16 May 2017
Subjects: Inland Rail project, North East rail funding, Federal Budget.
Darren Chester: Well first of all can say it's great to be here with Tim McCurdy, your local State Member of Parliament. But it is particularly good to be here in the context of last week's Federal Budget. We have got an unprecedented investment in rail in our nation. $20 billion announced in the Budget last week, of which $8.4 billion is going to the Inland Rail project, $10 billion for a National Rail Program, but importantly for Victoria, there is now $1 billion on the table, with $500 million allocated for regional rail, to get on with the job of delivering the rail upgrades that regional Victorians are expecting from us—state and federal governments.
My job here today is to meet with local community members, but also to make the very simple point to the State Premier, we're ready to do a deal. We've got money on the table. We want to do a deal with the Victorian State Government, to get the work underway as quickly as we possibly can. The Premier complaining about not enough money in the Federal Budget, is a bit like the sun gets up every morning. Every Premier every day is complaining about not getting enough out of the Federal Budget. But we have got $1 billion on the table and we'll work with them to get the job done. And I sincerely hope that he's prepared to help negotiate with us and get the work underway on the North East line as quickly as we possibly can.
Question: How far apart are you?
Darren Chester: Right now I think we're a long way apart. All I have had since last Tuesday is vitriol from the Victorian Premier. He needs to calm down, start acting more maturely and sit down with us. I mean I have made it very clear to his Ministers in the past that I'm a pragmatic person. I'm ready to work with them to achieve good outcomes, but it is completely ridiculous to think that the Federal Government is going to pay for all his rail upgrades and he is not going to put any money on the table.
You look at roads in our community where the Federal Government often provides 50 per cent of the funding. There are some section of roads where the Federal Government provides 80 per cent of the funding. It is not likely that we are ever going to be doing 100 per cent to get the State Government off the hook.
Question: Will you be urging him then to put party politics aside, sit down and get on with this job that North East Victorians in particular have been waiting on for so many years?
Darren Chester: There is no such thing as a free ride. The Victorian Premier needs to sit down with me and work out how we can work together to combine our funding efforts to improve services here on the North East and other regional rail lines right throughout Victoria.
Question: Lots of talk before the Budget that all key players were working well together. How long until you will be sitting down? Will it be this month?
Darren Chester: My door is open to meet with Victorian Ministers or the Premier any day. Name the time, name the place, I'll be there and I'll work with them. We have got $1 billion on the table of Commonwealth money that can be put to Victorian infrastructure projects. We've allocated $500 million for regional rail. The Victorian Government has made it very clear it wants to invest in regional rail, but it's going to have to put some money on the table itself.
Question: When this finally gets going—and that's an assumption that it will—how confident are you of ARTC actually delivering the best possible outcome, given they have probably- the work they've been in charge of the works, to date, which haven't obviously worked?
Darren Chester:I'd acknowledge that ARTC has had some problems in the past in terms of the maintenance work that has occurred on the track, but I'm confident we have overcome that, and they have my full confidence. What we need to see now is ARTC, to sit down with the appropriate V/Line people. We need to see the two Ministers at State and Federal level negotiating on the total quantity of money that is going to be available and let's get on with the job.
And the people of the North East are quite frankly sick and tired of politicians yelling at each other. They just want us to calmly work our way through the issues. This is unprecedented, the Federal Government has got so much money made available for regional rail projects and we need to get on with the job of delivering for those regional communities.
Question: Will you be having that separate chat with ARTC along those lines as well?
Darren Chester: Absolutely. I will be having more conversations with ARTC, obviously in the weeks and months ahead, particularly in the context obviously of the Melbourne-Brisbane Inland Rail Project. It's the single biggest infrastructure announcement in the Budget. So we'll be working very closely with them as they deliver that project. But also in relation to how they deliver and improve services on the North East line.
Question: Potential for places like Wangaratta on the Inland Rail route?
Darren Chester: I think we are only limited by our imagination in terms of Melbourne-Brisbane Inland Rail and the benefits it would bring to the regional communities on route. Obviously there will be some towns where intermodals will be established and they will be expanded and provide direct opportunities there. But there's a range of potential opportunities for towns right along the route. It's up the Federal Government to provide that spine, if you like. But then what comes off that—the arteries that come off that and how the communities fully utilise the benefits—is really going to be up to them and the private sector.
Question: Is the difference in the money the game-changer in the final decision in the route?
Darren Chester: In which case sorry, David?
Question: The proposed—there was some talk of a route up through Narrandera, Shepparton, versus the existing rail route?
Darren Chester: The bottom line in relation to the Melbourne-Brisbane Inland Rail, was we needed to provide it in a way that was cost-effective for taxpayers and also recognising that the private sector really didn't have the appetite for taking on the risk of actually building the rail itself. This is a long term investment that our kids and our grandkids will thank us for. But it'll actually be a long time before the Federal Government achieves the return on its investment and the private sector simply isn't that patient with its investments. We will be building the track and upgrading the track, knowing full well that there will be future generations that will maximise the benefit from that.
Question: Will there be complementary works with the passenger rail track versus lifting the capacity of the track for the Inland Rail, given that it doubles that nature of it all?
Darren Chester: Absolutely. There are two issues at play here I guess. We will need to negotiate with the Victorian Government on an intergovernmental agreement regarding the use of the track for the Inland Rail Project and the work we want to do on the passenger service. So there's a certain amount of work that's required for the track to meet our inland rail freight requirements. The additional $100 million we are talking about today is around passenger experience—improving the service so that into the future we can provide a better ride quality in terms of the track. And then it's up to the Victorian Government to provide better rolling stock. I mean we have got rolling stock which is decades old. Some of the oldest rolling stock in the state is up and down this route. So if we can improve the track, I'm certain the Victorian Government can come to the party and improve the rolling stock.
Question: $100 million was committed in the Federal Budget to repair the North East rail. How was this figure derived and do you think it is enough?
Darren Chester: I think it is a good start in the sense that we have had some preliminary conversations with V/Line, ARTC in the past and now we need to get down to the details. I don't expect that that will be the end of the story. I think it's a good start for us now to begin that conversation with V/Line, begin the conversation with the community on which parts of the route we'll target in the initial state. And then we'll also need to sit down with the Victorian Government and say, well what are you prepared to put on the table? Is it about rolling stock, or are we going to have some money on the table for improved signalling or track works? And that'll probably all flow out of the conversation we have with Victoria in relation to the intergovernmental agreement. So there is a lot of work, there is a lot of moving parts in this and we need to actually be working together constructively, not yelling abuse at each other.
Question: What happens if ARTC turns around in a meeting and says $100 million isn't enough to fix the line?
Darren Chester: Well $100 million will get us started. I mean we are talking 2017-18. We can get the work rolling, we can have that conversation with V/Line, the Victorian Government and communities along that route. If it comes back that there is going to be more required, I'm open to that conversation.
Question: One other thing just in the budget, $2 million has been promised for Rutherglen for the heavy vehicle detour that wasn't specifically mentioned there in the budgets. Can we see that money this year?
Darren Chester: Every commitment we made in the election campaign last year will be honoured here in Indi. There is some work for the Great Alpine Road, the Rutherglen bypass and there is the Kiewa Valley road as well, an addition of $10 million was put aside by the Federal Government, which the State Government has agreed to match. So there is no reason whatsoever that work can't be undertaken as quickly as possible. In terms of the Rutherglen project specifically, it is a question of the Victorian Government working closely with local councils on some of those planning issues, working our way through the actual route selection and having that fully developed as quickly as possible I think is a really good thing for the Rutherglen community. Anyone who stands in the main street of Rutherglen and sees the heavy vehicle traffic understands that it is an issue that we need to resolve. We need to do the planning work first and then get on with the job as quickly as we possibly can.
Tim McCurdy: Well certainly Daniel Andrews must be out of excuses now. Certainly the Minister has said it loud and clear today that the money's on the table for the track. Now it is time for Daniel Andrews to honour his commitment to get the rolling stock that he promised before the Budget. So I am pleased to be standing here with Darren Chester today to see that money has been invested or will be invested in the North East line. Jacinta Allan and Premier Daniel Andrews need to stop playing the games and get on and provide the rolling stock that we need so importantly here on the North East line.
Question: Obviously nothing in the Victorian Budget this year. Is there any chance that they may change their mind? That they might be able to pull some money out of somewhere this year?
Tim McCurdy: Daniel Andrews is always able to pull money from out of his hat whenever it suits him. So here is an opportunity. The money's on the table for the track and now he needs to honour his commitment to make sure that we get the money for the rolling stock, because as the Minister said, we are talking 50 or 60 year old rolling stock and that is the final piece of the puzzle that we need to make our commuter services much more reliable.
Question: Inland Rail has potential for this part of the world then?
Tim McCurdy: Certainly. That's what we continue to talk to the Minister about, Inland Rail, to make sure that we are considered, whether it's through Wangaratta or it's through Wodonga. Obviously the people of Shepparton are advocating heavily for it there. So that is certainly going to be considered and we'll keep pushing our case for this region.