House debates

Tuesday, 4 December 2018


Consideration of Legislation

12:01 pm

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to move the following motion:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent private Members’ business order of the day No. 8 relating to the High Speed Rail Planning Authority Bill 2018 standing in the name of the Member for Grayndler being called on immediately and being given priority over all other business for passage through all stages by 1.30 pm today.

Leave not granted.

I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Grayndler from moving the following motion forthwith:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent private Members’ business order of the day No. 8 relating to the High Speed Rail Planning Authority Bill 2018 standing in the name of the Member for Grayndler being called on immediately and being given priority over all other business for passage through all stages by 1.30 pm today.

This suspension of standing orders will be seconded by my colleague and high-speed rail advocate the member for Indi. The reason we are raising this issue again today is the failure of the government to advance this project in the five years in which they have held office. Prior to 2013 we had a comprehensive study of high-speed rail from Brisbane through to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra. That study went into a great deal of detail, down to the design of where the stations would be. It found a positive economic benefit. For example, it found between Sydney and Melbourne a benefit of $2.50—that is, a benefit greater than double the expenditure for that investment. So the work has been done.

That work also found that a journey from Sydney to Melbourne or from Sydney to Brisbane—both of which are top-10 aviation routes in the world—would take under three hours. It also found that it would make a big difference to decentralisation and to regional economic development, not the least of which right here in the national capital. It would also be of enormous benefit for great cities like Newcastle, as well as for the Albury-Wodonga region. It would make an enormous difference. Putting that region under an hour from Melbourne would change the whole economics of jobs and opportunities in that region, which is why we are supporting this.

We tried to establish a process that would go beyond just a term of government or indeed the presence of any particular side in government. After that report we established the High Speed Rail Advisory Group. That included the former member for Farrer, the former Leader of the National Party and former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer. It included Jennifer Westacott, the head of the Business Council of Australia. So, for those people who say, 'Oh, this is just some airy-fairy project,' it is not. It is about economic growth and development. It's about jobs. It's about decentralisation. It's about dealing with urban congestion. It also included representatives like the head of the Australasian Railway Association. It included representatives of local government.

The fact is that what you need—and the advisory group found this—to drive the project, because it is interjurisdictional, is an authority that crosses the Commonwealth government and the governments of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT, as well as local government representatives. We provided, in the 2013 budget, funding for that authority of $54 million. That $54 million was cut by the incoming Abbott government. It was cut because they cut every single dollar for any rail project that wasn't under construction. So, as well as the Melbourne Metro, the Cross River Rail, Perth rail and Launceston light rail, the funding was cut for high-speed rail.

And yet, as Australians who travel overseas know, anyone who is in London and wants to get to Paris goes on the train. Anyone who's in Rome and wants to get to Milan goes on the train. Anyone who's in Tokyo and wants to go to Osaka goes on the train. People who want to go from Beijing to Shanghai go on the train. The whole world, every continent on this planet, is building high-speed rail—in Africa, South America, North America, Europe and Asia. The only occupied continent which isn't is right here in Australia. And the fact is that, just like renewables, the technology of today and the future is getting cheaper. It's getting more effective. The trains are getting faster and more efficient both in terms of travel times and boosting productivity and in terms of their impact on the environment.

But what Infrastructure Australia found last year, in a report to the government that it has ignored, is that you need to preserve the corridor now, because, if you don't preserve the corridor now, it will have an enormous impact in terms of cost. The 2013 study by Infrastructure Australia found that the eventual cost will increase by $21 billion if we don't preserve the corridor now. Our big study found, in terms of the viability of the project, that travel on the east coast of Australia is forecast to grow by about 1.8 per cent every year over the next two decades, an increase of 60 per cent by 2035. East coast trips will double from 152 million in 2009 to 355 million over coming decades.

We need to plan right now. We need to preserve the corridor right now. We need that intergovernmental cooperation right now. Indeed, the Premier of New South Wales said this on 23 August 2017:

Of course we would love to see high speed rail servicing our State but for this to be viable it would need to travel beyond NSW and it would require federal involvement.

She was right then, but she's wrong today, because today, in the lead-up to a state election in New South Wales, she's floating these tiny little routes just in New South Wales for regional centres, with no dollars and no jurisdiction, no governance arrangements and no plan to actually get it done. So once again, in the lead-up to an election, we have that. It's just a cynical exercise.

That is why we had a serious process. That is why I appointed Tim Fischer to try and drag the dinosaurs over there who sit in the coalition across to modernity, to the future, to what we need. Tim Fischer was an absolutely genuine supporter of high-speed rail and remains so today, as does the business community, as does local government and as do state governments. But what it needs is some national leadership.

The opportunity is there with this legislation. I have moved this legislation five times since 2013, and it has lapsed because those opposite haven't been interested in it. We know from the leak to the Herald Sun that in this year's budget they allocated $1.5 billion for high-speed rail. They haven't made the announcement yet, but we know that they put the funding aside. What for? We're not quite sure. Well, let's get on with establishing the authority, because the first thing you need to do before you can build the train is to have the corridor, and that costs money. That costs dollars. We know the money is there; we know we should set up an authority.

Today, why doesn't the parliament unite—Labor, crossbenchers and coalition members—to actually vote for something that the Australian people overwhelmingly support? That's why the Premier of New South Wales has discovered this issue and done a little leak to the Herald today about this issue, without a plan, without an idea of how it gets progressed. Well, this is how it gets progressed. It is not just me who says this; Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council of Australia says this; Tim Fischer says this; the Australasian Railway Association says this; the Rail, Tram and Bus Union says this; local government says this.

This is an opportunity. We can have this legislation through by 1.30 today. What that would do is send a message that this parliament will do its job, that it's prepared to act in the interests of Australians, not just engage in squabbling about who's doing what and who's on top of who over there in the coalition. This is an opportunity, and we're giving it to the government, to adopt this, pass the suspension motion and put the bill through. I thank the member for Indi for seconding this motion.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

12:11 pm

Photo of Cathy McGowanCathy McGowan (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very pleased to second this motion. It's the right time to do the right thing. This is a nation-building activity. The parliament has had inquiries into this. For many personal reasons to do with me being the federal member for Indi, I'm very happy to support this motion.

Colleagues, in 50 years time we're going to look back upon this particular parliament and see so many lost opportunities. Many, many times I've stood in this parliament and said to my colleagues on the other side, and particularly to the National Party, 'Where's your vision for this country?' And today, with this motion, I'm calling on my colleagues, particularly from the National Party, to show us your vision, to show us that you've got a plan, to show us you really get rural and regional Australia and where we want to be in 50 years time. It's about population. It's about the drivers of economic growth. It's about being brave and letting rural and regional Australia take its place in this great nation. So this authority is just the beginning to say that the National Party in particular has a plan for the future of this country. That's the political reason, I suppose, but there are really good other reasons.

The parliament itself this year, while I've been here, has had two inquiries which basically support what we're trying to do. Probably the most important one was from the ITC, the Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities, and its report, Harnessing value, delivering infrastructure, a bipartisan report that says we've actually got to do something in a national way about what's happening in the cities and what's happening in the region. We've got to build infrastructure that connects. There were some creative ways about how we could fund that. So that report is before the parliament.

The second report I would like to refer to is Regions at the ready, which talks about a national approach to building infrastructure and developing the regions so that they can take their rightful place in the country. Both reports have been presented to this parliament and we're still waiting for the government to come back and tell us what they think about the recommendations, but they sit there.

The third reason, which is probably the most important for me, is that when I got elected as member for Indi my commitment was to put my electorate first. So I'm standing here backing a motion from the Labor Party because I look to the government and I say: 'Well, if not you, who is going to build us this high-speed rail? Who is going to preserve the corridor? And if you're not going to do it now, government, after five years, when are you going to do it? So, if not you, who?'

I say to the people in my electorate: 'Who else is standing up for you for infrastructure that's actually going to make a difference to our community? Who are the visionary people in north-east Victoria who come to this parliament and say, "I get the future and I will stand up and I will put Indi first"'?

Related to putting Indi first, to get us the infrastructure that we need, I also would like to acknowledge the work of one of my constituents, Tim Fischer. The last time I spoke to Tim Fischer we were launching his book about steam engines. I made a speech about the importance of high-speed rail and the opportunity that steam gives to us in the regions. I'm saying that high-speed rail will give us the same impetus that steam gave a couple of centuries ago. I think I saw Tim sadly shake his head. He has almost given up on it, because the National Party, the government, the coalition were his party and for five years they haven't been able to do it. So I say: 'Government, if not you, who will speak up for the regions? Who? When will we put in infrastructure that delivers long-term benefits at the centre of what we need to do?'

I say to the government that now is the right time. You're going to have the MYEFO report and, according to the member for Grayndler, there is some money there that we might be able to do something with. We're bringing the budget forward to April. Please, come out with a strategy for regional Australia. Show us how for north-east Victoria, for southern New South Wales, for Geelong and for Newcastle you're actually understanding what the regions are needing and you're putting us front and centre, because clearly the government hasn't got it. They haven't done it and I don't think they're going to do it.

I say to my community, look to the crossbench and look to those of us who stand here today and say high-speed rail is the future for the regions. We need to invest in the corridor. Do you know what we really need to do? What the government really needs to do is say to regional Australia: 'We understand what you need. For the next 100 years we're going to build the infrastructure that is going to put you at the centre of Australia's future.'

12:16 pm

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Special Minister of State) Share this | | Hansard source

The government doesn't support the suspension of standing orders, because the government already has a significant business program on the agenda today. I note for the benefit of the House, and I would say to the member for Grayndler, that one thing we do respect is his passion for policy and issues. He has a genuine passion for policy and issues. It is refreshing. It is a different style of leadership than that of the Leader of the Opposition. It is rare in the opposition, but we welcome it. We welcome a refreshing new take on policy and issues from the member for Grayndler, in stark contrast to the Leader of the Opposition's approach on policy.

The government, when you look at the agenda for today, has put forward some very important matters that the House needs to finalise its consideration on before the end of the year, the first of which is the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill. This is the second time that the opposition has attempted to defer consideration of this bill. Why is the opposition seeking to push back consideration of the family and domestic violence leave bill? It's first on the agenda. We need to pass this bill through the House. This is a reform of this government that will allow for domestic violence and family leave for the first time in Australia from the federal level. Not once but twice now the opposition has said, 'We have more important business than the family and domestic violence leave bill that we want considered by the House.' The government doesn't agree. The government agrees that this should be the first priority for today. We have only a few speakers left on all sides. We can pass this bill. It can go straight to the Senate and, hopefully, we can get this passed by the end of this year. Wouldn't that be a good thing? I think the House would agree that that is a very important bill.

When you look at the other matters on the Notice Paper for today, we are talking about the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Legislation Amendment Bill and the Intelligence Services Amendment Bill. These bills are national security related matters. We know that the opposition is attempting at the moment to politicise the area of national security. They are not agreeing with the government's bill, which is deliberately designed to give the powers to our agencies that they need and that they are requesting, to deal with the difficult matter of encryption of serious crime, serious terrorism and serious matters like paedophilia.

We would ask for their support on such an important piece of legislation. We need their support on such an important piece of legislation. We should all be in this parliament to be on a unity ticket. But to suggest it isn't a priority for the parliament or isn't a priority for this House before the end of this year, when our national security agencies on a daily basis are now saying that 80 to 90 per cent of the traffic of terror-related suspects is now encrypted and they are unable to access it, should really put into perspective for every member of this House why we are asking for this legislation to be considered before the end of the year.

Dr Aly interjecting

Yes, I will take the interjection from the member for Cowan. You might want to have consideration of various elements of the protections and safeguards in this legislation. That's fine, but you can't deny that it is an important and necessary matter for today for us to consider. We need to consider it, and the government needs to be allowed to get on with its agenda, as well. That isn't to say that we don't agree with high-speed rail. I have to say that we do respect the member for Indi and the passion she evokes for centres like Albury and Wodonga, which stand to benefit the most from greater rural and regional infrastructure. That's why this government has pursued the inland rail program.

Today, the real reason that the House is seeing this motion in an attempt to change the business paper is because of the action of the New South Wales Liberal government. I will read from a press release that the New South Wales Liberal government issued today about high-speed rail. This is real government action:

The NSW Government will start work on a fast rail network in the next term of government, linking regional centres to each other and Sydney …

So, when the member for Grayndler says this is urgent and we need to do it today, well, the New South Wales government is doing it. They have appointed Professor Andrew McNaughton to confirm the most appropriate routes, the train speeds and the station locations.

The member for Grayndler says that these are just small routes and small things. This is the reality of how high-speed rail will actually work in Australia. It will be by increment. It will not be by one big bang. It will not be done in one big hit. It will be from point to point, from viable centre to viable centre. That is the reality of how high-speed rail will happen in Australia. This government announcement that we have seen made today—already made, before this motion came to the House—is saying that the routes they are identifying are, for example, the northern route, including the Central Coast and Newcastle, the southern inland route to Goulburn and Canberra, the western route to Lithgow, Bathurst and Orange, and the southern coastal route, including Wollongong and Nowra.

You can respect a Liberal-National government in New South Wales that is in surplus, that has its budget under control, that has the money now to pursue real improvements to people's lives with a fast-rail network—and they're doing that work. They are announcing it today and getting on with it, now that they have their budget under control.

For the past five years it has been this government that has had to get its own budget under control after the fiscal mess we saw from the opposition when they were in government.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Oxley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

By doubling the debt. You doubled the debt.

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Special Minister of State) Share this | | Hansard source

If you are concerned about debt, you will be happy to know that we will be in surplus next year and we will be able to start paying down that debt. But that's no thanks to you. You have opposed every savings measure this government has put forward for five years. Members of the opposition have fought us at every turn when we have tried to get the government's budget into surplus. Nonetheless, with all the resistance in the Senate, with all of the resistance from the Labor Party, with all of their big-spending plans, we will have the budget in surplus in the next budget. Then, if you are very concerned about debt—and it sounds like members of the opposition are—we will be in a position to start paying down that debt, most of which was racked up under your government.

This is an important matter. There is no doubt about it. We have state governments acting on this matter around the country. We're also acting as a federal government to invest in rail across the country as part of our $70 billion infrastructure plan. We are seeing regional centres, we have our studies out and we also have our business cases coming back to government next year. As the opposition is fond of saying, if we don't have business cases for these projects we can't act as a government. There is no need today for us to do anything other than continue to pursue what all governments are doing—that is, invest in the business cases and in prioritising the experts in planning. For it to be viable, this will have to be one of the most significantly planned infrastructure projects in the nation's history. It can't just emerge overnight. It will have to be done from regional centre to regional centre. It will have to be economically viable and well managed by government, with their finances.

All of those steps are being undertaken under the stewardship of the Liberal and National federal government, under the Liberal state government in New South Wales, and also with other governments in the country that are working hard on this. For today, when you look at the government's schedule of important matters, whether it be the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018—one of the most important reforms we can see in domestic violence in Australia at the moment—or the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2018, which we have to get done, or the Intelligence Services Amendment Bill 2018, clearly the priority today has to be the work of the federal government. There is no need to preserve a corridor today.

The member for Grayndler is not thinking clearly when he says we have to preserve the corridor today. What does that actually mean? We won't be preserving any corridor today. We have to work very hard with our agencies. We now have Infrastructure Australia, we have the Inland Rail proceeding, we have billions of dollars of infrastructure going into rail around the country and we have the state government announcing an expert panel to design routes. All of the work that needs to be done to support an infrastructure project of this scale is underway and being done. It's being financed through this government and state government. For the Labor Party to come in here today—it's political and it's reactionary.

We know that the member for Grayndler has a habit of claiming credit for infrastructure, decisions and announcements that are not his own. The New South Wales government has, today, made an announcement and this reactionary move in the House from the member for Grayndler is pretty transparent. I think members in this House understand that.

We respect the member for Indi's longstanding view about her community and the work she is doing to fight to get that infrastructure connected to her towns and her important centres in her electorate. That's what regional communities want: they want governments that will do the work. We're doing the work. The New South Wales Liberal-Nationals state government is doing the work—absolutely. This House can be confident that work will proceed without any need to interrupt the important consideration on the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018, the Intelligence Services Amendment Bill 2018 and these national security matters. That's what the federal government is for: national security. We need to get on with these bills.

We need to pass the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018 as soon as possible. I hope we do not see a third attempt to delay this bill by the Labor Party. There have been two attempts already to delay the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018. We don't want to see a third. We want to proceed and we want to pass this bill. The government will be opposing the suspension of standing orders.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion, as moved by the member for Grayndler, be agreed to. There being more than one voice calling for a division, in accordance with standing order 133 the division is deferred until after the discussion of the matter of public importance.

Debate adjourned.