Dec 9, 2013

High Speed Rail Planning Authority Bill 2013 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10:03): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to be introducing the first private member’s bill of the 44th Parliament.

Nation building requires forward thinking.

Governments that take nation building seriously look well beyond the electoral cycle to contemplate the big infrastructure projects that will benefit future generations.

For many years now, it has been suggested that Australia should develop a high-speed rail line linking Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

That’s why I commissioned a study in two parts that involved extensive consultation with industry, including international operators of high-speed rail as well as significant community input to maximise the effectiveness of the study.

It was completed in two parts so that transparency could be maximised. It was published in full, including the business case for the project, consideration of environmental issues, projections of patronage, proposed route, proposed stations and proposed time lines. There are detailed maps available, indeed, whereby people can see exactly what the proposed route is.

It found that high-speed rail down the east coast of Australia is a viable proposition but that it does face challenges.

It is a nation-building project—a track covering 1,748km and passing through four major cities.

It is visionary, requiring consideration of where our society and its transport needs will be decades from now.

High-speed rail will almost certainly run up against political hurdles. It would be delivered over decades under the stewardship of multiple parliaments in Canberra and the other four jurisdictions involved.

It would also be an engineering challenge, requiring at least 80km of tunnels, including 67km in Sydney alone.

Despite all these challenges, high-speed rail also has huge potential, particularly if we consider where our society is headed over coming decades. We can anticipate that an increasing population and the growing need for a carbon constrained economy will drive the economics of this project ever more positively over time.

The study I released in April this year, which I commissioned as minister, found that high-speed rail would return, for the Sydney to Melbourne section, $2.15 in economic benefit for every dollar invested. It would be a major regional economic development initiative.

A challenge of this scale needs serious forward planning.

The first step is to begin to secure the corridor.

That is why this bill seeks parliament’s support for the High-Speed Rail Planning Authority.

This bill will establish the structure across governments to ensure we maintain the momentum generated by the recent strategic studies.

The bill would establish the High-Speed Rail Planning Authority as a vehicle for long-term Commonwealth leadership to progress this project. This is critical. Without Commonwealth leadership, high-speed rail will never happen.

The Commonwealth has to bring together the state governments, local councils, landholders, potential private sector investors and others to guarantee a cross-jurisdictional approach. And we need to develop that process now.

Inaction now means years will pass and, by the time market conditions shift to the point of supporting high-speed rail, the complex challenges I listed before could have grown insurmountable.

I am hopeful, therefore, that this bill will win support across this parliament—given the rhetoric of people across this parliament.

Planning is not a political issue. It is just common sense.

I must say I had been concerned about the future of high-speed rail given the decision of the Prime Minister in November to wind up the High-Speed Rail Advisory Group. The members of this committee included former Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer, Business Council of Australia Chief Executive, Jennifer Westacott, and Australasian Railway Association chief executive, Bryan Nye. It was chaired by the deputy secretary of my former department, Lyn O’Connell. The aim of this private member’s bill—to formally create a planning authority—is in accordance with its recommendations.

Last year Mr Fischer told The Border Mail the link would be ‘a huge leap forward’ for decentralisation and that long-term planning was vital to prevent the corridor from being absorbed by urban sprawl.

I agree.

It would be a shame to lose the momentum from the major strategic studies of the last three years.

That momentum has built up over successive phases.

Under this private member’s bill, an 11-person high-speed rail authority would bring together all affected states as well as rail and engineering experts to progress planning and, critically, focus on the corridor. The 11 members of the board are outlined in the bill. They would include:

one member from each of the states affected—Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory;

one member representing the Local Government Association;

one member nominated by the Australasian Railway Association; and

five members appointed by the minister for infrastructure on the basis of qualifications or expertise—

to make sure that you got that engineering expertise on the authority.

The authority’s roles would include consideration of:

land use planning relating to the corridor;


measures to minimise environmental impact; and

public consultation.

The states, councils and landholders along the possible route have a very direct interest in ensuring that, if this project is viable, an orderly process is in place to bring it to fruition.

Big ideas do not happen without leadership.

If we do not start planning now, our lack of foresight could ensure high-speed rail cannot happen.

High-speed rail exists in every continent other than Australia and Antarctica. It is globally recognised as an extremely effective mode of transport and a driver of economic productivity.

Society is always changing.

What might seem unlikely now could be a necessity in the future, particularly when we consider the need to reduce carbon emissions to deal the effects of climate change.

It might seem convenient now to just take a wait-and-see approach—to sit on this idea for a few years.

But I am into nation building and nation building requires planning.

Earlier I referred to the high-speed rail study phase 2 report, which I released on 11 April this year.

It said population and employment growth along the east coast of Australia in coming years would challenge the capacity of our existing modes of transport.

Travel on the east coast of Australia was forecast to grow about 1.8 per cent per year over the next two decades and to increase by 60 per cent by 2035.

The report said that east coast trips will double from 152 million trips in 2009 to 355 million trips in 2065. It is simply not possible to accommodate that growth on existing road and existing air links. That is why we need to make sure that we act now by setting up this authority.

The report found that once the line was fully operational from 2065 across the Brisbane to Melbourne corridor, high-speed rail could carry approximately 84 million passengers each year.

People would be able to travel from Melbourne to Sydney in less than three hours—the same duration of an express trip from Sydney to Brisbane.

The report found the optimal staging would involve building the Sydney to Melbourne line first, starting with the Sydney to Canberra corridor.

Later, building would continue from Canberra to Melbourne, Newcastle to Sydney, Brisbane to the Gold Coast and the Gold Coast to Newcastle.

The entire project would cost $114 billion in 2012 dollars.

The report found that fares would produce only a small investment return and that governments would need to fund most of the capital costs.

However, over time, the system could generate sufficient revenue to meet operating costs without ongoing public subsidy. And that is important.


High-speed rail represents a major challenge for our country.

Although there is a significant cost involved, it does have the potential to revolutionise travel in this country and to reduce carbon emissions.

And I am not just talking about travel between the big state capitals.

Consider the benefits to the regions through which the train would travel.

Consider the jobs involved in construction, the boost to tourism and to opening up dozens of communities to fast, easy high-speed transport.

Vision is important in governing nations.

Nation builders need the ability to both anticipate and create the future.

To those who are doubtful as to whether high speed rail will ever go ahead I would urge you to look long and hard at this bill.

If we do not act now, we are closing off options for future generations.

It is another way we can look at the precautionary principle.

I support this legislation. It is consistent with the reports and the independent advisory council recommendations. I commend the bill to the House.