Wednesday, 23 November 2022
High Speed Rail Authority Bill 2022; Second Reading
As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I speak to the High Speed Rail Authority Bill 2022—or, as I prefer to call it, the 'elect Chris Minns as New South Wales Premier bill'. It's not a coincidence that this bill provides for the national high-speed rail network proposal to start with just one section: between Sydney and Newcastle—just in time for the New South Wales state election in the coming March. Oh, the photo opportunities and announcements! I can see them now—for example, 'Vote Labor and we will get you to work in 40 minutes.' What dishonesty. What treachery.
I appreciate that that the Central Coast and Hunter are now dormitory suburbs of Sydney. Every day, more than 100,000 residents use rail and road on their daily trek to Sydney for work. High-speed would be a wonderful way to make that trip. One problem with making that promise is that high-speed rail on that route is never going to happen. It's impossible. Here's why. The route consist of mountain ranges, massive sandstone cliffs and waterways. Unless the High Speed Authority sprinkles magic dust, there is no way it will make a straight, flat track with the solid foundations necessary to sustain high-speed rail through the Hawksbury, Central Coast and Lower Hunter.
The current discussion involves sending high-speed rail along the existing alignment through the Central Coast, through the Gosford waterfront, through residential areas to Wyong and then via YE into the lower Hunter. The area's geography makes any other route almost impossible, at least without substantial environmental impact, meaning massive, long tunnels and cuttings through national parks and equally long and heavily engineered bridges across the frequent waterways and soft ground.
Anything can be done at a cost, although the cost here will ensure a white elephant for taxpayers that will never recover the investment. I shudder to think how much the tickets will cost, certainly more than working families can afford, the families who are being targeted with this false, deceptive promise.
While Australia does need a modern rail network connecting our capital cities, airports and major ports, high-speed rail is not the answer. The federal government last examined the possibility of building a 1,748-kilometre high-speed rail link from Brisbane to Melbourne in 2013, when the cost was estimated at $114 billion, with the Sydney-to-Newcastle section costed at $17.9 billion. At that time, by the way, the Inland Rail was costed at $4 billion. It's now $20 billion. That's five times higher. So I would expect this same inaccuracy factor would apply to the fast rail, costing out the Sydney-to-Hunter section alone at $90 billion in today's dollars.
The Grattan Institute has found high-speed rail projects have little chance of passing the cost-benefit test based on the typical discount rate used for transport infrastructure of about seven per cent. Marion Terrill, the current director of the Grattan Institute's Transport and City Program, has said:
Australia is just not suited to high-speed rail because our cities are too small and too far apart.
Too small means the passenger volume will not be sufficient to justify the capital expenditure, leading to prohibitive fares or massive government subsidies—or, most likely, both.
To illustrate this point, when New South Wales XPT trains were purchased in 1982, the intention was to create fast rail in New South Wales. The XPTs are designed to travel at just 150 kilometres per hour. So what stopped fast rail at that time was the inability to build a track capable of supporting those speeds. This is essential for safety and reliability. Our rail lines curve around too much. The Great Dividing Range provides serious hurdles to fast rail, and our waterways along the coast complicate the flat sections that we do have. For clarity, fast rail is generally speeds up to 150 kilometres per hour. High-speed rail is 250 kilometres per hour to 300 kilometres per hour. Fast rail requires entirely different and substantially more expensive rolling stock and track.
It may be feasible with a large government investment to upgrade existing rail lines on the Sydney-to-Hunter route to travel express services at fast-rail pace rather than high-speed rail pace. One Nation would strongly support immediate feasibility studies on upgrading the Sydney-to-Hunter line to fast rail since New South Wales already has the rolling stock.
Senator McKenzie will be moving an amendment to this bill that will introduce Productivity Commission oversight of proposals and a transparent reporting system. If this amendment is passed, this bill will gain the checks and balances it should have had all along, and One Nation will support it. Without those checks and balances, One Nation will oppose this bill. We have one flag, we are one community, we are one nation, and we don't lie for any reason—certainly not to the public to get votes.