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Monday, 26 March 2018
Page: 2062


Senator KETTER (QueenslandDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (11:33): I rise today to speak in favour of the High Speed Rail Planning Authority Bill 2017. I'm very pleased to take this opportunity to discuss the issue of rail infrastructure, an issue which is made evermore topical in Queensland as Labor gets on with the job of building Cross River Rail. I have listened to some of the contributions from the other side on this private member's bill. I must say that it would be a wonderful thing if, in this country, we could come up with a bipartisan approach to a form of infrastructure which is quite critical to the future.

I know that others have talked about some of these issues, but I think it's critical to note here that Infrastructure Australia, which is the independent body that looks at infrastructure investment across the country, in July last year talked about the fact that more action is needed to 'protect vital infrastructure corridors'. It said that the most urgent priority for protection is the east coast high-speed rail corridor. It went on to say:

This critical corridor faces immediate pressure due to its proximity to major population centres and should be a focus for the NSW, Victorian and federal governments.

It went on to say that's why:

Infrastructure Australia is recommending that a national framework for corridor protection be put in place to guide—

coordinated and—

meaningful action by all levels of government.

It's something of a no-brainer that a high-speed rail network connecting Melbourne to Brisbane via Canberra is necessary for our future.

The evidence is fairly compelling that this is an infrastructure project that is necessary for our future, but the contributions we've heard today from the other side suggest that ideological considerations are being brought to bear here in the government setting its face against this particular project. Whereas the government has moved away from this bipartisan approach here, I'm very pleased to see the Queensland government is getting on with the job of building Cross River Rail. This is in spite of the fact that the federal government has, unfortunately, walked away from stumping up for that vital piece of infrastructure for Queensland. This is an area where the Prime Minister and the so-called 'Team Queensland' should really be condemned.

There is no doubt, as others have said, that the high-speed rail on the east coast can be an economic game changer. Labor's proposal will facilitate travel between the interstate capitals in as little as three hours. That puts it almost on an equal footing with flying. I'm from Brisbane; I know that it would be very good to have options in relation to travel between capital cities. In a modern society, we know it's not unusual to travel for work. But, in looking at the airline situation in Australia, I think a lot of people would be surprised to know that, of all the aviation routes, the Sydney-Melbourne aviation route is actually the second busiest route in the world with 54,519 flights per annum. The Sydney-Brisbane aviation route comes in down the track, I think at No. 8, and it's something like 33,765 flights per annum. It was surprising to me to note that the US is down the list. The busiest US aviation route is between Los Angeles and San Francisco; it's actually No. 7 of the top 10 busiest aviation routes in the world. That route comes in with 34,897 flights per annum.

When it comes to our airports and aviation routes, it's quite clear they are under considerable pressure, and they are going to be under even greater pressure moving forward. The demand being put on our airports is leading to increasing levels of dissatisfaction with airlines. Recurring cancellations of flights out of Canberra is just one example—one that most of us in this place can relate to. In fact, this is currently the subject of an inquiry by the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee, and I note that public hearings are scheduled to begin around the country in coming weeks.

If one was to listen to Senator Molan's contribution earlier, one would think that the high-speed rail project between the capital cities is something that would only benefit urban people and would not be of benefit to regional Australia. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, this high-speed rail proposal could turbocharge regional development. Others have pointed to the fact that the rail project would travel between the capital cities but also through regional areas such as the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the Central Coast, the Southern Highlands, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton. And, of course, it would travel through Canberra, which is Australia's largest inland city. Connecting these great regional cities to a high-speed mass transit system would connect them to massive opportunities for economic development. High-speed rail has vast potential to change the nature of our fly-in, fly-out economies.

We note that the high-speed rail feasibility stage 2 study, conducted under the previous Labor government, highlighted the fact that employment growth in the central business districts of our east coast capitals will double over the next 30 years. That extra demand is going to limit the capacity of our public transport to cope. That report said:

Regional locations within two hours travel by HSR—

high-speed rail—

that have capacity for increases in business growth could assist in making the metropolitan centres more globally competitive by providing less congested future growth options.

It went on to say that this could allow regional centres to serve as secondary locations for lower cost back office functions and new start-up businesses requiring less frequent access to the major centres. So it's quite clear that the high-speed rail project has real value as a driver of regional economic development with beneficial spin-offs for capital cities.

The other spin-off benefits from this project, if we can get the procurement right, will be opportunities for our manufacturing sector and companies, particularly like Downer Rail in my home state of Queensland in the beautiful city of Maryborough. It has a record of building high-speed tilt trains and other rolling stock over many years under various different names, but it's currently called Downer Rail. There are real opportunities in relation to regional development.

There are, in fact, some fans of high-speed rail in Queensland. I note that recently there was an announcement by the Deputy Prime Minister in Nambour in relation to the successful business development applications for what they call their 'faster rail' proposals. This would involve linking the Sunshine Coast and Nambour to Brisbane to ease urban congestion. There is some merit in these proposals. I note that the Queensland government has indicated that, whilst it generally supports this proposal, the key piece of infrastructure that is being overlooked here is the Cross River Rail. Unless that is addressed and built, there are going to be bottlenecks in the system and what the government is proposing for the Sunshine Coast will be impacted by that.

I'm very keen on the contribution that a high-speed rail project can make to regional economies. In fact, one of the things I'm involved in, as Chair of the Senate Economics References Committee, is initiating an inquiry into regional inequality. That's a matter we've now got going. I expect to see evidence throughout the course of that inquiry that will show that limited transport options for regional people and the sheer time taken for travel between regional hubs is a key factor of regional inequality.

There is a lot of significant evidence backing up our proposal for high-speed rail. The Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities' research paper has indicated that aviation movements to 2030 will lead to continued passenger growth at major airports which are already testing the capacity of our existing airport infrastructure. It's said that international air travel will grow strongly to 2030, with both domestic and international passenger movements through capital cities almost doubling. A 2010 report by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics which examined movement through the nation's capital city airports forecast growth of 4.2 per cent a year to 235 million by 2029-30.

We should also consider the possibility that, in coming decades, growing incomes will open interstate travel to more Australians, which could lead to even greater demand on our aviation sector. At the same time, the growing need to reduce our carbon emissions will make rail more competitive against air travel, because we know that trains produce fewer emissions. We may want to build more airports all over the country, but there's a limit to the capacity of our existing aviation infrastructure to cope. I note that, in Brisbane, work is well underway on our second runway, which is estimated to open in 2020. There have been significant issues over the years leading up to and during this development—flight delays, congestions and cancellations—and I'm sure that Brisbane is not the only example of this. Beginning high-speed rail now will put us in the box seat for business over coming years. It's far cleaner than aircraft travel, as I've said, and it can be more convenient, particularly for families with young children. Also, it's a better experience for locals and tourists alike, enabling views of scenery along the route.

High-speed rail study : phase 2 noted that employment growth in central business districts is going to double over the next 30 years. The previous Labor government completed that feasibility study and found that the project was viable. In fact, the study highlighted the fact that it would return $2.30 in public benefit for every dollar invested. The report said:

The economic benefit cost ratio ... calculates the ratio of the present value of benefits to the present value of costs. When calculated using a discount rate of four per cent, the ECBR is 2.5 for Sydney-Melbourne and 2.3 for the whole network.

The economic net present value ...of costs and benefits associated with a program of investment in the preferred HSR system would be $70 billion for Sydney-Melbourne and $101 billion for the network as a whole ...

In terms of the forecast demand for high-speed rail, the phase 2 report said:

Between 46 million and 111 million passengers are forecast to use HSR services for intercity and regional trips, if the preferred HSR network were fully operational in 2065, with a central forecast of 83.6 million passengers per year.

It's interesting to note that,

By 2065, HSR—

high-speed rail—

could attract 40 per cent of intercity air travel on the east coast and 60 per cent of regional air travel (primarily long regional). On the three main sectors, Sydney-Melbourne, Sydney-Brisbane and Sydney-Canberra, HSR could attract more than 50 per cent of the air travel market.

These are compelling reasons as to why we need to look closely at this option.

Other speakers have talked about the fact that Labor set up that expert panel. The independent experts recommended that we take action now to begin to acquire the corridor. They also recommended that we establish an authority to undertake that task and to bring the relevant jurisdictions together to advance planning. It is a matter of concern and regret that all the preparatory work that was done was, in fact, scrapped by the incoming Abbott government.

The previous government had allocated $52 million in funding to take that project further. There is a lot of preparatory work required for a project of the size of the high-speed rail. There is a step-by-step approach that needs to be taken. It is unfortunate that the incoming government didn't have the necessary vision to see the potential for this project and to continue the preparatory work that the previous Labor government had done. As soon as the coalition government took office it ripped up the cheque for the $52 million and it tore apart the high-speed rail advisory group. Since then, it hasn't done anything to advance the east coast high-speed rail project, even as nations around the world have stepped up construction of new lines.

Whilst their federal counterparts have squandered the last four years—taking money out of rail investment—the Queensland LNP had a thought bubble. They talked about building a high-speed rail service to the Sunshine Coast. So, whilst the federal coalition cancelled urban rail public transport projects across the nation and failed to back important projects like the Melbourne Metro and Brisbane Cross River Rail project, the Queensland LNP made high-speed rail to the Sunshine Coast an election commitment—with not a word about Labor's proposal, which would have seen travel through the Gold Coast, enabling Queensland to capitalise on tourism throughout that region and not a word about inland rail, which has stalled due to the LNP's crippling inability to agree on the way forward.

We've seen a cavalcade of infrastructure ministers at the federal level. We've seen Mr Chester worrying about his position, and we had former minister Joyce. Well, we know what has been distracting him. And we've seen their attitude to inland rail and infrastructure generally. Whilst I'm talking about the former Deputy Prime Minister, I think it's important to note that, under his approach, Queensland has been dudded in terms of the coalition's promises for infrastructure investment generally. Between 2014-15 and 2017-18, the government announced $7.2 billion worth of funding commitments for roads and other infrastructure in Queensland, but the budget outcome documents show that the government has invested $6.1 billion. That's a shortfall of $1 billion that Queensland is missing out on. This is a huge deficit for Queensland.

The LNP is heavy on spin and scant on detail. Again, it was disappointing to hear some of the contributions today which were more interested in attacking the previous Labor government than looking at the merits of this project, which is generally seen by credible experts in the field as being a game changer for our country. It's a visionary project. It's time to take the politics out of this issue and to get building now so that we can turbocharge the possibilities for our nation's future. I am proud to support this bill, and I urge the coalition to get behind it—it's not too late—before Labor has to once again lead the way and bring them kicking and screaming into the fold.