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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee
Management of the Inland Rail project

LYONS, Mr Adrian, Chair, Inland Rail Taskforce, NSW Farmers Association

Evidence was taken via teleconference—


CHAIR: Good to talk to you again, Mr Lyons. Before I start, my apologies, you know that I wanted to get there. Let's do the official bit: I now welcome Mr Adrian Lyons from the New South Wales Farmers Association. I'm going to give you the opportunity to make an opening statement. Please tell us what you want us to hear.

Mr Lyons : We've [inaudible] written [inaudible] to the Senate people, but I'm not going to read our submission because I think a lot's changed in the last four years [inaudible]—

CHAIR: Mr Lyons, sorry—we've got a video, but we lost you; then you came in and broke up, came in and broke up. I'm going to ask you to start again. Let's see how we go. You freeze and so does your voice.

Mr Lyons : I might turn my video off; hopefully that will give me more bandwidth.

CHAIR: Okay. Let's have a crack.

Mr Lyons : I'm not going to read out the submission that we presented because I think the senators can read that themselves. It's quite detailed. Since November, there has been more change; it's been a moving target. I just want to give you our experience and my experience from the outset. I have a lot of notes written here, so bear with me. I've jumped off a header and a road train trying to facilitate this.

I'm representing a number of landholders who are members and non-members. We've been trying to speak to the federal government for four years. I've had many meetings with Richard Wankmuller, the CEO of the ARTC. What we are finding very difficult is that, every meeting we've had with the ARTC, they speak in platitudes. Richard is a formidable person. I enjoy having discussions with him, but what I do not enjoy is the fact that whatever question we've asked, it never comes back as an answer. It comes back in a form—and I heard this statement once—of 'document fatigue'. There are no answers in the hundreds of pages of documents that were written by ARTC. We've tried to support them, and they've tried to get us to help them build their documents before the Millmerran Senate inquiry. Still the answers aren't in these documents.

What we're a bit annoyed about, after talking with the Deputy Prime Minister, with Barnaby Joyce, with Minister Chester and with our local federal member, Mark Coulton, is that they didn't come and consult with this community. Nowhere did they do that. They came and delivered a project without consultation. What I will say strongly is: hats off to the local Coonamble Shire in my area. Mayor Karanouh and the general manager, Hein, are late to the game in that they missed a lot of what happened in 2016-17. I applaud them for what they've had to say, because there isn't a lot of information. They were used as a stakeholder to be informed about this Inland Rail, but, as you can see, there wasn't a lot of information there. When everything was put together in 2016 and they had their first consultation process in Gilgandra, conducted by AECOM, who were subcontracted by the ARTC, that's when people found out what was going on.

As Mr O'Sullivan, a former senator, asked, where did the one-on-one box ticking happen? Was it taken down at the front door? Is that how people were consulted? What we're finding difficult is that they've said they consulted 117 people along this line from end to end, but I know 40 that haven't taken a one-on-one. I know that for a fact, because we've started a collective with CWA. There's no daylight between our organisations, with the CEOs. We know for a fact that people have talked, but they don't know when they've been ticked off on his consultation process. We've got nearly 50 people who've joined and paid for this collective for us to investigate, and you will meet our legal representation shortly.

It didn't need to get to this. It didn't need to get to a Senate inquiry. We've asked for an independent inquiry on the whole line, especially the New South Wales component, for four years. It falls on deaf ears with the National Party and particularly the Deputy Prime Minister. I've had two roundtables which have produced nothing. It's as volunteers, as an association that 'completely and utterly supports Inland Rail'. I want to put that in inverted commas. I and New South Wales Farmers have been accused of trying to change votes and wanting to stop the Inland Rail. That is not the case. This is on the public record from me: we support it. But the 'but' is that this could all have been fixed, because the ministers used the LGAs as stakeholders. If they had come to New South Wales Farmers and the Country Women's Association from the outset, we wouldn't be having this discussion today. We're arguing over a couple of minutes for a 24-hour time line. Why does it have to be under 24 hours? They're saying it's 16 minutes. It depends on whether you're talking to federal politicians or to the ARTC. We proved in their options report that it was a [inaudible]-minute difference.

CHAIR: Adrian, sorry to interrupt you. You just dropped out. I heard 'four' and you dropped out. Did you mean 14 minutes or four minutes? Can you repeat that.

Mr Lyons : That's off their options report. Four minutes was what we proved with their options report. It's not us; it's the ARTC's options report four years ago, with the policy director who studied all the documents. They didn't agree with the options, but they were their numbers, if you get what I mean. Then you had it bandied around that it was 24 minutes and we were wrong. Now you have the government saying it's 16 and the ARTC sometimes saying it's nine. They have to get real with their minutes. If it's going to sacrifice landholders to go through their farms and divide these farms for a matter of minutes, that's what we have objection to.

We came late to the game. I applaud Coonamble council for what they're doing. I'm not sure [inaudible] the companies that they're representing. It is not representing the whole community, it's representing a side of a community that is saying everything is A-okay with ARTC and the consultations. Where I'm coming from is that the LGAs were not listening to their ratepayers. That's why we're here today. I am speaking strongly and passionately. I'm not angry; I just have bags under my eyes from that. We're here to work with these councils as an organisation and we have access to senators and ministers. What's going to happen out of this Senate inquiry will mean that the federal government do not have to act on any of these findings. That's just rumoured—propaganda about what this will mean.

I'm speaking on behalf of my members who are going to talk in the open mic session this afternoon. They want their voices heard. They are a minority out in this area, all through from Millmerran who [inaudible] but also on the border [inaudible] are connected the whole way, and I don't think people like that we are connected that much. But there's a commonality in what is going on; it's the same thing. We are finding issues on the Condamine floodplain, we are finding issues with North Star and we are just bewildered that the ARTC are persisting in going ahead with something that is going to break. It's risky, and we don't want to have risk that might change the direction of water. I think Shane Kilby said earlier that the railway line that goes to Coonamble was put there for a reason, back in the 19th century—because of the floodplain. If you divert this water or if you don't put the right bridging in, you could divert water and cause more problems.

I could go right into detail and hope you'll ask me more questions. But I'm here to represent the community and I want to see people prosper. I want to see the regions prosper—not just Coonamble; I want the regions to prosper. I listen to Parkes and I listen to Moree, and I think it is absolutely fantastic what they've [inaudible]. That's the centre; Parkes is the centre of this whole dynamic of the Inland Rail. That's where this all happens. All through there, you've got satellite towns, like Coonamble, that have a rail line that goes to and could go past this town where we could value-add products. Where is the love going to be shared? [inaudible] all these reports. We've had meetings with them. You've got the department of infrastructure, who we've had many meetings with, and you've got a flow of staff going from the DLI back to [inaudible] the ARTC or work with the Deputy Prime Minister. There are a lot of things going on in there. Why can't they give us the answers? And they're all moving from job to job, or you've got the staff out here and it's a revolving door. There's no consistency in the messaging.

It's very confusing and it causes a lot of anxiety to our members out here because they've been going through a drought for four years. [inaudible] wheat in Coonamble; we grew 550,000 tonnes. We're going to grow over 600,000 tonnes. We actually compete better than Moree with that. But I'm not discounting the fact that Moree are a big wheat centre. But you've got a 300-kilometre gap there to get rubber off road; we'd like to be part of it in this community.

Then I go back down to Curban. They're saying we're connected at Curban to get to Narrabri to get to the Brisbane port, which we aren't getting to. You're actually diminishing or disincentivising these communities so that they are weakening at the knees. Now, we grow a lot of grain, we want bang for our buck, and I'm hearing $17 a tonne there for cost path savings. Prove it. I want to see these numbers that prove there will be $17 a tonne cost path savings. The Deputy Prime Minister counted $76 a tonne saving for agriculture; it was for food. It was for fruit and veggies. It wasn't applied to wheat. Don't gild the lily and put that out as a media statement. You then have a minority of people hearing that on the radio or the TV who are constantly just bewildered by and bullied into what is going on.

I know I'm saying a lot of things. There's the water issue. When they come out and consult on how much water is required to build this line, they vaguely tell you it's two megalitres a day. Then we find out from professionals it's going to be up to 10 megalitres a day for suppression. They're going to draw that out of the Great Artesian Basin. We're pretty sensitive about it and we want more detail about it. They can't just extract without a recharge zone. There's no proof that there's going to be a sufficient guarantee that our local stock of domestic water is going to be recharged. We want more details of that.

We want socioeconomic details of why the route was chosen to go where it was going. There is no multicriteria analysis from Gulargambone through to Coonamble. We want to see the numbers. We want to see the figures. We've said to the Deputy Prime Minister a number of times, 'If you show us the figures'—the CWA and NSW Farmers, now with our lawyers at Holding Redlich—'and it stacks up, we'll let you go on through.' But instead I get accused of being a nimby because it's going through my farm. It's not. I've got better things to do with my time than, as a volunteer, as part of a minority in the community—all of us—fighting something where big government comes in and says, 'This is what's going to happen; suck it up.' Sorry to be frank about that, but the consultation process for any project out in the regional areas has got to be reviewed and looked at. Thank God the Senate can listen to the stories, which you're going to hear all day today.

We can't even get different things that they talk about, like fencing. We had a commitment from Richard Wankmuller, who was heard to say at a public meeting at Stockinbingal or Illabo, 'If you need a giraffe fence in your paddock, we'll put it up.' Since then, the staff have been undermining that and it's changed. There was a commitment made by Richard Wankmuller to me personally, but never written down, that if any farmer wants a certain type of fence built on their place, that would be acceptable. Since then the staff have gone out and said, 'We're looking at a minimum standard for a fence.' We don't know what a minimum standard looks like. If the person owns the fence, it should be able to keep in anything that they own as much as it should be for the safety of the train. But it also should be maintained in perpetuity by whoever owns or leases that rail track. It shouldn't be left out in the wind so we don't know what type of fence, if there's any fence at all, and who's going to maintain it.

[Inaudible]. We live in regional areas and we want to see the bang for our buck. [Inaudible]. Why are you looking at the competitive costing of a rail line as against roads and then saying you're going to fund more road building? The more I look at this, the more I want it to work. This is a really important nation building project, but it's got to work and it's got to be transparent. That's our policy, that's what our members have voted for and that's what I'm pursuing. That's my opening statement. I'm open to questions. Thank you very much for your time.

CHAIR: Adrian, no-one could argue that you're not passionate about this. We've had a number of phone calls and, as I said, I look forward to spending a fair bit of time out there not only meeting with everyone but actually getting to see what's going on. I'm looking at the time and I want to keep things pretty tight because of the open mic this arvo. Adrian, could you send to the committee all the questions you've not had answered or for which you've just received bureaucratic gobbledegook?

Mr Lyons : Yes.

CHAIR: As chair of the committee, I'll then send them on to ARTC, whose representatives will be listening now. There is absolutely nothing un-Australian about asking questions and, more importantly, receiving an answer. Can you do that for me.

Mr Lyons : Sure. I've got to go.

CHAIR: Thank you very much and I'm sorry we'll now have to move on. This is not the end of it. You told me that to attend this hearing you've just come off a road train carting chickpeas and you're not being paid for it. Mate, I value the work of our road-train operators, trust me, so thank you very much. As you said, you're a volunteer.