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Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Page: 7941

Senator RICE ( Victoria ) ( 18:07 ): I also stand to support this very important report. I commend the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee for the work that we've undertaken in bringing this report to fruition. I also want to commend Senator Carr for his advocacy and determination to have this really important subject put here and to have the outcomes of this report here for the Senate to consider.

The reason I think this is so important is because of the potential of the rail industry: the economic potential, the environmental potential and the social potential. We know that there is going to be a continued growth in rail across the country. There is $46 billion that's already there for rail projects that are going to occur and the $100 billion that can be mapped out over the next two decades. If you look at the direction—because of all the advantages—of rail, I would say that $100 billion is an underestimate, because we know that as part of shifting the way that we run our transport systems to a more sustainable future—in particular, decarbonising our transport systems—that rail has an incredibly important role to play.

So we can see the potential for future rail projects in suburban areas. We can see the potential of future rail projects connecting up regional centres. We can see the upgrading in systems in our interstate rail systems. We can see that there is cross-party support for the inland rail project. All of these sorts of project, whether passenger or freight, are becoming increasingly supported. There is increasing agreement across the political spectrum of the need to be having an increase in the amount of rail, both heavy rail and light rail. From the perspective of wanting to see increasing jobs, increasing employment, increasing economic activity and increasing attempts to reduce carbon pollution, rail has obviously got an incredibly healthy future.

There's the potential, but what do we need to do to realise that potential? That's where this report has really outlined what needs to happen. In particular, it has outlined the role of the Commonwealth and the role of national governments to be able to play a coordinating role and to bring together the investments that will be made by state governments. One of the factors, when you are looking at transport across the country, is that so many the decisions get made at a state level, so they can be made in isolation from each other. But the Commonwealth can play such an important role in getting the states working together so that we can be maximising that potential. As the evidence presented to our inquiry pointed out, where we can get uniformity, where we can get some states talking to each other and agreeing on some uniform standards, we can really move forward in getting the local industry to be building up an industry that can fulfil the delivery of parts of the rail industry, whether it is rolling stock, whether it's the rails—everything to do with the rail industry. The need for a national rail plan underpins that—and from that plan, having the procurement strategy. The national procurement strategy is going to be a difficult job. It will be difficult to get all of the different players in the same room and say: 'Okay, let's nut out what this procurement strategy is, so we can really maximise the potential of the industry. How do we maximise the economic benefit, maximise the amount of local content, maximise the amount of jobs, and maximise the amount of training opportunities involved in amplifying the amount of rail that's in the country?'

I am hopeful that—the committee having done the work and presenting this report today—it will really be a landmark that will enable us to move forward so that we can then agree that the future for rail has got so much potential that can be realised. I am hopeful about having the Commonwealth involved in a plan, in a strategy, and getting the states to endorse that strategy. I know getting the states to work together with the Commonwealth can be tricky, but it can be done. And I think that, when the benefits are there and outlined for everyone to see—the potential of having a particular state that might specialise in a particular area and then be selling to the other states, bringing the states together to actually work through this—then the difficulties will be overcome. It will be such an important part of our economic activity in the country in the future. Very sadly, this week we are seeing the very final end of the car manufacturing industry in Australia. So we are looking at the landscape and thinking, 'Where are we going to have advanced manufacturing? What is the potential part of the economy where there is a realistic chance, not just pie-in-the-sky thoughts of where it's possible?' The rail industry is where it's possible.

This is particularly so because so much of the procurement is done by state governments. Where you've got governments, they've got the control to be able to say: 'Let's work together, let's do this sensibly, let's make sure we have really high-skilled local manufacturing here that will bring the jobs with it, that will bring the economic activity with it and that will enable us to meet our sustainability outcomes that we know will enable us to have that homegrown industry. The expansion of the rail industry for passenger and freight will enable us to shift our transport system to a 100 per cent renewable energy powered transport system that's based on a really thriving rail industry here in the country.

I really do commend this report to the Senate and I look forward to its recommendations being enacted. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.