Inland Rail forum, Brisbane QLD

Michael McCormack: Today is a very historic day and a very important day. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, better known to one and all as the CSIRO, has just announced its findings of an Inland Rail analysis study it has done which shows that the actual saving for tonnage for the Inland Rail once completed is more likely to be about an average of $76 rather than what was initially thought to be only $10.

This is a significant saving. I can well recall at one of the many forums I’ve attended for the Inland Rail in northern NSW: One farmer, whilst pleased at the fact that it was going to be a $10 saving per tonne, quite frankly told us well that’s not enough. Well the CSIRO has done some investigations, has done a lot of work into looking at just how much the saving is going to be.

For horticulture and for food processing it’s going to be up to $94 per tonne, but on an average $76 per tonne. That means more money into farmers’ back pockets, more money for small business. We all know as the Federal Liberal and Nationals’ Government that when we invest in infrastructure such as the $9.2 billion that we’re putting into Inland Rail, there are going to be efficiencies, productivity gains but most importantly savings gains.

It’s great to be here with Dr Andrew Higgins from CSIRO, heading up the team who has done this research. I will ask Dr Andrew Higgins to make some comments and then we have some other key stakeholders from this report and for whom the Inland Rail is so critical who will also add to the remarks.

Andrew Higgins: Thank you Deputy Prime Minister. This is a really exciting study. It is a pilot study and it shows some very significant savings for agriculture from Queensland or Victoria or vice-versa that are going to be potentially using Inland Rail. It’s not just about Brisbane to Melbourne; there’s a wide range of other agriculture from southern Australia to northern Australia that could potentially use this valuable asset in the future. So this is the first stage of a large study. We are now going to be extending this pilot out to the whole corridor, looking at a broader range of commodities such as grains, cotton, minerals – any broader general freight. It’s really going to give a holistic picture of the benefit of Inland Rail in terms of cost reductions, and also what it might look like under future scenarios of production or future scenarios of other sorts of investments that may further increase the benefits of this Inland Rail to those who may use it.

Les Williams: Les Williams, the chairman of Growcom, Queensland fruit and vegetable growers. Growcom supports this initiative. Anything that makes freight more efficient and cheaper for horticultural producers is a good thing. We commend the Government for committing to this project.

Kirk Coningham:I’m Kirk Coningham from Australian Logistics Council. We look at the end-to-end supply chain and I think that this is a really exciting piece of the puzzle, to say that the numbers are stacking up. What we need is to see the numbers stack up in a business sense for these major investments, and it’s great to see that those numbers are telling the right story. We hope now that this gives further weight, strips away the politics and means we can get on with this really nation-building piece of infrastructure.

We believe that the freight task from the eastern seaboard is going to escalate to about 32 million tonnes of cargo by 2030. The task is enormous. What we’re doing now is making sure that we’re up to that task and which means we’re up to the task for business, for farmers, for our country. So we’re well behind this incredibly important piece of infrastructure.

Blair Batts: Blair Batts, General Manager, InterLink SQ. We’re the proponents of an intermodal facility in Toowoomba which will be a key location on the Inland Rail – very similar to Parkes that we’ve just spoken about today and included in this study. A lot of the findings that have come out of this study I think we will find very similar in Toowoomba. So I congratulate the Government and the Minister and CSIRO on this piece of work and look forward to seeing the results around Toowoomba.

Michael McCormack: So are there any questions about the Inland Rail for either CSIRO or me, then I’m happy to take any other questions about any other topic.

Journalist: We have that figure per tonne; is there an estimated yearly saving figure for industry?

Andrew Higgins: Currently there’s a figure based on horticulture and processed food like your boxed meat, your boxed rice and dairy products and that’s $70 million per year savings, and that’s just for starters. When we extend it to broader commodities we will be able to get a broader picture of what it means for all freight that can potentially use Inland Rail.

Michael McCormack: And one of the really exciting aspects of it was that they modelled driver fatigue, CSIRO modelled all sorts of things, and what they found was that there were going to be 63,000 fewer trips on that section of the Newell Highway. Of course 63,000 fewer trips by trucks means a significant saving in road maintenance but a significant increase in road safety.

Now we know that the freight task is going to double in this nation over the next 20 years. So if we can get more freight off the roads and onto rail that has to be seen as a good thing. There will still be plenty of work for the trucking companies, don’t worry about that. They are the lifeblood of the nation. This significant investment is going to mean such a difference for road safety but such a difference for the freight task, to make sure that our delivery is more productive and more efficient.

Journalist: What do you say to those who are accusing you of withholding information from farmers about the Inland Rail route?

Michael McCormack: There’s no information being withheld at all. We have been totally transparent. That’s why one of my initial tasks, one of my initial achievements I will say, was to appoint Warren Truss, the former Nationals Leader and former very renowned Infrastructure and Transport Minister, to the position of Chair of this Inland Rail project and Richard Wankmuller, internationally renowned, as the CEO of the project. We are conducting forums. We are conducting them right up and down the 1700 kilometres of the Inland Rail. It’s a corridor of commerce. We want to make sure that we get it right.

But this has been talked about for many many years, decades in fact. The initial plans for the Inland Rail – Richard Wankmuller once showed me plans that were dating back to the early 1900s if not before. So we need to get on with it. We have an aversion almost in this country these days of building big nation-building infrastructure. That’s why the Liberal and Nationals’ Federal Government is getting on with building the Inland Rail, getting on with building Snowy Hydro 2.0 and getting on with investing a record $75 billion of infrastructure around this nation. We want to make sure that people get home sooner and safer. We want to make sure that for our processing for food, the shelf life is kept – 24 hours, we reduce the time from paddock to port and to markets - and helping our domestic supply chain as well. So it’s all getting on with the job of building the Inland Rail. I mean we’re doing it.

Journalist: There are landholders who are threatening to rip up their land access agreements. Will you be compensating people who have developed this land?

Michael McCormack: Of course there’s always going to be a compensation package when there is land acquisition, but we’re negotiating with those people; we’re talking to them; most importantly we’re listening to them. And we will work with them co-operatively, collaboratively. But we need to get on and build this nation-building infrastructure. The farmers are going to be the biggest beneficiaries of it. I appreciate that some landholders yes indeed will be impacted. I understand that. I come from a generational farming family so I know what it’s like to protect your land and love your land. But we also need to ensure that we increase our trade, make sure that those farmers who in the majority who will absolutely benefit from this - regional farmers, regional small business people – we need to get on with the job and we’re doing just that.

Thank you very much.