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Community & Business

2 November, 2022

Regional freight increases and disaster funds discussed at forum

By Sharon Bonthuys

Minister for regional transport and roads, Sam Farraway MLC, visited Dubbo last week as part of a regional speaking and listening tour to outline initiatives and talk about the future of the state’s burgeoning freight industry.

Starting in Parkes on October 27, the Regional Freight Forum stopped in Dubbo on October 28. It will also visit Grafton, Tamworth, Singleton and Griffith before ending early-November in Narrabri. About 30 representatives from business, agriculture, the transport industry, and local government from across the central west attended the Dubbo event.

Minister Farraway was supported by the member for the Dubbo electorate, minister for agriculture and western NSW, Dugald Saunders, and an executive team from Transport for NSW (TFNSW).

“These forums allow us to engage with industry and to have important discussions with local freight operators and customers about their unique challenges and opportunities,” minister Farraway said.

“We are committed to improving the connectivity, capacity and resilience of our freight network in response to the changing needs of communities and business across NSW.”

Freight is highly important to the NSW economy, injecting $66 billion, providing a vital service to business and the community. The freight department was brought into the TFNSW portfolio after Mr Farraway became minister late last year. He acknowledged that widespread flooding and weather incidents across the state have caused massive disruption.

“We are going to continue to have challenges.” During the forum all forms of freight were discussed.

“We are moving into the final phase of the Fixing Country Rail Program. We’ve spent plenty of money on business cases. It’s time to build some infrastructure, look at some axle load limits, and where we can - back in some very wise investments," minister Farraway said.

The minister also said he would like to see more private investment in rail infrastructure that supports the future growth of business and regional contributions.

“Rail is really expensive. I think we should do it in partnership.”

The minister said the $220 million committed for the new Dubbo bridge across the Macquarie-Wambuul River will improve traffic efficiency, reduce congestion for local, visiting and freight operators and commuters, and improve access across the floodplain during flood events.

“We need to keep the Newell [Highway] moving, and Dubbo moving.”

Minister Farraway expressed great disappointment in the two-year delay in federal funding for the Great Western Highway, saying the project was at an advance stage of planning when the delay was announced.

“It’s a goat track, that highway. [The delay] impacts everyone west of the great divide.”

He touched on Inland Rail and said the department would be supporting the project through the grade separation (overpass) process. He said that Inland Rail will create capacity and not take away from existing rail infrastructure.

“We need to invest in our western line,” he said, indicating more work will need to be done with Australian Rail Track Corporation on the east-west connection.

A number of other projects were also discussed during the forum. A key project for Gilgandra includes the $40 million Hargraves Lane and Federation Street upgrade, which will facilitate a heavy vehicle bypass. This will include intersection upgrades, pavement strengthening and widening.

Applications to round six of the Fixing Country Roads program are currently being assessed and it is expected that successful projects will be announced before the end of 2022. The heavy vehicle rest stop improvement program has identified gaps in the network and where new provisions may be required for improvements to formal and informal rest stops.

The first round of stakeholder engagement around the scope and type of rest stops has been completed. After lunch, a panel convened where attendees could ask questions. Gilgandra Shire Council’s general manager David Neeves asked the panel about natural disaster claims in the region.

“We’re finding there’s not enough [qualified assessors] out there to do this work,” Mr Neeves said, expressing the frustration that many in the local government sector feel.

“There’s an enormous amount of frustration with landholders when we as council say, ‘we’ve got a process to go through for a natural disaster claim where we’ve got to assess it, submit it, wait for an approval before we can repair the damage’. That process really needs to be looked at, and possibly fine tuned,” he said to the panel.

“Our last claim was around $7 million. The same sections of road have been washed away each time. We’re not the only council that will jump up and down about this.”

Mr Neeves said he hoped the government was also considering elements of ‘betterment’ so rural communities would not have to continually face the same damaged roads every time there was a natural disaster event.

Minister Farraway agreed with minister Saunders that there was no magic solution to the consultancy issue, as there were simply not enough qualified people to do this work. He agreed that repeated flooding events creating multiple claims, in turn created a situation where it was impossible to determine when damage was caused. He would like to see ‘resilience’ built into the assessment process so that things are assessed and repaired quickly.

“We have two betterment funds,” he said on that particular issue.

“One is a $200 million betterment fund for those impacted by bushfires, flooding and other events. And, for the first time, we’ve got a specific regional roads betterment fund as a trial in northern NSW. This is a $312 million, 50-50 contribution between state and commonwealth,” minister Farraway said.

This regional roads betterment fund will have $10 million caps. Minister Farraway hopes it will be used for better designed culverts, drainage, approaches and things of that nature.

“It has to be meaningful betterment. What we need for the long term is that if we can make this work, local, state and federal governments should be budgeting betterment every year. We need it to come from the top down. We need the federal government to support the states so we can support local governments,” minister Farraway said.

He hoped it would lead to a situation where there would always be a contingency including betterment in natural disaster funding.

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