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Monday, 26 March 2018
Page: 2066

Senator HUME (Victoria) (11:53): I rise today to speak on a private senator's bill submitted for consideration to this place by our colleague from South Australia, Senator Farrell, the High Speed Rail Planning Authority Bill 2017. This is not an issue with which this chamber is unfamiliar. On this very issue, the member for Bennelong, Mr John Alexander, said in the other place on 23 November 2015:

We have bipartisan support here—

something Senator Ketter might have forgotten—

but we might have a little bit of a divergence on how we should get there.

Sadly, as with so many things lately, it appears that, since the member for Bennelong last spoke on this issue in 2015, the Labor Party and the coalition have in fact diverged a little further on their paths on how to deal with this highly complex issue.

Firstly, it should be noted that, in principle, the coalition supports the construction of high-speed rail connecting Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. We often look to high-speed rail as simply a way of getting from A to B. But, as the member for Bennelong so eloquently noted in his speech back in 2015, the positive externalities of high-speed rail extend far beyond simply making it easy to travel quickly from one major city to another. It is actually able to address one of our nation's core problems—that is, the overdevelopment of our major cities, the costs of those cities, the congestion in those cities and the loss of productivity from that congestion in those cities.

Furthermore, we have an extraordinary imbalance whereby Sydney and Melbourne are among the five most expensive cities in the world. This is an extraordinary thing for Australia, whose single greatest asset is real estate. The imbalance that has occurred, as regional areas have declined and our major cities have grown, presents a perfect storm for the creation of a strategic decentralisation to create housing supply in regions where land is less expensive. The infrastructure to achieve that is high-speed rail. This was discovered in Japan in the 1960s, as we well know, when Tokyo was the most expensive city in the world and one of the most congested cities in the world. High-speed rail has seen Japan decentralise and the creation of regional cities, which has taken the pressure off Tokyo.

There is no question that, in a vacuum, high-speed rail presents many great opportunities for urban development and decentralisation of Australia's population away from our two major cities of Sydney and Melbourne. But, alas, we don't live in a vacuum. High-speed rail connecting Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne has been investigated previously and been found to be unaffordable. That is why the Turnbull government is focusing on finding ways to affordably deliver the benefits of high-speed rail through other means. This entails connecting regional centres to capital city CBDs with faster rail services, enticing people to move away from the city centres comfortable in the knowledge that they can still access city centres quickly and easily. This will generate jobs and provide opportunities for more people to access more affordable housing in regional areas and high-skilled jobs in the cities.

The federal opposition is committed to establishing a high-speed rail planning authority to gather international expressions of interest for the construction of high-speed rail. On a number of previous occasions we have seen the introduction of private members' bills such as this in the other place to establish these very arrangements. Unsurprisingly, the debate on those bills has been adjourned. An almost identical bill was introduced into the Senate on 4 September 2017.

When last in government, Labor committed $55 million to establishing the authority. However, in true Labor style, the funding that was supposedly allocated to this authority in the 2013 campaign never really existed. As has been the case for decades, unfunded promises are a staple of the Australian Labor Party diet. The Parliamentary Budget Office classified this funding as an election commitment rather than a commitment that was funded in the budget or in the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Outlook. As the Parliamentary Budget Office said:

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.

By contrast, the Turnbull coalition government is making real promises that are fully accounted for and fully funded and that will be realised to the great benefit of the majority of the people of Australia.

The Turnbull government will, in fact, provide $20 million in matching funding to support the development of up to three separate business cases that will explore opportunities for faster passenger rail and investigate improvements to the rail connections between Australia's cities and the surrounding regional areas. Following a competitive assessment process in line with the criteria published in the Faster Rail Prospectus on 9 March 2018, the government announced the three successful proponents to develop the business cases as follows: Consolidated Land and Rail Australia, CLARA, for Melbourne to Greater Shepparton; the New South Wales government to assess Sydney to Newcastle; and the North Coast Connect consortium to establish a business case into Brisbane and the regions of Moreton Bay and Sunshine Coast. These proposals are demonstrative of the government's willingness to investigate long-term solutions that support urban, regional and rural development.

There is no shortage of commitment from this government to deliver rail-based solutions to urban planning and connectivity problems in Australia, especially those on the eastern seaboard. The CLARA proposal, in particular, makes the business case for high-speed rail from Melbourne to Shepparton, which would be the first step in the Melbourne-Brisbane high-speed rail corridor. The CLARA proposal provides an innovative and revolutionary model for building high-speed rail between Melbourne and Greater Shepparton, but does not involve direct costs to government or taxpayers. The 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. CLARA defines their cities as:

… new cities where data is open, energy's renewable, water is valued, homes are affordable and people can live within 10 minutes of all they need. Cities where world class healthcare meets high tech education. Where new and existing businesses will converge to create more vibrant regional economies. Cities built to unlock all human potential. Cities made possible by high speed rail that can place citizens in our capitals in less time than a morning commute.

The opportunity created by the development of these two smart cities would fund the infrastructure, including the fast rail line, needed to support them through land value uplift. CLARA has indicated that travel times over the full length of the line could be reduced from approximately three hours to a mere 32 minutes. While the CLARA proposal is clearly revolutionary, it does warrant further investigation, as it potentially provides a solution to both the challenges of meeting growing housing demand in our major cities and future growth opportunities. Our support for CLARA is a tangible way in which the coalition is working with the private sector to better understand how the very high-speed rail between Melbourne and Brisbane could be built.

I do wish to further remind the chamber of the great work that the coalition parties are doing, on a federal and a state level, to bring high quality and efficient rail to the great state of Victoria in other areas as well. The coalition is the only one to deliver on the rail promises for the whole of Australia, and not just those in metropolitan Melbourne. I'm very proud to stand here today as a patron senator for all of Victoria, though one of my regions of particular interest is that of Indi. I'm very proud that the Turnbull government has stopped the chatter about trains and is actually getting on with the job of not only upgrading rail but building new rail for Victoria and all of Australia. In the 2017-18 budget, the Turnbull coalition committed $100 million to upgrade the North East rail line—no more speed restrictions, no more late trains and no more dangerous mud holes. It was the Turnbull coalition government which took the first steps to upgrade the line which Indi and particularly the communities of Wodonga and Wangaratta so desperately need. It was just at the start of this month, nine months after the federal budget announcement to commit $100 million for the North East line, that the Victorian Andrews Labor government sought to derail the whole project—that is an unintentional pun, but, yes, the Andrews government did seek to derail the whole project. It is very hard to believe, but Premier Andrews decided that the north-east was not, in fact, his priority and that it wasn't the state's job to fund regional rail upgrades. However, I am very proud to enlighten the chamber with the knowledge that, once again, the Turnbull coalition government has stepped in to save the day in my home state of Victoria. Just last week, the coalition put forward another $135 million for the North East line.

We have more than doubled our funding to make these upgrades a reality, but where is the state Labor government when all of this is happening, I hear you ask? Well, the Victorian Andrews Labor government is running for cover as the Victorian coalition opposition have announced $633 million for country rail in Victoria if they are elected at the November state election. This is well over half a billion dollars committed to replace the ageing diesel haul trains with 16 new-generation VLocity trains. The coalition is going to give passengers comfort, leg room, safety and amenity while they are travelling across the state on 96 new railcars capable of travelling at up to 160 kilometres an hour.

I know this is hard to believe, but the Turnbull coalition government's commitment to rail for all of Australia doesn't stop there. In fact, the rail line doesn't just end in Wodonga, it doesn't end in Wagga Wagga and it certainly won't cease in Narrabri. That's because the Turnbull coalition government, in the 2017-18 budget, committed $10 billion towards the National Rail Program, which included $8.4 billion for the Inland Rail project stretching from Melbourne to Brisbane. 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 with the national freight network.

We are getting on with the job. On 15 January this year, I attended the first steel rail delivery for the Parkes-to-Narromine project. The Victorian government signed a bilateral agreement to support Inland Rail on Friday, 16 March 2018. After years and years of talking, construction will finally start in May this year. Inland Rail comprises 13 projects across Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, and study corridors for each of the 13 Inland Rail projects have already been identified. Construction on all sections is expected to be underway by early 2021. The railway is expected to commence operations in 2024 and 2025.

While we in the coalition have been very busy making things actually happen, the Andrews Labor government in Victoria have made themselves busy by complaining incessantly about a lack of support from the federal government. While I am normally in support of anyone from my great home state of Victoria requesting more help, Premier Daniel Andrews is betraying the trust of the Victorian people with this gripe, for this government has pledged billions of dollars in matched funding that Premier Andrews is yet to realise. It's time he came clean with the Victorian people. The Turnbull government has allocated $3 billion for infrastructure in Victoria since April 2016, supporting 48 separate projects across Melbourne and regional Victoria. The vast majority of these projects need to be rolled out by the Andrews government. They are funded by the federal government, but they need the Andrews government to step up and support them. They need the Andrews government to step up and roll them out. But, disappointingly, of these 48 projects, only three have been completed and only 10 are under construction. Yet the constant gripe from Daniel Andrews is that the federal government has overlooked Victoria time and time again. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's now up to Premier Andrews to unlock the funds that have been allocated to Victoria. The Andrews Labor government has clearly failed in its duty to put the Commonwealth funding that has been allocated to it to work.

The Turnbull government's commitment includes: unlocking $1.5 billion previously allocated to the East West Link to support upgrades on the Monash Freeway—that was $500 million; the M80 ring road—that was $350 million; the Murray Basin Rail Project, which was $220 million; a further $20 million as part of the Victorian regional rail package; the regional and rural roads package, which was $345 million; and the urban congestion package, which was originally $75 million but was increased to $85 million following the Victorian government's refusal of $10 million to help plan the Melbourne Metro. I heard Senator Ketter mention that very project just a few minutes ago.

The Turnbull government's $1.4 billion Victorian Regional Rail package, announced in June 2017, was allocated towards upgrades on the Ballarat line, of $502 million; the Gippsland line, including the Avon River Bridge upgrade, another $502 million; and the Warrnambool line, which is so important in one of our most prolific agricultural areas, $104 million. For the Geelong line—Geelong is essentially now a commuter town to Melbourne—there's $99 million; the north-east line, as was mentioned earlier, $100 million; the Bendigo and Echuca lines, $82 million; and the Shepparton line, another $9 million. These are critical regional rail upgrades, and they are being held up by the Andrews Labor government in Victoria, which is yet to provide adequate detail on most of the projects and to deliver the commitments needed to get the landmark Inland Rail project moving.

It was also the Turnbull government that initiated the development of a business case for the Melbourne Airport rail link through a $30 million investment in the 2017-18 federal budget. Victorians should not for a second be fooled by Premier Andrews's attempt to take credit for that project in November. The Andrews Labor government never stops asking for more money from Canberra, but it needs to get on with the desperately needed road and rail projects that the Turnbull government has already committed to help fund. That is why Victorians are stuck in traffic. That's why they have a right to expect what this Turnbull government wants to see happen as quickly as possible. There is an estimated $5.6 billion waiting to be spent on Victorian infrastructure, if the Turnbull government's $3 billion commitment to the East West Link is included.

Victorians have a right to be sceptical that the Andrews Labor government is deliberately stalling projects in key marginal electorates so that works commence on the eve of the November state polls, giving an illusion of delivery before people head to those polls. It's not surprising that local communities waiting for much-needed road and rail upgrades remain angered and frustrated that one of the biggest infrastructure spends by the Andrews government so far has been—wait for it—the $1.3 billion that it has spent cancelling an infrastructure project, the East West Link. It becomes all too easy to understand the frustration of Victorians. It becomes all too easy to understand why they pull their hair out when they are stuck in traffic, when they're waiting on rail lines for trains that don't arrive, when the trains that do arrive break down because their rolling stock is of such extraordinarily poor quality, and when V/Line services running from Melbourne to Geelong—a basic commuter town—are either late or so overcrowded that they can't even fit passengers on. It's got to the stage now where our Victorian V/Line trains are like the Japanese subway where people have to be pushed on. These are very long commutes, and it's entirely unreasonable that a country like ours should expect that sort of capacity from its rail network. So you understand the government's hesitation not just in bipartisan initiation of these projects but also in their implementation.

Federal Labor cannot, in all seriousness, ask for federal coalition support on a project such as this without evidence and commitment that it can hold its state counterparts to account after the negligent mismanagement of projects that the coalition have earnestly and in good faith supported and initiated in the past. It's time now for the Andrews government to step up and deliver on the promises that it has made to the Victorian people.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Whish-Wilson ): Senator Fawcett, you've got about 6½ minutes.