The Federal Government has initiated the new Badgerys Creek Airport in western Sydney before the next election. It has indefinitely deferred construction of interstate High Speed Rail (HSR) between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. It has promoted piece-meal, sub-optimum, intrastate sub-sections of interstate HSR. It has the intended consequences of growing Melbourne and Sydney into mega-cities of 8m people and possibly more. A tragic intended consequence is the loss of spatial liveability of the major cities. Sydney is planned to be three cities of probably some 3m each in western, central and eastern parts of Sydney within one mega-city. There are similar proposed optional plans for Melbourne.
The unintended consequences are fading innovation as densification of the major cities is transformed from low to high, public transport is poorer than London and congestion gets out of hand. The reliance on aspirational, well-educated immigrants is imperative to under-pin economic growth and provide the long-term shortfall of supply of the well-educated Australian workforce that governments seem unable to produce despite spending huge government funds, increasingly every year without improvement.
The planned growing expenditure on infrastructure to catch up somewhat on previous decades of under-spending is not enough to create sufficient jobs to off-set the coming unemployment caused by the 4th Industrial Revolution, nor an economic crisis, or to meet the greater facility demands of the projected population increase, especially if there is a population overrun. Building HSR would be.
The true disaster is banning HSR which is the key to creating and connecting a highly innovative and productive mega-region in Australia, instead of growing two less effective, high cost mega-cities plus Brisbane and demolishing +1.5m homes to house the current and +10m extra people in higher-rises. New innovative, lower cost, affordable cities of up to 3m built on the HSR line in the mega-region would save the higher cost major cities from being flooded with people and the destruction of their special, low density, high quality way of life. If population grows more than expected, more new cities would be built on the HSR line rather than inundating mega-cities, over-topping high congestion and diminishing innovation further. (Please see “Two Mega-cities or a Mega-region?” on www.veryfasttrain.com.au)
Australia needs high immigration for a well-educated workforce to bolster innovation and GDP. If there had been no immigration in the 10 years since GFC (which of course was not the case), GDP growth would have averaged about 1% pa. instead of around 2% pa. (Average GDP growth prior to the GFC was about 3.5% pa.) If immigration had been cut by half to ½% of the 24m population or 120,000 rather than the actual of about 240,000 pa on average, GDP would have grown only 1½% pa. on average. Calls for lower immigration have serious economic consequences for growth and innovation.
Growth of GDP in Australia has been supported recently by return of higher commodity prices and a surge in government spending on employment in NDIS and home care for the aged. Dole expenditure has declined, and income tax revenue has risen, reducing the government deficit and government debt. It has resulted in this year’s GDP rising for a quarter above the lower average annual GDP increase since the GFC. Commodity prices are unstable. Government expenditure increase on NDIS and home-care employment are internal and do not earn export income. In fact, it is a one-off adjustment to a higher level of ongoing NDIS expenditure, the effect of which is unlikely to be repeated.
A stronger base for long-term prosperity is needed to overcome low growth and re-establish pre-GFC long-term average GDP growth. Development of a mega-region would solve the issue. Once adopted, it would raise growth above 3.5% pa. for several years and unleash the power of lower dole payments and higher income tax revenue already demonstrated in a small way on repairing the budget and reducing government debt. It would restore the usual effects of fiscal and monetary policy largely missing since the GFC. Lack of one integrated interstate HSR prevents development of a mutually supportive mega-region which spares the serious loss of spatial liveability and produces greater innovation and growth.
These are the implications of macro government policy. Micro government policy fits, supports and reinforces the deleterious macro. It is a diversion from a more rewarding, less costly macro policy: an innovative, productive mega-region and a fully integrated HSR system connecting the whole region.
In Sptember2017, the Federal Government called for “unsolicited” piece-meal, intrastate railway submissions. It offered $20m towards the feasibility studies of the projects it would select. In March 2018, it announced 3 winners of the competition, one in each of Victoria, NSW and Queensland.
In Victoria, the project selected is HSR between Melbourne and Shepparton on the Government ‘s preferred inland interstate HSR corridor to Sydney, should it ever be built. This is not the best, most customer-oriented route, nor the best business and financial case for the interstate HSR project. It should go through Gippsland to Canberra. A new city of 2-3m would be built on the line in Gippsland near the sea to attract settlers. The inland route selected in March may attract 2-300,000 new settlers, hardly impacting Melbourne’s huge planned population increase of 4m. There does not appear to be a guarantee of no speculative rewards should the promised inland railway not be built. Bob Brown, former Greens leader, has said that HSR is so desirable environmentally that some destruction of it during construction is acceptable provided it is minimised. This applies to the route via Gippsland.
In NSW, the selected proposal is to up-grade existing tracks between Sydney and the central coast. It would reduce travel time, but nothing like HSR. It would not support two new cities of up to 3m outside Sydney and save it from a possible +9m population.
In Queensland, the selected project appears to be narrow gauge track expansion from the Sunshine Coast to the Gold Coast. Again, it reduces travel time, but not as much as one integrated standard gauge HSR project from Adelaide to the Sunshine Coast connecting all cities in the east coast mega-region.
These proposed projects are a gesture in the direction of action on railways to (slightly) relieve Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane of crushing population increases because of banning a real, coordinated, single HSR project that would compete with Badgerys Creek Airport and the airlines. They are a distraction from the planned serious damage to the Australian way of life. States do not seem to agree with the Federal projects, except HSR connecting Badgerys Creek Airport and Tullamarine Airport to their CBDs. This would be provided anyway as part of the full scale HSR project.
There are other piece-meal railway projects the Government initiative has elicited. One is for HSR from Newcastle to Nowra. It would by-pass Sydney CBD with its main station at Homebush. Commuters would have to waste time changing trains. Another is for HSR from Dandenong to Geelong. There is one for Brisbane. Another, probably traditional standard-gauge rail technology, from Canberra to Lakes Entrance to connect to the Victorian broad-gauge railway system.
All these projects run the risk of repeating the previous folly of different railway gauges, and different signalling, safety, rolling stock, maintenance standards, service quality and fares. They may be ineffective, too late and too small to make a difference to population growth of the three cities. They all rely on government funding, and maybe different PPPs. They prevent creation of a mega-region.
The Badgerys Creek Airport, this Government initiative, benefits western Sydney at the cost of the rest of Sydney and the rest of Australia. The other piece-meal projects it has encouraged are a diversion or a sub-set of issues from the main issue of where and how the projected population increase of 25m should best live in the next 4-5 decades without loss of, and preferably generating greater prosperity and liveability of the people, their children and ‘new Australians’. Mega-cities are unnecessary.
The mega-region is aimed primarily at settling +10m people in the regions in new cities outside the major cities rather than inside, connected rapidly by HSR to CBDs. Interstate HSR is a secondary issue to the primary aim of population distribution. An integrated, mutually supportive, highly innovative and productive mega-region including the old east coast cities and new regional cities connected by a privately financed HSR system is the preferred direction for a prosperous, liveable Australian future.