Maryborough Doorstop

28 June 2023


Bruce Saunders, Member for Maryborough: Well, welcome to Maryborough this morning. I’d just like to welcome everyone from the train manufacturing plan. I’d also like to welcome the AMWU reps here from locally because this is a great rail plan. And we’d like to thank the Prime Minister and the Government for implementing this plan and making sure that rail is foremost a government policy across this nation. Because rail has been part of Maryborough’s history since the 1800s.

Maryborough is a rail city. We’ve got Downer here, formerly Walkers, have been building trains here since the 1800s, and Maryborough is a rail city. And, of course, when we look around and we see all the old steam trains getting around the country, a lot of them were built here in Maryborough at Walkers and then, of course, it’s Downer Rail now.

It’s great to have everyone here from the committee today and particularly Senator Tim Ayres to announce the committee. Because rail is such – it’s great for creating jobs, it’s great for moving freight, it’s great for moving people. Rail – and we’re going to need a lot more rolling stock in the years to come, particularly in the cities – in Brisbane we’ve got the Olympic Games coming, we’ve got the suburban sprawl which we can build the rolling stock for, moving more freight right around this great country.

But this is something that as a local member you dream about to see these plans and these committees and rail manufacturing come to the place. I know I’ve been working well with the AMWU reps, particularly with Peter Killeen, to make sure that rail manufacturing in Maryborough, rail manufacturing again in this whole nation, is foremost to the Albanese Government, also to the Palaszczuk Labor Government.

But I’d like to welcome Senator Tim Ayres here today. He’s another rail fanatic. There’s a club growing around this nation now of rail fanatics, and I’d just like to welcome here to Maryborough, the rail capital, the rail manufacturing capital of Australia.

Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Manufacturing and Assistant Minister for Trade: Thanks, Bruce. Well, first I want to thank Bruce Saunders who is a champion for Queensland manufacturing, a champion for the rail sector and a champion, of course, for Maryborough, where it’s just so clear that rail has mattered so much to Maryborough’s history, that Maryborough’s contributed so much to Australian rail and Australian manufacturing. As you walk around here, every street corner, the history of Australian rail is there in your face.

One hundred and fifty years ago this year Walkers came to Maryborough and built the first Queensland train. And Maryborough is justly proud of its contribution to the Australian rail industry and the Australian economy and infrastructure more broadly because rail matters for our economic future and our industrial capability.

I am very reluctant to concede in State of Origin season that Queensland has actually led the way in terms of rail manufacturing in Australia. The Palaszczuk Government’s decision to invest big time in Maryborough and make a commitment to rail manufacturing in Australia has led the rest of the country. And in New South Wales year after year of Liberal governments outsourcing of rail contracts offshore meant that we lost thousands of jobs, we lost thousands of apprenticeship opportunities, we shed industrial capability overseas and we ended up with trains that ran over time, trains that ran over budget, billions of dollars’ worth of cost overruns, trains that had quality problems and weren’t fit for the Sydney network.

We need to build trains right and we need to build them right here, and that’s what the Albanese Government’s Rail Manufacturing Plan is designed to do. We are going to do what we set out to do – and that is to bring back rail manufacturing big time in regional Australia and in our suburbs.

And I’m here to announce today the second instalment on the Rail Manufacturing Plan. In the October budget we set aside $14 million to set up the Office of National Rail Industry Coordination, where the Commonwealth is going to take the lead working cooperatively with the states to make sure that we deliver long-term procurement, long-term projects so that there can be long-term investment in people, apprenticeships and capital to make Australia’s trains right here.

Today I’m very pleased to announce the appointment of Jacqui Walters as the National Rail Manufacturing Advocate. She is an outstanding public servant who’s played a leadership role here in Queensland but also at a COAG level driving big projects, including in transport, to make sure that we build local capability, that we reform our public institutions to make sure that we get real value for every dollar, and that those public sector dollars are spent in places like Maryborough to drive economic outcomes and to deliver a better outcome for Australian taxpayers.

I’m really delighted that Jacqui has agreed to come on board and serve in that role and lead the strategy in the Commonwealth and across the states to drive a better outcome and to lock in the gains of local procurement of local trains in Australia.

I’m also really delighted to announce the appointment of the Innovation Council. Now, to some of the listeners and viewers, an innovation council doesn’t sound like maybe the most exciting thing. But what it really is about [is] harnessing the experts and the industry leaders and the people who are making decisions every day about the future of rail to come together and work cooperatively with us, with the Albanese Government and the state governments to make sure that we get the best outcomes in the long term.

And what that will mean is a National Rail Manufacturing Plan that works. A National Rail Manufacturing Plan that’s focused on making sure we deliver all of the future of passenger rail manufacturing here, and a National Rail Manufacturing Plan that gives our friends in the private sector the confidence to invest long term in plant and capability and jobs and apprenticeships. Because we have got decades worth of work, billions of dollars worth of procurements. They should all be flowing to good jobs where we build trains in Australia, we build them right and we build them right here.

Jacqui Walters: I’m delighted to be appointed to the role of the National Rail Manufacturing Advocate. I first was involved in rail when I worked with Indian railways over 20 years ago. The landscape in Australia is pretty different to that, but what I see is amazing opportunity for regional economic growth, for good quality jobs and investing in the future of the economy of Australia. I’m really excited to be working with the Innovation Council – the members have fantastic industry depth and experience – and supporting the government in delivering on the Rail Manufacturing Plan and providing advice and guidance through that process.

Assistant Minister: Thank you, Jacqui. And Glenn.

Glenn Thompson: Well, thank you, and it’s great to be here in Maryborough. And from the outset I’d like to acknowledge our delegates of the AMWU from the Maryborough workshops and just pick up on the point that Bruce made about our delegates and members in Maryborough playing a key role in ensuring that the Palaszczuk Government committed $2 billion on the long history of Maryborough.

I’d also like to acknowledge Senator Ayres and the work of the Albanese Government. From the AMWU’s perspective, this has been a long road for our members not just here in Maryborough but right across the whole country in working with the now government in opposition to develop a rail industry plan. And it’s great to see that we have a government at a federal level in place not just saying but actually doing – delivering – on what they said they were going to do.

And it’s a great opportunity, and I’m pleased to be here today with the Innovation Council and Jacqui as the Advocate to start to put our shoulders to the wheel to start to deliver on the outcomes that we should be able to build off the back of this in the context of a government that is committed to rebuilding manufacturing, rebuilding a sovereign capability base. Thank you.

Assistant Minister: Okay, any questions?

Journalist: When can we start to see benefits flow back to the regional economy like you mentioned?

Assistant Minister: Well right now we’re seeing state governments around Australia making billion-dollar commitments to local rail procurement. I really welcome that. It’s a welcome turnaround from when we sent work offshore - billions of dollars’ worth of contracts going overseas. So that is a good development.

What the Albanese Government is going to deliver here is locking those gains in. Delivering a plan that gives confidence over the coming decades for investment in rail capability and to make sure we do the smart things where Australia is not just on the end of supply chains as a customer and a client, at the end of a design process but they’re actually leading design and projecting into global supply chains and making sure that we're creating opportunity and growth.

I’m expecting to see from this National Rail Strategy a fully fleshed-out plan by the end of the year. But that will not be a static document where there is an announcement and a launch and then we forget about it. What we are building here is an enduring capability to work with the states and make sure we make smart procurement decisions, make sure that we make them in the national interest, not just the state interest, that we take advantage of the industrial capabilities and the strengths we have around the country to secure the future of rail manufacturing jobs for decades to come.

Journalist: Is there a ballpark figure on the number of jobs that a plan like this could provide to areas like Maryborough?

Assistant Minister: Well, it’s thousands more jobs for Australia. It’s many, many more jobs than if we let this go in an incoherent way across the states where future governments might decide to offshore projects overseas and jobs and capability are lost. Taxpayers got mugged by the overseas manufacturers when the New South Wales Liberal government sent this work offshore.

It was a bad outcome for workers; it was a bad outcome for taxpayers; and particularly I think of the young school leavers in the Hunter Valley, a community that looks a look like Maryborough – young school leavers who aspired to an apprenticeship, who wanted to build a future for the families that they were going to have with good jobs and good opportunities for them, and they will never know those opportunities because in Sydney and Macquarie Street they followed a hyper-partisan approach where they didn’t have confidence in local manufacturing.

And I’m determined to make sure we build confidence in local manufacturing, we will work in a smart way with the private sector and that we deliver gains to communities, regional communities like Maryborough and the Hunter Valley and also to our outer suburbs where these new factories and new capability are going to be built.

Journalist: And the Council has now obviously been assembled – maybe this is a question for Jacqui as well, Senator – but what’s sort of the first item on the agenda that it plans to tackle?

Assistant Minister: Well, I’ve absolutely been bowled over by the capability that we actually have in Australia represented really strongly on the Innovation Council, by industry leaders, by the trade unions, by the university and research community who are working so closely with the freight and passenger rail sectors not just here but all around the world. The rest of the world looks to Australian rail expertise. And I want to harness that expertise to build the smartest strategy and the smartest plan that’s good for workers, that’s good for industry, good for the rail sector and good for Australian taxpayers. Jacqui, you might want to add.

Jacqui Walters: I think the first step really is the strategy. But I think the other focus is to really look at the work that has gone before. There is some great work that’s been done by the private and the public sector and make sure that we leverage from that. So we don’t want to re-invent the wheel. And I think what I would say is under my leadership the Innovation Council will have a bias for action. So we’re going to avoid, I suppose, being a talking forum and really focused on doing. So strategy first so that we really are clear what it is that we are going to deliver and we have a really well thought through plan. And then we want to get on with it.

Journalist: And it seems like an easy question, but in a country as big as Australia, why is investing in rail so important?

Assistant Minister: Well, rail matters for Australia. It matters for freight; it matters for passengers. We’ve got such long distances to cover. If we want a low emissions future with a diverse industrial economy where Australian firms have access to export markets overseas, we need a strong rail sector. If we want commuters in our cities to be able to commute in a safe and happy way to work, and all the productivity benefits that flow from that, then we need a good, efficient rail sector. And if we want to have Australian-designed trains that run on our tracks that deliver all those benefits in a way that is suitable for Australia’s particular conditions, we need a National Rail Manufacturing Plan to deliver that.

We also need local champions like Bruce Saunders – people who are prepared to get into politics and to fight hard for local manufacturing in their communities. And Bruce has played an extraordinary role in this community making the fight in Brisbane and leading the way in the Palaszczuk Government for the kind of reforms that we’ve seen and big investments in rail manufacturing capability with, I understand, more announcements to come over the coming weeks.

Journalist: Yeah, and do you think with an announcement of a council like this it saves the mishap of federal and state governments doubling up [indistinct] money?

Assistant Minister: Well, you only have to look at the history of Australian rail. We have multiple rail gauges around the country. We have rail standards that cut across each other and undermine local manufacturing capability. We’ve got it wrong for a century and a half. What we need to do is to bring some coordination, and it’s time for the Commonwealth to play that leadership role.

And you’ve seen Anthony Albanese step up to the plate and say, “We’re not going to play politics with the states. We’re going to work together no matter what the political party that runs the government in each of the states. We’re going to work together in people’s best interests to get the best possible outcomes.” And I want to bring that spirit of cooperation and public purpose to delivering the National Rail Manufacturing Plan.

Journalist: I might go to Bruce, if that’s okay. Just how exciting is this big announcement for the Maryborough rail industry?

Bruce Saunders: Look, this is an amazing announcement. And this is the Prime Minister coming to the Memorial Bowls Club in Maryborough and keeping to his word. This is what a good Prime Minister does. And this is what good Labor governments do – they re-invest back in regional Queensland. Now, the Palaszczuk government, which I’m the Assistant Train Manufacturing Minister for, we’re investing $7.1 billion in rail manufacturing and rolling stock and upgrades throughout the state. At Torbanlea, 25 kilometres north of Maryborough, one of the biggest train manufacturing facilities in the southern hemisphere, the longest testing track.

Now, this is what a good government does – investing in skills and jobs, making sure our young people here – but there’s the connection here. It can’t happen unless we all work together. And the Senator was correct in saying that we’ve had previous federal governments who wouldn’t work with the states, who went on their own agenda. We’ve got a Labor government now in the country who is working with the states, no matter what political colour, what colour shirt you wear, they’re working to make sure the best outcome is for the people of the country and the state.

And this is also when you get workers, the AMWU working with governments for the benefit not only of the community but for the workers, so we keep that skill base. And I know in Maryborough working with Pete Killeen and the delegates from the AMWU here, we kept the skill base. We’ve got the largest factory coming here. We’re just fixing trains that were made overseas now, and today we hit halfway in those trains. So, all the rectification work has been done by skilled local workers here at Downer, and we’ve hit the halfway mark where those trains are back on the track in Brisbane, NGR trains, taking commuters to work, taking them out to the rugby league games or wherever they have to go.

But this is a commitment from a great government to make sure that manufacturing stays alive in regional Australia but also, we keep that skill base and we don’t lose that skill base.

Journalist: Maybe just a couple of questions to Jacqui. Jacqui, how confident are you with your team? It seems like you’ve got some pretty intelligent people on board. Are you looking forward to getting things started?

Jacqui Walters: I’m really looking forward to getting started. The team is fantastic. And as Senator Ayres said, there’s academic research components, there’s industry, the workforce is represented and a real focus on a national perspective, so good geographic representation as well. So, I can’t wait to get started.

Journalist: Absolutely. How important was it for you to make sure that the workers were represented on this council as well as the academics?

Jacqui Walters: Well, it’s fundamental. I mean, we need to have the right skills and we need to have the right pipeline of skills, and I think, every day we hear about the challenge in our economy about aligning skills to the opportunities in front of us. So that’s something that we’ve got to get right.

We also know that in regions we want to be able to provide good quality, enduring jobs that allow those communities to thrive. And that’s what’s so exciting about this plan, is that we will be helping those communities to develop that economic activity so people’s kids know that they can get a great job and those families can look forward to a really prosperous future. So, workers have to be fundamental to that.

Assistant Minister: Okay. Thank you very much.