House debates

Wednesday, 28 September 2022


High Speed Rail Authority Bill 2022; Second Reading

5:55 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | Hansard source

RMACK () (): Back in 2012, in my first term as the federal member for Riverina, I called a high-speed rail forum in Wagga Wagga, and I was stunned by the response. More than a hundred people turned up to that forum, including one Bryan Nye. Many people, including the Prime Minister, would remember Bryan Nye. Sadly, he passed away in 2016. He had family links to my home city of Wagga Wagga. He joined the Australasian Railway Association in 2003. I think Bryan Nye would be looking down upon us today, and he would be pleased. I think Tim Fischer, the great patriarch of the member for Cowper in my party, the National Party, would also be pleased. They would both be wanting the government not just to talk about this but to get on with this. They would be saying that they also played a big part in this. As the Nationals leader, the member for Maranoa, said at this dispatch box this afternoon, the opposition will be supporting the High Speed Rail Authority Bill 2022, but there will be some caveats, there will be some amendments and there will be some parameters which need to be put in place. This is something which is nation building, and I acknowledge that.

Let me talk a little bit about the late Mr Nye, because it's important. He was one of the absolute staunchest advocates for high-speed rail in this nation. When Mr Nye passed away, Bob Nanva, the National Secretary of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union—yes, I'm quoting a union—said that Mr Nye had made an enormous contribution to the rail industry and was highly regarded and respected. He also said:

Bryan Nye was a passionate advocate for Australia's rail sector. Bryan not only had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the industry, he knew his way around the corridors of power—

yes, he did and he was often in this place—

His greatest skill, however, was in bringing people together and finding consensus.

Whether it was bringing competing interests to the table on a united industry position, or managing negotiations between industry and government, Bryan used his skills to great effect.

That he did. I think what we're seeing tonight when we're discussing and debating the High Speed Rail Authority Bill 2022 is people being brought together—people who may not necessarily always agree but who want to do things in the common interest and in the national interest and make sure that we build the infrastructure fit for purpose for this nation.

Bob Herbert AM also talked about Bryan Nye. Bob Herbert was very influential in transport. He said he remembered that Bryan established the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board in 2005, which enabled the industry to harmonise practices and establish national standards. That was so important, and it fits in so well with what we're discussing: high-speed rail. I concluded that 2012 forum with a question, which, given all the reasons and benefits outlined today, is still valid: can we afford not to do it?

Around the time of that forum, and we just heard the member for Maranoa talking about those years, high-speed rail was costed at $131 billion. That was a significant amount then. Goodness knows what that figure would be now. I know that even the Inland Rail, originally costed on a desktop analysis of around $9½ billion, is now costed around $14½ billion.

When I took over as Deputy Prime Minister, and the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, the states signed up to the Inland Rail. I have to say that two of the great helpers who provided great assistance in the project were Jacinta Allan, a Labor minister from Victoria; and also Mark Bailey, from your home state of Queensland, Mr Deputy Speaker Buchholz. I will give those two Labor ministers credit for the vision they had to come on board with the federal government with Inland Rail. I do also recall signing the pact with the New South Wales government, and the representative at the time, John Barilaro, at Parkes on the east-west north-south intersection for freight rail. As I told the Federation Chamber earlier this week, it will be a boom town when it comes to Inland Rail, getting goods from the regions to Melbourne or Brisbane ports within 24 hours, or the opposite way, getting goods from the metropolitan ports to regional areas. Certainly, as the member for Maranoa has indicated, getting our product from paddock and pit to port for our exports is going to be so important.

I come from Wagga Wagga, and I appreciate that at the moment there is a lot of conjecture and submissions to the New South Wales planning authorities about the actual route of Inland Rail. It's is a bone of contention at the moment, and I appreciate that; I want what's best for the community. With Inland Rail going right through the corridor of our city there have been a lot of calls for a bypass, which would be very costly—just like this would be very costly. I appreciate what the member for Higgins said earlier about the 1980s and high-speed rail in Japan. In actual fact, high-speed rail began in Europe in 1938, would you believe, and they have certainly been championing that.

The member for Whitlam was talking earlier about his experience with high-speed rail in Japan. Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku are the four main Japanese islands, and I know how interconnected Japan is with high-speed rail and that it's so important. Indeed, a representative of the Japanese company which ran the Osaka-Nagoya-Tokyo link, said they moved 386,000 passengers a day—and this is going back a little while—in high-speed rail trains. The average annual delay per train was—wait for it—six seconds. Six seconds! That's efficiency.

This bill, which the government has introduced, establishes a high-speed rail authority as an independent body—and that's important—to advise on, plan and develop a high-speed corridor in Australia. I know others opposite have been championing their Prime Minister, and I've had discussions with the Prime Minister, the member for Grayndler, about the importance of rail, freight rail and high-speed rail. In particular, this is talked about between Newcastle and Sydney. Labor allocated $500 million for the project, and, as the member for Maranoa pointed out, that is barely scraping the sides. That is but barely a drop in the ocean compared to what would be needed, even for the Newcastle to Sydney link. But it's a start. I see the member for Hunter there nodding, and I suppose you need to start somewhere. That is why there won't be opposition from the opposition, unlike when we were in government and those opposite were in opposition and they opposed everything. We want to see this nation reach its potential. We want to see Australians be their best selves. Yes, there do need to be some caveats and some amendments, as I said earlier, but I appreciate the member for Grayndler's long held ambition to have select corridors preserved. If you don't do that, you end up with what we had even on projects such as the Hume Highway when it was duplicated. Even near the Wagga Wagga Airport, there has been provision talked about and indeed action taken on preserving a corridor for a potential high-speed rail link in the future.

I appreciate that we have some Greens in the House. I know that a previous Greens proposal—which I read carefully, because I always carefully read everything that the Greens put up—talked about an Inland Rail link along the coastline. We need it inland. We need high-speed rail to come inland, through Canberra, through Wagga Wagga, down somewhere beside the Hume freeway—possibly through Shepparton because, if nothing more, that will boost regional Australia. That will create jobs.

I appreciate that the member for Maranoa talked, too, about what it might do for other transport stakeholders. I appreciate that Wagga Wagga and inland Australia are well serviced at the moment by Rex Airlines, an award-winning airline, and by QantasLink. We can't do anything that is going to damage the airline industry at a time when the airline industry is on its knees because of COVID-19. I was the minister who provided a lot of money in domestic aviation network support, regional airline network support and, of course, tourism incentives. We put those in place to ensure that people were still able to fly; to ensure that we were still able to get personal protection equipment and health professionals to, particularly, remote Australia during the height of COVID-19; and, as we, hopefully, come out of the back of COVID-19, to ensure that people can have confidence in the aviation sector again.

We're talking here about something very, very important, and that is, of course, the High Speed Rail Authority. It needs to be there to lead, to plan, to develop, to coordinate, to oversee and to monitor the construction and operation of a high-speed rail network in Australia, just like Ministers Allan, Bailey and Barilaro did in agreeing on a state level with Inland Rail. You cannot do this sort of nation building without the agreement, the say-so and the help and support of our state governments and, indeed, of local governments as well. There's a lot of work to be done, but we have to start somewhere, and I commend the government for making that somewhere here, because it is going to be important.

The coalition has a very good record when it comes to high-speed rail. We released our 20-year national Faster Rail Plan in 2019, and the 2022-23 budget committed a further $3.72 billion—not an insignificant amount—to deliver faster rail, bringing total commitments to faster rail projects to $6 billion. So I do not want to hear Labor saying, 'This is all about us,' because it's not. It is about bipartisanship. I see the member for Newcastle rocking her head back and laughing, but it is.

We have to be bipartisan. When I go out there, I hear that people actually like to see us getting on. Even in the years of Julia Gillard as Prime Minister, something like 88 per cent of legislation was actually agreed to on a bipartisan level. People don't realise that. They think it's always argy-bargy. They just think that we're always opposed to everything, and we're not. Indeed, on this, let's just say—pardon the pun—we're on one track. It's just how we get there that might take some work and some diplomacy. I know the Leader of the Nationals is committed to getting around the table and talking about these sorts of aspects, and I'm sure the Leader of the Opposition will be too, because this is important.

High-speed rail along the Australian east coast has been examined by both sides of politics since at least the 1980s, but we also need to ensure that if we're going to do high speed rail we're going to do it inland. If it's from Newcastle to Sydney, that's well and good, but we need to make sure that we extend it to the Northern Rivers. We need to extend it not only to those populated areas up north but also through the inland, through the Riverina, and through the electorate that the member for Nicholls serves so well to make sure that we take advantage of giving those people options.

What we don't want to see is the continuance of our overcrowded metropolitan cities. Melbourne is the fastest-growing city in Australia and, potentially, the world. What we want to see is people being able to live in one of those outer regions and get on a high-speed train to Sydney, Melbourne or, in the future, Brisbane, and commute not just for leisure and pleasure but also for work, because our satellite cities are going to become so important. We don't have a lot of those larger inland cities that America has, and we can have that when we build the right infrastructure.

High-speed rail is important infrastructure, just like water infrastructure is going to be so important in the future. I commend what the government is doing here and support it. There will be some amendments needed, but, in principle, I'm very much in favour of it.


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