Labor MP Alannah MacTiernan wants the Western Australian Government to honour its election promise and keep the Tier 3 rail lines open.
Prior to the recent state election Premier Colin Barnett said Tier 3 lines would remain open until October 2013 and he’d then determine with CBH, growers and Brookfield Rail which of those lines are viable into the future.
“We’ll put money into lines with permanent viability," Mr Barnett said.
“Everyone likes to see more grain travel by rail rather than road but that also requires that farmers actually use the rail system.”
Tier 3 are the lines that move grain from upcountry receival sites to the main lines and then into port.
The State's rail lines are owned by the Government and have been leased by Brookfield Rail for a period of 50 years, with the CBH group the sole user of many of those lines.
Alannah MacTiernan was the State Transport minister responsible for the rail network from 2001 to 2008.
She says the Labor party had very little room to move given the way the contract was written by the previous Government, when it was privatised.
It was established that the Tier 3 lines needed an injection of capital to get them operational.
Ms MacTiernan negotiated to get money from Federal Government, which delivered on $135 million.
She says the State Government hasn't been prepared to invest in the Tier 3 lines.
At most she says it has put $10 million into rail, with other funds directed to upgrading roads.
“It has to be quite clearly a partnership. Under the plan that we developed to ensure that the rail network remained functional we identified that in order to do the upgrades that were needed to keep the entire system operational there needed to be funding from the Commonwealth, funding from the State and funding from industry.
“A third, a third, a third is basically the philosophy we embraced.
“There has not, it would appear, certainly not been any contribution into the rail network from the State Government.”
Alannah MacTiernan also wants clarification from the State Government on whether the contract between it and Brookfield has changed.
In the original contract, she says if a lessee didn't want to continue operating the lines then it had to surrender them and the Government could make them available to a third party.
She's calling for full disclosure of all documentation of contracts involving Government assets.
“I’m also very concerned with the suggestion that seems to be made that somehow the new owners of the network can in fact decide not to operate on these Tier 3 lines but in some way act as a dog in the manger and not allow those lines to be made available to another operator.
“We didn’t negotiate the contracts in 2000, but I do know that when I was minister there were definitely clauses in that contract that required that if the company did not wish to continue to operate those lines then they had to surrender them to the State Government.
“I think the whole principal of this contract being kept confidential and having these confidentiality clauses written into it is completely and utterly unacceptable.”
Representatives from Brookfield Rail weren’t prepared to be interviewed by the ABC but CEO Paul Larsen provided a statement.
"It would be inappropriate for Brookfield rail to comment on statements about the Tier 3 lines while the company is in confidential commercial negotiations with the CBH group,” he said.
Transport Minister Troy Buswell was also unavailable for comment but provided the following in a statement.
“It is inappropriate for the State Government to comment on ongoing commercial-in-confidence negotiations on operational usage of rail lines between CBH and Brookfield Rail. However, it is our expectation that both parties continue these discussions.
“The Miling to Toodyay West line is still operating and statements saying a decision has been made to close the line or to cease operations is incorrect.
“Since coming to Government the Liberal-National Government has invested significantly in the tier 1 and 2 lines. In November 2010 Cabinet approved a $187.9 million package of rail track improvements including extensive re-sleepering to the Tier 1 and 2 lines.
“The $187.9million approved by Cabinet is being spent in accordance with the recommendations of the Strategic Grain Network Committee Report.
“The State Government, together with the Commonwealth, has committed $352 million over four years to upgrade road and rail infrastructure across the wheatbelt. This is an unprecedented investment and will help deliver a safer grain freight network to the region.
“As part of this commitment, $118 million has been invested in upgrading roads used to transport grain. About 80 per cent of these works have been delivered and work is continuing.
“The terms and conditions of the Lease agreement between Brookfield Rail and the State Government are confidential.”