Wednesday, 28 September 2022
High Speed Rail Authority Bill 2022; Second Reading
I've always been a big supporter of high-speed rail and have advocated for this type of infrastructure since my maiden speech in 2013. Many of us across the parliament have been regular participants in parliamentary friendship groups on high-speed rail and work with numerous stakeholders to continue progressing this long term. I want to compliment the former member for Bennelong, who was indefatigable in his attempts to get the coalition on board with high-speed rail a lot sooner. But, as you know, we can only build one railway at a time, and we're busy building the mighty Inland Rail. I'll have more to say about that later.
In 2019, the coalition government—that's us—announced a 20-year plan for a faster rail network. I often joked it was going to be a 'less slow rail network'—it was improving on our existing transport corridors by rail, but it wasn't high speed. We actually did establish a dedicated National Faster Rail Agency, which this bill will wind up and roll into the new authority. That agency has been busy and has been working with the states since 2019, and we ended up with a $5.9 billion plan. There are too many people in this House that say we did not support rail. Unfortunately or fortunately, the way the Constitution works is that the rail networks are owned by the states, who generally run them in the big cities, but ARTC has a long-term lease on a lot of their rail infrastructure.
The establishment of the High Speed Rail Authority is welcomed by me and many in the National Party. It will drive great outcomes, but it's got to be done in a really efficient way. It will have to be really fast. The idea of building it between Sydney, Newcastle and Maitland—between two big cities—is exactly the model that the Japanese followed when they built it. It's the hardest bit, but it's the first bit, and then you'll find every city in the country will want to be part of it. Only China can build these networks with big bang money; we've just got to build the first bit. And we're not competing against planes. A lot of coalition opposition was that, 'It's a lot easier to go jump on a plane.' Well, it is, but this original build will be displacing cars. It will be competing against 40,000 people who drive down from the Central Coast every morning and drive back in the evening. What business case won't survive with 40,000 potential customers?
If you add further, up to Port Macquarie, which is the plan, you'll be going into a rapidly expanding North Coast network. That is a reasonable first build. Then you go down through the outskirts of Sydney to the new international airport. As soon as that's there, Canberra will want to be hooked up. And then, as soon as Canberra's hooked up, Victoria will be saying, 'We want to get hooked up.' That's how organically built bits of infrastructure happen. We can't do it like Japan. Many people will get on board with this project and say, 'We want you to go from Brisbane to Adelaide in one go.' That just can't happen, but it will be a great piece of infrastructure.
Just so the good things we did on rail aren't forgotten, I'm going to put them on the record. As you know, we are building the biggest bit of freight infrastructure, the Inland Rail, from Melbourne up to Brisbane. We advocated for it to go all the way to Gladstone to get the industrial complexes there and get another harbour hooked into it. It will pay, going through to Brisbane, and I hope Queensland—which has been a recidivist objector to the high-speed rail—will, now that they can see political value in linking in with the federal Labor government, get on board and that project will go ahead. It will get trucks off the road. It will make the existing rail infrastructure a lot more efficient. The resistance and the energy involved in bulk rail transport is infinitely more efficient than rubber on tarmac or on cement roads.
We put in $1.6 billion for the Brisbane to Sunshine Coast line Beerwah to Maroochydore rail extension, $1.12 billion for the Brisbane to Gold Coast rail upgrade and $1 billion for the Sydney to Newcastle faster rail upgrade. That built on $2 billion for stage 1 of Fast Rail between Geelong and Melbourne. There was $178 million for the Brisbane to Gold Coast line, for the Kuraby to Beenleigh section preconstruction works. There was other work completed—$15 million for the next stage of planning for the Sydney to Newcastle corridor. Sydney to Wollongong plans were completed and Sydney to Parkes plans were completed.
Melbourne to Greater Shepparton planning was completed. Now, that was a proposal put forward by the CLARA Consortium, whereby they were going to employ the value capture of the land to be opened up near these rail corridors, and, in particular, near the railway stations. If you look at any of the great rail networks in the world, the real estate around stations is essentially the part of the business plan that delivers the greatest economic viability, because everyone wants to be next to a railway station. If you're a commuter, you want it; if you're a business, you want it. It's such a no-brainer, this idea.
But, anyhow, I think the government is aware of these possibilities. I support the plan.
As to this plan, one thing that is going to be really important—and something that bedevils this whole nation—is the red and green tape in any of these projects. It not only delays things but also adds enormous costs. So we need synchrony between the planning laws that are state run, and the state governments, to make sure these corridors are secured under local planning instruments. If you go local government by local government, it will just be dragged out forever. It is just incredibly frustrating. Anything in this country costs double or triple what it would in any other country. And we can't afford to do that stuff anymore. We have to get all levels of government on it. It's a national project.
It's not going to be delivered overnight. It will be delivered long beyond when I am and everyone here is out of this building—unless you're really one of the young ones, like the member for Menzies, who might be here. But it's going to be a lasting legacy.
Again, I'd like to congratulate John Alexander, the former member for Bennelong. Your plan will happen. It's just that credit for it will go to those on the other side.
So, here we go. It's a great development that I look forward to seeing.
And if the planners are out there, I'll just tell you about the mighty Lyne electorate. I liked what the member for Kingsford Smith was talking about—the local builds. People have got to realise that when states—either nations or state governments—are doing business, the bean-counter philosophy only makes sense so far. If they're getting local construction and local sovereign manufacturing capability for trains in this country, then, sure, it might cost a bit more, but, if you give long-term plans and long-term contracts for continual builds and for maintenance, all to local companies, then there will be plenty of existing rail contracts and carriage contracts that will support huge industries.
In my electorate, we used to have UGL constructing rail bogies at Lansdowne. It was a tragedy that it shut down. It used to get a contract to make three bogies or five bogies, and then the state government would dry up the contracts. Their first bogie would cost X amount; the second would cost 80 per cent of X. The third would end up being 50 per cent. When they got on a roll and all their systems were in place, it would be half the cost of the original bill. And these are the efficiencies.
But all the GST and the PAYE—all those taxes that are generated by local employment—will grow a huge part of our sovereign manufacturing capability that we've lost. Even if we were to start not just building the railway but assembling and maintaining the carriages here, it would be so great.
We have a huge rail site in the Lyne electorate that used to build trains forever, and it's lying vacant. There's some plastic recycling. But this will be a breath of fresh air.
I call on any railway constructors to come on down and have a look at the beautiful Lyne electorate. We've got an unemployed workforce; they're in other industries now, but they know how to make trains. And we'd welcome them with open arms. I commend this bill to the House.