CANBERRA will almost double its cash contribution with a $195 million rescue package for the Victorian Government troubled Murray Basin Freight Rail network.
The announcement of extra funding by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has been welcomed by the agriculture industry as a circuit-breaker to the stalled second stage of the the project.
The Federal Government’s bail out requires Victoria to match the $5 million planning funding and deliver a robust plan for full standardisation of rail gauges.
“The Federal Government’s $195.2 million rescue package is funding the most extensive package of works recommended by the revised business case and the Victorian Government, which includes remedying key issues caused by works to date,” Mr McCormack said.
The State Government requested the package following its completion of a revised business case.
“It’s crucial that a reliable rail network is available to efficiently move this grain, mineral sands, fruit and vegetables and wine, and to encourage more of that freight off the road network and on to the rail network,” Mr McCormack said.
“In April 2016, the Australian Government committed to the Murray Basin Freight Rail Project, which was to standardise the rail network and deliver significant efficiencies for industry and allow more freight to be carried by rail.
“A key part of the rescue package is $5 million for planning to deliver a fully standardised network for the Murray Basin Freight Rail Network.
“I will be asking the Victorian Government to match the Federal Government’s $5 million planning funding and come up with a robust plan for full standardisation. It is clear to both Governments that there needs to be greater accountability for this project.”
Member for Mallee Anne Webster said: “Our farmers deserve more and they have a right to more and that includes completing the full standardisation of the rail project, which is not part of the Victorian Government’s revised business case – but it needs to be.
“This is what the additional $5 million is for and to get the Victorian Government to commit to match it and get the business case up to achieve that.”
Ral Freight Alliance CEO Reid Mather said: “This federal funding will see the completion of stage two – while this is good news it would be disappointing if the Victorian Government took this opportunity to see this project as complete denying critical parts of the Murray Basin access to export markets and efficiencies offered by the Interstate Rail Freight Network.”
VFF Grains Group President Ashley Fraser said the announcement was positive.
“As long as we continue to operate on two separate rail gauges in Victoria, farmers and industry will continue to bear the costs of an outdated and inefficient network.”
Nationals’ leader Peter Walsh said incompetent project management by Victorian Government had left rail project in tatters and producers and transport stakeholders with a rail network worse than before the project started.