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BALLINA Greens MP Tamara Smith has reversed years of Greens resistance to rail trails over fears they threatened the future of public transport by roundly endorsing in Parliament what is set to be the state's first ever rail trail.
Ms Smith even sensationally pledged to not stand at the next state election, unless she saw an end to the "ridiculous scenario where The Greens do not support cycle tourism".
"We will not go back to the bad old days of pitting rail trails against public transport," she said.
The speech came while the Lower House was debating the Transport Administration Amendment Bill 2017 to allow the closure of a railway line between Rosewood and Tumbarumba near Wagga Wagga.
If the bill passes, it will pave the way for the construction of a 22km publicly-owned rail trail between the two towns.
The bill is also seen as crucial pilot legislation which could be duplicated for other rail trails around the state, such as the proposed Northern Rivers Rail Trail between Casino to Murwillumbah.
It appears Ms Smith recently experienced a personal 'road to Damascus' moment on a visit to two successful rail trails in New Zealand, the Queenstown Cycle Trail and the Otago Central Rail Trail.
She said despite initial concerns by local farmers they now embraced the Otago trail and were seeing real economic benefits from it.
"A beef farmer and his family... now are making more money from cycle tourism than they make from their beef," she told Parliament.
"All the businesses in the little towns along the Otago Central Rail Trail have come back to life."
She said the public trust model adopted by the Otago trail was "very sound" for for Rosewood to Tumbarumba and ultimately the Northern Rivers.
"I support the Tumbarumba Rail Trail and my Greens colleagues in the Legislative Council have looked at the bill and consider that this rail trail will benefit the region," she said.
She said she was confident that the legislation would pass with only "minor amendments" to ensure the corridor remained in public hands and couldn't be sold off.
It "must be explicitly stated in this bill that the land cannot be sold to private enterprise," she said.
"The Greens' position on rail trails is that given the high level of protection for rail corridors in the Act, we will not support the Minister having blanket power to close rail lines and declare rail trails unilaterally.
"The Greens are confident that by stating that explicitly in the legislation the bill will pass and this rail trail will be a guiding light for cycle tourism in Australia.
"We are watching very carefully what is happening in Tumbarumba because this is the way forward."
This article first appeared on www.northernstar.com.au
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