Press Conference - Parkes to Narromine Inland Rail Opening

MAYOR OF PARKES SHIRE, KEN KEITH:

Could I start by thanking Aunty Rhonda for that welcome to country. And it’s lovely to be here in the home of the Wiradjuri people. I, too, pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging. Could I recognise the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, the Honourable Michael McCormack and our local member – and a wonderful local member at that. And also the Honourable Mark Coulton MP. Minister, it’s lovely to have you here as well today.

It’s my great pleasure on behalf of the Parkes Shire Council just to thank the investment of the Australian government in Inland Rail. It’s been a long vision of Parkes to revolutionise the way freight is moved around Australia by developing Inland Rail, and we were delighted as a council to see the Inland Rail project gain some momentum and start being built.

Today is certainly an historic day in the history of Australia – the first section of the Inland Rail to be built and completed between Parkes and Narromine – 106 kilometres of track. It’s been a wonderful God send to the Parkes Shire community at Parkes and Peak Hill in particular. During the construction of the Inland Rail it’s taken our unemployment levels from six and a half down to about four and a half per cent below the national average of unemployment in these very difficult and challenging COVID times.

Rhonda has mentioned earlier the importance of those hi-vis people walking around our towns. It’s been an increase of around $107 million-odd to the Parkes economy during that time. We’ve seen our employment increase, including Indigenous employment, and that’s been a wonderful part of Inland Rail is the way they’ve embraced our Aboriginal community in encouraging them to develop their skills and be involved in this project.

The Parkes Shire is a big beneficiary of Inland Rail in the future. We are at the intersection of the Indian Pacific, Sydney to Perth line and the future Melbourne to Brisbane line. So we’ll be the epicentre of freight and logistics in Australia. And it’s just wonderful to see this project commencing and now this first stage being completed.

And I do encourage the towns further north from here – the next stage will be Narrabri to Moree – and further on – and I encourage my fellow mayors, Cathy and Katrina in those two particular cities and towns to embrace ARTC and Inland Rail project as it goes to their community and the benefits that will flow on to those communities through all the employment and economic opportunities that exist.

There’s a firm in Peak Hill that moved to Peak Hill as part of Inland Rail, and they’ve now done so well out of Inland Rail they want to stay in our community. They really have done well and there’s so many other different projects and so many other different businesses that have developed on the back of Inland Rail that it really is a great opportunity for all the communities along Inland Rail. The sooner we get it built, the better for this nation, and I encourage those farmers along the route to go into discussions with ARTC and enable this very important infrastructure to be developed as quickly as possible, because we won’t see the full benefit until it’s built the full length.

A big thank you to the ministers today, particularly to Michael McCormack, the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, to be out here for this very important ceremony today to mark the completion of the first section of Australia’s greatest, latest rail project, Inland Rail. Thank you very much.

MICHAEL McCORMACK:

I too acknowledge that we are on Wiradjuri country and acknowledge the presence of Aunty Rhonda and acknowledge that we are on Wiradjuri country then, now and always. I acknowledge the presence of the local Mayor, the Mayor of Parkes, Councillor Ken Keith. He has been the head of a can-do council, a council that has been positive about Inland Rail from the start until this very momentous and historic and important day. I acknowledge the presence here of my good friend, my electorate neighbour, the Minister for Regional Communications, Regional Health and Local Government. Mark knows how important local government is. He’s also a rail aficionado. He’s a big train buff, and he knows how momentous this day is.

Everybody gathered here knows that Brendan Lane, the project manager, has put his heart and soul and every effort into this. Richard Wankmuller, the CEO of Inland Rail, Warren Trust the chairman, would love to be here today, but unfortunately COVID restrictions prevent them from being here. But they’re certainly here in spirit.

Today marks, as I say, a very, very important day. We are here at Peak Hill, not far from Parkes. And Parkes as we know is the centre of the rail universe when it comes to our nation. It is, just as the mayor has said, that intersection point of the east-west, north-south lines. It just makes good sense that Parkes is going to be the recipient of a special activation precinct. It just makes good sense that Parkes is the centre of this rail project. And today Mark and I already very much joined as certainly local members who’ve got neighbouring electorates, but this brings a special connectivity between the electorate of Parkes, which Mark has represented proudly, boldly and loudly since 2007, and the electorate of Riverina, which I have represented since 2010.

We know how important connectivity is, whether it’s rail, of course communications – and Mark represents that very well. Whatever the case might be, better connectivity makes sure that the nation knows that regional Australia is the engine room of our economy. And the statistics for the Parkes to Narromine first completed section of Inland Rail are very impressive – 1,862 people have worked on the site; 760 of them have been local people. That means local procurement. As Mayor Ken Keith has just said, more than $100 million pumped into the local government, pumped into the local shire, small businesses.

Just recently, just this morning we were at an opening of the main street, Clarinda Street in Parkes, and small businesses were telling us, small businesspeople, just how vital this project has been to get people through the doors. Despite the COVID, despite the drought and despite everything else that has been thrown at this central west location in recent times, they’ve made sure that they’ve endured that. They’re very resilient people and Inland Rail has helped.

The ARTC has certainly engaged in that vital communication, that vital public consultation about this project so that everybody who could have reaped the benefits – whether it’s Calvani Crushing, AusRock Quarries, certainly the ballast, all those sorts of things, the sleepers, we heard Brendan Lane, the project manager, talk about the signalling – all Australian made. This steel, 106 kilometres of it is Australian steel – Whyalla steel, Liberty OneSteel, South Australian steel. That means Australian jobs. That means that we have invested as a commonwealth government, as a Liberal-Nationals government - as we always do - in our small business, in our Australian can-do attitude, in local procurement, in local workers. That’s what it’s all about – making sure that we foster and promote and encourage the jobs of today, the jobs of tomorrow for the connectivity, for generations to come.

We’ve been talking about Inland Rail since the 1890s. The first plans were done up at the start of the 20th century. As a government we’re getting on and we’re building it – 1700 kilometres, a corridor of commerce, between Melbourne and Brisbane, making sure that this freight, the best food and fibre in the world, gets from the central west to one of those ports in less than 24 hours. That’s a national first. That’s what we’re doing. We’re getting on with the job of building a better Australia. We’re doing it with Australians. We’re doing it with Australian know-how. We’re doing it with Australian products and we’re very proud of that. Mark.

MARK COULTON:

Thank you, Michael, Mayor Ken Keith, Aunty Rhonda, thank you for your welcome. I acknowledge we’re on Wiradjuri land. And I know at the end of this year construction will be up at North Star, which is Guwinmal land, and I know the folks up there are very excited about the prospects of jobs and economic advancement that it’s going to mean to them.

Fifteen years ago, as the Mayor of Gwydir Shire I travelled to Parkes to the Inaugural Inland Rail Symposium that was hosted by Parkes council. And a lot has happened since then. In 2007 when I was elected to parliament in my first speech I mentioned the importance of Inland Rail. Indeed, it was one of the reasons I stepped off a tractor all those years ago and went to Canberra, because I could see the benefits that this rail line would bring. And as we’ve seen with the recent pandemic, regional Australia is the beating heart of this country. While the cities have suffered, inland Australia, regional Australia, has continued on. And if regional Australia is the beating heart, then this is the artery that keeps it healthy.

And so I’m incredibly excited about this project. I just want to point out a few things that a lot of the naysayers have been comparing the impacts of a railway line to railways that were built in the 1800s. This is a railway line of the 21st century. This will be the most modern piece of rail infrastructure anywhere in the world using the most up-to-date techniques and engineering solutions to the many problems that we do face during the construction of such a long project.

Just to the north of us here, as we speak, the negotiations are going on between Narromine and Narrabri. And it’s been a difficult process for those landholders. It’s a major interruption to their daily lives, to the way they operate their properties. But piece by piece, conversation by conversation that project is now coming together. It’s been narrowed down from a 5-kilometre-wide corridor to a 60-metre corridor and I think we will start to see real progress as those folks up there can start to get the real answers that they’ve been looking for for some time.

But at the end of the day of the year you’ll see people in yellow vis driving yellow machines at North Star and Copper Creek as construction starts on that section coming back towards Moree. And I know there’s a lot of excitement in that golden triangle area north of Moree for the benefits that the line will bring.

So well done to all of you who have worked on this. I am fascinated with the construction industry and the way that it comes together and the work you’ve done. Two years ago when Michael and I were here with Ken and others to see that first of that rail being unloaded about a kilometre up the track, to think that we’ve come to this wonderful piece of infrastructure in such a time is a real tribute to all of you and all of those who aren’t here today who worked on the project. So well done. It’s a great day and very exciting one indeed. Thank you.

MICHAEL McCORMACK:

Questions.

JOURNALIST:

So now that this is complete, when are we actually going to see trains on these tracks?

MICHAEL McCORMACK:

Well, very soon. Brendan Lane actually said that there’s going to be a train chugging through here in the coming days. Certainly we know that this track gets used regularly. And we’re looking forward to the silos just behind me here very much taking on board the wheat and the grain that’s going to be dropped off there this harvest. We are looking at one of the bumper harvests of all time. A farmer this morning told me that he’s been farming around these regions for 53 seasons and he’s never seen conditions better. That means a bumper harvest, whether it’s canola, whether it’s wheat, barley, oats, whatever the case might be. No matter what it is, they grow it around here and they grow it to the standard that’s envied and needed and required all around the world. And so we need to get that train to port, Port Kembla, wherever the case might be.

This is one of the great connectivity areas of the nation. Parkes, Peak Hill – as Mark said, it wasn’t that long ago, the 15th of January 2018, when the first shipment of Whyalla steel was dropped off just the other side of those silos to begin this 106-kilometre section, Narromine to Parkes. We’re so pleased and proud that the first section has been completed and looking forward to now getting on and constructing the Narromine to North Star.

JOURNALIST:

Do you have any reaction to word that Qantas is going to relocate its headquarters?

MICHAEL McCORMACK:

Well, look, these are difficult times for the aviation sector. And I’ve been in constant contact with Alan Joyce about keeping workers in jobs. What the border closures mean is that planes are not flying intrastate - they’re not flying indeed interstate. They’re able to fly intrastate. But planes in the air means jobs on the ground and I urge and encourage those premiers who have border closures in place to think about that and to think about easing those restrictions so we get planes back in the air interstate, so that we can ensure that people can go on holidays, can go for business interstate. It’s so important.

And the main thing is the workers. People need their jobs back. Pilots need to get back behind the cockpit controls. Ground staff need their jobs back and so many of them have been laid off. So many of them are in recess at the moment, and we want them back in planes. JobKeeper has kept workers connected to business, whether it’s aviation, and aviation was hit first and hit hardest when COVID struck Australia. We’ve done very well. I’m so pleased that Virgin as a buyer in Bain, and we have had and we are going to have two very progressive and vibrant airlines going forward.

There was one stage there early in the pandemic where we feared that that might not be the case, but airlines have been their best selves as they could through this pandemic. You look across at the situation overseas and so many airlines have gone to the wall. Thankfully that hasn’t happened in Australia. But Qantas’ location is, of course, a matter for Qantas. We’re very much pleased that they’ve been able to fly as much as they can, but I again urge those premiers in states and territories and chief ministers to look at their border restrictions and say enough’s enough, and help aviation bet back to work.

JOURNALIST:

We’ve heard a bit about Australian manufacturing today. Do you agree with Gladys Berejiklian that Australia is no good at building trains?

MICHAEL McCORMACK:

Well, I know they build trains in Victoria. And I appreciate, we can build anything. We’re world’s best at anything we do. Just behind us here we’ve got – or in front of us, indeed, the signalling boxes using Australian technology. Look, at the end of the day, states have to do what’s best for their own taxpayers. And whilst I appreciate Victoria has legislation in place so that they build their trains in Victoria. New South Wales, if they want to get their rolling stock from elsewhere, well, they’ll do what’s best for their taxpayers, their constituents.

I’ve got every faith the Gladys Berejiklian and her ability to handle the state’s economy. I mean, through the pandemic as far as the states are concerned it’s been top of class. And I commend her for that. I commend her for partnering with the federal government today announcing that there are going to be an infrastructure boom through New South Wales where they take on board our suggestion and our stimulus spending and our bring forwards to partner up and put potentially 20,000 jobs into regional New South Wales. And so I’m so pleased that New South Wales is doing just that, and I encourage other states to follow suit.

And I know the New South Wales Nationals, led by John Barilaro, are also very much looking at progressing regional New South Wales. As Mark Coulton has said, it’s the heartbeat of the state, regional New South Wales. Indeed, one could argue it’s the heartbeat of the nation. We want regional areas to continue through the COVID pandemic with the resources, with the agriculture, with small business and with the infrastructure building to make sure that we can keep jobs, can keep people in work and can keep keeping our local commiserate thriving.

JOURNALIST:

Would you support a commitment to public money being spent on manufacturing trains in Australia?

MICHAEL McCORMACK:

Well, look, I’m happy to have those conversations with states. I know that Karen Andrews, as the industry minister federally, is putting a blueprint down to boost manufacturing in the country. If we’ve been told and one thing has been proven through COVID-19 is that we do need to be better at manufacturing.

That said, there is a lot of manufacturing going on in this country that people just are unaware about. And it’s not always sexy and saucy to write about the sorts of manufacturing that we are doing in this nation, but, rest assured, we are doing a lot. We are also an export nation. And so we export a lot of our skills and a lot of our product overseas. And, you know, that’s what you get when you have a trading nation.

Australia is a very good nation. Whether it’s manufacturing, whether it’s growing, whatever the case might be, far too many people look at the negative side of things. They should be promoting our country. It is the best nation in the world in which to live. We’ve done very well through the pandemic. I appreciate that 800 families have lost loved ones and that is very sad and our condolences go out to those people. But as a nation, led by Scott Morrison, we’ve done very well through this pandemic. We’ve kept people engaged with work through the $314 billion of assistance headed by JobKeeper, also JobSeeker and all the other measures, you know, HomeBuilder and all those measures, JobMaker, that we’ve put into place that have helped the economy, helped the health outcomes. I commend Greg Hunt for the work he’s done.

We need to tell the story that is Australia. It’s a great story. We’re building a better nation. We’re doing it right here at Peak Hill, and we’ll continue doing it right up north, down south. This Inland Rail is going to create jobs and create opportunities like we’ve never seen before.

JOURNALIST:

Can Australia return to manufacturing on a wider scale, especially even if it means that manufactured goods here would be a bit more expensive than, say, imported manufactured goods?

MICHAEL McCORMACK:

We’re doing just that. And what we do need to remember always, though, is that it is taxpayer’s money that we are using. And what we don’t want to do is also over-subsidise some sectors because we don’t want to breach any World Trade Organisation agreements that we have in place. Australia is a trading nation. We want to make sure that we keep those rules in place so that we can continue to trade, whether it’s agricultural products, food and fibre – best in the world – whether it’s our resources, whether it’s our skills, whether it’s our expertise in the services industries. People often forget those sorts of things. You know, we do export to the world.

We’ve got the smartest minds in the world. We’ve got some of the best manufacturing opportunities. Karen Andrews and the Small Business Minister Michaelia Cash are exploring those opportunities. They’re coming up with a blueprint for the future, a blueprint to create jobs, to boost manufacturing. I’ve got every faith that the budget – coming up in a few short weeks – we’re working on it right as we speak. We’ve got the expenditure review meetings, cabinet meetings, leadership meetings going all the time. I know Josh Frydenberg when he stands up in early October to announce that budget, it is going to be a job-creating budget. It’s going to be a budget that’s very good, very, very good for regional Australia.