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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 13391

Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle) (12:43): I am very pleased to rise today to speak on the High Speed Rail Planning Authority Bill 2015, introduced by the member for Grayndler, a bill that I was very proud to second when it was introduced into the House last month. The proposed high-speed rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne, via Newcastle, Sydney and Canberra, is a project that should be made to happen. Unlike many other so-called nation-building projects, high-speed rail truly has the capacity to redefine the way we live, work and move. It would revolutionise interstate travel and turbocharge economic growth in the regional towns and cities along its path, like Newcastle.

The purpose of the bill before us today is to establish a high-speed rail planning authority to get the ball rolling with regard to the complex planning that is required for such a major project, a project that spans multiple state and local government jurisdictions. The bill would create an 11-person authority tasked with beginning detailed planning and, importantly, securing the rail corridor to prevent it being consumed by urban sprawl in the interim period. It is not the first time a bill to establish a high-speed rail planning authority has been introduced in this place, of course; the member for Grayndler first introduced a bill to do such in December 2013. Regrettably, the Prime Minister of the day had no interest in rail and refused to bring the bill on for debate. With a change of Prime Minister now—to a self-confessed public transport and rail enthusiast—the Member for Grayndler has re-introduced the bill. If the Prime Minister is serious about boosting mass transportation, he needs to act and not just tweet out snaps from his iPhone.

I do note that the need for high-speed rail from Sydney heading north was in fact identified by the current Prime Minister during one of his trips up to the Central Coast. On 5 February this year, the then communications minister sent out a series of tweets from a train travelling along the Hawkesbury River finishing with 'And now for some Hawkesbury River pix from the train! Very scenic if not rapid.' I agree; it is a beautiful trip from Sydney north. But it is a journey that now takes longer than it did 50 years ago. The 150 or so kilometre trip is taking up to three hours—indeed longer than three hours now. It is estimated that a high-speed rail trip would bring that journey from Newcastle to Sydney back to 39 minutes.

The economic case for high-speed rail is sound, delivering multiple benefits to the economy. The former Labor government established the facts with a two-part study, involving extensive consultation with industry and including international operators of high-speed rail, as well as significant community input. The study, published in April 2013, included the business case for the project, consideration of environmental issues, projections of patronage, proposed route, proposed stations and proposed time lines. It found that high-speed rail would return, for the Sydney to Melbourne section, $2.15 in economic benefit for every dollar invested; and, once fully operational from Brisbane to Melbourne, would carry approximately 84 million passengers per year. With the proposed route traversing more than 1,700 kilometres through four major cities, its delivery would demand significant cooperation between multiple governments in multiple jurisdictions, which is why Commonwealth leadership and coordination is essential.

In my electorate, support for high-speed rail is strong across the business sector and amongst the general public. Local representative bodies—including the local chapter of the Property Council, the Hunter Business Chamber and RDA Hunter—have all highlighted the business benefits high-speed rail would bring to Newcastle, as have local manufacturers. The University of Newcastle was also highlighted as a potential major beneficiary of high-speed rail for social and economic reasons in the high-speed rail study.

As transport minister, the member for Grayndler, who has just entered the room, allocated $54 million in the 2013 budget for the authority to commence its work on getting this project started, but the incoming Liberal government cut all the funding. That action was short-sighted and irresponsible. The people of Newcastle want high-speed rail. The business, education, industry and community sectors all champion high-speed rail, and there is no doubt that our commuters most certainly want it. I commend the bill to the House.