FEDERAL Minister for Infrastructure Catherine King has forewarned the soon-to-be-released review into Inland Rail will not be favourable for the project.
Speaking at the National Press Club on Wednesda, Ms King said Kerry Schott, who has been tasked with reviewing the Inland Rail project found “significant concerns” surrounding the “governance and the delivery of the project”.
Ms King said the report will be “gripping reading to those who want to learn lessons about how not to do nation-building”.
“It is frankly a damning indictment on the National Party and a salutary lesson as to why they should never have their hands on portfolios with large discretionary funds again,” Ms King said.
She said the review acknowledged Inland Rail was worth completing, despite the $14.5B project being “way over budget and…way behind schedule”.
“Kerry Schott’s report absolutely reiterates the importance of Inland Rail.
“I want to remind people of the reason Inland Rail was invested in in the first place: to increase our nation’s productivity, to take freight off our already congested roads, and to move them efficiently and safely by rail and to get goods to market more quickly.”
Ms King said the previous Infrastructure Minister Barnaby Joyce and the former government “lost sight of this”.
“They didn’t see it as a project that had those goals and under my predecessor, frankly, I think the project became something of a strange vanity project for him.”
Government considers review
Ms King said the findings were provided to government on January 13, and a government response to the review was being finalised.
She refused to answer further questions on the scale of recommendations included in the report and the government’s appetite to change the current delivery rollout or route.
“We will release that response and the review together.
“We will have more to say on that in the not-too-distant future.”
Australian Rail Track Corporation is delivering the 1700km Inland Rail project on behalf of the Federal Government.
When completed, the project will connect Melbourne and Brisbane via regional Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.
Ms King and Federal Minister for Finance Katy Gallagher announced a review into the Inland Rail project in October 2022.
The review terms of reference included assessing:
- the effectiveness of the ARTC’s governance and project delivery;
- whether the project fulfils its original goals;
- the adequacy of the routes selected;
- the overall program scope, schedule and cost;
- opportunities for enhancing communities benefits along the route; and
- ARTC’s engagement and consultation approach.
Project a ‘cost risk’
A key concern for the Federal Government when considering the Inland Rail review will be any potential additional costs associated with completing the project using Dr Schott’s findings.
Infrastructure Department leaders indicated at Senate Estimates last month it was likely the current estimated cost of the project was short of the final price tag.
“We don’t have cost estimates other than those that are in the budget…but we have provided advice to the effect that there is cost risk attached to the Inland Rail project,” Deputy Secretary David Hallinan said.
“[W]e would need to go through a formal process to identify what may be a better estimate for the project than that which is available currently.”
Mr Hallinan said a final cost may not be known until further into the project, as plans can change to accommodate environmental and regulatory approvals.
Two latest NSW sections approved
Confirmation the Inland Rail review has been completed comes as two NSW projects receive State Government approvals.
The Narromine-to-Narrabri and North Star-to-Border sections both passed NSW Government processes and have now been referred to the Australian Government Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water for consideration.
The longest section of Inland Rail, Narromine to Narrabri is located in mid-north western NSW and will feature 306km of new track.
The North Star to Border section connects NSW to Queensland and consists of upgrading about 27km of non-operational rail lines and constructing 12km of new track.
The entire project includes 30km in NSW and 9km in Queensland.
Connecting both these projects is the Narrabri-to-North Star section, one of two currently under construction.
Marking the beginning of works in Victoria last month was the start on construction on the Beveridge-to-Albury part of the Tottenham-to-Albury section.
The Parkes-to-Narromine section is the only operational part of the project to date, and was commissioned in 2020.
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