United campaign to deliver train contracts to Hunter

THE Hunter’s peak business and union groups have formed a rare alliance in a fresh bid to save Hunter jobs and bring one of the state’s largest manufacturing contracts to Newcastle.

It’s not the first time that the likes of the Hunter Business Chamber and Trades Hall have held hands in public, but it’s possibly the most important time as they jointly lobby the state government into abandoning any thought of buying new train carriages overseas, and instead building them here in the Hunter.

The Australian Industry Group, Hunter Business Chamber, Hunternet and Newcastle Trades Hall Council have co-signed a letter to Premier Mike Baird, Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian and state Opposition Leader John Robertson, saying the Hunter not only has the capacity and trade skills to build the carriages, it also offers a good economic return to the state.

The government wants to spend $2.8billion on a new fleet of 65 intercity trains (520 new carriages) that would run on the Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong lines. It has indicated a desire to buy them off the shelf and work with ‘‘the world’s leading manufacturers’’, prompting fears that local builders will miss out.

The letter and ‘‘Build Them Here’’ campaign points out that while the government might be able to buy the carriages cheaper overseas, it would miss out on the payroll and income tax generated by such a large  project  at home.

Hunter Business Chamber  chief executive  Kristen Keegan said the train project represented a ‘‘once-in-a-lifetime’’ opportunity for the Hunter’s manufacturing industry.

‘‘Employers and employees know that this is too big to ignore. It would be remiss of us if we didn’t present a united front,’’ she said.

The letter, which is also being sent to all state MPs, says ‘‘the Hunter region has the capability and track record to supply the desired high quality trains, and our manufacturing industry is incredibly important to us and NSW more broadly’’.

‘‘We have highly skilled workers who are ready to be a part of the delivery of the new fleet and we have a growing number of unemployed young people,’’ it continued.

‘‘Collectively we represent the workers, the manufacturing firms, the suppliers and the broader community who stand ready to deliver the new fleet for NSW.’’

Trades Hall secretary Gary Kennedy said the government needed to consider the train project’s ‘‘whole of life’’.

 ‘‘They need to consider all the multiplier effects of building them here,’’ he said. ‘‘The jobs it would create, the tax it would generate, they’ve got to add it all in – other countries take those things into account when considering projects like this.

‘‘We want the government to understand that the whole Hunter supports this campaign – not just for the trains but in shipbuilding as well.’’

By JASON GORDON

BUYING new trains overseas and not building them locally would be ‘‘a kick in the guts’’ for the Hunter, state opposition leader John Robertson said yesterday.

Mr Robertson joined Hunter business groups in ramping up the region’s case ahead of an industry briefing on Friday which the state government says ‘‘will determine the best way of delivering’’ the $2.8billion rail fleet.

‘‘It would be a disgrace for the Liberals to outsource these carriages from overseas when we have the capacity to build them in the Hunter,’’ Mr Robertson said.

‘‘The Abbott budget has delivered the Hunter a kick in the guts, [Premier] Mike Baird looks set to deliver the next one.

‘‘I want those manufacturing jobs right here in the Hunter.

‘‘Families are already finding it hard enough to make ends meet and keeping people in work must be the utmost priority.’’

The state government said on Sunday that the Hunter will have the opportunity to state its case at Friday’s industry briefing in Sydney.

Transport Minister and Minister for the Hunter Gladys Berejiklian said ‘‘the best way to get these trains on the tracks as soon as possible is to buy them off the shelf with proven technology from the world’s best’’.

‘‘We are keen to talk to all suppliers to understand what’s available and importantly, which trains can be adapted to meet the needs of our customers,’’ she said.

The minister said that while the government was expecting ‘‘an enthusiastic response from the private sector’’ on Friday, it ‘‘was also keen to learn lessons from previous train procurement experiences’’. ‘‘Labor first talked about delivering new Waratah trains in 2004, and when we came to government in 2011 not one of them was on the tracks,’’ she said. 

Downer EDI and United Group Limited, which have both completed passenger train projects in the Hunter, are expected to be at the briefing.