Murray Basin Rail a 'nation building project' - Mallee candidate
Swan Hill business owner councillor and United Australia Party candidate for north-western Victoria's seat of Mallee has earmarked a stalled rail project as 'nation-building' that should attract more federal support.
Whilst not making a specific funding commitment to the project itself if elected, Stuart King told Flow listeners the project was of vital importance to the electorate:
"Again, that's a nation-building project - the Murray Basin Rail project; it's something that's really, really critical to the produce that comes out of the Mallee."
"Last count, the grains industry in the Mallee was worth 1.5 billion dollars, or two billion dollars, something like that."
"Plus, we've got all the almond plantations, heaps of horticulture, we've got hay-processing facilities, there's so much that comes out of the Mallee region and it would be so much more efficient if we could put it onto rail."
The Murray Basin Rail project to improve rail freight access for farmers to Victorian ports has stalled due to a stand-off between the federal government. The Coalition committed $220 million in funding during the 2016 federal election campaign, and the state government which has refused to commit what would be its $220 million share for it go ahead.
In 2020 the Coalition pledged $5 million further in funding to advance the business case for the project that would deliver freight efficiencies and benefits to communities such as Sea Lake, Manangatang and Ararat.
On Wednesday, member of the local government Rail Freight Alliance, East Gippsland Shire Council, called on the Andrews Labor government to back the project before November's Victorian state election. The Shire Council's statement read in part:
“As a member of the RFA, Council considers it to be important to support the activities of the alliance and its initiatives, regardless of the location, to raise the importance of rail freight movements in Victoria as a fast and cost-effective way to both transport goods and reduce road transport.”
Member for Murray Plains and National Party leader Peter Walsh criticised the Victorian government's 2021/22 budget, saying in May 2021:
"To finish the Murray Basin Rail project the government needed to match the Commonwealth's $5 million to do the business case to finish that project.
"There's no $5 million - but there's over $22 billion to make up for cost overruns in Melbourne infrastructure projects - but nothing for that particular Murray Basin Rail project. It's so important to northern and western Victoria."
Victoria's 2022/23 election year state budget is due within weeks.
Mr King said politicians needed to settle their differences and get on with the project:
"But, they're [politicians] too busy playing football and hand-passing between state and federal and who's going to pay for this and who's going to pay for that, instead of just getting on and getting the jobs done."