Wednesday, 12 May 2010
High Speed Rail Network
That the Senate calls on the Government to commission a feasibility study into the staged construction of a high speed rail network on the east coast of Australia, which could deliver accessible fast, reliable, ecologically-sustainable long-distance transport.
That motion was for the Senate to call on the government to commission a feasibility study into the staged construction of a high-speed rail network on the east coast of Australia which could deliver accessible, fast, reliable and ecologically sustainable long distance transport. The motion which was just voted down by the government and the opposition en bloc prevents a call on the government to have a preliminary or feasibility study into high-speed rail between Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney and Melbourne. I invite any member of the coalition or the government to explain why such a study should not be undertaken.
We live in a world in which high-speed rail is now replacing air travel as the most convenient, fast, cheap and environmentally acceptable way of travelling between major cities. The air route between Sydney and Melbourne is the third- or fourth-busiest in the world. High-speed rail offers the opportunity of travelling between those two cities within three hours. That is faster than it takes for a commuter to get to an airport and complete an equivalent journey from centre of city to centre of city but with business amenity and the ability to use electric equipment en route. I find it absolutely flabbergasting that the government and the opposition would want to prevent such a preliminary study coming from the government and I invite any member, particularly from the coalition, to explain why they were opposed to it.
The Rudd Labor government considers a competitive, safe and reliable rail network both within and between our major urban communities critical in order to lift national productivity, curb the escalating costs of traffic congestion and tackle climate change. The Rudd Labor government is quadrupling investment in rail to some $9 billion over six years to improve and expand the nation’s passenger and freight rail infrastructure. Last night’s budget was a further demonstration of our commitment to improve the competitiveness and efficiency of rail. Our $1 billion investment in the Australian Rail Track Corporation will result in more freight being transported by rail, taking trucks off the road.
The Rudd Labor government is the first federal government to make an investment in the passenger rail infrastructure within the nation’s cities. The Regional Rail Link in Victoria, the Noarlunga to Seaford extension and the Gawler line modernisation in South Australia, and the Gold Coast Rapid Transit project in Queensland are all projects funded by the Rudd Labor government. This is in stark contrast to the Howard government, who for 12 years ignored public transport and made no investments whatsoever.
The Rudd Labor government recognises the potential benefits of high-speed rail in Australia and welcomes proposals that put forward a robust case in relation to planning and financing. The Australian government’s advisory body Infrastructure Australia has investigated some high-speed rail proposals. While the proposals put forward to Infrastructure Australia so far have not been fully developed in relation to planning, cost and feasibility, they have presented an interesting proposition around capacity and cost compared with other models of transport between our major cities. Individuals or organisations are encouraged to submit detailed, costed proposals to Infrastructure Australia for rigorous assessment. The Rudd Labor government will continue to review any high-speed rail proposals that are put forward.
Again the response from the Labor government is typical—a lot of fine words, all talk but never any action. By contrast, the coalition in its first few years of office actually spent, from memory, $25 million on a feasibility study for a high-speed rail link between Canberra and Sydney. The result of that very expensive, very lengthy and detailed assessment was that high-speed rail was simply not economically or otherwise feasible, even between Canberra and Sydney.
The coalition does not just talk; we actually took action to look at that very issue. As I said, it did cost, from memory, $25 million. Contrary to what Senator Brown said, his motion did not talk about a preliminary assessment. It just said ‘a feasibility study’. My information is that a proper feasibility study looking at Melbourne to Brisbane or Melbourne to Cairns would cost well in excess of $100 million. In these times, with huge debts run up by the Labor government, we believe that better things could be done with the $100 million. We have always supported investment in rail. There are a number of initiatives—for example, the Darwin to Alice Springs railway was not only an initiative but a completed action of the Howard government and the Australian Rail Track Corporation. We have shown our commitment but we do not believe in wasting money on feasibility studies when we know from the feasibility study we did conduct that it is simply not economically viable.