Adjournment Matters No 1137
59 Parliament First Session
Asked: 18 February 2021


MS MAXWELL — To ask the Minister for Employment (for the Minister for Transport Infrastructure): 

My matter is for the Minister for Transport Infrastructure. It is about the Murray Basin rail project, a topic about which I often speak here given its importance especially to the agriculture and transport industries in Northern Victoria. On this occasion I raise it amid what is unfortunately white-hot anger among many key stakeholders and other interested constituents of mine. These people have been exasperated for a long time, particularly since the stalling of the project in 2019.

There was some better news in recent months with the announcements that the federal government will contribute around another $200 million and the Victorian government around another $48 million in order to restart parts of the project. However, annoyance and anger have re-emerged again this week. That is because it has become apparent, particularly through an article by Stock & Land’s Andrew Miller, that the government has approved the use for most or all of the new work of non-gauge-convertible sleepers. There is also growing concern that no standardising will occur on the Sea Lake and Manangatang lines. Clearly any decision not to use gauge-convertible sleepers will generally compromise standardisation not just now but also in the future as well as this would necessitate a costly double handling exercise entailing the removal and replacement of all non-gauge-convertible sleepers.

For many people with an interest in the Murray Basin rail project these developments are puzzling and demoralising. Worse still, for some of them this will potentially scuttle further involvement for them in this project or indeed other projects dependent upon it. Among these people are many very serious investors in agriculture and transport. They include the proponents of the critical Ouyen intermodal project, an initiative which would play a vital role in shifting to rail about half or two-thirds of approximately 80 per cent of the current volume of intermodal freight that is transported by road. This project would generate multiple economic and social benefits, including creating around 90 full-time jobs.

In light of all this, the action I seek is clarification of why, as the already very troubled work on the Murray Basin rail project resumes, gauge-convertible sleepers are not being used. I seek that clarity, especially given that the decision will make the absolutely critical objective of track standardisation, including around Sea Lake and Manangatang, much more elusive not just in the immediate term but also well into the future of these projects.

Answered: 16 March 2021

Ms ALLAN (Bendigo East—Leader of the House, Minister for Transport Infrastructure, Minister for the Suburban Rail Loop):

I thank the Member for Northern Victoria Region her question.

The upgrade to the Sea Lake line is part of a shovel ready package of works on the Murray Basin Rail Network that have been agreed to and funded by the Commonwealth Government.

Works are now underway to replace almost 70,000 sleepers between Korong Vale and Sea Lake to keep rail freight moving along the line for generations to come.

This upgrade to the Sea Lake freight line is critical to ensure the 141-kilometere track continues to operate efficiently. The sleepers being installed between Korong Vale and Sea Lake are largely timber, with a limited deployment of concrete at the end of the line. Concrete sleepers are being used due to a high rate of termite infestation in that section of track.

Following a review of the original business case, the Commonwealth Government endorsed the next set of works for the Murray Basin Rail project, providing $195.2 million for these works in late 2021. In February, myself, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Federal Member for Mallee released a joint statement to announce the Sea Lake line upgrade as the start of a pipeline of works that both governments will deliver.

We know how important the Murray Basin Rail network is to Victorian primary producers. In partnership with the Commonwealth Government, we are getting on with delivering this vital work ahead of the next grain season.