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Monday, 26 March 2018
Page: 2044

Senator MOLAN (New South Wales) (10:15): Being new to the Senate, I haven't had Senator Farrell's possible experience in looking back over what has appeared in relation to the High Speed Rail Planning Authority Bill over some considerable period of time, but I'm very happy to speak on the bill today. To begin with, I note the strong support in the past for high-speed rail from the member for Bennelong, John Alexander, and also the former member of my home electorate of Eden-Monaro, Peter Hendy. High-speed rail connecting Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne has previously been investigated and found to be unaffordable. There is also the question of whether people would use the service between capital cities when it's quicker to fly and doesn't cost as much. That's why the government is focusing on connecting regional centres to capital city CBDs and faster rail services. This will generate jobs and provide opportunities for more people to access more-affordable housing in regional areas and higher-skilled jobs in city areas.

The federal opposition seems to be committed to establishing a high-speed rail authority to gather international expressions of interest for the construction of high-speed rail. It has introduced a private member's bill into the House of Representatives on a number of occasions to establish these arrangements. Debate on the bill has been adjourned. The opposition also introduced, I note, a private member's bill on the same matter into the Senate on 4 September 2017. When last in government, Labor committed $55 million to establishing the authority. However, the $55 million that Labor supposedly allocated to this authority in the 2013 campaign never existed. In its post-2013 election review, the Parliamentary Budget Office classified this funding as an election commitment, as opposed to a commitment that was funded in the budget or in the PEFO, and we've certainly seen that before. The PBO actually said, on page 8 of the PEFO in 2013:

The ALP election commitment Establish a High Speed Rail Authority could result in significant budget impacts beyond the forward estimates. This would depend on the final specification of any policy to construct high speed rail on the east coast of Australia.

This government will provide $20 million in matching funding to support the development of up to three business cases that will explore opportunities for faster passenger rail and investigate improvements to rail connections between Australia's cities and surrounding regional areas. Following a competitive assessment process in line with criteria published in the faster rail prospectus, the government announced on 9 March 2018 the three successful proponents that had been selected to develop business cases: Consolidated Land and Rail Australia, or CLARA, Melbourne to Greater Shepparton; New South Wales government, Sydney to Newcastle; and, the third, the North Coast Connect consortium, Brisbane and the regions of Moreton Bay and Sunshine Coast. These proposals clearly demonstrate the government's willingness to investigate long-term solutions that support urban, regional and rural development.

It's important to note that the CLARA Melbourne to Greater Shepparton business case will investigate the development of two new sustainable smart cities with connections to high-speed rail along a new dedicated corridor. Furthermore, the CLARA proposal provides an innovative and revolutionary model for building a high-speed rail link between Melbourne and Greater Shepparton that does not involve direct cost to government or to taxpayers. And I emphasise that: it does not involve direct cost to government or taxpayers. The opportunity created by the development of these two smart cities would fund the infrastructure, including the faster rail line needed to support them through the land value uplift. While the CLARA proposal is clearly revolutionary, it does warrant further investigations as it potentially provides a solution to the challenges of meeting growing housing demand in our major cities and future economic growth and opportunities.

The government, of course, continues to liaise as necessary with the New South Wales, Victorian, Queensland and ACT governments in relation to high-speed rail as part of discussions about rail policy and planning issues. This has included recent discussions between Commonwealth and New South Wales officials about the inclusion of corridor protection for high-speed rail on the eastern seaboard as a medium-term strategy in the New South Wales government's Future Transport Strategy out to 2056, and Senator Farrell mentioned the risk of corridor build-out.

I mentioned earlier the member for Bennelong, John Alexander. John Alexander pointed out in 2015 that, whilst he supported high-speed rail, there was a divergence of opinion in how that might be achieved, and that divergence is very important. It's the difference between sound public policy and wastage. It's the difference between infrastructure being delivered and castles in the air. The member for Grayndler has previously said that nation-building requires vision, and this is certainly true, but vision is very, very easy. It requires more than vision. It requires planning, it requires evidence, it requires process, it requires diligence and it requires execution.

A prime example of policy high on vision and lacking execution was Labor's NBN. Under Labor, the NBN was a complete mess. After six years of Labor, just 51,000 users were connected to the NBN—that is, one in 50 premises. Labor's fibre-to-the-premises NBN policy would have cost $30 billion more and taken six to eight years longer to complete. This would have increased broadband bills by up to $43 per month. Labor paid $6 billion for the NBN to pass just three per cent of Australian premises. The rollout was so badly managed, contractors downed tools and stopped construction work in four states. Under Labor, the NBN missed every single rollout target it set for itself. Under the coalition, the NBN rollout is ahead of schedule and on budget.

The coalition government is rolling out better broadband across Australia in the fastest and most affordable way so Australians can get access to fast broadband sooner and at a price they can afford. But that's not the only example of where the coalition is delivering nation-building infrastructure, and the context in which this high-speed rail proposal exists is very important to consider. The coalition government's $75 billion roads, rail and airport plan will relieve congestion, grow our regions and make life easier for Australians. We are investing on average $2 billion per year more than Labor and investing in a way that delivers better value and results for taxpayers. Our plan is comprehensive. We are investing in major highway upgrades and congestion-busting roads in capital cities to reduce travel time, improve safety and help businesses move goods and services more efficiently. We are investing in important public transport rail links, including the Gold Coast light rail, Sydney Metro, Melbourne Metro and Flinders rail link in Adelaide to improve access, amenity and liveability in our cities. Our historic investment in inland rail will link the Port of Brisbane to the Port of Melbourne, transforming freight movements through Victoria, New South Wales and South-East Queensland, while promoting economic opportunities and jobs in these regions.

Local communities are benefitting from the Roads to Recovery Program, with $4.4 billion invested for seven years up to 2021 in construction, repair and upgrade of local roads. Under the Black Spot Program, $684 million for the seven years up to 2021 will deliver safety improvements such as safety barriers and street lighting to dangerous roads. Local bridges are being fixed, with $420 million for the Bridges Renewal Program.

After five decades of indecision, the coalition government is getting on with building Western Sydney Airport. The coalition government has struck the Western Sydney City Deal with the New South Wales government and eight councils, and, as a result, the first stage of a north-south rail link will be built, linking the new airport to communities and new jobs, helping to create a 30-minute city. A new aerotropolis, a commercial and industrial hub adjacent to the airport, will also bring advanced manufacturing, research, medical, education and commercial facilities to the area. The airport will open a new international gateway to Australia's largest city, and this city deal will transform the economy of Western Sydney, creating tens of thousands of new jobs.

We're backing major infrastructure processes in a smarter way. Instead of the Australian government simply handing over grants and taxpayers being, effectively, an ATM for state governments, we're making use of equity investments and concessional loans to ensure that taxpayers get better value. By implementing city deals we are also ensuring that all levels of government work together, with investment coordinated to benefits taxpayers. With city deals already up and run running in Townsville, Launceston and Western Sydney, we are breaking away from the old approach of governments blaming each other while taxpayers just get ripped off.

Let me give you a summary of some of the major projects we're investing in. In my home state of New South Wales, with a solid and reliable state government, there is WestConnex, which links Western Sydney to the city, airport and ports with up to 52 traffic lights gone and 40 minutes saved. Stage 2 construction commenced ahead of schedule, and there are 10,000 construction jobs. NorthConnex connects the Central Coast to Sydney, avoiding up to 40 traffic lights on the Pacific Highway and 21 on Pennant Hills Road, and there are 8,700 construction jobs. The Pacific Highway has a four-lane divided road from close to Newcastle to Queensland, and crashes will be reduced and travel times will be cut by up to 2.5 hours. There are 16,000 direct and indirect jobs. And there is the Sydney Metro. The Australian government is also contributing $1.7 billion for the Sydney Metro West Project, which will deliver 31 new stations and 66 kilometres of new rail from Sydney's growing north-west, under the harbour, towards the south-west. Of course there is Western Sydney Airport, the aerotropolis, and infrastructure. After decades of indecision, Western Sydney Airport is being built and is due to open in 2026. It will be a catalyst for 200,000 new jobs in Western Sydney over the next 20 years. We're building the vital road infrastructure first, so that it's completed before the airport.

We have struck the Western Sydney City Deal with the New South Wales government and eight councils, which will mean a new north-south rail link, initially linking St Marys to Western Sydney Airport and the new aerotropolis—obviously, it will be a commercial and industrial hub. The new rail link will be built linking communities to the airport and new jobs. There will be a Badgerys Creek aerotropolis. A commercial and industrial hub next to the airport will be built, bringing advanced manufacturing, research, medical, education and commercial facilities to the area. New science, technology, engineering and maths education facilities will train workers for new jobs at the aerotropolis. An investment attraction office will attract new facilities to Western Parkland City, which will become the new third major city in Sydney, along with the CBD and Parramatta, of course, and this will help realise our goal of a 30-minute city, bring people closer to jobs, education and vital services. A new jointly funded Western Parkland City liveability program will ensure that local facilities and amenities will be provided, along with new housing supply and a strategy to deliver fifth-generation wireless system, including a trial led by a telecommunications carrier. It will enable smart digital technology in this area.

But let's talk about inland rail, and let's talk about rail as a nation-building pursuit, which is what inland rail is. Inland rail is a once-in-a-generation, nation-building infrastructure project. It will give people in regional areas the capacity to be part of a corridor of commerce with greater access to and from regional markets and improved linkages within the national freight network. We're getting on with the job. On 15 January 2018, I attended the first steel rail deliveries for the Parkes to Narromine project. The Victorian government signed a bilateral agreement to support Inland Rail on Friday, 16 March 2018. After years of talking, construction will start in May this year.

Inland Rail comprises 13 projects across Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. There'll be study corridors for each of the 13 Inland Rail projects which have been identified. Engaging with the local community is a key priority. The ARTC has established four community consultative committees in Queensland to facilitate discussion and information flows between the ARTC and stakeholders on Inland Rail issues and concerns. Community consultative committees in New South Wales will be established in coming months. Construction on all sections is expected to be underway by 2021. The railway is expected to commence operations in 2024-25. The first steel rail was delivered on 15 January 2018 to the site at Peak Hill for the Parkes to Narromine project.

Of course, as we look at high-speed rail and compare it with fast rail, and talk about the achievements of this government in relation to infrastructure spend, we cannot in any way, shape or form ignore Snowy 2.0. Snowy 2.0 is the plan to expand the original Snowy Mountains scheme with an additional 2,000 megawatts of capacity and 350,000 megawatt hours of storage. Creating up to 5,000 jobs and producing enough power for 500,000 homes, it will link the Tantangara and Talbingo reservoirs and involve a 27-kilometre tunnel and a new power station that will be up to one kilometre underground. Snowy 2.0 will make renewables reliable, reduce volatility in the electricity market and help to bring down rising electricity costs. It represents the largest energy storage project in the Southern Hemisphere and the largest renewable energy project in Australia.

Snowy 2.0 will sit at the heart of the National Electricity Market and will benefit Australian householders and businesses together. It will fill a gaping hole in the National Electricity Market, namely the lack of storage. The Australian government, through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, provided up to $8 million towards Snowy Hydro's feasibility study on Snowy 2.0. The feasibility study is available publicly and was endorsed by Snowy Hydro's independent board of directors in December last year.

The plan for Snowy 2.0 has been sitting on the shelf for decades, and now it's becoming a reality for the simple reason that the Prime Minister put energy storage on the agenda after years of reckless neglect. He put it on the agenda in his February 2017 National Press Club address, where he said:

Energy storage, long neglected in Australia, will also be a priority this year.

Last week at my request, ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, agreed to work together on a new funding round for large-scale storage and other flexible capacity projects including pumped hydro.

I've also written to Alan Finkel, asking him to advise on the role of storage and pumped hydro in stabilising the grid.

Large-scale storage will support variable renewables like wind and solar. It will get more value out of existing baseload generation and it will enhance grid stability. We're going to get on with it.

The Australian government signalled support for pumped hydro. As we know, 97 per cent of the world's energy storage is pumped hydro.

There are many things about the issue of high-speed rail and faster rail that are very, very important. Primarily, vision is about leadership, but success is achieved through solid implementation.

Just to finish with a few statistics: the funding committed to deliver inland rail is $9 billion. The length of the freight rail network is 1,700 kilometres. The length of trains double stacked—the equivalent of 18 football fields—is 1,800 metres. The equivalent number of B-double trucks is 110. Those trains can go at speeds of up to 115 kilometres per hour—that's faster rail. The Inland Rail transit time between Melbourne and Brisbane is 21.5 hours; the road transit time between Melbourne and Brisbane is 26.7 hours; and coastal rail transit time between Melbourne and Brisbane is 31.7 hours. As I said, vision is about leadership but success is achieved through solid implementation. Thank you.