SUBJECTS: High Speed Rail, Four Corners, Tony Abbott.
INTERVIEWER: First up this morning, the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese is in Albury Wodonga this morning to call on the Federal Government to support the creation of a High Speed Rail planning Authority. Do you want High Speed Rail at the top of the current agenda or at the moment are there more pressing matters? How do you feel about that? Anthony Albanese, good morning.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
INTERVIEWER: You’re calling on the federal government to bring on your Private Members’ Bill to create a High Speed Rail Planning Authority. Can you just recap for us what the purpose of this authority would be?
ALBANESE: In Government we did a $20 million study that was published in two parts that found High Speed Rail down the east coast from Melbourne to Brisbane via Sydney and obviously via Albury Wodonga but other centres like Shepparton and Wagga Wagga, was viable. In particular it found $2.15 benefit between Melbourne and Sydney and that was largely on the back of the support from regional communities.
I then appointed an advisory group that included people like Tim Fischer, the head of the Business Council of Australia Jennifer Westacott, the head of the Australasian Rail Association, Bryan Nye. What they found was that you actually needed an authority to actually drive the change. Because it is across jurisdictions, you need to preserve the corridor, undertake the environmental approvals and basically get going on this project. But it needed a driver. We intended to do that were we re-elected in 2013.
We weren’t. So I put forward this Private Members Bill. We had funding of $52 million for the authority over the forward estimates. That was cut by the Coalition in last year’s Budget. But if they’re serious about it, you need a driver and the driver has to be an authority with the ability to work across jurisdictions.
INTERVIEWER: What would be the point of creating the authority before the government is committed to High Speed Rail as a concept in the first place?
ALBANESE: Well, we were committed and the new government says that it is. That’s why it’s important that it actually do something about it. Because it’s a long term project – obviously High Speed Rail – you wouldn’t make a decision today and be riding on the rail in a couple of years’ time – it will take substantial planning. The preservation of the corridor is vital and the preservation of the corridor issues are critical because unless you do that, then you could find yourself in a few years’ time saying yes to High Speed Rail, everyone wants to do that but we can’t because of urban growth or because it simply becomes impossible because of what has occurred along that corridor that has already been identified. That’s the important thing. A lot of the hard work has been done on that project. That why people like Ross Jackson, who I am here with this morning, are so keen on making sure this project is advanced. And other people in local government – not just Albury council but councils right along the route are very keen on this happening as well because they know that this could literally transform these regional communities and create economic opportunity here. It would also be good of course for the big cities by taking pressure off them.
INTERVIEWER: Ross Jackson being the Labor candidate for the seat of Albury. I was going to ask why raise this High Speed Rail question now when it’s not particularly really on the radar. Is that basically the reason you are talking about it – to try to bring a spotlight onto Ross Jackson’s campaign?
ALBANESE: Well Ross Jackson is a big supporter of this project. He’s not alone, he is the Deputy Mayor of Albury of course. What he tells me is there’s enormous support for High Speed Rail in this local community as he has been talking about this project as he’s been going around. This requires the support of not just the national government and that national leadership but it requires the support of state governments. Certainly if he were to be elected as the State Member for Albury he would have this project at the top of his agenda. If you could get to Melbourne in about an hour and to Sydney in about two, that would just transform the way this city works.
INTERVIEWER: One criticism that we have heard of very fast trains was as follows; that timeframe sounds good but that they won’t stop in most regional towns and they might only stop in Albury Wodonga. Wagga and maybe Shepparton. I mean people in those centres might use High Speed Rail but maybe to the detriment of the normal passengers’ services which might become unviable as a result. What’s your response?
ALBANESE: I don’t think that’s right. If you look at the study it showed for a start that High Speed Rail would be more expensive that the current XPT operation to travel on it, but it would be viable because of the two sorts of trains that would flow on the line. One is your three hour direct, non-stop Sydney to Melbourne, city to city which is very competitive to say the least with air travel door to door. It took me three hours at least to get from the city of Sydney to the city of Melbourne last week when you take into account the waiting times. It’s also more productive time though. It showed that if you have High Speed Rail – and it would indeed stop at Shepparton, Albury Wodonga, Canberra, and there’s a Southern Highlands stop being envisaged as well – it would be of enormous benefit to those regional cities and of course those regional cities would grow which would also of course take pressure of the current country rail routes that operate in the form of the XPT. So it should actually be able to improve the service. It wouldn’t be on the same line. You need a dedicated High Speed Rail Line which is one of the reasons for the costs being relatively high in terms of construction. But the important thing about the work that was done it’s that it also identified the benefits. I met with people from the Japanese rail system just a fortnight ago in Canberra. The international community are climbing over each other to be part of this project whether it be from our region or the European operations from Spain, Italy and France. What we know is that it works. No-one anymore takes a plane from London to Paris, they are all on rail and for that sort of length of journey it can have such extraordinary benefits and open up economic opportunity and jobs here in the region and that’s really what it’s all about.
INTERVIEWER Let’s say your Bill gets up Anthony Albanese. What would your authority actually do first given that we don’t actually have a dollar commitment to build anything?
ALBANESE: We had the $52 million to enable it to do the planning work, to enable it to begin the EIS process. It would identify in terms of the purchasing of the corridor that is required. In practical terms, a lot of this will go through greenfields sites that won’t require purchasing of actual properties. In places like Sydney it would go underground, that’s the only way to do it in Sydney is essentially through a tunnel which would be 67km long to the north and the south. But you could have a property for example that was about to be sold for development, if that’s going to be on the corridor doesn’t it makes sense to make sure that corridor is preserved and purchased now rather than potentially one of the levels of government opening up that land, having development and then it creating a problem down the track? So that early purchase of land would be available and then future budgets need to obviously put more funding in for the purchasing of that corridor.
INTERVIEWER: Just last question to you Anthony Albanese, no doubt it hasn’t escaped your attention that Four Corners tonight on ABC TV has more revelations from behind the scenes obtaining text messages from the party Treasurer showing deep divisions over the Prime Minister’s office and his Chief of Staff Peter Credlin. So all of that continues to simmer along. You must be licking your lips at these things.
ALBANESE: This is a dysfunctional government. Tony Abbott and his team promised an adult government. What we’re seeing is whether it be on the organisation level, or the impact it’s having on real people, this is a government that is saying that unless its plans for $100,000 degrees are passed by the parliament this week it will withdraw funding for 1700 researchers in the scientific and innovation fields. That is just an extraordinary proposition, the problems is that Mike Baird isn’t standing up to Tony Abbott on any of these issues so you have an impact particularly here in NSW. You essentially have a bunch of people who think that they are still in student politics. It is time that this undergraduate behaviour stopped and the government actually acted in the national interest.
INTERVIEWER: Anthony Albanese, enjoy your time in Albury Wodonga, thanks for speaking to us today. Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.