My matter is for the Minister for Transport Infrastructure, and it is about the prospect of restoring the Shepparton to Dookie rail line in Northern Victoria.
Sadly, this issue has been a sore point for local people (especially in our agricultural sector) for around 14 years now. That is because there has been no official service on the line since 2007, at which time all activity on it was suspended because of a severe drought and accompanying track deterioration.
I should acknowledge that I am not the first Member of Parliament to raise this issue – as the MLA for Shepparton, Ms Sheed, also did so in a constituency question in 2015. That question was met with the response that the Government was liaising with GrainCorp on the possibility of re-opening the line as part of a broader statewide process of considering rail upgrades. However, the line ultimately wasn’t re-opened and, publicly, there has been barely any statement by someone in authority about the matter since.
That lack of progress in 2015 was obviously disappointing, especially amid calls for action at the time from the likes of GrainCorp, the Dookie rail group, and the Rail Freight Alliance.
However, it has been even harder to comprehend subsequently in the midst of some huge grain hauls in recent years – including the current season, during which GrainCorp has received a record 135,000 tonnes of grain. Across various other areas of the State, these quantities of grain have been moving faster and far more efficiently by rail. By contrast, from Dookie, they are typically being transported by trucks in a process that often spans several hours and is frequently compromised by traffic congestion on local roads. As local grain grower, Steve Ludeman, told the Stock & Land recently: “95 per cent of growers would be keen to get (this) fixed”.
For my part, I would also point out that rail line upgrades in regional and rural Victoria generally deliver many other benefits, too – including lowering the numbers of truck trips on our roads, thereby reducing road congestion and trauma (and maintenance requirements), as well as significantly reducing carbon emissions.
Set against this background, the action I seek is clarification of the Government’s current position on the Dookie rail line’s restoration. I request this clarification in view of the significant potential benefits that its restoration could deliver to many people and organisations, not only in the agricultural sector and not only in and around Shepparton and Dookie but also across Victoria more widely.