Transcript - Port Kembla - Tanya Plibersek MP, 17 June, 2016


SUBJECTS: Death of Jo Cox MP; Labor’s $50 million commitment to the Molden-Dombarton freight rail link; Labor candidate for Gilmore, Fiona Phillips.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It's terrific to be here with my very good friend and colleague Sharon Bird, the member for Cunningham. Before we get on to today's announcement I just want to say a few words about the death of Jo Cox in the UK. It's a really shocking murder of a woman who, by every account, was a well-known and well-loved representative of her local community. Someone who had served her constituency but also worked overseas in some of the poorest and most desperate parts of our planet, really seeking to help our common humanity. And to lose her life in such a violent way really is a shock to all people and we send our condolences to her family, her friends, her Labour Party colleagues, her constituency and all of the people of the United Kingdom who, no doubt, are horrified by this event today. On to local issues, it is a real pleasure to be here to say that a Labor Governme nt, if elected on the 2nd of July, would support the Malden to Dombarton freight rail link. This is a project that Labor has supported in the past when in government. In 2011, we committed substantial funding to see the initial parts of this very important freight rail project begun. Sadly, since we left government, both the Turnbull and Abbott Liberal Governments, federally, and the Baird Government here in New South Wales have completely dropped the ball on this very necessary project. Our announcement today is a $50 million commitment from the Commonwealth Government if Labor should be elected. We expect the New South Wales Government to match that commitment with another $50 million and of course this project will also require private sector partnership. This 35 kilometre freight rail link would join the port of Port Kembla with the main southern line around Picton. It would, of course, be an economic stimulus for both Port Kembla and south western Sydney, more easily mo ving freight rail between south western Sydney and the port. It would also, of course, have benefit for passenger rail freeing up some of the passenger rail lines on the Illawarra Line. It's a very busy line already and it would make it easier to run more services on that passenger rail line. We know that this would be a very important generator of jobs when it's complete, but it will also be a very important generator of jobs during its construction phase. It has some very significant engineering work to be done, including a four kilometre freight rail tunnel, which would make that one of the longest freight rail tunnels in Australia. And of course, a number of bridges, an underpass under the highway and so on. It is a very significant project that would bring a great deal of economic benefit to Port Kembla, to surrounding areas and also to south western Sydney and I'd like my colleague Sharon Bird to talk a little bit about the project. She has been an extraord inary advocate for this project. To see it done, to make sure that there is an economic benefit to the people that she represents.

SHARON BIRD, MEMBER FOR CUNNINGHAM: Thank you Tanya. Look, I'm really pleased to be here today once again, indicating that Labor is determined to progress the Malden-Dombarton rail line. It is the case that when we were in government, under the minister at the time Anthony Albanese - who has continued to be a great advocate for this particular rail link - that we put the money in through the State Government to get the project progressed and I'm thrilled that our Deputy Leader can be with me today for this announcement. Tanya has obviously been here before, but she's a great friend to the region and it's really good to have her here to join us. This project is significantly important to diversifying our regional economy, to ensuring that we can create jobs locally out of that. It's also important to linking us with the growth centres of this state and it's also important to providin g a better amenity for locals as we see freight increase - to have more of that go on rail. So we've been fighting to have this project completed. Before the last election, Labor had $50 million on the table to partner with the private sector in order to get progress. The first Abbott Government budget cancelled that money so we've now seen an Expression of Interest process by the State Government come to an unsuccessful conclusion. It is our view that we are determined that the Federal Government under a Labor Government continue to progress the project so we're putting the $50 million back on the table. We're calling on the State Government to match that, to send a very clear signal that both levels of government support the project and that will enable us to engage with the private sector to get this rail freight link built. I have, as Tanya said, been campaigning for nearly 10 years on this. It may be that I'm a dog with a bone but I 9;m not going to let it go. I'm determined that we progress this. The Turnbull Government now has said nothing and so I'm putting a challenge out to them as well - stop forgetting our region and match this commitment and let's get this rail freight link built because it just makes so much sense to everybody across the region.

JOURNALIST: Why do you think the registration of interest process did fail with three companies considered by the State Government to not match, not fulfil the criteria?

BIRD: Look when the State Government announced that they were not willing to take any of the expressions of interest up, I with Stephen Jones wrote to the Minister and said 'well what's going to happen now? What’s the issue?' The State Minister indicated that he felt that they might be able to progress it with some Federal Government support. So we also wrote to the Federal Government Minister. Now it's just been deafening silence from the Turnbull Government on this, so I think it is really important that today we are saying the challenge is down again. We had $50 million on the table, you guys knocked it off, we're putting it back on the table and we need to get this stalled project back in action.

JOURNALIST: Is the $50 million still there regardless of whether the state matches it?

BIRD: Our $50 million is on the table, but we have no doubt that we need to send a very clear signal to potential private sector proponents that the project has the support of both levels of government and that's why we're calling on the State Government to give that indication by matching our commitment. Which is, I think, a really strong signal then if they did that, to the private sector, that you've got both the Federal Labor Government and the State Government supporting the project. We think that would get it moving and I hope that they can come to the party on that at the state level, but also at the federal level.

JOURANLIST: What's the project worth all together?

BIRD: It's just under $700 million for the entire project. There is obviously private sector interest because the State Government was able to get some submissions up. So we believe that what is really needed to progress it is a strong signal. Both levels of government want to see it built and completed and we believe this is the mechanism to achieve that. I'm just really pleased, and I'm happy to say I've had nothing but support from my Federal Labor team on getting this project done, but also most recently I met with the regional councils who had a meeting in Wollongong for indicating their support. We've had mayors from across the south west of Sydney and Illawarra region making it very clear that they see the benefits for their communities, too. And I made a commitment to them that I would push continually for this and also call on other parties to do the same thing.

JOURNALIST: $50 million out of $700 million needed, doesn't sound like - I mean it's progressing it - but I wouldn't call that a huge chunk of the money?

BIRD: The important thing here is there obviously private sector interest out there. Now when the State Government went to their Expressions of Interest they were putting no money and you still had private sector interest in actually being part of building the line. So our view is, that if between the State and Federal Government you've got $100 million on the table that is a very strong signal that we are committed to getting it done and we believe that there is some private sector out there, as shown in the Expression of Interest process, in partnering to do that. 

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] Would the $50 million still be spent if the states don't put anything in?  

BIRD: Well we would be talking to the private sector and continuing to progress the partnership as we did before the last election. But I don't want to lose the fact that I think that that's going to be a much more successful process if the private sector see both levels of government backing it in, and that's why the call is so important to the State Government as well.

JOURNALIST: And the benefits for the rail line for freight are well known. What sort of flow-on effects are we talking about for commuters?

BIRD: The great importance of having this freight link in place is, as we know on the Illawarra Line, which is where the bulk of our train commuters are using, is that quite often when there are hold ups and blockages and problems it’s around freight movements that have caused the problems. Untangling the freight from the commuter line is a really important way to make sure that the commuter line can operate much more effectively. And so all of this was canvassed when we were in federal government, when we were the government we commissioned a full report and study into it and these benefits were clearly outlined. So I think it's a very strong case from both the freight movement perspective and commuters. We know we're a bit commuter corridor, that there would be real benefits for both.

JOURNALIST: And do you have a timeline for when you would like to see the actual rail line up and running or is that too far in the future?

BIRD: Well, for me I would have liked to have seen, me standing here at this election saying 'well it's being built' - which is what we took to the last election. So as soon as possible - I don't want this to be an issue that I'm again saying I have to put another $50 million on the table at the next election because it hasn't progressed. I know if a Federal Labor Government is elected on the 2nd of July it will be progressed, underway, agreements negotiated with the private sector - I know that we are committed to doing that. My concern, obviously, is at a federal level, the Liberal Government has shown no interest. And I think for all of the people in the local area they know that this is such a significant piece of infrastructure that they'll be holding us all to account for delivering on that.

JOURNALIST: Have you got an idea of how many jobs it's going to create?

BIRD: Clearly hundreds of jobs will be created in the construction, because it’s a big, significant - I said just under $700 million - project and so it's a really important generator in construction phases, obviously, and that's something that we could use in this region. But also having that sort of freight rail link means that the port's capacity to expand, more logistics jobs, more port-based jobs is significantly supported and it's definitely a project that the port authorities themselves over many years have supported for exactly that reason.

JOURNALIST: Sharon, can I just quickly ask you on another issue, are you aware of or heard about and are you concerned that it might damage Fiona Phillips’ campaign in Gilmore, the factional dispute from late last year. There have been a pretty strongly worded letter from Glenn Kolomeitz leaked to the ABC about the dispute that he's had with Fiona Phillips and about what he called a pretty aggressive campaign against him. And there are a couple of people who have been speaking about how they felt in the lead up to that preselection which forced him to stand aside. Have you heard about that and do you think it might damage her campaign?

BIRD: I haven’t until you just mentioned it to me. I can say to you I've done quite a lot of campaigning for Fiona and I know that my colleague Stephen Jones has as well. She’s an outstanding candidate. She has been working so hard - she's really dedicated to her region. I have great confidence that she is very well-positioned to do very well on election day in the seat of Gilmore and I think that everyone should just unite behind Fiona. I think she's a great asset to our team and I hope to see her join Stephen and I representing the region on the 2nd of July.

JOURNALIST: So there was nothing you heard untoward though at the end of last year in the lead up to her getting selected?

BIRD: I haven't heard anything [inaudible] but I think the reality is that for the members of Gilmore, the people of Gilmore, they're going to an election on the 2nd of July, they want to see a strong candidate standing there and I know Fiona Phillips is a very strong candidate for Labor. I don't think anybody could have asked her to work harder than she has. It's just been an extraordinary campaign and I am really confident she is in a strong policy position, a strong personal position as a Labor candidate on the 2nd of July.

JOURNALIST: So you're not worried about this affecting the election outcome then?

BIRD: I think at the end of the day people want to see strong Labor policies and a really reputable candidate and I think they've got both of those both in our policy platform and in Fiona Phillips, and I think she's a tremendous candidate.