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Address at the signing of the commercial agreement for the Adelaide to Darwin railway.

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18 October 2000



Thank you very much. To the Premier of South Australia, John Olsen, the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Denis Burke, Rick Allert, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is said that if you wait long enough, everything predicted eventually comes true. In his speech to the first session of Federal Parliament in May 1901, that’s 100 years ago next May, the then Governor-General said this and I quote “no doubt the progress of railway connection between the Northern Territory and the southern states will before long assume great public importance”. Well it was a fairly long time. It was a prediction that ultimately became reality or is becoming reality. But this is a very historic occasion. It does mark the real time commitment of the three governments: the Federal Government which I lead; the State Government of South Australia; and the Government of the Northern Territory.

This particular project, which has been a dream of so many people for so long, is now going to happen. Believe me, it’s real. There’s no turning back. The three governments have committed $480 million and that’s $165 million from the Federal Government and the rest coming from the Territory Government and the Government of South Australia. The private sector is going to invest $750 million. It’s one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Australia’s history. It’s going to provide 7000 jobs during the construction phase. The work is going to really give an enormous charge and injection of economic activity and vitality into the city of Whyalla. It’s going to involve the construction of 120 bridges and the provision of 2.3 million concrete sleepers.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a very exciting day because one of the responsibilities of the national government is to engage, where appropriate, in providing capital assistance for the renewal and the revitalisation of the infrastructure of the nation. If you had listened entirely to the nostrums of pure economic rationalism, this railway would not be being built. Whilst I am a great believer in many of the nostrums of economic realism, and of course a total believer in the nostrums of economic responsibility, there are occasions when the government has got to invest a certain amount of dollars in its own commitment, its own vision, its own sense of excitement and sense of the future of the country. And supporting the Darwin to Alice Springs railway is precisely the kind of project that ought to demand and get financial support from the Federal Government.

We are at a time in our history where we do need to think years ahead about the kind of country we want, the kind of infrastructure we need. Last week the Government committed itself, in co-operation with State and Territory Governments to tackle the enormous problem

of salinity and water quality. I don’t need to remind an audience of people from Adelaide that unless something is done about that problem in 20 years time two out of five days your drinking water will be unfit for human consumption. Although salinity and water quality may appear a long way away from the construction of the railway which will link the north and the south of our nation and fulfil a century old dream, in a sense they are really part and parcel of the same belief that I have and I know John and Denis have, that we do need in government to not only attend to the day-to-day responsibilities but we do need to make decisions that provide for a stronger, better and a more adventurous future.

Can I say that I am delighted that this day has come. I will enjoy even more the day when the first sod is turned on the construction phase. I do want to congratulate John and Denis for the tenacity, persistence, the eloquence, the advocacy that they have embraced over so many years. I also want to pay tribute to their predecessors in their respective roles. And can I congratulate Rick Allert, the chairman of the consortium, who has done so much to bring about this project as a commercial reality. It is a triumph of government commitment but more importantly it is a vindication of what is so necessary to achieve many things in our country and that is a partnership between the government and the private sector.

I wish the project well. It will be a huge success and it will vindicate the faith of those people who decided to back it.


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