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Monday, 26 March 2018
Page: 2041


Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (10:01): I'm pleased to speak on this private senator's legislation, the High Speed Rail Planning Authority Bill 2017, that was introduced into the Senate on 4 September last year. It demonstrates the commitment of the Australian Labor Party to high-speed rail through the establishment of a planning authority. I'd like to recognise, at the outset, the terrific work of my colleague from the other place, the shadow minister for infrastructure and transport, Anthony Albanese, who has done a mountain of work on this issue in terms of policy over many years.

The proposed high-speed rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra is a project that requires vision. It's a significant undertaking. It's more than 1,700 kilometres long. It's challenging. It will involve the construction of tens of kilometres of tunnels. It's complex. It will no doubt involve the governments of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and the Australian Capital Territory. It will also involve the cooperation of dozens of local councils. Not to put too fine a point on it, the task ahead is a difficult one, and it is because of this that we propose this bill.

The bill seeks to create an 11-person high-speed rail authority to bring together all affected states and territories, as well as rail and engineering experts, to progress planning and, critically, focus on the corridor. Members would include one member from each of the jurisdictions affected—Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT; one member representing the Australian Local Government Association; one member nominated by the Australasian Railway Association; and five members appointed by the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport on the basis of qualification or expertise, to make sure that there is engineering and other expertise on the authority. The authority's role would include consideration of a number of issues. These include land-use planning related to the corridor, safety, measures to minimise environmental impact, public consultation, and intervention to purchase the corridor.

The member for Grayndler first introduced this bill in the other place in December 2013. However, a lack of political will from the Abbott government meant that the bill lapsed, requiring its reintroduction in October 2015 and now again in this chamber. It could have been debated in the other place on both those occasions. Indeed, at one stage, it was literally the only piece of legislation before the House of Representatives, yet the coalition government showed no vision, despite the fact that people such as former trade minister Andrew Robb have come out as strong supporters of high-speed rail. Mr Robb stated that he could produce the names of international companies that had told him they could deliver the project in full. Any politician who tells you they can fund an entire rail line using value capital is pulling your leg and, like most of the government's thought bubbles, the idea collapsed within hours when the then parliamentary secretary for cities ruled out support for the project. It was another lost opportunity for a government that had a plan to win government but no plan to govern.

In government, former transport minister Mr Albanese commissioned a two-part study involving extensive consultation with industry and 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 down the east coast of Australia was indeed a viable proposition—for example, it found that high-speed rail would return, for the Sydney to Melbourne section, $2.15 in economic benefit for every dollar invested. The report found that, once fully operational across the Brisbane-to-Melbourne corridor, the high-speed rail could carry approximately 84 million passengers each and every year. At speeds of 350 kilometres per hour, people would be able to travel from Melbourne to Sydney, or Melbourne to Brisbane, in less than three hours. Of course, new technology is seeing speeds in excess of that.

The report found that Commonwealth leadership and coordination would be essential, given the number of jurisdictions involved. High-speed rail would also be an engineering challenge, requiring at least 80 kilometres of tunnels, including 65 kilometres in Sydney alone. But, despite these challenges, the experts said that high-speed rail had huge potential, particularly if we consider where our society is headed over coming decades. We can anticipate significant population growth over coming decades along the route of the proposed line. We should expect that growing pressure for a carbon-constrained economy will drive the economics for this project even more positively over time and we know that, if we fail to act soon, delivery of high-speed rail will be made more difficult and more costly because parts of the corridor will be built out by the urban sprawl.

This bill proposes to create an 11-person, high-speed rail authority to bring together all the key stakeholders as outlined earlier. Labor in government undertook a proper process to come to the position that a high-speed rail authority was needed. The high-speed advisory group included people such as the former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer; the Business Council of Australia's chief executive Jennifer Westacott; and the Australasian Railway Association's chief executive Bryan Nye. It was chaired by the deputy secretary of the department, Lyn O'Connell—serious people looking into a serious issue and coming up with a serious suggestion about a way forward. It was a way forward that should have been bipartisan. The former Labor government embraced the recommendations, which were unanimous, and allocated $54 million to establish the authority and begin the process of corridor acquisition. But, in 2013, the incoming coalition government scrapped this allocation and turned its back on the project.

To best understand the potential of high-speed rail, we need to look well beyond 2018 and consider where this nation will be in coming decades. We know that our population will be larger, with growth concentrated precisely on the route of this high-speed-rail proposal. Population growth and the pressures of carbon constraint will see significant change across our nation, and it is these changes that open new opportunities for rail investment, as we have seen across Asia and Europe.

Rail is the transport of the 21st century. Many countries have high-speed rail: Austria, Belgium, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and Uzbekistan. If they can do it, why can't we? I have family living overseas, and when I visit them I often find myself using high-speed rail. I'm constantly amazed that yet again we see the nation battle the tyranny of distance.

According to the high-speed-rail study I referred to earlier, travel on the east coast of Australia is forecast to grow by about 1.8 per cent every year over the next two decades and to increase 60 per cent by 2035. The study indicated that east coast trips would double from 152 million trips in 2009 to 355 million trips in 2065.

High-speed rail not only represents a remarkable opportunity to see more efficient movement of people across the country but also provides a fantastic opportunity for regional Australia. Stations are proposed for the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the Central Coast, the Southern Highlands, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton. This project will position these centres to take some of the population growth pressures off the east coast capital cities, which will no doubt be a key issue into the future. Importantly, it will also provide an uplift in value by the economic improvement that will occur in those regional centres to be factored into the funding, building and construction of the high-speed-railway line. It could also deliver a massive improvement in livability. Travelling from a regional centre to one of Australia's fast-growing east coast cities in under an hour will transform those centres and facilitate new business.

Vision is an obligation of leadership. The Shorten opposition is leading the charge in policy development in this parliament. We must imagine a better future and take actions to create that future. We've done the research. We know that the project is viable.

I note that I've circulated amendments on sheet 8297 in my name to deal with some of the recommendations from the Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills in Scrutiny Digest 11 of 2017. To avoid any doubts, the amendments outline that the rules may not do the following:

(a) create an offence or civil penalty;

(b) provide powers of:

(i) arrest or detention; or

(ii) entry, search or seizure;

(c) impose a tax;

(d) set an amount to be appropriated from the Consolidated Revenue Fund under an appropriation in this Act;

(e) directly amend … this Act.

These amendments seek to clarify some of the standard restrictions on what the rules outlined in clause 31, at page 14, can do.

Together, we must commit to the next step required to make high-speed rail a reality: the creation of an authority to advance detailed planning, work with other jurisdictions and begin to acquire the corridor before it's built out by urban sprawl. True leaders do not just sit around waiting for the telephone to ring and to be told what to do next. They act on what they believe and get on with the job of governing Australia. This parliament should show some genuine leadership by acting on high-speed rail, starting with debating and supporting this bill. I do fear that that's unlikely, given the government's refusal to debate this issue in recent years. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. A Shorten Labor government will act where the Abbott-Turnbull government has failed. We will establish a high-speed rail authority. Labor is prepared to think ahead, and future generations will be the beneficiaries.