Thursday, 20 September 2018
Last Friday I had the honour of making an announcement that the federal government is going to fund a study into freight rail within the Goulburn Valley, to deliver a vision for rail freight into the future. The produce in New South Wales always has to be shipped out of Botany. About eight to 12 months ago, the New South Wales government said, 'If we can find a better option to get our produce to any port, we will look at that.' So they invested $500,000 in a study which is looking at the viability of taking produce from the Riverina region to the Port of Melbourne. Of course, that will only get the produce from approximately the Narrandera region down to Tocumwal. What happens beyond that is obviously of the making of the Victorian government and the national government.
What we have here is a great opportunity, where the two states of New South Wales and Victoria could work together to see if it works out in the interests of the farmers to have their produce shipped to a different port, with lower terrain to overcome, which would therefore mean a much cheaper way of getting their produce to port. Our commitment is to try to find the best way of getting freight from south of the Murray River through to the Port of Melbourne. It's a bit of a hotchpotch at the moment, because we have no passenger lines north of Shepparton. From Strathmerton through to the Shepparton area, we have some laid-down broad-gauge line, which is not going to assist New South Wales produce coming through. A vision will probably have to see that parcel of line standardised from Shepparton through to Mangalore, where it meets what will end up being the Inland Rail line. That is currently broad gauge also, and we may need another track, in standard gauge, next to it or hopefully within the same corridor.
There are a whole raft of different visions and logistics that need to be worked through, but the fact is that we are building the $9.5 billion Inland Rail. We are building that. It is going ahead. It has started. It is this government that has actually got that project up and going, to create that corridor of commerce all the way from Brisbane down through Parkes, with an opportunity to go into Port Botany at Sydney or to keep coming south down to the Port of Melbourne, taking thousands and thousands of trucks off the roads and getting produce to market via rail.
For an increasing level of commodities, it is much more efficient and economic for the farmer if they can be transported on rail. We still need transport to go from port to distributor and to the retail outlets, and from farm gate to rail, so there is still an enormous need for road transport. That is why, I imagine, with all the produce that's coming out of the Goulburn Valley—some 1.3 million tonnes, projected to grow to 2.5 million tonnes by 2035—there is always going to be a very, very strong need for road transport throughout the Goulburn Valley.
There are other commodities, such as grain. There is a lot of cotton from New South Wales that finds its way down to Shepparton and therefore needs to be transported into the ports. Again, this could be much more efficiently done if it were transported on rail. We know the current rail system in Victoria, in its northern Victorian stretch, is limited to just 15 kilometres per hour as it goes over the bridge at Tocumwal. Once the temperature gets above 32 degrees, which is often, it is limited to 40 kilometres per hour in speed. There are load limits on this line. I think the $900,000 that the Australian federal government has put forward for an absolutely holistic vision for rail freight throughout the southern Riverina area and possibly through to the port of Melbourne is going to deliver the vision that we all need. It will then need significant investment by the federal government, again, to make sure that that vision becomes a reality, and we will find a cheaper, more efficient way to get our produce to market by rail.