Shadow Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese has announced if elected, Labor will conduct an independent inquiry into the route selection process and financing arrangements of the Inland Rail project.
Mr. Albanese said Federal Labor supports the Inland Rail project, highlighting the former Federal Labor Governments $900 million investment to upgrade sections of existing track that will eventually form part of the project.
“However, if public confidence in this multi-billion dollar project is to be maintained, we must get the planning and financing arrangements right. Equally, affected communities should be treated with respect and properly consulted,” Mr. Albanese said.
“Unfortunately, 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.”
Mr. Albanese said this encompasses the Greenfield sections of Narromine to Narrabri and Yelarbon to Gowrie, as well as areas surrounding the possible future port connections at each end of the rail line.
“The NSW Farmers Association have become so concerned about the process that they have called on their members to cease engagement with the Australian Rail Track Cooperation,” Mr. Albanese said.
According Mr. Albanese, the independent inquiry would also assess the appropriateness of current financing arrangements, namely the government’s claim that the project can be fully funded via a $8.4 billion equity injection into the Australian Rail Track Cooperation (ARTC).
The process would include a review of the decision-making process that led to the 2017 budget decision to finance the project via the ARTC, including advice to government from the departments of Infrastructure, finance and treasury.
“The 2015 Inland Rail Implementation Group, established by the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government and chaired by the Transport Minister in the former Howard government John Anderson, raised concerns about the project’s commercial viability,” Mr. Albanese said.
Mr. Albanese also highlighted a passage from the 2015 Inland Rail Implementation Group: Report to the Australia Government:
“While the economic analysis indicates that Inland Rail will deliver a net economic benefit to Australia, the expected operating revenue over 50 years will not cover the initial capital investment required to build the railway—hence, a substantial public funding contribution is required to deliver Inland Rail.”
Mr. Albanese said the inquiry would be supported by Infrastructure Australia, utilising the expertise of other departments including finance and treasury.
The proposed inquiry will take public submissions and hold meetings in affected communities, with a reporting date no later than the end of 2019.