Senate debates

Tuesday, 30 November 2021


Rail Infrastructure

8:50 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Sam Telfer is the Mayor of Tumby Bay and Liberal candidate for the South Australian seat of Flinders. His pitch to win over residents and farmers in the lower and western Eyre Peninsula over the weekend went to the end of the line. On Sunday, I was in Port Lincoln to attend a public forum on bringing rail back to the Eyre Peninsula. It was a meeting about vision, about productivity and about investment. The Eyre Peninsula has huge potential, be it enhancing existing industries such as agriculture, fishing, mining and tourism or fostering new industries like space launch, green hydrogen, green ammonia, graphite, iron ore and more. For these opportunities to succeed, infrastructure is required—ports, water and transport. Rail should be part of that.

For more than 110 years, the Eyre Peninsula was serviced by a rail network that moved the region's grains from the farms to the ports. The first segment of the Port Lincoln to Cummins rail line opened in 1907, and the network eventually peaked at some 777 kilometres of track. In November 1997, Australia National sold South Australian freight businesses to Genesee and Wyoming, which included a 50-year lease on the rail network from the state government until 2047. Two years ago, that American company, having run the rail infrastructure to the ground, contrary to their contractual or leasing requirements, shut up all of its operations on the Eyre Peninsula with the one exception of gypsum trains running from the Lake MacDonnell mine at Kevin to Thevenard.

At a time when rail's undergoing a renaissance across many parts of Australia, the shutters were pulled down on the Eyre Peninsula. That sad state of affairs was largely brought about by the refusal of state and federal governments to invest in the rail infrastructure on the peninsula, to switch it to standard gauge, to connect it back to the Australian standard gauge network, and to increase the number of users on the rail network. But refusal to invest was the case. That should be seen for what it is, and that is a political choice. The South Australian state government are happy to spend $700 million on a stadium in Adelaide, but their enthusiasm for investment steadily dwindles as one moves north of Gepps Cross.

The federal government's happy to spend $10 billion on a Brisbane to Melbourne Inland Rail system. There's $4 billion being spent to deal with urban congestion—huge capital works to shave a few minutes off commuter journeys in capital cities—in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and even in Adelaide. That $4 billion includes the $650 million program to build car parks in marginal Liberal electorates. What a rort that's been! But there's not a single dollar spent on rail in the Eyre Peninsula, a region that produces 40 per cent of South Australia's wheat crop, 24 per cent of the barley crop and 22 per cent of canola. Ninety-seven per cent of the region's grain crop is exported, shipped from farm to port, and, for a century, much of that went by rail.

Sam Telfer turned up to the Port Lincoln railway meeting on Sunday not to listen to the locals, not to carry their message back to Adelaide, but to preach the word of his party's Adelaide-focused leadership. 'You can't have a viable train line that runs to the end of the line,' said Sam. His view was trucks—trucks, trucks, trucks. Why not have an additional 30,000 truck movements on the Eyre Peninsula's narrow and dilapidated roads? It would be a danger to locals and visitors alike and a great inefficiency to farmers, and it would cost the environment in carbon emissions. Sam didn't listen to the business case. He didn't explore the possibilities. He has no ambition. He's quite content with rail investment being restricted to the Port Augusta-to-Perth line, a line that actually bypasses his electorate. I guess I do have to give him credit for turning up.

The federal Liberal member, Mr Rowan Ramsey, wasn't there, and maybe that was for the best. He was asked about the issue in a radio interview yesterday and he was wholly negative. He blabbered on about the tyranny of distance, declared his longstanding view that rail had no future on the Eyre Peninsula, said that if there'd been an investment in rail going to Port Lincoln 10 years ago it might have been different but it's a lost cause now, and ticked the box for road freight. Well, Rowan Ramsey was the member for Grey 10 years ago. He had no vision or ambition then, he didn't have any in 2019, when the railway faced closure, and he certainly hasn't got any vision or ambition for Grey now.

We have to have vision. We have to have investment in this critical South Australian export region. We can't get that while purported parliamentary representatives sing from their Adelaide- and east-coast-centric party hymn sheets. Maybe the federal seat of Grey and the state seat of Flinders need to shift from being safe Liberal seats into marginal seats. Then the Eyre Peninsula might get some of the attention and investment we really need, and all of South Australia will benefit. Perhaps it should be the end of the line for Sam and Rowan.

Se nate adjourned at 20:57