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IT'S the game of political football that is driving farmers mad.
In the aftermath of this week's Federal Budget, the blame game between the state and federal governments over who is causing the delays to the $440 million Murray Basin Rail Project sunk to a new low.
There was no federal money for the nation-building, five-stage project – which stalled in June last year – allocated in Treasurer Josh Frydenberg's Budget on Tuesday night.
Asked for an explanation on why it was overlooked, Member for Mallee Anne Webster pointed the finger at the Andrews Government for holding up the project, which would see the standardisation of hundreds of kilometres of tracks, from the Manangatang line to the Port of Melbourne, bringing freight services into the 21st century and paving the way for passenger rail.
"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 on Wednesday morning.
"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 later in the day, 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 project, which was originally meant to be completed in late 2018.
"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."
But Dr Webster said Ms Allan had gone off the rails in where the plan was at.
"What Jacinta Allan should have done months ago was to provide the stakeholders with the opportunity to give feedback on it," she said. "If the State Government can't come up with a business case that meets the needs of stakeholders, what is the point of it?"
Meanwhile, as the political argy-bargy derails the project, the Mallee's farmers are left fuming as they prepare for a bumper 2021 harvest.
The Victorian Farmers' Federation grains group president, Ashley Fraser, told the Daily that "we were hoping 70 per cent of the grains harvest would be on rail in 2021, but that will be below 40 per cent now because of these delays".
"We believe the State's business case is still tied up in Cabinet-in-confidence, so it's really frustrating," Mr Fraser said.
"(The rail improvements) would take the pressure off roads in north-west Victoria, because of the extra trucks required to take the harvest to the Port of Melbourne.
"It's hard not to be cynical, but it just looks like the Andrews Government doesn't want to spend any money on any meaningful projects in regional Victoria."
Member for Mildura Ali Cupper said it was "extremely disappointing" that the rail project had been overlooked for federal funding this week.
"The time for politics is over," she said. "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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