Thursday, 30 October 2014
Australasian Railway Association held its high-speed rail bring it on conference on Monday in Parliament House. The major and most exciting recommendation was that a high-speed rail project linking Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne is affordable and practical. This would have huge opportunities for the cities and regional Australian towns on its corridor. It is a nation-building project and it has the sort of scope a government could be committed to with a bit of vision and leadership.
The project would not only bring improved connectivity between capital cities but it would also create realistic and exciting relocation and commuter opportunities for decentralising the population right along the seaboard. Imagine living and raising a family in Wodonga with parents working in Melbourne or Sydney and the kids attending schools or universities where ever they choose to and coming home regularly. This would grow communities that I represent in Albury-Wodonga, in Wangaratta, in Benalla. It would spur regional development that we absolutely need and it would make regional capitals grow to be the hub of rural and regional Australia.
This strategic project will make our large country smaller and it will reduce isolation. But unless we have a commitment to decentralisation and associated connectivity, we will only see further growth of our megacities and smaller disconnected rural populations in between. So this project requires us to think outside the budget cycle and requires a bigness of thinking. It is about infrastructure on a major scale and this should appeal to my colleagues opposite and to the ministers relevant. It is an infrastructure project.
To be successful, what we need to do is bring all levels of government, all persuasions of government and all our communities along the eastern seaboard to come and work as one. I would like to refer to a recently released commission discussion paper which focuses on the potential impacts of high-speed rail to regional Australia.
I applaud the work undertaken by Regional Development Australia in the Hume region. Its chairman, Mark Byatt, gave a fantastic presentation at the conference. He focused on the benefits of high-speed rail to north-east Victoria and southern New South Wales and talked about high-speed rail stations in Wodonga and in Shepparton. But the really important statistics are these: major social and economic benefits outlined in the discussion paper include: $800 million in construction expenditure per year; $500 million in maintenance expenditure per year; improved accessibility with travel time from Melbourne to Wodonga of 70 minutes and to Shepparton 46 minutes; and 260,000 additional tourists moving up and down the sea coast. By 2065 there will be so many fewer traffic accidents and they estimate saving $12.5 million per year in costs. By 2065 there will be an increase of 2.7 per cent, or $948 million, to gross regional domestic outcome and all LGAs in the region will benefit. The figure that I have is an increase in domestic regional productivity in excess of $3,000 per head for my community of Wodonga, where the railway line is going to be, and $1,000 per capita outside of that, so an enormous increase in productivity.
High-speed rail has enormous productivity gains at so many levels, but it is going to take us working together. It is going to take the member for Western Sydney, it is going to take my colleagues from Victoria and it is going to take my colleagues from Queensland. South Australia, you could be part of this as well. We could have spur lines working here. What it is really going to do is say, 'Let's not make our cities bigger and more dense. Let's make our regional capitals strong and vibrant.'
The call to action by the Australasian Railway Association is clear: government to commit to high-speed rail, finalise and protect the corridor and establish a high-speed rail authority. But we need to work together. I call on all my members of parliament—Melbourne, I forgot that you were there—to work together in a really concerted effort so that by the next election there is cooperation from all sides of parliament, including us independents, saying, 'Yep, it's the way to go and we are committed to it.'