The Victorian Farmers Federation has slammed the Andrews Government for prioritising Melbourne projects over the delivery of an already-approved and funded regional freight rail project.
The move comes as project managers on the Murray Basin Rail Project have yet again delayed the delivery of the crucial $440 million project.
VFF president David Jochinke said an update on the project at a meeting convened by Freight Victoria and other government transport agencies yesterday had done little to ease concerns.
“Despite repeated requests from the VFF for staging milestone dates, all we have been given so far are loose deadlines,” said Mr Jochinke. “This, along with the fact the project is now on to its third manager raises concerns about how well it was planned in the first place.
“We recognise that failing to deliver the project in this term of government will represent a broken promise for the Premier Daniel Andrews, who was flanked by the Minister for Public Transport and Major Projects Jacinta Allen, and Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development Jaala Pulford back when the project was announced.
“Nevertheless, we do not want to see construction rushed, potentially compromising quality. What we need to see is clear, measurable and achievable milestones, proper communication with industry, rigorous oversight, and, ultimately, delivery of the project.
“Farmers need certainty around timelines to inform decisions for harvest and rebuild trust in the project. Without a clear timeline and ability to plan, grain traders will not compete to buy growers’ grain at key grain bulk-handling sites along the lines.
“We have been told the project is still on budget but we are yet to see evidence of that. We will now be seeking a meeting with Public Transport and Major Projects Minister Jacinta Allen for assurances the government is still taking this project seriously.
“The situation is all the more frustrating given we repeatedly hear about how the government is ahead of schedule on its Melbourne-centric level crossing removal project. It does make you question just how committed they are to delivering for rural and regional Victoria, particularly in the lead-up to this year’s state election.
Mr Jochinke said the VFF also held concerns about the standard of work on the project carried out so far. “What VFF is hearing is that repair work has already been required on sections of the Mildura and Murrayville lines,” said Mr Jochinke.
“This is hugely concerning because it means the original work on already-opened sections of track wasn’t up to standard. The fact that such a crucial piece of freight infrastructure may not be up to scratch is a significant worry and needs to be addressed.”
Once completed the project is expected to facilitate transporting of an additional 500,000 tonnes of grain from the Wimmera-Mallee to market each year.
David Jochinke, Victorian Farmers Federation President, 0427 834 524
Andrew MacDonald, Stakeholder Media & Communications Advisor, 0418 282 875