Farmers back call for independent inquiry into $10b project
THE Millmerran Rail Group has backed calls from the NSW Farmers Association for an independent inquiry into the controversial $10 billion Inland Rail project.
MRG chair Wes Judd said his group would "back that to the hilt".
"There should be (an inquiry). There's such mistrust about (Inland Rail) now and there's so much different information out there, it's difficult to tell what's fact and what's not," he said.
Mr Judd said an inquiry would be the "only way" to get to the bottom of the matter and "find out about what decisions have been made and why they've been made".
The calls come after Senator Barry O'Sullivan took Australian Rail Track Corporation CEO and managing director John Fullerton to task over the organisation's dealings with farmers in Senate Estimates earlier this week.
Senator O'Sullivan queried why ARTC had asked the Millmerran Rail Group's hydrologist Sharmil Markar to sign "a confidentiality agreement about his dealings with (ARTC)".
"Can you think about why someone representing affected landowners, who's an expert in the field of hydrology - and this is about water and water levels - would, in dealing with your people, have to sign a confidentiality agreement so he couldn't go back and advise his client base, the affected farmers on the Condamine floodplains, as to what the impacts were?" Senator O'Sullivan asked CEO and managing director of Australian Rail Track Corporation John Fullerton during the estimates hearing.
"That would be counterproductive, would it not, to a transparent process, Mr Fullerton?"
Mr Fullerton said he would have to take the question on notice to understand the context of the situation.
An ARTC spokesman yesterday said all hydrological information that has been requested has been supplied by ARTC, including all results of the flood modelling.
"The non-disclosure agreement is to protect the intellectual property of the hydrology model, which does not place any limits on the consulting hydrologists' ability to independently review the data and release his findings," the spokesman aid.
"ARTC will continue to supply information as these requests come in."
Landowners along the proposed 12.5km Inland Rail crossing of the Condamine floodplain have long been opposed to the plan, on the basis that it could effectively become a large dam in the event of a major flood.
Expedited preliminary designs for the Condamine floodplain crossing now include roughly 6.5km of viaduct bridges.
Yesterday, Mr Judd said the MRG wanted more information on how ARTC was "going to deal with the hydrology issues in relation to the design of the floodplain crossing, so that we could get some independent hydrological advice totally outside ARTC to say, well, this is adequate or this is not".
"It's as simple as that," he said.
"And they're prepared to share some material which I'm not privy to with Sharmil but he said to me, personally, (the confidentiality agreement) is a restriction on what he can do and what he can do with it.
"So we took it up with the minister when he was here and he's undertaken to see what the issue was and come back to us."
Mr Judd said every time the MRG pushed for information, "(ARTC) find some reason and excuse not to be able to share information".
"We said in the very beginning, if the project can't withstand some scrutiny and some peer review and some expert assessment, then what's the problem with it? That's it in a nutshell."
Senate Estimates also heard from Mr Fullerton that "the consultation with those farmers (on the floodplain) is going along well as we still explain the design".
But that was called into question by Senator O'Sullivan, who said: "I rang the chair of that group (Mr Judd) - they meet twice a week - and I asked him whether we have closed the gap from where he and his members were unhappy. He told me that they're probably twice as unhappy now as they were when this route was first put forward."
Senator O'Sullivan also said he had information from the MRG indicating that flood levels in 1976, 2010, 2011 and 2013 were at levels higher than the 1-in-100 flood levels ARTC was using for their planning.
Speaking to Mr Fullerton, Senator O'Sullivan said he was going to devote "the largest part of the balance of my time in this parliament to monitoring this, and I want you to consider getting whoever to come with me down there, and we're going to sit together in a big mob, smoke a big pipe, and have a look at your modelling and a look at their evidence, so that I can be guided by what the truth of the matter is, right?"
"We're more than happy to do that," Mr Fullerton said.