Inland Rail Doorstop

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

And so today, I'mannouncing 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 thereand 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 canbe overcome. Moving further south, also the business case will be built onconnectivity to the Baradine Silo Complex and the short distance of track onthe 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 graingrowers in that Goorianawa, east Coonamble, Baradine area who see wonderfulopportunities with being able to connect to the Inland Rail and Baradine. Andthe other one that I'm sure Councillor Batten would be pleased about is lookingat upgrading the 95 kilometers of track between Gilgandra and Coonamble, andobviously the connectivity at Curban with the Inland Rail. One of thoseconcerns that's been coming through for quite some time now, particularly fromthe Coonamble area, is the feeling they were being bypassed and opportunitiesthat 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 ithighlights that the Inland Rail is basically just a spine. That's what we, theFederal Government, is constructing and what comes off it is really up to thebusiness cases and the opportunities that arise.

So I think we want tomake sure that we build a project that is suitable for today. But we also wantto make sure we future-proof it. And I know one of the concerns that Narrabri’shad is that they can't possibly see that in 20 or 30 years’ time, what industrywill be here in Narrabri. It’s got to be very, very important that those doublestack containers can actually go north and south from Narrabri, not just assumethat we're going to be sending grain or cotton to Newcastle or Brisbane. Theremight be a factory here sending things to Perth, or Brisbane, or whatever. So, verypleased to be here. These two Mayors either side of me have been very, verystrong supporters of this project and not without some personal- they’ve helpedto solve out some of the personal complexities that each individual communityis 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 willmake 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. Thankyou. So any questions? I might just, if you don’t mind: this week’sbeen very topical following the Prime Minister's announcement of $150 milliongoing towards our efforts combined with NASA with regards to the space race andthere's been quite a negative, certainly social media campaign and in somemedia sections.

I might just say that the money wasn't to NASA, it was toAustralia's space agency. And I think it's appropriate that we have thoseaspirations. It’s important to know that the space race to the moon led tokidney dialysis. It led to GPS. Most people are communicating now through aphone 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 ofthings that have come as a by-product of the actual trip to the moon.

And so, the future for space exploration and Australia’sconnectivity to it is actually quite large. Australia is ideally suitedgeographically 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 committedto 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 thatstage, they thought the world was flat. I think it's important that we expandour horizons, we encourage our younger people through this process to undertakemore of the science, technology, engineering and mathematical courses becauseour future may not be in the moon or Mars but certainly in the process ofgetting there. It could advantage our community.

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

Mark Coulton: There's no issue with the funds. It’s not one or the other. So, dowe take money from pensioners to sustain water infrastructure or from schoolsto sustain water infrastructure? That's not a one or the other argument.Obviously, water supply in communities now is massive. Hindsight is thesmartest person in the room. We're in unchartered territory now. We've neverbeen in a drought this severe before. It's important that we do have theprocesses in place to deal with where we are now –building a dam now is notgoing to put one drop of water anywhere – to make sure we're prepared for thenext time.

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

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

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

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

Mark Coulton: Look, it’ll be done by the- so there’s $44 million that has beenset aside for this process. So that will come out of that funding. That will bedone by the Infrastructure- Department of Infrastructure. So, I would imaginethat each one will be slightly different depending- they’re slightly differentprojects 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 thecommunity. Obviously, some of the line would fall on private properties. Howare you managing that moving forward?

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

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

Journalist: Regarding the Narrabriroad and rail interface, that case, what issues have beenraised 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 ofNarrabri. And one of the original proposals was a direct connection to theinland rail route to the south. But the connection to the north was to continuethrough west Narrabri around the existing track, and then meeting up with theinland rail north of town. There was a couple of issues around that. One is obviouslythe trains will be sort of coming all through town. The other is the overpass upthere to Narrabri, is not capable of taking double stack containers. But theissue with the current location and moving north is that not long after theinland rail - and I'm speaking in general terms, I haven’t got the plan infront of me - but not long after the inland rail crosses over that Walgett lineand starts to be elevated to get over the Namoi floodplain, and ultimately theKamilaroi Highway. And so the space, you know, to put a connectivity loop up onstilts would be a very, very expensive business. So this is to look at otherways of making sure that that connectivity- so the double stacked containerscan come out of the Narrabri port, and go north or south.

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

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

Mark Coulton: Look, I think they'll start work on it before Christmas. Myunderstanding is probably next month sometime, so I'm not sure how long thatwill take. But obviously there'll be a process, but not only consultation, butthere’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’llall happen at the same time.

Journalist: They’ll all happenbefore Christmas?

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

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

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

Journalist: In terms of the overallbenefits, 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 thehub? Are they going to be- there is a healthy rivalry between Narrabri andMoree. 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 Narrabriis not detrimental to the success of what happens with Moree. And you can seethe difference of the community the way that Narrabri has a different approachto what they're doing, to what Moree is. And you know, Moree, is proudly claimingto be the largest agricultural producing area, and so they'll have lots of bulkcommodities coming through. Narrabri’s having a look at more industrial areasand bringing manufacturing and other things into town.

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

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

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

No look, actually, thatties in with the discussion actually that Barnaby Joyce has been driving forhaving the senators more geographically spaced across. In New South Wales Ibelieve 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 upInverell, he’s retired. Queensland, it’s a similar amount. I think Matt Canavanis the only senator that's not in Brisbane. And so if the senators are meant torepresent the states, they should represent the whole states not the capitalcity, because otherwise the vote gets slewed in the senators to majormetropolitan areas. I’d imagine in the New South Wales Government, I haven'theard John's announcement, but I understand where he's coming from and I agreewith 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 takingthe other half in New South Wales, so I certainly think that there are otherways the electoral commission could carve up the state, so that the people herehave got a better chance of being connected with their local member. I mean Ilove the job I've got, but the week- a couple weeks ago I did 4200 kilometresin a week, and I covered a third of my electorate. So there’s a lot of travelattached.