PROJECT HOPES: Mildura Regional Development CEO Brett Millington, Ouyen Inc. chair Scott Anderson, vice-chair Linton Hahnel, committee member Dean Munro and project consultant Michael O’Callaghan brief Nationals leader Peter Walsh on intermodal project plans.

DEPUTY State Opposition Leader Peter Walsh has visited the Mallee and Millewa, meeting proponents of the Ouyen Intermodal project, grain growers and stakeholders in the citrus and table grape industry to discuss critical local issues.

Mr Walsh said Ouyen Inc. wanted the proposed intermodal project planned for south of the town to be fast tracked.

“The key to making the intermodal a working reality, is actually getting the Murray Basin Rail Project completed. If you don’t have that in place, you won’t get the intermodal established,” he said.

Mr Walsh said the Nationals were supportive of the project, which in its own right he believed was a good idea.

“The proponents are passionate about Ouyen, but unless you have the train lines fixed-up between there and Melbourne, it’s not going to happen,” Mr Walsh added.

He also expressed concern that the stalled basin rail project wasn’t going to be on track for completion anytime soon.

“I think there is very little likelihood of the project recommencing while the Minister for Transport Infrastructure, Jacinta Allan, isn’t committed to it,” Mr Walsh said.

“What we have been asking for and so have a lot of other people including Anne Webster, is for the project to be restarted and finished.”

In August last year Mr Walsh was in the Millewa to see and hear first hand the plight of grain growers in the region when many were enduring back-to-back drought seasons.

“It’s amazing what a difference a year and some water makes! It hasn’t been a wet year – they still have below average rainfall out there – but it’s amazing what they have done with the crops,” he said.

“What you are seeing is a credit to the ability of the farmers and the plant breeders who have created these resilient varieties. Generally the farmers out there are talking about good barley yields, wheat a little less so, but due credit to their farming ability.”

In Mildura Mr Walsh met with citrus and table grape stakeholders to discuss the labour shortage issue which he said would bite the industry hard if a solution was not found soon.

“There is going to be a real issue with shortage of labour unless we can at least get the Pacific Islander program reactivated,” he said.

“I have been in consultation with The Australian Fresh Produce Alliance who are drafting a proposal which I intend to put to the Premier.

“The group has indicated that they are prepared to charter aircraft and cover all the costs of bringing a workforce of 600 people from the Islands, directly into Mildura and quarantine them on-farm.

“If you were to attempt to bring them in through Melbourne they would be subject to the returning traveller cap, and in any event, no one is coming into Melbourne at the moment. The aim is to put this proposal to the Premier and then ask him about it the following week in parliament.”

With the likelihood of fruit and vegetable shortages and a hike in prices likely in the coming weeks and months, Mr Walsh said some growers may not be really focused on how serious the labour shortage crisis is.

“When they pick the phone up to ring their labour hire contractor and they say ‘We don’t have anyone’, that’s when the reality will hit,” Mr Walsh said.