Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport & Regional Development Catherine King sets out how rail transport could lead Australia out of a COVID-19 recession.
In July 2019, prior to the arrival of COVID-19, governor of the Reserve Bank, Philip Lowe called on governments around the country to invest more in infrastructure. Cutting the official cash rate to a then-record 1 per cent, Lowe said that more spending on infrastructure was needed.
“This spending adds to demand in the economy and – provided the right projects are selected – it also adds to the country’s productive capacity. It is appropriate to be thinking about further investments in this area, especially with interest rates at a record low, the economy having spare capacity and some of our existing infrastructure struggling to cope with ongoing population growth,” he told the Darwin business community.
Much has changed since that speech, but in some ways, Lowe’s words could be read, word for word, again, with added emphasis, as the cash rate is now 0.25 per cent and spare capacity in the form of unemployment has only risen.
To hear how the federal government and opposition are responding to this call for an infrastructure-led recovery, earlier in 2020, Rail Express spoke to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack and his shadow, Catherine King. The below interview with King has been condensed and edited for clarity and length. To read Rail Express‘s interview with Michael McCormack, follow this link.
THE ROUTE AHEAD FOR INLAND RAIL
It’s a project that all major parties support, however Inland Rail has been a headache for the government and the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) since objections have been raised to the route over floodplains in northern NSW and Queensland. With the rail industry looking for certainty over the project, governments are hoping to increase the project’s momentum.
Rail Express (REX): Labor has brought up some concerns with Inland Rail in the past, particularly around the section over the Condamine River floodplain in Queensland, how confident are you in the delivery of this project, particularly that section in Queensland?
Catherine King: Labor supports Inland Rail and in fact we put the first billion dollars into the project to actually get it started. I’m surprised the government has taken the notion of Inland Rail very literally with it not having any connection to the Port of Brisbane or the Port of Melbourne. They are important, difficult, and challenging issues to sort out but you can’t just build Inland Rail with no connectivity to either port. These projects are complex and we know that you’re never going to please everybody and there are issues around having to procure land, having to dissect across farmland, but one of the things that I’ve learnt as being a long time local MP and also having portfolios like this before is that you have to get the consultation right and when you’ve got such a big community expressing significant concern about the sort of hydrology work that has been done by the government and a lack of transparency about how the decision was made, you’ve got a problem.
REX: How would Labor look to extend Inland Rail or make those connections to other freight networks around Australia?
King: If we were fortunate enough to be in government in 2022, we don’t know what plans would be in place but what I would like to see is the start of a discussion about it. At the moment all we know about it is there’s going to be significantly increased trucks going through Acacia Ridge but no plan or discussion about what some of the alternatives are. The government needs to start that work now because without those connections Inland Rail doesn’t make as much sense as it should.
A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD FOR FREIGHT
Without freight rail continuing to operate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia’s supermarkets shelves would be empty and commodities would be sitting at farms and mines, never making it to market. To ensure that this critical link in the logistics chain continued to operate, governments stepped in, allowing freight to cross otherwise closed borders. In May, the ARTC provided some financial relief for rail freight operators by extending payment terms for current access charges and deferring a consumer price index increase that was scheduled for July. Rail freight operators are still concerned however, with more empty containers being transported by sea, and a lack of competitive neutrality with road freight.
REX: Would you want to go back and have a look at competitive pricing neutrality between rail and road, and access charges?
King: That wasn’t part of our policy at the last election but we’ve just seen an extraordinary effort in terms of all our freight and logistics companies, whether it has been rail through to what’s happened in the trucking industry.
I think there’s a much stronger appreciation about the role that our freight and logistics companies play and we support the government’s pausing of some of those fees and charges in order to make sure that we get through this crisis. As a nation, what’s the most efficient way of delivering our freight? It’s important to ensure that we don’t pick one over another that we make sure that there is a reasonably level playing field for both but what we want to focus on is ensuring that we have the most efficient system that we possibly can whether it is road, whether it is rail, or whether it’s via shipping and our ports.
THE FASTER OR HIGH-SPEED RAIL DILEMMA
In a speech delivered to shadow cabinet in May, Anthony Albanese reaffirmed Labor’s commitment to building a high-speed rail link between Melbourne and Brisbane, via Sydney and Canberra. As a nation-building project it would certainly be iconic, but could COVID-19 actually turn Australia’s long held dream of high-speed rail into reality?
REX: High-speed rail proposals obviously have a long history in Australia. Why did Labor feel like now is the right time to return to the project?
King: Well I think we’ve never left the project to some extent. We’ve been pushing high-speed rail as a visionary rail infrastructure project for the nation for a long period of time, and obviously when we had the opportunity to hold the government benches started to progress the business case for that.
REX: Labor took the policy of a billion dollars for land acquisitions along the corridor to the last election. Is that something the party is still committed to at a federal level?
King: Well obviously we’re reviewing all of our policies at the moment, we’re two years out from the next federal election and we’ll have a bit to say in the lead up to the next election in terms of our transport policies including rail. Obviously money is going to be pretty tight this time around for both sides of politics, given the COVID-19 crisis, but we’ve laid a marker down pretty clearly that we think high-speed rail is an important long-term economic opportunity for our nation and shouldn’t be one that’s lost.
REX: There’s also a number of proposals for faster rail. How would Labour see a program of high-speed rail interacting with the current businesses cases focused on faster rail on similar corridors to those the high-speed rail line would follow?
King: Faster rail can be anything from substantial corridor improvements, improvements in rail technology, through to more expensive projects of duplication and looking at improving some of the regional rail networks. It doesn’t have to be either or but what you have to do is be serious about it. There’s lots of potential for regional rail improvements and we should be looking at that all the time.
REX: One of the stumbling blocks for high- speed rail has been that price tag but there are alternative funding methods such as value capture that are used to get projects like these off the ground. Would you be looking at these as a way to fund a high-speed rail project?
King: One of the things that coronavirus crisis has shown us is that we’ve lacked any large scale, iconic infrastructure transport project and Anthony in his vision speech wanted to particularly go back and highlight high-speed rail because of a couple of things. One is the investment potential that it has, but also the nation building potential that it has, in terms of developing a much stronger sense of regional and decentralised towns from Melbourne from Sydney, all the way up to Brisbane.
REX: Another element of Anthony Albanese’s speech was calling for the local manufacturing of rollingstock. Albanese nominated successes in Queensland, WA, and Victoria. How would Labour seek to expand this to other states and for builds to continue happening in those states that already have a manufacturing capability?
King: My hometown of Ballarat is a railway town. We still have our railway workshops here, many of the X’Trapolis trains are built here as well, and they’re really important skilled manufacturing jobs for our region. Part of the problem for many of those manufacturers has been that the procurement is really patchy. Each state and territory government does that separately, they may procure three trains here, they may do 50, and the manufacturers in my own constituency tell me it’s that long term pipeline of projects that keeps those railway workshop doors open.
COVID-19 has taught us that our manufacturing does have enormous capability, but it does need support. One of the things we announced in the 2019 election campaign was that we felt there was a need to have a national rail procurement strategy to actually start to look at how you can smooth out some of those lags that occur in rollingstock procurement so that we can continue to still have those terrific railway workshops here. We’ve got a great history of it, and we don’t want to see railway manufacturing go the way of the car industry. You need a plan to support it, to keep it here and to keep local jobs here.
REX: Would you support or encourage quotes or targets for locally manufactured rollingstock like there are in Victoria?
King: As a Victorian I’m very attracted to the plan that the Victorian government has in relation to local procurement. Federally we are subject to trade law as well so we always have to be conscious about that but I am a big fan. Many people have decided that we should be manufacturing more things that we are capable of manufacturing in this country and I’m a big fan of local content and local procurement.
In a pre-budget infrastructure announcement, the federal government has committed funding to rail projects in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia, but only provided funding for roads in other states, with Queensland’s only rail project a level crossing removal.
As part of a $7.5 billion spend on infrastructure, new federal funding alongside state contributions has been committed for further regional rail upgrades in Victoria, high capacity signalling in Western Australia, and planning for faster rail between Sydney and Newcastle. The funding announcement covers those projects put forward by state governments and not projects solely funded by the federal government.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that local businesses would benefit.
“We will draw on local businesses to stimulate local economies through these projects,” he said.
In Victoria, rail projects received the bulk of the funding allocated to that state, with funding for new projects including stage three of the Shepparton Line upgrade and stage two of the Warrnambool line upgrade. Further planning for the Western Rail Plan, improving passenger rail services from northern Victoria, and a business case for improving connectivity to the Port of Melbourne also scored funding.
In NSW, rail projects to receive funding included $15 million for planning for Sydney to Newcastle Faster Rail. A faster rail business case has already been completed for the line and is being reviewed by the National Faster Rail Agency.
$150 million has been allocated for grade separating road interfaces with Inland Rail, along with a number of intermodal hubs, including at Ettamogah, near Albury, and the Northern NSW Inland Port at Narrabri. Commuter carparks in Sydney also received additional funding.
In Western Australia, federal funding of $102.3 million has been allocated for the High Capacity Signalling element of the Metronet project. Infrastructure Australia has added the project to its Infrastructure Priority List as a Priority Project, signalling its national significance.
The funding for WA also includes the first investigation into faster rail in the state, with $4m for an investigation of the Perth to Bunbury corridor.
$5m has also been allocated to the Kenwick Intermodal Terminal. WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said the funding would grow the amount of work in the state.
“We already have a pipeline of $6.5 billion of major road and rail works underway across Western Australia over the next two years – this will extend the pipeline of work and will continue to help the State economy through and past COVID-19.”
Besides the $50m in funding for the Beams Road overpass, the $1.3bn allocated to Queensland will be spent on roads. No funding will be spent on rail in South Australia, Tasmania, the ACT, and the Northern Territory.
Administrator of Queensland-based rail group Rail Back on Track Robert Dow listed 11 rail projects needing funding in the state, including improvements to the Sunshine Coast line, Ipswich rail extensions, and Salisbury to Beaudesert commuter rail.
“This is simply not sustainable,” said Dow. “We need a proper balance between rail and roads.”
Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Catherine King said that funding must follow through on the announcement.
“It is essential that these latest funding promises are delivered now, not years down the line.”
In one of the most disruptive events to occur since World War Two, transport leaders around Australia highlight the role that rail has played in getting Australia through COVID-19.
On Friday, March 13, thousands of spectators were queueing outside the gates to the Formula One Grand Prix in Albert Park, Melbourne. The late summer sun was beat down on the spectators as they waited for two hours to find out whether they would be let in. Finally, organisers confirmed that the event could not go ahead because of the fear of an outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19). Extra trams were rapidly mobilised, and the crowds were herded onto public transport to take them back home, via the Melbourne CBD.
At the Major Transport Infrastructure Authority (MTIA) offices on Exhibition Street, director-general Corey Hannett was assessing the options for the state’s $70 billion of under- construction transport infrastructure spread across 119 major road and rail projects.
“I must admit, when the pandemic turned up in March, I think there were doubts that industry could work,” Hannett told Rail Express.
“At that time, we were looking right around the world at what was going on, and it was very clear that lots of countries were actually closing down.”
Indeed, other countries had entirely ceased all construction activity, except for projects specifically related to the COVID-19 response. In Ireland, almost €20bn ($32.57bn) worth of construction activity creased by March 28.
Unlike countries in Europe and Asia, at the time, the impact in Australia was relatively limited, with only 156 cases when Albert Park closed its gates. In Italy, deaths were already in the thousands.
“At the time, we really hadn’t had that massive impact from the COVID-19 infections that the rest of the world was experiencing, but it was fair to say we were very concerned that we had to make sure that we did things in a way that protected the workforce and the community,” said Hannett.
Across all of its sites, the MTIA and its delivery contractors put in place procedures to reduce the change of an outbreak at a construction site. Workers had to be spaced more the 1.5m apart, personal protective equipment was required, and extra hygiene measures were put in place. MTIA’s own staff moved to working from home and staggered shifts were enforced on work sites.
“Staggering when people start and finish toolbox meetings in the crib shed, getting extra crib sheds, getting extra cleaning in those crib sheds, getting an extra cleaning program of work across the whole sites,” lists Hannett.
All in all, roughly 18,000 people are employed to build road and rail projects under the MTIA umbrella across Melbourne and in regional Victoria. As of the end of June, there have been no significant disruptions to any of the construction programmes.
“I’m quite pleased to say so far so good, but we can only be as good as we are today and we need to keep that vigilance up and keep a heightened focus on making sure that we comply with the relevant rules to keep the community the workforce and ourselves safe.”
Hannett notes that while there has been a small loss in efficiency, the building program is continuing apace.
“In general, the program is in pretty good shape considering the pandemic which was forced upon us in March this year,” he said.
“I can’t imagine what the situation would be today if we had not had our 18,000 plus people not working.”
KEEPING THE COUNTRY MOVING
Canberrans had barely gotten the smell of bushfires out of their hair, clothing, and homes by the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit. After a torrid summer, Canberrans were using the newly commissioned light rail more than ever, which, according to ACT Transport Minister Chris Steel, led to an unexpected windfall.
“Thankfully in February this year, just prior to the pandemic starting, we actually increased the frequency of light rail to help manage the crowding that we had seen because we had so many people wanting to use light rail in Canberra.”
Frequency in the peaks was increased, and the peak period was stretched to 9.30am in the morning and 6.30pm in the evening. This extra capacity meant that the light rail could keep running and ensure that those workers who did need to travel were able to get to their jobs and people were able to access essential services during the lockdown.
To ensure the service was safe, a rapid program of adaptation was rolled out.
“We stepped up hygiene measures across public transport, including light rail, and one of the measures on light rail was to have automatic opening of the doors which wasn’t always the case on light rail,” said Steel.
Across the network, an extra 1,300 hours of cleaning was being conducted per week, and regular cleaners were assisted by over 30 workers hired by Transport Canberra who were stood down from their roles in the wider transport industry.
In Canberra and across Australia, most transport authorities are still encouraging passengers to travel outside of peak periods to avoid crowding. At the same time, Steel and others are concerned that road congestion is rising faster than public transport levels with the ACT at 85 per cent of pre-COVID traffic levels but public transport at less than half.
“We don’t want to see congestion reach even higher levels than it was before the pandemic because people are not using public transport, so we do need to encourage people back at an appropriate time,” said Steel.
“We’ve had for now several months the national cabinet and state premiers and chief ministers very clearly indicate to the community that they should avoid public transport during peak times and that is still the message.
“We also need to have an equally strong message at the appropriate time to welcome people back onto public transport – come and use it, it’s good for our community, it’s good for your health, it reduces congestion and all of the benefits that it provides.”
In Sydney, Howard Collins, chief operations officer for Transport for NSW and former chief executive of Sydney Trains cannot see a future where a return to public transport does not occur in some form.
“I just look at the maths and say we’re currently carrying 600,000 journeys across the transport network, about 350,000 people every day at the moment, compared with 1.3 million on rail before COVID. Where are those people – even if half of them come back – where are they going to go? I can’t imagine them all cycling down George Street. I can’t imagine we’ll get the cars moving more than about 5km/h if they all jumped in their cars. So, rail will have to take on that capacity, but it may be in a different context in terms of how we operate our train service.”
Prior to COVID-19, capacity on Sydney Trains was almost reaching breaking point, particularly in the peaks. With a 73 per cent drop in patronage, Collins is looking at the recovery from COVID-19 as a potential for change in the way the network operates.
“I think patronage will change, permanently. COVID-19, at the end of the day is an issue that has come along that has been really tragic and has been challenging, but it may well be a warning for things happening in the future. So, things have to change but I do believe that public transport and particularly rail is going to still have a major role.”
Collins is sceptical that there will be a wholescale shift to alternative working arrangements, such as working from home.
“Many people have said ‘Oh I’ll never going to be going to office anymore. I’m going to be working from home and I’ll be doing it in a café or bar or whatever it is.’ I do think there’s this human nature of getting together and while we all say we’re coping with Teams and remote working there will be a resurgence of people wanting to cluster and get together, whether that’s socially or for work reasons no matter how good our Zoom or Teams structure is. People will be back, but it will be different.”
During the lockdown, Sydney Trains has increased services during the peak to cope with demand, as well as run extra light rail services. With an unclear future still ahead, to many, what this has demonstrated is the need for flexibility in time-tabling and capacity.
“We certainly need greater flexibility and if you look at Sydney Metro, boy they can switch on and off a flattening peak or an increased fleet just by the press of a button, and the trains pop out of their depot without any care or concern,” said Collins.
“But we know that people still need to travel within certain times. If tradies still sign on as they do every day in Sydney at 7 o’clock then we’re still going to get that massive tradie peak. If schools still operate in the time scale that tends to suit both their parents and teachers, you’re not going to see the flattening of the peak. We will certainly see others spreading the load – particularly office workers – but I think it’s going to be more resistant to change than perhaps some of the theorists believe when it comes to peak services.”
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Many have noted that COVID-19 is two crises. First, the health pandemic, and second, the economic crisis caused by the shutdown of businesses and the restrictions on movement and gathering. While testing, contact tracing, and medical care can limit the first crisis, there is more debate over how to grapple with the second.
Infrastructure spending has emerged as one way that governments are dealing with the economic crisis. Rail is one area of infrastructure that has been targeted with spending. Already, in Sydney, Metro Greater West, now known as Sydney Metro – Western Sydney Airport has had funding committed by both state and federal governments, to begin construction before the end of 2020. Approvals for Inland Rail have been fast- tracked. In Victoria, the Level Crossings Removal Project is ramping up and extra money is being spent on regional track and repairs to stations.
While some have argued that smaller infrastructure projects provide more benefits, according to Hannett, all projects should be seen as helping the wider economy.
“A project creates jobs, it boosts the economy, and it also has a significant economic benefit. The fact is. big or small. they do create jobs they do create economic benefit.”
Shadow Infrastructure Minister Catherine King highlighted that now is the time to invest in nation-building infrastructure.
“I think that one of the things that coronavirus crisis has shown us is that while we’ve had infrastructure projects and rail projects, we’ve sort of lacked any large scale, iconic infrastructure transport project,” she told Rail Express.
In May, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese reaffirmed the Labor Party’s commitment to high speed rail from Melbourne to Brisbane, via Sydney and Canberra. According to King, such a project goes well beyond reducing congestion on the air route between Melbourne and Sydney.
“One is the investment potential that it has, but also the nation building potential that it has, in terms of developing a much stronger sense of regional and decentralised regional towns from Melbourne from Sydney, all the way up to Brisbane, and the capacity and possibility of that as we grow as a nation.”
While COVID-19 has been a tragic event, the rail industry is beginning to emerge with a renewed focus on flexibility in operations and the nation-shaping role that rail infrastructure can have.
A new report will provide the rail industry with recommendations to ensure that research leads to a thriving technology and innovation culture within the rail industry.
The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) has commissioned L.E.K. Consulting to benchmark the industry’s investment in and use of technology.
The report comes as one of the key sponsors of research in the rail industry closes down, the Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC). The ARA highlights that CRCs, including the previous Rail CRC and Rail Innovation CRCs have driven innovation, and without the Rail Manufacturing CRC there will be a “significant void”.
By sponsoring cross-sector research and collaboration between researchers and industry, CRCs have overcome one of the key deficiencies in Australian research and development (R&D), a lack of collaboration between industry and research. This lack was identified as the lowest in the OECD by the federal government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda Report.
Another challenge for innovation and technology adoption in the rail industry is the lack of alignment across the sector. The disparate aims of state and federal governments, purchasers, suppliers, and researchers has created a disconnect between planning, action, support, and adoption, the ARA write in their briefing note.
The ARA highlights that a cohesive business case is needed to support investment in rail technology and innovation.
As part of the research project, the L.E.K. report will benchmark investment, development and adoption of technology, outline the benefits, and challenges for the development and adoption of technology, review and identify solutions and make recommendations.
The potential of coherent investment in rail technology and innovation has the potential to improve productivity in the sector, creating jobs and economic growth. In addition, local investment in R&D can increase local capacity and maintain areas of competitive advantage.
The ARA highlights that the current investment pipeline represents an opportunity for investment in R&D, that can maximise efficiency in the delivery of rail infrastructure.
The report follows increasing calls at a federal level to support local suppliers and producers. Industry Minister Karen Andrews noted that there is the potential to support local supply chains.
“This is about embracing the incredible quality of Australian-made products – products that nations around the world associate with being top-notch.”
Shadow Infrastructure Minister Catherine King said that calls for locally produced goods should extend to infrastructure projects.
“Employing Australian workers and using Australian-made materials on Government-funded infrastructure projects creates more jobs all along the supply chain and ensures that Government investment remains in our community, rather than flowing to overseas companies.
“This should include building trains here and working with the States and Territories to smooth out production, lower costs and build skills and capability.”
Anthony Albanese will argue for high-speed rail to be a central part of the rebuilding of Australia’s economy following coronavirus (COVID-19), according to reports.
In a speech to be delivered to the shadow cabinet on May 11, Albanese will say that a high-speed rail project along with decentralisation should be pursued by the federal government as a way to recover and create a more resilient nation.
In a draft of the speech, Albanese is expected to combine a commitment to high-speed rail with local train manufacturing.
“We must invest in nation-building infrastructure including iconic projects like high-speed rail and we should be building trains here,” Albanese is expected to say.
“Government procurement policy in rail manufacturing has produced superior outcomes to imports and created regional jobs in Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia.”
In 2019, Labor took a $1 billion land acquisition policy for high-speed rail to the federal election, however the Coalition has not pursued high speed rail during its time in office.
The speech by the federal opposition comes after Treasurer Josh Frydenberg outlined his plans for post-COVID-19 recovery. In a speech to the National Press Club on May 5, Frydenberg said that the government would maintain its $100 billion ten year infrastructure pipeline, but did not nominate particular projects. Frydenberg did, however, note that the current pandemic should not lead to protectionist policies.
In April, shadow transport spokeswoman Catherine King had nominated high speed rail as a “economic game changer” and indicated federal Labor’s continuing support for a high speed rail network linking population centres down the Eastern seaboard. King also noted that investment in high-speed rail would encourage economic growth in regional communities.
At the time, federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that the government’s focus is building the Inland Rail project and pursuing faster rail projects.
High speed rail could once again be on the table, with federal Labor transport spokeswoman Catherine King describing the project’s potential as an “economic game changer” for Australia after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
In comments reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, King said that building a high-speed rail network along the eastern seaboard would be able to cut travel times.
“High-speed rail has the potential to revolutionise interstate travel, allowing travel between capital cities in as little as three hours,” King told the Herald.
With regional areas also reeling from the impact of the bushfires earlier in 2020 and late 2019, King noted that the project has the potential to inject economic activity into regional economies, as Inland Rail is currently doing.
“If the government is interested in creating jobs and boosting regional economies, it should seriously consider investing in high-speed rail now,” said King.
Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Michael McCormack, told the Herald that the government was not looking into high speed rail at this time.
“While I have long been an advocate for high-speed rail in Australia, given the significant costs outlined in the reports conducted between 2010 and 2013, my focus is currently on delivering the inland rail and faster rail proposals which the federal government has committed to,” said McCormack.
In 2019, Labor took to the election a $1 billion promise to set aside land for an East Coast high speed rail corridor.
Between 2010 and 2013 the Australian government looked into the possibility of a 1,748km route from Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra. With a speed of 350km/hr this would make the travel times between Sydney and Melbourne and Sydney and Brisbane below three hours, the threshold for passengers to swap from air to train travel according to the Australasian Railway Association.
The route alignment mapped out in 2013 also included regional stops such as in Wagga Wagga, Albury Wodonga, Shepparton, Newcastle, Coffs Harbour, and Grafton. The cost of linking Sydney and Melbourne with high speed rail would be roughly $50bn and the total cost would be $114bn in 2012 dollars, however with a positive return on investment.
Development Victoria (DV) is seeking a developer and operator of the Ballarat intermodal freight hub terminal.
The Victorian Government is requesting expressions of interest to develop the intermodal freight hub on the Ballarat to Ararat railway line which is part of the Ballarat West Employment Zone (BWEZ).
Development Victoria said the BWEZ will allow freight and logistics enterprises to have exceptional access to road, rail, and aviation infrastructure. The freight network will link Melbourne, regional and rural Victoria, Adelaide and the ports of Melbourne, Geelong, and Portland.
It is proposed that the successful respondent will take on design and delivery risk, demand and operational cost risk, manage the commercial return based on these risks and the services provided.
Operational arrangements are likely to be effected through a lease agreement with VicTrack.
Federal government funding of $9.1 million was provided in the 2014 federal Budget for the development of the facility. Potential additional funding from the State via DV will be made available if required.
There is some flexibility around the physical configuration of the Facility to allow for rail siding (either linear or loop), and it is expected that the successful respondent will have operational access to the connected rail stub and associated signalling which will be delivered by the State up to the eastern boundary of the Facility connecting from the main-line.
The civil works for Stages 1 and 1B of BWEZ are complete with a large percentage of land having been sold.
The head of Rail Freight Alliance has publicly said Victoria will only benefit from the proposed intermodal freight hub once the Murray Basin Rail Project is complete.
The Murray Basin Rail Project (MBRP) is improving key freight centres in Victoria and encouraging competition and private investment in the rail freight network.
MBRP stated that an increased axle loading will allow higher volumes of product to be safely freighted across the network, allowing trains to carry up to 500,000 more tonnes of grain each year.
The first stage was completed in 2016 and freight trains have returned to the Mildura line and to the reopened Maryborough to Ararat line. V/Line crews are working to finalise and bed in the track to complete stage 2 of 3 for the project.
Catherine King, federal member of Ballarat and shadow minister infrastructure, transport and regional development said the BWEZ facility is located alongside existing road and rail infrastructure, enabling the freight hub to connect with more locations.
“A truck will be able to come in straight off the Western Highway and either head in to a manufacturer or connect up with the rail line and deliver products further afield,” she said.
“The prospect of future infrastructure upgrades to the adjoining Ballarat Airport site will open up even more opportunities across the Ballarat region, but this will only come with support from governments at a state and federal level.”
Respondant registration closes on March 3 and EOI submission must be made by March 13, closing at 3pm.
Federal shadow transport minister, Catherine King, reiterated her party’s promise to create a body to conduct research on the future of the industry workforce, in her address to the Rail, Tram and Bus union on Wednesday.
King described the party’s vision of a workforce forecasting and research body called Jobs and Skills Australia, under a similar model to Infrastructure Australia. The intention to create Jobs and Skills Australia was announced last month by Labour party leader, Anthony Albanese.
The body would be would assess the skills requirements for services where “government is the major funder and where demand is expected to change”, such as transport.
“This will include the manufacture, operation and maintenance of our public transport network,” said King.
The body will undertake workforce and skills analysis, and conduct capacity studies. It will be expected to review the adequacy of the training and vocational system, as well as deliver plans for targets groups such as the regions, workers over-55, and youth.
King said that she believes introducing new technology can create different job opportunities.
“I spoke yesterday with a major freight rail operator who is using real time condition monitoring to better forecast maintenance to reduce breakdowns. While that has replaced the task of physically walking the line inspecting trains in sidings. It has seen new jobs created in big data analytics, as well as increases in the maintenance schedule and maintenance jobs.”
However, transitioning jobs in industries like transport must be planned, she explained.
“People must always be at the heart of our transport system.”
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has announced Labor’s new Shadow Ministry, which meets for the first time in Brisbane on Tuesday.
Albanese on June 3 referred to the surprise Liberal-National election victory on May 18 as a “wake-up call” for Labor, and stated that his team would be “more than a match for the Morrison Government’s frontbench”.
“In the days and weeks that follow that meeting, Shadow Ministers will disperse into communities across the nation to listen to Australians about why only one in three voters gave Labor their first preference at the election on May 18,” Albanese said in a statement.
Notable among Albanese’s picks are Richard Marles as his deputy and shadow minister for defence; Penny Wong as shadow minister for foreign affairs, home affairs and immigration and citizenship; Jim Chalmers as shadow treasurer; and Chris Bowen as shadow minister for health.
Albanese’s choice to replace his previous position of shadow minister for infrastructure, transport and regional development went to Catherine King, who has been federal member for Ballarat since 2001.
King served as Labor’s shadow health minister for six years, a role that will now be filled by Chris Bowen, the previous shadow treasurer.
“It was a great honour to serve as Labor’s shadow health minister for six years and I’ll always be proud of the ambitious health agenda we took to last month’s election,” King said on her Twitter feed. “I wish my friend [Chris Bowen] all the very best in the role.”
Albanese stated that his ministry included an even distribution of men and women (including the Shadow Cabinet Secretary) and a mix of new and experienced ministers.
Former Labor leader Bill Shorten, who stood down after the election, retained a place in the cabinet in a dual role as shadow minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and for government services.
“The shadow cabinet announcement, I think person for person, is far superior than those who sit on the government benches,” Albanese told press at a conference in Launceston, Tasmania.
“The recognition of that is the mass exodus that has happened on the government benches. They will suffer from the loss of Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop, Christopher Pyne, Kelly O’Dwyer — they’ve lost some of their best people.”