ARTC to be sold

 
Topic moved from News by bevans on 11 May 2015 09:37
  Sulla1 Chief Commissioner

The ARTC makes a profit and earns far more revenue than its maintenance costs...

The 2014 report shows access revenue of $716.4-million. Total maintenance expenditure was $286-million ($158-million was spent in the Hunter region alone). Total debts were $916.3-million and an after tax profit of $163.6-million was made.

In 2013 access revenue was $660.3-million.Total debts were $1.081-billion and there was an after tax profit of $202-million.

The ARTC clearly makes enough money from access charges to operate safeworking, maintain and service the debts of its network plus pay a profit dividend to its investors (the Federal Treasury for the moment).

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  RTT_Rules Oliver Bullied, CME

Location: Dubai UAE
In my view, governments are not in the business of being in business.  They are in the business of regulating and deregulating so that markets run efficiently and that negative impacts of our society are properly managed.  The positive impacts of our society are managed well by individuals and the private sector, so rarely require much intervention.  So in principle, privatisation is ok.

Except, i think, in the case where there are monopoly powers present.  Like the current case.  I see a privatisation of ARTC, especially East West and the Hunter Rail parts of the network, as being just that.  Like the privatisation of Sydney Airport.  I believe that these monopoly sitiuations (ie provision of track, provision of airport landing space etc) should remain in the ownership of the people, so that the monopoly profits are kept by the people (in a broad sense).  Its not a perfect solution, but saves the public from paying above market prices for something that ends up having poor service due to low competition.

ARTC is probably in need of some cultural change, to be more like a private company than an extension of a government department.  Im sure its come a long way but probably can go further.  Private enterprise would do just this.  But it would have the above problems of service provision and monopoly pricing.  

A really courageous option would be to keep it in govt ownership but play hardball and require it to make commercial returns, linking bonuses of executives to that.  Not monopoly returns, but commercial ones comparable to infrastructure companies.  And to keep trying to make the network better, ie improvements to the SYD-MEL-ADL routes to make them more competitive.  

Plus, having one rail owner, separate to all the operators, would be far easier to coordinate.  And finally, like airports, i dont believe that the above rail and below rail operations should be under the one roof.
jamesbushell.au
Totally agree that govts should not be in the business of being in business. As history has shown it opens the the door to low productivity, poor management, political influence, entrenched practices, corruption, narrow experienced work force etc etc.

The monopoly arrangement is however difficult to fit in any one box, be it govt owned or privatized as selling could simply mean little changes from lack competition etc and the risk of over pricing or poor value for services provided.

Perhaps the better option is simply contract or Franchise it out. The major airports are clearly cash cows so who ever does the investment or upgrade is entitled to a return and 15% return + incentive bonuses for lower costs and on time performance works. By Franchising the operator also fronts up with the capital upgrades leaving the govt removed from being exposed to capital injection requirements. At the end of the Francise period if there is to be a new operator there is a compensation payment for the capital investment that has not fully depreciated.

For ARTC where there is a risk of some sectors not making a commercial return, you can still do the same but any loss is covered by Govt and potentially its a political decision to allow a specific line to continue to operate at a loss or less than commercial return. Realistically no different than what is happening now, but by opening the door to external Management you increase the options of better Management and asset income options.

Just a thought.
  james.au Minister for Railways

Location: Sydney, NSW
Perhaps the better option is simply contract or Franchise it out. The major airports are clearly cash cows so who ever does the investment or upgrade is entitled to a return and 15% return + incentive bonuses for lower costs and on time performance works. By Franchising the operator also fronts up with the capital upgrades leaving the govt removed from being exposed to capital injection requirements. At the end of the Francise period if there is to be a new operator there is a compensation payment for the capital investment that has not fully depreciated.

For ARTC where there is a risk of some sectors not making a commercial return, you can still do the same but any loss is covered by Govt and potentially its a political decision to allow a specific line to continue to operate at a loss or less than commercial return. Realistically no different than what is happening now, but by opening the door to external Management you increase the options of better Management and asset income options.

Just a thought.
RTT_Rules
How do you see the franchising work?  Ive seen that work for the above rail operators, such as in Britain, but not sure how it works at the below rail level.  Would it be like a maintenance contract for the rail, and perhaps a tolling arrangement for any new track built?  There could be something in somthing like that.

I dont think that they should look to subsidise sectors if others are making profits.  In a network im ok to let one cross subsidise the other.  Essentialy this is happeing now with East West and ADL-MEL-SYD.
  james.au Minister for Railways

Location: Sydney, NSW
Not a bad read, especially the sections on corporate governance, and the controversies and reprivatisation.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_Rail
  don_dunstan Dr Beeching

Location: Adelaide proud
Inland, yes you told me. But they still haven't spent the old money yet so how can they ask for new money? I've also state before that the Inland construction to join Nth Star and AR was not due to start until 2019/20 to match the long discussed time line of mid 2020's so why do they need this money now and why would selling ARTC change this?
RTT_Rules
Let me answer that with a question - why would the Commonwealth devote billions to building a free piece of infrastructure on behalf of the private owners of ARTC? I know that its not unprecedented for the government to do this but it seems highly unlikely that they would sell ARTC for a few billion only to spend twice that amount giving the new owners a big, new railway to play with. Especially under our current government with its anti-railway infrastructure bias.

I think you are living in a fantasy world if you seriously expect construction to kick off in 2019, especially if the privatisation goes ahead.

1. Ok, which bits will be run down?
2. Which bits in NSW will be run down more than previous govt ownership did?
3. Do you know that Network Access charges are not 100% covering maintenance?
4. Do you know what the terms and conditions of sale of ARTC include?
5. Do you know if the buyer will be contractually required to maintain the lines to a pre-determined standard?
6. Do you know that capital upgrades like SSFL will be forced upon the new owner or remain at with the govt?
RTT_Rules
1. I think we've already determined that we won't know until perhaps a few years after the new owners take over what bits will not prove viable. But the network shrink over time, of that I have no doubt.
2. I don't know enough about that situation to comment.
3. Of course the charges don't cover it - just the same as motorists and truckers don't pay the full cost of the construction and ongoing maintenance of the roads they use. But full cost recover (plus mark-up) is coming so we'll soon find out what full cost recovery looks like - at least for the ARTC network.
4. Nobody knows what that is yet and I also feel there's a good chance we won't be fully told anyway (commercial-in-confidence).
5. This is the most critical part but put simply the more terms and conditions the less likely someone will pay the money they are looking for. Four billion is particularly unrealistic but if too many conditions are imposed on a new owner to maintain certain standards then it's always possible that private sector interest will be ZERO and they won't even be able to sell the damn thing at all. Therefore any potential buyer will be looking for a sale as unencumbered by regulation as possible and I would say it would be more likely the buyers will write the conditions (rather than the Commonwealth).

On that final point, it really makes no sense at all to proceed with privatisation if the Commonwealth is responsible for upgrades; it would be beyond stupid to privatise the income from access charges and yet still put the taxpayers on the hook for future upgrades - it would be the worst possible outcome for the taxpayers. But knowing Hockey like I do... any bum deal is possible (indeed, likely).
  don_dunstan Dr Beeching

Location: Adelaide proud
The ARTC makes a profit and earns far more revenue than its maintenance costs...

The 2014 report shows access revenue of $716.4-million. Total maintenance expenditure was $286-million ($158-million was spent in the Hunter region alone). Total debts were $916.3-million and an after tax profit of $163.6-million was made.

In 2013 access revenue was $660.3-million.Total debts were $1.081-billion and there was an after tax profit of $202-million.

The ARTC clearly makes enough money from access charges to operate safeworking, maintain and service the debts of its network plus pay a profit dividend to its investors (the Federal Treasury for the moment).
Sulla1
But without fed grants it wouldn't be viable. Have a look at the history of free kicks to ARTC - including One Nation.

To bring the East Coast Main up to a standard where it could effectively compete with trucking would cost big $$$ regardless of whether they use the Inland plan or not.
  Sulla1 Chief Commissioner

But without fed grants it wouldn't be viable. Have a look at the history of free kicks to ARTC - including One Nation.

To bring the East Coast Main up to a standard where it could effectively compete with trucking would cost big $$$ regardless of whether they use the Inland plan or not.
don_dunstan

There's no doubt the ARTC at start up had questions of funding and sustainability, not to mention the costs of melding components from three different rail systems into a single entity...costs carried in part by government assistance. However after 17-years the current ARTC (if its reporting is to be believed) is sustainable, is making money and can service the debts of its current network improvements. The ARTC has self funded $670-million worth of improvements in NSW since 2004 with no government assistance. If a vast network extension was needed, sure, the ARTC probably doesn't have the cash, but for incremental improvements to the existing network, the ARTC now functions outside the sphere of Federal funding and makes a sizeable profit - clearing $163-million from $716-million in revenue is pretty good.
  don_dunstan Dr Beeching

Location: Adelaide proud
If a vast network extension was needed, sure, the ARTC probably doesn't have the cash, but for incremental improvements to the existing network, the ARTC now functions outside the sphere of Federal funding and makes a sizeable profit - clearing $163-million from $716-million in revenue is pretty good.
Sulla1
The East Coast, particularly the steam-age alignments on most parts of Brisbane-Sydney, will require more money than they could borrow with those sorts of figures. From what I've read the East Coast main is completely uncompetitive with trucking and to bring it up to a standard where it could effectively compete could cost several billion (perhaps in the range of building the Inland Rail project). I just don't think any private entity will be able to raise the capital required to complete the much-needed upgrades.

There's always a possibility that (as speculated above) the new owners will simply blackmail the government for upgrades - so we could end up with the worst possible outcome where the revenues from access don't go to the taxpayers any longer but we're still responsible for very expensive upgrades to a private rail network. This unfortunate scenario has happened with other privatisations - Kennett left Victorian taxpayers with ultimate indemnity for problems that Singapore Power had with the transmission network after it was sold to foreign interests.
  RTT_Rules Oliver Bullied, CME

Location: Dubai UAE
But without fed grants it wouldn't be viable. Have a look at the history of free kicks to ARTC - including One Nation.

To bring the East Coast Main up to a standard where it could effectively compete with trucking would cost big $$$ regardless of whether they use the Inland plan or not.
don_dunstan
There is a difference between sustaining cost recovery and capital investment.
  RTT_Rules Oliver Bullied, CME

Location: Dubai UAE
Let me answer that with a question - why would the Commonwealth devote billions to building a free piece of infrastructure on behalf of the private owners of ARTC? I know that its not unprecedented for the government to do this but it seems highly unlikely that they would sell ARTC for a few billion only to spend twice that amount giving the new owners a big, new railway to play with. Especially under our current government with its anti-railway infrastructure bias.

I think you are living in a fantasy world if you seriously expect construction to kick off in 2019, especially if the privatisation goes ahead.

1. I think we've already determined that we won't know until perhaps a few years after the new owners take over what bits will not prove viable. But the network shrink over time, of that I have no doubt.
2. I don't know enough about that situation to comment.
3. Of course the charges don't cover it - just the same as motorists and truckers don't pay the full cost of the construction and ongoing maintenance of the roads they use. But full cost recover (plus mark-up) is coming so we'll soon find out what full cost recovery looks like - at least for the ARTC network.
4. Nobody knows what that is yet and I also feel there's a good chance we won't be fully told anyway (commercial-in-confidence).
5. This is the most critical part but put simply the more terms and conditions the less likely someone will pay the money they are looking for. Four billion is particularly unrealistic but if too many conditions are imposed on a new owner to maintain certain standards then it's always possible that private sector interest will be ZERO and they won't even be able to sell the damn thing at all. Therefore any potential buyer will be looking for a sale as unencumbered by regulation as possible and I would say it would be more likely the buyers will write the conditions (rather than the Commonwealth).

On that final point, it really makes no sense at all to proceed with privatisation if the Commonwealth is responsible for upgrades; it would be beyond stupid to privatise the income from access charges and yet still put the taxpayers on the hook for future upgrades - it would be the worst possible outcome for the taxpayers. But knowing Hockey like I do... any bum deal is possible (indeed, likely).
don_dunstan

The feds paid for a large chunk of the NT line, privately built and operated.

The feds are very likely will be the bulk of the money towards the Inland or at least providing a low risk investment scenario for the new owners so that they can get independent finance.  ie they may make up the difference to prevent the new owner running at a loss and hence protect the lender, but the new owner cannot run at a profit until the feds out lay is zero. I have no issue with this and there should be more of it.

Other possible terms and conditions is that the Inland line is jointly funded on a 35yr lease. BOOT.

Again you/we don't know how the sale of the ARTC would affect the terms and conditions of the Inland construction if it was to go ahead, so no point complaining about something we don't know about or guessing.

Network contraction is not exactly easy for the ARTC on the interstate. Think about it, this is not a branch lines. The line from Maitland to Brisbane is either open or its not. The line west of Tarcoola is either open or its not.

Lets just wait until we see the details because we will get access to some of it such as the overall basis of the sale.

Not many here have supported the interstate sale, me included although as far as I am concerned the Hunter coal network could go tomorrow.
  don_dunstan Dr Beeching

Location: Adelaide proud
The feds are very likely will be the bulk of the money towards the Inland or at least providing a low risk investment scenario for the new owners so that they can get independent finance.  ie they may make up the difference to prevent the new owner running at a loss and hence protect the lender, but the new owner cannot run at a profit until the feds out lay is zero. I have no issue with this and there should be more of it.
RTT_Rules
This assumption runs at the core of what we disagree on.

I think the privatisation of ARTC is intended to send a very strong message that the Commonwealth wishes to divest itself of not just the business and everyday operations but also they want to relieve themselves of future policy decisions and required major infrastructure works.

Take (for example) the campaign in the Adelaide Hills to get a freight by-pass built - costed at perhaps $4 billion or so. In future, Federal MP's in the Adelaide Hills will be able to rightfully say "this is not a Commonwealth responsibility" and refer the complainants back to the private operator.

That's the key part of the ideology behind the privatisation - future operational matters and capital expenditure will be laid squarely at the feet of the new owner/operators. I just don't see the Inland project being bankrolled in any way by the Commonwealth because the whole point of the privatisation is to remove liability for those future cap ex items from the balance sheet forever. Can you imagine our anti-rail Prime Minister announcing a low-interest Commonwealth-supported loan for the new owners of ARTC to construct the Inland Rail project? I can't.
  don_dunstan Dr Beeching

Location: Adelaide proud
The feds paid for a large chunk of the NT line, privately built and operated.
RTT_Rules
That Federal money was purely designed to support two failing Liberal state governments (in SA and the NT) but they both subsequently lost elections. Should have been kept in public hands to ensure a proper open-access regimen.
  cootanee Chief Commissioner

Location: North of the border!
ARTC performs the same task as state road authorities however those orgs are not expected to provide a ROI to stakeholders. Interstate freight on a commercial rail network will never compete with a not-for-profit highway network.

The feds paid for a large chunk of the NT line, privately built and operated...
RTT_Rules

Actually the feds put up only $165m of the $1200m construction cost. The current guvmnt has no vision for interstate rail freight or rail period! Forget about all those realignments and deviations ARTC proposed years ago, let alone a mega-billion $ inland rail. As for HSR Laughing
  donttellmywife Chief Commissioner

Location: Antofagasta
There's no doubt the ARTC at start up had questions of funding and sustainability, not to mention the costs of melding components from three different rail systems into a single entity...costs carried in part by government assistance. However after 17-years the current ARTC (if its reporting is to be believed) is sustainable, is making money and can service the debts of its current network improvements. The ARTC has self funded $670-million worth of improvements in NSW since 2004 with no government assistance. If a vast network extension was needed, sure, the ARTC probably doesn't have the cash, but for incremental improvements to the existing network, the ARTC now functions outside the sphere of Federal funding and makes a sizeable profit - clearing $163-million from $716-million in revenue is pretty good.
Sulla1
You need to look at the longer term financials - say over the last decade.  When considering profit relative to revenue you also need to consider the nature of the business.

The majority of capital put into ARTC over the last ten years has been via equity injection - $2.5 billion from 2004 on.  On top of that there was about another $1.5 billion of grants.  Loan funding runs third - a billion or so.  

There has been a pattern over the last ten years of an equity injection resulting in money going towards "improving" a part of the network, followed a year or two later by an impairment against that part of the network, reflecting the fact that the improved network is unlikely to earn enough income to cover the cost of the improvement work.  

Consequently, over the last ten years ARTC has made a cumulative $900 million dollar loss.

There is sufficient revenue from operations across the network (and probably this is the case for each segment of the network, but I don't know for sure) to cover year on year maintenance and operating costs, but, outside the Hunter, not necessarily the long run replacement of the asset.  These big improvement spends do "improve" the network compared to what it was prior to the project, but the reality is that without those big spends, eventually the network would cease to exist - some part of the spend is actually asset renewal.  This is consistent with bing's post on the first page of the thread.

In the absence of further shorter-term major capital projects on the interstate network, I'd expect that last years financial figures are representative of what you will see for the short to medium term.  But things will then get exciting again in about ten years time, when another round of asset renewal investment is required or big projects, such as the Fassifern to Stroud Road deviation, come into play as a result of community pressure and capacity restrictions.

~~~

There are marked differences in the characteristics of Aurizon's Central Queensland Coal Network and ARTC's Hunter network, and ARTC's general freight network, that need to be considered when making comparisons.  The coal networks are monopoly providers to capital intensive projects, with a rate of return on any sensible capital investment that is essentially guaranteed by regulation.  They are pretty low risk "utility" style investments.  The general freight network has serious competition from road (and perhaps coastal shipping) and an ultimate customer base that can be far more fickle - capital investment in the network is pretty much completely at the risk of the asset owner.  Putting your customers' shareholders' money at risk is a very different proposition to putting your own shareholders' money at risk.
  RTT_Rules Oliver Bullied, CME

Location: Dubai UAE
This assumption runs at the core of what we disagree on.

I think the privatisation of ARTC is intended to send a very strong message that the Commonwealth wishes to divest itself of not just the business and everyday operations but also they want to relieve themselves of future policy decisions and required major infrastructure works.

Take (for example) the campaign in the Adelaide Hills to get a freight by-pass built - costed at perhaps $4 billion or so. In future, Federal MP's in the Adelaide Hills will be able to rightfully say "this is not a Commonwealth responsibility" and refer the complainants back to the private operator.

That's the key part of the ideology behind the privatisation - future operational matters and capital expenditure will be laid squarely at the feet of the new owner/operators. I just don't see the Inland project being bankrolled in any way by the Commonwealth because the whole point of the privatisation is to remove liability for those future cap ex items from the balance sheet forever. Can you imagine our anti-rail Prime Minister announcing a low-interest Commonwealth-supported loan for the new owners of ARTC to construct the Inland Rail project? I can't.
don_dunstan

Commonwealth sold all the airports. However when it comes to Sydney No.2, I think they are throwing money on the table to get it going. Assuming true then this would be the same.

Commonwealth also part funded NT rail.
  RTT_Rules Oliver Bullied, CME

Location: Dubai UAE
As for HSR Laughing
cootanee
Not sure why you are bringing up this dead horse, no govt left or right has or will support this in the past or years to come because its a hole in the pocket on the taxpayer.
  don_dunstan Dr Beeching

Location: Adelaide proud
Commonwealth sold all the airports. However when it comes to Sydney No.2, I think they are throwing money on the table to get it going. Assuming true then this would be the same. Commonwealth also part funded NT rail.
RTT_Rules
The airports were put on very long-term leases, Keating was in the process of doing this when he lost the election so it was Howard who got the ultimate windfall cash. Here in Victoria the previous Napthine government was going to put up some of their own money to try and get the private sector interested in building a third airport serving Melbourne in Gippsland (somewhere near Clyde) but the fact that Avalon never really got off the ground probably killed it.

I think you are comparing ARTC to something that is in no way similar. The airports have proven to be really huge cash cows for whoever bought them because they turned the terminals into mega-retail zones and jacked up the car-parking. You can't compare a future privatised ARTC to the airports; they're completely different creatures.

Railways such as the private coal/iron ore ventures have never traditionally been contributed-to by the Commonwealth (not to my knowledge but I'm happy to be corrected). Again, I think one of the primary policy objectives of the ARTC privatisation would be to relieve the Commonwealth of any future obligations they might have in enhancing the system as owner/operator. Also, as already pointed out, the Commonwealth contribution towards the Alice-Darwin railway was actually very small - I just don't see that there will be a willingness to provide credit for any large expansions/improvements in the future once privatised.
  RTT_Rules Oliver Bullied, CME

Location: Dubai UAE
The airports were put on very long-term leases, Keating was in the process of doing this when he lost the election so it was Howard who got the ultimate windfall cash. Here in Victoria the previous Napthine government was going to put up some of their own money to try and get the private sector interested in building a third airport serving Melbourne in Gippsland (somewhere near Clyde) but the fact that Avalon never really got off the ground probably killed it.

I think you are comparing ARTC to something that is in no way similar. The airports have proven to be really huge cash cows for whoever bought them because they turned the terminals into mega-retail zones and jacked up the car-parking. You can't compare a future privatised ARTC to the airports; they're completely different creatures.

Railways such as the private coal/iron ore ventures have never traditionally been contributed-to by the Commonwealth (not to my knowledge but I'm happy to be corrected). Again, I think one of the primary policy objectives of the ARTC privatisation would be to relieve the Commonwealth of any future obligations they might have in enhancing the system as owner/operator. Also, as already pointed out, the Commonwealth contribution towards the Alice-Darwin railway was actually very small - I just don't see that there will be a willingness to provide credit for any large expansions/improvements in the future once privatised.
don_dunstan
Howard sold a lot of things Keating never had time for, I'd go as far to say that given the chance the list would have been the same.
However the sale was used to pay for Keating's debt legacy.

3rd Airport for Melbourne is a BS project and probably just trying to satisfy some internal factions. Melbourne is not big enough to justify two airports as we have seen with Avalon.

Not all the airports were cash cows, many of the regional ones were subsidized then and many marginal or not viable now which is why they are now often owned by local councils or state govt owned organizations. Note at the time this lack of commercial viability was well discussed and they were sold anyway and still running. I think at the time Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane were the main income earners, Adelaide and Perth were ok at the time. L'ton, Hobart, Darwin, Alice etc were also doing ok or marginal. Cairns went to Qld govt and sold in 2008.  

The Hunter is a cash cow, Interstate no. I agree. Hunter coal was funded by the feds post ARTC and needed large injection because NSW govt didn't do the investment and made worse by the mining boom. CQ and Pilbra probably none.

NT line, yes it was 10%, big deal its still 10% That's my point. If a line of significance needs just 10% to make it commercially viable project, this maybe still an option post sale.

I highly doubt "relieve of future obligations is the plan". Qld govt was quite upfront stating this for the reason of sale of CQ coal.
  Pressman Spirit of the Vine

Location: Wherever the Tin Chook or Qantas takes me
I think you are comparing ARTC to something that is in no way similar. The airports have proven to be really huge cash cows for whoever bought them because they turned the terminals into mega-retail zones and jacked up the car-parking. You can't compare a future privatised ARTC to the airports; they're completely different creatures.
don_dunstan
I agree with the airports becoming cash cows, not sure about others but you even get hit with a surcharge if you catch a cab from Adelaide or Perth airports!
Retail wise, the worst I've struck is Auckland International terminal, follow the signs whilst walking from the gates to the baggage collection takes you in a long winded loop through all the retail area, whereas if you cut through one store area you can take at least 5 minutes off the walk!

 Also, as already pointed out, the Commonwealth contribution towards the Alice-Darwin railway was actually very small
"don_dunstan"

The Commonwealth contribution was the fulfilment of a promise from Federation times to build an Adelaide - Darwin line in exchange for SA handing over to the Commonwealth the area now known as the Northern Territory. (A promise conveniently forgotten for decades!)
Contributions from Both SA and the NT governments also funded the Alice to Darwin line, with the commonwealth also handing over the North Gate (Tarcoola) to Alice Line to the new consortium on a long term lease.
  cootanee Chief Commissioner

Location: North of the border!
As for HSR Laughing
Not sure why you are bringing up this dead horse, no govt left or right has or will support this in the past or years to come because its a hole in the pocket on the taxpayer.
RTT_Rules

A Green guvmnt might Laughing
  Junction box Chief Commissioner

Location: newy
Why did they go to a non corporate look black logo if they are trying to look flash, does someone on the inside not want it to sell?
  RTT_Rules Oliver Bullied, CME

Location: Dubai UAE
A Green guvmnt might Laughing
cootanee
And when will this happen, never!

Things change once you have to start balancing off your ideology against paying people salaries and real issues like law and order.
  Draffa Chief Commissioner

China investing in Oz has nothing to do with ANZUS. EU is the bulk of NATO and most run on Russian gas!
RTT_Rules
And don't they love it. Very HappyWink

And when will this happen, never!
RTT_Rules
Never say never!  But yeah, not for quite some time, methinks, even in a formal alliance.
Weird things happen in politics, especially if the QFF directs (as it has apparently threatend) members to vote Green instead of National next election, so smegged off at Joyce as they allegedly are.  I think it's all bull and bluster, personally; the very idea of 'Manly Men Individualist No Nonsense Down-To-Earth Real Australians' farmers en masse voting 'latte-sipping city-dwelling gay-loving anti animal cruelty' Greens give me a case of the giggles.

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