Transcript - ABC Radio Illawarra with Nick Rheinberger

NICK RHEINBERGER [HOST]: Well, I'm glad the Hunter have just joined us because it's a big day for the Hunter. In fact, a big day for New South Wales. A couple of big things happening as an announcement as we speak. The Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government is Catherine King. She's in Newcastle this morning to look at a couple of announcements. One is high speed rail. As you may know, the High Speed Rail Authority has been set up by the Albanese Government to hopefully finally get this started in Australia. And I spoke to her about that, but also spoke about another interesting aspect of exports in Australia, which is about low carbon liquid fuel. And she explains exactly what that is in this next interview.

But first of all, I asked her why today was significant.

CATHERINE KING [MINISTER]: Well, I'm making two announcements in Newcastle today. The first is we're releasing a short consultation paper for low carbon liquid fuels to look at what production incentives as part of the Albanese Labor Government's Future Made in Australia. Currently - 

NICK RHEINBERGER: What does that mean, by the way. Is that ethanol?

CATHERINE KING: It is a range of different types of fuels. Ethanol is part of that, but it's also other renewable diesel. Sustainable aviation fuel is the other. If you look at currently what we do, 60 per cent of our canola exports that go to Europe, and it's used to produce things like sustainable aviation fuel and renewable diesel overseas. And about 400 tonnes or kilotons of our tallow. That's the sort of fat and waste that we have that gets exported to Europe for the same purpose. 

What we're trying to do as part of our Future Made in Australia, we know these low carbon fuels are going to be really important for decarbonisation of those really hard transport sectors, like heavy haulage and aviation, and some shipping as well. And they're going to be important and we want to make sure we've got an industry that is able to make them here and we don't currently do that. So, really what today is about is trying to look at what are the best production incentives. We announce money in the budget for innovation, we announce money in the budget for certification. And this is the next step along that pathway to see if we can make sure we've got this industry here in Australia.

NICK RHEINBERGER: Okay, so we're talking about biodiesel, essentially, and as well as - 

CATHERINE KING: Sustainable aviation fuel.

NICK RHEINBERGER: Sustainable aviation fuel, which is essentially made in the same way. All right, so are there areas where that sort of infrastructure could be built around the Hunter?

CATHERINE KING: Yeah, well, obviously, where there are existing refineries, where there are existing fuel repositories, they are good locations because you're going to have to get it to airports, you have to get it to where it's needed. Certainly, the money that we've put into the renewable energy zone at Newcastle Port, that could be a good location for that here. But also, you've got to have feedstock and that's one of the most important things. 

So, I'm heading out to GrainCorp, which is obviously out at the Port at Newcastle. They've been very interested in this as an industry for investment and are very keen to look at the way in which they may value add here, rather than exporting everything overseas and actually making that value add here. So, lots of opportunities in regions right the way across the country, particularly where we've got lots of feedstock that is already being now exported and value adding to that here in this country.

NICK RHEINBERGER: So, the canola is coming from various places around New South Wales to the Port of Newcastle and just going out.

CATHERINE KING: Going out. That's right.

NICK RHEINBERGER: As either that sort of the fat stuff or as canola. And we're not doing anything with it.

CATHERINE KING: No, that's right. And then what we do is we import those sustainable fuels back in at some cost to cost to industry, to be able to blend them, to get sustainable aviation fuel, or to use them in other parts of our transport industry. And we think there should be availability of those fuel stocks here in Australia and they should be made here in Australia. We've got the feedstock. We've got the feedstock already. It's actually trying to value add to those here. But it's also a security issue. There's increasing demand as the world decarbonises, increasing demand for these fuel stocks. And the fact that we don't actually make them here in Australia is really a security issue from a point of view. If we ran short, what would that mean for us. So, really what we're trying to do is get this industry started here in Australia and really support it.

NICK RHEINBERGER: Okay, the second announcement is about a big day for the High Speed Rail Authority. What's happening there?

CATHERINE KING: Well, today, as you know, they've got to produce the business case for the Sydney to Newcastle High Speed Rail by the end of the year. They're releasing today a whole range of packages that they've funded to bring some experts in to help them do that job. So, looking at developing the funding and financial modelling for the route. Looking at all the geotechnical work, starting the commercial delivery, the planning work. So, all of those packages are being released today, who - over 300 industry members participated back in March on a briefing held about how we actually get to this business case and this is the next phase of that. 

We're releasing who those people are and getting on with the work of getting this business case developed. We've obviously put $500 million aside to do all of the work, to actually plan this properly and then to preserve the corridor and that we're really getting underway with that work.

NICK RHEINBERGER: I mean, for decades now we've been talking about high speed rail. I've seen business case after business case. Sydney, Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Sydney, Wollongong, Sydney, Newcastle. Why is this any different?

CATHERINE KING: Well, the first thing we've done is we've actually got a legislated authority with the right people in place who can actually do the proper planning work. We're very serious about this. We want to get high speed rail from Newcastle to Sydney, but in order to do that, we've got to do all of the work to make sure we know where the route is, what sort of trains we'll be using, what sort of high speed rail it's going to be, what's the geotechnical work, and then how much is it going to cost and how we're going to pay for it. And that's just a very rough summary of some of the really important work that we've got to do first before we make a significant investment decision to get this built.

NICK RHEINBERGER: I notice also that several of the projects have been awarded to a couple of the big four consulting firms, including project control being run by KPMG, economics and funding by EY. Now, these are part of the big four firms that have come under sustained criticism about consulting to the Federal Government in Australia. Are you confident they're going to give us even half decent value for money as consultants?

CATHERINE KING: Well, it's certainly in terms of the huge interest we had, or High Speed Rail had in this project and the packages of projects for the business case. We had, as I said, 300 people expressing interest in doing some of this work. And they've gone through a rigorous process in order to choose the right people with the right expertise to do this job. So, I'm confident that that process is the right one to have gone through and that they'll produce the work that we need to do this job. It's a fairly narrow set of skills that it's needed to do, obviously, in terms of the financing work. And it's good that we've now got these people in place to actually deliver that.

NICK RHEINBERGER: That's Catherine King, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, talking to me earlier this morning.