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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 406

Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle) (12:16): I rise today to speak on this most recent report from the Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities, entitled Harnessing value, delivering infrastructure: inquiry into the role of transport connectivity on stimulating development and economic activity. Probably one of the great challenges and indeed opportunities that lie before this parliament, this government and our nation is to look at ways of improving transport connectivity across this vast continent. I certainly welcome this report and strongly support its recommendation that Australia needs to start planning our high-speed-rail network in earnest. I sincerely hope in fact that the release of this report and perhaps today's debate in this chamber help drive some action from this government, which has been so lacking to date.

There is no doubt that we desperately need to develop long-term plans for the future of our cities and our towns. Clearly, transport infrastructure is a critical component of town and city planning, and it is critical for the servicing of future generations. That is possibly one of the most pressing issues for our capital cities in particular at the moment. So we clearly have a need to look forward and to engage in strategic planning about what those cities—and, beyond the cities, the regional centres—should look like into the future. It is that forward planning that allows us not only to really start responding to today's problems as they arise but start to prepare and capitalise for the opportunities of tomorrow.

The report provides a considered analysis of these issues confronting us now. Those of us on this side of the House, anyway, have long argued that Australia needs to get moving on high-speed rail. I know that my colleague and friend the member for Grayndler will be speaking to this report soon. He has been a champion of the high-speed-rail project here in this parliament for a very long time, a matter which I will come to later in speaking on this report. Labor have been a strong advocate of high-speed rail because we understand that this is a massive game changer for the nation. It would open up the entire east coast and turbocharge regional economies in cities like Newcastle, the one I represent. The interconnectivity between those capital cities via our regional centres would become completely enlivened and engaged by a whole lot of new opportunities that present as a result of high-speed rail.

High-speed rail was certainly a transformational force in our country, decentralising the population. I heard members in the last debate, in fact, refer to the need to decentralise services, agencies and populations in the nation. Well, you cannot do that unless you have genuine connectivity back to cities and indeed other regional centres. High-speed rail is very much that element that would enable you to embark on decentralisation of the population and bring growth and greater prosperity into the regional centres. Deputy Speaker Wicks, I know you represent a regional centre not far from my own and that you know just what that could mean for the towns and suburbs that we represent.

It would indeed deliver new markets, create business opportunities, drive investment and, of course, create much needed jobs. It would help to relieve some of the ever-increasing population pressures that face our large capital cities. As I said, in my home town of Newcastle we stand to benefit enormously from an east coast high-speed rail network, as do many other regional centres and towns along the route.

The report before us today found that the high-speed rail link could carry around 84 million passengers a year when fully operational. Even if only a fraction of that passenger movement were to come in and out of cities like Newcastle, we would see a massive boost to our entire region. With an estimated 39-minute trip from Newcastle to Sydney, it would be entirely possible for you to live in Newcastle and commute to Sydney for work or indeed vice versa. Not only would this deliver growth and drive prosperity in my home city; it would help to reduce the burden on Sydney's resources and services.

One of the key recommendations from this report is that, if we are to harness the economic and social benefits of a high-speed rail network, all levels of government need to start planning for it now. We on this side of the chamber have long understood this. In fact, when we were in government we commissioned a feasibility study into the matter. That study found that, for every dollar spent on high-speed rail in the first section between Sydney and Melbourne, the project would return $2.15 in economic benefit to surrounding communities, making this an absolutely viable project.

As a result of that feasibility study, the former Labor government then appointed an expert panel comprising of the former Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer, the Business Council of Australia Chief Executive, Jennifer Westacott and the late Bryan Nye of the Australasian Railway Association. They were tasked with the job of recommending what sort of practical steps would need to be taken to advance this project. The panel recommended the creation of an authority that would with the governments of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and ACT work cooperatively together across the four different jurisdictions on detailed planning and corridor acquisition. The former Labor government had allocated $52 million to that planning authority to ensure that vital work could be done so that we could identify and protect that transport corridor. We know that without that planning authority the 1,748 kilometres that is required is absolutely in jeopardy. Not only will the project never get started if we do not preserve that corridor now; it will forever endanger the project if we do not do it now because no-one can control urban sprawl across four states and territories without a coordinator authority to do so.

Regretfully, when the Abbott government took office in 2013 it chose to axe the $52 million that was allocated to the planning authority for a high-speed rail network—very short-sighted thinking at the time. Indeed, to my great regret, and to the Labor Party's great regret, to date that money has not been reallocated into the budget so that we might in fact embark on a genuine exercise of identifying and then protecting a transport corridor so that the most important infrastructure project that this government could possibly embark on—the high-speed rail network—could in fact happen.

I would strongly urge this government to take this opportunity now to, in fact, come in and support the member for Grayndler's private member's bill that is again before this parliament. It was reintroduced into the new parliament. It was a bill that helped establish that planning authority. It is exactly what is required to kickstart this project and bring it back on track. That bill not only sets out a means of creating that authority but it also requires it to move the project forward to the expressions of interest phase—again, such an important part. Today I again call on the government to support the member for Grayndler's private member's bill before this House. This is an opportunity too good to miss, and it is really time for this government to get this project back on track. (Time expired)