Keynote address to the RISSB Rail Safety Conference
Firstly I’d like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of this land and pay my respects to their Elders both past and present.
I extend that respect to all other First Nations people in the audience today.
And I would like to thank the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB) for organising and hosting this conference and inviting me to speak.
RISSB is a leader in the rail industry, advancing national harmonisation and interoperability, improving safety, lowering costs and enhancing productivity.
You have made significant contributions to national standards and guidelines.
RISSB will continue to be instrumental in achieving a more-encompassing national approach to rail procurement and manufacturing.
I would also like to acknowledge the impressive array of speakers from Australia and overseas who have come together at this conference.
Advancing our plan for rail
The theme of this year’s conference Mind the Gap – Safety, Skills and Interoperability deals with three elements that are crucial in continuing to advance Australian railways.
The rail sector needs the appropriate technical skills, systems and regulatory frameworks to deliver at a world-class level.
With them in place the sector can successfully and safely manage the changes and challenges facing our rail networks.
A number of critically important issues will be discussed and explored during this conference.
- safety culture
- skills development
- risk management; and
- technology and innovation.
These are all important issues that will inform the development and implementation of the Australian Government’s National Rail Manufacturing Plan (the Rail Plan).
I am honoured to be leading the development of the Rail Plan in the Albanese Government.
It is an opportunity to build upon the successes of Australia’s rail manufacturing sector and help create high-skilled, secure jobs.
A combination of population growth and ageing rail fleets means there will be significant demand for new passenger trains across the country.
We need to put our shoulder behind the wheel to meet this demand with increased local production.
But when I think of our Rail Plan and consider these challenges of the future, I also think back.
Australia has a rich rail history, which we should recognise and build on.
From our early days, we embraced rail.
Almost 169 years ago Australia’s first steam railway line was opened in Melbourne.
The line opened on 12 September 1854 and ran from Flinders Street Station to what is now known as Port Melbourne.
The outstanding feature of this endeavour was that the essentials were built locally, including the steam engine.
It was the first steam engine ever built in the Southern Hemisphere.
An impressive achievement, possible because of Australian’s ingenuity and skills.
But this only came about because work on the line progressed so rapidly that the engines ordered from England would not have arrived in time.
So the first impulse was to look abroad, but when it came to the crunch an Australian company rose to the occasion.
Back then, we saw the risk of being the customer at the end of global supply chains. And today, we must take the same approach.
This is the spirit the Australian Government wants to draw upon. A belief in the ability of Australians to get the job done.
We have a broader plan to make our country a world leader in advanced manufacturing.
And as part of that we want to bolster our rail manufacturing sector so we can build more trains in Australia, and deliver good, secure jobs, particularly in our regions and outer suburbs in the process.
Australians were capable of meeting complex rail manufacturing challenges in 1854 – as we are today.
But of course we want to do this on a much larger and far more advanced scale.
There are solid foundations to build on.
Across the country we are seeing large investments in passenger and freight trains and supporting rail infrastructure.
These critical investments are addressing growing transport needs, connecting communities and driving economic growth.
The Queensland Government's $7.1 billion Queensland Train Manufacturing Program will build 65 new six-car passenger trains at a $239 million purpose-built manufacturing facility at Torbanlea, in the Maryborough region.
Western Australia’s $1.6 billion WA Railcar Program will deliver 246 new C-series railcars to service new METRONET projects.
There will also be six new diesel railcars to replace the existing passenger service between Perth and Bunbury.
The Victorian Government is investing $1.85 billion in 100 Next Generation Trams and a new tram maintenance and stabling facility in Melbourne’s west.
NSW sorely needs this sort of investment after years of offshoring major transport projects and thousands of jobs that evaporated under the former Liberal Government.
Which is why it’s refreshing to see the newly elected Minns Government in NSW has also announced its commitment to build high-quality passenger trains locally to replace the ageing Tangara fleet.
These projects represent some of the largest investments in locally made trains and trams we have ever seen in Australia.
They will drive significant growth opportunities for the Australian rail sector, in particular rail manufacturing.
But much more work needs to be done.
Changes have to be made at a national level to ensure we can increase efficiencies and streamline Australian rail manufacturing.
When Australia came together as a nation in 1901 harmonising the rail system was a big, costly and ongoing problem.
Today each state follows its own approach to rail procurement programs.
Procurement is often reliant on the three- or four-year election cycles.
Industry, on the other hand, has a 30-year investment horizon and needs certainty to build capability and plan for the future.
The fragmented approach we see today makes it harder for our manufacturers to deliver scale, build capability and improve efficiencies.
Duplication ultimately pushes up costs, exacerbates skills shortages and constrains investment.
A recent report by the Australasian Railway Association underlines the need for a more harmonised approach to rolling stock procurement.
The report found a harmonised approach would have achieved cost savings of around $1.85 billion over the last decade for 12 passenger rolling stock contracts across the country.
Another challenge facing the rail industry is that currently we have no consistent national standards for passenger rolling stock.
This is one of the biggest challenges facing the rail industry.
This makes it harder to achieve consistency for products and components like windows, axles, wheels and emergency equipment.
If we want to be a country that makes things, a country that is at the start rather than the end of the supply chain, standard harmonisation must be a key objective.
Achieving this is another key challenge in Australian rail history, comparable in a sense to the past need to harmonise rail gauges.
The National Transport Commission’s 2019 National Rail Action Plan (NRAP) report sets out the case for change:
“Harmonisation may deliver benefits such as lower input costs, improvements in operational efficiency, higher inherent safety and lower training costs. It can also widen rail’s freight market.”
Governments and industry continue to develop priority standards, under the NRAP and through RISSB.
But this is where the Australian Government has to step up and take a leadership role.
For national challenges we have to deliver national leadership, working together with all stakeholders to deliver a more efficient and safer rail sector.
Guided by our National Rail Manufacturing Plan, I am keen to work with industry to help drive a more nationally coordinated approach to rail manufacturing.
Our Rail Plan aims to address harmonisation issues and provide the certainty industry needs to invest in capability, including research and development, here in Australia.
A truly national approach to the way rolling stock is procured and manufactured can help reduce costs and complexities.
It can assist with the streamlining of the various processes used across the country.
This means better outcomes for the rail sector and manufacturers in ways that don’t compromise safety or hinder innovation.
Our Rail Plan will help the rail industry prepare for opportunities to build and maintain sustainable and safe passenger trains of the future.
This will help foster innovation and create high-skilled jobs.
The Rail Plan will identify opportunities for rail industry decarbonisation to help achieve Australia’s net-zero emissions targets and support a sustainable transport sector.
Manufacturing more of our own trains and rolling stock components builds national pride as well as Australian capability.
Industry can enhance interoperability through the local manufacture of key components.
These include control and communication systems designed and built to work in tough Australian conditions.
Improved manufacturing capability will include high safety standards.
And building this capability will open opportunities for Australian manufacturers to participate in global supply chains and access export markets.
The Office of National Rail Industry Coordination has been established within the Department of Industry, Science and Resources to develop and deliver our Rail Plan.
We will shortly appoint a National Rail Advocate and Rail Industry Innovation Council to support and drive change in the rail manufacturing industry.
The Advocate will work with state and territory governments and other stakeholders to help ensure local suppliers are considered for critical transport projects.
This work will help lift Australia up the value chain and broaden our export complexity and product diversity.
The Advocate will also chair the Innovation Council.
The Council will support the growth of a sustainable rail manufacturing industry by identifying opportunities for Australian innovation, research and technology.
This will include opportunities to develop and integrate advanced technologies into manufacturing operations across the rail supply chain.
The Advocate and Council will also play a critical role in the development of the National Rail Procurement and Manufacturing Strategy, a key element of our Rail Plan.
The Strategy will support industry productivity and facilitate opportunities for Australian manufacturers.
It will be informed by industry expertise and set out the pathway towards greater national coordination of rolling stock procurement, standards, manufacturing and supply chains.
As our Rail Plan progresses, the Office of National Rail Industry Coordination will continue to work closely with stakeholders.
This includes their counterparts in other departments, as well as critical organisations such as RISSB.
This work will facilitate a more nationally cohesive approach for the rail manufacturing sector.
Work under the Rail Plan will feed into the broader interoperability program, a key priority for the National Cabinet, which is already underway.
RISSB is an important partner in the co-regulatory environment in developing accredited national standards.
The range of standards, Codes of Practice and Guidelines and online tools that RISSB has, and is developing, is an important element supporting improved safety and interoperability.
The Office of National Rail Industry Coordination has close connections with supporting interoperability and safety through alignment with the NRAP.
The ongoing work program of the latter is designed to lift productivity and safety across the rail sector.
These are broader than standards for manufacturing components and provide a more holistic approach to improving rail safety.
We are working together with state and territory governments, unions, industry, researchers and other stakeholders to deliver our
Rail Plan and help create the high-value and high-wage manufacturing jobs of the future.
Safe, fast and sustainable rail rolling stock, built right here in Australia, is key to delivering on our commitment to build a Future Made in Australia.
The most successful modern economies are built on strong, advanced manufacturing capability.
The Australian Government is committed to advancing local industry so we can create world-class products at scale here and build on our strengths.
Our Rail Plan is part of our A Future Made in Australia commitment and complements our Buy Australian Plan and the National Reconstruction Fund.
Once fully established, the National Reconstruction Fund will invest $15 billion to help revitalise Australian industry and create secure, well-paid jobs.
Transport is one of the seven priority areas identified for targeted investments.
Rail is a vital and growing part of the transport sector and by working together we have the opportunity to increase our rail manufacturing capabilities.
This is about more than just building more trains in Australia – it is also about building national confidence that we can get the job done in manufacturing.
Just as Australians did when they built the first steam train in the Southern Hemisphere.
Australians have shown outstanding manufacturing confidence in the past and we can draw upon those examples for the future.
The Australian Government will back our industries to make high-value products for Australia, our region and the world.
We believe in A Future Made in Australia that can provide skilled manufacturing jobs and be a source of pride for all of us.