***Check Against Delivery***
Good morning and it’s a pleasure to join you here today.
I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet, and I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
To the Australian Logistics Council and the Australasian Railway Association, thank you for the invitation to speak at your conference on Inland Rail – a project we all want to succeed.
After six years in the Health portfolio, I’m excited to move back to this key economic portfolio.
It’s a pleasure to be here in Toowoomba – a great inland city like my home of Ballarat, whose names adorn two of Australia’s eight Anzac-class frigates.
I acknowledge our Labor Party Leader, Anthony Albanese, who for over a decade was Labor’s Infrastructure and Transport Minister in Government then spokesperson in Opposition.
Anthony’s passion for nation building is second to none, and he retains a formidable knowledge of the details around this portfolio, both the big and small – from the suburbs of our capital cities to the bush.
I have big shoes to fill and know many of you had terrific relationship with Anthony both in Government and Opposition.
While the election result did not go our way, I am determined to continue Labor’s forward-looking approach to infrastructure policy.
We had big plans for the country, both in my old portfolio, and in delivering more strategic nation-building infrastructure to boost economic growth and jobs in our cities and regions.
We had bold vision for freight rail, railcar manufacturing and rail infrastructure.
Across the Infrastructure and Transport portfolio we committed $5 billion more over the next four years than the Liberals and Nationals, and over $10 billion more over the decade.
Critically, our big projects weren’t off on the never never.
We were set to hit the ground running on significant new infrastructure funding now.
Post-election we are reviewing our policies and keen to hear from you all as we focus on holding this third-term Government to account.
However, Labor holds enduring values on infrastructure that are not up for review.
We see investing in nation building infrastructure as vital to growing Australia’s economy and supporting jobs across Australia.
From our ports, to our airports, public transport systems to our roads, rail and ports, we believe all Australians – in our regions and our cities – should share in infrastructure investment.
As your conference theme notes – transport infrastructure is critical to connecting regions and building Australia.
I have a keen appreciation of how infrastructure impacts the liveability and economies of our regions, and, how well-functioning transport networks are critical for continued economic growth across the nation.
We know that a modern, efficient transport network is essential for:
- Growing Australia’s economy and lifting productivity;
- Connecting people to jobs and creating more inclusive communities;
- Linking cities with regions;
- Boosting opportunities for business and exporters; and
- Improving safety and supporting quality of life.
Labor believes the Federal Government must utilise independent expert advice to assess projects, actively engage and respect all stakeholders – users, industries, landowners, state and local governments, and produce an agile infrastructure pipeline that maximises national prosperity at best value for money.
While there can be a role for alternative financing, we believe the Federal Government must champion public investment across all infrastructure modes.
Finally, Government must ensure it has the capacity and foresight to fast track projects to stimulate local economies when needed.
Turning to freight, I note that this third-term Federal Government inherited two long-term comprehensive freight plans when it took office.
The National Land Freight Strategy and the National Ports Strategy, launched by Labor in Government, were blueprints for a streamlined, integrated and multimodal transport system, capable of moving goods quickly, reliably and at lowest cost.
Instead of implementing the strategies upon taking office, this Government cut infrastructure investment – including diverting money from rail to toll roads – then ignored the strategies for years.
Finally, six years after taking office, the Federal Government launched its new National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy earlier this month.
The Strategy notes that our national freight volumes are projected to grow by over 35 percent between 2018 and 2040.
Over the same period, we’re set to see a nearly 60 percent increase in urban freight, in line with current population projections and the increasing trend of purchasing goods online.
The Strategy also finds that freight productivity has plateaued since the 1990s, but highlights how changing business practices and new technologies have the potential to shrink supply chains and improve productivity.
While Labor laments the years of lost opportunity under this Government to improve our national freight networks, we welcome the release of the strategy and urge all parties to remain actively engaged in its implementation.
A project that should improve productivity in freight logistics for producers and businesses across some of Australia’s most important agricultural regions – is Inland Rail.
Federal Labor supports Inland Rail.
We agree that the project has the potential to support regional economic growth along its route from Melbourne to Brisbane.
We look forward to the project taking pressure off the East Coast’s road corridors, while opening up capacity for greater passenger rail along the coast.
That’s why Labor in Government invested:
- $600 million to upgrade sections of existing rail lines that form part of the Inland Rail Link; and
- $300 million to advance planning works for sections to be built from scratch.
While we support the project, we are deeply concerned that when it comes to many of the fundamental details, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government has let Australians down.
We share the concerns of many about whether this Government has got the planning and financing arrangements right.
Indeed, as you’re all aware in some parts of the route farmers and affected communities have become openly hostile to Inland Rail.
Just in the past few weeks we’ve seen farmer against farmer, and community against community, in regards to a project that if delivered properly would be a positive for their regions and the nation as a whole.
Labor takes these concerns seriously.
Inland Rail is at a critical point in its planning and construction timeframe.
As such, as you’re all aware, we took a strong policy on Inland Rail to the last election.
We committed to urgently establish an independent, transparent inquiry into the planning and financing arrangements of the Inland Rail project.
The inquiry would have been one of our first orders of business, with a reporting date no later than the end of 2019, conducted by an eminent person with an extensive background in major infrastructure project delivery, utilising Infrastructure Australia as well as other departments and external consultants, if required.
To ensure all individuals along the route are engaged, listened to, and treated with respect, it would have received public submissions and held public meetings with affected communities.
Further, the inquiry would have had a strong remit to identify solutions to get the project back on track – both with the community and in terms of the project’s finances.
Since the election, there continue to be tensions within and between communities along the route, but we are not seeing any evidence that the Federal Government is engaging in a meaningful way to address the issues.
Likewise, the Government needs to address questions about the overall viability and risks of the pure equity financing model.
A financing model, which allows the Government to keep the Inland Rail project off the balance sheet, as the project makes returns to the Budget.
However, the Government’s own implementation report, chaired by former Nationals Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, concluded that won’t happen for at least 50 years.
Yet the Federal Government continues to act like there are no concerns at all.
I note that with the allocation of responsibilities between the Morrison Government’s two infrastructure ministers, the Inland Rail Project is clearly the main infrastructure project set by the Prime Minister of his Deputy.
The Deputy Prime Minister must get this project right.
I want to see the Inland Rail project succeed – it is too big and too important for too many regional communities.
I say this because Labor will always champion rail.
When we were last in Government we rebuilt a third of the interstate rail network, or 4,000 kilometres of track.
We committed more federal investment for urban rail than all previous Federal Governments combined since Federation.
And, we began work on both the Inland Freight Rail and High Speed Passenger Rail projects.
We did this because of the broad community benefits from rail through reduced road crashes, reduced emissions and improved productivity.
Critically, these large investments in rail did not come at the expense of investment in our roads.
As I noted earlier, Labor believes the Federal Government must champion public investment across all infrastructure modes.
That’s why when last in Government, Labor doubled our infrastructure spend, expressed on a per capita basis.
While we were not successful in the 2019 election, I am committed to using the Parliament to hold this Government to account on Inland Rail and its entire infrastructure program.
With the current fragility in our domestic economy, and nervous times internationally, Labor believes the Federal Government must get on with tackling the big challenges in our infrastructure networks in the national interest – now.
Thanks again for the opportunity to be here today to outline some of on my priorities for the portfolio, and to address ongoing concerns for this key nation building project.
I look forward to meeting with many of you over coming months as we refresh and refine our policies in this space.