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NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance says he's ready to work with other states to develop a plan to foster local manufacturing and international demand for Australian made trains in a "re-shaped world" post-COVID-19.
Mr Constance, whose government recently sourced ferries and trains from overseas, last week lamented the high cost associated with locally built transport assets, prompting renewed criticism from businesses, unions and the country's peak rail body.
NSW Transport minister Andrew Constance says he's open to speaking with other states and industry figures about local train manufacturing. CREDIT:NICK MOIR
Australian Rail Association (ARA) chief executive Caroline Wilkie said the NSW government's procurement process had helped erode local manufacturing, and called for urgent action to rebuild the sector while global supply chains were tested amid the pandemic.
The Transport Minister on Saturday said he was willing to meet with other states and stakeholders to work out how to develop enough demand to sustain a local manufacturing industry over coming decades.
"It's very difficult but we do need, particularly given a re-shaped world post-COVID, to have a look at what is possible in the future," Mr Constance told The Sun Herald.
Mr Constance said he wanted to see a discussion, via the Transport Infrastructure Council, about the ARA's new tendering framework calling for a nationally consistent approach to rail procurement.
"We're not going to scale up a manufacturing plant for one purchase order, we'd have to be competitive on a global scale to make it a truly worthwhile economic exercise," Mr Constance said.
"The ARA have done a really good job at showing leadership, they themselves recognise the need for scale with a coordinated national effort."
Ms Wilkie said Victoria already had a strong rail manufacturing sector, but added a nationally consistent approach was needed to develop sustainable demand.
"When governments make choices to prioritise local content, they secure an outstanding quality of product while supporting local jobs creation and strengthening our supply chains," she said.
"The NSW government says it is open to working with other state governments and industry to strengthen and standardise procurement processes – it's now time for them to act."
While unveiling a new fleet of Chinese-built Waratah 2 trains this week, Mr Constance said "there's a reason" why they weren't built locally, and estimated labour, energy and material costs inflated the price by around 25 per cent.
His comments came a week after NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Australia and NSW were "not good at building trains," which sparked immediate backlash from unions and the opposition.
In a letter to Mr Constance on Friday, opposition transport spokesman Chris Minns urged the minister to convene a summit to discuss the merits of sourcing trains and ferries locally.
"There is growing community concern that foreign-built infrastructure is, at times, incompatible with the vagaries and nuances of the Sydney transportation network," Mr Minns said in the letter, seen by the Sun Herald.
"The plan must demonstrate the government's confidence that New South Wales and Australian firms are as good or better than their regional rivals."
Mr Constance added that while he was open to progressing discussions, he wanted union leadership to acknowledge that their years of "feather-bedding hasn't helped".
"I think there needs to be a fair dinkum discussion about it."
Owner of Victorian sheet metal business Catten Industries Ian Cubitt said the country was already capable of producing trains.
"I can categorically tell you that we have the people, the knowledge and the facilities to manufacture trains and trams locally, we just need the informed support of the decision makers to back the locally produced product," Mr Cubitt said in a letter to Mr Constance.
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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