Labor has introduced a bill in the federal senate to establish a planning authority for a high-speed rail link connecting Brisbane with Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.
The bill was presented to the senate by senator Don Farrell, and proposes to create an authority of 11 people representing state governments, the ARA, and rail industry and engineering experts.
This committee would be authorised to consider land use planning in a potential rail corridor, safety and environmental measures, public consultation, and the purchasing of the corridor itself.
Farrell noted that the same bill had been introduced to the House of Representatives in December 2013 and in October 2015, but said that it failed due to “lack of political will” from the coalition government.
“[A]t one stage it was literally the only piece of legislation before the House of Representatives,” Farrell said.
“Yet the coalition showed no vision, despite the fact that people like former trade minister, Andrew Robb, have come out as strong supporters of high speed rail.”
Labor’s former transport minister, Anthony Albanese, has been a long-time supporter of high-speed rail, and commissioned a feasibility study (published in 2013) for a Brisbane to Melbourne corridor.
The study concluded that the rail line would produce $2.30 in public benefit for every dollar invested ($2.50 for the Sydney-Melbourne section), and that once fully operational, it would be able to carry 84 million passengers a year.
Farrell argued that action towards realising the project had to come soon if it were to meet its full potential.
“We can anticipate significant population growth over coming decades along the route of this proposed line,” Farrell said.
“We can also anticipate that if we fail to act soon, delivery of high-speed rail will be made more difficult and costly because parts of the corridor will be built out by urban-sprawl.”
An infrastructure Australia report last month stated that state governments would have 3 to 5 years to purchase a corridor for a high-speed rail line between Sydney and Melbourne before the current estimated cost of $720 million was pushed to unaffordable heights by rising property prices.
NSW’s liberal premier herself has recently changed her tune on high-speed rail, telling a business audience in Tokyo last month that the construction of a Sydney-Melbourne line was getting “closer and closer”.
Albanese described the proposed Brisbane-Melbourne line as a “nation-building project in the national interest”, and called on the senate to debate the bill introduced earlier this week.
“High Speed Rail would allow people to travel between capital cities in as little as three hours,” Albanese said.
“It would also turbo charge the economic development of the regional centres along its route, including the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the Central Coast, Southern Highlands, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton.”