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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12145

Mr FITZGIBBON (HunterChief Government Whip) (22:24): One of the proudest boasts of the Labor government is a $1.2 billion investment in the third track project in the Hunter Valley, which will expand rail capacity in the Hunter Valley Coal Chain, which will allow coal to get to the port of Newcastle more quickly and more efficiently. Amongst other things it will reduce the conflict between passenger rail and coal rail traffic. It is a wonderful thing for the valley, it has huge economic and employment prospects and it is something we all support. I certainly appreciate the investment by this government. Of course, with progress and additional movement always come problems. Along the coal chain I have a number of people who have been adversely affected by that project, and I have raised these issues with the minister and indeed with the Australian Rail Track Corporation.

Tonight I want to focus on the people who live in the Telarah and Rutherford areas in my electorate and, more specifically, those who live in Elizabeth Street, Telarah. These are people who have lived beside a railway track for many, many years and in some cases for decades. It has a rail track that only carried a small amount of traffic, partly coal, but mainly passenger rail traffic. Today, of course, as the port expands and coal production increases more and more coal trains are using the track. People who live in Telarah and Rutherford are experiencing more trains, more noise, more vibration and more dust.

Because they do not live in an area where the third track is being laid—in other words, because the expansion of the track is not occurring in their specific area—they are not considered by the ARTC to be people affected by the expansion of the rail line and therefore by the project. In other words, if you live up the track where the expansion is taking place then you might be compensated in some way, but if you live further down the track where the rail line is not being expanded then you are not compensated. That seems fair enough on face value but, of course, even though the rail track is not being expanded in Rutherford and Telarah, there are a lot more trains going past as a result of the expansion further up the line. Therefore, people in that part of the world are being adversely affected.

I have written to the ARTC and to the minister and I am not satisfied with the responses I have received. They quote the relevant legislation and the constraints they face such as the environmental approvals. They say that they have done things further up the track but, as they are not developing in Telarah and Rutherford, they do not have any legal obligation. As they are a wholly owned government entity, I think there is an obligation.

If people in Rutherford and Telarah, who live right beside the track, are experiencing more movement, more noise, more vibration and more dust, they deserve consideration as well. I do not think it is good enough for the ARTC to say that because they are not developing in that area they do not have a responsibility. As I said, for a wholly government owned entity, there is a responsibility. The ARTC has a moral obligation to act as the equivalent of a model litigant and an obligation to take care of those people who are obviously adversely affected by this project.

The people in Telarah are not asking for much. They just want a few noise barriers built along the track. Some of these people are living, almost, right on top of the rail line. It is a much busier rail line than it once was. Some will say that the people chose to build or buy right alongside a rail line, which is true, but the rail line they built or bought beside was one which was much less busy than the one they now live beside.

The extra load is being driven by the coalmining industry. The coalmining industry and the ARTC are profiting from this. I think it would be more than appropriate for the ARTC to find a way, even though it is not legally obligated, to spend a bit of money and invest in noise amelioration in the Rutherford and Telarah areas to give those residents a bit of relief.