Subjects: Western Sydney rail line, Inland Rail
SPEERS: Anthony Albanese, thanks very much for your time this afternoon. Let’s look firstly at what you’ve actually announced today. Labor you’ve said will have a rail link ready to go for the Badgerys Creek airport from day one of it opening, which is scheduled in 2026. How have you decided where exactly that rail link should go?
ALBANESE: What we’ve done is consult with the community and consult through local government. All of the local councils in Western Sydney support this proposal. There’s been debate about this, of course, for the last two years. There’s been an analysis, including by Deloitte that showed an extraordinary figure of $44.7 billion boost to Western Sydney’s economy with a north-south rail line between 2024 and 2040. But by the time we get to 2040 it will be contribution $3.6 billion a year and what we know is even if the airport were not there, this north-south rail line would make absolute sense because of the employment lands, because of the investment that is, of course, arising out of the airport. That’s why this proposal is really about making sure that Badgerys Creek airport needs to be not just a runway and a terminal. It needs to be a catalyst for jobs and economic activity in Western Sydney.
SPEERS: And all of that seems to make sense, but to be clear, would you wait for Infrastructure Australia to have a good look at the numbers on this and give it a tick as to whether it should go ahead?
ALBANESE: Yes, we would, but as I said there’s already been economic analysis from organisations like Deloitte, has been commissioned by Western Sydney councils and businesses. We already have, for example, to the north of the Badgerys Creek site, the Science Park proposal, which is already going through development approvals, which will be $5 billion of private sector investment, particularly looking at high value jobs being created there, some 12 thousand there, four and a half thousand new residences, a first for Australia in that the Catholic education office has already signed a Memorandum of Understanding for a K-12 STEM or Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths School, so you have…
ALBANESE: Going ahead and they need, in terms of that design, part of it has a rail station in the middle of it. It would be the station immediately to the north of the airport.
SPEERS: All right, what would be the full cost of this rail link though? Deloitte may have put a number on it in the study you’re talking about. You’re saying you’d kick in $400 million from the Federal Government. What would be the total bill?
ALBANESE: That would be an initial contribution from us. In terms of the economic analysis we have said that it’s conditional upon Infrastructure Australia and we would allow them to do their work and to do their analysis, including full costings. We rely upon the State Government, of course…
SPEERS: But what’s the rough estimate here? How do you come at $400 million, and how much of the pie is that going to take up?
ALBANESE: The $400 million will be a substantial contribution. We know it is $400 million more than any other level of government has on the table today.
SPEERS: Sure, but what’s the full price tag of this?
ALBANESE: Well the full price, David, I’m not going to make up figures on the run here. The cost would be more than that, but we know also…
SPEERS: But you have put the $400 million figure out there so you obviously have some numbers that you’re working off.
ALBANESE: We have and we know that it would be a substantial contribution to the project. When I was a Minister we looked at the extension of the Leppington rail line to Badgerys Creek. That would be one part of this proposal.
SPEERS: What did that cost?
ALBANESE: That was in the order, at the time, of around about $400 million but…
SPEERS: But you’re talking about much more than just Leppington to Badgerys. You’re talking about getting it right down from Macarthur up to St Mary’s as well. So we’re talking billions, aren’t we?
ALBANESE: What we’re talking about here David, though, is a greenfield project. If you go out there David, something that Coalition Ministers and the Prime Minister might like to actually do occasionally, they would know that the route of this proposed rail project is largely through the employment lands for Western Sydney that are already owned by the State Government.
SPEERS: But $400 million, based on your own numbers, isn’t going to cover even half this, is it?
ALBANESE: This is a State Government project of course, and of course as well, you would get the up-lift that would be available as a result of the increased value of the land – the land owned by the State Government, the land owned by the Federal Government, but also the land owned by the private sector that will benefit substantially. So for example, in the Science Park, which is a $5 billion proposal, there would be substantial up-lift value as a result.
SPEERS: But has the NSW Government said they would kick in the bulk of this; or indeed, has the Labor Party in NSW said they would help?
ALBANESE: The fact is, David, that we want this to be gotten on with as a matter of urgency. We are quite happy to sit down with the Coalition Government. At the moment what you have is a Coalition Government, State and Federal, both saying we need a rail line, both acknowledging that the rail line should be there from day one – that that’s their preferred option – but neither of them putting any money on the table.
SPEERS: Well they are going through the process of making sure it stacks up, is what they say.
ALBANESE: Well, no. Is there any suggestion that the airport; I haven’t seen anyone, Paul Fletcher, Malcolm Turnbull or anyone else, say that you can have an airport without having rail access to it in Western Sydney. And what’s more, this proposal stacks up even without an airport being there. You have as part of the design that the Federal Government are doing, they are building in a cavity for a rail station. They have said that very clearly. But what is the point of having a cavity without track and trains. The fact is that when you look at what is there now – a greenfield site whereby, relatively in terms of the cost, what we do know is that the cost of delay will be substantial because you will have development in the region.
SPEERS: What about the airport itself? Let me ask you about the Badgerys Creek airport itself. We are still waiting for the Sydney Airport Corporation, which owns Kingsford Smith, to decide whether it is going to build Badgerys Creek or not. If it doesn’t, the Government may build it itself. What do you think about this? Should the Government in that event be prepared to cough up the money and build the airport and run it itself?
ALBANESE: David, unlike the Government’s response to today’s rail announcement and the Labor Party showing leadership from Opposition on Western Sydney Rail, I haven’t played politics with this issue, nor do I intend to. Sydney Airport has the first right of refusal. If they choose not to, then the Government has two options available to it; one is to go to market and to have another private sector operator build the airport and then operate the airport. Secondly, is to build the airport essentially itself but then on-sell the lease. That’s one of the reasons why building in the rail line now makes sense, because then, of course, the value is built-in to the lease price for whoever owns and operates the airport on a leasehold basis.
SPEERS: This isn’t going to be a contested political issue whether the Government, in the event that Sydney Airport Corporation says no thanks, that the Government should step in and build it?
ALBANESE: Well look, there are models including the model that we established when we were in Government for the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal, other models of course; the National Broadband Network was modelled on that as well, the Australian Rail Track Corporation owns the tracks in terms of operating the freight rail network. With regard to the airport the important thing is that given Sydney Airport is at capacity, Sydney does need an airport other than Sydney. And indeed the Western Sydney Airport needs to be seen not as Sydney’s second airport but as Western Sydney’s first airport, as something that is a catalyst for jobs and economic activity, and that’s why it’s so important.
SPEERS: It needs to be built even if it’s the Government building it?
ALBANESE: It needs to be built and there’s no reason why, I don’t frankly understand why, in terms of the earth-moving work that the announcement made by Minister Fletcher last week that that will commence sometime in 2018, I can’t see why if the Government is doing it itself, and they’ll know whether that’s the case or not in a couple of weeks’ time, that they can’t get on with doing it. The planning has been underway for some time and it seems to me that it is in everyone’s interest for those jobs to be created sooner rather than later (inaudible).
SPEERS: Talking about projects that have been long talked about; Inland Rail. Barnaby Joyce in response to what you have announced today has said, well the priority really should be the Inland Rail corridor from Melbourne to Brisbane. Now the Coalition did promise this before the 2013 election. They said work would be underway by 2016 on this and it has not happened yet. But my understanding is that there will be further announcements in the Budget in two weeks’ time. What would like to see in the Budget on the Inland Rail corridor because I know you’re a supporter of it?
ALBANESE: Well I’d like to see substantial money there, to make sure that this goes ahead. What we’ve seen David is that the Government, the Coalition, did nothing about it when they were last in government.
I commissioned a study, and we put funding in for the project, some $600 million was invested for the parts of the existing rail line that will make up part of the Inland Rail. We had $300 million there for the purchase of the corridor and for planning work and for the commencement of early works on the project.
And so far, not one hole has been dug by the Government, even though it had that funding available to it. It hasn’t even spent it, even though it was in the Budget of 2010, going out, that $300 million of new money on top of the $600 million.
In last year’s Budget they put a small amount of money in for the forward years, but there needs to be substantial investment and they need to get on with it David. They did say construction would be underway in 2016. I can’t understand why that hasn’t occurred, but it needs to happen.
As an important project for agriculture, and for our exports, it also will take pressure off the coastal route and will be vital for towns like Parkes, which will benefit substantially as being at the centre of the north-south corridor and also the east-west.
SPEERS: Indeed, those farming districts in particular to get their goods to port. Just with this, we will see some sort of contribution from the Government in the Budget. You’re backing a substantial contribution.
Your $400 million, just finally if I can, on Badgerys Creek rail. Where would that $400 million come from?
ALBANESE: It’s a commitment David from the Labor Party, all budgets aren’t hypothecated, that’s not the way it works; you know that.
SPEERS: Is this putting the Budget into deeper deficit is my question, or is it coming from another project?
ALBANESE: This is an investment David, and the good thing about infrastructure is that it produces a return to the Budget over time. Good investment in infrastructure improves the Budget bottom line, it doesn’t hurt it. That’s why you need proper analysis, that’s why we would go to Infrastructure Australia and we know that the sort of economic activity, that $44 billion that we are talking about of economic activity between 2024 and 2040 guess what, that would produce substantial revenue for the Government.
SPEERS: In many years’ time.
ALBANESE: Well that’s the thing about infrastructure David, but the thing about this Government is that infrastructure investment has actually fallen. They use big figures that don’t stand up, they talk a lot – look the Inland Rail line would be completed now if every time a Coalition Minister mentioned it a sleeper was laid on the track, but the fact is they have not dug a hole.
They have slowed up investment on the Pacific Highway, they have slowed investment on the Bruce Highway and they have failed in invest in any major public transport project anywhere in the country. We’d have a solution to urban congestion if a dollar was given every time Malcolm Turnbull took a selfie of himself on a train. Why doesn’t he just fund it?
SPEERS: All right all right, okay. Anthony Albanese, on that note we will have to leave it there. Thanks for joining us this afternoon.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you David.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.