Interview with Richard King, 2SM Breakfast

Richard King
National Rail Manufacturing Plan, Building more trains in Australia, High Speed Rail Authority Bill, Energy Price Relief Plan

Richard King, Host: Okay, we're talking trains, and joining me now is Australia's Assistant Minister for Manufacturing and Trade, Tim Ayres, who's on the line. Good morning, Tim. 

Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing: G'day, Richard, really good to be on the show. 

King: Thank you. Thank you for your time this morning. Look, you recently spoke to the AusRAIL Conference, and that was only, what, a bit over a week ago, outlining what's referred to by your Government as the National Rail Manufacturing Plan, and without wanting to sort of make it a simple way for me to get out of it, but can you outline basically what that plan is. 

Assistant Minister: Yeah, well, the first point here is, we're making sure that the Albanese Government is on the side of local manufacturing. We are unashamedly for Australian manufacturing and our objective here is to drive up the local content that the locally manufactured component of Australia's passenger rail manufacturing. 

Now, the worst offender, of course, is in New South Wales. The New South Wales Government has off shored project after project, in rail, yes, but also in buses and ferries, right across public transport, and that has cost thousands of jobs. 

Now, our plan is to work with the states to coordinate the procurement so that we can make sure that we get the scale, get the efficiencies, but drive a collect agreement across the states and territories to deliver all of our passenger rail manufacturing here in Australia. 

King: Yeah. Well, I think the New South Wales Government have always used the argument that, oh, look, we can get it cheaper overseas, and we're saving you, the taxpayers, money by doing that. I mean, you know, I think to a lot of listeners, that makes sense, "Okay if we can get it cheaper, let's do that and save ourselves a bit of money." 

Assistant Minister: It would make sense, I suppose, if it was true. It would make sense to an economic rationalist, wouldn't it, but you don't worry about the local jobs, you don't worry about the local capability, the only thing that matters is the ticket price. But the problem for the New South Wales Government's plan is all of the projects that they have sent offshore have run over budget, significantly over budget; some of them 40 per cent over budget. 

All of them have been delivered well after they were due. So, none of them have run on time. All of them have quality and reliability problems. There are trains that don't fit through tunnels, or trains that don't fit properly at Sydney stations. Now, the truth is the New South Wales Government didn't have confidence in Australian manufacturing; they weren't on the side of the local industry. 

King: Well, I think Gladys Berejiklian said we can't build good trains in Australia, I think she was famously quoted as saying that. 

Assistant Minister: It's [an] absolutely shocking lack of confidence in Australian capability here. You know, we've got a local industry, at the heart of it in New South Wales in the Hunter Valley that's got top-shelf capabilities; deliver these projects on time, and a quality product at the end of the day. 

King: Well, look, you mentioned the Hunter, because I'm obviously based in Newcastle. We did have a, it's now called UGL, you used to be Goninan’s, but it's interesting, because Joshua sent an email, "It's great to hear the Government is wanting to support manufacturing trains and rolling stock in Australia, but I think the different levels and areas of government are on different pages.” The Goninan Manufacturing Facility, now, UGL at Broadmeadow, which built the Tangara and V set, Sydney to Newcastle trains, is proposed to be demolished and rezoned to build affordable housing. So, you know, it might take a while to get everybody on the same page, Tim. 

Assistant Minister: Well, the New South Wales Government needs to step up here; you know, there needs to be a plan for local manufacturing rail that gives these local manufacturers the confidence to invest in long-term facilities. The problem here is the New South Wales Government sent the opposite message. They basically said to local manufacturing, "don't bother knocking, you know, we are not interested." And these companies operate in 30 year investment horizons, you know, they make long-term investments, and you've got a government over the course of the last decade that's off shored completely   with a complete indifference to its impact on local jobs, and in the end it's been an utter failure, because, of course, they haven't got the quality, the projects have run over costs, and they've all run over schedule. It's been a procurement disaster. 

Now, we're, as a Commonwealth, keen to play our role here on the side of local industry, and so we will work with the states to coordinate procurement, to deliver a higher quality, lower price local build, and you know, that will have a significant impact on jobs and apprenticeship opportunities in the region in the outer suburbs of our big cities. 

King: Sure. Coming up to ten to eight, daylight saving time, my guest, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing, Tim Ayres. The subject of very fast rail; certainly Anthony Albanese, in years gone by, I've spoken to him, he brings this up on a regular basis, says we should have it from Melbourne all the way through to Brisbane; a lot of transport experts have referred to it as "Pie in the sky"; David Elliot, the New South Wales Transport Minister has said "Pie in the sky." Do you think very fast rail is a possibility or even feasible to be done here in Australia? 

Assistant Minister: Yes, I do. We've got the High Speed Rail Authority Bill through the Parliament. Catherine King, the Transport Minister said that, you know, proof of concept, really is that high speed rail will be in that, you know, Newcastle, Sydney, you know, examining that route, and you know, it's a logical next step, isn't it, in improving Australia's transport? 

King: Is it a logical next step, or is a faster train, not necessarily very fast, and I think David Elliot has said, "Look, we'd sooner get faster trains around Sydney and maybe up to the Hunter region as well as down to Wollongong," maybe a faster train rather than a very fast train. 

Assistant Minister: You know, all these things should be explored. That's what the High Speed Rail Authority is there to do, is to work through proof of concept on these issues, and you know, this shouldn't be a political argument. You'd think Australians could work together on these issues. We should be building local manufacturing, improving our rail networks, delivering on the promise of high speed rail. This is a concept that the Prime Minister as a former Transport Minister, and somebody who's been absolutely committed to Australian rail, is determined to lead, and I am very keen to work as part of the Government to deliver, you know, local manufacturing of these projects. That's where the good jobs are, Richard, as you know. This is very important for the future of our region. 

King: Sure. Look, I received a call from Sam after I mentioned the fact that I'd be talking to you, and Sam wanted me to put a question to you. Let's have a listen to what he said. 

"I work in the biggest industrial area in the Southern Hemisphere of this planet. Why the hell have they never built the train line into that area to get the employees that work in that area in and out of that area? Everybody has to drive in and drive out. When I first started working there and I used to get on the M4, it would be me and five other cars. Now, 20 years later, it's grid locked both ways now". 

That's Sam, he was talking about Wetherill Park. He referred to it as the largest industrial area in Australia with no train access. Now, it's probably out of your remit, but it would make sense, wouldn't it, to have a train linked to areas like that? 

Assistant Minister: Well, I know that industrial area well, and you're right, Richard, it is out of my formal remit, but it's a good idea. You know, we've got to improve our rail transport in our major cities. We've got a job to do, you know, transport is a significant part of Australian emissions. It's a significant public good, public transport, you know, and improve   so low emissions, reduces costs, improves productivity and efficiency, and there's some intangible benefits, isn't there, like if people don't spend hours and hours and hours commuting to work, but instead have a fast rail or bus commute, it improves the quality of their lives. 

So, there is a reason why public transport really matters, and we've got to get behind it. There are billions of dollars every year of investment in rail and in rolling stock, and my job is to work with governments to make sure as much of that is manufactured in Australia as is possible. 

King: Right. And on another topic, but it's certainly one that's going to be a hot issue when Federal Parliament reconvenes tomorrow, this is over the Government's energy proposal, and look, in the lead-up to the election Labor said they wouldn't be doing any deals with Greens, but that could be on the cards. I mean Greens said they won't support it, and they've called for a two year power bill freeze to help ease the cost of living. Do you think there is a possibility your Government might be doing a deal with the Greens to get this legislation through tomorrow? 

Assistant Minister: Well, we've got a very straightforward set of propositions in front of the Parliament, and the Parliament really gets to make a choice, Richard. I'm very confident that the Albanese Government's proposal to cap coal and gas prices for households and for business will pass the Parliament, because it's the right plan for the right time. You know, we've put this plan together as a Government because of what's happening in the war between, you know, Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine has pushed up gas prices and pushed up energy prices around the world. 

Now, we have acted on supply, we're now acting on price. And you know, you're based up there in the Hunter Valley, there are big manufacturing businesses across the east coast who use gas as a feed stock in their processes, and if the Government does not act, the viability of some of these companies, which employ thousands and thousands of people, is under threat. 

Now, we're acting in a responsible and targeted way, and I expect, you know, we will work with the crossbench, we'll work with the Opposition, we'll work across the Parliament to ensure that this legislation gets the support. We're bringing the Parliament back to deliver this reform. It's an important reform. We'll work carefully with the states and territories. It's the right thing to do, and we're determined to do it. 

King: All right. Well, it's certainly a hot topic for conversation, and we'll no doubt hear more about it tomorrow. But look, I appreciate your time this morning, Tim, thank you very much for your time. And you're organised for Christmas, are you? It's a big deal for your family? 

Assistant Minister: Christmas, well, I'm not very organised, but I anticipate I'll pick up the pace getting organised over the next three or four days. It's going to be terrific to get family together when it's been a big year for all of us. I really hope that you and your listeners have a really happy Christmas. 

King: Thank you, and the same to you, Tim, much appreciated, and look forward to talking next year. 

Assistant Minister: Any time, Richard. 

King: Thank you. Tim Ayres, who's Australia's Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing.