Shadow transport minister Anthony Albanese has introduced a bill to the House of Representatives to create a planning authority for a high speed rail line for Australia’s eastern seaboard.
The High Speed Rail Planning Authority Bill 2015, presented to Parliament by the former deputy prime minister on Monday, would create an 11-person authority tasked with beginning detailed planning, and securing the rail corridor needed for a high speed rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.
Albanese introduced the same bill to Parliament in 2013, but “the prime minister of the day [Tony Abbott] had no interest in rail and refused to bring the bill on for debate”.
Speaking to Parliament on Monday, Albanese described high speed rail as a “national game changer,” akin to the Snowy Mountains Scheme initiated in 1949 by former Labor prime minister Ben Chifley.
Chifley’s scheme, which created a massive hydroelectricity and irrigation network in southeast Australia, was not completed until 1972. Albanese said high speed rail, like the Snowy Scheme, would not be completed in a single political term.
“Chifley knew that true nation building is not about winning short-term political acclaim, but about taking decisions today that prepare our nation for tomorrow,” Albanese said. “A tomorrow many of us may not have even contemplated.”
The 11-member panel proposed in the bill would include one member from each of the states affected by the proposed line – Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT – along with one member representing local governments, one member nominated by the Australasian Railway Association, and five members appointed by the minister for infrastructure on the basis of qualifications or expertise.
The authority’s roles would include considerations of land use planning relating to the rail corridor, safety, measures to minimise environmental impact, public consultation, and intervention to purchase the corridor.
“High-speed rail exists in every continent other than Australia and Antarctica,” Albanese told his Canberra colleagues.
“New projects are underway all over the world, including in the Asian region, in the UK and in the United States.”
He referred to figures from the two-part high speed rail study he commissioned while he was transport minister under the Labor Government.
With Australia’s population figured to double by 2050, the study predicted travel on the east coast of Australia to grow about 1.8% every year over the next two decades, increasing 60% by 2035. “The study said east coast trips would double from 152 million trips in 2009 to 355 million trips in 2065,” Albanese said.
The 2013 report also found the Melbourne-to-Sydney leg of the high speed rail line would return $2.15 in public benefit, for every dollar invested.
But with a projected price tag of $114 billion, the study made it clear the project would need bipartisan, long-term support to go ahead.
“High-speed rail does require broad support,” Albanese told Canberra.
“Its construction would occur over many terms of government and, indeed, changes of government, which is why it requires broad discussion by this parliament.
“It requires leadership. So let us lead.”