PACKED venues of about 180 farmers and townsfolk in total attended two meetings last week and, by way of raised hands, pledged their support for NSW Farmers’ stance against signing land access agreements with the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC).
They vowed not to sign any proposed agreements with ARTC until the corporation explains why the final route from Narromine to Narrabri was chosen.
The meetings, at Coonamble and Narromine last Wednesday, brings to a head the frustrations the farmer’s organisation has with the ARTC’s attitude, said NSW Farmers president, Derek Schoen, describing ARTC as a “difficult customer” to get along with.
“We have been negotiating with ARTC right from the start – and have found it very difficult to get information we have sought, to allay some of the fears our members do have with the chosen route,” Mr Schoen told the Narromine meeting.
He reiterated that NSW Farmers had met the announcement of the inland rail with a “lot of excitement”.
“But we also knew there would be challenges with something as large as this project.
“Our motto ‘If you don’t have anything to hide, then don’t hide it’ runs true here,” he said.
ARTC not explaining its reasons for the final route selection had merely left people to ponder,” he said.
Mr Schoen said there was a meeting scheduled with ARTC’s chief executive officer. “He extended a hand to have that meeting and that is a good sign, as meetings we have had with staff have not led to any resolving of the issues that we wanted to raise with them. At the last meeting we had in January they promised all the documentation we requested would be supplied in two weeks.
“As yet, we are still waiting for those documents, so we are hoping the CEO can resolve a lot of those issues and get somewhere to allay fears people have about the route chosen.” The association’s policy director for cropping and horticulture, Robert Hardie, told the meetings the inland rail infrastructure was a huge game changer for the way agriculture operates, in western NSW particularly.
“Having said that, our support for the Inland Rail is not a blank cheque,” he said.
“We have expressed concern there is a general lack of information as well as poor consultation so far of the route selection.”
“We want to make sure when the route is selected and the line constructed, it will be built along the best possible route it can take, and that it minimises its impact on landholders and provides opportunity for regional communities along the way to get access to the line and take the best opportunities for their areas.”
Mr Hardie said an offer by ARTC to meet confidentially with NSW Farmers – claiming the information was commercial in confidence – was rejected out of hand.
“We believe this information belongs in the public domain, it’s taxpayers dollars and they deserve to know they are getting value.”
Land access agreements were a major issue raised. Mr Hardie said at the moment the access agreement was not clear: “What are the terms and how long do they last and what is the method of compensation?”