Will Aussie steel be used for the InLand Rail?

Ross Greenwood speaks to Minister for Infrastructure, Darren Chester, about the Whyalla Steelworks securing the contract to supply the Australian steel rail for the first section of the Brisbane to Melbourne Inland Rail.

Introduction: Will Aussie steel be used for the InLand Rail?

Ross Greenwood:  Of course, Parliament, right now, is sitting and there’s plenty going through. There’s word out of Parliament House, that it may be sitting until as late as midnight tonight. This being the very last sitting day of the year and, of course, there’s been the whole same-sex marriage issue, the bill passing through the House of Representatives. And then on top of that, also, there is still the whole citizenship question. Today you’ve seen the Labor member for Batman, David Feeney, also the ACT Senator, Katy Gallagher, referred off to the High Court. With suggestions that, before the Parliament rises, there could be even more ministers, or rather members, sent off to the High Court. Let’s try and get a bit more because I think there’s actually, potentially an even bigger story sitting out there. A massive contract that’s been issued today. Let’s go now to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester. Many thanks for your time, Darren.

Interview with: Darren Chester, Minister for Infrastructure and Transport

Darren Chester: Good day Ross. Never a boring day in Federal Parliament.

Ross Greenwood:  Oh, I know. Have you got the sleeping bag with you tonight, or not?

Darren Chester: [laughter] It might be needed.

Ross Greenwood:  Yes, it could be. Look, I just want to go to the issues of Parliament right now and, obviously, the citizenship saga. Despite Bill Shorten having said, “Nothing here, we’re all clean.” The truth is now, it is slowly being dragged out. The Labor had issues just as the Coalition had issues.

Darren Chester: Well, clearly Bill Shorten has been exposed as a massive hypocrite on this issue. He made a lot of public assurances over many weeks when we went through it a few times in our own party, within the National Party. Regarding the dual-citizenship issue and he kept on saying that, “We’re all clear here, nothing to see here folks.” It turns out he’s got some significant issues that need to be resolved and he should have been upfront and honest with the Australian people at the outset. I mean, Barnaby Joyce, Fiona Nash, Matthew Canavan and the Nationals all put their hand up and said, “Look I might have an issue here with dual-citizenship.” They felt they’d fallen foul, they thought they’d fallen foul of Section 44 of the Constitution. It seems that now the Labor party’s got a lot of questions it needs to answer.

Ross Greenwood:  And now even questions about whether Bill Shorten knew for more than a week that David Feeney, who was his close ally, had struggled to prove that he had renounced his British dual-citizenship.

Darren Chester: Well, it’s disappointing, and in that week he kept on attacking the Coalition for its efforts in this regard. I think the Australian people, quite frankly, have had enough of this. They’ve had a gutful of hearing about people’s, where their parents and grandparents were born. They just want to get it all resolved and cleaned up. That’s why I think the process we did this week, where members were required to provide a statement to the House on their citizenship status, should hopefully clean that once and for all. But the Labor party’s performance in this, in terms of throwing a lot of stones at the Coalition, and then it’s now has come to pass that they have a lot more questions to answer than they admitted to.

Ross Greenwood:  And as the same-sex marriage bill has gone through our Parliament today, and I know there’s been people outside, there’s been music, and there’s been sort of celebration outside. Just explain inside the Parliament. Just give me a first-hand view as to what the feeling has been like inside the Parliament.

Darren Chester: Well, it’s obviously a historic occasion, but in many cases, it has also been business as usual. There’s been members of Parliament making their speeches on behalf of their constituents, putting their position forward, and then there’s been a whole series of amendments being voted on. Put forward by various members regarding the bill, but largely they’ve been defeated. The whole point, I guess, at the end of the day, same-sex marriage is going to be legislated here in Australia. The Australian people have spoken.

They overwhelmingly responded positively to the whole postal ballot. It was put to us that people wouldn’t vote, but they came out in their droves. 80% voted. I mean, many times in Australian history, Ross, there’s been accusations that you can’t trust a politician, but I think Bill Shorten is the first politician to say he couldn’t trust the Australian people with the vote. I think the Australian people have really stood up well in a difficult debate and, by enlarge, the vast majority of people have acted quite moderately and calmly and just cast their ballot and got on with their lives.

Ross Greenwood:  Look, I want to go to another subject that I think is absolutely key to Australia. I know those issues are very important, but this one also is vital. That is, for a long time, many months last year, we were talking about the potential death of the Whyalla Steelworks in South Australia. Now, quite clearly, what’s occurred is that the Executive Chairman of the GFG Alliance, that’s Sanjeev Gupta, a massive steelmaker from the U has come to Australia and said he will invest one billion dollars US into the Whyalla Steelworks and its mining businesses, to keep them going, to modernize it. But today, as a part of even that deal, a separate deal has been done in a key piece of Australian infrastructure. The inland rail between Melbourne and Brisbane. Now, you’ve awarded the first steel contract, an enormous amount of steel, 14,000 tons of steel, to the Whyalla Steelworks, which basically is the starting block of that massive rail project.

Darren Chester: Well, you’re right Ross. In many ways, it’s a down-payment on a lot more work to come. I mean, we’re talking about 14,000 tons of steel which will be required for the first section, it’s the Parkes to Narromine section there in central New South Wales. But for the whole project, we’re going to require in the order of 260,000 tons of steel rail, which is the equivalent of building 5 Sydney Harbor Bridges. So it’s a very big project. It’s one that, obviously, has been talked about for decades and decades, and we’re very excited. The government in this years budget put $8.4 billion out there to build a dedicated freight rail corridor, connecting Melbourne and Brisbane, in under 24 hours.

Ross Greenwood:  And this has been dreamt about for years, decades in fact. But the 8.4 billion gives you some sense of the scale of the investment by the Australian taxpayer, by the Australian Government, to make certain that there is greater efficiency in the movement of freight around this country.

Darren Chester: Exactly, Ross, it’s a big piece of economic infrastructure. It’s one thing to have free trade agreements, and they’ve been very successful in negotiating them, but to actually get your product to market in the most cost-efficient way, to make sure you can capitalize on those free trade agreements. Having this dedicated freight rail corridor, connecting Melbourne to Brisbane in under 24 hours will mean it will see a transfer of freight from road onto rail. Which, obviously, is going to be of economic value, but also on a road safety perspective. We believe we’re going to see a road safety dividend in terms of less heavy vehicles on the road, interacting with light vehicles. That’s got to be good for the traveling public. It’s a great project. It’s one that’s going to take several years to build, but we’re getting on with the job and this announcement of a 14,000 tons of steel rail contract is a good step in the right direction.

Ross Greenwood:  And also important for steelmaking in South Australia and Australia. Just to give people some sense of this. Each train is likely to be as long as 1.8km. They’re going to have 21-ton axle load at the maximum speed of 115km an hour. Each train could carry the equivalent freight volume as 110 B double trucks, which is incredible, and could reduce supply chain costs by $10 per ton for inter-capital freight. I mean, that’s the scale of this and why this is such an important piece of infrastructure.

Darren Chester: Well, we’re also going to see, Ross, 16,000 new jobs at the peak of construction, and an additional 700 jobs per year over the entire period of the work. So, it’s a big project. It’s one that does actually create jobs during construction and we believe it’s going to create some ongoing employment opportunities. Particularly in central New South Wales, along the route, but also into south-east Queensland, and Victoria as well. It expands right along the eastern seaboard.

A hundred ago this year, we had the transcontinental railway line built between Perth and Sydney. Now, we’ll get the inland rail interlinking there through Parkes in central New South Wales. We’ll have this great east-west corridor, but also a north-south corridor, which will really open up trade opportunities and help with the movement of freight right around our nation.

Ross Greenwood:  Well, roll out the swag, get yourself set for a long night in Parliament. As I say, these are key things, but of course, you’ve got business at hand in our Parliament tonight. The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester, I appreciate your time.

Darren Chester: I appreciate your time, too, Ross. I’m going to just say one more thing. Around this time of year, a lot of people on the roads, please take safety into consideration and take your responsibility to road safety very seriously. We don’t want any more deaths and serious injuries.

Ross Greenwood:  Well said, no doubt. Darren, have a great evening.

Darren Chester: All the best Ross.

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