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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9343

Mr MURPHY (Reid) (21:35): Despite the fact that we celebrated the end of the Howard government almost five years ago, the consequences of incompetent and destructive decisions of that bad government still linger. In particular, the decision by the then Minister for Transport and Regional Services, the Hon. John Anderson, to sell-off the federally owned rail freight carrier, National Rail, to Pacific National, a company that had the stated intention of scrapping the remaining New South Wales electric locomotive fleet, completed the destruction of hundreds of millions of dollars of publicly owned railway equipment.

Since that time, no electric locomotives have operated over the extensive electrified rail network in New South Wales, yet railway operators in the rest of the world have continued to expand both electrified route kilometres and the number of electric locomotives in service. One may reasonably ask why rail freight operators in our country abandoned electric freight haulage.

It has been put to me by professional engineers with experience in the railways that many of the problems that have arisen in the Australian railway industry are the result of the rise of the culture of managerialism—the notion that the performance of all organisations can be optimised by the application of generic management skills and theory. To a practitioner of managerialism there is little difference in the essential skills required to run a hamburger shop, an advertising agency or a railway. The experience and skills pertinent to an organisation's core business are considered secondary, yet who would expect that a person with limited technical understanding could possibly make informed decisions, particularly in an industry like the railways? This is a widely held view amongst professional railway engineers.

The consequence of ill-informed decisions, compounded by Howard government ministerial incompetence, meant that, with the exception of Queensland, instead of expanding long-distance railway electrification, valuable rolling stock was cut up for scrap and electric infrastructure was dismantled. With few exceptions, all major countries are investing heavily in railway electrification since policymakers in those countries, making rational decisions based on evidence, understand that railway electrification is the key to a safe and sustainable transport system. Basically, electric locomotives are cheaper, stronger and cleaner.

In Britain, for instance, in a continuation of the previous Labor government's policies, electrification is central to the conservative government's strategic plans for railway investment, with new schemes totalling 4.2 billion pounds, which includes the electrification of the Midland Main Line as part of a high-capacity 'electric spine' passenger and freight route from Yorkshire and the West Midlands to Southampton. The British government hopes this will encourage private investment in electric freight locomotives. Completion will enable further electrification in the period up to 2024.

The former Labour government transport secretary, Lord Adonis, told the BBC that the massive investment involved would be worth it, saying:

With the electric trains you get a quieter, cleaner, more reliable and much cheaper train which benefits passengers and it also benefits the taxpayers because it's much cheaper to keep an electric railway going.

Russia, a country with even greater distances between centres of population than Australia, has electrified approximately half of its 86,000 kilometres of railways, the routes with the greatest traffic, and, although reliable figures are hard to come by, it appears that in contrast to Australia a significant proportion of freight in that country is transported by electric railways.

In the United States, a public policy institution identified the serious issues that would be addressed by railway electrification. I suggest that similar conditions apply in Australia and include: excessive oil consumption—an average Australian vehicle has fuel consumption of 13.8 litres per 100 kilometres, which is almost double the OECD average of 7.6 litres per 100 kilometres; economic, energy and environmental costs with related national security issues that result from excessive oil consumption; lack of non-oil-based transportation, which means that there is no alternative for essential transportation that does not use oil; an inadequate railway capacity; and a chronic underinvestment in long-lived beneficial infrastructure, in particular railway connections between the major cities.

In my electorate of Reid, the federal government is addressing some of these issues with the investment of $840 million in the construction of the Northern Sydney Freight Corridor. Although this project has significant public support, I have also received some complaints from my constituents who are rightly concerned about the expected adverse impact of noise and toxic emissions from the many diesel locomotives that will be passing through residential areas in North Strathfield, Concord West and Rhodes once the project is completed.

Aside from the obvious financial benefits mentioned by Lord Adonis, the environmental advantages of railway electrification over diesel operation are considerable. In particular, there is the absence of toxic emissions that affect railway crews and people who live near railway lines that operate diesel trains. When the GST was introduced in July 2000, I asked the then minister, John Anderson, a question on warnings by the World Health Organisation about the effects of diesel emissions, which are expected to increase as a result of increased consumption of diesel fuel brought about by increased subsidies. Extraordinarily, my question was dismissed by Minister Anderson, who suggested that I should find the answers that I was seeking in the material he had already released. Of course, there was no such information to be found, and any concerns that I had about the effects of toxic diesel emissions were summarily dismissed in a manner that typified the responses of the Howard ministry to questions about the destructive consequences of that government's policies.

Most recently, the World Health Organization has ruled that diesel fumes cause cancer—a determination that appears to make diesel exhaust as important a public health threat as passive smoking. According to Kurt Straif, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, in an article in Britain's Guardian newspaper:

'It's on the same order of magnitude as passive smoking,' …

'This could be another big push for countries to clean up exhaust from diesel engines.'

I have recently received a reply to an email that I wrote to the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, the Hon. Anthony Albanese, detailing concerns of my constituents—in particular those of the residents of the large number of new apartments which have recently been built adjacent to the tracks of the new Northern Sydney Freight Corridor. In that email, I requested that the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure investigate the possibility of returning a number of mothballed electric locomotives to service to replace at least a proportion of the diesel locomotives that would otherwise emit a large volume of toxic diesel exhaust in a built-up urban area. I forwarded the minister's response to the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Railways Association for comment. His response ignored any concerns about the effect of toxic diesel emissions and then went on to tell me in effect that electric locomotives would not be introduced because, 'Rail must compete with road transport, and it is imperative that the transit time for freight trains be reduced.' What he is evidently concerned about is the short delay of about 10 minutes that changing from electric locomotives to diesel locomotives at Broadmeadow would add to a journey time of between 17½ hours and 21 hours between Sydney and Brisbane.

How do I know that the delay would be no more than 10 minutes? That is easy—I just looked at the record. As well as old New South Wales railway timetables which include an electric-to-diesel locomotive change at Broadmeadow and which are available on the internet, there are short videos on YouTube showing locomotive changeover procedures in other parts of the world which may be short as seven to eight minutes—a minimal delay that no-one could reasonably suggest would undermine the competitiveness of the railways.

So instead of a cogent argument all I received was a repetition of the bad advice that the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure had received from an organisation that purports to advance the interests of the Australian railway industry, all the while ignoring the real and serious impact of toxic emissions from polluting diesel locomotives that will inevitably be replaced by far cleaner electric locomotives. The only question is: when?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! The time for the grievance debate has expired. The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 192(v). The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 21 : 45