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With Australia's freight demand expected to soar over the next decade, a country town in New South Wales is mounting a push to become the new national freight and transport hub.
In the food bowl in the state's central-west, Parkes is trying to leverage its geographical position to help meet the growing national freight demands.
Parkes Shire Council has set aside hundreds of hectares on the town's outskirts for major freight and logistics companies.
Despite being about 400 kilometres inland, more than 80 per cent of Australia's population can be reached by road in less than 12 hours from Parkes.
Council general manager Kent Boyd said the town was well-positioned to help meet the country's growing freight needs, particularly with the prospect of the planned Brisbane to Melbourne Inland Rail route set to pass through the region.
"Regionally there is certainly a lot of freight, and certainly the central-west was identified in the Infrastructure Australia plan as having something like $17.4 billion worth of regional product," Mr Boyd said.
"So in its own right we need to transport that out efficiently, but at a national level because we are the first point from Sydney where you can double stack.
"You can go to Perth, you can go to Melbourne, you can go to Brisbane. It seems a logical place where transhipment, intermodal sort of operations can be done efficiently and effectively."
Need for improving national productivityMr Boyd said Australia's future competitiveness relied on the so-called Parkes National Logistics Hub.
"At a national level, we need to be aware that we are actually competing with the world now," he said.
"One of our growers described it to me recently, their grain price is set by the lowest price in world.
"Now that means we're competing with the likes of very large countries such as China and India, that are rapidly putting very good infrastructure.
"Their growing techniques are improving, their labour costs are very low.
"If we don't have a system which is competitive with theirs, we fall behind, so this infrastructure is critical to the productivity and the future of the nation."
It is hoped the freight hub will have some positive spin-offs locally as well, with the region's unemployment rate sitting at 2 per cent above the national average — a fact local farmer Colin Woods is well aware of.
"I've got eight grandkids and I think there's one of them that's got a job locally. They all had to go away and get jobs," Mr Woods said.
Some frustration with pace of Inland Rail plansAs the $10 billion Inland Rail project gathers steam, some national freight carriers have already relocated to Parkes.
But Mr Woods said he was frustrated with delays in the project.
"It's something that's been talked about for the last 30 if not 40 years," he said.
"But it does seems as though they're going to do something about it anyway.
"They've done a lot of talking about it and surely if they talk a lot, something must happen in the end, but I don't know whether I'll be around to see it just the same."
Australia's freight task to dramatically rise by 2030The Federal Government committed $594 million to the Inland Rail project in the last budget.
Small Business Minister Michael McCormack, who is also the local MP, said it was up to Treasurer Scott Morrison to decide whether there would be more money for it in the upcoming budget.
But he said the idea of a brand new Inland Rail route, feeding into a national freight hub based at Parkes, was not pie-in-the-sky thinking.
"Between 2010 and 2030 Australia's domestic freight task is expected to grow by 80 per cent so that's huge," Mr McCormack said.
"[Parkes Shire Council] has got a vision for where they want to be in 10, 20, 50 years' time. The Government has that vision too.
"We're forward thinking, we are looking ahead to the future and that is why we have a $50 billion infrastructure program.
"That is why we are investing, particularly in the regions and trying to make the point that it's not all about Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane."
Mr Boyd said despite the slow pace, he was confident Inland Rail was building momentum.
"Both sides of politics have been pretty positive about it. Farmers certainly are supporting it, local government's behind it, superannuation funds are now really starting to look at it, interest rates are low," he said.
"It's hard to understand what the hold up is and we're very confident that it will proceed."
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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