PATIENCE is wearing thin for Wheatbelt farmers waiting to hear the outcome of a business case for the potential reinstatement of some or all of the State's Tier 3 grain rail lines, with it 14 months since it was first announced by the State government.
Raising the issue in parliament last week, Liberal South West Region MLC Steve Thomas said it was ridiculous the business case had not been finished and that the lengthy period of time suggested that the State government wasn't taking it seriously.
"The answer I received from the Transport Minister was that the business case is still being written - not that it's been written and we are now assessing it as a government - that would have been a more reasonable answer," Mr Thomas said.
"I suspect that the preliminaries weren't the way they were wanting them to look, so they have lost interest and are walking away from their commitment, or they are just utterly incompetent in terms of getting a business case done.
"Whichever it is out of those two, neither is good for the government or gives any confidence to the community."
With a Federal election due by May next year, Mr Thomas said time was of the essence, as both sides of government would be committing funding to various infrastructure projects.
Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said the Stage 1 Problem Identification Agricultural Supply Chain Improvement (ASCI) Business Case was submitted to Infrastructure Australia (IA) in late 2020 and added to the Infrastructure Priority List in February 2021.
"IA requested a Stage 2 Options Assessment ASCI Business Case be developed and this is expected to be completed in the first half of 2022," Ms Saffioti said.
"The Transport Portfolio, including the Department of Transport, Public Transport Authority and Main Roads WA, is jointly finalising a list of freight infrastructure projects for the $200 million ASCI package 1, which will be approved by the State and Commonwealth government.
"This package includes our $22m commitment to upgrade four rail sidings at Moora, Brookton, Broomehill, and Cranbrook.
"The rest of the package will cover a range of freight infrastructure projects, with a view to complement existing investment programs, including the $187.5m Wheatbelt Secondary Freight Network program."
With electoral boundaries within the Wheatbelt region redrawn so that the Tier 3 grain rail lines sit within the Federal seat of O'Connor, Australian Rail, Tram and Bus Industry Union, Western Australian branch secretary Craig McKinley said this could be used to the project's advantage.
"It puts considerable electoral emphasis in the Federal election on the seat of O'Connor, so that will add some political weight to this money," Mr McKinley said.
"The State government needs to take ownership of this money and do something before the Federal election for the seat of O'Connor, bearing in mind that $200m has already landed.
"If the State government languishes, no doubt the Federal government will make an announcement and steal their thunder."
After about a year and a half of the possibility of reopening the Tier 3 grain rail lines, Mr McKinley agreed that Wheatbelt farmers were getting weary of how long the business case was taking.
"I know the government has their processes, but it actually puts the State government in a more difficult position to say no now that they have stretched it out for 18 months," Mr McKinley said.
"With the Federal election bearing down on us, the State government will want to start nailing this money down."
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