-Smith.
From a perspective of (inaudible) if you look at things like the Euro Monitor, which is something that looks at the next round of big travellers who are going to hit the market place, all of those young people say that one of the key issues around the destination they go to is public transport and that means public transport and rail for the airport.
HARMER: Why do you think this has happened Anthony?
ALBANESE: I just think it’s short-sighted, that the Government has across a range of areas just not invested in infrastructure in this Budget. They have some big figures that are off Budget such as the Western Sydney Airport construction itself and Inland Rail but they haven’t invested. Last night you had talk of a railway investment fund of $10 billion but when you look at it that’s just loans and it’s off into the future, into the never-never.
Scott Morrison in his speech had lines about AdeLINK light rail, Cross River Rail, he named about seven railways. He didn’t have a dollar in the Budget for any of them. A line in a speech is not as good as a line that has a train on it. That’s what people want – railway lines, not speech lines.
And I think the Government has got itself in this situation whereby you do have all sorts of frankly, you know talking about high speed, $25 billion of, you don’t need that. Maybe down the track all of that might come. What it needs is immediate access and frankly with a bit of vision, the line that stopped at Leppington, that was funded by Nathan Rees’ Government that was opened a couple of years ago, you just keep that going.
HARMER: Right, ok. I’ve got a few texts here saying we don’t really need the railway line until the planes are there but as you made the point earlier, Margy, people need the train to go and build it. And as you made the point Anthony, there are already people living there who need it now.
ALBANESE: Well, it’s not just about the airport. It’s about Western Sydney, like Western Sydney also needs the M7, the outer ring road. You need to connect up that north-south. Everything in Sydney’s transport is focused on the line sort of hub and spoke, the hub of the CBD and the spokes out into the suburbs. What you need to do for Sydney to function properly is those north-south transport corridors.
HARMER: Since I have you both here and you’re both involved with tourism, of course, perhaps you can go first Margy. I haven’t heard anything about how tourism is being treated in the Budget. Can you tell me what was on offer there?
OSMOND: Look I think it would be fair to say it was extremely disappointing, if I was going to make a conservative assessment. We hear all the time about how tourism is a super growth industry and this is a Government very focused on the creation of jobs and wealth.
Well you could be forgiven for thinking that that must have flipped somebody’s mind because effectively they are cutting Tourism Australia’s budget by $35 million over the next four years. They are putting up the price of visas. This is not welcome to Australia, this is tourism industry as a cash cow and that’s something we’ve been extremely concerned about for some time.
HARMER: From your point of view Anthony, do you concur?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. This comes on top of the increase in the passenger movement charge just last year, just months after both the Government and the Opposition said during the election campaign there wouldn’t be any increases. I think the Government sees the tourism sector as an easy hit. But it’s not a bottomless pit. When you increase charges and you fail to support tourism then it has an impact on our visitor numbers. The tourism industry has got to be seen as one of the drivers of our economy.
We’re very lucky we’re in this part of the world where you have this amazing growth in the middle class that represents opportunity and jobs here in Australia. But we need to be attractive and we need to recognise that in today’s word people can compare charges online and it makes an enormous difference. And to hit Tourism Australia’s Budget is really short sighted. It will cost money to do that.
OSMOND: And Wendy in an environment where countries all around the world are dramatically increasing their spend on destination marketing, and even the latest round of State Budgets, the Northern Territory has just increased their destination spending for heaven’s sake. I think we had a right to expect the Federal Government would recognise this as a time of great opportunity and need and do something constructive.
HARMER: Well thank you both this morning for that. Yes I must say I’ve seen complaints about the lack of rail line right through the political spectrum this morning. I’m accused of having a bit of a leftie fest here folks but it’s not about left or right this one I don’t think. As I say I can see that the Liberal Party in NSW is complaining about the rail link as well, or lack thereof. Thank you both for joining me.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, great to be with you.
OSMOND: Thank you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.