NSW Farmers are not troublemakers, Labor's shadow minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development, Anthony Albanese told the Australian Logistics Council conference in Melbourne last Wednesday.
When including remarks concerning Inland Rail, Mr Albanese reinstated Labor's support for the project saying Labor invested $900 million when last in office.
He was also concerned about growing public disquiet over poor consultation with affected landowners along the route.
It is understood Mr Albanese and his personnel have had discussions with NSW Farmers to better understand their concerns.
"The NSW Farmers Association has been leading the case for an independent and transparent inquiry into the planning underpinning the roll-out of this project," he said. "They aren't troublemakers. They are serious players who should be taken seriously."
Mr Albanese said he remained sceptical about the current government's financing model.
"The use of an equity investment in the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) to fund Inland Rail is based on the government's assertion that the project will somehow stack up on a purely commercial basis. "But let's get real, That won't happen.
"This fact was recognised by former deputy prime minister John Anderson's 2015 Inland Rail Implementation Study, which found that the project's revenues would not cover its capital cost in its first 50 years.
NSW Farmers Inland Rail Taskforce chair, Adrian Lyons applauded Mr Albanese and Labor's confidence in his organisation.
"We welcome Mr Albanese’s recognition of the important role that NSW Farmers is playing on behalf of our members and impacted communities.
"We have responded where other community representatives have failed.
"If Labor is serious about getting inland rail back on track, they will back NSW Farmers’ call for an inquiry into the selection of the inland rail route through New South Wales.
"We are not playing partisan games - we would welcome any political party making this commitment in response to the community’s clear and long-standing demands
Mr Lyons said that during the past two years, NSW Farmers had identified serious issues with the assumptions underpinning the route selection for the $10bn inland rail project.
"With the assistance of Labor senators in Estimates hearings, we have unearthed information confirming that the ARTC had not completed recommended works to develop alternative routes.
"Our call for an independent, open and transparent inquiry is linked to the community’s reasonable expectation that their simple questions can be answered, and that there is adequate justification for the route currently preferred by the ARTC and Coalition Government.
"If there is nothing to hide, then there is nothing to be lost from a short inquiry which gives local residents a chance to have their say and put the case for alternatives."
Mr Lyons said NSW Farmer's policy is to support Inland Rail. "But it is about our grassroots members and we are representing them. where no one else is.
"At the Gilgandra meeting last November which the deputy prime minister addressed, we reached out to the government and publicly gave them an olive branch to assist with landowner negotiations. The government rejected our offer and has not made any attempt to offer any solutions."
During the recent Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee (Estimates) on Monday, February 18, Senator Glenn Sterle, Labor, Western Australia, asked John Fullerton, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Australian Rail Track Corporation Ltd (ARTC) how much money had been spent so far on Inland Rail.
Mr Fullerton replied $422 million and $100m on actual railway construction.
Between Senator Sterle and committee chair, Senator Barry O'Sullivan, Nationals, Queensland, Mr Fullerton was quizzed further on a number of points concerning Inland Rail and the ARTC.
When asked how many people attending meetings like the one at Gilgandra last November, were affected land owners and those interested Mr Fullerton could not define the number and took the question on notice.
Discussions then moved to the NSW/Qld border and Condamine floodplain corridors.
Senator O'Sullivan quizzed Mr Fullerton lengthy on the number of landowners affected and their concerns about possible increased flooding due to bridge, culvert and possible levee bank construction.
The Senator stated he had phoned the chair of the Condamine floodplain group and asked him if the gap between "us" and the group had been closed and his members happy?
"He told me they're probably twice as unhappy now as they were when this route was first put forward."
To Mr Fullerton, "Would you agree that's completely inconsistent with your view of the plan in terms of those who are affected by this work on the flood plain?"
Mr Fullerton answered "Yes, I would."
- See savings 'better than expected' p16