Narrabri port, Great Southern network shelved after review

Emma Alsop, November 16, 2023

The Federal Government has withdrawn funding for the Northern NSW Inland Port project. Image: Narrabri Shire Council

WESTERN Australia’s Great Southern Secondary Freight Network and  the Northern New South Wales Inland Port at Narrabri are two of 5o projects which will not proceed, the Federal Government has revealed today.

The announcement about the road and rail projects promised by the previous Federal Government was made by Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Catherine King.

It comes after an independent review into the Infrastructure Investment Program found the pipeline of projects was undeliverable.

Ms King said the review made several recommendations to improve efficiency and flexibility in project deliverability on nationally significant road and rail corridors.

“Through their forensic study, the reviewers found an estimated $33 billion of known cost blowouts on projects in the infrastructure investment program,” Ms King said.

“[T]hey said there was a high chance that this would blow out even further.

“Of projects not yet in construction, where not a single sod has been turned, they found $14.2B of known cost blowouts.

“They found that it would simply not be possible to deliver the current ten-year pipeline of projects within the $120B Commonwealth allocation.

“Significantly, they found that, without making significant immediate changes to program settings, the Australian Government cannot afford to meet identified cost pressures, nor add any new projects to the pipeline in the next ten years.”

Ms King said the government consulted with state and territory governments to finalise a pipeline of projects that were properly planned and targeted to unlock significant economic, social and environmental objectives.

She said over the next ten years, more than 400 individual ongoing projects were expected to be completed.

Freight projects scrapped

Several highly anticipated freight projects had funding removed due to the “high risk of further cost pressures and/or delays”, and after the review process found they “do not demonstrate merit, lack any national strategic rationale, and do not meet the Australian Government’s national investment priorities”.

The Narrabri Shire Council-led Northern NSW Inland Port is one project to have federal funding removed.

To be located at a 240ha site 7km west of Narrabri, the project was to provide connectivity to the proposed Inland Rail network and additional accessibility to most major ports across Australia.

In 2020, the Federal Government announced $7.8M in funding for the project, alongside $16.8M from the NSW Government.

Also in NSW, other scrapped freight-related projects include the Moree Intermodal Overpass and the Great Western Highway Upgrade – Katoomba to Lithgow – Construction of East and West Section.

In WA, funding has been pulled from the Great Southern Secondary Freight Network project, which was planned to improve export connections across the agricultural region. 

A total of $36M was set aside to fund WA’s Mid-West and Great Southern Secondary Freight Network programs, and Ms King has confirmed the Mid-West network will proceed.

Victoria’s $4M Rutherglen Heavy Vehicle Alternative Route project was also shelved, in line with announcements from the state government.

The Victorian Faster Rail Corridor Investigations, as well as business cases for the Melbourne Inland Rail Intermodal Terminal and Improving Connectivity to Port of Melbourne, also had funding cut.

Delivered as planned

In WA, big-budget projects such as the $160M Agricultural Supply Chain Improvements program, $150M Wheatbelt Secondary Freight Network, $140M Regional Road Safety Upgrades and the $442.8M 2019-20 to 2023-24 National Network Maintenance program will be built as planned.

Federal funding for regional rail in Victoria will proceed, including allocations for:

  • The $168.7M Bendigo-Echuca Rail Line Upgrade;
  • $447.7M for the Gippsland Rail Line Upgrade;
  • Off-network works as part of the Murray Basin Freight Rail Project valued at $334.7M;
  • Warrnambool Rail Line Upgrade – Stage 2 at $208M; and,
  • $320M for the Shepparton Rail Line Upgrade – Stage 3.

Victorian rail planning projects, such as the Northern Rail Plan, Western Rail Plan – Further Planning, Wollert Rail Feasibility Study, Melbourne Intermodal Terminal – Planning and Development and the Regional Level Crossing Upgrade Fund, are also still funded.

South Australia’s $400M project to upgrade the freight network and $60M project to Improve National Supply Chain Resilience will keep federal funding as well as the $41M committed to the Eyre Peninsula Network and several rural road programs.

In Queensland, several rural road corridors kept funding including the suite of Townsville-to-Roma projects, and the $100M Gladstone Port Access Road Extension.

The business cases for the Toowoomba-to-Gladstone Inland Rail connection and the Brisbane Inland Rail Intermodal terminal will also proceed with federal funding.

Review reaction

With projects cut across the country, the announcement has received backlash from several states and territories.

Queensland Government treasurer Cameron Dick let his anger be known commenting on the X social media platform that his “government has not and will not cooperate to support Catherine King’s cuts”.

He also joked that his government’s message to Catherine King was to “treat Queensland more like Qantas and less like Qatar”.

WA deputy premier Rita Saffioti said her government was “disappointed with this outcome”.

She said the WA Government remained committed to the projects that had funding pulled and would “now engage with key proponents to look at funding and delivery options”.

NSW Opposition leader Mark Speakman called on the NSW Government to “fight to protect NSW projects”.

“It’s time Chris Minns’ actions matched his rhetoric and he worked with his Labor mates in Canberra to protect NSW projects,” Mr Speakman said.


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