SUBJECTS: Inland Rail Project, Minister McCormack’s announcement, Live exports.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: This morning not far from here, Michael McCormack invited you all to a gathering to announce that the Government will spend $6 million on another study - a feasibility study into the Inland Rail Project. People everywhere are asking the question. After almost five years in Government, when is this Government going to actually build a part of the Inland Rail Project?
When Labor was last in Government, we spent $900 million on the Inland Rail Project. 600 on land acquisitions and another $300 million doing the appropriate feasibility studies. Now almost five years on, not a metre of track has been laid and five years on Michael McCormack is announcing money to a contractor to do another study. The question again has to be asked - when is this Government going to do something? It needs to be pointed out as well of course the Government is doing this project off budget. They are doing this project they say through an equity injection into the ARTC. All our funding was on budget and secure. The problem with off budget funding is that the Department of Finance plays a particular interest in the rules and the Government needs to demonstrate there is an appropriate rate of return on that investment. It’s something the Government hasn’t been able to guarantee and is something that puts a cloud of uncertainty over the Inland Rail Project. Michael McCormack needs to do more after nearly five years than to announce a feasibility study. He and his Government need to get on and lay some track.
I just want to say something else though about the ongoing controversy in the live export trade. I heard Minister Littleproud this morning lamenting the fact our bipartisan arrangement is being eroded. Sadly that is true. It was me who extended the bipartisan hand to David Littleproud. I did so for two reasons. One, I believe that only the major parties together can secure deep and meaningful reform in the live export market. And second, and as a consequence, we don’t want future Governments unravelling the work of their predecessors. In other words, we want a consistent and permanent modernisation and an addressing of these problems. Now the problem with bipartisanship is twofold. One, the process has been too slow. We now have three reviews taking place, some of which won’t report until mid-2019. The problem is of course the community is growing impatient and we, the Labor Party, are growing impatient. We need outcomes. The community is, rightly, demanding an outcome. David Littleproud surely doesn’t need another review to tell him under the circumstances in which we have seen in recent times, the live sheep trade to the Middle East in those extremely hot conditions, where sheep can’t get access to water, where sheep can’t lay down for literally weeks, cannot continue. Now this is also a failure of leadership, bipartisanship starts to ebb away when David Littleproud and Malcolm Turnbull can’t control their own side. We now have a member of Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition Government moving a Private Members Bill in the Parliament. That process doesn’t equate to bipartisanship. Malcolm Turnbull needs to now show some leadership and tell the Australian public what he believes should happen in the live sheep trade and show some leadership, pull his people back into line so we get back to a bipartisan arrangement ,so that we can get the meaningful reform we have been looking for. Happy to answer questions.
JOURNALIST: I guess farmers are still quite concerned that there has been no final word on the Inland Rail finalised yet and they have a lot of unanswered questions.
FITZGIBBON: Farmers are right to be concerned. So are those with an interest in moving freight around this country; this is an economic question that is of interest to all of us. And yet after almost 5 years of government, despite the momentum built by the former Labor Government, not one metre of track has been laid on the Inland Rail Project.
JOURNALIST: Bit hard for them to plan ahead [inaudible] what compensation they will be getting if the track goes through their land.
FITZGIBBON: This is a project that started to fall apart when the Coalition Government came to power in 2013. All we have seen since then, is arguments between landholders about the route of the rail project, arguments that neither Michael McCormack or Barnaby Joyce or any other member of the Coalition have been able to settle. This is where, again, we need leadership. $900 million was spent before they came to power, momentum was there, again in almost five years not a metre of track has been laid.
JOURNALIST: Where do you stand on the route? There was a lot of talk out west that essentially it needs to be going through Narrandera, closer to the MIA.
FITZGIBBON: The last thing we need is the Opposition sniping from the sidelines about where the route should be. They are the Government, they need to show some leadership to ensure these disputes are settled so that we can finally get on with actually building the Inland Rail Project rather than just cop what we got from Michael McCormack this morning. That is, more studies, more studies, more studies. Thank you very much.