May 10, 2017

Trails the way ahead for our region

10 May 2017

2nd Reading Speech: debate on the Transport Administration Amendment (Closure of Railway Line Between Rosewood and Tumbarumba) Bill 2017

We are very confident that with minor amendments in the other place this bill will be passed. We are very excited about and supportive of the Tumbarumba Rail Trial and the work that has been done by the member for Albury. I am very keen to talk to the member about future rail trails and cycle tourism in my electorate. The big issue is that the rail trail stays in public hands. I am delighted that the Minister has said in his second reading speech and to me personally that that is the intent of the legislation. The Greens are confident that by stating that explicitly in the legislation the bill will pass and this rail trail will be a guiding light for cycle tourism in Australia.

Six weeks ago I had the good fortune to visit the Queenstown Cycle Trail and the Otago Central Rail Trail in New Zealand. I do not share the same concerns as the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party about farming. Obviously, each case must be dealt with separately. In the Central Otago area, farmers embraced the rail trail. They were not supportive of the trail in the beginning and it took some time for them to see the economic benefits. A beef farmer and his family—I cannot remember his name—now are making more money from cycle tourism than they make from their beef. The model that the Otago Central Rail Trail Trust followed is one that I believe is very sound for Rosewood to Tumbarumba and for my region.

The issue is and always has been the transport. No matter how many times Ministers say the train is never coming back, people are very concerned about public transport. They say that we do not know what disruptions will occur in the future. Politicians have not been good at predicting disruptors. Kay Parker, the architect of the Queenstown trails, suggested that we ensure the project stays in public hands in perpetuity and is not caught up with a privatised model.

A trail in New Zealand which has followed a different path has not been successful. When people use a rail trail, as I have, they want to start with a naked map. They want to know whether they can camp or stay in five‑star accommodation in order to plan their cycle trip. Under a privatised model, people are locked in. It is like going to an island that is run by one family. People instinctively do not like it. It is not good business and it is undemocratic because they are using public spaces. I support the Tumbarumba Rail Trail and my Greens colleagues in the Legislative Council have looked at the bill and consider that this rail trail will benefit the region.

I understand that the Minister is mimicking other legislation in this space but it must be explicitly stated in this bill that the land cannot be sold to private enterprise. In 2015, funding was approved for the building of a pilot rail trail. As the member for Albury said, this has been going on for a very long time and a lot of work has gone into it. The Greens' position on rail trails is that given the high level of protection for rail corridors in the Act, we will not support the Minister having blanket power to close rail lines and declare rail trails unilaterally. We will consider each rail trail on a case-by-case basis to ensure it has public support and does not compromise future public transport and freight needs.

When I was cycling near Otago, I went through old rail tunnels which created an amazing atmosphere. Members of the trust told me that they were very disappointed that the tracks at Tumbarumba had been ripped up because they would have provided that heritage flavour. The corridor was wide enough for cyclists to cycle alongside the track. That is an interesting idea to overcome fears around losing the space for future transport needs. I commend the Minister for making it explicit in his briefing that the rail corridor will remain government property. The vesting arrangements will ensure that the corridor can be transferred back to government at no cost in the unlikely event that it is required for future freight or passenger rail services.

I am excited. I will not go to the next election—if I am pre-selected—with this ridiculous scenario where The Greens do not support cycle tourism. Of course we support cycle tourism. We will not go back to the bad old days of pitting rail trails against public transport. We are watching very carefully what is happening in Tumbarumba because this is the way forward. On the North Coast, we need extra assurances that the Government will follow the public trust model. The Prime Minister of New Zealand put $4.5 million on the table for architect Kay Parker to build the Queenstown trails. Although it was a different model—there was no rail corridor—she negotiated more than 200 easements with property owners around Queenstown without spending a penny.

The member for Albury may be interested to know that Ms Parker suggested that at the infrastructure phase the trust must not have any commercial vested interest and must be representative of the community so that it can concentrate on quality. It can establish that heritage signage will be placed at reasonable distances so that people are not bombarded with signs. In this way, the project does not become a Gold Coast scenario where people are directed to jump off here and have a spa and a glass of wine. I noticed in Queenstown and Otago that the project was tastefully done. All the businesses in the little towns along the Otago Central Rail Trail have come back to life. It is so important that at the infrastructure phase the project is not loaded with commercial pressures. Once the infrastructure is in place, the businesses will pop up. I was told that in the beginning there were five or six cycle companies operating on the Queenstown trails but that the market sorted it out and within the first 12 months that reduced to three. The Greens believe that this trail is an exciting project but we want it in writing that it is not paving the way for the privatisation of public spaces.

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