Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
Estimates hearings, 12 February 2013
- Mr Mike Mrdak, Secretary, Department of Infrastructure and Transport
- Mr John Fullerton, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Rail Track Corporation
Senator RHIANNON: I read that the ARTC has recently taken over the Sydney metropolitan freight network, including the Port Botany rail line. What proportion of the federal government's $175 million investment in the Port Botany rail upgrades comes from the ARTC?
Mr Fullerton: The upgrade of the MFN was funds provided to the ARTC by the government. That $170 million was provided to ARTC as grant funding for the upgrade of that network.
Senator RHIANNON: Given that you have recently taken over the MFN, does the ARTC have a position on the WestConnex project potentially receiving federal infrastructure funding as a solution to congestion problems at Port Botany?
Mr Fullerton: The metropolitan freight network is a link between our southern Sydney freight line at Enfield into Port Botany and the connection at North Strathfield. That is where our network starts and finishes.
Senator RHIANNON: So have you got any connection with WestConnex? Have there been discussions with the New South Wales government or with Infrastructure Australia?
Mr Fullerton: No, not by ARTC.
Senator RHIANNON: So you are not interacting with this project?
Mr Mrdak: Senator, that is one the department is managing on behalf the government so there certainly have been discussions at quite senior levels and we continue to be closely involved with the New South Wales government on the WestConnex project. The Australian Government has recently agreed to finalise its commitment of $25 million to the establishment of the special purpose vehicle for the WestConnex project business case. And we—
Senator RHIANNON: Sorry, what was the $25 million for?
Mr Mrdak : The development of the business case which would lead to the special purpose vehicle which would effectively take the WestConnex project design to the market. The department represents the Australian government on the steering committee for the project.
Senator RHIANNON: I just want to go back to looking at Port Botany and the Moorebank intermodal. Do you think that public investment in rail upgrades at Port Botany and the Moorebank intermodal project should take priority ahead of a road project? Given that investment is intended to create sustainable freight and reduce growing truck congestion in Sydney—we hear that is the commitment—but if the support is going to WestConnex, don't we have a contradiction there between the rail work and the road work?
Mr Mrdak : I do not think it is a contradiction. Certainly the Australian Government over many years has been a very strong supporter of rail, particularly to move container freight in and out of Port Botany. As Mr Fullerton has outlined, the southern Sydney freight line is a very important piece of national infrastructure in terms of improving rail freight competitiveness. Similarly the Moorebank proposal is really probably the most transformative piece of infrastructure development in the Sydney basin. It actually will provide the crucial link across the East Coast network. I think it is recognised by everyone that in the absence of Moorebank the Port Botany strategy cannot be implemented in terms of its future development. So I do not think it is a case of them competing. While the work is continuing on WestConnex in terms of the business case and the support for it, the reality is that the federal government is investing very heavily in rail freight as a measure which is equally required.
Senator RHIANNON: But considering the closest WestConnex to Port Botany is 8 kilometres, don't we have a problem that WestConnex does not get close to Port Botany and it is encouraging more use of the road and we have this massive congestion coming down—how those containers are going to be moved out?
Mr Mrdak : One of the critical issues for the federal government in our work with New South Wales is just that—how will WestConnex interconnect with the Port Botany precinct. The work we have done over the last few years highlights—and this is supported by Infrastructure New South Wales—that the Port Botany-Sydney airport precinct is probably the most important economic precinct, certainly in New South Wales if not in Australia. How we get the connection between the WestConnex project to the port is one of those outstanding questions. Certainly it is one that the minister has raised repeatedly with New South Wales ministers in relation to the design of the project.
Senator RHIANNON: Is part of those discussions maybe revisiting the tunnel that has been talked about or a motorway connection for that link taking WestConnex—taking a spur off to Port Botany?
Mr Mrdak : Certainly in our discussions with New South Wales and I know the minister personally in discussion with New South Wales ministers has raised those sorts of questions of how it will link to the M5 East duplication and what that then does to the access to Port Botany off Port Botany Road onto the M5, what it does terms of traffic flow and what New South Wales envisages in terms of forecast future truck movements on the M4 down WestConnex into that precinct. That is all work underway.
Senator RHIANNON: So considering those discussions have been handled with considerable detail, from what I understand, does that mean you are looking at more a road movement for the freight coming—a greater road freight movement out of Port Botany?
Mr Mrdak : No, we certainly see that there needs to be an improvement in both rail and road access out of Port Botany quite critically. The rail freight investment on the metropolitan freight network out to Enfield and then Moorebank is quite critical. Without that Sydney cannot handle the forecast growth through Port Botany. But at the same time we are trying to improve heavy vehicle access in and out of the port as well.
Senator RHIANNON: This is my last question. At the May 2012 estimates I was advised that ARTC was conducting air quality tests at Islington and one other location. What was the other location and what are the findings of those tests, and will they be made public?
Mr Fullerton : Those tests have been published on our website. They were published on our website in September.
Senator RHIANNON: What was the other location, please?
Mr Fullerton : Mayfield was the other site.