Helen Haines MP says Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack’s visit to Indi on March 19 is a golden opportunity to address serious failings of the Better Rail project.
The Independent Member for Indi said that after months of lobbying, she had secured the Deputy Prime Minister’s visit in order to raise serious community concerns about the progress of the project in Wangaratta, Glenrowan, Benalla, and Euroa.
The $15.4 billion project involves significant infrastructure upgrades along the North East line.
It’s being administered by the government-owned Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), for which the Deputy Prime Minister is directly responsible.
“Better Rail is the Deputy Prime Minister’s pet project – and right now it is not working for our local communities,” Dr Haines said.
“The failings of the ARTC in consulting with our communities, and our legitimate concerns around connectivity, heritage, small business activity and accessibility – these are all issues that the Deputy Prime Minister has the power to address, if he chooses to do so.”
In December, last year, the government allocated an additional $5.5 billion to the ARTC as part of the Better Rail project, but Dr Haines said that none of that funding appears to be earmarked for Indi.
“When I asked the Deputy Prime Minister in Parliament how much of this extra $5.5 billion will be spent on increasing the budget to deliver good outcomes in Indi, he refused to answer,” she said.
“Well, I hope he will be upfront with our communities about this on Friday.”
Dr Haines said she had also written to ARTC chief executive Mark Campbell outlining local concerns and issuing a set of requests to help improve community relations and secure strong local outcomes.
“I asked the ARTC to publish their budgets for our local upgrades, engage properly on design plans, be transparent about their community engagement and open their working groups to the public,” she said.
“I sincerely hope that the Deputy Prime Minister and the CEO listen to our communities.
“The Deputy Prime Minister and I are on a unity ticket that Better Rail should be a positive contribution to our region, and so I consider it my obligation as the local representative to outline what we believe must be done in order to achieve that shared vision”.