Since 1984, when Bob Hawke showed some initial interest in a CSIRO proposal linking Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney, we have been discussing a high-speed rail network of various sorts. Even in 2000, when John Howard said he “rather liked the idea of a very fast train” the Government backed down because they couldn’t justify the expenditure. It seems every time we open this idea up for debate we have a Government that conducts a feasibility study that knocks it on the head.

It happened again in 2008 when Kevin Rudd announced a $25bn high-speed rail network connecting Melbourne and Sydney that never got over the line. Julia Gillard then spent time analysing a feasibility study on a network connecting Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane budgeted at $114bn before rejecting the proposal. And in 2013 Tony Abbott showed his hand by winding up the High Speed Rail Advisory Group.

That is why we now need to take some decisive action. The latest proposal by the private equity firm Consolidated Land and Rail Australia Pty Ltd (CLARA) claims it can deliver a high-speed rail network from Melbourne to Sydney via Canberra with no government funding required. The cost of the project would be funded by the land sales from eight regional cities to be built along the rail’s corridor.

Sydney and Melbourne combined house 46% of our nation’s population and growing. Clearly this is not a sustainable model given that Australia’s population is forecast to grow by more than 14m by 2050. The concept of developing new regional compact, sustainable, smart cities that are connected by the world’s most advanced high-speed rail has to be appealing. So on face value, decentralising our population by building new city centres that will fund a rail network we have been talking about for more than 30 years must be given the green light by the current Government.

This is a 50-year project that will be a quantum leap forward in the development and infrastructure for our nation. It will also drive our manufacturing sector for decades. Imagine the work and jobs that will be created by building this rail network and the “smart” cities along the way. Imagine the design of these cities – advanced, sustainable and green, all connected by a high-speed rail link that can put citizens in our capital cities in less time than a morning commute. Let us remember, Australia is the only continent, with the exception of Antarctica, without fast trains of our own.

This will be the most significant infrastructure project we have ever undertaken in this country. Phase One of the project would involve a $13bn high-speed rail platform into northern Victoria including the development of two satellite cities. CLARA has stated that the planning alone will take up to five years before any construction starts and it will be a decade before the first stage of Phase One is complete. We are talking massive timeframes, which to me just means we need to get on with things now. CLARA has a bold vision and looks like it has the venture capital funding and backing. Members of the company’s advisory board include the former premiers of Victoria and NSW, Steve Bracks and Barry O’Farrell respectively, as well as the former Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb.

What is missing is the firm commitment from government. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had already announced prior to the election that he supports the concept of high-speed rail links. The words ringing out of CLARA’s video pitch were Imagination, Courage, and Perseverance. Isn’t that also what we look for from our leaders? Will Turnbull finally be the Prime Minister to introduce high-speed rail to Australia?

So Mr Turnbull, it’s over to you….