Subjects: Senate Estimates Commitee hearing on faster rail.
DAVID SPEERS: .. A million dollar grant to a business to do a business case on a, not a High Speed Rail, Link but a fast rail link between Melbourne and Shepparton. With me now to talk more about this is the Shadow Minister for Transport, Anthony Albanese. Thanks for joining us.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks David.
SPEERS: This is a $5 million – well, to be clear it is $20 million that went to three different companies. So one of the companies we are talking about here, that you are concerned about, has received presumably somewhere in between $5 million and $20 million?
ALBANESE: Around and about. They didn’t seem to be able to provide the precise details.
SPEERS: You are a big fan of High Speed Rail. But what is wrong with this?
ALBANESE: I’m a huge fan of High Speed Rail and we had a proper study – $20 million into High Speed Rail down the east coast from Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra. It identified a route. It identified regional economic growth as one of the great benefits of High Speed Rail. What we have here is quite extraordinary though. Here we have $20 million set aside in last year’s Budget, in 2017, for studies into faster rail and this proposal; it’s not just that it has a hole in it, it’s that it is one big hole – an idea of having faster rail from Melbourne to Shepparton but the company that is involved here – the company of Nicholas Cleary, a former senior New South Wales National Party person – CLARA – doesn’t have, it would appear, the money to back up the joint funding that is required. It only has $422,000 in capital in its accounts.
SPEERS: To do the …
ALBANESE: To do the study. The idea was matching funding. That doesn’t appear to have been there. They don’t have all of the land options in place for the corridor that is being picked to Shepparton and indeed there’s a lot of speculation around Shepparton that some of this corridor is on a flood plan and it relies …
SPEERS: That could be problematic.
ALBANESE: Could be a problematic.
SPEERS: Let me just break this down, this guy Nick Cleary, his company is Consolidated Land and Rail Australia. – CLARA. So he has been given several million dollars from the Government. He is obviously very keen on making a buck out of High Speed Rail. He has been buying up a lot of farmland.
ALBANESE: Well he has been buying options.
SPEERS: Options. Right.
ALBANESE: But it is very unclear as to whether all of the options are there. The department couldn’t really say that. The department couldn’t really say what the financial state of the company was. The department couldn’t really say what was happening with regard to the route of this and it relies upon this idea – the whole CLARA proposal is much bigger.
SPEERS: It is. I was having a quick look at this. He has plan for eight inland cities.
ALBANESE: Eight. That’s right.
SPEERS: Inland cities?
ALBANESE: We are in Australia’s major inland city right now. It is Canberra.
ALBANESE: And there are others as well of course – Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga. Shepparton is one.
SPEERS: The guy is dreaming big though. He’s thinking big. He is thinking we can build these cities and a rail link and we’ll …
ALBANESE: Well this is Utopia after a very long night. The idea of eight cities in inland Australia where there are currently none? What people who have looked at this proposal in local government have come back with almost universally is saying: “Hang on a tick here, why don’t you do something about building up Albury-Wodonga or Canberra for that matter or Goulburn?”
SPEERS: And have the train go through?
ALBANESE: And have the train go through or on the border of. This is an idea …
SPEERS: I mean, you have been Minister. You’ve obviously had people come to you with ideas, you know: Oh we’ll build these inland cities, we’ll …
ALBANESE: I have had all sorts of …
SPEERS: Being a fan of High Speed Rail, I am sure plenty have come to you …
ALBANESE: I have seen some very ambitious plans.
SPEERS: So what’s going on here do you think?
ALBANESE: That’s what the Department has to answer, of how it is. What they did – there was a competitive bidding process. The bids included pretty sensible propositions for the Sydney-to-Canberra route, for example, that didn’t rely upon whole new cities being built. This relies upon that. It relies upon the options being there, it relies upon whole new planning mechanisms – by and large, in Australia, given how long we have seen European settlement, there is a reason why cities that have thrived and have grown are located where they are.
SPEERS: You obviously don’t think he should have been given several million dollars?
ALBANESE: No, I certainly don’t.
SPEERS: Why do you think it has happened? Are you alleging some political payoff here?
ALBANESE: I want answers to it. It is unusual that Mr Cleary is a former National Party official. Certainly there were a range of people from across the spectrum that were …
SPEERS: He’s got a few working with him, Steve Bracks I think …
ALBANESE: Resigned. Resigned from the Board. Barry O’Farrell resigned from the Board. There have been a range of people have resigned, well before this grant was given.
SPEERS: So you think tax payers should be steering clear of this bloke?
ALBANESE: I think that if someone tells you something that you, in your guts know is too good to be true, it usually is. The fact that this project relies upon two new cities, that it goes as well – if you’re thinking about High Speed Rail and where the big population bases are, your starting point is not Shepparton, as the first High Speed route in Australia …
SPEERS: It’s a great place.
ALBANESE: It is a fantastic place, I love Shepparton. I like lots of smaller places around. The first High Speed Rail should also not be to Orange, which is also a great city in New South Wales …
SPEERS: A lovely place.
ALBANESE: … or Dalby in Queensland. It needs to be based upon populations. That is why Sydney-to-Canberra makes sense, that’s why Sydney-to-Melbourne makes sense, Sydney-to-Newcastle. Even Melbourne-to-Geelong where there is proposals, makes a lot of sense, and it would have saved Bronnie from getting her helicopter.
SPEERS: Anthony Albanese, thank you.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.