The Palaszczuk Government refused to commit to the continuation of vital rail freight services for Western Queensland in question time this morning.
“The Deputy Premier outrightly dodged my question and her response should give all regional Queenslanders reliant on these services cause for grave concern,” said Lachlan Millar MP, Member for Gregory.
The current contract was set up by the Bligh Government as part of its privatisation of Queensland Rail. The contract expires at the end of this year and the Government is currently in negotiations with Aurizon over a renewal.
“The contract is intended to ensure that regional Queensland receives fair access to rail freight services and there is plenty of evidence this is not happening,” said Mr Millar.
“It is imperative that the Government not simply roll the existing contract on but insist that Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are included so that there is some accountability for the Queensland taxpayer and some guarantee that regional Queenslanders receive the services Aurizon is being paid to deliver,” he said.
Mr Millar said that he was astonished that the current contract contains no Key Performance Indicators by which to measure whether Aurizon is actually fulfilling its contractual obligations to the Queensland taxpayer.”
He highlighted concerns expressed in the media by regional mayors in south-west Queensland that Aurizon was being paid to provide 325 livestock rail services annually to regional Queensland but was not delivering them.
“There is some evidence for these concerns in Quilpie which has received only 3 services in less than 3 years and Longreach which has not received a train service since December 8 last year,” he said
Mr Millar said suggestions had been made to him that Aurizon was deliberately making the service unviable to the detriment of the key industries in western Queensland and the ability of his constituents to operate their businesses.
“Aurizon has the privilege of monopoly and I believe it is exerting that privilege unfairly. It will only deliver cattle to two meat processors, excluding all others in the State. This is an unfair market distortion denying some meat processors access to supply and constraining market access for the grazier. Clearly this affects the price they receive for their product. I don’t believe other Queenslanders would accept such constraints on their business,” he said.
“There are also flow-on effects in employment for rail workers and meat workers. Meat processing is still Queensland’s biggest manufacturing industry.”
In addition to pricing dis-incentives under the contract, Mr Millar said beef producers wishing to move their cattle by rail had to book the entire train, producers could not share a train and too often people are told they can’t book a service because it is not operating.
“This contract is meant to underwrite serious community obligations of benefit to all Queenslanders. The experiences reported in the media would indicate such serious deficiencies in the contract that the Government cannot possibly just renew it without seeking to insert strict Key Performance Indicators. This is the only way to ensure the obligations are properly fulfilled.”
Mr Millar said transport is vital to Queensland’s productivity and competitiveness and bad practice acts as a choke on prosperity.
“Regional rail freight services are vital to meeting the rural freight task. There is simply not the road network or the road fleet required to undertake the total freight task. I understand that when this contract commenced, rail freight dominated the western freight task in particular. I estimate this has fallen from near 100% to less than 10% and this has had a serious impact on the communities and industries of the west,” he said.