A parliament committee with conduct a formal inquiry into the financial arrangements, route planning, connections and other key elements of the Inland Rail project, after Labor won the support it needed in the Senate this week.
Submissions to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee have been opened, and will close on November 8, 2019.
Submissions will inform the committee’s report into the management of Inland Rail by the Australian Rail Track Corporation and the Commonwealth Government.
Particular reference is to be made to the financial arrangements of the project, which the Coalition has opted to fund with an $8.4 billion equity injection into the ARTC – a move heavily criticised by the opposition.
Additionally, the committee will consider the planned route, which has come under fire from several groups – including farmers in northern New South Wales and South East Queensland, concerned over how the route would impact them and the surrounding landscape.
Attention will also be paid to the lack of a dedicated connection for Inland Rail to the Port of Brisbane, an issue raised by many in the freight and intermodal sector, including recently the CEO of the port itself.
Labor planned to order an independent inquiry by an eminent expert into Inland Rail as a top priority if it won the election in May, which it did not. It has since pressured for an inquiry to go ahead anyway, and on September 17 secured the parliamentary inquiry – a slightly scaled down version of what it had planned.
Shadow transport and infrastructure minister Catherine King said on September 19 Labor supported Inland Rail, but an inquiry was needed to ensure the project was being delivered properly.
“Labor supports the Inland Rail but we hold deep concerns that this government has failed to address fundamental questions on planning and financing,” she said.
“The deputy prime minister is failing to adequately consult on the Inland Rail route, turning farmer against farmer, community against community. There are widespread concerns the government won’t see an adequate return to justify its ‘off-budget’ $8.4 billion equity injection.”
With absent senators balancing each other out, the senate voted 32-28 in favour of the inquiry, which was motioned by Queensland senator Murray Watt.
Labor secured its majority in the vote with the help of seven Greens senators, along with One Nation senators Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts, the Centre Alliance’s Rex Patrick, and the Jacqui Lambie Network’s Jacqui Lambie.
Just before Labor won its motion for an inquiry, Liberal senator Jonathon Duniam said the government is “confident that we have the right route, informed by multiple studies, including in 2006, 2010 and 2015”.
“The Australian government and the ARTC have undertaken extensive consultation with the community, including with impacted landowners,” Duniam said. “The project will generate an economic and broader return to the Australian people. It is a transformative project, connecting regional Australia to new markets and transforming the way freight is moved around the country.”