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Adjournment speech: New South Wales: Infrastructure

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 26 Aug 2017

Tuesday 15 August

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (21:10): On another matter, I love our rail system. Though it's inadequate, it's something to be deeply proud of. Our forebears had a vision to create a wonderful network of rail systems across the whole country—something that, when it was designed, was clearly designed for the future, not just the population of that time. I'm incredibly proud of our rail workers in the city and the country, on the light rail system, in the Rail, Tram and Bus Union and in the other unions that rail workers are members of. What particularly interests me are the timetables. The level of organisation in the rail system is deeply phenomenal. It must have been incredible before there were computerised systems.

When you talk about systems, we really need to remember how important it is that they're integrated. If you come from New South Wales, we're going backwards.    While the Berejiklian government might tell you about their wonderful light rail and the rail systems they're bringing, they're really Balkanising the rail system. Many of you would remember how we used to have these lessons in primary school—that is my memory—about the ridiculous situation that Australia had, decades and decades ago, where rail systems varied between states, and what a problem it was. You often had to get off in the middle of the night to change trains at Albury or wherever because the gauges didn't match. Well, in 2017 in Sydney, we're back to exactly the same system.

We have a new light rail system being built in Sydney at the moment, and it has just come out that it doesn't match with the light rail system that already exists. Say you want, as many people do, to catch a tram from the inner west, around Dulwich Hill, to go over to the sports ground—to the huge sports facilities. Tens of thousands of people go there. You can't catch one tram; you will have to change, because of the inefficiency and inability of the current Liberal-National state government to run a proper transport system. Why is that? It's because they are beholden to the market, because they're selling off our once-wonderful public transport system more and more to the private sector.

Here is a bit about what's happened. Sydney's inner west light rail line and the new $2.1 billion line from the central city to the south-east won't be able to switch from one to the other. They are the two lines that I'm talking about. The word that they use is 'interoperability', and that's what should've been put in place between the two lines. But now we have this huge limitation in terms of the movement of passengers. To emphasise: it's been done because this government is captured by the market, because that's who they went to. They didn't have a public transport authority, they didn't have a department of public transport that could do this work and they didn't have a department of public works that had the corporate knowledge to be able to undertake these important projects. And they want to take everything to the marketplace. That's where they went for the light rail projects. And now we have a disaster.

And it doesn't stop there. The rail system through the Blue Mountains urgently needs an upgrade. What do we find? We learn that the long, long overdue upgrade doesn't all match up. We have an incredible system now which will mean that the New South Wales government will need to modify station platforms and rail lines in the Blue Mountains because the new fleet of inner city trains—they are very welcome, but they cost a lot of money at about $2.3 billion—will be too wide to make the trips between some of the stations once you get into the higher part of the mountains. It is extraordinary that that's been allowed to happen. They're too wide to travel between Springwood and Katoomba and Lithgow on the Blue Mountains line. Why is that? It's because this section of the line can only handle carriages narrower than three metres. Anybody in the vicinity of this area knows that it's very winding. It's through the Blue Mountains. The terrain is difficult. Surely you would start off by taking some measurement so you knew what you were going to do. But, no, that hasn't happened, and we have this absolute mess of a system because of the way it has been mismanaged.

The minister responsible is Andrew Constance. He's trying to make excuses, saying, 'Well, we always planned to make some modifications.' This isn't modifications; it's an extreme stuff-up. Those two incidents with the light rail and the Blue Mountains line are a real reminder of how we need a national coordinated approach to our rail services.

So it was very refreshing this week when I had the opportunity to meet with a number of rail builders and railway workers, members of the AMWU, who are here lobbying about precisely that, because the AMWU is working to promote high-quality, sustainable Australian manufacturing jobs in rail. What's been clearly identified is that, if we have strategic local content that delivers for the national interest, it will help boost manufacturing, help boost jobs in this country and deliver that coordinated approach, so you wouldn't have these shocking mistakes because of the reliance on the market and companies working together and a lack of coordination, largely because of that traditional excuse that they bring out, 'commercial-in-confidence'. What we have from the AMWU I certainly support very strongly. They have got a set of recommendations here that really should be acted on by this government. Any federal government should be giving leadership in this area.

Their first recommendation is:

Gain a comprehensive sense of problem and opportunity … State-based planning, design and procurement arrangements should be commissioned. This should encourage all local manufacturers, suppliers, organised labour and rail operators to develop case studies quantifying the costs and risks of the current system.

Again, if this were done, I wonder if Sydney would be in this embarrassing situation that could lead as an unfortunate example of what the risks are in the current system. It goes on:

The process should model the benefits of moving to a national approach with a single source of national standards…

They were the words that I so welcomed when the workers sat in my office and spoke about that. It was workers from the Hunter, not far from where I live, and from other areas around the country, all identifying the great benefits that would come if we had this single source of national standards. The country would save much money and, at the same time, generate so much work and so many jobs here, because a big part of this is for the rail rolling stock to be made in Australia.

Recommendation 2 is:

Implement a proven national rail reform structure … The Prime Minister and Premiers should examine the merits of establishing a national public transport authority where all States and Commonwealth are equity shareholders in a common structure that minimises the fragmentation of the sector …

Again, that is important language there—'minimises the fragmentation of the sector'. It is time at a federal level that the government stepped up and got involved in a much more hands-on way with these projects, working solidly with our states. It is urgently needed.

Recommendation 3 is:

Use the reformed structure to drive better labour strategies

That's where we can have long-term growth in jobs. A little bit of history here is interesting. In its 2013 report for the Australasian rail association, Deloitte found that state governments would purchase approximately $30 billion of public transport rail rolling stock between them over the 30 years to 2043. This would reflect rolling stock demand that would grow from around 4,000 cars nationwide in 2013 to almost 11,000 by 2043. I share those figures to show the potential of jobs growth and the urgent need to expand public transport. I understand that since that study was done there's been more extensive work undertaken because of the growth of interest in the public sector, not just from the public but also as more governments come to their senses and recognise that if we're going to deal with reducing greenhouse gas emissions, moving people effectively and increasing business productivity then public transport is the answer.

So these are some wonderful ideas that have come from the AMWU. What goes hand in hand with that is a deep commitment to TAFE and a deep commitment to expanding our number of apprentices—sadly, in recent times the numbers have crashed. By bringing all this work together, we can have a fine future for public transport and jobs growth in the rail sector if governments will come on board. It is time the federal government gave leadership.


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