Interview with Steve Austin, ABC Brisbane Drive

STEVE AUSTIN: Inland Rail Project. It's a multibillion dollar national infrastructure project connecting the Port of Melbourne to the Port of Brisbane. It will eventually link here in Queensland outside Toowoomba, a place called Gowrie to Acacia Ridge. This section is known as the K to ARB Section. It will affect around 50,000 residents in the Logan City area, by the way. It'll be a suburban inner city freight rail line, possibly all the way to the Port of Brisbane. Today, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce says the Gladstone-Toowoomba leg will happen and it will take coal. I spoke to him earlier. This is the story.

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, we are continuing on with the 1,716 kilometres. Now I'll be frank with you. At this point in time, you could not get a double stacked train out of Melbourne. It would not be allowed to leave. And therefore I'm making sure that we facilitate and expedite that process so we can get this thing moving. Once we get across the border into Queensland, there was a controversial or what we call basically New South Wales border to Toowoomba section. Let's call that's actually Gladstone to Gowrie, but let's call it New South Wales to Toowoomba section. Now, this has been going round and round and round and round forever. I took that to a conclusion, said the discussions are over. The past is fixed. Let's get going.

STEVE AUSTIN: Let me jump in there. So let me jump in at that point. So you've signed off on a contract for this stage, the beginning of the Queensland section of the Inland Rail-

BARNABY JOYCE: That's correct.

STEVE AUSTIN: From the border to Gowrie which is just outside Toowoomba.

BARNABY JOYCE: But when you sign not off in a contract, it's not like bang. There's a process to it. It's basically a cost plus contract. And so the people who are the likely candidates go forward and start their costing work. And then we work out whether that's reasonable or not. And then we take the next step.

STEVE AUSTIN: Ok.

BARNABY JOYCE: But that means the corridor is finalised. There is no more prevarication. I know that there are people who are upset, but no matter which way we went with this corridor, there was someone who was going to be upset and we've got to get into the thing to Toowoomba before we get it down the hill to Brisbane.

STEVE AUSTIN: All right. So residents of the Millmerran Rail Group whom you met thought they had an agreement with you and David Littleproud, also a Federal Minister, who felt that there was concern about the flood modelling data in this Queensland regional then.

BARNABY JOYCE: Okay.

STEVE AUSTIN: They thought that there was alternative routes being seriously considered by the Federal Government is that not the case?

BARNABY JOYCE: Not only seriously considered. There were two reviews that were then reviewed by another two reviews that were then reviewed by further two reviews that was then reviewed by a local reviewer. In all, I think it was concluded like 70 scientists with a combination of something like 80 degrees and a combined experience of over a thousand years. Now, for me, that's enough reviewing if we have yet another review on top of those reviews, we will just die a death of inertia in reviews. No matter where you go, people are going to be unhappy and the job of politics, ultimately, in the end, is to make a decision and get things going. Otherwise, I understand-

STEVE AUSTIN: So despite the recent Senate review which expressed concern about it, it's going to get better?

BARNABY JOYCE: -Senate asked for more reviews. Where do we stop? We can just stop breathing on reviews. I mean, ultimately, if you have to make a decision to get the project built and there was no I went through, and we went through Members of Parliament, which were the Member for Toowoomba North, didn't support further reviews. The Member for Toowoomba South, didn't support further reviews. The Member for Groom didn't support further reviews. The Member for Darling Downs didn't support further reviews. The Mayor of Goondiwindi didn't support further reviews. The Toowoomba Council didn't support further reviews. The Coordinator-General didn't support further reviews. We just want to get on with it.

STEVE AUSTIN: My guest is the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, Barnaby Joyce. We're talking about the Inland Rail Project. So as far as you're concerned, it's all systems go tracks getting laid to Gowrie just outside of Toowoomba.

BARNABY JOYCE: That's correct.

STEVE AUSTIN: Let me take it to the next section, which is a quite a difficult section if you like. And this is what's called the Kagaru and Acacia Ridge to Bromelton project or K to ARB as it's known. Now there has been widespread serious concern expressed for, going back nearly 15 years about why a freight route would go through high density suburbs on the south side of Brisbane.

BARNABY JOYCE: Okay.

STEVE AUSTIN: You've said the trouble or the difficulty is getting it from Toowoomba down to the Port of Brisbane or at least Acacia Ridge.

BARNABY JOYCE: Yep.

STEVE AUSTIN: So what is the Federal Government's plan from Toowoomba to Acacia Ridge. As of today, Barnaby Joyce.

BARNABY JOYCE: Toowoomba to Acacia Ridge. Obviously there's already a rail corridor we are upgrading to include such things as tunnels. Now we've also got to make sure it becomes more sensitive through there. One of the things that annoys me is the Narromine to Narrabri section. We're having to do air quality studies now. I've got a place out there. I don't quite know what air quality issue they're going to find. I mean, it's a train going through open fields, open forest, but once we get down to that section, yes, we do have to be very mindful because it's vastly more densely populated. So what are we doing in this space? Now, I know that people have concerns about coal trains. So we've already put $10 million on the table for the business study to go from Toowoomba to Gladstone and move the bulk commodities in a different direction towards Gladstone, where as an industrial city, Gladstone wants the city to grow, appreciates the commerce that comes with the further wealth that is utilising their port. Whilst container traffic, which you all utilise every time you go to Woolworths, Coles, Aldi, any of those stores, you're utilising container traffic. If you want to live in Brisbane, we got to get the goods to Brisbane. To get the goods to Brisbane, the trains have got to get to Brisbane. So we've got to make sure that we utilise that rail line. And once it gets to Acacia Ridge, then we have the issue of how it gets to the port. I've been in discussions about that today. I know that there's conjecture there. There is a line that actually goes to the port.

STEVE AUSTIN: Coal tracks. It can't get double stacked.

BARNABY JOYCE: Yeah it can't get double stacked. And that is a decision we've got to look at down the track, but in rough estimates we're talking seven or eight further billion dollars. So it's a huge cost.

STEVE AUSTIN: Yes, yes.

BARNABY JOYCE: It probably costs more than a lot of the other sections of the rail line.

STEVE AUSTIN: Let me ask you about the section from Acacia Ridge then, because this is a major impact on a major city. So the Rail Track Corporation, which is building it, claims the project will take 200,000 trucks off the road a year. That there's real concern about blossoming trucks and that the business case is based on a big increase in coal exports. Do you agree?

BARNABY JOYCE: Right now we have record volumes of coal being exported at record prices. Now, I know what the modellers say, but gosh, I've seen these people get it wrong so many times. So the reason we have record sales of coal at record prices, we had a cold winter in Europe last winter. So now they have a gas crisis. They have an energy crisis in Europe and an energy crisis in China. With China blocking our coal exports, all it did it was completely disrupt the whole coal market and perversely enough, our coal price went up and our volumes went up. So now we have England, where in the last year they had  a six-fold increase in gas prices, massive increase in energy prices, the price of gas going from twelve pence per therm to 90 pence per therm. People making a decision whether they eat or heat as they head into winter, putting real pressure on food production, now it is a rippling through into manufacturing costs from Toyota to cardboard packaging. They're coming out of China. China's got a problem. Europe's got a problem. England's got a problem. Winter's coming on. Real pressures on energy prices and coal prices are going up naturally enough, because when it comes down to a final decision of what people want to do, they want to stay warm. And that's a pretty natural decision.

STEVE AUSTIN: So I take that as a yes, because that's this year, the rail line is not going to be built this year.

BARNABY JOYCE: No.

STEVE AUSTIN: In fact, it is about five to ten years off of so about the business case, which is the published business case, which says the coal task in 2025 represents over half the demand for Inland Rail by volume. Is that correct?

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, I'll tell you what, right now we have-

STEVE AUSTIN: Is that correct?

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, there's a business case. If what you're asking is what is stated in the business case is correct, well, obviously it is. I'm not going to argue against what's printed in ink on paper. If you say, well, what's your personal views on that? Yeah, I'd say it's probably correct because they're building more coal-fired power plants now than they ever have. And no matter what we think, no matter what our views are in countries such as China, countries such as India and even in England, in the United Kingdom, with Boris Johnson out there, telling you how they're going to Glasgow, and I understand all that. They're actually recommissioning coal-fired power plans to try and keep themselves warm. That is the reality.

STEVE AUSTIN: My guest is Barnaby Joyce the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. This is ABC Radio, Steve Austin is my name. So will this nation-building Inland Rail Project be a carbon abatement initiative-

BARNABY JOYCE: Yeah.

STEVE AUSTIN: -because it will take a large volume of trucks off the road. The figure is somewhere between 150 or 110 B-double's for each train, between Melbourne and, Brisbane, can you confirm?

BARNABY JOYCE: That's correct. And each one uses about 600 litres in that trip. So we've got a massive reduction in fuel. Now, also, Steve, your listeners in Southeast Queensland, across Queensland, like a road, you don't know in the future, really, what they're going to carry, who would know it's the products of the future. And they can be many and varied. And let's hope that they're there because we couldn't have guessed 80 years ago what was going to go up and down, what the project, what would be processed and the products that'll be carried in trucks that go up and down the Gold Coast Motorway. You build it because the traffic is there and the commerce will determine what's actually on it. But what we have with this, we have trains that will be 3.4 kilometres long going at 110 kilometres an hour in a straight line between basically up to Toowoomba then down to Brisbane. And that's how the commerce of it works. Now, each one of those trains removes about 150 semi-trailers or 110 B-doubles off the road, and each one of those removes the 600 plus litres a fuel that they use to do that trip. So it's a vastly more efficient way to move product.

STEVE AUSTIN: So the equation is, it's either on diesel trucks from Melbourne to Brisbane or trains Melbourne to Brisbane.

BARNABY JOYCE: That's basically it.

STEVE AUSTIN: A more efficient and environmentally friendly model overall, is trains over trucks.

BARNABY JOYCE: Oh yep, by far.

STEVE AUSTIN: Ok so the problem for my listeners is particularly the section between Kagaru, which is the South West outside of Brisbane, going through a whole lot of suburbs into the heart of Acacia Ridge.

BARNABY JOYCE: Yep.

STEVE AUSTIN: The concern about that is coal dust and continual trains 24 hours, 24/7 going through major suburbs that currently only have one every half hour or 45 minutes.

BARNABY JOYCE: I don't think you'll be getting more. The length of trains will change.

STEVE AUSTIN: Well they're a kilometre and a half long nearly aren't they?

BARNABY JOYCE: Yes, it's more than that, sometimes 3.4km. Not in that section. But once they get up on top of the hill will be up to 3.4 kilometres long.

STEVE AUSTIN: Right. They're long-

BARNABY JOYCE: They'll be very, very long.

STEVE AUSTIN: A lot of noise, a lot of rumble and a lot of coal dust.

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, that's why we're putting the business plan forward. That's why one of the first things I did was put the money on the table for the business plans to go from Toowoomba to Gladstone because, look, I'm not a goose. We want the coal trains to go to Gladstone. Not to Toowoomba. But Gladstone's designed as an industrial city. And now the Port Authority will probably be losing their mind with me because they'll be wanting the tonnage to go through there. But Gladstone is the, Gladstone is the logical place for offloading massively long trains because you just roll them, in roll them out. And all the facilities are there. It's designed to do that.

STEVE AUSTIN: So how would the coal go from outside of Toowoomba to Gladstone?

BARNABY JOYCE: There's a corridor that we're able to take it down, go through Banana.

STEVE AUSTIN: You're bringing clarity for me then Deputy Prime Minister. So it's likely that Gowrie outside of Toowoomba, the coal will, if you can make it work, will go to Gladstone but the freight will come down to Acacia Ridge as it currently does?

BARNABY JOYCE: Yeah I think you can almost book that in. I mean, you can book that in because see it's a policy on my behalf on the Coalition's policy of ours. I think it's also policy of the Labor Party’s. So it's going in that direction.

STEVE AUSTIN: So you will be taking this to the next federal election I assume in March of next year?

BARNABY JOYCE: Yep.

STEVE AUSTIN: Coal going from just outside of Toowoomba through a new route to Gladstone.

BARNABY JOYCE: That's correct.

STEVE AUSTIN: Freight coming down the Toowoomba Range to Acacia Ridge, the current freight terminal?

BARNABY JOYCE: That's right, because you guys use the freight that's in the containers, you're eating it, you're drinking it, you're washing in it and you're putting on your backs, it's clothes, it's basically it's your freight. So it's got to go into your city.

STEVE AUSTIN: And so finally then, what do you need from the Queensland state government? Because the Coordinator-General has to sign off on a number of elements of this project. So what are you seeking or need from them, the State Government?

BARNABY JOYCE: I need the State Government to make it a coordinated requirement, a streamlined requirement. The actual terminology for it they call it; Projects of State Significance in New South Wales. And you've got your own special acronym for it up there. But it the Coordinator-General needs to say, "Look, we are making this a project of ours in Queensland have state significance. That means we streamline the approval process. We get it moving quicker. We work with the Federal Government because this is in the commerce of Queensland's interest to get this thing moving. It's in the interest of our nation to make it happen. And it makes Brisbane a bookend, a direct connection, commercial bookend with Melbourne grows the city of Brisbane, grows the towns of Toowoomba, grows the towns of Goondiwindi. It's a great outcome for Queensland.” I really, really, really need the Coordinator-General to say, "Look, I'm now deeming this a project of significance. We're going to streamline it and make it happen quicker."

STEVE AUSTIN: All right. Finally, if all the freight is going to come to Acacia Ridge, the Port of Brisbane needs a solution to get double stacked freight carriages to the Port of Brisbane.

BARNABY JOYCE: It makes sense to try and upgrade that line to get things through to the port on rail. And so we're not putting them off trucks, on trucks from moving from Acacia Ridge on board. It's going to cost a lot of money. And the rail is already being utilised for passenger trains. As you said, we've got to make sure we can double stack, which means there's a lot of work that's in that space. That's something that the Queensland Government and ourselves should work towards. But right now, we unfortunately are years away from that from getting it down the hill to Brisbane. I want to get all the other sections of it built as quickly as possible, and hopefully by that time we can have a second breath of it. By that time the business plan will be back for the Gladstone to Toowoomba links, and that's also going to also inform that business plan because we'll have the coal going north to Gladstone and away from the good people of Southeast Queensland and Brisbane and we'll still have the container traffic needing to go down to Brisbane and hopefully with us and the Queensland Government, New South Wales Government will have ironed out all these hold ups and EIS' and everything else. So I've expedited the process of getting it up from Melbourne to Toowoomba and hopefully, for me, I hope I'm still the government. Maybe I'm not. Maybe it's the next Minister, but no matter who's the government, it's all our interest to make this thing happen as quickly as possible.

STEVE AUSTIN: The bottom line is the coal will be going from outside of Toowoomba to Gladstone and the freight will be going from outside of Toowoomba to Acacia Ridge and Brisbane.

BARNABY JOYCE: I've started that process already. The reason we've put $10 million on the table for the business study from Gladstone to Toowoomba is not because I don't want to do it, it's because I do want to do it. The reason I keep saying it even in press club speeches is because I do want to do it. I've got no intention to do anything else but push that through. I hope I'm still the Minister when that's required, I'm going to start the process for whomever is the Minister, whomever is the government. Because I think across the board now, whether it's the National Party, the Liberal Party or the Labor Party, we want this project to happen as quickly as possible.

STEVE AUSTIN: Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, thanks for your time.

ENDS