NSW Farmers, after months of protracted negotiations with the Australian Rail Track Corporation, has laid the $10 billion Inland Rail project’s shortcomings squarely at the feet of the Coalition Government.
It says the decision to cut a new route across the Pilliga, slicing through farming properties, was ill-conceived and not even properly assessed.
While maintaining support for the project, NSW farmers president James Jackson says the association’s support has “never represented a blank cheque”.
The government is reponsible for this mess and it is the government that must be held to account.
NSW Farmers has for months been demanding evidence of economic modelling that backed up the ARTC’s decision to build new tracks between Narromine to Narrabri.
It now appears from evidence provided to both NSW Farmers and this week’s Senate Estimates the ARTC has not prepared socio-economic analysis to underpin selection of that route.
But the association’s real bugbear is that ARTC was not briefed to perform such modelling, but was told simply to “construct a rail line between Melbourne and Brisbane with travel time of less than 24 hours.
“The government must stop standing behind the ARTC to deflect attention from its poor decisions and lack of planning,” said Mr Jackson.
“The government is reponsible for this mess and it is the government that must be held to account.”
NSW Farmers insists using existing rail, which passes through Coonamble, would add only 24 minutes to the entire journey and keep the travel time between Melbourne and Brisbane under the 24-hour threshold set by government.
Also, the association’s modelling suggests using existing rail corridors “instead of cutting farm businesses” would add just 0.01 per cent on the projected cost of the Inland Rail project.
“The government’s brief to the ARTC reeks of preferring bis business over the family farm and its people, who are the backbone of regional communities,” said Mr Jackson.
“It is now time for the Coalition Government to explain to farmers, landholders and rural communities why they are sacrificing the farm for the Nationals’ pet $10 billion project.
“There has been no modelling of how this $10 billion investment can drive regional and rural development, and particularly whether a line passing through a town delivers a better outcome than only passing near a town,” he said.
“From our members’ perspective, it is now past time for Mark Coulton, Michael McCormack and those who claim to represent regional and rural NSW to stand up and be counted.
“They have backed this decision – they must be accountable for it.”
Neither Mr Coulton nor Mr McCormack directly answered questions from The Land about the apparent lack of socio-economic modelling for the new route.
Parkes MP Mark Coulton said he was confident the current Inland Rail study corridor offers the best solution to realise the significant national and regional benefits of Inland Rail.
“Farmers have been telling me for over a decade that freight is one of their most significant costs,” he said.
“NSW Farmers has been calling for regional infrastructure for quite some time now, with the National Farmers’ Federation referring to Inland Rail as the ‘crown jewel’ of the federal budget for the farm sector in May last year. As far as I am concerned, Inland Rail is set to be revolutionary infrastructure that means city-to-city freight can be delivered in under 24 hours, offering enormous benefits for farmers and associated communities.”
Mr Coulton said he is “acutely aware that ongoing uncertainty about the rail alignment is concerning for affected communities, landholders and businesses”.
“The final 40-60 metre wide rail alignment will be identified in close consultation with landholders and the community to minimise impacts, and adequate compensation will be provided to the landowners. My door is always open for discussion with NSW Farmers.”
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said: “As the son of a generational family farmer, I understand the issues locals have raised with me. I am committed to listening and ensuring local communities are consulted as the route narrows from almost five kilometres in width to around 40-60m.