Labor promises $500m to start Sydney to Newcastle fast rail | Newcastle and the Hunter

Fast rail linking Sydney and the Hunter will be prioritised under a Labor government, opposition leader Anthony Albanese says.

A first step towards high-speed rail linking major cities, the route would deliver speeds of more than 250km/h, cutting the journey time from Sydney to Newcastle to 45 minutes, down from two-and-a-half hours.

The most recent report into high-speed rail found the Sydney to Newcastle route should be the first component of an eventual line to Brisbane.

But the coalition branded the plan “too expensive”.

The infrastructure minister, Paul Fletcher, said Labor needed to explain where the money would come from.

“It is $200 to $300bn on any credible estimate. That has to be paid for and that means higher taxes,” he said on Sunday.

Albanese outlined his vision for high-speed rail between Brisbane and Melbourne at a speech in Newcastle on Sunday, saying his government would make the works a key priority for a new high-speed rail authority, and provide $500m funding in its first budget to begin corridor acquisition, planning and early works.

“Australia is the only inhabited continent on earth not developing high-speed rail,” he said.

“You’ll be able to jump on the train at 6.30pm and be at Sydney Olympic Park for the start of the Knights game.”

The move to buy up land in the rail corridor has been welcomed by Sydney’s urban policy thinktank and advocacy body.

Committee for Sydney CEO Gabriel Metcalf said the rail improvements would give people more choice about where they work and where they live.

“Better connections across this region … means we would effectively work like a bigger global city, with more economic gravitational pull,” he said.

“As we look to emerge from two years of disruption and lockdown, this is a project that will get people inspired about Sydney’s future and kickstart our economic recovery.”

The opposition leader also announced his government would reverse $500,000 of funding cuts to the GP Access After Hours service in the Hunter region.

“The prime minister has refused to rule out supporting a recommendation for a further funding cut, which if approved would end this vital service,” a statement said.

“This is a devastating blow to the Hunter community, especially in the middle of a global pandemic. Almost every Hunter family has used this vital service.”

Albanese’s speech gave some insight into how Labor thinks it can win votes in a region with several marginal seats, with a focus on community anger over vaccines being diverted to Sydney during the last lockdown and the controversial PEP-11 offshore petrol exploration permit.

The prime minister Scott Morrison said the government would refuse PEP-11 in mid-December after community backlash.

The coalition is also pouring resources into the Hunter, spruiking Labor’s more ambitious climate policy as a risk to local coal mining jobs.

Labor is defending its narrowly held Hunter seat with incumbent Joel Fitzgibbon stepping down at the next election.

The party is also fending off a coalition campaign in the neighbouring Hawkesbury-based seat Macquarie, the Maitland-based seat Paterson and in the Central Coast seat Dobell.

But it’s hitting back at the Liberal-held, Gosford-based seat Robertson.

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