Press Conference — Narromine
12 May 2017
Subjects: Funding for the inland rail project as announced in the Federal Budget
Mark Coulton: It' a very exciting day to be here in Narromine with the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester, and the Mayor of Narromine, Craig Davies.
Obviously the big news in the Budget this week was the $8.4 billion announcement for the Inland Rail. This is finally putting the icing on the cake as far as the seal of approval for this project goes. We've already allocated in previous budgets nearly $900 million and the people of Narromine already have consulted with the ARTC and so the preliminary work has already started. Just to the south of town work is about to commence on a couple of culverts that will bring that line up to standard with Inland Rail. So I think the big news here is though that now that we know this is no longer just a pipe dream but a reality, we'll start to see some real investment from other private players. And it's important to know that the Government is building the line and what comes around it will be up to others and I think we'll see some really exciting—over the next four or five years—some really exciting projects coming to towns.
So I might just hand over to Mayor Craig Davies and then Darren will say a few words.
Craig Davies: Thanks, Mark. Look, from our perspective here in the Narromine Shire we are absolutely thrilled to have an initiative of this nature come through our town. It really is a once in a generation or a lifetime opportunity to see development and investment and job creation in our shire. The possibilities are endless and are really only limited by our imagination out here. Already we're seeing private investors making inquiries as to the potential of investment in the shire. We will do everything we can to help with this project and to welcome investors into our shire and it's a wonderful initiative of this Government.
Darren Chester: A lot of people have talked about the inland rail project. We're actually getting on with the job of delivering it. This is the biggest rail project in Australia for the past 100 years and it's a project that will really make a difference in people's lives. It will certainly change people's lives and it will save people's lives right along the route. The changes will come through reduced congestion and productivity around our cities, but the life-saving aspect of the project is the amount of traffic it will move off the road and on to rail.
We're very proud to announce the $8.4 billion in this week's Federal Budget and now it's a question of working very closely with the community, working very closely with mayors like Craig to make sure we maximise the benefits right along the route. This is about helping to create jobs and growth in regional areas, providing access to the free trade agreements, to those markets throughout the world for these great products that come from this part of the world, and delivering benefits right along the route. So it's an exciting day to be here in Narromine, it's exciting for the Government to be working very closely with local communities to ensure that we do get those benefits flowing right throughout New South Wales.
Question: Is there a designated route at the moment leading from Parkes all the way up to Narrabri to Brisbane?
In 2015 the broad alignment was settled, now it's a question of working very closely with the local communities to really finalise the actual corridor for the inland rail project. So it's quite a broad route at this stage, but we need to narrow it down. Now there's a commitment of $8.4 billion on the table we can get on with working with the community, doing that preliminary work and making sure that we actually maximise the benefits while at the same time minimising the impacts on the local community.
Question: Minister Chester, is it true that people will be evicted from their houses along the route? I've heard Backwater Road are looking at getting their properties sold.
Darren Chester: Well it's way too early to be talking about individual property owners at this stage. We need to work with the local community to finalise the alignment and, as I've said, we want to maximise the benefits for the local community. This is a project of national significance, but at the same time we need to respect local landholders in making sure that we deliver the benefits that the community wants from this project. We will be working very closely with residents along the route. We will show them enormous respect because we recognise that people have their own properties that they've had for, sometimes generations; where they want to continue to work those properties, we'll need to work with them.
Question: It's obviously costing a lot to build; how are you determining that this freight-line will in the end be financially beneficial for Australia?
Darren Chester: This project has been through an exhaustive process. It's been talked about for decades, it's had the tick of approval by Infrastructure Australia, it has a positive cost-benefit ratio. It's the type of project that will make a difference in people's lives. It is a long term investment that our kids and our grandkids will thanks us for. Admittedly, it takes several decades to maximise the benefits but governments have to think long term. We have to work with local government and state government to think long term, to deliver that sort of infrastructure that our kids and our grandkids would thank us for.
Question: So you think exporting goods from Australia is going to grow?
Darren Chester: Oh absolutely. We have enormous potential for growth in our markets around the world; our products are in demand. This is a great part of Australia producing an enormous amount of goods for the world. The demand to get Australian products to other parts of the world, particularly in Asia, is only going to grow into the future and we're going to be able to supply more of those markets if we can get the products to port in a cost-effective way.
Mark Coulton: I might just add on that that a large proportion of the freight on this line will be the intermodal Melbourne to Sydney. The freight that we see going up the Newell Highway with B-doubles every 30 or 40 seconds—the exponential growth in that freight as our cities continue to grow, the highways, frankly, won't handle it. And so, not only will the rural communities get a great advantage of having that access to port, but it will help ease the expected growth in freight on our major highways. And the Newell Highway carries as much freight as the Pacific Highway, so it's a main artery and if we don't do the railway line then we're going to have serious issues on the Newell.
Question: So you framed this project as an investment; why was that and is there a possibility that the Government will sell it down the track?
Darren Chester: Well, it's framed as an investment because the Federal Government is putting $8.4 billion of equity into the ARTC and we expect a return on that investment for the people of Australia. In terms of returns, we're looking at a very long term investment—we're talking decades. That is why the Federal Government is the right investor, because we have the patience of our capital to invest that in ARTC for the longer term.
This is a project that is generational in the sense that it is our kids and our grandkids who will be thanking us for it in decades to come. And Mark just touched on a very important point, every train that uses this service in the future will take a 110 B-doubles off the road. Now that improves safety on the Newell Highway; it means for mums and dads travelling on holidays or going about their daily business, it will be safer to be on the roads than it has been in the past.
Question: The tracks between Narromine and Parkes have been- it's been said that they're going to be upgraded rather than be re-done. What's going to happen to make them be able to take that- more freight, the heavier freight and the longer trains?
Darren Chester: That's a good question. There's 1700 kilometres along this route of which a bit over 500 kilometres is likely to be brand new track and the rest is going to require major upgrades. Between Parkes and Narromine there's already work underway to future proof the inland rail with culvert upgrades being undertaken as we speak. The Prime Minister's made it very clear, he expects us to start work on the inland rail project this calendar year and we're on target to do that. In addition to the actual construction work which begins this year, there'll be a lot of consultation with communities. We need to be working with the New South Wales, Queensland and Victorian Governments to get inter-governmental agreements to have access to the track, to do the environmental approvals and the land acquisition work that will go with that as well.
So there's a lot of work to be done but it's a great week for regional Australia to have $8.4 billion on the table to finally get this project underway after decades of talking about it.
Question: Will you be getting people from the local communities to be a part of the building and the upgrading of the tracks?
Darren Chester: My commitment is to make sure that benefits locally are as big as they can possibly be. We want to see local people employed in the community consultation engagement phase. I want to be working with local businesses and industry to find ways for small and medium size enterprises along the route to get a bit of the action, to share in the benefits of the construction phase and the ongoing jobs that will go with this project.
So as a regional MP, and with Mark Coulton alongside me, we know that if you create jobs in those regional communities you create prosperity right throughout the towns and the broader area and we're determined to do that.
Question: Sorry if I'm repeating myself, but communities have asked the question: how will it benefit those local economies? How will it benefit those local economies?
Darren Chester: Well right along the route there'll be benefits in the construction phase, obviously around the new track construction and the upgrade of existing lines. Now in terms of how will they benefit from the future, a lot of that's going to be up to the innovation of those communities themselves to capitalise on the opportunity that's there. We have extraordinary produce coming from vast sections of this community and right along the route and the opportunity to have private sector investment to leverage off the inland rail construction will be there for everyone to see. Now there'll be intermodal hubs in various sections along the route and a lot of that's going to be up to the private sector to make those investments. But we're certainly in a position as a federal government to provide the investment of that basic spine along the eastern seaboard and we think it will deliver enormous benefits for decades to come.
Mark Coulton: Can I just add to that? This is not just Brisbane to Melbourne. For the first time in the history of Australia, every capital city will be connected by rail. So one of the issues when you're exporting by containers is not just having empty containers ship back and so the possibility of bringing containers back into a place like Narromine and having a distribution centre where they can be sent to Sydney, Melbourne, or Perth, Adelaide. With the cities growing the land value there is making it very difficult for large scale businesses to operate. What Craig and his community have out here are availability of land and with access to all those capital cities I'm sure that we're going to see those financial decisions made to relocate industries that were traditionally city-based, now will it make sense to have them out here.
Question: Councillor Davies, would you be looking at Narromine being an intermodal hub?
Craig Davies: Most certainly and in fact just adding to what both Darren and Mark have suggested, it's part of the priorities of our shire to ensure that we can attract value-adding vertically integrated industries to our shire. There are many opportunities out here—particularly when you produce half a million tonnes of grain in your own shire and you have access to another million tonnes to the north west—to bring value adding industries to our shire like flour mills, like feed lots, major chicken operations, pork facilities. All those things can be done here where you have flour mills now currently situated in the city on very expensive real estate, logic suggests that the best place to have those is here, so you're not carting your raw produce to the city for processing down there. Why not do it out here where you've got the cheap land, it's a far better idea. We look forward to really working with industry to try and bring those industries to our shire.
Question: And do you know of any investments on the way?
Craig Davies: We are just at the start of a very intensive development program in our shire. I've also just appointed a new development manager and we have very high expectations of being able to bring industry to our shire.