Subject: High Speed Rail.
HOST: We’ve been seeing in the news an announcement from the State Government saying that they can’t afford to wait for the Federal Government to fast track the much discussed High Speed Rail project. Four routes were proposed and announced by Premier Gladys Berejiklian, including one to Canberra via Goulburn. But that is about as close as it got to our region. Meanwhile the Federal Government’s proposed routes from Sydney to Melbourne do include stops in Wagga Wagga and Albury-Wodonga. So are the two governments getting in the way of each other? And what about this new feasibility study from the State Government? Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Transport Minister and I spoke to him earlier.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well we’ve actually had the study and the New South Wales Government worked with that study into High Speed Rail when we were in government. It was a two-part study. It was at a cost of $20 million. It identified Wagga Wagga as one of the stations for High Speed Rail on the route between Sydney and Melbourne and one of things that it found was that it would really stimulate economic activity where there were stops in Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga – they would be the two stops from Canberra through to Melbourne and then there would be another one in Victoria at Shepparton. Wagga Wagga was identified as an appropriate stop. It is the capital if you like of the Riverina there and the study was done. The route has been identified. What we need to do is to get on with advancing the project.
HOST: So on that route does that mean that the fast rail would go from Sydney to Canberra and then around to Wagga? There wouldn’t be any skipping of Canberra?
ALBANESE: That’s right, yes. It would be Sydney, Southern Highlands, potentially a stop in south-west Sydney, but then Southern Highlands, Canberra, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga, Shepparton, Melbourne. And one of the things that it found was that that would produce a benefit of almost $2.50 for every dollar of investment. One of the things that lifted up the economic benefit case was the economic development of regions, particularly Wagga Wagga and other places along the route, also the route between Sydney and Brisbane. We had a vote yesterday in the Parliament which was supported by 73 members and opposed by 72 Coalition members. So it went through, but it didn’t have support of enough, an absolute majority of Members of Parliament, because some people are away. So it didn’t get to 76. But that indicated that there was the support thanks to support of independents including Cathy McGowan, who seconded my motion in the House of Representatives, for this project to proceed.
When we had the study I set up a High Speed Rail Advisory Group to make recommendations on how to advance the implementation and that included Tim Fischer, of course the former member for Farrer, who is very familiar with the Riverina region and he, along with Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council and other experts, all recommended that what you need is an authority to firstly preserve the corridor – so purchase of any properties that are needed along the route, to then go to market and call for expressions of interest for construction of the project because there are many international consortia who have been involved successful in building and operating High Speed Rail projects in every continent on the planet except for Australia and it is time that we got it done.
HOST: So what would the potential difference be between a new feasibility study from the State Government and the studies that have already been done?
ALBANESE: Well I don’t think anything will come out of this State announcement except for a press release. I mean, they have appointed some individual to look at it. We had Aecom do the oversight of the study. It involved an 18-month process. It was comprehensive. It even had the design of stations included in it. So this is a bit of a thought bubble for different parts of New South Wales, excluding the Riverina interestingly. But one of the things that the study showed is that you need to have High Speed Rail on the route where the population is and there is no doubt that Sydney to Melbourne is the biggest of those and not just in terms of those two capital cities that will grow to eight million people each over coming decades, but the major regional centres that areas along the route that would grow including of course the national capital here in Canberra.
HOST: How does a potential set of routes that we saw put forward by the State Government yesterday affect the Federal Government plan?
ALBANESE: I don’t think it will have any impact on anybody frankly. The State Government were clearly just looking for an announcement. There are improvements that could be made to existing rail routes such as down to the Illawarra that have been identified by the Government’s own departments. There are improvements that could be made on the western route. But the idea that this will amount to anything I think is very optimistic indeed. The routes that have been identified – the major routes between Sydney to Melbourne and Sydney to Brisbane, clearly if you look at High Speed Rail around the world that’s the sort of distance that really makes it economically viable, that 800km to 900km, because that is what is competitive in terms of time and in terms of experience.
People would much rather spend under three hours on a train doing work, not with the lost time of hanging around waiting for the plane to board and then boarding and sitting on the plane and waiting for bags – all of that means that effectively it would be more efficient to catch the train rather than air travel and that is the thing that drives High Speed Rail and that is why we looked at the international examples right around the world for the most effective way in which to proceed.
South America, North America, Africa, Asia and Europe are all building increased numbers of High Speed Rail routes. Australians are great travellers of course and Australians who travel from London to Paris by train or Rome to Milan or, in our region, Tokyo to Osaka or Beijing to Shanghai, all come back saying: “Why aren’t we doing it here in Australia?’’ And that is why I sought bipartisanship. That is why I appointed Tim Fischer, a former member of the National Party, to make these recommendations. He is a genuine enthusiast for rail, but he is also a practical bloke as well. And that is why I appointed Jennifer Westacott to make sure that there was a signal out there that the business community was serious about the improvements to our national economy that could come with High Speed Rail.
HOST: So you don’t think any action from the State Government at this stage could affect the way ultimately that High Speed Rail is built? For example, their route suggested that it could only go to Canberra via Goulburn. Couldn’t the Federal Government just say: “We will deal with the further bit that goes to Melbourne?’’
ALBANESE: Well there’s no money behind the State Government announcement. There is no money. There is no plan. There is no timetable. What they should do is go back, just have a look at the work that has been done. There is a great deal of cynicism about new studies because it has been studied over and over and over again and what we need is actually some practical steps to drive this plan. And the State Government, what they should be doing is lobbying the Federal Government to say let’s get on with how we preserve the corridor and let’s provide some funding from the different levels of government to do that step because unless we do – Infrastructure Australia produced a report just last year to the Federal Government that said the cost increase of not preserving the corridor now but delaying for ten years down the track or some period down the track and then deciding to get on with High Speed Rail would be $22 billion of additional costs. So it’s time that we dealt with this in a bipartisan way. You can’t build High Speed Rail in one term of government. It will take many terms and no doubt changes of government which occur of course from time to time and that is why it needs that bipartisanship and that is what my High Speed Rail Authority is aimed at doing upon the recommendation of Tim Fischer and Jennifer Westacott and the Australasian Railway Association and local government. You need a mechanism to drive this project.
HOST: That’s Anthony Albanese there, who is the Shadow Minister for Transport speaking to me earlier.
WEDNESDAY, 5 DECEMBER, 2018
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.