The Closure Of Tier 3 Rail Lines In The Central Wheatbelt

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: As a member of the Standing Committee on Environment and Public Affairs, I rise to note the committee’s twenty-sixth report and draw members’ attention to the minister’s response to our recommendations and my dismay that the minister did not agree with the recommendations. The committee did not come to these recommendations lightly. It is an all-party committee and we carefully examined the petition and came up with a reasonable recommendation. I think all of us are extremely disappointed that the minister did not take it on board. It was not a costly recommendation; all we said was do the business case again as the evidence shows that some of the factors have changed since the original strategic review.

Hon Max Trenorden: You are wise in that view.

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: Thank you very much, Hon Max Trenorden. I want to refresh members’ minds about what these petitioners were asking for. I will quote from the petition —

In determining to close these lines, the Barnett Government failed to consider all of the road safety impacts, economic impacts, environmental impacts and the social/amenity impacts of the line closures.

They are correct. I see members who know, on the other side of the chamber, nodding. All the petition sought was for the government to take another look at the decision-making process. As elected members of the Legislative Council, the house of review of this government, our job is to review decisions. In this case the committee did that very carefully. As we heard from Hon Brian Ellis, three experts in this field provided evidence and we said, ―Yes, they have a case; take another look.‖ This is another case in which the Barnett government ministers have failed to take into consideration their constituency. The minister has been—I dare to suggest—arrogant in this decision. The minister has been invited by these petitioners to visit the roads to see how bad they are and he has not accepted their invitation. How informed is he in making this decision?

Also, we know that the rolling stock is being replaced. We know that 22 locomotives and 574 wagons have been added. I have not been so blessed as to have had time to visit them, but I have looked at the photos that have been posted on the Facebook page. I know that that gave great excitement to wheatbelt residents, because they see that they, too, are going to get a piece of the pie from the mining boom; a piece of the resource income that is coming to this state will be spent in their area. I think that was a good move; however, in the final analysis, we failed them by closing tier 3 rail lines. We have absolutely failed them by saying that roads can do as good a job as rail. They have every right to be disgruntled with the National Party elected representatives and with the Liberal government, which now has a Minister for Transport who is from that party. I know that just today they had a forum. The petitioners are going to take this to the election. This is going to be an issue that could have been avoided had the government just looked again at the business case. Our recommendation was that the Wheatbelt Development Commission take a look at this and do an economic assessment. I thought that was a great suggestion on our part, and the minister has failed in his duty by not taking that up.

I want to briefly look at the economic costs. At the point we looked at it, the cost of upgrading the rail was $93 million. To members representing the north, who are seeing all these billions of dollars spent in mining infrastructure, what is $93 million to us as a state? That is an investment in our wheat infrastructure. Fifty per cent of our wheat is produced in this Kwinana zone. Two thousand farmers —

Hon Jim Chown: That is not correct. Fifty per cent of the state’s crop is not grown in the tier 3 region.

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: Fifty per cent of the wheat is in that zone, according to evidence before the committee. If the member has other evidence, he is welcome to make a submission.

The DEPUTY CHAIR (Hon Jon Ford): Order, members!

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: If I could just continue.

I refer to the costs of the roads. If we look at the maintenance that will be required to get these roads up to a standard that school buses and wheat trucks can be on the same road in safety, we are talking much more than $93 million. That is a poor economic decision on the part of this government. A little bit of care and a little bit of consideration for this committee report could have avoided that.

The minister’s other problem seems to be that he does not accept that CBH is a grower co-operative; it is a non-profit organisation. This is not a profit-making company. This is not about privatisation by private companies; this is about our growers working together cooperatively to get their product to the port. I, as one Western Australian, believe that they have a right to our taxpayer money for infrastructure to get their product to port. We should have provided that in the tier 3 lines.

The last point I want to make is that, as a member for one of those port cities, I do not want to see any more freight being transported on road than is necessary. In fact we would like to see much more freight transported by rail. The former Labor government took major steps to increase freight by rail because it was at least forward thinking about the impacts of trucks on our roads. There is now a growing movement for this. As mentioned, part of the Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance includes the City of Fremantle and the Town of East Fremantle. I visited the mayors of Kwinana and Rockingham to discuss this, because they are concerned about this. CBH is in Rockingham; the port where these trucks will go is in my South Metropolitan Region. We cannot as city dwellers think that this issue of rail in the wheatbelt is limited to the good residents living in the wheatbelt region. This is going to affect us all. It may cause our wheat to be less economically viable because of these transport costs that are going to go up.

I will finish by telling members about a submission that was presented to the committee. The submission stated that tier 3 rail is as important for Western Australia as the rail that runs from Mandurah to Perth. This particular submission said also that it is unlikely that city commuters would form a cooperative and purchase trains to get to work. I thought that was a great point of view. CBH and the growers should be applauded for their part in improving the efficiencies by investing a considerable sum of their money into the provision of efficient rolling stock. We need to come to the party and ensure that public funds are invested in this infrastructure, in the same way that public funds are invested in other rail infrastructure in this state.