EVERALD COMPTON RELATES HIS LONG AND PAINFUL JOURNEY
Soon after John Howard became Prime Minister of Australia in 1996, I met him at Parliament in Canberra to outline my plan to build an Inland Railway.
He agreed that it was a visionary project well worth a try and he gave me the green light to open negotiations with appropriate Ministers in his Cabinet.
I mentioned to him that there was a political downside for his Government. No matter what corridor we chose for the railway, many people would be hurt as we resumed properties & demolished homes as inevitably happens with every infrastructure project anywhere in the world.
We agreed that we must always work on the principle that every effort would be made to avoid unnecessary hardship and that compensation for property and loss of income would be generous.
Sadly, those who have followed him have not adhered to this principle.
However, there have also been selfish attitudes among property owners.
I addressed more than 50 public meetings in rural communities between Melbourne and Darwin in 1996 and 1997. Crowds were so large that there was standing room only. Enthusiasm for the Railway was huge, far greater than anything I have experienced before or since.
Nevertheless, at the end of every meeting, some people would chat with me and say ‘Everald, this project is magnificent, absolutely essential for the future of the Inland, but can you give me an assurance that it won’t go through my property?’
My answer was always NO. But, this attitude of self-preservation has not changed to this day.
Unfortunately, for me, I am no longer involved in the Inland Railway. When the Federal Government decided to proceed with the Melbourne to Brisbane section of it, they dispensed with me without making contact to acknowledge that I had spent over two decades of my life strenuously advocating it. They offered no financial compensation for my work. And not one word of thanks.
So, for those of you out there who are angry with the way that you and your property are being treated at this moment, spare a thought for me. I reckon that I am at the top of the list of the aggrieved.
Now to the current situation.
In my original plan, which I still promote from the sidelines, the railway did not go to Brisbane. It went from Melbourne via Parkes and Goondiwindi to Toowoomba which was planned to become the major freight centre for all of South East Queensland.
The railway would then take an Inland route to the Port of Gladstone which would become Eastern Australia’s major port for rural exports. From there it would then go on to Emerald and across country to Darwin via Cloncurry.
Let us now be indelibly clear on one crucial factor.
This railway will never ever go to Brisbane.
The cost of traversing three ranges and finding a pathway to the Port of Brisbane through densely populated suburbs is financially outrageous and social unacceptable. If it is persevered with, there will be blood in the streets.
Having said this, I openly acknowledge that in building the railway from Melbourne to Toowoomba, there are many property owners who will be hurt unless their situation is handled sensibly and honestly on both sides.
Unfortunately, the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), whom the Federal Government commissioned to build the Inland Railway without a competitive tendering process, has been extraordinarily and unnecessarily callous and unreasonable in dealing with property owners in the path of the railway and deserves public censure.
When I was Chairman of the Surat Basin Railway, I negotiated corridor purchase agreements with 120 landowners located between Wandoan and Banana where the missing link of the proposed Gladstone Railway would be built. Because we sat down with each one and discussed the impact on them, and being willing to move the corridor reasonably so as to minimise their inconvenience, we signed up every one of them. Not one dissenting voice.
Then, the Newman Government in Queensland dismissed us without compensation because they found a Chinese Rail Company that offered to pay them for the right to build and own the track. Subsequently, the China guys disappeared without trace. So did Newman. The project died.
This tells us that our governments in Australia, no matter what their political colour, have been in steady decline since the grand pioneering days of Federation in 1901.
On several occasions in recent years, after receiving many tragic phone calls from good rural citizens, I offered my services to the Federal Government to be appointed to negotiate with landowners between Melbourne and Toowoomba in the same manner as I did in the Surat Basin.
My offers have been ignored without an answer.
So, ARTC continues to destroy the lives of people in their pathway and Inland Australia suffers from unfulfilled prosperity.
The trauma has been utterly unnecessary.
23 May, 2020