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WAFARMERS and the Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance (WRRA) have written to Premier Colin Barnett urging his government to "take back" closed Tier 3 grain lines immediately and to manage the grain-on-rail stalemate.
The letter, dated Monday and co-signed by WA Farmers president Dale Park and WRRA chairman Greg Richards, accused the State Government of being "inactive in their (sic) supervision and management of the State's rail network".
"Mining and agriculture, our main exports, depend heavily on a reliable and efficient path to port," Mr Park and Mr Richards said in the letter.
"For grain growers and the CBH Group, this path to port has been mismanaged for 15 years (since the State's freight rail network was leased out to private enterprise for 49 years) and the situation shows no sign of improving."
They said negotiations between CBH and current rail operator Brookfield Rail over a long-term rail access agreement and a succession of interim access deals, had shown Brookfield "has little, if any, consideration for WA's growers and the economic viability of their operations".
"Brookfield Rail is a private entity operating in a capitalist society and has no obligation towards the companies it deals with.
"However, it is most certainly the responsibility of the State Government to protect the integrity and viability of its export industry," Mr Park and Mr Richards reminded Mr Barnett.
Since Brookfield gained control of the rail freight network five years ago, growers had been "burdened with a 56 per cent increase in rail access fees which is neither viable nor sustainable", they said.
"On average, growers pay $45 million dollars per year on access fees.
"If the WA fees were at all comparable to the global average, growers in this State would have an extra $36-$38 million dollars to contribute to the economy rather than a foreign-owned corporation."
The letter was sent the same day as CommSec's quarterly State of the States report, which ranks States and Territories on eight key economic measures, indicated WA had slipped from third to fourth place.
Having led the rankings for four years until it was supplanted by New South Wales, which remained in first place for the fourth straight quarter, WA was overtaken last quarter by Victoria, which is now second, with Northern Territory third.
Mr Park and Mr Richards said the "cost to the economy" was "compounded by the continuing and widespread impact that Brookfield Rail's lease of the rail network is having on road safety and the environment".
They claimed the closure of low-volume Tier 3 grain routes from July 1 last year had resulted in an extra 55,000 to 85,000 truck movements on regional roads which was "particularly worrisome" as the Central Wheatbelt already had the State's worst road toll.
Mr Park said WAFarmers had joined with WRRA in writing to Mr Barnett because of growing member concern the State Government was not "managing" the freight rail lease like it was supposed to.
"We have a code, but it doesn't work," he said.
"Our members are concerned about what's going to happen in December (when CBH's current interim rail access deal expires on December 31) and in the longer term with grain on rail and the potential impact that could have, not only on their viability as farmers, but the viability of WA as a grain exporter."
As reported in Farm Weekly, the WRRA and WRRA member and Kondinin grower Lindsay Tuckwell have raised concerns Brookfield could be in a position to "extract further dollars from grain growers" in December when CBH attempts to negotiate a fifth interim deal.
The timing is critical as CBH will be moving grain from this year's harvest to port to meet export contracts during the northern-hemisphere winter.
There was also support for WAFarmers' campaign from Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce last week when he met Mr Park as part of a national tour to promote the Agriculture White Paper.
"It worries me - at where the situation (the stalemate between CBH and Brookfield over long-term rail access for grain trains) is at the moment," Mr Joyce said.
"Monopolies are inherently uncompetitive, a monopoly isn't a marketplace.
"A market means there are multiple suppliers, and buyers, ease of entry and exit, transparency of transaction and a monopoly inherently says you don't have any of that.
"Therefore, where a monopoly exists, you must have the government regulatory processes.
This article first appeared on www.farmweekly.com.au
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