SUBJECT: Inland Rail.
MICHAEL CONDON: Well, Federal Labor has today committed to conduct an independent inquiry into the Inland Rail project. Here’s a bit of the announcement made just a short time ago by Anthony Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: There are real questions to be asked about the fact that the route that has been selected goes through some prime agricultural land, including some floodplain areas that make it vulnerable to weather events and could have a real impact on the agricultural sector. Which is why for some time I’ve been meeting with affected groups. I’ve had a meeting with them in Parkes. I’ve also been talking to the NSW Farmers, who are joining me here today, and we have decided to say that a Federal Labor Government will conduct an independent inquiry into Inland Rail. It will be transparent. It will have public hearings, about the route selection, about the financing, about the processes around this project. And we will make all of this information available for all to see. It will be an opportunity for affected farmers to come forward with hearings, in those regional communities, to have their concerns properly investigated, with proper processes.
CONDON: That’s the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Anthony Albanese. He also says Labor supports the Inland Rail project, but the methodology of route selection and community concerns about the alignment and the project’s ability to deliver for regional communities, deserves a more thorough analysis.
He told me after the press conference that if Labor wins government, he’ll commission an independent, open and transparent inquiry into Inland Rail, to report back by the end of the year. He says it’ll be an inquiry that’s free from any interference.
ALBANESE: It’ll be by an independent person, not someone who has a vested interest in saying that everything’s all ok, don’t you worry about that, which seems to be the attitude that some have taken, in particular, in the National Party, to these issues that have been raised. This is a 1,700 kilometre project, 1,100 kilometres of that is basically existing track, but the Greenfields sections, particularly the sections Yelarbon to Gowrie, and between Narromine to Narrabri, have raised real issues and people should be able to put forward those issues in a transparent way.
CONDON: It’s not a way of the ALP trying to, to put this issue of, of the Inland Rail on the, on the back burner, have an inquiry, slow things down a bit, rather than sort of get it up and running.
ALBANESE: Well the fact is, we’re the ones who put $900 million into the project. For its entire first term, the National Party ran around and said we have $300 million for the project, that was already in the budget, was put in there in the 2013 budget that was brought down by the former Labor government. They didn’t put a dollar in in their first budget. They didn’t put a dollar in in 2015, 2016 either. They then made this dramatic $8.4 billion dollar equity injection even though its own advice from the inquiry that it set up under John Anderson said it wouldn’t produce a return on the capital investment for 50 years. In terms of the processes and timing, we’ve said that this inquiry needs to report back by 2019, by the end of this year. We don’t want to prolong the inquiry. What we want to do though, is to make sure that we get this project right, because this is a one-off opportunity. We’re not going to have two Inland Rail lines. There’s going to be one. It needs to be got right. The idea of maximising freight, including agriculture, on to rail and getting trucks off the road, has benefits for road safety. It also makes good economic sense to transport large volumes by rail, but it doesn’t make sense to have a rail line that stops 38 kilometres short of the port, and for which there is no clear plan for that last 38 kilometres.
CONDON: What about the idea that the National Party just want to get the spades in the ground, get things moving, get some more jobs in regional areas, get the, get the economy sort of pushing along in regional areas, more jobs and that’s why they’re pushing for this to happen faster.
ALBANESE: Well, you don’t get the economy going by wasting taxpayers’ money or by not getting projects right, so that it doesn’t operate as efficiently as possible. What that’s a recipe for is less jobs and less economic activity. The way that you maximise the economic activity out of any infrastructure project is to get the planning right. Get it right in the beginning because otherwise some future government is going to have to go back and fix it up, at great cost and at not just economic and financial cost but of course cost to productivity as well.
CONDON: Is everything on the table? Are you looking at the possibility of making it a faster train because people, I’ve heard people critical of it saying it’s only going to be 110 kilometres an hour, that’s not fast enough and you know what’s the point in just doing it at that speed, it should be you know, 200 kilometres an hour.
ALBANESE: Well, those are issues best addressed by engineers, but the fact is we’re talking about very long trains. We’re talking about double deck trains. We’re talking about considerable weight on the tracks and the idea that you can have a high speed train is probably overly ambitious, to be frank, is the advice that I have. But people will be able to make submissions on this. We want to look at the process of decision making. We want to look at the route and look at maximising the economic benefit.
CONDON: Are you also looking at some of the other issues that have arisen out of this, in terms of people owning land. Barnaby Joyce owning some land that was, that has now since been sold off, on, which was apparently close to one of the routes.
ALBANESE: Well, people will be able to make submissions to the independent inquiry. That’s why it will be looked at, at arm’s length from government. Infrastructure Australia will oversee the inquiry. Infrastructure Australia are, of course, independent of the Government, including independent of the departments and the Public Service, free from political interference.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.