Please note: This is an extract from Hansard only. Hansard extracts are reproduced with permission from the Parliament of Tasmania.
RAIL INFRASTRUCTURE BILL 2007 (No. 34)
Mr COX (Bass - Minister for Infrastructure - 2R) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I move -
That the bill be now read the second time.
This bill will facilitate the operation of the government-owned railway, which is the State's major rail network. The bill puts in place arrangements to assist in the administration of the rail assets acquired from Pacific National Tasmania - PNT - as part of the rail funding agreement between the Tasmanian and Australian governments and Pacific National - PN.
As the owner of this railway, the Government is now responsible for managing and maintaining crown land on which the State's main freight railway track is erected, as well as being responsible for the overall management and maintenance of the railway tracks and associated infrastructure on that land.
Under the rail management and maintenance deed in place between the Crown and PNT, PNT is the operator of the Tasmanian Government railway network on a day-to-day basis, with responsibility for maintaining the rail assets on the operational lines on behalf of the rail infrastructure owner, which at present is the Crown.
Additionally, under the legislation PNT will, by ministerial order, be designated as a rail infrastructure manager, one of the three specific rail entities provided for in the bill. PNT is responsible for the operational parts of the network and will be provided with specific powers and functions to assist in undertaking that role. PNT also continues as a rolling stock operator, the other rail entity provided for under the legislation before members.
A more viable and safer transport system is critical to the Government's achievement of its economic, social and environmental goals. Tasmania's rail system in particular is expected to have an increasing role in supporting sustainable growth by carrying a greater proportion of freight traffic in Tasmania.
Under the new arrangements the Federal Government is providing $78 million over 10 years for capital works to upgrade the rail network and the Tasmanian Government is providing annual maintenance funding of $4 million indexed over 10 years. As part of the agreement, PN will spend $38 million on upgrading its rolling stock.
The benefits of the improved rail infrastructure will be available to all rail operators wishing to use the rail network, and not just to PNT.
The Government's railway - and again, I reiterate the State's major freight rail network - consists of approximately 700 kilometres of narrow-gauge railway track, approximately 200 kilometres of which is currently non-operational. The Tasmanian Government railway network is primarily a freight system that links industry and our major ports. Every year it carries some 3 million tonnes of cement, coal, forest products, general intermodal freight containers, newsprint and other miscellaneous commodities. Members would also be aware that historic tourist railways occasionally use the network to carry passengers.
The non-operational lines include the Burnie to Wiltshire line in the north-west of the State, the Coldwater Creek to Tonganah line in the north-east and the Boyer to Maydena and Risdon lines in the south of the State. Initially, the Crown as the rail infrastructure owner will maintain these lines on a care and maintenance basis.
The Melba line on the west coast does not form part of the Tasmanian Government railway network and, as a result, is not subject to this bill. The line is privately owned, managed and operated by PNT and is currently utilised to transport a significant volume of mineral concentrates from the west coast to Burnie.
As most members would be aware, until 1975, when the State's major rail network was handed over to the Commonwealth, it was owned and operated by the Tasmanian Government at a considerable loss. In 1997 the railway was privatised through a trade sale to a group of organisations that became known as Tasrail and the Tasmanian Government leased to them the crown land on which the rail infrastructure is situated. That rail business was then onsold to Pacific National in 2004 and in October 2005 PN announced it would cease freight rail services unless financial assistance was provided to upgrade and maintain the rail network.
The lesson seems to be that low-density networks of the nature of Tasmania' rail network are difficult to commercially sustain, whether they be in public or private ownership. Across the board, governments in Australia and New Zealand have demonstrated that it is difficult to remove themselves entirely from financially supporting their rail networks with public funding.
The model of the private sector managing and controlling rail operations and the Government owning and financially supporting the rail track and infrastructure is one consistent with that of other Australian jurisdictions and New Zealand and is considered to offer the best approach for Tasmania, given the nature of our network and market. The success of this model is dependent on the underpinning regulatory structure and contractual management practices.
While Tasmania has rail safety legislation, this bill introduces legislation to assist in the management, control and protection of the rail assets handed back to the Tasmanian Government. Further, the bill defines the relationships between the various railway entities and the nature of the interaction between those entities and other stakeholders.
Prior to the transfer of the former Tasmanian Government Railways to the Commonwealth we had a comprehensive Rail Management Act to effectively manage rail. However, most of those provisions are simply not required under the proposed model of rail ownership, management and operations. Many of the issues previously requiring legislation are now covered by contractual arrangements.
The capacity of rail freight services to be financially competitive with road freight has continued to be a concern. This bill, without disadvantaging road freight or giving preferential treatment to rail, will remove inconsistencies in the treatment of road and rail infrastructure and, in doing so, will help to facilitate rail as a viable competitor with road. In addition, bolstering the retention of freight on rail has substantial community and environmental benefits that accrue in the areas of decreased road congestion and increased transport safety, protection of the road asset and protection of the environment.
This legislation has also been drafted with sufficient flexibility to accommodate any future arrangements to be put in place for the ongoing management and ownership of rail, whether that continues to be the Crown, a statutory authority or a State-owned company.
What constitutes the rail network is set out in Schedule 1. There is also provision in this bill for the minister, by order, to amend which railways or parts of railways make up the rail network.
The rail network comprises the following lines:
1. The Bell Bay Line - running from the East Tamar junction to Bell Bay.
2. The Derwent Valley Line - running from Bridgewater to Maydena.
3. The Fingal Line - running from Conara Junction to Fingal.
4. The North-East Line - running from Coldwater Creek junction to Tonganah.
5. The South Line - running from the Hobart railyard to the East Tamar junction.
6. The Western Line - running from Western Junction to Wiltshire.
7. The Zinc Works Line, also known as the Risdon Line - running from the Derwent Park junction to the former siding at the Risdon smelter.
The legislation will also:
· prescribe the three relevant rail entities - the sole rail infrastructure owner, rail infrastructure manager(s) and rolling stock operator(s) - and provide them with the powers to effectively undertake their functions;
· provide that the minister may designate by order the rail infrastructure owner, and in default of such a designation, the Crown is that owner;
· provide that the minister may designate by order a rail infrastructure manager for the entire network, or a restricted rail infrastructure manager for a part of the network, ensuring that no part can have more than one manager;
· provide the minister with the capacity to acquire land for railway purposes;
· enable the establishment of rail planning corridors, similar to the gas pipeline planning corridor concept in the Gas Pipelines Act 2000, to assist with the protection of the rail network by enabling rail safeguards to be put in place to ensure the safety and/or operability of the rail network; and
· introduce a range of other measures to protect the integrity of the rail corridor, as well as ensuring that activities outside the corridor will neither adversely impact on rail operations, nor result in a lessening of rail safety or rail operability.
These measures include provisions for:
· clearing obstructions to lines of sight for both rail and road users;
· vegetation control;
· control and management of the installation of service infrastructure on the rail network; and
· introduction of controls over excavation and drainage activities.
The legislation will also:
· assist with putting road and rail on a similar footing by enabling a railway entity to carry out emergency or other railway works wholly within the rail network without having to comply with the requirements of the Land Use Planning and Approvals Act 1993;
· place a fencing obligation on the rail infrastructure owner in situations where it initiates railway works or where a railway accident occurs and destroys or damages a dividing fence. It should be noted that the Crown is not bound to meet half the cost of a dividing fence in accordance with section 6 of the Boundary Fences Act 1908;
· provide access to adjoining land in cases of emergencies - for example, derailment - or for a railway entity to undertake railway works;
· identify the responsibilities of various parties for the maintenance of railway crossings on public and private roads, and for the construction of level crossings on new private roads, and also identify a railway entity as the responsible party for reinstating a public road after rail tracks are removed from a level crossing;
· provide for non-feasance protection for failure to carry out railway works. The Crown as the rail infrastructure owner will have the same statutory protection afforded to a public or other authority responsible for carrying out roadworks by section 42 of the Civil Liability Act 2002. This will clarify an area of uncertainty and put rail on the same footing as roads;
· identify who is required, in the absence of an agreement to the contrary, to meet the costs where a rail or road authority repairs, modifies or replaces any of its infrastructure, or installs new infrastructure, and requires the affected infrastructure authority to install, repair, modify or replace any of its own infrastructure;
· allow for appropriate regulation making powers; and
· consequentially amend the Rail Safety Act 1997 to enable accreditation of the Crown in circumstances where the rail infrastructure owner, at present the Rail Management Unit in DIER on behalf of the Crown, is responsible for maintaining those parts of the rail network that are non-operational.
I would like to emphasise that extensive consultation with key stakeholders was an important part in the development of this legislation. PNT, the Local Government Association of Tasmania - LGAT - and the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association - TFGA - have each commented on the draft bill and are supportive of the bill.
A number of changes have been made to accommodate their concerns. For example, a clause enabling emergency access to the rail network by adjoining land-holders has been included, while the approach to managing and regulating rail crossings has been amended to satisfy the concerns of the TFGA.
Other stakeholders also recognised and supported the need for an ongoing rail service and acknowledged the impact of the closure of the network on the State's road network, particularly in light of the forecast increase in the freight task by the National Transport Commission.
The Government recognises that, under this new model, unanticipated issues may arise and may need to be addressed as implementation progresses. The Government is committed to maintaining a dialogue with our stakeholders so we can remediate or add to our approach based on the practical lessons we learn in this new era for rail.
In summary, this legislation will assist in the protection of the rail network as a long-term strategic asset and resolves a longstanding impasse over maintenance responsibilities at rail crossings. The bill is generally considered to provide an appropriate balance between the interests of the Crown as 'owner' of the railway network and competing stakeholder concerns.
This legislation will assist with the maintenance of rail as a key part of Tasmania's transport infrastructure in a way that will improve the competitive neutrality between road and rail, which in turn will assist in retaining rail as a viable transport option.
It should also be acknowledged that over a significant period there has been an underinvestment in rail. The Government has now opted for a management and ownership model that involves the Government actively working in partnership with the rail industry to deliver a sustainable future for rail freight transport in Tasmania. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr GUTWEIN (Bass) - It gives me pleasure to have the opportunity to speak on this bill this afternoon. I heard the member for Lyons speak before when he mentioned he was struggling under the disability of the flu that is going around. I am struggling under a similar disability today as well. Before putting on the record my understanding of the legislation we have before us and commenting on a couple of the matters contained within, there are a couple of matters that I would like some clarification on from the minister. From my reading of the bill I was not able to satisfy myself in regard to that, so I am hoping the minister can do so in his response to the second reading and save us having to go into Committee. I would like to put on the record - and I think it is quite appropriate that the genesis of what we are discussing today was the meeting that Brett Whiteley had with the Transport minister in October 2005. Rene Hidding and Brett Whiteley announced the Liberal's 10-point plan. We made public statements on it in about October 2005. Rene Hidding as leader had a very strong role in formulating the Liberal Party's policy at that time, but Brett Whiteley did an enormous amount of work. I think the minister at some stage - it would have been Bryan Green - also met with the Federal Transport minister. Brett Whiteley certainly did get off his backside. He went to Canberra. He discussed a proposition we had. Interestingly enough, when the announcement was made by the Federal Government a couple of months later in regard to its discussions and negotiations with the Tasmanian Government and with the minister, the key points that were included in that announcement concerned the $78 million over 10 years for rail infrastructure funding. In fact, we had originally proposed $78 million over 12 years. The State Government was to commit $40 million over 12 years for maintenance, and the plan came back for $40 million over 10 years.
It is not an exact carbon copy of what was proposed but I think it is worthwhile placing on the record the work that Mr Hidding and Mr Whiteley did. I can recall sitting in this place and listening to the then Minister for Infrastructure rant and rave about the State Liberals' position, and how foolish we were to be in front of the game. Well, the bottom line is that we were in front of the game and I think the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Here we are today bringing in legislation of which the Liberals were a key catalyst almost two years ago.
The purpose of this bill is to facilitate the operation of the State's major rail network and put in place arrangements to administer the rail assets acquired from Pacific National as part of the agreement that I have just been speaking about. The bill will provide rail entities with powers to effectively undertake their roles in relation to the operation and management of the rail network and to assist in the protection of the rail network as a long-term strategic asset, which history demonstrates has been a challenging issue for both public entities and private entities.
It is certainly a matter of infrastructure planning that it is going to warrant close monitoring by the minister of the day because we have one of those rail networks that, unfortunately, given the volumes we carry, is always going have questions about its profitability. The decisions that have been made recently regarding maintenance, both in the short term and in the longer term, are going to see the rail network brought up to some sort of reasonable standard.
The bill also provides for a consequential amendment to the Rail Safety Act to enable the Crown to be accredited in order to carry out its role in maintaining those parts of the rail network that are non-operational. This legislation will assist with the maintenance of rail as a key part of Tasmania's transport infrastructure.
I note from the minister's second reading speech, and certainly from the shadow minister, with whom I have discussed this matter, that lengthy consultation went on with the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association. Having seen some of the correspondence on this side of the House, you could call it extensive. When you look at some of the issues raised in the bill, and certainly by the TFGA, you see that our rail network does cross a lot of paddocks, and it is important that we get that right. Also I note that the Local Government Association of Tasmania had been involved in discussions with you.
The minister mentioned in his second reading speech those parts of the rail network which this bill covers. I suppose by omission, those that he did not mention are not covered, but I think it is important to place on the record what we class as excluded railways. I know they are covered in Schedule 1 -
Mr Cox - Non-operational.
Mr GUTWEIN - I was just going to list them. Part 2, the excluded railways which are covered in Schedule 1, the rail network.
'1. Railways that are entirely within the precincts of and used only in connection with a factory, mine or quarry.
2. Railways that are entirely within the precincts of a transport, railway or other museum and, if operational, used only in connection with that museum.
3. Model railways.
4. Runways that are used only in connection with the operation of cranes or gantries.
5. Marine slipways.
6. Tourist tramways.'
which are all listed as being excluded railways.
One of the things that I did want to explore and I wanted you to provide some explanation of is this: the bill specifically establishes a relationship between the rail infrastructure owner, the rail infrastructure manager and a restricted rail infrastructure manager. That is how I understand it, those three entities.
Are there any provisions within the bill for the circumstances where a rail infrastructure manager does not meet their obligations? For example, under clause 26, which is control of vegetation, a rail infrastructure manager is to do a certain number of tasks and have regard to the following. It does mention in there, and I am looking at clause 26(2)(j), that they are to regard to any directions given by the minister.
The question is, what happens if, as a result of this agreement, Pacific National are the rail infrastructure manager for those sections of the track - in fact they are the rail infrastructure manager, are they not? If they do not meet any of their obligations - for example, if they do not conduct a vegetation management program as they should, what powers are there apart from the fact that the bill says that you can direct them? What sanctions are there? What dispute resolution is there - this is something I could not find anywhere in the bill - should there be a disagreement between what they believe would be a satisfactory vegetation clearing program and what you believe?
I wonder if you could enlighten the House as to how those matters might be managed, principally or specifically whether there is a dispute resolution procedure in the bill and how that might be dealt with.
The other thing that I wanted to mention, and I have to give my colleague, Mr Whiteley, another plug, having been on this. I know he will be too busy to listen to the squawk box, he is meeting with people so he will not have the benefit of hearing me speak so highly of him in this regard. It was October 2005 when the State Liberals first put out press releases, and it was 12 December when the Federal Government made their announcement, or around that time. We are now in the middle of August 2007, and I know it took a while to hammer out the MOU, but the question I need to raise is: if this bill specifically sets out the obligations for the parties responsible for the ongoing management and operation of our rail network, what has been happening in the interim? Has any money been spent in regard to both short-term maintenance and longer-term maintenance? What has happened in the last 18 months and specifically what has happened since the agreement with Pacific National, which I think was hammered out around December?
Mr Cox - Indeed.
Mr GUTWEIN - In fact, it has been difficult to actually get a date out of you, Minister, on that.
Mr Cox - Yes.
Mr GUTWEIN - Somewhere in that period an agreement was finalised. Perhaps you could enlighten the House as to roughly what that date was, because there must be a date on that agreement somewhere.
Mr Cox - I think I thought out a couple at one stage.
Mr GUTWEIN - You actually sent me looking for press releases that we could not find. I think you called it a Clayton's announcement. Could you explain what has happened with the signing of the deed, give us a date on that and tell us, importantly, what has happened in the interim? I understand that consultation had to take place. I understand that parties were involved and had keen interest in ensuring that this legislation was established in a way that was fair, reasonable and met their needs. Of key concern is whether or not the network has been receiving the maintenance that in effect was the reason for our being in the position that we were in at Christmas time when the deed was signed. Some sort of explanation of that would be good.
Minister, if you have a look at those concerns then at this stage I do not believe we would need to go into Committee, subject to getting a satisfactory answer in regard to dispute resolution and other matters concerning the three entities listed there, plus some information regarding what has gone on lately. Subject to that, we will be supporting this bill.
Mr MORRIS (Lyons) - I would like to pick up on the point that Mr Gutwein has just raised. There really have been precious few comments, Minister, by you in relation to what has gone on regarding the Government and Pacific National over the last 18 months or so. I would very much like to hear a more complete statement. From recollection, you have perhaps put out about two media statements on the issue of rail over about two years - or since the last election anyway. It has been precious little information and we would appreciate having some more. I would also like to request from you a copy of the rail infrastructure and maintenance deed so that I can fully understand the obligations that exist for Pacific National and the Government. It would be good if you could provide that; failing that I guess I will have to try the FOI path, long and torturous as it may be. However my success rate is pretty good at the moment.
I would like to indicate that I had an excellent briefing a couple of weeks ago on this bill and I would like to give my thanks to the advisers who did such a wonderful job of answering all of my questions satisfactorily. They had all my questions well and truly covered off, apart from one. At the end of the meeting an undertaking was given to find out for me the status of the railway network on the wharfs at Hobart, whether or not that comes under this legislation, whether that has been ceded to the waterfront authority or to some other body, or whether it still remains part of the railway network of Tasmania. I know it is not physically connected; there is about a 20- or 30-metre gap between the rail yards and the network on the waterfront where it crosses Evans Street. Although I know that the thought of putting a train back on the wharf makes people shudder from a public liability point of view, I have an interest in the possibility of doing that from a tourism point of view.
Mr Cox - The status of the rail on the wharf?
Mr MORRIS - Yes, that was the question. I think the other wharves and so forth are okay. I do not think we have an issue in relation to them; it is just the Hobart wharf because it is disconnected. While I am on this, I wrote a substantial submission to the waterfront authority when they first advertised for submissions and my submission was entirely about the railway network that exists there. I did not so much as get an acknowledgment, let alone any further comment. Perhaps it fell down the back of the desk; that has been known to happen before today. I still have a copy of it somewhere if they did not get it.
The Greens have always been very strong supporters of the railway network in this State and elsewhere. We are well aware of the efficiencies that can be gained by using rail, the sheer movement of goods from point A to point B on steel as opposed to rubber on road. There is a huge efficiency improvement in using steel on steel. In these uncertain times, when we do not know where we are going with fuel supplies and cost, that efficiency dividend may well be extremely valuable to Tasmania's competitiveness in the future. We do not know, but we do know that the railway is far too valuable to give up. Even if it were to sit idle for several years, which would be a real tragedy in itself, it is still far too valuable to give up or break up and sell off. Even for those lines that have been torn up and closed down - and I am thinking of St Marys and a few places like that, which I do not think was a good move - we should be prepared to spend what is necessary to keep those alignments and make sure they can be reopened. That goes even more to those unused lines at the moment that still have tracks. They might have rotten sleepers under the tracks and rotten timber in the bridges, but that is no big deal in the scheme of things in terms of getting them open again. The Derwent Valley line, which is the one I know best, I would conservatively estimate is worth $50 million to $80 million in its present condition. To get it operational for light trains, for passenger and tourist services, is possibly a $1 million job. It was nearly opened but it has deteriorated again now. That is not a big investment when the size of the asset is considered. Try to imagine building three sandstone bridges across the Derwent River again. They are a wonderful asset, fantastic for tourists to see, a great example of the craftsmanship of former times and how earlier Tasmanians built the infrastructure. They did a marvellous job of it and that is a fantastic asset.
For freight, rail is the obvious solution where it can be used. The longer the haul the greater the benefit, as a rule. The biggest difficulty we have is the cost of transferring goods from rail to road - from train to truck. That is something we need to work on a lot more to maximise the efficiency gains, because if it becomes a lesser problem to shift from truck to rail, then rail can become more attractive for shorter runs and that is a significant point. I have not studied rail significantly anywhere else in the world but I am sure that they have a lot of systems from shifting from truck to rail that we could look at adopting or adapting to improve the efficiency here. I note that the intermodal hub of Brighton is indeed a part of that idea, about being able to improve that efficiency.
So, of course, the big advantage from the State's point of view in having rail used more than road is twofold. One is that if it is cheaper than using the road, then that makes our businesses more competitive. Also, and this is the big factor, if it reduces the wear and tear on our roads and the cost of maintenance of them and also the pressure to upgrade our roads by reducing the traffic, then that is huge bonus for the State and the Commonwealth Government in the case of national highways. It may mean that roads that we might otherwise feel under pressure to widen at vast expense may not need to be widened because we shift freight onto the rail, allowing roads to be used when they are best used, for those purposes where rail cannot substitute.
Of course, over the last couple of elections, we have advocated very strongly investigating the possibilities for introduction of commuter passenger services back along the north-west coast, in particular and in the northern suburbs of Hobart. In particular, looking at coming from Brighton into Hobart, we would very much like to see a proper study undertaken into the possibilities there. The route is reasonably direct. It is not particularly circuitous and a large number of the houses on the northern side of Hobart are within a kilometre or so of the rail. So they are within what is considered the normal catchment area for a railway. Whether or not it can be made to be financially viable, I do not know. But we certainly believe that it is worth undertaking the investigations, so that we can find out whether it is a goer. At the moment we have no way of knowing.
The other thing that I hope comes out of the changes that have occurred in the last year or so, or this year, are that we might yet see our tourist rail operators get their trains back out there and operating. It is incredibly frustrating for the societies that they are not able to get out on the line and run trains at the moment. If the Derwent Valley Railway was able to get out there, they would be running trains this coming weekend to Ross. I have no doubt about it and that it would be a profitable run. So, the sooner we can get them out of the yards and back on the line, the better. Of course, they know as well as anyone else that they are going to have to operate around the freight trains and that is not a problem and never has been, as far as I am aware.
This State is seriously underselling itself by having not put the effort in to make sure that our tourist railways are viable units and are operating. They can still be revived; there is no doubt about that. But it will require both a commitment from the State Government on a financial level and also to make sure that the operational conditions are right for those societies. They are a wonderful asset. A large number of people are committed to putting a lot of effort in to help make Tasmania a more attractive place for tourists and, as I think we all know, train buffs will go anywhere to get a ride on a train. That is something that we have been missing out on for several years now. So we are not maximising the potential for tourism in this State on that one area alone. How many extra people a year that might bring in, I am not sure. It is a bit of marketing. It is a bit about the quality of the product. I must say, the Abt Railway is the exception to that, as is the Ida Bay Railway and so forth. But on the main line the Derwent Valley Railway, the Don River Railway and the transport museum at Derwent Park are not able to participate in that trade at the moment, and that is a real shame.
I believe that the Government should be investigating possibilities for having some of the engines run on gas to reduce costs and greenhouse emissions. There is also potential for electrification. I know that running overhead gantries right around the State would be unthinkable, but that is not the only mechanism for electrification. I think that should be looked at. I think gas-firing instead of diesel-firing for engines is at least a medium-term prospect because the size of the gas tank is not really an issue. If you had the first couple of carriages behind the engine being gas tanks for the engine as opposed to a 1 000-litre tank or whatever they have on the diesels at the moment, it is no huge drama as I understand it.
The next area that is a little more pertinent to the bill is the issue of weed management. And fire goes with that. I am very concerned that there has been so little effort on the railway network over the 30-odd years that I have known the railway in terms of controlling the weeds, and also in building up relationships with adjacent landowners so that you have joint management of weeds across the common boundary fence. That also applies to the old DMR - the State road manager. I know of quite a number of instances of roads parallel to the rail where there are weeds on both and nothing is being done about either. We should be putting more effort into this and controlling weeds such as gorse and blackberry along the railway. There are plenty of others, but those weeds of national significance should be tackled, and there is every reason that they can be. That can be dealt with in the contracts for maintenance, and properly should be. I had a look through the tender for the non-operational lines on the web a couple of months ago and I noted that all it required was for the area to be kept clear for a metre either side of the rail. It did not talk about noxious weeds or weeds of national significance, and it should have. I understand why that was there; it was about keeping the railway line clear. It was not thinking of the bigger picture. It needs to and managing weeds should be dealt with along the way. If we pick on a few particular weeds and get the worst of those down, it will assist in reducing the fire hazard.
The fire issue on the railway line is a significant one. The grass grows up only too readily along an operational line. On most of the non-operational lines you cannot have stock to eat it down. It grows and come Christmas you have a fire hazard and managing it is a real challenge. I do not have all the answers. I know that a good, efficient slashing regime can assist significantly. Spraying generally makes the situation worse, not better, because whatever grass is green soon is not and then it will burn. It does stop more growing, so perhaps the quantity is reduced - but what it does then is create a beautiful seed bed for all those weeds to grow again next year. It is a no-win situation. You might get some temporary relief, but that is about it, but in fact in most cases it makes the situation worse.
I believe there is still a lot of work to do, however I am pleased and will make it very clear, Minister, that we are very pleased with the progress you are making. We would have liked it to be faster, as always, and we would very much encourage you to go further in terms of getting more use of the railway line. I know you are committed to doing that, and we really want to put on the record the Greens' support for the use of rail.
The last comment I would like to make in relation to this matter is one I will come back to tomorrow or the day after when we talk about the pulp mill. I note the Premier's comment that it is his preferred option that the railway be used to cart some of that wood supply if the pulp mill is approved and gets built. However, that is about as far as it goes. From my reading of the information in the GHD report to the IIS of Gunns, they talk about the rail options and they give some figures about them and how wonderful it would be because there would be so few log trucks on the roads it would take the pressure right off. Frankly, it is nonsense.
Even if the rail does provide wood for the mill, it seems the most likely scenario that is available is that one train from the north-west and one train from the south would arrive each day on alternating days. So one day the north-west train would be going to the pulp mill's chipping area and the next day the train from the south would go in. Even if that was happening seven days a week, we would only see about 14 per cent to 15 per cent of the wood requirements for the mill being carted by rail. Whilst that would help the rail's viability, and that would be a good thing, it would assist potentially in getting the Derwent Valley line open to Karanja and the Wiltshire line open again, and that would be fabulous, but it is not going to make a significant dent in the freight task to the pulp mill, let us be really clear about that.
I also raised the issue in relation to DIER when we had the briefings the other day and again, it was just reiterating the words of the Premier, really. Yes, rail is our preferred option but I do believe people have been rather oversold on what the benefits of rail will be as far as reducing the freight task on the roads in relation to the pulp mill. It actually will not make much difference at all. Even the wording in the IIS and the figures in the report of GHD clearly spell it out that it is not going to make a big difference.
If the pulp mill is approved and goes ahead, we will be seeing increased freight on our roads in most areas of the State, with the notable exception of the section between Brighton and Triabunna and potentially between Wiltshire and Burnie. But other than that, basically the freight task will go up quite substantially and I do not believe that rail is being maximised under those scenarios for the pulp mill. I believe they could go further, but of course in none of the plans that have been drawn or shown, or in any of the pulp mill permit conditions, is there any word regarding railway. So there is no planning that I can determine for rail to be integrated into this project, and as such, I have no confidence that it will be at this stage.
I know there is a Federal election coming up and the State Government is hopeful that they are going to throw a lot of money into rail. I know the State Government is willing to put some money in itself, but it is very much on the proviso that the Federal Government comes to the party. I am not convinced that they are going to, and even if they do - which would be a wonderful thing and I would encourage them to do so - I am not sure that the information that I have seen from the IIS documents or the ITS Global documents gives me a great deal of confidence that Gunns is taking the opportunity that arises with rail with the seriousness that it should. I would like to see the State Government encourage them to go back to the drawing board and see whether or not, with the efficient transfer of wood from road to rail, there could be substantially more wood transported by rail.
That of course also applies to any wood that might continue to be exported from the Bell Bay vicinity under the current arrangements, whereas there is no wood being carted by rail into there at the moment. I believe that there certainly could be, and I understand that in relation to carting wood into Boyer, Lloyds North apparently would be only too willing to see pine coming back down from the north of the State by rail to go into Boyer and it would be a great thing to have those trucks taken off the road and that freight to go to rail back into Boyer. Everything is there. It was done before and there is no reason why it cannot be done again. In fact, I believe the only obstacle to that happening was the lack of motive power to haul the empty wagons back up to the north of the State.
So with that, I think I will just reiterate our very strong support for what you are doing here, Minister, and if you could provide me with that information that would be much appreciated.
Mr COX (Bass - Minister for Infrastructure) - I thank members for their support of this legislation and for their contributions. I never know when we do this whether I should start with the last speaker or go back to the first and do it in the order but I do not think either of you are that fussed, so I might work my way backwards on this one.
Member for Lyons, Mr Morris, I am well aware of the support that you have personally for rail. I think I will simply note your last lot of comments. I think it is probably easier, and we do not necessarily agree on that one. Specifically with the questions that you raised, we may cross over once or twice with some of the questions the member for Bass, Mr Gutwein, asked.
You talked about weed management. The vegetation plan and the weed control is something that I think we could almost call the TFGA clause - it is something they support which suits their needs. In fact, it was changed to suit their needs and following consultation with them, it requires the rail infrastructure manager to prepare and implement a vegetation management plan and is required to have regard, among other requirements, to the Weed Management Act of 1999. So we can be very specific about this.
We have released a tender for weed spraying and vegetation control on non-operational lines, which also comes into something else that you asked. The initial approach is to create a path along the rail tracks as well as keeping the drains clear, and the reason this has been done is to enable a more accurate assessment of what actually needs to be undertaken to maintain those parts of the network. In other words, once we clear that up there is other work that needs to be done and then we can have a look at that.
The 200 km of unused lines are maintained by the State, and the total cost of that maintenance obviously is dependent on their condition at that time.
The member for Lyons, Mr Morris, touched on engines and I am trying to get some advice on this, but my understanding is that Pacific National are upgrading their rolling stock and are bringing in new engines next year. I am not sure of that. I think they were considering looking at upgrading what they have, or bringing in different engines.
Mr Morris - Yes, I think that's right.
Mr COX - I believe that these engines they are looking at will be far more efficient than the ones they currently have, and whilst they certainly will not run on gas I understand they will be a better product and more efficient than what they have, will cost a lot less in maintenance and time spent in dragging them out the back and trying to patch them up - not to put too fine a point on it.
Mr Morris touched on the support for tourist rail. He would be aware, and let me put on the record again, that the open access regime is being put in place. That will allow accredited rail operators to have non-discriminatory access to the network. This access scheme will be managed and operated under contract by the current network operator and intended rail infrastructure manager, Pacific National Tasmania. They are - and this is the important part for Mr Morris and the railways - obliged to provide access within the parameters set by the Tasmanian Government. We have never moved away from that. However, you are right, it has all taken a little bit longer than we would have hoped. There is $400 000 for a study into light rail; again, I am well aware of your thoughts on that matter.
I do not think anyone would disagree with your comment about the value of rail. The purpose of this whole thing is to get freight off the roads and onto rail. We would certainly be hopeful that Pacific National can come to commercial arrangements with a lot of businesses so that a lot more freight can go by rail. I know that would be their wish also.
Mr Morris also talked about the state of rail on Hobart's wharves. Part of that rail, according to TasPorts, is owned by them. It is just a little bit off to one side. It is only very small. The track on Evans Street is not part of the deal. The rail-tram lines are decommissioned; they were the ones we are talking about - in front of Henry Jones Building. The rest of them are part of the Tasrail network. So if you are looking at it, a line runs in there to the right. That is TasPort's, or they say they own that. What you are looking directly at is Tasrail's network. The track on Evans Street is not part of the deal because the rail-tram lines are decommissioned. That is about as detailed an answer as I can give you on that.
I would never want to pre-empt things, Mr Morris, but we were talking about this the other day and I suggested that, in light of other discussions that you and I have had, we needed to find out whether we could get the management and maintenance deed made available for you. I am very happy that I can table it. I have it ready for you.
Mr Morris - Fantastic.
Mr COX - There you go. Also, if you would like a briefing then that has been offered to you so you have a full understanding of what is in place.
Mr Gutwein - Hang on, do not go too far.
Mr COX - This is my interest too, you know. Sometimes it is easier, Mr Gutwein. I am not too sure whether Mr Whiteley deserved the accolades you gave him. I know he did a bit of work but -
Mr Gutwein - Credit where credit is due.
Mr COX - The first couple of accolades were all right, but then you kept on with it. I thought, 'This has gone on a bit'.
It is interesting to note that there was, from the beginning, though we went about it in different ways, basic agreement in the process from both sides. That has finally come to fruition. I accept at this point in time that we are not too far apart. Yes, there was a lot of consultation. The TFGA were terrific - brilliant.
There were two specific questions that Mr Gutwein had. One concerned dispute resolution and accountability. How do we ensure that Pacific National does the right thing? That is what you are asking?
Mr Gutwein - Yes.
Mr COX - A significant part of the responsibility of the rail management unit - RMU - in DIER is to monitor the performance of PNT to ensure that it does meet its obligations. That is under both the legislation and the contract the Crown has with PNT - the rail management and maintenance deed. Maintenance works are undertaken by PN against agreed maintenance programs and budgets and must conform to the relevant quality standards. The RMU has contract supervisors; they are field-based and they undertake inspections and valuations of the work that PN has done. In other words, not to put too fine a point on it, you check up on them.
Mr Gutwein - So what leverage, then, can be brought to bear?
Mr COX - In addition, PNT is required to meet a range of mandatory reporting obligations on various aspects of their operations. The rail management and maintenance deed contains provisions relating to defaults by PNT as well as a disputes-resolution mechanism.
Mr Gutwein - That is in the deed?
Mr COX - Yes. I think that covers everything you asked. The final part is that PNT gets paid to maintain the track. If they do not, then it is a very simple system - they do not get paid. It is a great incentive. If you do the job, we pay you.
Mr Gutwein - Minister, that explains it, without having the benefit of the deed.
Mr COX - Yes, I am very keen to give you as much information on this as we can. I think that answers what you were after.
Mr Gutwein - It does.
Mr COX - The other question you specifically asked concerns what has happened since the memorandum of understanding. How long do we have? It was a fairly torrid start - and I am very mindful that this is a record of events. You would be aware that Pacific National had some boardroom interests of their own going on at that time. It would be fair to say that it went on a little bit longer than we would have anticipated, to the point where on three occasions we went to Sydney. I think I went twice and the others went once, purely and simply to try to put this thing together. We would get to the point where we believed we had an agreement but, without specifically saying anyone was wrong or right, there were points of disagreement in the contracts and we went back and started again. It was not just an overnight process. It went on for months and was very difficult but we got there.
The deed was signed on 22 December 2006. I think this one - and you were not ready for this - came through on 1 January 2007. I think you might have popped out a press release. We were very happy to go back and say, 'We have done it'. It was signed on 22 December and we got it under way officially on 1 January 2007.
The member specifically asked about money. As at 30 June, approximately $1.2 million had been spent on maintenance of the rail infrastructure under the deed. This includes expenditure on re-sleepering, ballast, signals maintenance, track, and bridge inspections. Capital works spent $1.6 million on the purchase of sleepers. The contract to install the sleepers is to be let for $1.3 million. We have spent approximately $1 million on condition assessments of the rail track. There is a machine that looks and detects what is bad or not bad or really bad. There has been an order placed for $9.8 million worth of sleepers and the delivery of those is due in September 2007. The contract to install the sleepers and for other activities is to be let for approximately $12 million to $16 million. Maybe we should be in the business of laying sleepers.
Mr Llewellyn - Steel, concrete or wood?
Mr COX - Either or both, and sealed. We have ordered $1.2 million worth of rail track - and that is steel - which will cover about 15.6 kilometres. Delivery of that is due in October/November 2007. A total of $26 million to $30 million is estimated to be spent in the next 12 months, including the installation of the above materials. The actual expenditure as of August this year is $6.626 million.
I think I have covered the questions that both members raised. I thank members for their contribution and I thank the advisers for the good work they have done.
Bill read the second time and taken through the remaining stages.