Dec 4, 2018

Consideration of Legislation – Tuesday, 4 December 2018

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent private Members’ business order of the day No. 8 relating to the High Speed Rail Planning Authority Bill 2018 standing in the name of the Member for Grayndler being called on immediately and being given priority over all other business for passage through all stages by 1.30 pm today.

Leave not granted.

Mr ALBANESE: I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Grayndler from moving the following motion forthwith:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent private Members’ business order of the day No. 8 relating to the High Speed Rail Planning Authority Bill 2018 standing in the name of the Member for Grayndler being called on immediately and being given priority over all other business for passage through all stages by 1.30 pm today.

This suspension of standing orders will be seconded by my colleague and high-speed rail advocate the member for Indi. The reason we are raising this issue again today is the failure of the government to advance this project in the five years in which they have held office. Prior to 2013 we had a comprehensive study of high-speed rail from Brisbane through to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra. That study went into a great deal of detail, down to the design of where the stations would be. It found a positive economic benefit. For example, it found between Sydney and Melbourne a benefit of $2.50—that is, a benefit greater than double the expenditure for that investment. So the work has been done.

That work also found that a journey from Sydney to Melbourne or from Sydney to Brisbane—both of which are top-10 aviation routes in the world—would take under three hours. It also found that it would make a big difference to decentralisation and to regional economic development, not the least of which right here in the national capital. It would also be of enormous benefit for great cities like Newcastle, as well as for the Albury-Wodonga region. It would make an enormous difference. Putting that region under an hour from Melbourne would change the whole economics of jobs and opportunities in that region, which is why we are supporting this.

We tried to establish a process that would go beyond just a term of government or indeed the presence of any particular side in government. After that report we established the High Speed Rail Advisory Group. That included the former member for Farrer, the former Leader of the National Party and former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer. It included Jennifer Westacott, the head of the Business Council of Australia. So, for those people who say, ‘Oh, this is just some airy-fairy project,’ it is not. It is about economic growth and development. It’s about jobs. It’s about decentralisation. It’s about dealing with urban congestion. It also included representatives like the head of the Australasian Railway Association. It included representatives of local government.

The fact is that what you need—and the advisory group found this—to drive the project, because it is interjurisdictional, is an authority that crosses the Commonwealth government and the governments of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT, as well as local government representatives. We provided, in the 2013 budget, funding for that authority of $54 million. That $54 million was cut by the incoming Abbott government. It was cut because they cut every single dollar for any rail project that wasn’t under construction. So, as well as the Melbourne Metro, the Cross River Rail, Perth rail and Launceston light rail, the funding was cut for high-speed rail.

And yet, as Australians who travel overseas know, anyone who is in London and wants to get to Paris goes on the train. Anyone who’s in Rome and wants to get to Milan goes on the train. Anyone who’s in Tokyo and wants to go to Osaka goes on the train. People who want to go from Beijing to Shanghai go on the train. The whole world, every continent on this planet, is building high-speed rail—in Africa, South America, North America, Europe and Asia. The only occupied continent which isn’t is right here in Australia. And the fact is that, just like renewables, the technology of today and the future is getting cheaper. It’s getting more effective. The trains are getting faster and more efficient both in terms of travel times and boosting productivity and in terms of their impact on the environment.

But what Infrastructure Australia found last year, in a report to the government that it has ignored, is that you need to preserve the corridor now, because, if you don’t preserve the corridor now, it will have an enormous impact in terms of cost. The 2013 study by Infrastructure Australia found that the eventual cost will increase by $21 billion if we don’t preserve the corridor now. Our big study found, in terms of the viability of the project, that travel on the east coast of Australia is forecast to grow by about 1.8 per cent every year over the next two decades, an increase of 60 per cent by 2035. East coast trips will double from 152 million in 2009 to 355 million over coming decades.

We need to plan right now. We need to preserve the corridor right now. We need that intergovernmental cooperation right now. Indeed, the Premier of New South Wales said this on 23 August 2017:

Of course we would love to see high speed rail servicing our State but for this to be viable it would need to travel beyond NSW and it would require federal involvement.

She was right then, but she’s wrong today, because today, in the lead-up to a state election in New South Wales, she’s floating these tiny little routes just in New South Wales for regional centres, with no dollars and no jurisdiction, no governance arrangements and no plan to actually get it done. So once again, in the lead-up to an election, we have that. It’s just a cynical exercise.

That is why we had a serious process. That is why I appointed Tim Fischer to try and drag the dinosaurs over there who sit in the coalition across to modernity, to the future, to what we need. Tim Fischer was an absolutely genuine supporter of high-speed rail and remains so today, as does the business community, as does local government and as do state governments. But what it needs is some national leadership.

The opportunity is there with this legislation. I have moved this legislation five times since 2013, and it has lapsed because those opposite haven’t been interested in it. We know from the leak to the Herald Sun that in this year’s budget they allocated $1.5 billion for high-speed rail. They haven’t made the announcement yet, but we know that they put the funding aside. What for? We’re not quite sure. Well, let’s get on with establishing the authority, because the first thing you need to do before you can build the train is to have the corridor, and that costs money. That costs dollars. We know the money is there; we know we should set up an authority.

Today, why doesn’t the parliament unite—Labor, crossbenchers and coalition members—to actually vote for something that the Australian people overwhelmingly support? That’s why the Premier of New South Wales has discovered this issue and done a little leak to the Herald today about this issue, without a plan, without an idea of how it gets progressed. Well, this is how it gets progressed. It is not just me who says this; Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council of Australia says this; Tim Fischer says this; the Australasian Railway Association says this; the Rail, Tram and Bus Union says this; local government says this.

This is an opportunity. We can have this legislation through by 1.30 today. What that would do is send a message that this parliament will do its job, that it’s prepared to act in the interests of Australians, not just engage in squabbling about who’s doing what and who’s on top of who over there in the coalition. This is an opportunity, and we’re giving it to the government, to adopt this, pass the suspension motion and put the bill through. I thank the member for Indi for seconding this motion.

The SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded?