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THE $440 million Murray Basin Rail Project was a glaring omission from the Federal Budget on Tuesday night.
The nation-building project – which has been on hold since June last year – is being delayed as the state and federal government engage in a war of words over how, and when it would be funded.
"There's no money in the Budget at this point in time, and the reason for it is that the Victorian Government is sitting on a business case that they haven't sent to stakeholders for their feedback," Dr Webster said.
"The Federal Government is not going to throw good money after bad unless there is clear evidence from stakeholders that they have had the opportunity for input to the business case."
However, Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan hit back on Wednesday afternoon, saying the State's revised business case was "sent to the Commonwealth in May".
Ms Allan said the plan recommended further federal investment in the five-stage rail project, which would see the standardisation of hundreds of kilometres of tracks, from the Manangatang line to the Port of Melbourne, thus improving the speed and quality of freight services.
"After months of extensive discussion with the Commonwealth, we expected to see this project delivered last night," Ms Allan said.
"It's crucial that works begin ahead of the 2021 grain season to give the certainty Victorian farmers deserve."
The Victorian Farmers' Federation grains group president, Ashley Fraser, said farmers were fed up with the delays.
"We're very disappointed there was no money in last night's Budget," he said. "We believe the State's business case is still tied up in Cabinet-in-confidence, so it's really frustrating.
"We're heading for such a great harvest this year. We were hoping 70 per cent of the grains harvest would be on rail in 2021, but that looks like being below 40 per cent now because of these delays.
"It would have also taken the pressure off roads in north-west Victoria, because of the extra trucks required to take the harvest to the Port of Melbourne."
While Mildura Rural City Council received $3.2 million for shovel-ready projects and funding was allocated to fix some of the whopping 520 mobile black spots in the Mallee, Member for Mildura Ali Cupper said it was "extremely disappointing" that the rail project had been overlooked for federal funding.
"It is so frustrating to see rail projects in Shepparton, Warrnambool and Geelong all receive major funding allocations in the Federal Budget, but there's nothing for the Murray Basin Rail Project," Ms Cupper said.
"There will be a lot of finger-pointing about this issue, but the time for politics is over.
"We need the big parties to step up and get this project funded and completed in full. Who ultimately funds it is irrelevant, just get it done."
This article first appeared on www.sunraysiadaily.com.au
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