House debates

Wednesday, 28 September 2022


High Speed Rail Authority Bill 2022; Second Reading

5:44 pm

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

I can inform the House that the opposition will support the High Speed Rail Authority Bill 2022, but we will introduce some substantive amendments to it—not to change the intent, but to bring greater accountability and transparency to the new agency that this government is forming. We acknowledge that this was an election promise. The Australian people have voted. They have given a clear indication of their intent. It is important that we allow the government to get on with it but also make sure that transparency and accountability for this new agency is put in place. That will be through the amendments that we put through this place. We would like to work constructively with the government to work through those to make sure that we can give confidence around where high-speed rail may go into the future.

High-speed rail has a long history of support on both sides of this parliament, as far back as the 1980s. We have sought many ways in which to expedite it. While we acknowledge that this new authority will put greater emphasis on it, there are already existing agencies that have undertaken much work around the possibilities and opportunities of fast rail in this country.

It's important to understand that the cost of high-speed rail is significant. We acknowledge the fact that in the election the now government pledged $500 million towards that, and the New South Wales government has recently pledged around $500 million towards that as well. But, to put this into context, there was a review undertaken in 2012 that estimated the cost of fast rail across the eastern seaboard at around $131 billion. So $500 million will not scratch the sides. If you look at what is estimated by some experts now in real dollar terms today, it's somewhere between $200 billion and $300 billion. That is a significant amount of money that Australian taxpayers will have to bring forward.

Therefore, we believe it is imperative that there be accountability measures and transparency for the Australian people around such an investment and also around the journey towards delivering this. There has been, as I articulated earlier, since the 1980s much intent to try and bring high-speed rail to this country but little delivery. It's important that we have that accountability for the people of Australia in spending their money in trying to bring this to fruition. Understanding the opportunities that are there, it's important that we are honest with the Australian people about the challenges that this piece of infrastructure will bring.

It's also important that this doesn't come at the expense of other infrastructure items, particularly Inland Rail. The former infrastructure minister here who is behind me, the member for Riverina, has been a champion of Inland Rail, along with the member for New England, in making sure we can get freight from Melbourne to Brisbane in 24 hours. That was a real economic mindset that he bought to the portfolio in trying to get freight out of this country and to start to pay the bills. You can only pay the bills when you put product from this country on a boat and it goes overseas and we get paid for it. Getting those supply chains moving more efficiently means money will come back to this country quicker and into the pockets of those that have the courage and conviction of their own wallet to have a go. This is a significant investment in our nation's future. The member for Riverina championed this and has delivered much of it. It's important that these commitments towards high-speed rail are not at the expense of Inland Rail or the many other projects particularly for regional and remote Australia, such as roads and airports, in making sure that we are the ones that pay the bill for this.

So, in giving support to this bill, much of what the opposition want to talk about in terms of what we would be asking for is around ensuring that there are arrangements for the Productivity Commission and Infrastructure Australia to undertake independent assessments of the cost-benefit analysis of high-speed rail. We have to be honest with ourselves. If it costs too much, if it's not affordable, if it's not achievable, let's look each other in the eye and say, 'It can't be done.' We need those reports to be made public and tabled here in the Australian parliament. This is the people's House. The Australian people should see this with the transparency that both sides of the House should be prepared to give. It's their money.

We also believe that extensive consultation with those communities along proposed corridors need to be continued. But also I think it's important to understand—and we acknowledge that there will be a five-member board—that on that board there should be at least one person from regional Australia. This will traverse much of regional Australia along the eastern seaboard, and it's important that those voices are heard—that their lives will be impacted by this is—and have representation on that board.

This is all about equity, transparency and accountability. That's all the opposition is asking for. We don't intend to get in the road of what we have all agreed is something we should explore. But it's important that we are honest with the Australian people and that we have the measures that give them the confidence that this parliament, this government, and future governments are honest with them about the future of high-speed rail in this country and that we're prepared to make those decisions predicated on science and economics.

If we all believe that, then the sound amendments that we're putting forward aren't irrational; they are ones that both sides should work constructively towards, to making sure we give confidence to the Australian taxpayer. After all, it's their money.

5:51 pm

Photo of Michelle Ananda-RajahMichelle Ananda-Rajah (Higgins, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

When it comes to transport, Australians want options. It's all about alleviating congestion, boosting convenience and protecting the climate. The relatively small size of Higgins, at 39-square kilometres, means that my constituents face the irritations of road congestion on a daily basis. The people of Higgins welcome measures that take cars off the road and they also care deeply about the environment.

Transport in Australia is the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 18 per cent of our total burden. Emissions from transport have been increasing every year since 1990, with the exception of 2020 during the early phase of the pandemic.

Road transport makes up the bulk of our transport emissions, indicating that any intervention that reduces our dependency on cars is going to have an impact on overall emissions. Australia is a wide brown land with horizons stretching as far as the eye can see. Distances are vast. As a result we have become over-reliant on planes for intercity travel. Aviation accounts for nine per cent of our transport emissions, far less than road vehicles but nevertheless significant.

At this election Higgins voted for progress to end the gridlock on climate action. The passage of our historic Climate Change Bill a few weeks ago is a signpost in a forked road that course corrects our country. Higgins had a key role in that outcome. My constituents, like many Australians, want transport options from EVs to alternatives to aviation. Frankly, we are not all enamoured with the airport experience either. I must confess that I feel guilty flying from Melbourne to Canberra as often as I do. There must be a better way, and there is.

High-speed rail is a gift for a country as vast as ours and on the frontline of climate change. With Australia's population projected to increase to over 35 million by 2050, it's time to begin long-term planning, especially as we race to net zero. Globally, several advanced economies operate high-speed rail. Japan's Shinkansen, in 1964, was the first but high-speed rail now exists in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and the Netherlands. China started relatively late, in 2003, but now has the world's largest network, stretching a whopping 38,000 kilometres, with plans to double by 2035.

I am proud to be part of an Albanese Labor government that is establishing a high-speed rail authority to oversee and plan the construction of high-speed rail down the east coast from Melbourne to Brisbane. As a statutory agency the authority will provide independent and impartial advice to the government. This has been a passion project of our Prime Minister who has been championing it for over a decade, initially from government and then from opposition. Our Prime Minister never gave up on the vision, tabling a high-speed rail bill five times between 2013 and 2018. In 2013 the coalition abolished the High Speed Rail Advisory Group, killing off the dream—until 2022, when Higgins and a slew of seats around the country voted for change.

An Albanese Labor government will provide $500 million to start work on the connection between Sydney and Newcastle as a matter of priority. This link was identified in a feasibility study commissioned by our Prime Minister in 2010, when he was the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. The funds will go towards corridor acquisition, planning and early works. But we are not stopping there; Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane are in scope.

We will have trains made with Aussie know-how and Aussie green steel and powered by our sunshine. Through Labor's National Rail Manufacturing Plan we will ensure that we build capacity in onshore manufacturing and local jobs that upskill our people. My only desire is that 250 kilometres an hour is a floor and not a ceiling. Frictionless systems, like the maglev intercity link being built in Japan right now, offer a glimpse into the future. Labor governments turn aspiration into action. We raise, not dim, ambition. Melbourne to Sydney in 2½ to three hours? Bring it on!

5:55 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

RMACK () (): Back in 2012, in my first term as the federal member for Riverina, I called a high-speed rail forum in Wagga Wagga, and I was stunned by the response. More than a hundred people turned up to that forum, including one Bryan Nye. Many people, including the Prime Minister, would remember Bryan Nye. Sadly, he passed away in 2016. He had family links to my home city of Wagga Wagga. He joined the Australasian Railway Association in 2003. I think Bryan Nye would be looking down upon us today, and he would be pleased. I think Tim Fischer, the great patriarch of the member for Cowper in my party, the National Party, would also be pleased. They would both be wanting the government not just to talk about this but to get on with this. They would be saying that they also played a big part in this. As the Nationals leader, the member for Maranoa, said at this dispatch box this afternoon, the opposition will be supporting the High Speed Rail Authority Bill 2022, but there will be some caveats, there will be some amendments and there will be some parameters which need to be put in place. This is something which is nation building, and I acknowledge that.

Let me talk a little bit about the late Mr Nye, because it's important. He was one of the absolute staunchest advocates for high-speed rail in this nation. When Mr Nye passed away, Bob Nanva, the National Secretary of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union—yes, I'm quoting a union—said that Mr Nye had made an enormous contribution to the rail industry and was highly regarded and respected. He also said:

Bryan Nye was a passionate advocate for Australia's rail sector. Bryan not only had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the industry, he knew his way around the corridors of power—

yes, he did and he was often in this place—

His greatest skill, however, was in bringing people together and finding consensus.

Whether it was bringing competing interests to the table on a united industry position, or managing negotiations between industry and government, Bryan used his skills to great effect.

That he did. I think what we're seeing tonight when we're discussing and debating the High Speed Rail Authority Bill 2022 is people being brought together—people who may not necessarily always agree but who want to do things in the common interest and in the national interest and make sure that we build the infrastructure fit for purpose for this nation.

Bob Herbert AM also talked about Bryan Nye. Bob Herbert was very influential in transport. He said he remembered that Bryan established the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board in 2005, which enabled the industry to harmonise practices and establish national standards. That was so important, and it fits in so well with what we're discussing: high-speed rail. I concluded that 2012 forum with a question, which, given all the reasons and benefits outlined today, is still valid: can we afford not to do it?

Around the time of that forum, and we just heard the member for Maranoa talking about those years, high-speed rail was costed at $131 billion. That was a significant amount then. Goodness knows what that figure would be now. I know that even the Inland Rail, originally costed on a desktop analysis of around $9½ billion, is now costed around $14½ billion.

When I took over as Deputy Prime Minister, and the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, the states signed up to the Inland Rail. I have to say that two of the great helpers who provided great assistance in the project were Jacinta Allan, a Labor minister from Victoria; and also Mark Bailey, from your home state of Queensland, Mr Deputy Speaker Buchholz. I will give those two Labor ministers credit for the vision they had to come on board with the federal government with Inland Rail. I do also recall signing the pact with the New South Wales government, and the representative at the time, John Barilaro, at Parkes on the east-west north-south intersection for freight rail. As I told the Federation Chamber earlier this week, it will be a boom town when it comes to Inland Rail, getting goods from the regions to Melbourne or Brisbane ports within 24 hours, or the opposite way, getting goods from the metropolitan ports to regional areas. Certainly, as the member for Maranoa has indicated, getting our product from paddock and pit to port for our exports is going to be so important.

I come from Wagga Wagga, and I appreciate that at the moment there is a lot of conjecture and submissions to the New South Wales planning authorities about the actual route of Inland Rail. It's is a bone of contention at the moment, and I appreciate that; I want what's best for the community. With Inland Rail going right through the corridor of our city there have been a lot of calls for a bypass, which would be very costly—just like this would be very costly. I appreciate what the member for Higgins said earlier about the 1980s and high-speed rail in Japan. In actual fact, high-speed rail began in Europe in 1938, would you believe, and they have certainly been championing that.

The member for Whitlam was talking earlier about his experience with high-speed rail in Japan. Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku are the four main Japanese islands, and I know how interconnected Japan is with high-speed rail and that it's so important. Indeed, a representative of the Japanese company which ran the Osaka-Nagoya-Tokyo link, said they moved 386,000 passengers a day—and this is going back a little while—in high-speed rail trains. The average annual delay per train was—wait for it—six seconds. Six seconds! That's efficiency.

This bill, which the government has introduced, establishes a high-speed rail authority as an independent body—and that's important—to advise on, plan and develop a high-speed corridor in Australia. I know others opposite have been championing their Prime Minister, and I've had discussions with the Prime Minister, the member for Grayndler, about the importance of rail, freight rail and high-speed rail. In particular, this is talked about between Newcastle and Sydney. Labor allocated $500 million for the project, and, as the member for Maranoa pointed out, that is barely scraping the sides. That is but barely a drop in the ocean compared to what would be needed, even for the Newcastle to Sydney link. But it's a start. I see the member for Hunter there nodding, and I suppose you need to start somewhere. That is why there won't be opposition from the opposition, unlike when we were in government and those opposite were in opposition and they opposed everything. We want to see this nation reach its potential. We want to see Australians be their best selves. Yes, there do need to be some caveats and some amendments, as I said earlier, but I appreciate the member for Grayndler's long held ambition to have select corridors preserved. If you don't do that, you end up with what we had even on projects such as the Hume Highway when it was duplicated. Even near the Wagga Wagga Airport, there has been provision talked about and indeed action taken on preserving a corridor for a potential high-speed rail link in the future.

I appreciate that we have some Greens in the House. I know that a previous Greens proposal—which I read carefully, because I always carefully read everything that the Greens put up—talked about an Inland Rail link along the coastline. We need it inland. We need high-speed rail to come inland, through Canberra, through Wagga Wagga, down somewhere beside the Hume freeway—possibly through Shepparton because, if nothing more, that will boost regional Australia. That will create jobs.

I appreciate that the member for Maranoa talked, too, about what it might do for other transport stakeholders. I appreciate that Wagga Wagga and inland Australia are well serviced at the moment by Rex Airlines, an award-winning airline, and by QantasLink. We can't do anything that is going to damage the airline industry at a time when the airline industry is on its knees because of COVID-19. I was the minister who provided a lot of money in domestic aviation network support, regional airline network support and, of course, tourism incentives. We put those in place to ensure that people were still able to fly; to ensure that we were still able to get personal protection equipment and health professionals to, particularly, remote Australia during the height of COVID-19; and, as we, hopefully, come out of the back of COVID-19, to ensure that people can have confidence in the aviation sector again.

We're talking here about something very, very important, and that is, of course, the High Speed Rail Authority. It needs to be there to lead, to plan, to develop, to coordinate, to oversee and to monitor the construction and operation of a high-speed rail network in Australia, just like Ministers Allan, Bailey and Barilaro did in agreeing on a state level with Inland Rail. You cannot do this sort of nation building without the agreement, the say-so and the help and support of our state governments and, indeed, of local governments as well. There's a lot of work to be done, but we have to start somewhere, and I commend the government for making that somewhere here, because it is going to be important.

The coalition has a very good record when it comes to high-speed rail. We released our 20-year national Faster Rail Plan in 2019, and the 2022-23 budget committed a further $3.72 billion—not an insignificant amount—to deliver faster rail, bringing total commitments to faster rail projects to $6 billion. So I do not want to hear Labor saying, 'This is all about us,' because it's not. It is about bipartisanship. I see the member for Newcastle rocking her head back and laughing, but it is.

We have to be bipartisan. When I go out there, I hear that people actually like to see us getting on. Even in the years of Julia Gillard as Prime Minister, something like 88 per cent of legislation was actually agreed to on a bipartisan level. People don't realise that. They think it's always argy-bargy. They just think that we're always opposed to everything, and we're not. Indeed, on this, let's just say—pardon the pun—we're on one track. It's just how we get there that might take some work and some diplomacy. I know the Leader of the Nationals is committed to getting around the table and talking about these sorts of aspects, and I'm sure the Leader of the Opposition will be too, because this is important.

High-speed rail along the Australian east coast has been examined by both sides of politics since at least the 1980s, but we also need to ensure that if we're going to do high speed rail we're going to do it inland. If it's from Newcastle to Sydney, that's well and good, but we need to make sure that we extend it to the Northern Rivers. We need to extend it not only to those populated areas up north but also through the inland, through the Riverina, and through the electorate that the member for Nicholls serves so well to make sure that we take advantage of giving those people options.

What we don't want to see is the continuance of our overcrowded metropolitan cities. Melbourne is the fastest-growing city in Australia and, potentially, the world. What we want to see is people being able to live in one of those outer regions and get on a high-speed train to Sydney, Melbourne or, in the future, Brisbane, and commute not just for leisure and pleasure but also for work, because our satellite cities are going to become so important. We don't have a lot of those larger inland cities that America has, and we can have that when we build the right infrastructure.

High-speed rail is important infrastructure, just like water infrastructure is going to be so important in the future. I commend what the government is doing here and support it. There will be some amendments needed, but, in principle, I'm very much in favour of it.

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.

6:26 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of the High Speed Rail Authority Bill 2022, with the caveat given by the Leader of the National Party that we in the coalition have some amendments that we intend to move on this bill to put some more robustness and accountability mechanisms in place around this new authority. But I'm absolutely a supporter, as we are in the coalition, of major long-term infrastructure concepts like high-speed rail and having a framework to look, very properly, at the feasibility of something such as this, which, as has been outlined, in its completed vision will see the linking of our major east coast metropolises of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and other major centres along the way. People will have different views about which other centres should or should not be picked up on the route.

Can I firstly say how outrageous it is that Adelaide isn't being considered to be linked to this. That is bitterly disappointing. The people of Adelaide are tuning in right now to this debate to hear whether I can succeed in convincing the government to not treat Adelaide like a second-class city in this great continent, let alone Commonwealth. But evidently we don't make the cut. Nonetheless, that's not going to prevent me from doing the right thing by the people of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and other communities that would benefit from this.

We've just got to be realistic here, though. There are benefits. There are also costs. The benefits are obvious, and I don't dispute any of them. I hope the benefits outweigh the cost of this piece of infrastructure. I just point out that there are two major high-speed rail projects in places we in this country could understand very well. One is in California and the other is in the United Kingdom. The UK one involves linking London. I think it goes up through Birmingham to Manchester and/or Liverpool, picking up other Midlands centres through there. My recollection on the California high-speed rail project is that it is from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I think there may be longer-term plans for Sacramento and down to San Diego. Those are both projects that link a much larger number of people than this one. The reports are that they are struggling financially. They're progressing, but they are struggling financially from what their initial concept was from a costing and time frame point of view.

I certainly don't hope that befalls the work that this will allow to progress around looking at high-speed rail in this country. But I think it is very important that we temper some potential realistic outcome of a process that this bill and this authority will facilitate, which is undertaking all of the proper robust planning and processes to consider this. I note the government's commitment, which no doubt will be put in place in the upcoming October budget, specific to Sydney to Newcastle, and I'm sure there are benefits to that proceeding. That is a worthy project, even if this authority finds that the broader vision doesn't necessarily stack up financially.

The scale or the quantum of the estimated cost has also been commented upon. I know that we're dealing with some figures, which are more than a decade old, that approach $100 billion, and there's speculation from previous contributions that this project could cost a few hundred billion dollars. Just using the term 'a few hundred billion dollars', without being able to pin it down much more specifically than that, just goes to show how much work needs to be done and how impossible it is for us to say, at this point in time, whether there is any likelihood or not of the cost-benefit analysis and all the various other elements of planning that will see this progress. But we definitely support doing that body of work.

It's just as important if we find that it doesn't stack up economically as if we do, because this is a debate that's gone on for a long time—way more than 10 years. I lived in Canberra for a couple of years as a child in the nineties, and they were talking about Canberra being a part of some kind of rail link. High speed in those days may have been different to what we call high speed these days. I've certainly been on some very high-speed networks. The maglev from the Shanghai airport into—it doesn't go into the middle of Shanghai unfortunately. You get off and then get in a cab, depending on where you're going to. It doesn't connect that well with the broader rail network. But that, from memory, gets to over 300, maybe up towards 400 kilometres per hour. It's a magnetic, sort of suspended thing. We are talking about speeds in excess of 200, I believe up to 250 kilometres per hour. I've had the opportunity in Japan, and of course in Europe with the TGV and other connections to experience high-speed rail. It would be fantastic, if it stacks up economically, to have that option of getting from Melbourne to Sydney.

I'm sure a lot of Melbourne and Sydney members will excuse themselves from this vote, because they'd love to take that high-speed line to Canberra and back rather than all the challenges of flying on the short hop that you need to. It's worth doing that work, but I am very cautious. We support this because we need to do the work and find out the answer to the ultimate question of what are the economics around the broad vision of linking Brisbane to Melbourne and everything along way.

Of the places that have done it, obviously Japan is one of the best examples and France as well. Neither of those examples involve connecting just two cities. They are a major network, and that I think has lent itself to the economics there. Of course, the populations of both those countries and the cities that they interconnect are larger than what we're talking about here, but I don't necessarily believe that the economics don't stack up, particularly around linking cities like Sydney and Melbourne. I'm sure it's not the case since the pandemic, and I don't know what data is available, but certainly I seem to recall, at times, the Sydney to Melbourne air route was the second busiest on the planet. I think that's after Tokyo to Osaka, but I'm not sure if I have got that right. It's certainly one of the most lucrative air routes. Any of us that sit in the Sydney airport or the Melbourne airport, looking up at the board, are not surprised at the number of passengers that move between those cities and the number of flights that go between those cities. Certainly for those cities there is really only one option, which is flying.

To drive from Sydney to Melbourne is beyond that reasonable amount of time for the purposes that most people are doing that travel. High-speed rail certainly should be able to compete between two great, wealthy cities like Sydney and Melbourne, which, as has been pointed out in this debate, are also growing extremely rapidly. Realistically, we know the time frame that we are talking about to link cities like Sydney and Melbourne with each other in a high-speed rail corridor. That first trip is way more than one decade away, and you would see the population of those two cities, by the point in time at which a link is put in place and the first passengers were using it, be way beyond five and maybe even six million inhabitants each. That's why this is very worthy.

The broader point I make before finishing is that we in the coalition and in this country do a better job than most at recognising that these major expenditure decisions, particularly infrastructure decisions, should have a lot of robustness around them before decisions are made. There are a lot of spectacular white elephants around the world that have been linked to political decisions, promises made out of populism and seeking to win votes, that have not been judicious allocations of public funds. I really do commend the creation of Infrastructure Australia, which I absolutely acknowledge occurred under the Rudd government when they were elected. The now Prime Minister, from memory, was the infrastructure minister that put that in place. I was not an elected member; I was the chief of staff of the Premier of South Australia when we put in place the Infrastructure SA body, which was modelled on Infrastructure Australia, with great support from Sir Rod Eddington in particular and from Mark Birrell in designing that mechanism for the South Australian government. This was so they could get maximum value from working with Infrastructure Australia to have robustness around infrastructure projects when we were making decision about putting billions and billions of taxpayer dollars—in the case of this proposition, hundred billions of dollars—towards them, subject to how the financing of it was structured.

And so we are lucky that we are now in what I think is towards the 15th year of Infrastructure Australia and have processes in place that ensure that we are making the best decisions on these major infrastructure projects. I think that has become part of the culture now in federal politics, which is a great thing. No-one is suggesting with any seriousness that we embark on major infrastructure projects that a body like Infrastructure Australia has said should not be invested in, and that's very important.

Having said all of that, we're creating an authority here that probably will have some interaction with Infrastructure Australia but will be doing a lot of the work that Infrastructure Australia would do on this kind of proposition, because, of course, it is of such magnitude that it is appropriate that we have a special statutory body to take control and governance over this nation-building infrastructure proposition. I wish them well. I wish the idea well. I sincerely hope it stacks up. The spectacular magnitude of what expenditure we could be committing to is why I believe the amendments we will be seeking to move are very important, why we must make that decision with the best possible facts before us—particularly the economic analysis and the cost-benefit analysis of the expenditure—before we lock into such a significant project for the nation. On the basis of those comments, I welcome the opportunity to support this bill and I commend it to the House.

6:39 pm

Photo of Patrick GormanPatrick Gorman (Perth, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

The High Speed Rail Authority Bill 2022 is about building renewable powered transport for the next generation and making sure that we have those great pieces of infrastructure that really do so much more than just get us around and actually bring our country together. As I reflected on this bill, I remembered the first time I got on a high-speed train, the Eurostar, which travels at 300 kilometres an hour. It was a bit like the first time you sit in an electric car and go vroom. You do not forget that first acceleration, and it's exactly the same on an electric train—indeed, on a high-speed electric train, which this bill will enable to become a reality here in Australia, something which has been talked about for decades and decades.

I remember as a child—slightly smaller technology when it came to Perth—when we transferred the Perth rail network from diesel to electric trains. That happened in 1992. I remember the Transperth officers coming to my primary school, educating us about how we needed to be safe around electric trains, which even involved a slightly naff but nevertheless memorable Maggie the Magpie who'd tell us how to properly behave around electric trains. While Perth has electric trains, I acknowledge that we won't be part of the initial high-speed rail rollout, but, nevertheless, as an Australian, I'm excited. And maybe I can have a little bit of hope in my heart that, while we have high-speed rail for the east coast of Australia connecting communities, for Western Australia and those of us who travel across the country regularly, maybe Qantas and Virgin will start to get serious about investing in the next generation of super sonic airliners that are currently being developed. The High Speed Rail Authority Bill is an example of bringing the country together, creating faster, more efficient connections for our cities and our regions, giving people more freedom about where they choose to live, where they choose to work, where they choose to holiday, and being able to more affordably stay in touch with family and friends.

I agree with the previous speaker that we should not use infrastructure as a political tool. We should use infrastructure to grow our nation. Investing in infrastructure is about investing in the future of Australia, and this is about a better future for all Australians. It gives people stronger connections, and it will open up new opportunities for business.

We also know that this does have a grounding in good economics for our country. Previous studies by the department of infrastructure have found that the benefits of a high-speed rail network go well beyond travel times—unlocking regional economies, creating jobs, creating a significant boost for the economy in the medium and the long term. A report by the University of New South Wales found that the option of a high-speed rail network across the east coast could result in $140 billion of value uplift. This will make it easier to live in our regional centres. And we know that the studies completed in 2013 on the phase 2 rail study released by the previous Labor government showed that for every dollar spent there'd be $2.30 of economic benefit. That's before you go on to all of the social and environmental benefits. As I said, this technology is about building renewable powered public transport that can give people more choices about how they get around this great country.

This is not a new idea. The idea of a high-speed rail link between Melbourne and Sydney was first proposed in 1984 by none other than the CSIRO. We know that 20 years before that, Japan introduced their high-speed rail network in 1964. We saw in the 1980s Europe begin to build their network, which now operates across France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Netherlands. China, who only started building such a network in 2008, now boasts one of the world's largest, with 37,000 kilometres of lines in operation. Needless to say, it's Australia's turn. We know that, if we get this done here, the technology is there. Yes, we have unique and beautiful geography that will be a challenge for those who seek to build this, but the preservation of the corridors has already begun. We now just need to start planning that first link that the member for Newcastle spoke about a few moments ago, the Newcastle to Sydney link.

I mentioned before that this does have unique benefits when it comes to the question of climate change. This is technology that's uniquely placed to take advantage of our 80 per cent renewable energy mix, which we will meet by 2030. The International Energy Agency tells us that rail is already the most electrified transport sector. Three-quarters of passenger rail runs on electricity worldwide. Half of rail freight operates on electricity. So, if we are going to tackle that big challenge of decarbonising the transport sector, we need to be serious about expanding the rail networks that operate in Australia.

We know that, compared to aviation, high-speed rail uses 90 per cent less energy per passenger kilometre. When we look at a country like Australia, that makes a huge difference. And we know that people want these transport alternatives. As you can probably tell, Deputy Speaker, I am someone who loves being in modern, fast versions of transport. One of the things I always appreciate about being in a train rather than an aeroplane—and I studied aviation when I was young, and I love the aviation sector—is that the windows are just a little bit bigger on a train. In a country as beautiful as Australia, to be able to sit and go from the member for Whitlam's electorate—

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

Very beautiful!

Photo of Patrick GormanPatrick Gorman (Perth, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

A very beautiful part of the world, and I'm sure it's equally beautiful at 300 kilometres an hour.

That's why we need this essential, independent, impartial body for the effective and responsible development of Australia's new high-speed rail system. The authority will bring together state and territory governments, industry, business and communities, to optimise our nation's first long-term investment in fast rail. The first priority of course will be an updated analysis of the commencement of work on that fast, reliable, cost-effective connection between Sydney and Newcastle, part of eventually connecting Sydney all the way up to Brisbane. The High Speed Rail Authority will provide expert advice on policy and standards. It will secure the corridors necessary to build this nation-building project and allow for the wider expansion of the network over time, eventually bringing in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne and many regional centres.

This is about vision. It's also about knowing that, if you want to do something that requires long-term planning, you've got to act quickly. That's why, in the first four months of this government, we're bringing in this legislation, because we are 100 per cent committed to making sure that talk turns into bureaucratic action, that bureaucratic action turns into policy action and that then we actually start building this thing. Over time, we won't be debating the legislation about the authority, but I'm sure we'll see members from all over this chamber start to advocate as to why it should stop in their particular town or why it should have an extra train service from time to time. I look forward to the day when we have a granular debate like that, because that will be the time when we have had a truly successful implementation of the high-speed rail network that Australia has waited for for so long. I commend the bill to the House.

6:48 pm

Photo of Elizabeth Watson-BrownElizabeth Watson-Brown (Ryan, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move the second reading amendment circulated in my name:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1) notes that private ownership and delivery of essential infrastructure often leads to worse outcomes for the community and the environment, as corporate profits are put ahead of everyday people's interests; and

(2) calls on the Labor government to:

(a) deliver a fully publicly owned high speed rail network, from infrastructure construction to service delivery, that is run for the public good, not for profit;

(b) ensure high speed rail infrastructure development utilises to the greatest extent possible green steel and other green technologies to minimise carbon emissions during the construction phase; and

(c) ensure the new trains and other associated infrastructure are manufactured in Australia, helping to reinvigorate domestic manufacturing and create jobs".

High-speed rail represents an incredible opportunity for Australia. What an exciting prospect—linking capital cities, including Brisbane, and regional centres on Australia's the east coast. It's going to go a really long way to helping us decarbonise domestic travel, by significantly reducing domestic flights. And it can open up new economic opportunities, particularly in regional centres, as earlier speakers have mentioned. Politicians have talked about it for decades, so now is the time to get it moving. This bill for a new authority, the High Speed Rail Authority Bill 2022, could be the moment we finally get this crucial infrastructure happening.

But I am currently a little concerned that there could be some embedded difficulties caused by underfunding it and putting forward a framework that could lead to partial or wholesale privatisation. At the 2022 federal election, the Greens brought a policy of committing $17.7 billion over the next four years for the initial stages of high-speed rail development, because we do support the idea of high-speed rail. This government has committed only $500 million over the same period. As previous speakers have measured, this is a completely inadequate amount to get the high-speed rail off the ground. At best it will allow the purchasing of some land, the commissioning of route planning for the Sydney to Newcastle link and the hiring of core staff.

The 2010 feasibility study estimated the cost of the overall project from Brisbane to Melbourne would be $114 billion or, in today's terms, about $135 billion. So where's that extra $134.5 billion going to come from? The government hasn't clarified this, but it's pretty clear that much of it could well come from private finance, who would end up with a significant if not a majority stake in the operation and want their profit from this investment. As is always the case in public-private partnerships, this could lead to chaotic and slowed project delivery, higher prices for passengers, downward pressure on rail worker wages, and potential corner-cutting on regulations on environmental and social impact. Unfortunately, nothing in this current bill ensures this privatisation—partial or wholesale—won't take place, and that's our concern. The very fact that the authority will have to spend so much of its time just trying to secure finance for this operation could itself be an enormous delay on the project rollout, which is a huge concern, given that Australians have already waited decades for this infrastructure and that any feasible time frame for delivery is at least a decade long.

This is such crucial public infrastructure. It needs to be publicly funded and publicly owned. We believe that that's the only way to deliver it quickly, cheaply, efficiently and with environmental sustainability and social benefit at the centre. Before members of this chamber ask how else would the government pay for the infrastructure itself, I want to question why they aren't asking the same of the over $100 billion the government intends to spend on nuclear submarines, or of that $244 billion we mention a lot that the government will hand to the billionaires and megarich as part of the stage 3 tax cuts. There's $350 billion or so sitting right there which could be used. Why not use that to fund an obvious social good like high-speed rail? Long story short, we can afford to deliver a fully publicly owned high-speed rail network; we can't afford not to. Underfunding and partially privatising our public infrastructure can set it up to fail. It's what happened to our NBN, with its highly corporatised structure, reliance on private finance and delivery via subcontractors.

Even if the government is committed to full public ownership of this high-speed rail infrastructure—and that in itself isn't clear, as the bill doesn't explicitly stipulate it—what's to stop a future government from using the exact same framework of this authority and this funding arrangement to push for an extremely privatised model? I think we need to lock in a far more robust plan for public funding and public ownership now, or we could end up paying an enormous price in years to come.

I want to add that keeping this infrastructure entirely in public hands means we could ensure that the trains and other infrastructure are made in Australia. We could ensure that the infrastructure is rolled out as much as possible with green steel so that we can keep the emissions of the set-up phase as low as possible. We could ensure that the rail corridors and stations are planned in a way that is ecologically sustainable and socially beneficial. We could guarantee lower cost ticketing so that everyone in Australia could enjoy the benefits. If we do fund this through public investment, not private interests, like those very complex land value uplift schemes, we don't have to worry about those private interests being prioritised over quality infrastructure and service delivery for the people. As we said, and everyone agrees, it is a crucial piece of infrastructure and it needs to be done right from the get-go.

We've some of the busiest flight routes in the world. Melbourne to Sydney is the world's second-busiest domestic route. Brisbane to Sydney the world's eighth-busiest domestic route. Pre COVID, these had reached close to 100,000 flights a year in total, producing enormous emissions. The International Energy Agency has shown that the introduction of high-speed rail around the world has led to significant reductions in air travel on many specific routes—Paris to London, and Seoul to Busan, for instance. In these cases, air travel was halved when high-speed rail was introduced. High-speed rail in Australia can do the same thing, massively decreasing our transport emissions and providing people with a high-quality, comfortable and enjoyable transport alternative to flying. With all the delays and chaos at airports at the moment, I think people are begging for a convenient and reliable alternative to air travel.

Many members of my Ryan community are affected very badly by constant flight noise. They are rightly concerned about pollution over their homes and our natural surrounds from these round-the-clock flights that they are suffering through. High-speed rail is crucial to cutting flight noise and this pollution long term. The only way to truly reduce flight noise in the long run is to reduce the overall number of domestic flights at our airports. Caps on flights and curfews will be easier to sustain with high-speed rail available as an alternative. More tranquil cities and suburbs—what a wonderful thought. It would be a more efficient and environmentally friendly mode of travel. It's a huge win-win.

So it's commendable that the Labor government is finally making a first step, but there remain some gigantic question marks over the authority and the plan for delivery and service of this infrastructure. I think we all agree it's time to get moving on high-speed rail, and this bill is a good first step, but we need to ensure that we set up this crucial infrastructure to truly benefit all Australians long term. The government's current plan just leaves one wondering if the settings are absolutely right for that.

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amended seconded?

Photo of Stephen BatesStephen Bates (Brisbane, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Ryan has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. If it suits the House, I will state the question in the form that the amendment be disagreed to.

6:56 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

High-speed rail has the potential to be a game changer for Australia—a game changer for productivity improvement and a game changer for environmental outcomes, with a reduction in urban congestion and better, more efficient and convenient travel options for Australians. For far too long we have delayed and procrastinated about high-speed rail in this country. If we do go ahead with this bill and get on with the process of planning a high-speed rail line along the east coast, we have the potential to improve productivity in our nation.

We all know that too many Australians spend too much time in traffic on their daily commutes to and from work. It's not only having an effect on their productivity; it's also having an effect on the quality of lifestyle that Australians can enjoy. We know that high-speed rail can improve environmental outcomes by taking more cars off roads that people are using these days to commute to and from work. And it would take pressure off some of Australia's busiest airline routes, in particular the Sydney-to-Melbourne route, which is the second-busiest airline route of any in the world.

High-speed rail has the potential to dramatically reduce urban congestion. We know that history shows that, where high-speed rail stations are situated, over time cities and services will spring up around those stations. Think of this: a station in the southern highlands could provide the opportunity for new development and new opportunities for residential accommodation around that station, providing an opportunity to reduce urban congestion in Sydney and for people to live in a region like the southern highlands yet be able to commute in an efficient time without having to sit in traffic going into the city or into Western Sydney to do their work. It really has the potential to be a game changer for urban congestion and to take pressure off our major cities. And, of course, it will deliver better, more efficient and more convenient travel options for Australians.

I find it remarkable that we haven't already gone down this path of high-speed rail in Australia. High-speed rail has been a feature of most European cities for almost half a century. It certainly has been in Asia, particularly Japan, for well over half a century, and more recently in China and other large nations. Most of Europe and Asia move around on high-speed rail, and it's remarkable that a nation like Australia, with such a dispersed population and large gap between major cities, hasn't taken up this transport option in the past. The reason we haven't, unfortunately, is that we have had a wasted decade under the conservative government. It missed the opportunity to get on with planning for high-speed rail.

When Labor was last in government, the Rudd government commissioned a comprehensive study into the viability of high-speed rail. That study showed that an east coast high-speed rail network would be viable and economically sustainable. That plan was released by the Prime Minister, then infrastructure minister, in 2011. The plan prioritised where most of the cost would be in reserving the corridor up and down the east coast—in other words, the government buying or securing the land for the high-speed rail lines to go down, to transport people on the network.

To do that, the government planned to establish an authority to buy that land, to reserve that network and get on with the planning process, which is most of the work associated with planning a high-speed rail line. Unfortunately, the Rudd and Gillard governments lost office and we never got the opportunity to do that. But this isn't the first time a high-speed rail authority bill has been introduced into this parliament and debated. A bill was introduced in 2013 by the member for Grayndler, then shadow infrastructure minister and now Prime Minister.

What was the response of the government, at the time, when the then opposition introduced that bill? They opposed it and refused to debate it. So it's remarkable that many members of the opposition are now coming out in support of this bill. I think they're doing it because their constituents know that this is a popular infrastructure proposal and is nation-building and would be a game changer for many communities.

This important bill now seeks to establish in this parliament—finally—a high-speed rail authority to plan and oversee the construction of a high-speed rail network through Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT. The authority will build on the previous work, including that comprehensive study that was commissioned by the former infrastructure minister and now Prime Minister. That work, back in the early 2000s, found that a high-speed rail line was not only viable in Australia but will return $2 for every $1 of investment that was made in the project. That's what productivity investment is all about.

During our last period in government, we invested more in rail projects than all previous national governments combined. And that is nation-building. We're committed to delivering long-term infrastructure that drives economic development, ensuring the continued prosperity of our regional centres and Sydney. High-speed rail would substantially reduce travel times, allowing passengers to travel between major cities and significant regional cities at speeds exceeding 250 kilometres an hour. That means a crucial unlocking of regional economies and the generation of significant employment opportunities.

I mentioned earlier that where you have these stops, particularly in rural and regional areas, cities will spring up over time. Business will start to locate there. Government services will be delivered there. Populations will move there because they have the transport options to get them to and from employment, in particular, and other destinations in a reasonable time. It could help to change the lives of millions of Australians, especially in our regions, while also bringing our east coast capitals closer. We know that rail infrastructure also helps decarbonise our economy, by taking more cars off the road and, for long-distance rail, reducing that reliance we've traditionally had in Australia on air travel.

The first priority of the authority will be planning the corridor works for the Sydney to Newcastle section of the high-speed rail network. That's backed by a $500 million commitment from the Albanese government. This was a commitment that was promised in the election campaign. The Australian people voted for it, particularly along the Central Coast. Those seats that changed hands to the Labor Party were very much a reflection of those communities saying they wanted a big transport project like this and access to high-speed rail for their communities. The commitment will see the corridor planning and early works progress in this fast-growing east coast region.

While the authority works closely with the New South Wales government on this section, it will continue to advance plans for other sections along the broader network. This will eventually connect Brisbane to Melbourne, with stops in Canberra, Sydney and other regional centres. The authority will provide independent advice to governments on high-speed rail planning and delivery, leading to coordination with states and territories.

The authority will be overseen by a board drawn from experts in the rail and infrastructure sector. Faster rail will also continue to be advanced under the authority, with the functions of the National Faster Rail Agency being undertaken by the authority and the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts.

High-speed rail will help to revolutionise interstate travel along the east coast. It can provide fast alternatives for people to move between capital cities compared to other modes of travel. And the option for high-speed rail for inner-city travel will also help in the transition to net zero by 2050. Delivery of the high-speed network will provide economic benefits. Think of all the jobs that will be created, not only in the planning phase but also in the construction phase of this important infrastructure. It will enhance connectivity through faster alternative modes of transport and increase price competition in the market for travel along the east coast.

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 outer suburban areas and growth corridors in major cities. The construction of high-speed rail will also secure significant jobs for the economy through Labor's National Rail Manufacturing Plan.

The Australian government will 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 sustainable industry. We know that Australians can build efficient and effective train carriages for our rail networks. It happens in Victoria. There is no excuse for governments to continue buying off-the-shelf products internationally or from other nations and having to rework them in Australia to fit along stations, along the rail gauges and along the networks that we have on the east coast and broader Australia. It never made sense. It actually led to cost overruns because of the modifications that had to be made to the carriages once they arrived in Australia to sit within our network. We have a dispute in New South Wales at the moment that is all about that particular issue, the government having to modify those carriages so that they're suitable and provide a safe form of travel for Australians in the rail network.

In conclusion, I wholeheartedly support this bill. It's a long time coming, but it represents the new Labor government getting on with the job of planning better transport options for Australians and finally getting on with planning a high-speed rail network up and down the east coast of Australia.

7:08 pm

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

Debate adjourned.