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When Paul Keating speaks up, people usually listen.
The former prime minister spoke up this week, calling for a fast train between Sydney and Newcastle.
Mr Keating said the government should take advantage of current low interest rates to invest in very large infrastructure projects.
He nominated a fast train between Newcastle and Sydney as an idea that would deliver substantial economic and social benefits.
Also this week, concerns about energy security and the Hunter's economic future have been back on the agenda.
Hunter Business Chamber chief executive Bob Hawes spoke about the "significant gap in supply that needs to be addressed as our coal-fired power stations come to the end of their operating lives".
And Dr Mehreen Faruqi, a Greens senator for NSW, wrote an opinion piece in the Newcastle Herald demanding that governments devise plans for the Hunter's future economy.
"The world is changing and the writing is on the wall for coal," she wrote.
She was worried for communities such as the Hunter who are "reliant on coal companies".
A hearing will be held in Newcastle on Tuesday as part of a parliamentary inquiry into Jobs for the Future in Regional Areas.
One obvious way to give the Hunter Region a boost and to cushion the fallout from the expected decline of the coal industry would be to build the fast train.
High-speed rail has been talked about for decades. It is brought up at most elections. It's almost acquired mythical status.
Mr Keating said a fast train would turn Newcastle into a satellite suburb of Sydney. He added that it would take price pressures off the Sydney property market while giving a boost to Newcastle's market. It would also open up the Hunter Valley.
"What we want is a long program of really important infrastructure," he said.
Greater infrastructure spending to help stimulate the economy would make sense, particularly in the Hunter.
In fact, Professor Phillip O'Neill has argued that a concerted government effort is needed to invest in the infrastructure needed to bring Newcastle and the Hunter into the 21st century.
A Barangaroo-style project in Newcastle, for example, combined with a fast train to Sydney could create precisely the kind of stimulus needed to attract quality employers and high-paying jobs to the Hunter.
Infrastructure provides a solid foundation for economic activity, allowing consumers, workers and companies to move around and interact cost-effectively.
Well-timed infrastructure investments in the Hunter could do much to help the region transition away from fossil fuels.
This article first appeared on www.newcastleherald.com.au
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