High-speed rail and a Hyperloop: John Alexander's radical housing affordability plan
High-speed rail between Sydney and Melbourne would be used to decentralise Australia’s urban population and open up cheaper housing under a radical plan now endorsed by a parliamentary committee.
Crusading Turnbull government MP John Alexander, who has supported a debate about negative gearing, said vision and innovation needed to replace the “debilitating political argument” about housing.
A bipartisan committee chaired by Mr Alexander backed his vision for high-speed rail, recommending the government seek proposals for a link between the two major cities, and evaluate ways to raise private capital through value capture.
Under that model, previously trumpeted by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, major infrastructure is privately funded by the increase in land values that accompanies the creation of new or larger cities made possible by that infrastructure.
The report also urges the government to monitor and, in future, assess the feasibility of Hyperloop, a supersonic tube conceived by Tesla founder Elon Musk that would potentially see passengers traverse Sydney to Melbourne in less than one hour.
Linking regional centres by rail would enable people to live in Goulburn, for example, and work in Sydney, and ease pressure on crowded city markets. It would “provide an abundant supply of affordable housing for many generations to come”, Mr Alexander said.
Although the committee report recommends casting the net wide, organisations are already lobbying the government for the job, including Consolidated Land and Rail Australia, run by former dairy farmer and financier Nick Cleary.
In an audacious $200 billion proposal, CLaRA wants to build eight entirely new cities along a high-speed rail corridor between Sydney and Melbourne by 2050. Mr Cleary says it could be funded by value capture without public money.
But concerns abound that any high-speed rail project would need to attract a critical mass of population to its regional centres in order to justify its construction.
High-speed rail has lurked in the background of Australian infrastructure policy since the early 1980s, but with a supportive PM and the imprimatur of a parliamentary committee, might now have its best shot in the locker.
“It would appear there’s a perfect storm of opportunity to liberate [regional] cities through high-speed rail,” Mr Alexander previously told Fairfax Media. “You will push up prices enormously around Goulburn; people will be delighted.”
But he warned on Tuesday the report’s ambitious goals were only achievable if all three levels of government co-operated and were “willing to forgo individual revenues to ultimately maximise total revenues”.
Mr Turnbull and the new assistant minister to the treasurer, Michael Sukkar, have promised the government will say more about housing affordability this year, as Labor continues to push for negative gearing reform.
The government has six months to respond to the report presented on Tuesday. Shadow infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese called on the Coalition to support his private member’s bill to commence planning a high-speed rail line.
It comes after a separate parliamentary committee – previously chaired by Mr Alexander until he was removed – delivered a report on housing affordability that was widely panned for making zero recommendations to the government.
Source: Michael Koziol, “High-speed rail and a Hyperloop: John Alexander’s radical housing affordability plan”, The Sydney Morning Herald, February 7, 2017