FARMERS across the Condamine floodplain are adamant. The federal government must shift the Queensland section of the Melbourne to Brisbane inland rail route off the planned high impact route that was announced just over a fortnight ago.
Instead, the major infrastructure project must be routed and then constructed so that it has as little as possible impact on some of Australia’s most productive agricultural land.
Yandilla farmer Jason Mundt said it was clear the wrong route had been chosen.
“Two major reports clearly showed the Condamine floodplain was only the third best route of the four routes identified,” Mr Mundt said.
“Then, incredibly, it was decided on the basis of cost that it should go across 16km of floodplain from Millmerran to Brookstead.
“How does that work? That’s the question no one seems to want or be able to answer. They can’t even tell what they’re building, whether it’s a levy bank with culverts or a significantly more expensive high level track on tressels.
“All they can say is they will engineer a solution. If they don’t know what they are building how have thay been able to accurately determine that this route is $180 million cheaper to build that the Felton alternative.”
The political opportunity was not lost on Pauline Hanson who spent five hours with affected landholders on Thursday.
The fired up One Nation senator used her time to promise she would confront Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who she said needed to be informed this was a “$9 billion project with with an extra $3b contingency build in.”
Condamine floodplain group spokesman Wes Judd said farmers supported the inland rail.
“But what we need to be sure of is that the construction of this infrastructure does not create an even bigger problem that can be avoided,” Mr Judd said.
“The starting point is making sure the selected route is actually the most appropriate. In this case they don’t seem to have been able to be more wrong.
“There is no valid reason why this rail line should go across this prime agricultural land when there are clearly other alternatives. We have to get the politics out of it so we get the right outcome.”
Mr Judd said two issues were not negotiable. The first was the dissection of farms needed to be minimised so that the operation of the businesses were not limited. The second was that the construction of the inland rail line had to have a zero impact during flood events.
Mr Mundt says he remains to be convinced that building the inland rail across the floodpath of 16km of the Condamine floodplain can be achieved without having an major impact on water flows.
“Every flood is slightly different,” Mr Mundt said.
“But what is constant is that any structure on the floodplain alters the flow of a flood and how the mass of debris is dispersed. Even now we have to be able to demonstrate that anything we do on the floodplain including putting up a building has no more than a 25mm increase in flood water levels on our neighbours.
“How are the inland rail builders going to achieve this? They certainly aren’t telling us at this stage.”
The Mundt family farm about 1050 hectares of some of Australia’s most productive agricultural soils. However, it is the depth of those loose, deep, self mulching black soils that also makes them highly erodable.
“Everything we do in our farming systems is about protecting the soil resource,” Mr Mundt said. “We have to farm that way otherwise we would lose our most valuable resource. It is just unacceptable that any infrastructure could be allowed to damage the very resource used to grow food to feed people.”
Goondiwindi Mayor Graeme Scheu said his council had always believed that the better option for the inland rail would be through the state forest to a point on or near the Gore where the Inland Rail would continue to its connection point.
Cr Scheu said the forestry option would alleviate segregating 41 properties between Inglewood and Millmerran.
“The Goondiwindi Regional Council is currently in discussion with ARTC on another sector, the North Star to Yelarbon sector, which comes under a different section of ARTC. This is our immediate concern,” Cr Scheu said.
“Currently, we understand the preferred option is to follow the existing North Star to Boggabilla line to the Whalan Creek and obviously, there are landholders on the NSW side with similar concerns to those Condamine Plains landholders.
“Landholders require detailed plans of how the flood plain will be traversed. ARTC had a 7 km corridor which is being reduced to a 2 km corridor some 12 km from Goondiwindi.”
Cr Scheu said Goondiwindi Regional Council and the Moree Plains Shire Council both preferred a route that would go closer to Boggabilla or even go through Boggabilla and create a bypass of the town.
“But that appears to be canned,’’ he said.
He said that with the rail line some distance from town, it was imperative that the feeder line into the Inland Rail joining point was upgraded.
“The ideal situation would be to have the whole SW Rail line upgraded as far as Thallon to the joining point of the Inland rail, which would solve a massive logistics problem for our area and solve a major problem for the State Government with road maintenance and congestion,’’ he said.
“Another anomaly is the direct entry into the Port of Brisbane either by the proposed tunnel or the existing Acacia Ridge – Port of Brisbane line.”
“This is paramount to the success of the Inland Rail and the delivery of commodities from these rich agricultural areas.”
“If the existing Acacia Ridge line is preferred, maybe it could all be resolved under the Cross River Rail debate as while the freight from this area continues to grow at the rate it is, the urban congestion problem is only going to worsen.”