The Inland Rail link that runs on sections of new and existing track between Melbourne and Brisbane is described as a project with local and national benefits, but challenges in impacted communities are creating a political conundrum.
Construction jobs will go into regional communities and new freight opportunities will support regional freight dependent industries.
At the same time it is touted as nation building infrastructure to supply freight to a growing population and diversifying export opportunities.
But these dual opportunities have created a singular political challenge for the Nationals party representing the communities which will be disrupted by construction of the new track.
Federal Nationals leader Michael McCormack lauded the project’s benefits when he addressed the Inland Rail conference in Parkes, in Central West NSW, today.
“The whole nation will benefit from this project. It truly is nation building, providing many more jobs for many more Australians,” Mr McCormack said.
Overall the 1700 kilometre project will use 262,000 tonnes of steel, create an estimated 16,000 construction jobs and 700 ongoing jobs. It is forecast to boost GDP by $16 billion through freight efficiencies and domestic and international export opportunities.
Mr McCormack highlighted the benefits to the Parkes community, which is in his Riverina electorate, and the agriculture sector.
Contracts have been let to construct the Parkes to Narromine section of track, with 600t of Whyalla steel and 200,000 concrete sleepers from Mittagong, NSW.
Two quarries have put on 16 more employees on the payroll to supply ballast for the track s two local companies work to supply about $7 million in ballast and capping for the project
“Inland rail will only enhance the ability of our farmers to access those growing Asian markets more efficiently,” Mr McCormack said.
The Nationals announced at the conference a One-Stop-Shop local supply initiative to connect government job and training programs to Inland Rail construction to maximise the amount of jobs allocated to regional residents.
But half a block down the road from the conference venue at Parkes Leagues Club, a group of farmers gathered in Cookes Park to protest the lack of consultation over the route of a new section of track in NSW, between Narromine and Narrabri.
There are around 200 impacted landholders and many have concerns about impacts from the new track to their land disruption of their farming operations as well as sensitive floodplain areas.
The ARTC have selected a proposed pathway for the rail track and are now refining the exact route and negotiating with landholders.
The farmers said in Parkes today that they’re disappointed with lack of support from Nationals politicians, and angry at the project builder Australian Rail Track Corporation, which selected the route.
“We’re not trying to stop the Inland Rail. We’re farmers and passionate about rural Australia, we want to make it work for the future,” said Barbara Deans, “Kamira”, on the Coonamble flats about 10 kilometres from the base of the Warrumbungles.
Ms Deans said the ARTC has published insufficient information to justify the risks and impacts they identify on the selected pathway and are calling for an independent inquiry.
She wants her political representatives to support their calls for an investigation.
“The support from the Nats is not what we expected. We had hoped they would at least have backed us up before they rushed through the decision (on Inland Rail) and promoted the benefits.”
ARTC reports that it has more than 600 land access agreements across the Inland Rail route and 97 per cent of them have been happy with their negotiations.