Address to the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail Symposium 2014: Corridor of Opportunity



07 March 2014

Memorial Hall, Moree, NSW

It's great to be in Moree for the 2014 Inland Rail Symposium.

I last addressed this gathering almost two years ago in Parkes. I am as committed now as I was then about the project, but now I am able to come back in government to report on real progress.

The Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail is the Government's priority rail freight project, as well as one of Australia's most important and ambitious long-term projects.

It is nothing short of transformational, with the potential to provide benefits into the next century.

While the benefits are diverse and will be felt across the entire nation through the extension of the national network—in regional Australia, particularly northern NSW and southern Queensland—it is a critical investment in jobs, growth and future prosperity.

At the outset I want to acknowledge the very capable support and passionate advocacy for the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail Alliance from local governments along the route, including Moree and Parkes through the Border Regional Organisation of Councils.

This support, along with other stakeholders, raises the profile of the project locally and regionally, and contributes greatly to a good outcome.

 I was in Tamworth this morning, to address the Livestock and Bulk Carrier's Association Conference.

At that conference I spoke about the Coalition Government's commitment to regional Australia.

The new Coalition Government includes the overwhelming majority of regional members of parliament, and is committed to enabling regional Australia to realise the tremendous opportunities within its reach.

While there are a myriad of rewards in living and working in our regions, we also understand the many challenges and frustrations, and we are listening.

This is evidenced by the $320 million drought package announced by the Prime Minister Tony Abbott last month.

This is a short-term measure. Longer-term and targeted measures will be rolled-out once the Government's Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, managed by my colleague Minister for Agriculture, the Hon Barnaby Joyce, is complete later this year.

The Coalition Government is united in its goal to be an infrastructure government. We are putting in place the foundations on which to build the infrastructure of the 21st century.

Linking efficient road and rail networks to upgraded metropolitan and regional ports is the key to effective supply chains, national productivity and competitiveness.

Our freight transport task has quadrupled over the last four decades, and we expect this trend to continue.

This growth, along with Australia's growing population and increasing urbanisation, has real implications for our economy, particularly for transport and infrastructure.

The time has come to ensure that our freight infrastructure—our road, rail, intermodal terminals and ports—are all geared to meet forecast growth.

Legislation to facilitate our commitment to spend more than $35.5 billion over the next six years will accelerate the delivery of major roads and highways—but we also we have a strong focus on rail freight projects.

We know that a significant investment in our rail network is required to get more freight off the roads and onto rail.

If we don't move in that direction, we won't just have double the number of trucks on the road, but triple or quadruple.

The Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail is the great opportunity to create an additional and more direct rail corridor between Melbourne and Brisbane that will improve the capacity, reliability and productivity of one of the highest growth corridors in the nation.

It will position our transport network to do the heavy lifting required to meet Australia's growing freight transport task over the next 50 years.

It will transform the movement of freight in our eastern states to provide regional communities with cost-effective access to metropolitan markets.

And it will enable regional communities to gain better access to new and emerging national and international markets, particularly in Asia, via our east coast ports.

It will offer inland Australia, especially New South Wales, greater choice in the ports they will use and heighten competition.

As well as supporting the forecast freight growth, it will provide capacity for new regional freight storage and handling hubs to open up in regional centres.

Indications are that by 2050 Inland Rail will reduce the truck task for agriculture alone by 100,000 semi-trailers, helping to make our roads safer, ease congestion and assist local councils through reduced local road maintenance requirements.

The line will reduce the terminal-to-terminal transit time between Melbourne and Brisbane to less than 21 hours—that is seven hours faster than the current route.

Thinking locally, agricultural goods and freight from Moree to Brisbane will take less than seven hours and mean fewer Brisbane-bound trucks on the road, and a direct route from Parkes to Brisbane will be less than 13 hours—a shorter distance to markets.

While ARTC's investments on the coastal route between Sydney and Brisbane are addressing the immediate needs of rail freight on the east coast, Inland Rail will provide long-term capacity for the Melbourne-Brisbane corridor.

Through by-passing Sydney, additional rail capacity will be freed up on the coastal route, benefiting the entire Sydney and North Coast passenger and freight network.

Importantly, it will provide a new standard-gauge link between Melbourne and Brisbane, creating greater resilience in our east coast interstate network. Its design and construction to modern rail standards will utilise the latest technology.

To bring our national rail network up to modern standards, the Government has committed $50 million to support the Australian Rail Track Corporation in implementing the Advanced Train Management System.

The Advanced Train Management System will increase capacity, improve safety and provide a major boost to our logistics capability as a nation.

The implementation of ATMS will also directly benefit Inland Rail and will be the technology that underpins this new part of the national network.

The benefits of Inland Rail will be significant in communities in northern NSW and southern Queensland.

For northern NSW it means the region will be supported by an expanded network that gives greater choice for rail access to metropolitan markets and ports. This will open up a range of opportunities, particularly for the agricultural sector, by reducing the costs of delivering produce to domestic and overseas markets.

Grain producers in central west NSW will benefit from the extension of the national network through higher quality track between Parkes and Narrabri. This means grain growers north of Parkes will have the choice of more productive rail services to the highly efficient Port Kembla grain terminal.

In southern Queensland it will enable mining industries in locations like the Surat Basin to reach their full potential and give the Darling Downs access to more productive, reliable, national network standard rail services, again benefiting the agriculture sector.

We are also looking at how we can leverage additional benefits. One way to do this is through our commitment to investigating the infrastructure required for a new 24/7 rail freight link for the Port of Brisbane.

This link between the Port of Brisbane and the future Inland Railway could ultimately provide a more efficient and effective connection to Asia, which is where the future of the agriculture and minerals sectors in northern NSW and southern Queensland lies.

I wanted to briefly mention intermodal terminals, because for regional industries to get the many benefits I have just spoken about from the Inland Rail project they will need access to intermodal terminals.

I can appreciate that many of you would welcome a new intermodal terminal in your local area as a means of stimulating regional economic growth. And planning for your future regional freight transport needs is a must.

But a word of caution. The primary purpose of Inland Railway is to deliver the long term capacity needed for the movement of freight between Melbourne and Brisbane. The intercity freight services will mostly be direct, capital city to capital city, stopping only briefly along the way, for example to change crews.

Consequently, regional intermodal capacity will need to be commercially driven on the basis of servicing regional needs.

I encourage you to work together, and with industry, to determine where intermodal terminals should be located so they can meet regional needs without reducing the efficiency of Inland Rail.

In November last year at the 2013 AusRAIL Conference, I announced the appointment of a high-level Implementation Group to be chaired by former Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon John Anderson AO.

We couldn't have chosen better. As you know Mr Anderson, comes from north-western NSW, he was the longest serving federal transport minister, and he understands the benefits that the Inland Railway will bring to regional Australia.

John would have welcomed the opportunity to attend this important symposium, but as we speak, he is chairing the Implementation Group's first full meeting of Commonwealth and state representatives.

The group's responsibilities are to determine construction priorities, ensure engagement with stakeholders and the community, and provide the Government with advice on the steps required for implementation.

The group will be advising on the settled alignment based on the ARTC 2010 study, to identify a schedule of works to start construction, and importantly how best to utilise the initial $300 million the government has committed for pre-construction and early works.    

One of the first pieces of work for the Implementation Group and ARTC will be to update earlier cost estimates and look at the most suitable funding models.

While the Implementation Group is driving progress on Inland Rail, ARTC is leading in its construction and has already established an Inland Rail project team.

I am pleased to advise that this team is already working hard to identify parts of the alignment where construction can start sooner rather than later, which will not only benefit Inland Rail but parts of the existing rail network.

As you know, early engagement with stakeholders, which includes many of you in the room, is crucial.

To date, John has had several such meetings and is also meeting with relevant state government ministers to ensure we are working cooperatively across state boundaries.

The Implementation Group will also be looking at opportunities for private sector engagement and financing. 

When I announced the make-up of the Implementation Group late last year, I invited relevant state governments to nominate a senior representative to participate. These representatives have now been nominated and are already actively participating at today's meeting.

I understand that today the Implementation group will also consider forming a Stakeholder Reference Group and other avenues to facilitate two-way communication with key stakeholders.  

The Implementation Group and Australian Rail Track Corporation will be keeping the community informed of progress.

There will be additional opportunities for community members, including those along the corridor, to keep informed and engage with the project as it progresses.

Everyone here and particularly this Government knows Inland Rail is a project that we absolutely have to get right and one which we need sooner, rather than later.

It is also one of several major infrastructure projects this Government has in the pipeline around the nation.

For these reasons we are moving to enshrine certainty, transparency, focus and national purpose in infrastructure planning, development and delivery.

And why Infrastructure Australia— whose role is pivotal to lifting Australia's productivity—is being overhauled.

This overhaul will give it an independent board with a chief executive officer answerable to the board. It will be separate to the department and control its own budget and work program.

It will be charged with developing a rolling 15-year infrastructure plan and undertake five-yearly evidence-based audits of Australia's infrastructure assets, in order to develop priority lists.

Getting important reforms in place to identify our infrastructure priorities well ahead of time and align them with our infrastructure needs will help to build confidence, attract investment and encourage innovation to deliver the productivity and growth Australia needs.

A key plank in the Government's approach is maximising private sector investment in infrastructure.

We know we need to work in partnership with the private sector to deliver the infrastructure our society expects, our industries need and our people deserve. Inland Rail is one of these projects.

I also wanted to mention the Moree Bypass which will improve safety and greatly reduce congestion through the centre of Moree, complementing one of the aims of the Inland Rail—to help improve freight transport.

The $56.2 million Stage 1 of the Bypass commenced in November 2007 was completed in December 2010 and was fully funded by the Australian Government.

I recently announced a further $15 million in funding for the $30 million Stage 2 of the project. I believe the tender process is well underway.

As you may have heard in John Anderson's letter, Moree is where the Roads to Recovery programme was born during his time as deputy prime minister.

Since its inception, this programme has delivered almost $4.5 billion for 44,737 local road projects in every community in the country.

The Government will continue with this programme until at least 2019 with $1.75 billion over five years from the beginning of this financial year so local governments can fix roads according to their priorities.

Thank you again for the opportunity to join you for this important symposium.

Inland Rail is the future, but today it's been fantastic to be able to speak about it in the present.

Thank you.