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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 98

Mr COULTON (8:55 PM) —Tonight I would like to speak about a major infrastructure project, one that is very dear to my heart and one that is essential to the wellbeing of inland Australia and the country as a whole. I am speaking about the inland rail—the line from Melbourne to Brisbane. On the day that a large amount of government spending has been announced I think it is appropriate to reflect that, in tough times in the past, this country has looked to major infrastructure projects. I point to the Snowy Mountains scheme and the Sydney Harbour Bridge as a couple of obvious ones.

Inland rail is appropriate as we grapple with ways to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and tackle ways of improving the environment in which we live. The line would basically parallel the Newell Highway. The Newell Highway carries as much freight as the Pacific Highway but is very much the poor cousin. It suffers largely from a lack of funding, mainly because of the lower population in that area, but as a freight corridor it is extremely important. It is important to remember that one double-stacked container train from Melbourne to Brisbane or from Brisbane to Melbourne would take 152 B-double trucks off the road and would save something like 45,000 litres of fuel, and, off the top of my head, about 150 tonnes of greenhouse gases would be stopped from being emitted into the atmosphere. As our freight task continues to grow at an exponential rate—the figures are that it will double from 2006 to 2020—we really need to turn to rail.

It is important to remember in building this infrastructure that it is a city-to-city service, and 80 to 90 per cent of the paying freight would be from Sydney to Melbourne or from Melbourne to Sydney. Presently it goes either by truck up the Newell Highway or by rail through Sydney and up the North Coast, which is becoming difficult to do. The benefit to regional Australia is that, while you have got this steel Mississippi, so to speak, running through those western areas with a set amount of freight that does not rely on the up-and-down nature of rural commodities, we have the backbone with which we can build our rural communities. In Canada they have a similar model. They built a rail line through a largely unpopulated area, and industrial communities are growing. So there is potential for a business to set up in Dubbo, Narrabri, Moree or any of those places light-manufacturing, where there is plentiful land and water, a good stable workforce and quality of life. As our cities grow and the quality of life becomes more unbearable and it is harder to do business—you cannot get trucks in and out and the rail is choked up—moving inland makes a lot of sense.

The other thing in this day and age is food security. With the large, highly fertile farming land and irrigation valleys, particularly in my electorate and in the south of the state, with the MIA scheme, down to the Murray, the ability to get produce quickly to port or to the large metropolitan services in a timely and economic fashion has great potential. As we look to our water resources and at higher production rather than large-scale cash crops, I think we will be looking more and more at—

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 9 pm, the debate is interrupted.