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Estimates: Infrastructure Australia

Rural Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee

Estimates hearings, 18 October 2011

Infrastructure Australia

  • Mr Mike Mrdak, Secretary, Department of Infrastructure and Transport
  • Ms Lyn O'Connell, Deputy Secretary, Department of Infrastructure and Transport
  • Mr Richard Wood, General Manager, Rail and Intermodal, Infrastructure Australia

Full transcript available here

Senator RHIANNON: What plans are there to fund the new infrastructure to support the China Shenhua Liverpool Plains mine to take coal to either Newcastle or Port Kembla?

Mr Mrdak: One of the projects that the Australian government has committed to is the Liverpool Range project. I will get Mr Wood to comment on that.

Mr Wood: The Australian Rail Track Corporation is undertaking an extensive package of work for rail infrastructure in the Hunter Valley as a whole. The Commonwealth, through its equity investments in the ARTC, is funding through the ARTC a number of projects in the Hunter. The Liverpool Range project that Mr Mrdak refers to is one of those. During the hearing this morning I indicated to Senator Macdonald the status of the projects that were being funded under the economic stimulus program. Thirteen of those 17 projects have been completed. I can quickly run through and indicate which of those are relevant to the Hunter—

Senator RHIANNON: I was particularly interested in Port Kembla. Is this work extending down to Port Kembla as well? Reports are coming through about China Shenhua being interested in moving its coal out through Port Kembla.

Mr Wood: The government has been funding a feasibility study into the Maldon to Dombarton rail line, which runs from the main north-south rail link in the Southern Highlands down to Port Kembla. The feasibility study was released this morning, but the Commonwealth is not currently funding the construction of rail infrastructure around Port Kembla.

Senator RHIANNON: That Maldon-Dombarton link has been around for a long time uncompleted. Is the proposal that that would then link up with some of the lines coming out of the Gunnedah area to assist with China Shenhua moving its coal out through Port Kembla?

Mr Wood: I am not aware of China Shenhua's specific plans. Certainly, it would be part of a rail network which would link through to the Hunter, out to Gunnedah, and through Sydney.

Senator RHIANNON: But that was not part of the original Maldon to Dombarton plan. It did not go up through the Hunter. Is that the new thing that has been announced today?

Mr Wood: The Maldon to Dombarton line is a 35-kilometre proposed link. Construction commenced in the eighties and ceased in 1988. The line links the existing rail network, so the main line from Sydney to Melbourne, to Port Kembla. It would be an additional rail link from Port Kembla. The line itself does not extend to the Hunter; it connects to the existing infrastructure.

Senator RHIANNON: I am aware of that. I am just interested in the language that you are using and that I am trying to explore, which is specifically about the China Shenhua link coming down to Port Kembla.

Mr Mrdak: The planning intent is that any coal drawn from the Gunnedah Basin would predominantly go through the Hunter line. The Prime Minister has this morning made a major announcement in relation to the Maldon-Dombarton line, which is a further commitment of Commonwealth funding to complete planning and design and take it to the next stage. That occurred this morning.

Senator RHIANNON: I want to explore this. Government documents released by the Greens in the New South Wales parliament detail monthly meetings between China Shenhua and the Australian Rail and Transport Corporation, ARTC, about plans to move coal from the Liverpool Plains to Port Waratah. I am interested in what those meetings cover. They are monthly meetings specifically about this issue. It looks as though it is looming that Port Kembla could be favoured as a way to move this coal out of the country.

Mr Mrdak: I do not know whether that is accurate. According to the agenda, the Australian Rail Corporation is to appear next. Might I suggest we await Mr Fullerton, the chief executive officer, who is due to appear later this afternoon. Perhaps you may wish to raise some of those issues directly with the ARTC.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you very much. What time is that, please?

CHAIR: It is scheduled for 2.40, but I know that Senator Nash has one more question. I will check with Senator Nash that there are no other questions of Nation Building. If Senator Nash or Senator Edwards have no further questions, I will call ARTC earlier.

[Senator Rhiannon resumed questioning following Senator Nash and Senator Edwards' questions]

Senator RHIANNON: I understand that China Shenhua missed out on the August 2010 coal nomination deadline for an allocation to export coal from Liverpool Plains through the Newcastle coal loader. Have you had any discussions with China Shenhua or New South Wales government agencies about advancing this and helping them solve it?

Mr Mrdak: That is not a matter in which we get involved.

Senator RHIANNON: They are addressing it by trying to look at their infrastructure options. Has it come across your desk?

Mr Mrdak: No, it has not come to this department.

Ms O'Connell: No, but the offer still stands in terms of ARTC.

Senator RHIANNON: I will certainly come to that. You are saying that you have had not dealings with China Shenhua and that you are not aware of any of the problems that they have run into.

Mr Mrdak: No.

Senator RHIANNON: How many mining related infrastructure projects are currently on your books for New South Wales? I am happy for you to take that on notice. I am interested in a list of the names and a brief description of them and how much money that you have allocated for them.

Mr Mrdak: We can certainly provide you the details. As Mr Wood outlined, the Australian Rail Track Corporation, which is the Commonwealth's investment vehicle in the Hunter Valley rail line, has a range of capital works programs underway. We can certainly provide you with details about those.

Senator RHIANNON: I am not just interested in rail projects. Do you have any involvement in any of these port plans or some of the bridges that they come up with or anything else?

Mr Mrdak: We certainly have a major project in the Hunter, which is the Hunter Expressway, and we have a number of rail projects. They are the projects in which we have an investment interest in the Hunter at the moment. We do not have an investment program or any projects in relation to the Port Waratah or any of the other Hunter maritime issues.

Senator RHIANNON: So in terms of the benefits to the coal industry, it comes down to your rail and road projects?

Mr Mrdak: Certainly, and principally our investment through ARTC into increasing the capacity of the Hunter Valley coal system.

Senator RHIANNON: And you will be able to quantify the specific coal related projects in terms of the monetary cost?

Mr Mrdak: We can certainly provide you with the amount that the Commonwealth has invested in ARTC in terms of the Hunter Valley.

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