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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 9 Hansard (1 September) . . Page.. 2749 ..

MR SMYTH (Minister for Urban Services) (5.19): Some years back a book was published by, I think, University of New South Wales Press called Handle with care. As I remember, the author was a gentleman by the name of Doug Cox who was then working with the CSIRO. The book looked at the whole of the Australian continent in terms of environmental and social impacts. One of the points that Mr Cox made in his book was the need for appropriate infrastructure. At that time we were talking about very fast trains and Mr Cox actually said that the technology then - I think the book was published very early in the 1990s - was not fast enough and we should be going for a bloody fast train, as he termed it. I guess we see that encompassed now in the very high-speed train project.

Mr Cox made the point that he saw great value in extending this project constantly - do the Sydney-Canberra link and then the Canberra-Melbourne link - and building an infrastructure that went ultimately from Melbourne to Adelaide and from Sydney to Brisbane and extended through to Cairns. If I recall the figures correctly, he said that linking it to feeder lines would give 15 million of the 18 million Australians access to a very high-speed rail link. He said that his analysis of what had let Australia down was that we did not have the sort of infrastructure that we needed to support a modern nation.

In terms of getting the nation to think about itself, the importance of the very high-speed train project may for some just become a dream and may for some become an icon, but I hope that for the city of Canberra it will become a reality. It needs to become a reality because it really would change the way that Canberra would be reached by all Australians. Until recently, until the Federal Government put money into the Federal Highway upgrade and ultimately the Barton Highway upgrade, Canberra really was at the end of a bit of a dog track. Given the number of accidents and deaths we had on particularly the Lake George stretch of the Federal Highway, we would have been perhaps the least well served national capital anywhere in the world because you simply came along a two-lane highway.

In focusing the debate today, Mr Hird's motion talks about the importance of having an international airport and the importance of having a very high-speed train to promote investment and employment in the capital region and provide the means for deferring other projects that may or may not go ahead in Sydney. I am a member of the Australian Transport Ministers Council. The meetings that I went to very early on were simply focused, and I think overly focused, on road transport - bigger trucks, more trucks and better highways. The focus recently has come down to opening the highways to trucks with larger mass limits and the need to upgrade the bridge infrastructure to allow those trucks to travel across the country.

For us it is a question of providing some $15m to upgrade all our bridges so as to allow B-doubles with higher mass limits into the ACT. The New South Wales Minister, Mr Scully, said that something like $750m worth of bridge upgrades would be required to allow larger trucks to traverse his network. The other States had varying degrees of expenditure on a varying number of bridges. But it came down to the fact that between $1 billion and $2 billion of taxpayers' money would be required to be spent on upgrading road infrastructure without, I believe, a serious debate on the appropriate infrastructure for all of Australia.

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