The frustration among the community with the Nationals and the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) was palpable at last week’s Gilgandra Inland Rail town hall meeting.
While the community made the most of the opportunity, asking a range of questions that have now been asked many times over, it would seem the government just couldn’t get its message through to get people on board.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and Member for Parkes Mark Coulton fronted up with ARTC staff, including Inland Rail Program chief executive officer Richard Wankmuller and Narromine to Narrabri project manager Duncan Mitchell, who all made up the panel.
Inland Rail Program community and environment director Rebecca Pickering was also on hand to answer questions.
Related reading: Landholders still frustrated with Inland Rail process
What’s crazy though about this situation is the Nationals are doing themselves out of much needed votes.
Landholders don’t want a change of government. They don’t want to have to go through this all over again with Labor, which is a fear they feel will become reality.
But people in that room at Gilgandra last week were certainly clear on their disappointment in how they felt they had been “handled” by the Nationals.
People just want some straight answers. They want to be able to understand how this infrastructure is going to help inland NSW.
The feedback The Land received on the day was – despite McCormack’s and Coulton’s efforts – that this project is for big business and it is going ahead whether you like it or not.
Missed opportunities included explaining how agriculture could grow on the back of this infrastructure, as well as more detail around how regional NSW can load onto these trains that otherwise sound like they’re just going straight through as an intercity connection from Melbourne to Brisbane, and how the branch lines will interact with the main line.
One farmer post meeting summed up the stalemate and general position of attendees.
“It’s disappointing. It’s a repeat of every other meeting we have. They make the same statements. There’s very low trust and nothing changes.”
However, if the government could get through how the project will benefit inland NSW, agriculture, as well as be transparent around the costs behind the route decision, it would likely have people on board.