Doorstop with Victorian Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan, Bendigo, Victoria

Interview

PFI022/2018

15 June 2018

Subjects: Melbourne Airport rail link

Jacinta Allan: It’s great to be here in the centre of Bendigo meeting with my federal ministerial colleague Paul Fletcher, to discuss the future opportunities around the Melbourne Airport rail link. And for some time now we’ve been having ongoing discussions around how to get the most out of the airport rail link [indistinct] benefits over Victoria. And it’s great to have the opportunity today where Paul and I have been jointly briefed on the significant amount of work that’s been undertaken by our officials because this is a big and complicated project. It’s an exciting project and it’s really important that we get it right and so, since last year, there has been work that has been undertaken by our federal and state Technical Advisory Group.

They’ve been tasked with the job of providing a preliminary business case to the federal and state government by September and we’re well on track to achieve that target. And along the way it’s been an opportunity for Paul and I to be briefed on the work that’s been undertaken to date and that work is looking at the different options on how best to deliver an airport rail link. And I’d really also would just like to add from a local point of view how we’re pleased that Paul, as the federal minister and minister for major portfolio areas also gets the chance to experience our wonderful city of Bendigo as part of this ongoing dialogue that we’re having.

Obviously there’s been a lot of resources put behind this project. The state’s putting significant planning resources behind it. We acknowledge that the Federal Budget has also put in a significant commitment to delivering an airport rail link and we look forward to continuing to working with the federal government on this project.

Paul Fletcher: Well I'm very pleased to be here in Bendigo with Victorian Minister for Public Transport and Major Projects Jacinta Allan, and a range of senior Victorian and Commonwealth Government officials as we get a joint briefing on progress towards developing the preliminary business case on the Melbourne Airport rail link. The Turnbull Government committed $30 million in our 2017 Budget for a business case on the Melbourne Airport rail link. In the 2018 Budget we committed an investment of up to $5 billion towards this transformational, city-shaping project for Melbourne, for Victoria, for Australia.

Today we've had a constructive briefing from the team of Commonwealth and Victorian officials who are working on preparing the preliminary business case. Projects of this scale do require a detailed and complex business case. We've got a lot of decisions to make about how best we invest public money to get the right outcomes and of course, a project like this will deliver benefits for the people of Melbourne, the people of Victoria, indeed the people of Australia for many decades to come. So the Turnbull Government very strongly committed to the wellbeing and the economic performance of Melbourne and of Victoria as well as Australia of course.

That's why the Turnbull Government committed $30 million in last year's budget, up to $5 billion in this year's budget for Melbourne Airport rail link. Today we've had a constructive detailed session with senior officials from the Commonwealth and Victorian government briefing Minister Allan and myself on the work that’s been done. Of course the Premier and the Prime Minister are taking a strong interest in this project but a very constructive working session today.

Question: What is currently being considered or what were some of the points for the briefing?

Paul Fletcher: Well the briefing obviously looked at the potential routes. One of the tasks of the preliminary business case will be to recommend a route of the several which are under consideration. We were briefed on progress on issues—a whole range of issues—that a business case of this nature needs to look at. As well as the route, there is the integration with other aspects of the network. There’s the integration with operations at the airport and of course there's the question of other transport modes to the airport, particularly of course the Tullamarine Freeway, a $250 million project with $200 million of Commonwealth Government money has just been included to upgrade the Tullamarine Freeway. So, looking at a whole range of issues and a very productive and constructive briefing.

Question: [Inaudible question]

Jacinta Allan: One of the features of the options analysis that’s underway includes some of the priorities that we’ve set here in Victoria about what we’d like to see from an airport rail link. And it was last November that the Premier made very clear that as we work through the planning work on an airport rail link, that we want to make sure that not only do we get the right outcome from a transport point of view, we get the right outcome for a city. The city of Melbourne is growing strongly.

We’re experiencing significant population growth to the north and the west of our city in particular. And then also beyond, recognising there’s an opportunity to maximise connections into regional Victoria. And that’s why we’ve also, in addition to this work that’s underway, our recent State Budget provided $50 million to look at faster rail connections into the region, and particularly starting with a focus on Geelong as the second largest city in Victoria, a major and important regional economic centre and how that can be better connected to Melbourne as part of this broader look at how we can best deliver a massive injection, a massive improvement to our public transport system through an airport rail link.

Question: In the past you were concerned about a lack of mention of regional Victoria. Are you confident now that the federal government is considering regional Victoria enough in this plan?

Jacinta Allan: Well the ongoing conversations that we’ve been having with the federal government, we have been having these conversations for—in terms of the airport rail link on how to best deliver this project. They’ve been going on for many months. And the complexity of the work that sits underneath those conversations is making sure that we get the right connection for people wanting to travel to the airport but also what’s right in terms of the outcomes for the broader network.

That’s why the Premier identified last year that we wanted to see how we could leverage off any investment in an airport rail link into how we could support growing parts of our network, our outer suburban connections to the north and the west of the city, and then beyond in terms of regional Victoria. That is a priority we’ve placed through this process, and we’ve had an ongoing opportunity to talk to the federal government about how we can see a significant investment in our public transport system benefiting, getting the most of that investment for Victorians—including regional Victorians.

Question: Is there still a sticking point between the two different preferred routes?

Paul Fletcher: What the federal government wants to see is a detailed and rigorous assessment of the four potential routes. We got an update today on the work that the team of Commonwealth and Victorian Government officials are doing on the preliminary business case, including the detailed assessment of the four potential routes. And so what we want to see is an outcome based upon the detailed analysis and the merits of each route, before finally coming to a recommendation. That work’s underway and I look forward to that work producing an outcome and a clear recommendation to the two governments.

Question: Do we have a rough time frame on when we can expect that decision?

Paul Fletcher: Well, we certainly expect a preliminary business case by September of this year. That's what we've indicated for some time and certainly today’s joint briefing session to me and to Jacinta Allan as the Victorian State Minister has suggested that that work is on track to meet that time.

Question: Are you likely to have a decision, do you think, before the state election?

Jacinta Allan: Well look, the most important next step is to get the finalisation of the preliminary business case. We’re well on track to get that work, because—I’ve said this a couple of times already this morning, I’ve said it a number of times previously—it’s really important that we get this project right, and that’s why the careful work that is being done now and the options analysis is looking at exactly that issue.

One of the things though that has changed—and it is important to reflect on this—one of the things that has changed from the original work that was done back in 2012 around the four different options around airport rail link is of course that we’ve got on with delivering the Metro Tunnel, which is a significant and important addition to our public transport network for Melbourne and Victoria.

That does, if you like, change the nature of the overall network, we’re opening up the capacity in the heart of our public transport system for suburban and regional trains. We do need to go and look at how that adds to what we can do around an airport rail link, so that’s been an input into the work that’s being done to date. We look forward to having ongoing conversations. Paul and I are meeting here in Bendigo today. The Premier and the Prime Minister met in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago. There’s ongoing work by our officials on a daily basis as we do the work towards delivering the preliminary business case by September.

Question: [Indistinct] four options now out of date, [indistinct] some new options around the table?

Jacinta Allan: They’re not so much out of date, Adam. It’s more about making sure that we use that as the base case, and then looking at what’s changed over that period of time. A couple of things have changed. One is the work that’s been done on the Metro Tunnel, and how that opens up capacity across our public transport system. And how too it will change the way people can use the train system around Melbourne and Victoria because it opens up new connections to parts of Melbourne in particular that don’t have rail connections at the moment.

We’re also investing heavily and there’s the Regional Rail Revival program in the works. That’s also being jointly worked on with the federal government on our regional capacity network, and we want to make sure that those two—that what we do in the metropolitan network is complementary to what goes on in the regional network as well. And so—also, the third key factor that has changed is the significant population and economic growth we’re seeing here in Victoria over the past few years. Our community is growing.

We are seeing significant population being added to the—particularly around the areas around the airport. We have the north and to the west. And then in regional Victoria as well, our regional cities like Bendigo and Ballarat and Geelong are also growing strongly and that needs to be inputted as we think about how we can best get the number—most number of passengers to interact with the airport rail link.

Question: Is there any hope that Bendigo could be part of these plans?

Jacinta Allan: Well, Bendigo is part of what we’re looking at in terms of how we’re connecting to regional Victoria, because Bendigo is always going to be part of these plans from my point of view. But it does speak to how we make sure—we have to get the planning right. I think it’s fair to say, Paul, it’s a shared aspiration of ours.

This is a really—it’s quite a unique opportunity that we have to plan an airport rail link in a way that leverages other benefits. The public transport system where we know we need to make future investments in our suburban and regional network, but also to make sure that we’re providing and open up new access to public transport services to more Victorians [indistinct].

Question: [Inaudible] fallen apart many times in the past, how confident are you that you’ll get an outcome this time?

Paul Fletcher: Well, I think the best way to get an outcome is first of all to have a very strong commitment from the federal government, as you clearly have, with a commitment of up to $5 billion dollars for a Melbourne airport rail link. Let's remember, Sydney has a rail link from the city to the airport.

Brisbane has a rail link from the city to the airport. Perth is getting a rail link from the city to the airport, under construction now. Melbourne really stands out as a global city not to have a direct rail connection to the airport. So it’s important from a national perspective, as well as a Victorian perspective and a Melbourne perspective that we fix that. That’s why the Turnbull Government has really made a very significant commitment here.

We are working in close engagement with the Victorian Government. The Prime Minister and the Premier have met and of course I’m here today with the Public Transport and Major Projects Minister, Jacinta Allan, so we could receive a joint briefing on the work that the team of Commonwealth and Victorian government officials are doing. So, it’s getting very close attention at the political level. Very extensive work being done by government officials and a clear milestone of a preliminary business case being available, being completed by September this year.

Question: [Indistinct] Regional Victoria [indistinct] as part of these plans?

Jacinta Allan: Again it goes back to that overall investment we’re making in public transport. We’re upgrading every regional [indistinct]. There’s a lot of work going on in the metropolitan network, in the Metro Tunnel. We’re removing a [indistinct] of dangerous and congested level crossings. And the airport rail link and the associated opportunities that come from this project means that we want to make sure that we are growing [indistinct] Regional Victoria. That’s something that’s been a priority that’s been identified by the Premier.

We’ve inputted that into the process. We’ve added our own funds in the recent State Budget of $50 million. That’s how we can get high speed rail connections, particularly into Geelong, and it does speak to—as we develop the proposal for an airport rail link, how can we maximise the number of people who are going to use it? Because that’s the best outcome. It’s maximising the number of people who will use this airport rail link, and given where the airport is geographically located, there’s a strategic opportunity with the growing suburbs around it, to the north and the west, with the growing regional centres of Geelong, Ballarat, and Bendigo also in that same sort of geographic proximity.

We’ve got a great opportunity to drive this investment, to maximise the benefit for the number of passengers who use an airport rail link, and also maximise the investment and getting the right investment in our public transport network.

Paul Fletcher: Thanks very much everybody.