House debates

Wednesday, 28 September 2022


High Speed Rail Authority Bill 2022; Second Reading

6:11 pm

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I do acknowledge the passion and interest that the member for Riverina has in rail. There's quite a heritage in his National Party of interest in these matters. There's nothing like a high-speed rail bill to bring out all of the infrastructure nerds in this parliament, including me.

It was on this historic day 25 years ago that hundreds, indeed thousands, of Novocastrians caught the train down to the Sydney Football Stadium to watch good beat evil and watch the fairytale grand final come true when the Knights won their first ever premiership, staging a terrific comeback from 8-6 to shatter Manly's hopes. Anyone who knows a Novocastrian knows how delighted we were to see that moment when Darren Albert came up the wings and scored in the last 17 seconds. The town erupted.

Here we are, 25 years later, and the Knights' prospects for a grand final victory have certainly changed, but the time it takes to catch a train from Newcastle to Sydney hasn't, and that is the point. Just as this was a historic day 25 years ago, today is a historic day because we are discussing the bill that is going to establish a high-speed rail authority. This is an authority that will act as an independent body to advise on, plan and develop a high-speed rail system in Australia. The Prime Minister, a well-known infrastructure nerd, came to Newcastle on 2 January this year not just to launch Labor's 2022 election campaign—the good member for Hunter joined me at the time—but to, indeed, announce to the people of Newcastle that, if elected, an Anthony Albanese Labor government would prioritise fast rail between Sydney and Newcastle, as a first step towards a much larger network of high-speed rail in Australia.

Now, in government, we are putting the wheels in motion. That's what we do here. High-speed rail on this route will ultimately deliver speeds of over 250 kilometres per hour and include stops on the Central Coast. My colleagues of Dobell and Robertson will also be thrilled with this news. It will cut the journey from Sydney to Newcastle down to just 45 minutes from the current 2½-hour trip. As I said, that has not changed since I was a teenager. Indeed, possibly the only piece of technology that's managed to get slower over time is the Sydney-Newcastle train.

We, in Newcastle, are delighted with this news. Labor's plan is in line with the New South Wales government's existing plans to progress faster rail between Newcastle and Sydney. The most recent report in high-speed rail—commissioned by the former Labor government and, indeed, commissioned by the Prime Minister when he was the then minister—identified the Sydney to Newcastle corridor as the first component of that much larger line-up through to Brisbane.

The Albanese Labor government is making this stage of works a key priority for the High Speed Rail Authority. We've provided $500 million as a down payment in our first budget—this will be revealed to all on budget night!—which will begin the corridor acquisition that is required, the planning and early works. Seriously, the great worry for us all through the last, wasted, decade was that when we actually got to the point of forming government and introducing a high-speed rail authority bill the corridor might not be there. So there's not a moment to waste!

With the population of the Hunter Valley and the Central Coast forecast to grow by 200,000 people by 2040, Labor know that the planning for Australia's long-term future requires vision, dedication and commitment to working cooperatively with the states and territories. High-speed rail opens up so many choices for our communities. Without it, you have to live closer to where you work or sacrifice time with your family through being stuck in traffic. I know this because so many people I've spoken to in Newcastle in fact work in Sydney. They're stuck with the option of spending over two hours driving to Sydney, and tackling the traffic and the parking, or spending close to three hours on a train to get there.

With high-speed rail, you will have more choice. You can move out of the city—taking the pressure off the outer suburbs—and into regional areas, with all the benefits that brings. You can have a whole lot more time with your family—not to mention a life that's a whole lot better in a city like Newcastle! Without high-speed rail, it's not only the connection to work but the connection to your wider family and friends that's made more difficult. With high-speed rail, catching up more often becomes more possible, and that's a good thing. Connecting people is a great thing. It's not only an easier people-mover but a job creator and an industry builder.

I come from a city with a long history of making trains. It is criminal that we have been sidelined in the production of those trains. Indeed, we end up having to repair all the dodgy work that has been contracted out overseas. We have to do the repair job and make trains fit for purpose again. So let's go back to building these trains in communities like Newcastle. I know that's the ambition of the Labor government. It's staggering that over the last 10 years the coalition has turned it into 'snail rail', as we refer to it, by doing very little on developing the previous government's work on high-speed rail.

We want our regions, like Newcastle and the Hunter, to grow and prosper. We want those regional economies to be strong and to deliver benefits right across the country. The high-speed rail network has the potential to do that; city centres are not the sole beneficiaries here. We want public transport to be a big part of the green economy. The coalition seem not to want to act quickly enough to enact that vision. The Labor Party has always been the party of nation-building and is committed to delivering long-term infrastructure that helps drive economic development in our regions, ensuring the continued prosperity of regional centres and cities.

Investment in transport infrastructure, and in rail in particular, plays a significant role in connecting people to families and employment opportunities and improving the accessibility and liveability of our regional communities. Rail infrastructure also helps to decarbonise the economy by taking more cars off our roads and, for long-distance rail, reducing our reliance on air travel. Investment in rail has always been a priority of the Labor Party. During our last period in government we invested more in rail projects than all previous governments combined.

When the Prime Minister was minister for infrastructure in the former Labor government, he commissioned this HighSpeed Rail Study phase 2report. The benefits identified in the study were significant—not just the substantial reduction in travel times but the unlocking of regional economies, providing significant employment opportunities and supplying a remarkable economic boost in the medium and long terms. The study found that for every dollar of cost there would be a return of $2.30 in benefits to society—they're good odds.

The report identified Sydney to Newcastle as forming the first component of that larger line through to Brisbane, and this government is determined to continue that legacy and the work undertaken into high-speed rail by the former Labor government. We recognise the potential of our regions and the vibrant jobs and lifestyle options they offer to Australians. For too long we've seen the former coalition government use infrastructure as a partisan issue. I'm delighted to hear that at least the National Party are on board with high-speed rail, and I hope that they continue to support us in this regard.

We are committed to nationbuilding and infrastructure investment that plans for our country's future. That's why the Minister for Infrastructure—who's in the chamber with us now, I see—has initiated a review into Infrastructure Australia, and why we are legislating to establish the High Speed Rail Authority. No project captures the imagination of Australians quite like high-speed rail, and we are committed to realising the massive benefits that this project could bring. This is a long-term project, but with the pragmatic advice of the High Speed Rail Authority we can take a genuine path forward.

High-speed rail has already been embraced in countries throughout Asia and Europe, and with Australia's population projected to increase to over 35 million by 2050, it's time to start the long-term planning for high-speed rail here. Japan introduced its first bullet train in 1964; France's was in 1981; and China's was in 2003. This is a long-term project for us, and the High Speed Rail Authority will be established to lead, coordinate, plan and oversee the construction of high-speed rail networks through Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

The High Speed Rail Authority is critical to lead and coordinate planning and to oversee construction of a reliable, safe, efficient and cost-effective high-speed rail network, working closely with the relevant state governments. It will play a key role in providing strategic directions and policy advice to states and territories for the effective development and interoperability of a high-speed rail network along the east coast of Australia. As a statutory agency, the authority will provide independent and impartial advice on the policy and standards, develop business cases and secure those corridors. Specific measures will be taken to prevent and reduce environmental impacts, and the authority will coordinate and consult with the state and territory governments, industry, business and communities. The government will provide $500 million as a down payment in the 2022-23 budget to start that corridor acquisition, planning and early works for the Sydney-to-Newcastle corridor.

While Sydney to Newcastle will be the first priority—and as a member for Newcastle I am obviously delighted by that—this is a long-term vision, and the High Speed Rail Authority will also work on advancing other sections of the line, eventually connecting Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane. High-speed rail can improve the prosperity of regions by enhancing connectivity between regional centres, our major population centres and our international gateways. High-speed rail will revolutionise interstate travel, providing a fast alternative to other modes of moving between capital cities. Providing the option of high-speed rail for intercity travel will also help the transition to net zero.

Delivery of the high-speed rail network will provide economic benefits and enhance connectivity through a fast alternative mode of transport, increasing price competition in the market and providing jobs. Seriously, everyone is a winner. Australians in regional areas will benefit from improved liveability through enhanced connectivity to urban areas and international gateways. The high-speed rail network will reshape settlement patterns along Australia's east coast, alleviating pressure on those outer suburban areas in the growth corridors of major cities—and we know our major cities are struggling in this regard. So this is a welcome measure to alleviate some of that pressure.

The construction of high-speed rail will also secure significant jobs and is a great boost to regional economies. In regional economies like ours, which are heavily carbon-dependent economies, this is an important addition. It is an important introduction of alternative sources of an economic future for us. Interconnectivity with other centres of commerce and productivity is critical for Novocastrians and people in our region.

Through Labor's National Rail Manufacturing Plan, the Australian government will also ensure that more trains are built in Australia by local manufacturing workers and that every dollar of federal funding spent on rail projects will go towards creating local jobs and providing a sustainable industry. That is great news for the people of Newcastle. As I said, we have a long history of being builders of rail. Sadly, consecutive conservative governments have, to the detriment of our nation, sent those contracts elsewhere.


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