Illawarra Rail

The Prime Minister has visited my electorate twice in the last three weeks, and we welcome the attention. He didn't come by train, and we all know his affection for catching a train. There's a very good reason for that. It's because his party—the government, in fact—have abandoned the rail commuters across the Illawarra and South Coast.

At both the state and the federal levels, the Liberals have failed to take opportunities to improve the rail network throughout the Illawarra and South Coast. In 2017 the Turnbull government heralded a better rail service, including for Wollongong, through its faster rail prospectus. In fact, it released this plan, highlighting in its explanatory material the reality faced by commuters travelling from Wollongong to Sydney: travel times of up to two hours each way. This is a journey which even the former Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer, said belonged in the 19th century. Commuters and their parliamentary representatives from Wollongong agree with the former Deputy Prime Minister.

The government's own material highlights that increasing speeds from 60 kilometres an hour to 80 kilometres an hour would reduce the travel times by almost one-half. The government's material mentions the Wollongong commute to Sydney—the Illawarra line—more than any other journey in its entire document. You can imagine how surprised we were when it published the results of the prospectus program and announced the programs that it was going to fund. There was not a single cent for any region in New South Wales south of Sydney— abandoned by the federal Liberal Party.

Despite the Prime Minister continually talking about his affection for trains, he seems to be blind to the needs of commuters on the Illawarra and South Coast. My state colleagues, Paul Scully and Ryan Park, have been taking up the same issue with their state colleagues, because the state Liberals are just as bad as the federal Liberals. In 2012 the New South Wales government released its long-term transport master plan, which was to address faster road travel times and reliability for Illawarra residents. It's been six years since the publication of that. I see the member for Cunningham is in the chamber with me now. She is shaking her head as well, because her constituents, like mine, understand the pain that these commuters are going through. It has been six years, and last week the New South Wales government released the results of their studies and what they intended to fund. There was not a brass razoo for the Illawarra and South Coast! This is how the Liberals, at both the state and federal levels, treat the commuters from the Illawarra and South Coast.

The Illawarra is more than just a southern suburb of Sydney, even though over 24,000 people make the journey from the member for Cunningham's electorate, from my electorate and even from the member for Gilmore's electorate through to Sydney to do their work on a weekly basis. Fast rail is not an option: it is essential if we are to grow as a region and to get the jobs and investment that we need. Fast rail and fast internet are absolutely essential.

The Turnbull government talks a lot about regional development but doesn't do much when it comes to the suburbs and the regions south of Sydney. With regional universities and state-of-the-art hospitals throughout regional Australia and throughout southern New South Wales, the commuters and the residents of these regions need a better deal from the government. Freight rail also needs a better deal. The Maldon-Dombarton freight rail project was commissioned by the Wran Labor government in New South Wales and, indeed, half-built by the Wran Labor government in New South Wales, only to be cancelled by the Greiner Liberal government in 1998. Labor governments have been doing their best to get that project back on track. In two elections, the member for Cunningham and I have been so happy to be able to present a promise to the electorates for $50 million to get that project back on track. On each and every occasion the New South Wales Liberal government has thwarted the progress in this freight rail project.

We need to get rail back on the agenda, and the Prime Minister needs to stop taking selfies on trains and start looking after the commuters of the South Coast.