13 February, 2022
Government’s response to the inland rail senate report lacking
The federal government will not review the current Narromine-to-Narrabri alignment of the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) Inland Rail Project or the it’s flood modelling in NSW, despite the senate inquiry into the major infrastructure project recommending independent reviews of both be carried out.
By Natasha May
The senate report titled ‘Inland Rail: derailed from the start’ was released in August 2021 and made 26 rec- ommendations.
Senator Glenn Sterle, the chair of the inquiry, said the recommendations were the result of “evidence taken from witnesses throughout the couple of years we did the inquiry.
Listening to all sides of the argument, listening to experts, listening to local people, listening to people that were expected to use the Inland Rail Project.”
In its response, released in December last year, the federal government supported 11 of the recommenda- tions, supported four in principle, noted five and did not support six.
The first two recommendations of the report called for the government to update the business case and for there to be an ongoing inquiry for oversight of the Inland Rail Project, neither of which the government supported.
The project’s 2015 business case originally estimat- ed the cost at $4.7 billion but has since blown out to
$14.3 billion with the senate inquiry hearing expert opinions that the costs could exceed $20 billion. The government rejected any reassessment as “not an appro- priate use of taxpayer dollars” and noted “such reviews would only serve to delay the delivery of the project, increase cost and adversely impact landowners, busi- nesses and stakeholders who are looking for certainty in order to make decisions for engaging with the Inland Rail Project and the opportunities that it is delivering”.
The Narromine-to-Narrabri section of the project has commenced work on the detailed design and planning for the civil construction works.
The senate committee recommended that the gov- ernment establish an independent comparative review of the current Narromine-to-Narrabri alignment with the proposed Dubbo-Coonamble line and alternative routes around Narrabri, taking into account both the impacts and potential broader economic benefits for regional economies and communities.
However, the government did not support this rec- ommendation in their response stating they had already taken into “careful consideration the findings of a range of studies” and citing needs of businesses to have a tran- sit time of less than 24 hours.
“The approved Narromine-to-Narrabri greenfield alignment is a key component of inland rail’s achieving its service offering as it both reduces the distance by rail between Narromine and Narrabri by 167 kilometres and
the transit time by five hours and 30 min- utes as compared to using the existing rail corridors via Dubbo and Werris Creek,” the government response said.
The government further did not sup- port the recommendation they establish an independent international flood and hydrologist panel to conduct a review of the flood modelling and design features of the Inland Rail Project in NSW.
“The NSW government’s environ- mental approval process for Inland Rail already includes the independent review by a hydrologist of the ARTC’s flood modelling as a mandatory requirement of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)” the response stated.
However, Peter Holt the lawyer engaged by the NSW Farmers Associ- ation and Country Women’s Association (CWA), said the environmental impact statement “operated at a very high level of generality” and landholders’ serious concerns about flooding remain unre- solved.
Ms. Danica Leys, chief executive officer of the CWA of NSW, said “we support the project, but we desperately
needed and still need a recalibration in relation to how it is being executed. The senate inquiry report provided a great template for that to happen.
“The federal government, however, have really missed the opportunity to rectify wrongs and get this project back on an even keel,” said Ms Leys.
“It was disappointing for us, and for the communities and individuals impact- ed, to see such a dismissive response to the senate report,” she said.
“There are some positives in the response, and we welcome those and will continue to hold the federal government to account to deliver on the things they said they were going to in relation to community engagement and flooding issues.
“But on balance, it is a really under- whelming response from those in charge.”
NSW Farmers and were successful in getting the government to support a rec- ommendation that the ARTC engage an independent mediator to facilitate an improved working relationship with the two groups.