Senate debates

Wednesday, 23 November 2022


High Speed Rail Authority Bill 2022; Second Reading

6:00 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) Share this | Hansard source

I'd like to start by thanking all senators for their contributions to the High Speed Rail Authority Bill 2022 and acknowledge Senators McKenzie, Rice, Davey and Roberts for their contributions to the debate here in the Senate.

The bill before us will establish the High Speed Rail Authority to develop, advise on and plan for a high-speed rail system in Australia. It will deliver on our election commitment and will plan for high-speed rail along Australia's east coast, from Melbourne to Brisbane. Fast rail connections between Sydney, the Central Coast and Newcastle will be progressed as the first priority, and $500 million will be allocated to start the necessary corridor acquisition planning and early works.

I note Senator McKenzie's remarks regarding the need to ensure regional communities are consulted on the planning and the development of the high-speed rail network, and I can assure the Senate that, unlike the National Party in their delivery of the Inland Rail, the government will undertake extensive consultations with affected communities regarding the design and delivery of the high-speed rail network.

In relation to the amendments proposed by Senator McKenzie, I can advise that, while we appreciate the contribution by the opposition to this debate, respectfully, we will not be supporting their amendments. I will speak to this in more detail during consideration; however, in terms of transparency measures, there are other processes now, through both annual reports and corporate plans, that provide the opportunity for the progress reporting to take place. In relation to the board, we are seeking to establish a skills based board, and the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government has advised, in the other place, that it would be great for regional Australians to be members of the board. However, as it is such a complex project, we can't have a quota system, which is what the Nationals are now proposing in this amendment. I note that this is not something that the National Party supports in other areas, such as the representation of women in parliament or in the coalition.

I also acknowledge Senator Rice's sentiments about ensuring that the delivery and the financing of the high-speed rail network stay in public hands. The government's position is that the consideration of the funding, financing, construction and operation of the high-speed rail network is not a matter for this legislation to determine but should be part of the High Speed Rail Authority's planning work, once established.

I also note Senator Davey's comments around the distinction between faster and high-speed rail. To clarify: faster and fast rail refer to trains that can operate at up to 250 kilometres per hour; high-speed rail refers to services capable of travelling at speeds in excess of 250 kilometres per hour. I also note Senator Roberts' contribution to the bill's debate.

I note also that Senator David Pocock and his office have engaged constructively with the minister and her office in recent days, and I thank him for his engagement. I understand the senator has proposed a number of amendments, which, I can advise, the government will be supporting. These amendments relate to ensuring that appointments to the board of the High Speed Rail Authority and the position of CEO are the result of a merit based process. There is also an amendment concerning the disclosure of interests of board members to the minister, in accordance with the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013. The minister has already made clear in the other place that the board of the High Speed Rail Authority has to be a skills based board and that it is absolutely the determination of the government to appoint people based on merit.

It is important for us to note the approach of the former government, who stacked their boards with Liberal and National mates. The coalition government was focused more on jobs for the boys than on delivering for the community. We all know what they did with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Infrastructure Australia board.

I conclude my remarks by again thanking all senators for their contributions today and by saying to the Senate that high-speed rail offers many choices. Without it you have to live closer to where you work or you will lose time with your family when you are stuck in traffic. With it you have more choice and can move out of the city, taking pressure off our outer suburbs, and into a regional area, with all the benefits that brings, and still have more time with your family. Who wouldn't want that?

Without high-speed rail your connection to work is more difficult and also your connection to your wider family and friends. Catching up more often becomes more possible with high-speed rail. High-speed rail can get you between cities faster and rail can take you right into a city centre. You can leave your car, taxi or rideshare behind, knowing that in the process you are doing more to help lower the carbon in the atmosphere. It's not only an easy people mover but also a job creator and an industry builder. We want our regions to grow and prosper. We want the economy to be stronger and deliver benefits right across the country, not just in the city centres. We want public transport to be part of the green economy. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.


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