Nicholas Rapulo, Narrandera Argus
The National Party’s efforts to suppress the release of a $500,000 feasibility study into the revival of the Narrandera to Tocumwal rail line has failed with the report set to see the light of day.
A motion put forward by the Shooters, Fishers, Farmers Party in New South Wales parliament passed the upper house last month meaning the report, which has been hidden away, will be released to the public.
The 2017 Cootamundra by-election saw Deputy Premier John Barilaro and then-candidate Steph Cooke promise a taxpayer funded study to re-open the rail line.
Following the election, the $500,000 study was completed but hidden from public view because of “commercial-in-confidence” reasons, despite the report being paid for by taxpayers.
Former Narrandera Shire Councillor Wesley Hall was running the gauntlet against the decision and publicly called for the study to be released.
He was also concerned the longer they waited to start the program the bigger the cost blowout would be on taxpayers.
Mr Hall resigned from Council in August 2019.
“It will be very interesting to see what $500,000 of taxpayer funds buys when the public see the report,” Mr Hall told the Argus.
“It appears the local Council could not care less whether the report was released or not.
“Do they support economic development in Narrandera or do they not?”
Narrandera Shire Council would not comment on the issue.
In 2019 an executive summary was released saying the revival of the rail line “would not provide economic benefits that outweigh the initial upfront construction cost and ongoing operational cost.”
It was not made clear in the executive summary what the initial upfront cost and operational cost would actually be, leading to more angst from residents who wanted to see the full report.
Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke backed up the decision to keep the report commercial in confidence.
“This comprehensive business case study investigated the costs and benefits of a proposed reactivation,” Ms Cooke said.
“The study also gave a strong indication as to whether the use of Fixing Country Rail funds for any reactivation could be justified to taxpayers.
“The detailed results remain commercial-in-confidence as it contains commercially sensitive information.”
The rail line was decommissioned 30 years ago and the last train to roll through the Narrandera to Tocumwal line was in 1985.
SFF Legislative Assembly member Mark Banasiak addressed parliament during the successful motion and drew attention to what he thought was “just another furphy” by the Nationals.
“Trains created jobs, expanded economies and attracted population growth, but like hospitals services, infrastructure and everything else in our regions, the Nationals have gradually dismantled our rail networks,” Mr Banasiak said.
“Our thriving towns have since turned into ghost towns as rotting abandoned rail lines become eyesores.
“Decades of neglect by the National members in this parliament is now causing many farmers on missing out to getting their produce to Melbourne by the most cost-effective means.
“The whole community was excited and buoyed by the revival of the rail in the region.
“Why the Nationals are hiding a taxpayer funded report from the taxpayers who actually paid for it, it’s undemocratic and it’s devious.
“The taxpayers have paid for this report, the taxpayers deserve to see it.”
The Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole was also contacted for comment.
This article appeared in the Narrandera Argus, 4 March 2021.