The Australian Greens have rolled out their proposal for a publicly funded high-speed rail network, with a spur line to Canberra as envisaged in government-commissioned studies.
With the looming federal election firmly in mind, the Greens transport spokesperson Janet Rice this week issued her party’s plan for the elusive project, pledging the creation of the Australian High-Speed Rail Authority and an initial equity investment of $1.6 billion for the first stages of planning and land reservation.
Senator Rice says high-speed rail should be publicly funded, not handed over to private developers hoping to make windfall profits along the route at the expense of established cities.
She says a new raft of taxes and charges on CBD property developers set to profit from high-speed rail could contribute to the cost of the project.
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The Greens join the Coalition and Labor, which have thrown their support behind the idea of high-speed rail without making any tangible commitment to the more than $110 billion infrastructure project.
Labor infrastructure spokesperson and long-time supporter Anthony Albanese said recently that Australia should “bite the bullet” and build a high-speed rail line between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane but Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is yet to pledge any money to the project.
Senator Rice said it was time to turn these dreams into reality and fund high-speed rail in full and build it in the public interest.
“For decades, Australians have dreamt about high-speed rail along our east coast. It would be nation-building at its best: big, bold and transformative,” she said.
“Governments up till now have refused to take action because of risk aversion and capitulation to private interests, despite studies showing the feasibility, high public benefit and strong economics of High-speed Rail.
“High-speed rail will connect our cities with our regions, reduce carbon pollution, create tens of thousands of jobs and provide a return to the taxpayer.”
She said both the Coalition and Labor wanted private interests involved, with the Morrison Government appearing to favour private developer Consolidated Land and Rail Australia.
“The CLARA project banks on developers making money from massive increases in the value of land along the route, building stations and new cities rather than building stations in existing towns like Albury-Wodonga and Wagga Wagga,” Senator Rice said.
“This would mean instead of high-speed rail unlocking the economic potential of our existing regional cities, these established towns would struggle to compete with the new cities built around new stations.”
Senator Rice said construction of high-speed rail stations both up and down the east coast and in the heart of our central business districts would immensely increase the value of surrounding land.
“Private developers who see their property values rise should not simply get a windfall gain. By using a variety of taxes and charges, they will be made to contribute to the overall cost of building the project,” she said.
The High-Speed Rail Study envisages two lines – Sydney to Melbourne (2 hours 44 mins) with spur lines for Sydney to Canberra (1 hour) and Melbourne to Canberra (2 hours 30 mins); and Sydney to Brisbane (2 hours 37 mins) with a spur line for Sydney to Gold Coast (similar time).
Senator Rice said the Greens would implement the accelerated timetable envisaged in the Study’s Phase 2 report.
Infrastructure Australia warned in 2017 that governments must take urgent action in the next five years to protect vital infrastructure corridors, including the proposed high-speed rail route.