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Wednesday, 12 September 1984
Page: 1119

Mr HOLLIS —Has the Minister for Transport investigated the viability of the proposed high speed railway between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne? If so, is he able to say whether it has any merit and whether the Government is prepared to fund the project?

Mr PETER MORRIS —I have received a proposal from a Dr Paul Wild--

Mr Lloyd —We read about it last week.

Mr PETER MORRIS —It is a proposal that is being supported by the Opposition. I thought honourable members opposite might like to hear about it because the Opposition is saying that this is a highly innovative proposal and it could provide a real alternative for the economic movement of people and freight between Sydney and Melbourne. If the Liberal Party of Australia does not agree with the National Party of Australia that is its problem. Let me get on with the answer.

Mr Lloyd —You don't want to cut government spending.

Mr PETER MORRIS —This proposal would add only $4 billion to the Opposition's deficit which would take it from $15 billion to $19 billion. I received a proposal from a Dr Paul Wild for the construction of a high speed railway between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. I had that proposal subjected to initial assessment by the Bureau of Transport Economics. That initial assessment shows that the proposal is more likely to cost $4,000m than $2,500m. It shows that, if one were to take the capital cost as suggested by the proponents-the $2,500m-it would require a fare of some $275. That fare would be twice the existing economy air fare between Sydney and Melbourne. Under the terms of the proposal it would take twice as long to travel by this supertrain between Sydney and Melbourne as it does currently by air.

I point out that the proposal is in respect of the transport corridor that is best serviced already in this country. The total passenger load suggested for the proposal could be carried by two Boeing 767s. I am concerned that the Opposition sees this as a proposal that ought to be supported. I do not believe and I will not so recommend to the Government that resources should be allocated to even do a study on it. Most importantly, since it is to be a new connection between Sydney and Melbourne it ought first to be discussed with the New South Wales Government and the Victorian Government and their approval obtained for that proposal. I do not believe that approval will be forthcoming.

If there is a pressing need in this country for improvement in transport infrastructure it is in respect of the national main line rail network. That is the system that needs improving. For a fraction of the cost suggested in respect of this proposal we could halve the journey time between Sydney and Melbourne and double the freight capacity between Sydney and Melbourne, using the existing fleet of locomotives. That is the kind of proposal I would much rather see. If, as has been suggested by its proponents, it is a goer and if, as has been suggested by them, the private sector is interested in it, I would say to Dr Wild that he should take the proposal back to the private sector and back to the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd that he has quoted as supporting it and let them put it forward and fund it.

I mention in conclusion that a similar grandiose proposal has been put to me more recently which I know the National Party would support. The proposal is to build a canal from the Arafura Sea down to Spencer Gulf. It was said to me that if we did that the water would flow from that area to the other.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Minister seems to be getting a long way away from rail transport.

Mr PETER MORRIS —Mr Speaker, this is the same classification as the proposal of the National Party. It is a National Party proposal. The proposal states that if we built the canal from the Arafura Sea down to Spencer Gulf we could have energy free transport by sail all the way, which would significantly enhance the environment, do wonders for tourism in the Centre and, most of all, create thousands upon thousands of jobs. In a predictable and unimaginative way I have similarly rejected that proposal.