I’m old enough to have been around the first time high speed rail was proposed in Australia, over 40 years ago!
High speed rail has enormous potential to unlock our cities and regional centres, and substantially cut down on carbon emissions (and flight noise!) associated with air travel. It’s also, in my humble opinion, a much, much more enjoyable and convenient way to get from city to city! There would be incredible benefits for industry, freeing up freight capacity on conventional trains and adding freight capacity at night. So, I was happy that the Labor government decided to finally begin the process of getting high-speed rail going - Australians have been waiting a long time while politicians talk about it.
But after reading Labor’s bill, I was worried that Labor could be setting up high speed rail to fail, by underfunding it and putting forward a framework that will likely lead to partial or wholesale privatisation – not unlike what happened with NBN, and look how that worked out!
Problems with Labor’s bill
It is estimated that for every $1 spent on high-speed rail, there will be around $2 of benefit to the Australian economy: that’s a good investment.
A 2010 feasibility study estimated the cost of the overall project from Brisbane to Melbourne would be $114 billion, or roughly $135 billion in 2022 terms. The Labor government has only committed $500million over four years. This is a completely inadequate amount to get high speed rail off the ground. Where is the extra $134.5 billion going to come from?
Without government funding, the costs will have to be met from private finance, who will potentially end up with a significant, if not majority, stake in the operation, and want their profit from this investment. There’s also nothing in the bill to stop that from happening. As always is the case in public-private partnerships, this will lead to higher prices for passengers, downward pressure on rail worker wages, and corner cutting on regulations on environmental and social impact.
Lack of long-term plan
It’s likely to be a decade before even the first leg from Sydney to Newcastle is ready for people to use. Any wonder most Australians are sceptical they’ll ever see it happen! Labor’s approach means the new agency will have to spend much of its time seeking various forms of finance and pandering to the interests of those financiers. This means vested interests deciding what happens, instead of someone looking out for Australia’s best interests.
Amendments to improve Labor’s bill
I moved amendments to make the bill the basis for a properly funded, publicly owned high-speed rail:
- Guarantee the high-speed rail network remains in public hands, from construction to service delivery
- Ensure green technologies like green steel are used as much as possible in the construction phase
- Make sure that trains and associated infrastructure are all manufactured domestically, revitalising our local manufacturing sector
Labor voted with the LNP to defeat the amendment.
Watch my speech in full or read the transcript