Press Conference - Parkes

Michael McCormack: Today marks a very historic occasion and I am absolutely delighted to be here with my federal colleague Mark Coulton, with the New South Wales Government's representative Rick Colless, with Mayors from right around the region, including Ken Keith from Parkes and Phyllis Miller from Forbes, for whom the Inland Rail is going to be such an important piece of infrastructure.

I'm also delighted to be here with former Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, for whom this project is very, very special. Its genesis might have started in the 1890s, but indeed Warren, when he was the Minister for Infrastructure and for Transport, played such a pivotal role in making sure that today actually came about. So for him, it's very, very special. And of course we've got John Fullerton here from the Australian Rail Track Corporation; Richard Wankmuller, the CEO of Inland Rail. And we've got so many other people who played such an important role in getting to this point in history today.

It is an important point in history. The sod turning shovel has been used only a handful of times by former Prime Ministers and very important people from around the nation for some really major turning points in Australian rail history. But this isn't just about Australian rail history; this is about national history in itself: the turning of the first sod for the 1700-kilometre Brisbane to Melbourne corridor of commerce. What an important event—a $9.3 billion investment by the Federal Government. The first amount of steel was dropped off in nearby Peak Hill on 15 January.

Narromine to Parkes open today—the first sod turned today. And I know it's going to mean such a difference for regional jobs, for regional investment.

This is going to be nation building. This is going to be transformational, particularly for regional Australia. As the leader of the National Party, as the Minister for Infrastructure, for Transport and—perhaps most importantly—Regional Development in this sense, it's going to mean such a difference for these country communities: the ability to get the food and fibre that we produce, the very best in the world, to ports quicker, in 24 hours, and then of course to markets. And we've got so many free trade agreements, helped largely by the Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Mark Coulton, and I know how delighted—not just is he an Inland Rail proponent, but he's also the Minister responsible for much of our trade and I know how much of a difference it's going to mean.

So today, whilst it's a turning point, it also is a significant point in time. For those regional communities and those farmers: we will continue to engage with them, we will continue to consult with them, appreciating the fact that this is going to have direct impacts upon many, many people, but also amazing and direct benefits and indirect benefits for so many people; not just in regional Australia but right across this great wide brown land.

So, it is significant today—a really important occasion. I'd like to ask Mark Coulton to make a few comments. Others will also make some comments and I'll be happy to take any questions. Thank you. Mark.

Mark Coulton: Thank you, Deputy Prime Minister. Today, the dream becomes a reality. Today, something that's been spoken about for a century actually is happening. We are seeing dirt being dug today that will see the commencement of this project. I believe that if any of us are fortunate enough to be here in 50 years' time, they'll look back at this day as the day that the transformation of western New South Wales took place; the day that city businesses look to the west for opportunity; the day that we started to see relief from the freight that goes up and down our busy highways; and the day that we start to see farmers getting cheaper freight rates and more efficiency in their systems. We've already seen farmers across western New South Wales now taking advantage of rail, starting to change the way they're doing business to be ready for when this project is completed.

I understand and I know that many farmers in my electorate are impacted. My plea to them today is: be engaged in this process. It's obvious today that this project is going ahead. Please be involved in the process to get the best possible outcome and the least amount of inconvenience to your properties. It's a red letter day. It's a day that any of us here will never ever forget. And it's a pleasure to be here.

I'd now like my State colleague Rick Colless to add a few comments. Thank you.

Rick Colless: Thank you very much, Mark. And look, from a State perspective, this is really opening up the central west to business from around Australia: to have a direct line between Melbourne and Brisbane coming through Parkes, and now looking at the connectivity the New South Wales Government needs to do to put in place—making that connectivity with the Sydney ports as well. The game has changed. The Inland Rail has changed the game substantially. The Western Sydney Airport construction has changed the game considerably. There are opportunities now for businesses from the western part of New South Wales to get their product into port quickly and efficiently. There are opportunities for businesses in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne to put their businesses in Parkes and be able to export to the world. The New South Wales Government has already announced funding for special activation zone in Parkes which will provide accelerated approvals for businesses and infrastructure—roads, rail, all that sort—that needs to happen to make this Inland Rail a reality.

It's a great day for New South Wales. It's a great day for Australia. But more importantly, it's a great day for the central west part of New South Wales to have this facility located here. Congratulations to all involved. Thank you. Ken.


Ken Keith: As Mayor of the Parkes Shire, we've been promoting the Inland Rail now for some 25, 30 years. Because of the intersection of the East-West line, the Indian-Pacific line with the Inland Rail, Melbourne to Brisbane, we're at the geographic centre of Australia's logistics industry and we see great development happening in this region over time. I also speak as a local farmer impacted by the Inland Rail and encourage other farmers who will be likely affected by the Inland Rail to think back to when the East-West line was built right across Australia. It was built on a straight, efficient alignment. And we need to make sure that the Inland Rail is done similarly, with an understanding by rural Australians and farmers affected by the route that they will have a big benefit to them and all their adjoining neighbours and farmers throughout regional New South Wales and Queensland, because we will all benefit by cheaper freight rates, both with our inputs and our exports. So, thank you very much for the opportunity to speak today and be part of this very historic day in our shire.


Warren Truss: Well, the ARTC is excited about the prospect of constructing this magnificent project for the people of Australia. This is a truly nation-building project, one that will transform the movement of freight around our nation. As we look around country communities, you'll see miles and miles of neglected, abandoned rail lines. The country network has fallen into disarray right around the nation. Well, this is a start of a rebirth for the rail industry in regional Australia. People will start thinking again about moving their products, particularly volume products, by rail, connecting the regional communities to a choice of ports around the country and of course linking our mainland capital cities in a much more efficient way than has been possible in the past.

So, it's an exciting project. We acknowledge, also, it is challenging. It is challenging from an engineering perspective. It's challenging in a way for us to accumulate the materials and the equipment that's going to be necessary, and the skilled workforce for such a project to be constructed efficiently and on time. And of course, it is a project with significant social implications.

We acknowledge that there are people who will be inconvenienced both during the construction phase, and for those whose land will be interrupted, will be broken up by the rail line, they will face particular challenges. We want to work with each of those disadvantaged groups, those who are affected; we want to work with them to achieve the best possible outcome for them and for the project. We believe that this is this is a project of truly national significance and no nationally important project has been built without interference to some individuals. And that'll be the case here. We are determined to build the project because we believe it is good and it is necessary for our country. But we acknowledge also that we have a special responsibility to [audio skip] and then brought to fruition until the magical day, which I hope some of us will be able to celebrate in 2025, when the first train can travel all the way on this new and upgraded track from Melbourne to Brisbane.


Journalist: Deputy Prime Minister, we are at a sod turning—what exactly is happening by way of construction? What can we actually see?

Michael McCormack: INLink are ready to begin and we see around us so many people wearing orange and they're not just media people, but indeed they are workers from INLink. They have the contract, they're going to get on and build the sorts of bridges that are needed—it's a double stacked line. They're going to get on and build a railway line, making sure that we take advantage also of products from around this region. I know there's quarries, there's ballast providers, and there's many, many local businesses which are already benefiting from this Inland Rail, but this section has $300 million going into the Parkes to Narromine section.

So that's happening. It's a ceremonial occasion today, admittedly, but we're getting on with the job. We dropped the first 600 tonnes of steel off—Whyalla steel, Australian steel. That provides jobs for Australians; that provides certainty for Whyalla. And that was dropped off on 15 January—the job's underway.

Journalist: So when will construction actually start? When does that work start?

Michael McCormack: Well, I'm sure when this media scrum finishes—it's already started and it'll begin again in earnest as soon as we clear the way here.

Journalist: Has the route between Narrabri and Narromine been finalised, and when will it become public?

Michael McCormack: There's community consultative committee meetings happening right now, but it will be revealed in the first quarter of next year. We are working with communities. We are making sure that that six kilometre corridor is reduced down to 60 metres and so then the many, many farmers who turned up to a recent meeting at Narrabri, for many of them, they won't be directly impacted by the Inland Rail, but for 50 or 60 of them, well, they will. And we will work with them to make sure that they are adequately compensated and we will be making sure that there's minimal inconvenience for those farmers.

Journalist: Michael, what is your message to those farmers that are impacted around the country, though? I mean, is it a case of you just can't please everyone?

Michael McCormack: You can't build nation building infrastructure without having an impact upon somebody and look, we're a Government which wants to get on and make these dreams into a reality. We are a Government which is building things. We've got a $75 billion record amount of money that we are spending on infrastructure, working in conjunction with Government such as the New South Wales Liberals and Nationals—they've got $87 billion over four years that they're investing in infrastructure around the state. So, we want to work with like-minded State Governments—I don't care what their political persuasion is—we want to work with them to make sure that we build the sorts of infrastructure that this nation wants, needs, expects, and deserves.

Journalist: [Indistinct] has criticised today's event, saying that a similar event's been held—there's a plaque near the New South Wales-Queensland border—and that any event of this kind should have been held between the Narromine to Narrabri route, given it's a greenfield section—this is existing track. What's your response to those comments today?

Michael McCormack: The first steel was dropped off at nearby Peak Hill—that's probably a long way from the Queensland border. Barnaby Joyce—and I remember standing there with Mark Coulton as well when that first 600 tonnes of steel was dropped off—that was a momentous occasion as well. Parkes is of course, right here on this very spot, where the East-West, North-South lines intersect. So, it makes natural sense for this event to happen right here at Parkes. Parkes is going to be a community which is going to boom in the future because of this Inland Rail. The intermodal freight rail hub is making sure that Parkes can take advantage of all the benefits of Inland Rail. It's happening right here. It just makes perfectly good sense. It is the geographic heart of Inland Rail, of rail generally across Australia. This is right where it happens and so it makes perfectly good sense for it to happen right here.

Warren Truss: Could I add one little thing to that: This is a greenfield site, where we're standing. It is new track being built. This is the place …

Journalist: [Talks over] Five point six kilometres as opposed to the largest greenfield section.

Warren Truss: … where East-West- yes, but this is a vital intersection between north and south, and there's 5.6 kilometres of new track being built to connect North-South to East-West. So it is a greenfield site.

Journalist: Minister McCormack, can I just ask you—has the [indistinct] agreement with Queensland been finalised and does the Federal Government have the leases it needs to build the route through Queensland?

Michael McCormack: I'm working with Mark Bailey who is the Minister responsible in Queensland; I'm working with him in good faith. I've had some very, very positive discussions with both him and the Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and hope to do that in the not too distant future.

Journalist: Large infrastructure projects like this have a tendency in Australia to blow out in terms of cost over runs and time.

Michael McCormack: That's a very negative way of looking at it, but we're investing $9.3 billion and we're hoping to get on with the job and bring it about in good time on budget.

Journalist: My question is what safeguards are you building in to ensure it does come in on time and on budget.

Michael McCormack: We've got Warren Truss as the chair of the Inland Rail project. I've got Richard Wankmuller, who's internationally acclaimed for this sort of project as the CEO of Inland Rail. I'm sure that John Fullerton, as the CEO of Australia Rail Track Corporation—they are very responsible, they are very prudent and they're getting on with the job; we're doing it in a very responsible and prudent way; we've got experts on the job and I've got every faith that they'll do the job on budget and in time.

Journalist: Water is scarce at the moment—how much water are you going to need to build this project? Where are you going to get it?

Michael McCormack: I mean, it's like asking how long is a piece of string. I'm not sure exactly how much water is going to be required but I will endeavour to answer that question by also saying that the Australian Government is actually investing an additional half a billion dollars into water storage infrastructure through the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund, making sure that we store water, making sure that we mitigate against floods, making sure that from everything from pipelines to on farm investment to off farm investment, to extending weirs, to heightening, lengthening and strengthening those weirs, to making sure that we build dams, to making sure that we look at business cases and developing business cases we've approved in the past.

[W]e're a Government which builds things—whether it's dams, whether it's mobile phone blackspots, which is so important, particularly for this project. We're getting on with the job and we're building it.

Journalist: You say it's a small amount of farmers who are going to end up being affected in that area between Narromine to Narrabri. There's a lot of concern. Are you nervous at all about the sentiment towards the Nationals in those very safe seats? You had a woman after 55 years being a member recently withdraw her membership publicly in front of you. Does that- are you nervous about that and what that could mean?

Michael McCormack: And just as we've had that sort of thing happen, I've had people […] come up to me and say: you know what, you people are getting on with the job of being a very responsible Government […]. So, for everyone—and look, I understand; I feel for them. I'm the son of a generational dry land farming family. I understand that for these people it's their lives, it's their livelihoods, it's their homes, it's where their fathers and grandfathers and others have raised their families and have had their livelihoods for many, many years. I understand that.

But we also need, for the greater good—for the greater good of regional Australia and the greater good of the nation, to get on with the job of building this project. We've had the engineering reports, we've had consultation, we continue to do that. And for those people, yes, they will be impacted, but there will be adequate and fair and just compensation. That is something that not just the Federal Government but all governments, when they go and build things, they've always had those measures, legislative measures in place to make sure that people are adequately compensated.

Journalist: New South Wales Farmers is pushing for an inquiry. Will you entertain that idea at all?

Michael McCormack: No. We want to get on and build the thing. Another inquiry would just push it out and adds costs. I appreciate where the New South Wales Farmers are coming from, but we need to get on and build this project.

Journalist: When will residents start to see work underway on the border?

Michael McCormack: Very soon. And look, as I say, we're getting on and we're right up and down the line—1,700 kilometres. Yesterday I was at Toowoomba speaking to landholders there and to stakeholders there. We need to get on and build this project on the greenfield sites, making add-ons to the brownfield sites where it's so important that we ensure that the line is as it should be. So, we're getting on with the job. Today is the sod turning, it's time to build.

Journalist: There have been concerned about changes to infrastructure such as bridges in north east Victoria. How is this being managed?

Michael McCormack: It's being managed very prudently by the ARTC and stakeholders; we've engaged fully experts and engineering experts. Whether it's Victoria, whether it's New South Wales or whether it's Queensland, we're making sure that we build a rail that's going to be fit for the future, a rail line that has been talked about for 100 years—it's time to get on and build it; we're doing just that.

Journalist: A final word on the economic impact over time?

Michael McCormack: The economic impact—for every dollar of the taxpayers' money that we are investing in this Inland Rail, there is going to be at least a $2.62 return. That's the sort of investment you want from the Government. We're the sort of Government that gets on and build things. That's what the Liberals and Nationals do. We've done it in the past, we're doing it now, and we'll do it in the future.

Thank you very much.