MONDAY, 1 MAY 2017


PRESENTER:  Here in the Hunter rail is one of our most important industries as you’d be well aware – a huge amount of Australia’s manufacturing occurring in our own backyard. Today the Senate inquiry into the state of Australia’s rail industry is being held in Newcastle. The committee will be hearing from local workers, unions and firms, and Hunter rail workers will be rallying outside the inquiry this morning. Joining us in the studio is Senator Kim Carr, the Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

SENATOR KIM CARR: Good morning.

PRESENTER: If you’ll excuse the intended pun, how do you gauge the state of the national rail industry in 2017?

CARR: Australian rail manufacturing has lost 40 per cent of its capacity in the past 10 years. If you think about it, rail was one of the big drivers for federation  in this country. One of the big problems in colonial times was the rail gauges. Those problems continue today with each of the states going their own way when it comes to procurement – to the purchase of rolling stock, and also the purchase of Australian steel  for manufacture of the railway lines.

So we have a continuing problem in the fragmentation and loss of capacity for Australian rail industry, which means a loss of jobs, a loss of opportunities for Australian workers and Australian companies, and a loss of prosperity for the Australian nation. So the Senate has a responsibility to back Australian companies, back Australian workers and ensure that we look after the national interest when it comes to the spending of $45 million over the next five years  on the purchase of equipment for Australian railways.

PRESENTER: Are we looking at both freight and passenger? Is this right across the board?

CARR:  Absolutely. The Government is talking, again and again, about  an inland rail system. But it never talks about buying Australian. It tries to fix problems by talking about issues, not by actually delivering. In NSW we see the purchase of rolling stock from Spain, rail lines from Spain. We see governments around the country failing to meet their responsibilities in terms of building the abilities of Australians to share in the prosperity of their own nation.

PRESENTER: So we’re talking about neglect in this area over the past several decades?

CARR: I think what’s happened is that we’re now facing a situation, because of ideological reasons, where people say the bottom line’s the thing that matters and they measure the bottom line in a really twisted way. They don’t look at the whole-of-life costs when it comes to government purchasing.

They say “It’s cheaper to buy it from China or from Spain in the short term.” They don’t think about the consequences in terms of training, in terms of research and development, or in terms of opportunities to build exports when you come to the construction of railways, the construction of the rolling stock, and the capacities that brings in defence and so many other areas when you build industrial skills in this country rather than in someone else’s country.

PRESENTER: Let’s put it in perspective. There are three main railway manufacturing centres in Australia, the Hunter of course being one of them., which is why you’re here today. What are you hoping to achieve for the Hunter?

CARR: We want to ensure that the Australian Parliament hears from the Australian people in this region about what they want to happen to their industries. We want to be able demonstrate to governments, whether Labor or Liberal, what can be done in the future.  We want to hear from companies what their capacities are and what they need governments to do to ensure that they can fulfil their potential.

We want to hear from workers about what they expect from governments, and what opportunities are there for workers to be able to enjoy the high-skill, high-wage jobs that manufacturing brings. We want to be able to ensure that people who use the railways have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of a strong manufacturing sector in this country. So that’s what the Senate inquiry’s about.

The real power of the Senate is the power of exposure: the power to shine a light on a problem and to encourage governments to get the policies right, so that when it comes to building this nation we are able to ensure that everybody shares in the prosperity this country undoubtedly has to offer.

PRESENTER: We must have so much to learn from what happened with the automotive industry. I imagine there would be a great opportunity for those who have lost jobs in that industry. If this industry were to be built up surely there would be jobs for those people as well?

CARR: We know there are about 17,000 people employed, directly and indirectly, in rail manufacturing at this time. Now that’s nothing like the more than 100,000 people employed in the auto industry, but we know what the cost of losing these things is. It’s really difficult to get it back once you lose these capacities. And we know that the cost to government will be much greater in social security, in disruption from social distress, if you lose these abilities in this country.

So we want to make sure we don’t come to that point.  We’ve got to build capacity, build opportunity. Governments have to be able to work with companies and work with employees to be able to ensure that we have the opportunities for the future – not just ship it offshore, not just say “It’s someone else’s problem.”

So that’s what the Senate’s about. We’re trying to make sure that we learn from the experience of what this Government’s done to the automotive industry in forcing General  Motors out of the country, then forcing Toyota out of this country. We have seen so many industries neglected – our manufacturing industries – because of the belief that somehow we can get it cheaper from China or some other country.

That’s not the way the Germans do it. That’s not the way the Americans are doing it now. That’s not the way so many other countries are look to ensure their own prosperity. We’ve got to learn from other countries on this, as well as from our own experience.

PRESENTER: How big are the teeth going to be? How hopeful are you that what you discover – and it seems like a no-brainer for all sorts of reason – from this inquiry will be taken on board?

CARR: I am very confident because we know that change is happening in this country. We’ve seen with government procurement and Commonwealth contracts in other areas that the Government’s been obliged to change its tune. And I look forward to an incoming Labor government …

PRESENTER: We do have a Prime Minister who’s pretty committed to infrastructure though, don’t we? Does that give you some hope?

CARR: We’ve got to build in Australia, though. We want to buy Australian, made in Australia for Australia by Australians. That’s got to be the policy position. Of course we’ve got to make sure it’s competitive, we’ve got to make sure it’s efficient, we’ve got to make sure it’s done properly. But that doesn’t excuse anyone for saying “Oh, let’s just get it from Spain”, as the NSW Government has done.

PRESENTER: Well there’s another issue and we’re not going to have the time to go right through this. But we need an across-the-board national …

CARR: It’s why we need a national approach. I started this conversation by noting what used to happen in colonial times with different rail gauges. We still have the same problem with the states acting independently because they think they can save in a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach to the purchasing of rail. It’s a great cost to this nation as a whole and a complete defiance of the national interest.

PRESENTER: OK, before we let you go. There’s a announcement been made that there could be billions or at least millions of dollars cut from  university funding in the upcoming budget. What are your thoughts on that?

CARR: I’m deeply disturbed. We know …

PRESENTER: Do you think it’s going to happen?

CARR: I think there’s no doubt about it. This is an official leak, as they say. It’s the Government’s softening-up process. They want to save the same amount of money as Mr Abbott wanted, which was about $5 billion. For the University of Newcastle, that means about $215 million. They’re going to change the way they try to get that money, but regional and rural universities are going to be hit hardest.

This university here in Newcastle is doing a fantastic job in helping to rebuild the region, particularly in its research program. But it’s also doing it in its equity program, and people from poorer backgrounds are going to be hit hardest by these government measures, which will make it more difficult for people from working-class backgrounds to get to university. Universities in rural and regional areas will be most savagely affected by these cuts.

PRESENTER: We appreciate your time, and we’re really hoping that we can rebuild the rail industry here because it’s been such an important part of our region for so many years. Thank you for coming in.

CARR: Thank you.

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