Hundreds of Chinese-made coal wagons are used to haul coal to the Port of Newcastle each day. But when they break down or need maintenance they are sent to local engineering companies to fix.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese wants the rolling stock built in Australia in the first place. He believes it represents the "low-hanging fruit" in a strategy to reinvigorate the nation's once-proud manufacturing sector.
"The trains we can see here were made in China, but they are being fixed up here in Newcastle. Wouldn't it be better if we got it right the first time and made them here rather than retro-fit them when they come here," Mr Albanese said at Varley's Carrington engineering workshop on Thursday.
"What we know is, despite of what the NSW Premier said, we can make trains in Australia. We have been doing it since the nineteenth century and we can do it better than importing them."
Mr Albanese identified the Hunter as central to Labor's National Rail Manufacturing Plan during last week's budget reply speech.
Labor would also strengthen Australian content requirements in defence and other government contracting.
Mr Albanese cited the Australian inland rail project as an example of how governments could proactively assist the manufacture of locally-made rolling stock.
"I commissioned a study and provided $900 million of funding for whilst I was the minister. It is continuing to be rolled out but there is no Australian content provisions," he said.
"We need to make sure that those carriages on an Australian government owned project represent Australian content. It's just common sense, it's getting bang for your buck and that's what we need to do. Australian jobs, Australian-made products will benefit our Australian economy."
Labor estimates its plan would create up to 659 full-time jobs, and boost Australia's GDP by up to $5 billion.
The plan includes the establishment of an Office of National Rail industry Coordination to audit the adequacy, capacity, and condition of passenger trains and develop priority plans.
It would also reinstate the Rail Supplier Advocate to help small to medium sized enterprises find national and export opportunities and create a Rail Industry Innovation Council to spur more local research & development.
Labor estimates that the plan