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Estimates: Department of Infrastructure and Transport

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 22 Feb 2013

Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee

Estimates hearings, 12 February 2013

  • Mr Mike Mrdak, Secretary, Department of Infrastructure and Transport
  • Ms Lyn O'Connell, Deputy Secretary, Department of Infrastructure and Transport
  • Mr Michael Deegan, Infrastructure Coordinator, Infrastructure Australia
  • Mr Roland Pittar, General Manager, North West Roads

Full transcript available here

Senator RHIANNON: In the October estimates, we were informed that the national public transport strategy is well under way. Can you let us know where it is up to and have you considered your investments in road projects compared to public transport, and if you have can we expect any shift in the proportion of IA funding towards public transport projects?

Mr Deegan: The Infrastructure Australia council considered a draft public transport strategy late last year and have decided that they would prefer to see it as an urban transit strategy to take in both road and rail and indeed other forms of public transport, so a comprehensive overview. That work is well progressed and there will be a further draft for the Infrastructure Australia council to consider shortly.

Senator RHIANNON: When will it be publicly released?

Mr Deegan: We are working on that. We are certainly hoping this calendar year. There is some potential for this financial year but there is a host of consultations that we are undertaking.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you take on notice who those consultations are with, please.

Mr Deegan: I can tell you. We are dealing with a series of people out of industry, community, academia—there is a whole host of players we are dealing with on this, and of course state and local governments.

Senator RHIANNON: Liveable Cities Program—is that you?

Mr Mrdak: No, that is with us.

Senator RHIANNON: I found the information on your website, which is very useful but, while each project detail is there, to get a sense of the proportion of funding is very difficult. So what proportion of overall funding is the $6 million awarded to the three projects in New South Wales? And do you have an overall spreadsheet where people who visit this site are able to get an assessment of the proportionality that you apply in dividing up this funding?

Mr Mrdak: Generally the project funding is matched by state and local government. Mr Pittar may be able to give you a better indication of individual projects in New South Wales.

Senator RHIANNON: I was just after that proportion. What is the $6 million a proportion off?

Mr Pittar: The total program as funded by the Australian government was a $20 million program. As Mr Mrdak said, the criteria around that program sought to and did achieve matching funding from the particular proponents.

Senator RHIANNON: Would it be possible to put the spreadsheet up so that as well as getting each individual project, which is the way it is at the moment, present that data so you just have them all there in a spreadsheet and people can work it out?

Mr Mrdak: We can take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Do you know how the half million dollars to the Maitland city council aims to make their area more liveable, particularly in terms of the health impacts of coal dust from the coal trains that is being taken up by the community so strongly?

Mr Pittar: The half a million—

Senator RHIANNON: $500,000.

Mr Pittar: The $500,000 to the Hunter area—that work is currently ongoing. I cannot comment on the specifics.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you take on notice what they present that shows that it is liveable and whether there is any component around the health impacts of the coal industry.

Mr Pittar: Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. This is either for IA or Nation Building. This is about WestConnex. In October it was indicated that no assessment of Sydney's WestConnex project had been carried out. So has there since been an assessment?

Mr Mrdak: As I mentioned earlier, we sit on the steering committee for the formation of the special-purpose vehicle and the project development but we await further advice. I think the New South Wales government is only in the early stages now of commissioning the business case and detailed planning. We certainly have not done any other assessment beyond that.

Senator RHIANNON: In January the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the absence of a link road between WestConnex and Port Botany was cruelling the chances of this project gaining support from IA. In the earlier response to my questions you said that you were in talks with the New South Wales government about the road links from Port Botany to WestConnex. Where are these talks up to and does federal government funding for the project or whatever level of involvement depend on agreement about that motorway link between WestConnex, M5 or whatever of those motorways that come down into Sydney getting out to Port Botany? Is that what it is all hanging off?

Mr Mrdak: I will ask Mr Deegan to comment from Infrastructure Australia's perspective on the first part of your question and then I will come back to where we are at with the project planning.

Mr Deegan: Certainly what Infrastructure New South Wales and the New South Wales government is trying to deal with is, as you know, a considerable problem about moving containers to and from Port Botany as well as car movements. Current capacity of Port Botany is approximately two million 20-foot equivalent unit containers. The development of a third terminal will shift that capacity to eight million containers over the next 15 or 20 years. So there is a lot of thought going into how those containers will be moved by road and rail and the capacity issues that will confront Sydney as a consequence. Trying to put the pieces of the jigsaw together, the development of the Moorebank facility will be important in this discussion. The sorts of things going on both at Enfield and Chullora are small parts in that jigsaw, and trying to develop a long-term solution to moving goods and services from Port Botany. Clearly with the proposal from WestConnex both Infrastructure Australia and the Commonwealth are interested in how the wicked problem of moving freight to and from Port Botany will be best solved, and it is certainly part of the discussions we are having with the New South Wales government both collectively and individually. There is also then further discussion about the connections potentially to and from the city. I think in the current proposal WestConnex finishes about Camperdown, and there are some issues then of what connections to and from the city might be made. So it is all part of a much broader discussion around road and rail issues particularly associated with freight, but clearly there are lots of car issues as well for Sydney.

Senator RHIANNON: So in essence, to repeat the question, does your support for the project hinge off finding that link from the current motorways out to Port Botany?

Mr Deegan: Certainly the model that Infrastructure Australia brings to this discussion is to have a clear understanding of what the problem is before we go to the solution. Part of the problem is moving people and cars to and from the airport. A big part of the problem is moving freight to and from the port. So we get a clear definition of what the problem is and then work through what the potential solutions may be. There may be any range of those. That is where we are up to in the discussions with New South Wales—will their solution resolve the problem. That is what we are working through with them.

Senator RHIANNON: Does the motorway link have to be part of those solutions or is it either rail or motorway for you at the moment?

Mr Deegan: We are interested in options that will resolve the problem rather than just specifying a particular answer. That is what we are working through with the New South Wales government.

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, I am going to have to move on, so can you please put the rest of your questions on notice. Actually you can have one more minute.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. In 2011, Sydney Ports advised IA that it was essential that any proposal to extend the M5 East should ensure the additional capacity is provided directly to Port Botany. Are you in talks with Sydney Ports about this, and where is that aspect of the jigsaw up to?

Mr Mrdak: I think that, as you discussed with Mr Fullerton a little bit earlier, the Commonwealth's assumption of the responsibility for the metropolitan freight network is an important part of improving rail freight access to the port. The ARTC has completed considerable work on the first stage of their investment in the Port Botany rail line both within the port precinct and in the line. We are now considering further investments on the metropolitan freight network as part of Nation Building 2. We certainly think that that is a priority area of investment for the ARTC.

Senator RHIANNON: When you say priority investment, you are talking about the extent and extension of the M5 East?

Mr Mrdak: No, I was talking about the rail line.

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, I must move on.

[Other senators continued questioning]

Senator RHIANNON: Mr Mrdak, are you a member of the West Connect steering committee?

Mr Mrdak: Yes. Ms O'Connell and Mr Jaggers generally represent me at those steering committee meetings.

Senator RHIANNON: Does that imply federal government support for that project?

Mr Deegan: It certainly reflects the $25 million that has been committed by the Australian government to the next stage of the project. Our engagement is in shaping the planning and business case to enable future government decisions on funding.

Senator RHIANNON: So it sounds like you are backing the project; it is just that you are on the committee to help to ensure that the project works for what you are committed to? Is that a fair description?

Mr Deegan: I think it is fair to say that the Australian government at this stage is awaiting further advice. It has made a commitment of $25 million to enable the planning and business case to be developed. The Australian government has to take future decision as to whether it provides a financial contribution beyond that.

Senator RHIANNON: Since the steering committee was set up, you or one of your representatives has been to all of those meetings?

Mr Mrdak: Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: Who have you been briefed by? You can take that on notice if it is lengthy.

Ms O'Connell: We can take it on notice and provide you with the members of the steering committee if that is useful to you.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, if you could take that on notice, please.

Ms O'Connell: It is largely officials from the New South Wales government from the Roads and Maritime Service, Infrastructure New South Wales, Treasury and Finance in New South Wales and their planning department.

Senator RHIANNON: Are there any community organisations that work on public transport issues?

Ms O'Connell: Not at this point, Senator.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Mr Mrdak, is there a conflict of interest here considering that so much of your work around freight has very strong emphasis on freight and rail? You have spoken about that today. Clearly the West Connect project is all about road. We have such massive congestion in Sydney, particularly around this Port Botany area. Is there a conflict for you there considering that, by going on the board, you are putting your eggs in the basket of a motorway solution?

Mr Mrdak: I do not think so at all. We are represented in planning working, in cross-jurisdictions, on both road and rail. The West Connect project I would not characterise as solely a road project. It also involves quite a bit of urban renewal. It provides a lot of opportunity if the project develops as envisaged for revitalisation of that whole Parramatta Road strip and that inner west. So it has a number of aspects where the Commonwealth has a strong interest on productivity but also liveability of cities. I do not think it is a conflict of interest. We are participating to make sure, as you quite rightly point out, that the project business case is robust and the government is fully informed on the various issues involved in taking the next steps.

Senator RHIANNON: When you just disagreed with me that it is not just a motorway solution, do you mean that West Connect could actually incorporate a freight on rail public transport aspect to it as well?

Mr Mrdak: I think the West Connect project as it is currently proposed is largely around motor vehicle operations. Certainly you would envisage that, as it is progressed in planning, it would provide for public transport access through buses but also cycleways and the like. It also provides a great deal of urban renewal opportunities through various parts of the city. If you look at the current traffic operations at Parramatta Road, you would have to say that there is a huge opportunity for revitalisation of the inner west by redesigning traffic flows through Parramatta Road and what that then does to your commercial and redevelopment opportunities in that area.

Senator RHIANNON: Isn't there a contradiction here, though, considering the amount of emphasis that your department and the minister regularly give to the importance of freight on rail and to easing congestion, where you are introducing motorways into the most congested city in Australia and there is a whole science around induced traffic flows when motorways are built. Have those issues been explored?

Mr Mrdak: Certainly, I would not say there is a contradiction in the sense that the West Connect project is about trying to remove the congestion which is already there. It is operating suboptimally on a road network that is not designed or capable of taking the volumes that are available. As to your point on the science of induced traffic, I would not label it as a science per se. I think there are a whole range of theories around it. It is the subject of ongoing work. I think it is fair to say that West Connect offers in our view significant opportunities to address some of the traffic congestion in the inner west and also, as I said, urban renewal opportunities. The detail of that has to be worked through and that is really the stage we are at. I think if you look at the work by Infrastructure New South Wales and the work they have provided, I think they do identify significant opportunities for Sydney through that project.

Ms O'Connell: Also, in relation to freight on rail, there are already very significant investments already in train and underway in freight on rail. The southern Sydney freight line was opened last month or during last month. Port Botany connections on rail and Moorebank intermodal and all of those are very significant.

Senator RHIANNON: But just on the Port Botany rail connections, I understand that the freight component had been cut down by the New South Wales government considerably. That is why I am trying to explore this. Rail freight going into Port Botany I understand is decreasing and it appears that you are giving enormous emphasis to a motorway solution in such a congested area.

Mr Mrdak: Certainly rail freight access to Port Botany has not been cut down, as far as I am aware, significantly. There has been a decline and fall in rail usage on that line simply because of the capacity of the line to actually meet demand, hence the investments that Ms O'Connell mentioned that the ARTC has done. We are now looking at the next stage of investment in that Port Botany freight line to actually get that capacity lifted, removing some of the restrictions such as the level crossing at General Holmes Drive and some of those areas. At the same time, as Mr Fullerton mentioned, there is a very big program of investment in some of the terminals, particularly Moorebank. The rail line is going to be totally dependent on the capacity to create the terminal capacity to do the intermodal changeover. That sort of stuff is coming together. The overall picture then is that Moorebank will give you the capacity, southern Sydney frail freight line and Port Botany rail upgrades will actually facilitate the growth of rail freight. At the same time there will also continue to be growth of heavy vehicle transport in that precinct.

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, I am listening intently, but I just do not understand why the Greens would be opposed to an intermodal depot at Moorebank.

Senator RHIANNON: We are not opposed to it. That is Mr Albanese’s misinformation. We are not opposed to it. It's how you do it.

CHAIR: Not the way I have been listening to it.

Senator RHIANNON: That is absolutely not true, Chair.

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, I do get confused very easily, but the Greens transport policies absolutely baffle me half the time.

[Other senators continued questioning]


Senator RHIANNON: I am interested in how you advise the department about investing in public transport considering that investment favours road projects over rail.

Mr Mrdak: I think that is one for myself in Nation Building rather than the Surface Transport area of the department. In essence I think as you commented earlier we have seen a significant lift in investment in public transport by the federal government over the last few years. We do that principally through looking at benefit cost analysis in terms of projects. I would not necessarily say that favours road over rail.

Senator RHIANNON: But wouldn't you agree that your figures show that, when you actually add them up, there is still an imbalance? I think it is running at about four to one.

Mr Mrdak: There has certainly been a significant lift in public sector expenditure on urban passenger transport and particularly rail. When the government announced Nation Building 2 last year in the budget you would have seen the category that has been created for funding around movement of passengers. There is a much stronger focus in that area and I would suggest that as the government develops its Nation Building 2 program you will see even further investments in heavy and light rail.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you take it on notice whether that figure is correct between road and rail projects? Maybe take this on notice too because the chair wants to move us on: which divisions of the department look after developing public transport and sustainable transport work and how many staff work on this task? Can you take that on notice?

Mr Mrdak: It covers a range of divisions—our major cities unit, our Nation Building unit and aspects particularly of our policy and research area. It works across our divisions. I will take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: I am after that comparison between public transport and roads.


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