Inland Rail Doorstop

Mark Coulton: Thank you for coming along, everyone. I’m here with Mayor of Narrabri Shire Council, Cathy Redding,and Mayor of Gilgandra Council, Doug Batten. And I’m today announcing that three projects will be fast tracked under the $44 million that was set aside by the Federal Government to look at opportunities around connectivity to the Inland Rail.

And so today, I'm announcing that the connectivity to the Narrabri Freight Port, the Inland Port,as it's now called a couple of weeks ago. And there's been some issues and concerns about the connectivity to the north from that area. And so,there'll be an investigation and a business case built into how that issue can be overcome. Moving further south, also the business case will be built on connectivity to the Baradine Silo Complex and the short distance of track on the Gwabegar line that we needed to be upgraded to connect to the Inland Rail there, just north of Baradine. And that's come at a request from a lot of the grain growers in that Goorianawa, east Coonamble, Baradine area who see wonderful opportunities with being able to connect to the Inland Rail and Baradine. And the other one that I'm sure Councillor Batten would be pleased about is looking at upgrading the 95 kilometers of track between Gilgandra and Coonamble, and obviously the connectivity at Curban with the Inland Rail. One of those concerns that's been coming through for quite some time now, particularly from the Coonamble area, is the feeling they were being bypassed and opportunities that might not come their way by not having the Inland Rail closer to their community. And so, the business case to upgrade that track to the heavier axle weights,making sure there’s suitable connectivity at Curban from Coonamble and Gilgandra,I think, will alleviate a lot of those concerns.

And I think it highlights that the Inland Rail is basically just a spine. That's what we, the Federal Government, is constructing and what comes off it is really up to the business cases and the opportunities that arise.

So I think we want to make sure that we build a project that is suitable for today. But we also want to make sure we future-proof it. And I know one of the concerns that Narrabri’s had is that they can't possibly see that in 20 or 30 years’ time, what industry will be here in Narrabri. It’s got to be very, very important that those double stack containers can actually go north and south from Narrabri, not just assume that we're going to be sending grain or cotton to Newcastle or Brisbane. There might be a factory here sending things to Perth, or Brisbane, or whatever. So, very pleased to be here. These two Mayors either side of me have been very, very strong supporters of this project and not without some personal- they’ve helped to solve out some of the personal complexities that each individual community is having. And so, you know, projects of this magnitude don't come without difficulties.That's why it's taken 100 years to build this. But today's announcement will make sure that the communities along the line do get the benefit of that track.So I know whether Cath, whether you and Doug wanted to say anything. But then,I’m quite happy to answer questions about this or anything else.

Mark Coulton: Thanks, Doug. Thank you. So any questions? I might just, if you don’t mind: this week’s been very topical following the Prime Minister's announcement of $150 million going towards our efforts combined with NASA with regards to the space race and there's been quite a negative, certainly social media campaign and in some media sections.

I might just say that the money wasn't to NASA, it was to Australia's space agency. And I think it's appropriate that we have those aspirations. It’s important to know that the space race to the moon led to kidney dialysis. It led to GPS. Most people are communicating now through a phone network that at some stage has a connection to a satellite. Certainly, people are using that for the Internet. Hazmat suits – there's a whole range of things that have come as a by-product of the actual trip to the moon.

And so, the future for space exploration and Australia’s connectivity to it is actually quite large. Australia is ideally suited geographically and I think it's important- I think the $150 million is now-adds up to over half a billion dollars the Australian Government has committed to this space project. And so, I think if we cast our mind back in history,some of Australia may not have still been in its natural state because at that stage, they thought the world was flat. I think it's important that we expand our horizons, we encourage our younger people through this process to undertake more of the science, technology, engineering and mathematical courses because our future may not be in the moon or Mars but certainly in the process of getting there. It could advantage our community.

Journalist: On that note though, do you think $150 million could be better spent sustaining water infrastructure in drought affected towns?

Mark Coulton: There's no issue with the funds. It’s not one or the other. So, do we take money from pensioners to sustain water infrastructure or from schools to sustain water infrastructure? That's not a one or the other argument.Obviously, water supply in communities now is massive. Hindsight is the smartest person in the room. We're in unchartered territory now. We've never been in a drought this severe before. It's important that we do have the processes in place to deal with where we are now –building a dam now is not going to put one drop of water anywhere – to make sure we're prepared for the next time.

And next week, the water grid, the details around that, how that will be managed and what it will mean will be announced, and there's an opportunity then to connect with state governments and local governments to deal with some of the water infrastructure projects that have been talked about for a long time that can really happen.

Journalist: Do you think, though, that- you've got towns such as Tamworth that are on emergency water restrictions now; Armidale is not far off. You don't think that you could prioritise those funds to build water infrastructure and build pipelines?

Mark Coulton: The funds aren't the problem. The Federal Government has got a large amount money sitting there, waiting for state approvals to come through. It's just a matter of those processes to be going through. But if someone has a plan to restore water supplies to Tamworth in an immediate fashion, I don't think funding is going to be the problem. I think it's a little bit more complex than that.

Journalist: What sorts of money are you setting aside for the business case for this?

Mark Coulton: Look, it’ll be done by the- so there’s $44 million that has been set aside for this process. So that will come out of that funding. That will be done by the Infrastructure- Department of Infrastructure. So, I would imagine that each one will be slightly different depending- they’re slightly different projects but the money is being set aside out of that larger fund.

Journalist: You were talking about before there’s a bit of angst in the community. Obviously, some of the line would fall on private properties. How are you managing that moving forward?

Journalist: Is there any sort of financial benefits for them to having that track on their land?

Mark Coulton: I might just say on that that the second transfer of funding that was made for Inland Rail was $580 million and that was for the acquisition of the corridor. And I've got a lot of sympathy for Councillor Batten’s landholders, but that's a bit of a chicken and egg. I think it's important that there was a consultation process and people would have input into that. I think if there was just a pencil line drawn on a map, that would have been a less appropriate way of doing it. Unfortunately, this has taken some time. I will say that some of the individual actions from certain sections of the ARTC probably could have been done better. I'm positive of that. But I think once we get, as Councillor Batten said, we get down to that narrow corridor, people know what they're dealing with then.

Journalist: Regarding the Narrabri road and rail interface, that case, what issues have been raised with you that you think that- somebody needs to be looking at that case.

Mark Coulton: Okay, so basically the inland port- I'll keep calling it that Cathy …

Mark Coulton: The New South Wales inland port is on the Walgett line, west of Narrabri. And one of the original proposals was a direct connection to the inland rail route to the south. But the connection to the north was to continue through west Narrabri around the existing track, and then meeting up with the inland rail north of town. There was a couple of issues around that. One is obviously the trains will be sort of coming all through town. The other is the overpass up there to Narrabri, is not capable of taking double stack containers. But the issue with the current location and moving north is that not long after the inland rail - and I'm speaking in general terms, I haven’t got the plan in front of me - but not long after the inland rail crosses over that Walgett line and starts to be elevated to get over the Namoi floodplain, and ultimately the Kamilaroi Highway. And so the space, you know, to put a connectivity loop up on stilts would be a very, very expensive business. So this is to look at otherways of making sure that that connectivity- so the double stacked containers can come out of the Narrabri port, and go north or south.

So grain isn’t double stacked, it's too heavy. But possibly other things that are going on there, you know, with the focus on recycling in Australia at the moment, the possibility of recyclables or something like that which would need to be double stacked.

Journalist: So with this business case, how long are we looking at before it sort of starts to get underway?

Mark Coulton: Look, I think they'll start work on it before Christmas. My understanding is probably next month sometime, so I'm not sure how long that will take. But obviously there'll be a process, but not only consultation, but there’ll be some engineering works and costings to make sure that, you know,what it would cost, how it would work, and does that stack up.

Journalist: What about the other two?So that’s-

Mark Coulton: [Interrupts] They’ll all happen at the same time.

Journalist: They’ll all happen before Christmas?

Mark Coulton: So, that’s not the entire- there will be other announcements to come. So these ones have been identified as being fast tracked because they’re areas of concern, but there are other- Moree also are looking- they're working closely with the State Government at the moment, they had an announcement up there recently of a funding of a road that would help to their intermodal site. And so all the way along; Croppa Creek, there's interest up there for a loading loop in that area between Moree and the border. So there's a lot of activity going on.

I think one of them is conceptions has been that you'd only have certain things spaced out, but quite frankly the rail works effectively- and it's- the analogy was given to me only yesterday, that you know, when we build a highway, the service station owners decide where they're going to put their locations, and they'll do that on a business case. And this will be the same for the inland rail.

The other misconception is that the inland rail is actually a train. Trains will run on the inland rail, but it's not a train that you need to stop at your town. There will be trains that won't stop; they'll go from one end to the other. That's because- to make the efficiency that it'll take up the extra freight that we see going up the highway now every 70 seconds or so, but there will be a whole heap of other operations going on working within that corridor as well.

Journalist: In terms of the overall benefits, I guess just broadly speaking, of inland rail you mentioned Moree –we’ve had quite a few readers coming to us saying: is Moree going to be the hub? Are they going to be- there is a healthy rivalry between Narrabri and Moree. Can we both benefit from this?

Mark Coulton: Of course we can.

Journalist: Can you tell [indistinct]…

Mark Coulton: Moree-Narrabri,Dubbo-Orange, it's like having twins. And the success of what happens in Narrabri is not detrimental to the success of what happens with Moree. And you can see the difference of the community the way that Narrabri has a different approach to what they're doing, to what Moree is. And you know, Moree, is proudly claiming to be the largest agricultural producing area, and so they'll have lots of bulk commodities coming through. Narrabri’s having a look at more industrial areas and bringing manufacturing and other things into town.

So I love them both equally, and there's no need to be looking up and down the track to see if one's getting more advantage than the other. And that's why now putting Baradine into the mix is not going to be a disadvantage to Gilgandra.

Journalist: I just want to ask you on another note - John Barilaro’s come out this morning and he wants to push for more state pollies in regional areas. How did you feel about that?

Mark Coulton: I love state pollies, more the better.

No look, actually, that ties in with the discussion actually that Barnaby Joyce has been driving for having the senators more geographically spaced across. In New South Wales I believe we have 12 senators and only one of them is not in a metropolitan area,that’s Perin Davey, she’s now out at Deniliquin. We had John Williams up Inverell, he’s retired. Queensland, it’s a similar amount. I think Matt Canavan is the only senator that's not in Brisbane. And so if the senators are meant to represent the states, they should represent the whole states not the capitalcity, because otherwise the vote gets slewed in the senators to major metropolitan areas. I’d imagine in the New South Wales Government, I haven't heard John's announcement, but I understand where he's coming from and I agree with it wholeheartedly.

You know, state-wise,you know, Roy Butler now in Barwon has about a third of the state for one person.Federally, I’ve got half the state. There's another 46 federal members taking the other half in New South Wales, so I certainly think that there are other ways the electoral commission could carve up the state, so that the people here have got a better chance of being connected with their local member. I mean I love the job I've got, but the week- a couple weeks ago I did 4200 kilometres in a week, and I covered a third of my electorate. So there’s a lot of travel attached.