Wednesday, 28 October 2020
Murray Basin Rail Project
The Victorian state government has at long last released its revised business case for the Murray Basin Rail Project, to the great disappointment of many stakeholders and communities in Mallee and beyond. The Murray Basin Rail Project should have been finished by December 2018, with a total budget of $440 million. It promised to take 20,000 trucks a year off rural roads by sending 500,000 tonnes of grain by train. Under the revised Victorian Labor business case, the Sea Lake and Manangatang lines will not be converted to standard gauge, and the Maryborough-Gheringhap line will not be converted to dual gauge, as was promised in the original plan.
The state government attempted to lay blame on the federal government for not allocating funding for the project in the 2020 Commonwealth budget. However, the federal government will not commit to funding something that will not be accepted by stakeholders. I recently spoke to Brian Barry, a third-generation farmer from Cocamba, near Manangatang. He has been involved in the Victorian Farmers Federation for many years. He said he was more than disappointed in the revised plan. He said that this project is paramount to the survival of Mallee farmers, who rarely put their hands up for anything from government.
The state government know their half-baked plan is inadequate, which is why they kept the revised business case secret until after the Commonwealth budget. They didn't have the courage to give stakeholders and the affected communities the opportunity to provide feedback. On top of this, the state government is offering a paltry $48.8 million to fix their mistakes while expecting the federal government to cough up $195.2 million, which is laughable, in an agreement that was always fifty-fifty. This project is critically important to Mallee and, indeed, to the Australian economy in order to create jobs, deliver investment and grow our agricultural sector to $100 billion by 2030.
The state government review also claimed that further standardisation of the network cannot be justified on a value-for-money basis. However, the review does not consider the millions of dollars being spent maintaining local roads, which continue to degrade as more and more producers elect to transport their goods by truck. These costs will continue to be met by cash-strapped rural councils that rely on federal funding to maintain their roads.
The proposed plan will not help farmers, industry or Mallee communities. Stakeholders are very worried. This is the best they are going to get. Once again, we have all been let down by the Victorian state Labor government, who cannot see past Bendigo or Ballarat.