Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has told a bush summit more should be done to consult farmers before Inland Rail is delivered.
The Labor leader speaking in Dubbo on July 18 said Inland Rail was one example of the sorry state of federal politics, which has left the public crying out for opposing sides to sit down and work on proper solutions.
He said people in Australia’s regional areas are rightfully annoyed by how often, and how loudly they are being told what to think, but how rarely they are listened to.
Without naming names, he clearly referenced Bob Brown’s anti-Adani convoy which helped scupper Labor’s hopes in Queensland at the recent federal election.
“A convoy of well-meaning protestors travelled up into the heart of Queensland and talked with – or, more accurately, talked at – everyone they met and told them how what they were doing was wrong,” Albanese said. “It went about as well as expected, which is the most polite way I could put it.”
Albanese said Australians everywhere were tired of “the conflict that passes for politics these days”.
“What happens when we don’t listen? What happens when outsiders march in and decide what’s best for locals? What happens is that there’s a good chance they’ll muck it up.”
He said the Inland Rail project was one example of regional Australians not being properly consulted. Before the election he promised to call for an inquiry into the consultation process for Inland Rail, with particular concern over how the alignment will impact farmers in New South Wales.
The Coalition’s victory effectively means the project is likely to go ahead without major review.
But Albanese hasn’t given up. “It’s a great idea,” he said of Inland Rail. “It’s ambitious and it’s overdue. But its planning has been done without appropriate regard to farmers themselves. Who’s going to be thrilled about winding up with their house on one side of the tracks, and their shed on the other? Who’s going to jump for joy about a train that’s going to get their produce almost but not quite all the way to port?”
The Coalition and its Inland Rail team say the consultation process for the project has been, and will continue to be thorough. But Albanese says an inquiry should go ahead anyway, saying “the project is too important to get wrong.”
Also in his address to the bush summit, Albanese reiterated his desire to see high speed rail built to better connect regions.
“The greatest resource of any region is its people; high-speed rail would improve their chances of keeping them, as well as making it more attractive for people to move to the regions. The same goes for all the companies that could relocate, improving the bottom line for themselves and the towns they move to,” he said.
“It would resolve one of the great paradoxes of Australia: we have plenty of space, but we crowd into a handful of big cities. With our population now past the 25 million mark, this no longer makes sense. Decentralisation requires strategic decision making, not just hoping it will occur organically.”