House debates

Wednesday, 28 September 2022


High Speed Rail Authority Bill 2022; Second Reading

7:25 pm

Photo of Keith PittKeith Pitt (Hinkler, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

Thank you for the unexpected opportunity, Mr Deputy Speaker! I rise to speak on the High Speed Rail Authority Bill 2022 for a few minutes, until of course we reach that appropriate point in time.

Only the Labor Party could suggest they're going to spend $500 million on high-speed rail and not actually build any! Only the Labor Party could suggest they're going to set up a new entity, a new body, and allocate $500 million for something that could already be done by an existing body. That existing body is the ARTC. We already have the Australian Rail Track Corporation, and guess what their job is, Mr Deputy Speaker? Their job is to operate trains and build railway lines! Who'da thunk it? We have a corporation owned by government that builds railway lines and runs trains, and yet only the Labor Party could take more of the taxpayers' money for another authority to look at more trains.

There is no doubt and no argument that this is something which could be utilised for Australia. But I think those opposite, those in government, as the former Deputy Prime Minister, former Minister for Infrastructure and member for New England said, don't really get how difficult it is to pick up thousands of kilometres of easements. These have to be forced through landholders and they're always very happy to have a railway track and a station near them, just not through their place. This has always been the challenge: whether it is Inland Rail or the proposed 10,000-plus kilometres of transmission lines that have been promised by the Labor Party at the last election. To put some context around 10,000 kilometres, that is Melbourne to Cape York, Cape York to Melbourne, and Melbourne almost to Cape York again to be built before 2030 and installed and operating as part of Labor's plan. I don't think anyone out there believes that that's realistic. There aren't even enough people to build that transmission line in that time in this country, and to maintain the existing network and all the other access areas that are required to keep the lights on.

The High Speed Rail Authority: sure, it's a concept but it's an expensive one at a time where we keep hearing that we need a bread-and-butter budget. This is what the Treasurer said: a bread-and-butter budget. Well, I've got bad news for the Treasurer: the cost of bread and butter is going up, and it's going up because of the cost of transport. It is going up because of logistics and it's going up because of inflation. For those individuals out there who have incredible difficulty meeting their bills—paying their bills—every single week, these are the things and these are the opportunities on which they want government to focus: how to make their lives better and easier. Whilst the $500 million for the High Speed Rail Authority as a planning body might have some value somewhere, I'd suggest to those opposite, to those in government, that they should consider utilising the existing facility. The ARTC is established and it has technical expertise, including engineers. It already has a board. If I recall correctly, and I'm sure someone will correct me if I get it wrong, it's chaired by the former Deputy Prime Minister and long-term minister for infrastructure, the former member for Wide Bay. Actually, he's a relatively all-round good guy—there aren't even those in the Labor Party who could have something bad to say about Warren Truss, the former member for Wide Bay. He is a genuine good guy who goes out and does his best every single day.

So whilst we have this proposal before us, we do need to consider the cost and we do need to consider the comments of the Treasurer. If in October you're going to have a bread-and-butter budget, then why wouldn't you utilise the existing facilities, the existing skills and the existing people who are already being paid for—those who are out there who have the expertise? Bring them into the fold to do what it is that you wish, which, from all reports, is quite simply to advise on plan development for what is supposed to be the high-speed rail network.

Coming from Queensland, I've got one that's supposed to be high speed: the tilt train. Unfortunately, the tilt train has had a few challenges. I think it still tilts—it's on tilt—and it's most definitely generally a bus. There are a whole lot of opportunities where people have to catch a bus from particular points because the tilt trains just don't get there. So it would be great if we could actually step up and strengthen our existing infrastructure to continue those facilities, particularly in regional Australia. It's a great plan, I'm sure, to have $500 million spent on an authority that doesn't exist, but I'd like to see money spent on existing infrastructure which needs the upgrades and the maintenance, and which needs to perform better, because that's in the interest of all Australians and it can be done much more quickly.

So, Mr Speaker, thank you so much for the opportunity. Good luck: a bread-and-butter budget, let's see it!


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