Rail Freight Alliance—Rail Futures Conference 2017

Speech

DCS011/2017

15 September 2017

Grand Hyatt, Melbourne

Good morning everyone and thank you for the warm welcome Brett de Hoedt, and thank you Glenn Milne for the invitation.

I'd also like to acknowledge Reid Mather for his advocacy on behalf of local councils in Victoria.

I turned 50 on Wednesday—and when you hit a milestone you do tend to reflect.

If we look back at the past 50 years of rail freight, here in Victoria, it has been a story of decline—at least, up until recently.

As a consequence, this put more goods on to roads and off rail.

Under previous governments, regional lines closed; freight gates were abolished; and jobs lost.

While it has been hard–going for rail freight, there have been significant improvements too, such as the national standard gauge network.

And there is now record investment going into rail freight.

Instead of closing railway lines; we are re–opening them.

Take a look at Victoria.

The $440 million Murray Basin Rail Project—funded with the Commonwealth and State—will reopen the Avoca Line between Maryborough and Ararat, providing access to the Ports of Geelong and Portland.

Passenger rail services are being reinstated—and there are growing calls from the many councils in this room—to re-open more.

So your theme, Rail Futures, is apt as we are looking at a rail revival right across the country in regional freight, passenger rail, and urban services.

Since becoming Minister, I have been pleased to oversee a $20 billion investment in rail.

These projects will ease urban congestion, grow the regions, and create thousands of new jobs.

Inland Rail

I think it is safe to say that everyone here today supports the Inland Rail project between Melbourne and Brisbane.

And when we talk about significant events in rail over the past 50 years–this is one project that was put in the 'too–hard' basket.

The Coalition Government changed that.

We are investing an additional $8.4 billion in the Inland Rail project.

This is a 1,700km route that will have the capacity of 110 B–Doubles and will be capable of moving double–stacked containers along the corridor in under 24 hours.

That means more bulk freight on rail; less congestion in the metro rail networks; and more incentive to invest in regional areas.

The freight and logistics industry identified rail's potential to reduce transport costs by about 10 per cent.

Many goods may not begin their journey at either end of the Inland Rail at all, but in the middle—in regional Australia.

Higher capacity trains will have the potential to unlock new export markets, and will enable faster, more efficient access for primary producers, especially for large–volume grain and cotton harvests.

The decision to fund the construction of the Inland Rail will give regional businesses the certainty needed to invest in export growth, by tackling freight delivery costs head on.

The prospect of significantly lowering the cost of transporting regionally produced goods to global markets is one of the key benefits of the Inland Rail.

Our Government has secured three Free Trade Agreements; and we are building the infrastructure to capitalise on that.

Murray Basin Rail Project

I know a number of the councils represented by the Rail Freight Alliance would be excited by the opportunities associated with a project I mentioned earlier–Murray Basin Rail.

Our Government's commitment to the Murray Basin Rail now stands at $240 million.

It is important that I acknowledge the previous Liberal-Nationals Coalition State Government, which got this entire project kick-started.

For those who are not from the North West or South West of Victoria: Murray Basin Rail will upgrade the lines from broad gauge to standard gauge, restore and upgrade the existing standard gauge line between Ararat and Maryborough, and upgrade the lines from 19 tonnes per axle to 21 tonnes per axle.

This means that the freight, which comes out of our State's food bowl, will finally be connected to the national freight network on a Standard Gauge railway.

It means farmers will save costs by having greater choice of ports to export their goods, and more local jobs in our regional communities.

Right now, people in Sunraysia, whether they supply catering or accommodation, are preparing to reap the benefits of this work.

Ken Wakefield, of Wakefield Transport in Merbein, told the ABC that line-speed improvements would take four hours out of the 14-hour route time from Merbein to Melbourne.

GrainCorp regional manager Peter Johnston said there will be savings of up to five dollars ($5) a tonne on grain transport.

And when those lines carry 1.5 million tonnes of grain that represents huge savings.

Port Shuttles in Victoria

Just last month, I was at the Port of Melbourne for an announcement on the Victorian Port Rail Shuttle.

The Commonwealth is investing $38 million into this $58 million joint initiative, which will take trucks off local roads, upgrade rail connections, and improve terminal access.

Expressions of interest are being sought to deliver a series of rail freight 'shuttle' initiatives on the existing rail network.

The cost of Melbourne's congestion gridlock is estimated to rise from $4.6 billion to $10.2 billion in 2030.

With container numbers expected to double over the next two decades it is crucial that we act now to share the load between road and rail.

Passenger Rail Victoria

Many people in the audience today live in regional areas—and if we are going to encourage more people to live in the country, we need better infrastructure.

That means better roads, better mobile phone and internet; better health access; but also, it means better rail.

That is why I was proud to announce a $1.57 billion Victorian Rail Package in July, with the State Government.

In addition, there was $30 million towards the development of a Melbourne Airport Rail Link—because it makes sense that one of the best cities in the world should have an airport rail link.

The Commonwealth Government will be investing $1.42 billion to upgrade regional rail in Victoria.

To be frank, State Labor has been in power for 14 of the past 18 years and they have neglected regional Victoria.

We have seen billions go towards Metro Tunnel and Level Crossing Removals in the city.

But in saying that—I do want to recognise the positive way in which some Victorian Ministers were willing to work with me to get this regional rail package agreed.

National Rail Program

Another example of the Commonwealth's significant rail investment is the $10 billion National Rail Program.

Ten billion dollars will be invested over the next decade to improve the efficiency of services in cities and surrounding regional centres.

This program has been designed so that the Government can make major funding commitments to several game changing rail projects over the next decade.

This investment will reduce the burden on Australian roads, provide more reliable transport networks and will support our efforts to decentralise our economy and grow regional centres.

National Supply Chain Strategy

I have been working with the transport and logistics sector, governments, and local communities to ensure that we are supporting the sort of transport infrastructure projects that help make a difference.

We are developing a National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy—via an Inquiry into National Freight and Supply Chain Priorities.

The inquiry will set out our understanding of what challenges and opportunities lie ahead, and how we can take advantage of them.

It is these investments that are going to set up our nation for the next 100 years.

I am proud to be playing a part in delivering these game changing projects, in partnership with the community.

Through our record $75 billion Infrastructure investment, there is an unprecedented level of government spending on critical airport, road, and rail projects.

These are the projects our kids and our grandkids will thank us for—in the cities and in the regions.

I wish you all the best for the Conference.