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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
National Faster Rail Agency

National Faster Rail Agency


CHAIR: Good morning, Mr Broe. I haven't seen you for a while.

Mr Broe : Good morning, Chair. Thank you for the invitation.

Senator McCARTHY: Good morning.

Mr Broe : Good morning.

Senator McCARTHY: A couple of years ago, we were promised an expert panel to advise the National Faster Rail Agency, but your website still talks about the panel in the future tense. Do you in fact have any plans to appoint an expert panel?

Mr Broe : Thank you for your question. In the national faster rail plan that was released in 2019, there was a proposal to establish an expert panel, which is the responsibility of the minister and the department. An expert panel at this point has not been established. We have built up the expertise of the agency, I think, very well in terms of its capability, its people and its expertise. We tap into all the state transport agencies, which have an enormous expertise in transport. We also have a faster rail forum that involves all the states and New Zealand, which also brings in expertise, as well as all the consultancies. I would suggest that we are providing the expert advice that the minister requires at this stage. My own personal view is that there is no need for an expert panel, but I fully respect the government's desire to appoint one if they so wish.

Senator McCARTHY: Mr Broe, does that mean there won't be an expert panel appointed by the minister?

Mr Broe : It's the minister's choice as to whether he does want to appoint one at this point in time. It's entirely his call, supported by the department. As an agency, we're getting on with the job that we've been appointed to do under the Governor-General's order, which has seven functions. We're cracking on with that and working closely with the states to get as much funding as possible for projects and get as many faster rail projects actually built.

Senator McCARTHY: I might put the question to you, Minister. Will there be an expert panel?

Senator Reynolds: I will take that on notice and get back to you.

Senator McCARTHY: Today?

Senator Reynolds: I will endeavour to get back to you today.

Senator McCARTHY: And perhaps an explanation as to what the hold-up is as well, Minister, given that this was announced in 2019. Mr Broe, what has happened to the business cases that have been submitted by CLARA?

Mr Broe : CLARA is the Consolidated Land and Rail Authority. A business case was done by a private sector consortium looking at two new megacities between Melbourne and Shepparton. That business case was completed to our satisfaction. We jointly funded it with the consortium. It was done of high quality and met our expectations. The CLARA consortium themselves are moving into the next stages of looking at their planning and what they do. So the business case itself met its purpose. It hasn't been released publicly.

Senator McCARTHY: Why is that?

Mr Broe : It's not general practice to release such business cases publicly. It is not our practice at this stage. They contain commercial-in-confidence information and intellectual property that could jeopardise future commercial tendering processes. It hasn't been released at this point, but it has served its purpose in looking closely at how you could develop two mega cities of over 400,000 people linked in by high-speed rail. It is a very visionary project, obviously, which contains its own risk and aspirations. But they are proceeding to see if they can take it to the next stages.

Senator McCARTHY: What if any due diligence have you conducted on CLARA given reports that it has surrendered options on the land corridor near Shepparton that it had previously acquired?

Mr Broe : Sure. There was significant due diligence done in audits by both ourselves and the department. Andrew has more detail on the actual processes because he was there before I came.

Mr Hyles : When CLARA completed its business case, we worked with IPFA and other Commonwealth government agencies to review the business case. We provided formal advice to the government about the outcomes of that process. Obviously in establishing the relationship with CLARA, we had a contractual relationship with them as well. It contained provisions around audited statements and those sorts of things. So we've certainly got those audited statements pertaining to the expenditure of the money that we provided to the consortium.

Senator McCARTHY: Thank you, Mr Hyles.

Mr Broe : I will add to that quickly. One advantage of CLARA being done at that time was there were three business cases actually done that originated from the faster rail prospectus put out in 2017-18. We were able to benchmark, I guess, CLARA against it and make sure that their standard and quality was appropriate and effective for what we want it to be. We set out pretty clear guidelines and scope for what they had to cover, which is consistent with the Infrastructure Australia framework for how business cases had to be conducted.

Senator McCARTHY: Can you please tell us how many staff you still have and what your budget is?

Mr Broe : We have 13 people. It is a lean, mean agency, I would like to suggest. There are 11 full-time staff and two labour hire contractors. Our budget this year was $3.5 million. That is the budget going forward. Sixty per cent goes on salaries. We do have some consultancies as well, which we've used to do some international benchmarking and best practice work and a survey of clients on customer preferences to see if they would move to regional centres. But it is an executive agency as part of the portfolio.

Senator McCARTHY: How many people of the 13 that you have do you have focused on very fast rail?

Mr Broe : Separate from faster rail, do you mean?

Senator McCARTHY: Yes.

Mr Broe : If you mean very fast rail in terms of high-speed rail, are you talking about the east coast high-speed rail proposal connecting to cities or just fast rail in general?

Senator McCARTHY: In general.

Mr Broe : Well, all the business cases done look at a range of options to improve the speed. I guess faster rail generally means trying to improve the rail speeds up to a speed of 160 kilometres an hour. That is generally what can be achieved in existing corridors. Beyond that, you typically need a new alignment and a separate corridor to run trains safely. All the business cases have looked at some options for higher speed rail and high-speed rail. The key is to have corridors. For example, the Brisbane-Sunshine Coast faster rail project has a corridor protected up on the Sunshine Coast between Beerwah and Maroochydore. It has been protected for many, many years. If a rail line went in there, it would be an ideal place to achieve a speed of 200 kilometres an hour plus. In general, there isn't a section that looks at faster rail or high-speed rail. The continuum of what we can achieve to make rail faster is looked at in all the business cases. Some can achieve higher speeds than others. If you look at some of the alignments, such as Sydney to Wollongong and Sydney to Newcastle, you see that they are very historical, curvy alignments up and down. It is very hard to achieve high speeds in that sort of historical alignment without finding a new corridor. Some of the business cases have looked at potentially some deviations.

Senator McCARTHY: I'm very envious when looking at the southern states. What about the Northern Territory, Mr Broe?

Mr Broe : We work with the Northern Territory.

Senator McCARTHY: And maybe even Townsville.

Mr Broe : We have what I am optimistically calling an international faster rail forum because it includes New Zealand. We have all the agencies involved in this forum, including the Northern Territory and South Australia. We would be very happy to consider any proposals they have.

Senator McCARTHY: Have you had any proposals before from the north?

Mr Broe : Not as yet. You normally have to have not a long but some established rail network in place before you start talking about making it faster. We would certainly be interested in talking to them about what we can do and working with the department on whatever we can do to improve public and passenger transport, which is what faster rail is ultimately all about.

Senator McCARTHY: I would be interested to know if that happens too, Mr Broe. Thank you very much for your evidence this morning.

CHAIR: What an exciting part of the world you live in. I too look forward to a very fast train between Townsville and Darwin. Thank you for your evidence this morning. We look forward to seeing you at the next estimates.

Mr Broe : Thanks very much. We look forward to being here.