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Labor has called on the government to invest in a high-speed rail link down Australia's eastern seaboard, arguing the major infrastructure scheme will create jobs and boost regional areas as the nation looks to recover from the economic crisis.
The renewed push for the much-hyped project comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison's handpicked business coordination tsar, former mining executive Nev Power, says the COVID-19 crisis has presented an opportunity for a renewed focus on economic growth and the potential for acceleration of large-scale infrastructure works.
High-speed rail projects have long been considered for Australia's eastern seaboard.CREDIT:CLARA
As Mr Morrison talks up the importance of construction and transport projects as an economic boom in the midst of the pandemic, attention has turned to initiatives that would be most valuable for the country's post-coronavirus future. Labor has backed high-speed rail as an obvious option.
"High-speed rail has the potential to revolutionise interstate travel, allowing travel between capital cities in as little as three hours," said opposition transport spokeswoman Catherine King.
Ms King said it would be an "economic game-changer" for regional centres along the route between Melbourne and Brisbane. Labor has long embraced high-speed rail, committing $1 billion to buy up land for the project under an election policy last year.
"If the government is interested in creating jobs and boosting regional economies, it should seriously consider investing in high-speed rail now," she said.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the government was exploring fast rail business cases and had a 20-year plan for targeted improvements of links between major cities and regional centres. But he cooled talk of immediate progress on a large-scale high-speed rail project.
"While I have long been an advocate for high-speed rail in Australia, given the significant costs outlined in the reports conducted between 2010 and 2013, my focus is currently on delivering the inland rail and faster rail proposals which the federal government has committed to," he said.
A study conducted almost a decade ago estimated the construction cost of a high-speed rail link connecting Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane at $114 billion. The project would involve years of planning and could take decades to complete. Various high-speed rail proposals have been considered by governments since the 1980s.
Asked about the potential of high-speed rail in the nation's economic recovery, Mr Power said the recovery needed to be "business-led" and elements of the government's already significant infrastructure program could potentially happen "more quickly".
"New infrastructure projects can play a part in the recovery and private investment will be a critical element in those projects. The priority will be those projects that are commercially viable and can be funded privately albeit with government assistance to streamline approvals," he said.
Nick Cleary, a former real estate agent and director of the Consolidated Land and Rail Australia, a private company advancing an ambitious $200 billion high-speed rail plan, said the time is right to embrace the idea.
"We need to get people back to work and the way to do that is to get significant infrastructure projects employing tens of thousands of people. Big projects that have that nation-building identity have certainly helped in the past," he said.
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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