Faster Rail business cases

Michael McCormack: Well look, fantastic to be here this morning with Paul Fletcher, the Minister for Urban Infrastructure, the Minister for Cities; and also good to be here with local Members Ted O'Brien and Andrew Wallace, here in Nambour for a very exciting announcement. Today, the Federal Government, as part of our $20 billion rail infrastructure funding, we are announcing the successful business development applications to go for Faster Rail proposals. That will involve, for here, the Sunshine Coast and Nambour to Brisbane. That will eventually provide faster rail transport for commuters. That is going to ease urban congestion. That is going to provide for people in regional areas to be able to commute for work to Brisbane a lot, lot faster than they can now. So, as part of the North Coast Connect proposal, that will be going to Infrastructure Australia.

As well, we're also announcing the other two successful projects, and they are for Melbourne to Greater Shepparton, and that is part of the CLARA proposal. There is also the New South Wales Government's project, which is for Sydney to Newcastle. So very, very exciting, those three projects, providing for faster rail; providing for, certainly, people to be able to commute from regional areas into the cities way, way faster. This is great news, and I'll ask Paul Fletcher to make some more comments in regard to this.

Paul Fletcher: Well, thank you very much, Michael, Deputy Prime Minister. It's great to be here with you. It's great to be here with Ted O'Brien, with Andrew Wallace, and also Luke Howarth. So a good representation from team Queensland here. And as the Deputy Prime Minister has said, what we are announcing today is the three business cases that are going to receive funding under the Turnbull Government's $20 million program to fund business cases under the Faster Rail program. We announced this initiative in last year's Budget, and the idea behind the Faster Rail program is that we want to identify opportunities to provide faster rail connections between our big cities and surrounding regional areas.

So what we have announced today is that there are three business cases where the Commonwealth is going to contribute to the funding to develop those business cases to the next stage. One of them is here on the Sunshine Coast. So, the North Coast Connect consortium, involving the property company Stockland and a number of other participants, will be developing this proposal, which is looking at what would be required to upgrade the rail line from Nambour down into Brisbane to achieve significantly faster journey times, and Ted O'Brien will speak about that in a bit more detail in a moment.

The other two business cases where the Turnbull Government will be providing funding are a proposal from the CLARA consortium for fast rail between Melbourne and Shepparton, and a proposal put forward by the New South Wales Government for faster rail between Sydney and Newcastle. Now, presently that is a three-hour trip, and the prospect would be, if the business case proved up, and if funding were ultimately provided for the project, the prospect would be to reduce that journey time down to two hours.

Now, the thinking of the Turnbull Government here is that we want to allow greater opportunities for people to live in regional centres like here in Nambour on the beautiful Sunshine Coast, but have the opportunity to access the deep job markets of our cities. Increasingly, what we see, if you take a city like Brisbane and its surrounding regions, a city like Melbourne, a city like Sydney, you see our big cities as the core of very large economic regions, and if we can support and deliver faster rail connections between our cities and our surrounding regions, that will give people more options about where to live, and more options about where to access work.

So this is a momentous day today, because we are now announcing the three projects which are going to receive business case funding. We have gone through a competitive selection process. We had a substantial number of proposals put forward, and I do want to thank all of the project proponents who came forward with proposals. Some good ideas, and through a competitive selection process, we have identified three to go forward. Three separate transport corridors around Australia, so Melbourne to Shepparton, Sydney to Newcastle, and Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast; and three different types of ideas, ranging from the evolutionary to the revolutionary, and that's exactly what we said we wanted to have a look at through this business case process.

So with that, I will ask Ted O'Brien to speak in a bit more detail about the business case that is going to be funded for the project from the North Coast Connect consortium, and Ted will then introduce other colleagues

Ted O'Brien: Well, firstly, welcome to Nambour, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister, and of course, great to have team Queensland colleagues with us today, Andrew Wallace and Luke Howarth. Well, today is a terrific day for Brisbane, Moreton Bay and the Sunshine Coast. North Coast Connect, fast rail, 45 minutes Nambour, 45 minutes Maroochydore. That is the vision.

Now today, with this announcement, we have full support to go ahead. Now, we are talking here about North Coast Connect—a consortium of Stockland, SMEC, Urbis and KPMG. First-class businesses that have come together and put a proposition on the table, which is truly compelling. The Minister just said that there is a spectrum between evolution and revolution, and I believe that we are on the revolutionary end of that spectrum. North Coast Connect will fundamentally transform the regions of Moreton Bay and the Sunshine Coast. It's good for the economy. It's good for our community. It's actually also great for the environment.

Now that we have jumped this enormous hurdle today, the consortium can get on with the business case itself. Twelve months, maybe 18 months until that business case is completed. Now, we're proud, team Queensland, to be part of a government that is investing record amounts of infrastructure in Queensland. Record amounts of infrastructure. But we're not shy of going after more. We have a $10 billion National Rail Program. Team Queensland has said their number one priority is this North Coast line, and we have worked as a team, and I want to give a shout out—beyond my LNP Team Queensland colleagues—to a broader unity ticket. We had a unity ticket with four mayors coming on board: Brisbane, Moreton Bay, Sunshine Coast and Noosa. We have had overwhelming support from the Queensland Government, as well as from the Queensland LNP Opposition. We have the business sector, the community sector, all on board. This is a unity ticket that has gotten us this far, and of course there is a long way to go, but today is a terrific day. Deputy Prime Minister, Minister, thank you very much for the announcement today.

Let me hand over to my colleague Andrew Wallace

Andrew Wallace: Thanks, Ted, and Deputy Prime Minister, Minister, Luke, thank you very much for coming to the Sunshine Coast today. Today is an absolute game changer for residents living throughout the Sunshine Coast. No longer, hopefully, will we have two hour travels from the Sunshine Coast to Brisbane. Communities like Moreton Bay, Caloundra, all of the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast; Kawana, right up to Maroochydore and of course to Nambour. This will be an absolute game changer for so many people who do commute to Brisbane, and team Queensland is very, very excited about this project, and I would like to thank particularly Ted for the great work that you have done, and also to Stockland, and SMEC, and Urbis and KPMG for putting such a great proposal together.

This is just the first step of what will be a fairly long journey, but we look forward to really delivering great transport outcomes for people on the Sunshine Coast. And for all those people who have previously said that the Sunshine Coast gets left behind, well, that is being left behind today. No more can people say that the Sunshine Coast gets left behind, will they, Bruce? Because this a great example of the LNP and the Federal Government working together with other tiers of government to deliver for people of the Sunshine Coast.

Luke, do you want to say a few words?

Luke Howarth: Thanks, Andrew. Ladies and gentlemen, Luke Howarth, Member for Petrie, it's great to be here this morning with the Deputy Prime Minister, as well as Minister Paul Fletcher, and my colleagues Ted O'Brien and Andrew Wallace. This morning, I just drove up from my home on the Redcliffe Peninsula in the Moreton Bay region and it took me about an hour to get here to Nambour Station. With this proposal, of course, if it becomes a reality, 45 minutes to Brisbane will revolutionise the lives of people of the Sunshine Coast, as well as the Moreton Bay region for people that live in my electorate of Petrie, and those electorates of Longman and Dickson; people wanting to travel up to the Sunshine Coast, to head to the beach, or to work or to play, or into Brisbane. So this would be a revolutionary infrastructure project for South East Queensland—one of the fastest growing areas in the country.

And I want to particularly really pay tribute to Ted O'Brien, the Member for Fairfax and also Andrew Wallace the Member for Fisher, who were elected in 2016 and have just hit the ground running in relation to Team Queensland and delivering infrastructure and making sure that we are getting our fair share of infrastructure spending in Queensland. So, thank you

Question: Yeah, I've got a question. If you're going to maintain that 45 minute travel time from the coast to Brisbane, will you be picking up passengers along the way? I mean, won't that prevent- won't that disrupt the 45 minute travel time?

Ted O'Brien: The assumption is that there would be stations along the way, but the existing stations today, each one would not be met along the way. So, not every station would you have the trains stop. Part of the business case, of course, is to identify what stations they would be, and let's not forget, we're actually also looking at CAMCOS. We're looking at having a train that will go to Maroochydore. So, there will in fact be new stations required along that coastal strip line.

Question: Mr McCormack, is there room in this $10 billion fund—I think it's over 10 years—is there room for all three to get up?

Michael McCormack: Absolutely there is and, look, we are very hopeful that all three cases will stack up. Of course, Infrastructure Australia will have their say on that and we are a Government about building things. We are a Government which just doesn't talk about things like this, we are actually getting on with the job of building things. And as part of last year's Budget, $75 billion allocated up to 2026–27 for infrastructure.

And it's not just rail to make it easier for commuters to get to Brisbane from places such as Nambour and, you know, from Greater Shepparton to Melbourne and indeed from Newcastle to Sydney and back. It's also about Inland rail from Melbourne to Brisbane. It's also about roads such as the Bruce Highway, Warrego Highway, the Beef Roads in Northern Australia. We are building things. We're getting on with the job. The Turnbull Government is getting on with the job of building infrastructure that is going to make people's lives better. It's going to provide for greater efficiency, greater productivity and indeed, on our roads, greater safety.

Question: How much will it help that the business case for this project that there's 50,000 people going in at Caloundra South; maybe 20,000 next to it at Palm View. The only greenfield CBD in Australia being built here. A new airport being built. Is that going to help the case?

Michael McCormack: Well it is, and things are happening, and Ted, Luke and Andrew continue to tell me that this is one of the best regions in Australia, and I have no doubt that…

Unidentified speaker: The best.

Michael McCormack: Well, there you go. They've just overruled me. But it's also, indeed, one of the greatest economic drivers of Australia and we need to make sure that congestion in our cities is eased. We also need to make it easier for people in regional areas to commute to cities such as Brisbane, such as Sydney, such as Melbourne, so that they can enjoy the lifestyles of living in the wonderful electorates such as the one we are in here right now, and also enjoy city wages, city living, but to be able to get home in good time so they can enjoy time with their families. And Ted knows all about that because he's just had a new addition to his family. Congratulations, Ted.

Question: For this project to become a reality the State Government's got to come on board. Any progress there?

Paul Fletcher: There have certainly been some discussions with the Queensland Government. I've had the opportunity to discuss this with Minister Mark Bailey. I believe that we will be able to work very cooperatively and constructively together in relation to this business plan. Ultimately what we want to do is serve the people of Brisbane, serve the people of Sunshine Coast and so it clearly makes sense to be working together in relation to this planning process and I am confident we'll be able to work together constructively with the Queensland Government.

Question: And will this rule out the need for rail duplication?

Paul Fletcher: The North Coast Connect proposal essentially starts with an assumption in relation to the existing duplication proposal and then says how could that be built on. So, separately the existing duplication proposal which is Beerburrum to Landsborough together with some upgrading from Landsborough North, that is currently being considered by Infrastructure Australia—that will be considered on its merits and the process for consideration of that isn't going to be slowed down or delayed in any way.

The North Coast Connect proposal essentially then says how could a project like that be built upon and what changes might make sense or additions might make sense in terms of other upgrades to the line, particularly south of Beerburrum, changes to rolling stock and as Ted O'Brien has said, amongst the different stages that are in the proposal would be indeed an additional line then going from Beerwah to Maroochydore. Now, all of that needs to be worked through. That is why we are now at a stage of saying; here's funding for the business case to take what is a proposal and to see how the details of it stack up, see how the economics of it stack up, see what the benefits would be and so we are looking forward to that work now getting underway so that a detailed business case can be developed.

Question: Does it help the business case given the fact that as soon as you leave south of here you've got rail alignment that hasn't been changed since the 1890s, does that help the business case?

Paul Fletcher: Well certainly a key part of the Turnbull Government's thinking in establishing this program is that we wanted to look at the corridors between our major cities and our surrounding regional areas. And the point that in many cases those corridors were designed and built in the late 19th century and therefore there are things like gradients, like tight curves and so on. Those are things worth looking at to say: okay, if we were to invest in improving those, what sort of improvements in time could we get? So absolutely, the business case for the North Coast Connect proposal will be looking at what is possible on the line today, if you were to make improvements to the line what sort of time savings would come and that is things like tight curves, gradients and so on but it is also saying if there was to be additionally an investment in rolling stock, what time improvements would you get?

Part of the approach here is to look at what the current times that are achieved are and compare them to what is possible with existing technology. If I give you one example there are a couple of lines in the Perth metropolitan area—which were being built in the 1990s and the 2000s—and the speeds that are achieved on those lines are quite a lot higher than the speeds that have been achieved here between Sunshine Coast and Brisbane or indeed Sydney to Newcastle. And so, the business case exercise here will be looking at, okay, what is achievable and what sort of changes will be required to get speeds improved.

Question: Given that it's not stopping at every station, I mean how will it make money? Or will it pay for itself? Like, what's the situation there?

Paul Fletcher: Well again, these are all questions that need to be worked through, through the business case process. It is worth making the point that generally rail systems around Australia don't cover their operating costs, but governments provide rail services because of their criticality, the functioning of cities and indeed our nation. It's also worth making the point that for our cities to function effectively, for our regional areas to function effectively we need good transport connections and we need to make sure that our transport planning is aligned with our urban planning and as new areas get opened up for housing that we have transport connections aligned with that.

Now, that is one reason why the consortium that has been put together here involves expert engineering consultants but it also involves a large property company because what we do want to do is make sure that we are thinking about transport in conjunction with urban planning rather than what can sometimes happen in Australia, which is where decisions about housing are made in isolation to transport.

Question: What's the plan to resolve the contention between a couple of priority projects up here, the Fast Rail Project and Cross River Rail?

Paul Fletcher: The Turnbull Government certainly has established this $20 million business case process, and as part of that we are announcing funding to support the business case of the North Coast Connect proposal. So, faster rail from the Sunshine Coast to Brisbane is what will be explored under the business case. Of course, separately the Queensland Government has initiatives that it is pursuing and they are certainly, based upon public reports, getting on with that. But our focus here today is on the possibilities of faster rail between Sunshine Coast and Brisbane.

Question: Obviously it's very early days but how soon might this actually become a reality?

Paul Fletcher: Well look, we do think that the business case process will take 12 to 18 months. We want to go through and do a thorough proper piece of planning. We will be working cooperatively with the Queensland Government on that. And obviously the consortium members such as Stockland, such as Urbis, will be heavily involved in that work, as will the Commonwealth Government.

As the Deputy Prime Minister pointed out, in last year's Budget, we committed to spend $10 billion over the next 10 years on transformational rail projects in our cities and surrounding regional areas. And so, this business case process very much fits in with that broader funding commitment that we have made. What we want to do is identify the best opportunities to direct that funding where it will benefit the most number of people. That's why we're excited about this business case now getting underway, so that we can do the detailed work and then look at what comes out of that in the context of the funding commitments we have already made.

Question: Mr O'Brien mentioned the CAMCOS corridor, and that has been a bit of a confusing issue on the coast for about 20 years. So, can you confirm what sort of part of the research will be spent on the CAMCOS corridor, because I think for a lot of people that will be actually more important or more exciting than the actual fast rail to Brisbane?

Ted O'Brien: Well, at this stage the scoping assumes that three phases of work will be researched; Brisbane to Beerburrum, Beerburrum to Nambour and then Beerwah to Maroochydore. And so, it's a core part of it. Beyond that, well, let's wait to see what the consortium does in terms of a full briefing now that they've been given the go-ahead.

Question: CAMCOS has been one of those- there's been talk of light rail on there and also heavy rail. So, if it's heavy rail, I mean, that might match the main rail but if it's light rail is that going to be a conflict as well?

Ted O'Brien: There are no competing priorities when it comes to rail. Where there is interest with light rail, there's no reason why light and heavy cannot co-exist, and that's the same with Cross River, there's no competing priority there. In fact, North Coast Connect supplements—doesn't substitute, supplements—other major rail priorities.

Question: Ted, can I just clarify the business study includes the CAMCOS corridor as well, or is it just for the fast rail part?

Ted O'Brien: The business case considers fast rail using the existing corridor from Brisbane up to Nambour, as well as the CAMCOS corridor through to Maroochydore.

Question: Does the Government support Labor's bid to boost funding to the Anti-Dumping Commission given the uncertainty about US tariffs?

Michael McCormack: Well look, the right people are saying the right things as far as US tariffs. Certainly when we are talking rail infrastructure, rail infrastructure requires steel, Australia produces the very best steel in the world. I am sure the right negotiations will take place between the President and the Prime Minister. I'm sure the Trade Minister Steve Ciobo is also going to have a lot to say in this regard, and hopefully the right decisions will be made. As I say, again, Australia produces the very best steel in the world, and I'm so excited that I am part of a Federal Government which is investing so much in infrastructure and so much funding into railways. I say, again, railways require lots of steel, indeed the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail, I was at Peak Hill in New South Wales when the first 600 tonnes of that steel—Australian-made steel—was dropped off to begin that project, that transformational project and that project will involve as much steel as would build five Sydney Harbour Bridges. So, I'm hopeful that as far as the tariff situation is concerned, as I say again, the right people are making the right comments and included in those right people are the US President Donald Trump, and hopefully that situation will sort itself out and Australia will not be affected.

Question: Do you think President Trump truly understands the global economic implications of this decision?

Michael McCormack: Well look, I'm sure he does, and I'm sure he is putting America first and foremost, just like Australian politicians put their country first and foremost, just like our local Members here are putting their local electorates first and foremost. But he also understands that Australia and US relations are very, very strong, have been all the way through, and understands the implications for a decision which would affect Australia. And I'm sure, as I say again, that the right decision will be made.

Question: A WA MLA has suggested there could be up to 10 complaints against Barnaby Joyce's personal conduct, what investigation has been made into this?

Michael McCormack: Well look, I haven't seen the report, I haven't spoken to any WA Nationals officials in relation to the report. But if people have allegations, and if they are serious allegations, they should be making them to the proper authorities. And in the case of serious allegations, well, they should be made to the police.

Question: What assurances have you given Catherine Marriott that The Nationals will be able to directly deal with her concerns?

Michael McCormack: Well, I've never spoken to her, so I haven't given any assurances to anyone. And as I say again, I haven't spoken to any WA officials in relation to this matter. It's not my place to, I'm the Parliamentary leader of the National Party, and the important thing for me is doing exactly what I am doing. Yesterday I visited George Christensen, Michelle Landry, Llew O'Brien and Ken O'Dowd. Today I'm here with my three colleagues here at Nambour, talking about faster rail. They are the sorts of things that I want to talk about, they're the sorts of things that I think we all should be talking about, and getting the narrative back on what people want to be reading about, want to be hearing about, and want to be seeing on their television screens. And that is the infrastructure that we are rolling out as part of the Turnbull Government to make sure that people's lives are made easier, to make sure that they can get to work quicker, get home again quicker, enjoy more time with their families, and have the sorts of infrastructure that they need, want, demand and expect.

Thank you very much.