Press conference with John McVeigh and Richard Wankmulle
John McVeigh: Good morning everyone. As the Federal Member for Groom, it's my great honour to welcome back to Toowoomba my good friend, the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, and I've also got here today, Mr Richard Wankmuller, who is the CEO of Inland Rail. We're here today to have the Deputy Prime Minister and the CEO of Inland Rail make a very significant announcement about the next step in Inland Rail: Melbourne to Brisbane, this iconic regional development, regional infrastructure project, that the Federal Government is right behind. We have made significant progress and the announcement today, and I'll leave the detail to the Deputy Prime Minister, is very much about moving ahead with the last section, if you like, roughly speaking, Toowoomba to Brisbane or Gowrie to Kagaru. Now, for me as a local, as the Federal Member for Groom, this is particularly exciting and again, I'll let the Deputy Prime Minister talk about the detail. But out of what is a roughly $10 billion project from Melbourne to Brisbane, some $6 billion will be spent here in Queensland, some $3 billion in the section that we're talking about today, and that includes, can I say before I hand over to Michael McCormack, the tunnel through the Toowoomba Range. So that tunnel will be through the range just behind us here. It'll be a significant piece of infrastructure in its own right, just next to the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing. So this is the Federal Government continuing to step up for Regional Infrastructure in particular, and that's as important here in Toowoomba, in the Darling Downs, as it is anywhere else.
The Toowoomba Second Range Crossing: Federal Government stepping up to pay 80 per cent of the bill. Inland Rail: Federal Government stepping up to pay the bill and seeking private sector involvement as well as the Deputy Prime Minister will explain. Similarly, here in our part of the world, Warrego Highway upgrades, again, the Federal Government stepping up and paying 80 per cent of the bill. So we are fair dinkum about infrastructure. We're fair dinkum about infrastructure here in regional Australia, here in regional Queensland in our case. Inland Rail is so vitally important to all of us, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, the whole eastern seaboard. The freight task in our country will double by the year 2030 and that's not far away. So, this is important. And can I lastly just say, this tunnel through the Toowoomba Range will be the largest of its type in the Southern Hemisphere, a tunnel of some six odd kilometres that will handle diesel locomotives and other vehicles in the future, other trains in the future. This is vitally important to our region and again, here’s Toowoomba leading the charge, leading the charge with innovation that will be represented by this tunnel, the largest of its type in the Southern Hemisphere of this globe, so another great day for Toowoomba. And again, I welcome back the Deputy Prime Minister and invite him to explain the detail.
Michael McCormack: Thank you very much, John. Ten million cubic metres of cut and fill, 126 kilometres, 126, 130 kilometres of dual gauge rail track, and $3 billion, eight kilometres of tunnel. They’re just some of the impressive numbers, some of the impressive figures, the statistics that are going to make up this Gowrie to Kagaru section of the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail, the Toowoomba to Brisbane section of the Inland Rail. This is so significant and it's happened because you've got a Federal Government committed to regional development. You've got a local member here in Dr John McVeigh committed to making sure that Groom gets its fair share, indeed, more than its fair share. He wants to see Toowoomba going ahead, the entire district going ahead, and he’s doing just that. Not just with the Inland Rail, not just with Warrego Highway upgrades.
Last week, of course, we heard the announcement that Qantas was moving its Regional Academy, establishing its Regional Academy here in Toowoomba. That just didn't happen by chance, that happened largely because of the hard work and advocacy that this bloke beside me, John McVeigh, campaigned for. He made sure that Toowoomba was right in the mix. He made sure that Toowoomba was front and centre when Qantas was determining which site it would select for its inland pilot Regional Academy, making sure that Toowoomba was right up there with all the other sites which put their names forward. He’s a doer this bloke and certainly, in regional development, certainly in making sure that Toowoomba gets its fair share. And, of course, today is a significant day as John McVeigh has just said and we’ll hear from the CEO of Inland Rail, Richard Wankmuller in a minute, about a few more details about the Gowrie to Kagaru section of the Toowoomba to Brisbane line, and making sure that people are aware, businesses are aware, that they can benefit from this investment.
Today we’re announcing the registrations of interest for the public private partnership of Inland Rail. Today, and right up until the end of October basically, we want to hear back from businesses, we want them to put in their expressions of interest, to make sure that they get a part of the action. And it’s not just big business, its small businesses too. I know in the Parkes to Narromine section, in New South Wales, that there’s a lot of small businesses which are now taking part in providing ballast, in providing dirt for the cut and fill and we heard 10 million cubic metres of cut and fill here in the Gowrie to Kagaru section. But back home, back in my Riverina electorate, I know there’s a lot of small businesses which are tapping in, subcontracting to big business, which have put registrations of interest in and got the work.
With this registration of interest that we’ll then take it on board, we’ll see who’s best fit for purpose to do the work here. It’s an exciting time, it’s certainly an exciting time for John McVeigh, and it’s certainly an exciting time for the people in and around here. I appreciate that this is going to cause, or lead to, so much investment, so much benefit. In this section alone, $3 billion of work, but for every dollar of taxpayers’ money that is spent on Inland Rail there’s going to be a $2.62 benefit, a $2.62 return to the Commonwealth, but that’s not the Commonwealth: that’s the taxpayers. It’s their money, we’re investing it. We’re making sure that these areas get their produce to port quicker, then we can get that produce to market quicker, and with our Trade Ministers working hard, our Prime Minister Scott Morrison working hard to develop new markets, to sign new regional deals, to sign new deals indeed with international partners and countries, we’re making sure that we get on board to open up new markets, to make sure that we get Australia’s very best food and fibre, very best produce to port quicker, to market quicker. That’s what the Inland Rail is all about.
I look forward to continuing negotiations with the Queensland Minister, Mark Bailey. I really need that intergovernmental agreement signed. Mark Bailey’s shown good faith at the moment. We’ve had good discussions at department to department level, between our offices, and between ourselves. I’ve got every faith that Mark Bailey will sign that intergovernmental agreement, just like it’s been signed with John Barilaro in New South Wales, just like it’s been signed with Jacinta Allan, the Labor Minister in Victoria. So we’ve signed those intergovernmental agreements between Victoria and New South Wales and the Commonwealth.
We need, of course, the Queensland signature, and I’ve got every faith that Mark Bailey, who’s very much on board, as is his Premier, they understand how important this Inland Rail is, just like we do as the Liberal Nationals in Canberra, in the Commonwealth, making sure that we get this delivered. Today I say again is a very exciting day. Registrations of interest are now open. We’re looking forward to companies coming forward and saying, we want a part of the work, we want to make sure that we get small businesses on board too so that they can deliver, we can deliver this nation building piece of infrastructure. I’ll ask the CEO of Inland Rail, Richard Wankmuller to say a few words as well, and then I’ll be happy to take any questions. Richard.
Richard Wankmuller: Thank you. Now what do I add to what these esteemed gentlemen have just told you all about? But what I might do is hit you with a few of the facts about the project and start off with this wonderful backdrop behind us here. This is where a lot of the action’s going to take place. It’s a great setting to talk about this world class project. And it truly is that, it’s a world standard. This is one of the greatest infrastructure projects in the world presently and for years to come. And what we need is some of the greatest companies to help us deliver it. There are many, many challenges here, some of which I’ll talk about in a minute.
It’s going to go right through the Toowoomba Range behind us, down through the Lockyer Valley and in through the Scenic Rim. Beautiful area, this country, but there are some challenges. There are some engineering marvels that have to happen here. As we come through the Toowoomba Range, there’s going to be tunnels, there’s going to be bridges, and there’s going to be viaducts. To give you a feel for the scope of some of these things, the bridge right behind where you can see the Second Range Crossing there, the bridge that’ll be there will be as high, higher and about as long as the Story Bridge in Brisbane. It’ll be higher than the Story Bridge and more in the order of the Harbour Bridge in Sydney - truly an engineering feat. The tunnel itself will be over twice the diameter and twice the length of the Harbour Tunnel in Sydney. We’re putting freight trains, double strength freight trains through it, and some real engineering challenges. We need the best. We need the best in the world, we need world class engineering, we need world class construction talent, and we’re very, very happy that we’re seeing that interest, and that’s what this is all about, making sure people are ready to step up to the challenge and help get something built locally that’s going to have huge impact. So we’re all looking forward to it, and I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you all today. Thank you.
Question: I suppose when we were just chatting about that intergovernmental agreement with Queensland before, last week when the Premier was here, they kind of were hinting that they’re not willing to sign anything until those flooding issues in the Millmerran Region have been addressed. Are you aware of that and working towards an agreement?
Michael McCormack: We’re certainly discussing at the moment - we’ve made additional time to for stakeholder engagement with the Condamine and making sure that those flood prone areas, those issues are addressed, making sure that we take on board the issues and concerns that people who have properties there and they know that they’ve been fully engaged. This project does need to go ahead though. This project is nation building infrastructure. The benefits for Queensland been extolled by the Premier herself. I know Mark Bailey is also keen on the project.
We’ve had some very good discussions just in recent times and I look forward to working with him to sign that intergovernmental agreement so that the project can continue - it will certainly continue - but making sure that those corridors get preserved, making sure that we do everything that we need to between the Commonwealth and the Queensland State Government to make sure that this project happens as soon as we can get it to happen.
Question: With this massive tunnel that’s being built, is there any idea to leave space within that for a passenger rail line? We’ve had it raised by the Toowoomba and Lockyer Valley mayor that to future-proof this tunnel it should have that space. Is that something that’s being looked at?
Michael McCormack: I might get Richard to answer that question...
Question: Yep, that’s fine.
Richard Wankmuller: Yes, that is the criteria, just making sure that passenger rail can come through the tunnel. That has obviously some safety aspects that we’re paying very close attention to. But it’s right in our sights that the tunnel itself can not only handle freight but also handle passenger rail.
Question: So at the moment your design has only one track through the tunnel, does it, does it not?
Richard Wankmuller: That’s correct.
Question: Will there be space for a passenger rail for a second line?
Richard Wankmuller: We’ll use the same track.
Question: So, you’ve got a parking station for trains at the bottom and a parking station for trains at the top and only one track in between?
Richard Wankmuller: Correct, I’m not sure what a parking station is but, yes, there’s one track…
Question: Well, it’s a passing line or whatever they call it. But surely, isn’t that thinking, you know, past thinking, its old fashioned thinking? If you dig a tunnel, dig it big enough for the future.
Richard Wankmuller: We have a set of standards and criteria for passenger lines and we’re meeting those standards and criteria that we have in front of us at the present time.
Question: These world class feats, you’re calling for people to come forward to put their, I guess, to put their hands up. But will you put any particular interest on local businesses?
Richard Wankmuller: Yes, well, we’re doing that all along the line. As the Deputy Prime Minister pointed out, particularly down not just in Narromine to Narrabri and not just in Parkes to Narromine, we’ve had a big selection criteria on using local capabilities and we’re trying to get as much work by packaging it appropriately that local companies can do that work, not make it so large and so complex that they can’t help us. So, it’s a big emphasis for it right all along that line, not just here.
Question: And just as a bit of an update for those people in the Condamine, where are we at with getting that stage as well? We’re obviously moving ahead with Toowoomba to Brisbane but that part from the border to Toowoomba still stuck. Are we making any progress there?
Richard Wankmuller: Yes, we are making progress. I wouldn’t say it’s stuck, because there’s a lot of work going on and there’s a lot of affected people that we have to work with. This is a very difficult part of the project because in the end it has to go somewhere. And there’s been a lot of work done back in to early 1900s actually where this should go. But recently in the 2000s, some of the best management consulting firms in the country, some of the best engineering firms in the country have supported the Government. And the study area with this thing has gone from the entire East Coast of Australia, six, eight million people in this study area to begin with, and the North South Study in 2006 picked a western alignment, that brought that into an alignment that still affected a couple of million people. Then there was another study done by some very good people that was the basis for the business case that picked an alignment that brought that down to a couple of hundred thousand people. Now we’re in an alignment in a study area that’s about two kilometres wide that we’re talking about tens-of-thousands of people. But in Border to Gowrie what’s happening is we still had about 1300 people that could be affected along that line, the recent work that’s bringing that down to about 100 metre wide study corridor brings the impacted population down to about 300 people or so. So, we’re working at it. It’s still a lot of people, still a lot of people we have to now have very detailed conversations with because it may very well affect their lives directly. And we’re at that point that now, it’s easy we can sit down with 300 people, it’s hard to sit down with 8 million people. So, we’re at that point where we have to keep it moving, so I wouldn’t say it’s blocked or stopped, it’s just a lot of work. We’ve got to make this work with everybody.
Question: So, do you plan to put a bridge across the Condamine floodplain?
Richard Wankmuller: We don’t know exactly what the engineering solution will be. There will be some viaducts, there’ll be some bridges, and there might be some places the existing foundations will work. But that’s the phase we’re in is trying to figure out exactly what those engineering solutions will look like.
Question: How close are you to finishing that stage?
Richard Wankmuller: Well, quite away, a long way away really. I mean, feasibility study over the next 18 months will give us the general outlook, answer some of those broad questions. After that you get into detailed design, exactly how you’re going to design it, how strong they are, what type of steel you’re using, all of that. That comes afterwards. But about 18 months from now, we’ll have a pretty good picture of what the engineering solution looks like. In the meantime, we engage with the community to talk about what the impact from that will be, and we have to get full all of the environmental conditions and there’s quite a bit in an area like that to make sure we’re doing it the right way, environmentally sustainable.
Question: Wasn’t ARTC fast tracking their draft engineering solution for the crossing of the Condamine floodplain, though?
John McVeigh: I can address that. And a good question because you’re absolutely right. And the decision made prior to Richard taking on his role of CEO of Inland Rail was to prioritise that engineering work, this early engineering work across the Condamine floodplain. So that feeds into some of the information that Richard has now taken up as the incoming CEO. And can I mention that in terms of the impact across the Condamine floodplain, this is a key consideration for the whole project. I grew up on the Condamine floodplain, we locals know what the conditions are across that magnificent part of Australia, that very important agricultural region.
But I say this, if you build a tunnel in Brisbane for example, there are impacted landholders, Governments of the day have to negotiate with those landholders; make sure they don't bear the cost of something that provides benefits to the broader community. It's the same if you're building a freeway on the Gold Coast. And here we have the same situation again, building a railway line across the regional area of the Darling Downs, the Condamine floodplain in particular. No individual should bear the cost of what will provide benefits to the broader community, in this case the whole country. As the local member I'm certainly monitoring ARTC’s consultation across the floodplain and we'll be working very hard on ensuring that those individual impacts are managed appropriately. As Richard has said there is a long way to go in that detailed work and understandably people who might be impacted are unsettled by all of this. They've got every right to raise their concerns and ARTC’s consultation process is focused on just that.
Question: John, do you think that people have like a, not in my backyard, kind of mentality. With Inland Rail and the expansion of Acland mine, we've never seen so much prime agricultural land I think in our lives. And a lot of it probably isn’t.
John McVeigh: Well the railway line itself, Inland Rail track as Richard Wankmuller has mentioned, is in the process of having that corridor studied down to a finalised route, which we're not at yet. That in itself, will be a limited area of impact if you like, it's not impacting the whole region; it's not impacting the whole east coast. But it's impacting some people, no doubt. In the end we have to address their needs. So have they got a right to raise their concerns, of course they have. So have the neighbours of Acland coal mine. So have the people on the route that was selected for the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing, Warrego Highway upgrades, M1 freeways, tunnels in Brisbane. This impacts on, these sorts of infrastructure projects always impact on someone and it's up to us who represent the community to make sure those impacts are minimised and managed appropriately, such that individuals don't bear the cost of something that provides benefit, in this case, for all Australians.
Question: And have you been informed of the finishing date for the Second Range Crossing. Obviously, it just keeps going, back and back and back and back. Have they given you a date yet?
John McVeigh: Well as I mentioned very clearly earlier on, the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing is something we're all very keen on. Our Federal Government has led the charge in funding 80 per cent of that $1.6 billion cost. Previous State Governments and the current State Government are participating in the process as well, as is I must stress, in our case, the Toowoomba Regional Council. Now, the State Government under the arrangements, they're not paying the total of the bill, they're only paying 20 per cent, but they do manage the project. Whether its safety concerns or when the project may be finished, obviously I continue to get updates from them. We've got to all watch the State Government bring this project to fruition. I'm sure they will. So originally we expected the end of this year, we are now expecting perhaps Easter next year, but the project is progressing very well. Let's all watch the State Government bring it to fruition and I’m confident they will. It will be at the end of the day, good money, good investment on behalf of all of Australians that the Federal Government is invested here, 80 per cent, some $1.2 billion of that total cost.
Question: Do you have any say or influence on the tolls and what they’re going to be charging?
John McVeigh: Look, I’m looking towards that with great interest as are transport operators, in particular. I'm sure I can't speak for the Deputy Prime Minister; I’m sure the State Government will liaise with him. But setting that toll is very much a State Government job.
Question: Deputy Prime Minister, can I ask, I know that John’s had your ear over the past months and years about flood mitigation, particularly James Street culverts; any movement in that regard?
Michael McCormack: Well let's just say it's pending and I know I want it to happen soon, not just because it's absolutely necessary, absolutely necessary for flood mitigation, for safety, for ease of transport. But also the fact that it will get John McVeigh off my back. He continues to lobby hard, as he does about a lot of issues; things in Toowoomba would not go ahead without his continual advocacy, his continual campaigning. I look forward very much, I’ve had discussions again, as I say, with the Queensland Transport Minister to see when we can get this finalised and an announcement will be pending.
Question: Pending as in weeks or months?
Michael McCormack: Hopefully weeks.
Unidentified Speaker: Make that the last one.
Michael McCormack: Thanks guys, you’re all good.
John McVeigh: Thanks everyone.