THE NSW Farmers Association representatives say they are ‘excited’ that the Federal Government’s $10 billion Inland Rail project will now be facing a Parliamentary Inquiry.
“The questions we’ve been asking for three years will now have to be answered,” said the Chairman of the Association’s Inland Rail Taskforce Adrian Lyons. “We’re looking forward to having regional hearings to allow access for impacted landholders in these greenfield sections and people worried about their communities’ futures to have their voices heard.”
Last Tuesday 17 September, a motion by Queensland senator Murray Watt saw the Senate refer the matter to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee for a 12-month review.
Labor secured the numbers for the vote with the help of seven Greens senators, along with One Nation senators Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts, the Centre Alliance’s Rex Patrick, and the Jacqui Lambie Network’s Jacqui Lambie.
Among the items to be investigated are issues that have been repeatedly raised by councils, landholders and other key stakeholders, especially those along the Condamine Floodplain in Queensland, the McIntyre River area around Boggabilla and Goondiwindi, and the Narromine to Narrabri section in NSW.
Critically, the wide-ranging inquiry will put the spotlight on route planning and selection processes; engagement on route alignment, procurement and employment; and urban and regional economic development opportunities which have been of particular concern to community members in the greenfield sections since 2016.
The question of connectivity to existing freight infrastructure, including ports and inter-modal hubs will also be on the table. The lack of a dedicated connection to the Port of Brisbane and state-owned branch lines have been flagged as ‘grey areas’ by many in the freight sector.
Mr Lyons said farmers and communities have also raised questions about increased flood risk on the greenfield sites in NSW and Queensland. “We want to make sure it’s the best built project for the next one hundred years, built to specification not just to budget,” Mr Lyons said. “The economic justification for greenfield over brownfield corridors and the social impacts still remains unanswered.”
“It’s not too late to get it right,” he said.
Shadow Minister for Transport & Infrastructure, Catherine King, said Labor supports Inland Rail, but an inquiry was needed to ensure the project was being delivered properly. “Labor supports the Inland Rail but we hold deep concerns that this government has failed to address fundamental questions on planning and financing,” she said.
“The Deputy Prime Minister is failing to adequately consult on the Inland Rail route, turning farmer against farmer, community against community.”
According to Mr Lyons, a high-level meeting is also scheduled with the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud, and MPs Coulton and McVeigh on 2 October. The meeting is being chaired by the National Farmers Federation and, as well as NSW Farmers Association, will involve the Country Women’s Association, the Condamine Floodplain Group, the Victorian Farmers Federation and Agforce.
Coonamble Shire Council had written letters in support of an inquiry into the Inland Rail and Mr Lyons said it is now time for them to put their efforts into maximising the benefits for the region. “It’s not about a line going through someone’s property,” he said. “It’s about underpinning this region’s economy and future prosperity.”
“Not just Coonamble but out to Walgett, Carinda, Quambone and beyond,” Mr Lyons said.
He is looking forward to taking up an invitation by Coonamble Shire Council to speak at their October meeting at Quambone. “It is clear that some clarity is needed around Inland Rail,” Mr Lyons said. “For our community to understand the risks and potential opportunities and what this inquiry means for us long term.”
Although no Coalition MPs voted for the Inquiry, Member for Parkes, Mark Coulton, said he welcomed the Inquiry and hoped it would provide fruitful input and highlight the benefits of the major project.
“Inland Rail is the biggest and most important infrastructure project in the country today and it means a brighter future for rural Australia by increasing the flow of commodities out from, and investment in to, our rural communities,” Mr Coulton said.
“A project spoken of for decades, which we are getting on with the job of building with the first section opened near Parkes just last month,” Mr Coulton said. “We are getting on with it but that doesn’t mean the Senate shouldn’t scrutinise the project; that’s part of our democratic process. “I’m looking forward to local communities and stakeholders making their voices heard highlighting the opportunities this project is bringing their local economy,” Mr Coulton said.
With submissions already open and set to close on 8 November, councils and communities are being called to put their views forward. The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) and the Commonwealth Government Ministers say they are confident they have the right study corridor for the Inland Rail.
“[We have] a study corridor that has been informed by multiple studies and analyses in 2006, 2010 and 2015,” an ARTC spokesperson said. “Landowners have told us that they want and deserve certainty sooner rather than later on Inland Rail.”
“We are committed to engaging openly and transparently with any Parliamentary Inquiry and will be making a submission to the Inquiry emphasising how crucial Inland Rail is to the national and regional economy and its role in addressing the country’s freight challenge,” the spokesperson said. “Work on the Inland Rail project will continue as planned while the Inquiry is undertaken.”