It has been some time since the hype in early May after the Federal Budget announcement of $8.4 billion for inland freight rail to link Melbourne and Brisbane. Uncertainty around the 198km Yelarbon and Gowrie section remains and Southern Darling Downs landholders are still waiting to learn the designated route.
A decision on the four possible alignments for this section was due in June. However, there has been a considerable groundswell of protest from local landholders about the route through the Condamine Floodplain and its impact prime agricultural land.
Principally, the Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) and its industry members support this once in a 100-year project. It has the potential to deliver sector wide benefits for agriculture as well as 16,000 jobs during construction and a projected $16 billion boost to the NSW, Victoria and Queensland economies over the next 60 years.
For such a significant project, the consultation process has been disappointing. The failure of this process led QFF to reach out directly to the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) for clarity and to ensure due diligence and proper consideration of community, industry and environmental needs.
According to the former member for Groom, Ian McFarlane, a decision has been or is very close to being made. If any decision has been made, QFF has yet to be informed. Federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester has been sitting on a decision after receiving numerous reports and briefings on the economic, environmental and social impacts.
Given the verbal commitment Deputy Prime Minster Barnaby Joyce gave to QFF that our industries would be directly consulted before a final decision was made public, the coming weeks will be telling to see if the legitimate concerns raised have been given due consideration.
QFF will be listening intently when Mr Chester addresses the Rural Press Club in Brisbane on September 21 and seeking confirmation that any decision the government makes will ensure the preservation of prime agricultural land on the Condamine Floodplain.