By Denis Bright
Recent problems with Jetstar flight bookings to Bali are the tip of the structural problems of maintaining affordable passenger and sustainable freight movements.
In Brisbane, the Eagle Farm rail freight link which once carried bulk fuel from portside refineries to regional centres has been sold off to property developers during a temporary state LNP Government over twenty years ago for the construction of housing units and shopping facilities.
More recently, the arrival of COVID-19 has left airlines struggling to recover financial losses. High season fares to Europe for 2023 are more than twice the pre-2019 levels. Cost estimates for high season travel to Europe are already up by 27 per cent on last year’s prices on my own search for Qantas fares to Southern Europe for June-July 2023.
Such price rises and environmental hazards from dependence on road freight services are necessary to cover the enormous losses to the airline industry and to struggling road freight services in a continuing neoliberal era. The latest Australian Industry Reports on projections Australian aviation project a return to profitability by the mid-2020s at the latest as the general public are required to address past losses from the COVID-19 era in higher prices for commodities delivered by air and road freight services on those long hauls across Australia.
Ben Butler has summarized the level of essential assistance given by the Morrison Government in essential assistance to the aviation industry during the COVID-19 crisis (The Guardian 22 July 2021).
Qantas is also in receipt of financial support from the three state governments in Mainland Eastern Australia in both tax breaks and tourism funding and this support is not included in The Guardian’s Assessment of financial support for the airline industry from the Morrison Government.
The previous and current Australian governments also offered generous subsidies to maintain regional air services and airport maintenance through local councils particularly in NSW regional centres in National Party heartlands. These welcome commitments in support of Australian domestic aviation should of course be balanced by infrastructure commitments in support of other forms of affordable and accessible travel options.
The high concentration of the Australian population along the coastal corridors between the Sunshine Coast and Adelaide should have justified a greater diversity of affordable recreational and business travel options. The post-2013 LNP Governments failed to consolidate the advances made on both sides of Australian politics with more diversified transport initiatives.
Rail fares can compete with air travel on shorter routes like Canberra to Sydney where some quite generous concessional fares are available. Even the one way adult fare of fifty dollars is quite competitive for the distance. The inconvenience generated by the current travelling time of four hours between Canberra and Sydney’s CBD is offset by the absence of parking fees for car travel.
Deterioration of regional rail tracks has given a higher profile to Trainlink Bus Services on some routes close to Sydney. A strong case could be developed by an incoming Labor Government in NSW for federal financial support for regional rail services which are supported in NSW by NSW Trainlink Coach services under the transport model established by previous NSW Labor Governments.
As Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Catherine King has acted co-operatively with NSW in particular to diversify future affordable transport options for both passengers and freight through the federally funded Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) and the newly formed High Speed Rail Authority (Media Release 24 November 2022):
The Parliament has today passed the High Speed Rail Authority Bill 2022, an important first step in the Albanese Government’s commitment to establish the High Speed Rail Authority that will guide the development of a high speed rail network in Australia.
A high-speed rail network along the east coast of Australia will be a transformational project that has the ability to touch the lives of all Australians, particularly our regions…A high-speed rail network could allow passengers to travel between major cities and significant regional cities at speeds exceeding 250 km/h.
The passage of the Bill delivers the Australian Government’s election commitment to establish the Authority which will get to work on the $500 million down payment for the planning to secure corridors and commence early works for the Sydney to Newcastle section of the high-speed rail network.
The federal government’s professionalism in working towards co-operative public transport infrastructure with the NSW Government is to be commended. High Speed rail can be implemented in stages. Commitment to the Sydney-Newcastle route is a fantastic start.
The federal LNP allowed vast sways of urban Australia such as the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast in Queensland to become totally dependent on road freight.
There was no certainty about funding for rail freight connections between Bromelton near Beaudesert, some 80 kms south of Brisbane and the Port of Brisbane. The possibility of heavy freight trains trundling across southside Brisbane to the Port of Brisbane was not finalized before the 2022 federal election.
In comparison, Catherine King’s media release (25 November 2022) noted that the Moree-Narrabri section of Inland Rail was about to handle grain freight from the current harvest.
While the previous federal LNP Government dithered on port access for the Inland Railway in Brisbane and future connections to Central Queensland from Toowoomba, the Queensland Government set about improving freight access from freight terminals in Brisbane to Toowoomba and Western Queensland. Eleven rail tunnels on the Little Liverpool Range and the Main Range have been upgraded to carry a greater diversity freight including containers, livestock, coal and grain (Media Release from Mark Bailey, Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads 8 February 2018).
There were no signs of federal funding for freight interchanges between Inland Rail and Queensland Rail during the last term of the LNP Government after the 2019 federal election. There was no advocacy on this issue from local federal coalition representatives.
The Queensland Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development, Local Government and Planning, Dr Steven Miles took the initiative in achieving business support and state funding to complete the freight interchange at Charlton just outside Toowoomba (Media Release 23 November 2021 and image from InterLinkSQ):
Future demands for such affordable travel and sustainable freight initiatives will surely accelerate and justify initiatives from progressive state and federal governments. Having carried the financial burden of Cross River Rail in Brisbane without federal funding, the Queensland Government has put the rail extension from Varsity Lakes to the Gold Coast Airport at Coolangatta back on the agenda to reopen the transport link which carried passengers and freight until its closure by the state LNP in 1961.
From the southside of the Gold Coast in the Northern Rivers and Central Coast of NSW, Labor victories in just some of the conservative state parliamentary seats on Gold Coast to Hunter Valley corridor on 23 March 2023 can place the reconstruction of the Casino to Gold Coast rail and freight link back on the political agenda with federal financial assistance which was not forthcoming during the Howard ascendency when passenger and freight services from Sydney were terminated.
If the Albanese Government can become a long-serving Labor Government, the lyrics from the 5th Dimension can extend Downunder as The Dawning of the Australian Social Market while Republicans the US House of Representatives compete to support their majority to elect a House Speaker.
It looks like The Age of Aquarius has moved Downunder since the election of Anthony Albanese on 21 May 2022. Readers might work on the new Downunder Lyrics as they count the days before the arrival of Premier Chris Minns in NSW.
When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius
The Age of Aquarius
Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation
Denis Bright is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback by using the Reply button on The AIMN site is always most appreciated. It can liven up discussion. I appreciate your little intrusions with comments and from other insiders at The AIMN. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Reply button.
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