Freight Rail

Labor confirms Inland Rail inquiry plans

Labor has confirmed it will commission a formal inquiry into the integrity and efficacy of the route selection process and financing arrangements of the Inland Rail project, if it wins the forthcoming federal election.

In a joint press conference with NSW Farmers on Tuesday, shadow infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese formally announced plans for an Inland Rail inquiry.

Albanese made a point to reinforce Labor’s support for Inland Rail itself, but said a number of issues meant an inquiry was needed to renew public confidence in the project.

“Communities across Central and North West NSW, as well as those on the southern Darling Downs of Queensland, have become increasingly concerned about the lack of transparency associated with the route selection process endorsed by the government,” the shadow minister said.

“This encompasses the Greenfield sections of Narromine to Narrabri and Yelarbon to Gowrie, as well as around the possible future port connections at each end of the rail line.”

NSW Farmers has flagged concerns over the impacts of new rail construction along the chosen route on roughly 300 farmers

The representative body has accused the Coalition of ‘shutting the door’ on its members, and has gone so far as to encourage farmers not to cooperate with the Australian Rail Track Corporation – which is delivering Inland Rail – until their concerns are addressed.

“NSW Farmers ahs been calling for the Australian Government to commission an independent, open and transparent inquiry into Inland Rail for more than a year,” NSW Farmers president James Jackson said.

“At every turn, the Coalition Government has refused to conduct an inquiry, preferring to press ahead in the face of deepening community opposition to the project.”

Albanese also said the inquiry would be asked to investigate the appropriateness of the financing arrangements for Inland Rail – specifically the Coalition’s decision to fully fund the project via an ‘off-budget’ $8.4 billion equity injection into the ARTC itself.

“This would include reviewing the decision-making process that led to the 2017 budget decision to finance the project in such a way, including advice to government from the departments of Infrastructure, Finance and Treasury,” Albanese said.

The federal election is set for May 18.

Albanese went into detail with 2GB host Alan Jones on Tuesday, criticising the Coalition’s decision to move Inland Rail’s funding off Budget, meaning the project will need to make a return on investment.

“The CEO of the Australian Rail Track Corporation delivering this project, John Fullerton, conceded to us in Senate estimates that [Inland Rail] wouldn’t produce a return,” Albanese said. “So what [the Coalition] are doing is counting the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s balance sheet as a whole, in order to defend this equity injection into the project.”

Albanese said he has been told finance minister Mathias Cormann opposed the equity injection model, “but Barnaby Joyce just pushed on through because he wanted a big announcement”.

“This was part of the payoff when Malcolm Turnbull took over, that the National Party would get a couple of things out of it. And this is what Barnaby Joyce wanted. But you’ve got to get it right.

“This is appalling. The Government has botched this from day one … It is very clear that the Government has failed to consult properly. It is very clear that there are real issues with the route going through prime agricultural land [and] the locals aren’t being listened to.”

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