Nov 21, 2016

High Speed Rail Planning Authority Bill 2016 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10:37): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Introduction

If you want to create a better future, you need to imagine a better future.

And once you identify where you want to go, you need to act to make it a reality.

That is the thought behind this bill.

It would create a High Speed Rail Authority to advance planning and corridor acquisition for the construction of a high-speed rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

A feasibility study conducted by the former Labor government found the project was viable, returning, for example, $2.15 in economic benefit for every dollar invested on the Sydney to Melbourne section.

It is time to stop talking about high-speed rail and to start working on the project.

This bill does not propose that we start construction tomorrow, but it does create a vehicle to advance the project—a planning authority that would work with the governments of Queensland, NSW, the ACT and Victoria.

It would capitalise on the work of the feasibility study I mentioned earlier to begin that detailed planning.

Importantly, it would begin to secure the corridor for the project before urban sprawl makes the project unviable.

The former Labor government proposed the creation of such an authority in 2013 and allocated the funding.

Regrettably, in 2013 the incoming coalition government scrapped that allocation.

That was a disappointing decision.

It has also been disappointing that on the three occasions that I have introduced this private member’s bill since the change of government in 2013, the government failed to bring it on for debate.

But that is in the past.

I come to the parliament with this bill again today because I am as convinced as ever that there is a strong case to proceed with high-speed rail.

But I also note recent strong indications that those opposite are coming around to a position of support for this visionary concept.

This is partly due to the strong interest being shown in an Australian high-speed rail project from the private sector, including overseas companies with experience in the technology.

Barely a month goes by when I don’t receive a visit from companies from nations like Japan, China and Korea, as well as European countries.

Prior to the 2 July election, Labor announced it would mandate the High Speed Rail Authority envisaged in this legislation to call for expressions of interest from international consortiums to participate in the project.

The consortiums would bring their expertise and their investment.

It is clear that a portion of the funding for this major project could come from value uplift, which has been used for infrastructure projects for more than a century.

However, the study completed by the former Labor government dismissed the idea that this project could be funded solely through this method.

For example, the most expensive component of construction is 67km of tunnel through Sydney, which would have little capacity for any such funding mechanism.

The development of high-speed rail does need to be bipartisan.

The project would cover a period longer than the life of any particular government.

But Australians are increasingly asking themselves: if the Europeans and Americans, as well as countries in our region, can successfully develop high-speed rail, why can’t we?

A long road

This is the fourth time that this bill has come before us.

I first introduced it in December 2013 as the first private member’s bill before the parliament in the previous term.

It is a shame it was not debated previously.

Indeed, at one stage earlier this year it was literally the only piece of legislation that was before the House of Representatives and the government still declined to bring on a debate.

The project

As infrastructure and transport minister in the former Labor government, I commissioned a two-part study involving extensive consultation with industry and international operators of high-speed rail, as well as significant community input.

The study, published in April 2013, included the business case for the project, consideration of environmental issues, projections of patronage, the proposed route, proposed stations and proposed time lines.

It found that high-speed rail down the east coast of Australia was indeed a viable proposition.

Once fully operational across the Brisbane to Melbourne corridor, high-speed rail could carry approximately 84 million passengers a year.

At speeds of 350 kilometres per hour, people would be able to travel from Melbourne to Sydney, or Sydney to Brisbane, in less than three hours.

As this technology is being rolled out across the world the cost is becoming smaller and the technology is becoming better and more efficient. Emerging new technology offering even faster speeds offers even shorter trip times.

The report found that Commonwealth leadership and coordination would be essential, given the number of jurisdictions involved.

High-speed rail would also be an engineering challenge, requiring at least 80 kilometres of tunnels, mainly in Sydney.

But despite these challenges, the experts said that high-speed rail had huge potential, particularly if we consider where our society is headed over coming decades.

We can anticipate significant population growth over coming decades along the route of this proposed line.

We can also anticipate that growing pressure for a carbon constrained economy will drive the economics of this project ever more positively over time.

We can also anticipate that if we fail to act soon, delivery of high-speed rail will be made more difficult and more costly, perhaps even impossible, because parts of the corridor will be built out by urban sprawl.

That is why this bill proposes to create an 11-person high-speed rail authority to bring together all affected states and territories as well as rail and engineering experts to progress planning and, critically, focus on the corridor.

The authority’s roles would include consideration of:

land use planning relating to the corridor;

safety;

measures to minimise environmental impact;

public consultation; and

intervention to purchase the corridor.

As minister, I insisted that such a large project be the subject of intense and non-partisan examination.

I appointed a High Speed Rail Advisory Group that included former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer, the Business Council of Australia’s chief executive, Jennifer Westacott, and the late Bryan Nye, representing the Australasian Railway Association.

These were serious people having a look at a serious issue on the cold, hard facts.

They endorsed high-speed rail on the basis of the evidence.

Vision

To best understand the potential of high-speed rail, we need to look well beyond 2016.

In coming decades, our population will be significantly larger, and much of the growth will be concentrated on areas along the proposed route. We need to take pressure off the capital cities in particular and grow the regional cities along the route. There is no doubt that high-speed rail will assist that.

According to the study, travel on the east coast of Australia is forecast to grow by about 1.8 per cent every year over the next two decades and to increase by 60 per cent by 2035.

The study said east-coast trips would double from 152 million trips in 2009 to 355 million trips in 2065.

That is why a project of this size and importance requires that policymakers exercise vision.

When it comes to high-speed rail this is critical, because high-speed rail’s greatest strength will be its contribution to regional development.

Travelling between capital cities by rail in just a few hours would be fantastic.

But consider the possible benefits of high-speed rail for the regional cities along the route of the line, including Australia’s largest inland city, Canberra, where we are right now, but also the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the Central Coast, the southern highlands, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton.

The project will position these centres to take some of the population growth pressure off our capital cities. It will transform these regional communities.

New businesses means jobs: jobs for today’s kids and jobs for their kids.

There is a role for government in investing in the infrastructure that underpins jobs growth.

Building high-speed rail would do just that, particularly in regional Australia.

Conclusion

Australia is in a state of economic transition.

The decline in the investment stage of the mining boom means that we need to develop new industries and strengthen existing sectors—a process that will take many years.

As that process continues, we need to keep the economy moving.

We need to keep Australians at work.

Investing in good infrastructure projects that provide a return for investment must be part of that process.

Reserve Bank Chair Philip Lowe and his predecessor, Glenn Stevens, have both noted in recent speeches that monetary policy can only go so far in stimulating the economy.

Both men have indicated that investment in good infrastructure projects will have a positive role in economic stimulus, provided the projects stack up in boosting productivity. What the study showed was that high-speed rail does indeed stack up.

The research has been done.

It is time to progress this visionary nation-building project.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Rob Mitchell ): Is the motion seconded?

Ms Brodtmann: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

Debate adjourned.

Contact Anthony

(02) 9564 3588 Electorate Office

Email: A.Albanese.MP@aph.gov.au

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