Subjects; Victorian infrastructure; Ballarat visit; Regional Rail Link; High Speed Rail; Melbourne Metro; citizenship.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Transport. He has been in Ballarat speaking to people there about train infrastructure, his favourite subject. How much would it cost for a 59 minute train to Ballarat?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It is possible because it’s been done. It was done some years ago. Some of the preconditions for it are there. The Regional Rail Link was the big game-changer. That was $3 billion of Commonwealth money, for Geelong and Bendigo as well as Ballarat. The second bit is going on at the moment, some $550 million.
EPSTEIN: That’s state government money.
ALBANESE: That’s state government through the feds as part of the asset recycling, the privatisation of the port. So that money is available now. The biggest portion of which went to the Ballarat line. What you need to do the full duplication is a fair bit more and certainly one of the good things about the Committee for Ballarat – I jumped on the train with Catherine King and the Committee from Bacchus Marsh, had a look at Hallett’s Way which was funded when we were in office, the road project, and then jumped on the train and we had a chat on the way up to Ballarat. The good thing about the Committee is that they’re not saying that they need to do this tomorrow. This is a plan for 2030 so it can –
ALBANESE: 2030. So it can be done in stages. Certainly the metros are key in terms of –
EPSTEIN: Can I ask you a question? Last time I checked it was 2017. Is there any point you going to Ballarat to talk to them about something that they want to do in 2030?
ALBANESE: No, they want it completed. Before then, you can, but it requires scheduling. It wouldn’t be a regular thing. With new timetabling it would be difficult, but it’s possible. What they’re arguing is that you can have basically one service, perhaps in the morning and in the afternoon that are the direct, that is, it would have to not stop at other stations on the way through. So straight from Ballarat right into Southern Cross.
EPSTEIN: Can I ask you this question though, you are the Shadow Minister, so it just means you don’t get to make decisions right now.
ALBANESE: That’s true.
EPSTEIN: They’re spending, as you say, half a billion dollars at the moment. No one I know from Infrastructure Australia or from the Victorian Labor Government thinks 59 minutes is possible. Just talking about 59 minutes in Ballarat, that is promising something you can not deliver.
ALBANESE: No, that’s not right, Raf. What I did today was listen to the Committee for Ballarat and one of the things that you do in Opposition is get out there, meet with the community, develop policies. Everything that we do and commit to – and there were no commitments given today – it was about sitting down with people where they live listening to their concerns and that’s why they’re being very realistic about it. They’re not thumping the table saying we must do this tomorrow.
They are saying, though, that the range of improvements including the ones that are being rolled out at the moment, if you like, they can be seen as stage two. But we also talked about, for example the route of the airport rail line and what can happen there with regard to access for Ballarat. And we talked about other projects and concerns that they have. Ballarat’s a great city but it could be even bigger and if we’re going to take pressure off Melbourne, then Ballarat and Bendigo and Geelong all have to grow.
EPSTEIN: Anthony Albanese is with me, the Shadow Transport Minister, yes there’s a text here from Kelly in Ballarat: ‘We decentralised ourselves to Ballarat about ten years ago. The train was 59 minutes then. Now it’s 90 minutes on average due to all the new stops’. Yes, that’s right, Melbourne is growing. That’s one of the reasons it’s so hard to get that Ballarat train time down, because the west is filling in. ‘Raf, I live at Bacchus Marsh and use that line. Fifty-nine minutes! Rubbish. 2030, oh dear.’ That’s from John in Bacchus Marsh. Albo, let me ask you this question; I look at the Infrastructure Australia website. All I could find there was 65 minutes, not 59 minutes but maybe I’m –
ALBANESE: I reckon the people of Ballarat would cop 65.
EPSTEIN: When would you need to spend the money? I’m all up for politicians –
ALBANESE: Well, it’s being done now. It’s being done now in terms of the $550 million. What you need –
EPSTEIN: But they’re still not going to – that’s not going to make a massive difference to time –
ALBANESE: No, that’s right. But some of timing is also about the timetable and scheduling. One of the things about the Metro project is that it – and we’ve been saying this for a long time – we had $3 billion of money in the budget – is that unless you fix that, you won’t fix the extension of the rail line, you won’t be able to do the airport link.
EPSTEIN: I want to know when you’d need to make it – when would you need to make a decision to spend more money? Because to drastically reduce the time you need to spend a lot more money.
ALBANESE: When the current project finishes, so in two years time, which happens to fit in with election timetables, then what you do is continue to just roll that out.
EPSTEIN: So you’d have to make a promise then before the next federal election?
ALBANESE: In 2019. Yes, and we’re sitting down. I had a very constructive discussion as well today on the phone with Jacinta Allan. We’ll be sitting down –
EPSTEIN: By the way, the Victorian Transport Minister, Labor Government, when she was asked today at a press conference could you get it down to 59 minutes, she chose not to answer that question.
ALBANESE: Well, because it is a big challenge.
EPSTEIN: Because it costs a ton of money.
ALBANESE: It costs a ton of money and it’s a big challenge but I’ll tell you what, she’s a Minister in a Government that is actually funding public transport, and the Federal Government, when we were in office we did it, $3 billion for Regional Rail Link, we had $3 billion for the Melbourne Metro, the largest ever amount in reality and as a commitment for any public transport projects in Australia’s history.
EPSTEIN: Ian’s called in, what do you want to say Ian?
IAN: [inaudible] for a politician in office just to continue to argue is pathetic. That trip from Ballarat to Geelong on a similar line –
EPSTEIN: No, it’s Melbourne.
IAN: Well, from Ballarat to Melbourne would be 30 minutes outside. We need to have Australian services like they have in China or Japan and have had for 20 or 30 years. Here we are running around talking about 59 or 60 minutes to get Ballarat to Melbourne. It’s aiming low and it’s a pathetic argument.
ALBANESE: That’s absolutely true. It’s also true that there are a few more people in Beijing and Shanghai than there are in either Melbourne or Ballarat. That’s what makes it possible in terms of the economics of it. In China, it’s simply the population. It’s as simple as that.
Similarly, in terms of Tokyo, it has the highest population of any city in the world and that is what drove the Shinkansen in Japan. I’m a big supporter of High Speed Rail from Melbourne to Sydney. That should certainly happen and that’s something that we tried to progress when we were in government.
EPSTEIN: Fact is though, if you want to turn Ballarat, Shepparton and other places into real hubs for Melbourne, it’s going to require far more money than we have spent so far, so orders of magnitude more. The sort of money that we don’t really have foreseeable in the Budget.
ALBANESE: Well, you can argue that’s the case but they found money for New South Wales in the federal budget. The current federal infrastructure budget has 8.2 per cent going to Victoria –
EPSTEIN: [inaudible] in response to a substantial –
ALBANESE: Well, I live in Sydney. I live in Sydney. Forty-eight per cent –
EPSTEIN: [inaudible] yeah –
ALBANESE: Forty-eight per cent of the federal infrastructure budget this year in 2016-17, is going to New South Wales. Victoria is being short changed, and with regard to Shepparton, Shepparton’s on the route we’ve identified for High Speed Rail. Shepparton would be, like the caller said, it would be 30 minutes from Melbourne. That would transform – it is the big game changer, High Speed Rail.
EPSTEIN: I just don’t want it to sound like an episode of Utopia, but Phoebe’s in Werribee. Phoebe, go for it.
PHOEBE: Oh hi Raf, look, every now and then I use public transport and it might say on the timetable you leave there, Wyndham line, sorry, you leave at 8.30, you leave Southern Cross let’s say, 9.00, but you get to Southern Cross and you have to wait and wait and wait. Twenty minutes later, they say sorry, there was something in the [inaudible]. Why don’t you fix the existing problem? Forget about the [inaudible], we don’t know what happens there, why we have so much problem right now. I cannot go to city by any train, neither [inaudible] nor Wyndham and make it on time.
EPSTEIN: I get it Phoebe, there is – I don’t want to spruik the State Government, they’re spending money, they announced a fair bit of money in the middle of the year. Anthony Albanese, I’m going to get some news headlines. Let me ask you, the federal –
ALBANESE: Can I say this about Wyndham Vale, it’s a new station along with Tarneit. A new station that people said wouldn’t happen. And the new station is there.
EPSTEIN: Are we going to have more by-elections before we get to the next federal election? Because of citizenship?
ALBANESE: Well, we’ll wait and see. I think that anyone who predicts it is braver than me but what we should do is sort this out and we should sort it out sooner rather than later. I have no idea why the Prime Minister wants to delay this and have special sittings in December. We should be producing the documents. People know what’s got to be produced.
EPSTEIN: Are you confident about all the Labor people?
ALBANESE: I am confident.
EPSTEIN: There’s two there, Justine Keay and Susan Lamb I think are –
ALBANESE: I am confident that Labor has our processes in place.
EPSTEIN: One hundred per cent there won’t be a Labor induced by-election?
ALBANESE: I’m confident that we have our mechanisms in place. I’m not a lawyer and never really wanted to be a lawyer either. I’m a politician. We’ll leave legal matters at the end of the day, they’re a matter for the law and consideration by courts, rather than politicians but what we should do is produce the evidence, have the transparency that’s there and deal with it sooner rather than later because people are sick of this.
EPSTEIN: Do you think when someone casts their vote at the next federal election, given what we’d normally talk about, which is things like same-sex marriage, indigenous issues, company tax, Medicare, Centrelink, do you think trains and federal money for trains figure in people’s decisions?
ALBANESE: I hope so. I think the big challenge –
EPSTEIN: I’m not asking you what you hope. Do you think people factor – is it a big vote changer?
ALBANESE: I think they do. The big challenge is to look beyond just the three year cycle. That’s the challenge of infrastructure and infrastructure ministers won’t win arguments around the Cabinet table unless the public looks beyond the horizon. I mean, one of the weaknesses in arguing for infrastructure is the minister who gets to announce the project and organise the funding very rarely gets to open it. I got to travel on the Regional Rail Link while I watched the National Party that opposed the project open it. I slipped that in there.
EPSTEIN: That’s okay, we’ll have a word to Darren Chester one day about all that. Thank you very much for coming in.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you, mate.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.