Time to reactivate closed rail lines

Greens (WA) MLC for the South West, Diane Evers, has called on the State Government to address the inefficiencies of WA’s freight rail network, and carry out its pre-election promise to re-open Tier 3 lines.

The freight business had been divested by the Liberal Government in 2000, leasing the railway infrastructure to a private operator through a 49-year lease.

Ms Evers said that in 2014, the Economics and Industry Standing Committee of WA investigated the management of the rail freight network and came up with several damning findings.

“The inquiry found that although the revenue by the lessee must be taken into account in determining the economic or uneconomic status of less viable lines, the lease does not give the government any rights in the decisions to close some lines as being uneconomic,” she said.

“The owners of the below-rail business, currently known as Arc Infrastructure after several name changes, has deemed several rail lines to be uneconomical, placing them into a new category or a standard referred to as, ‘care and maintenance’, where only the most basic of care, such as weed control, is undertaken.

“The Tier 3 lines, which prior to their closure were used for grain freight, have been placed in this category.”

Ms Evers said the inactive Greenbushes-to-Bunbury line was also under care and maintenance.

“As lithium mining grows, the WA government will be expected to maintain and improve the alternative route via road. Opening this line would lessen the road burden considerably,” she said.

Ms Evers said the inquiry also found that throughout its role as the public authority responsible for managing the lease and ensuring the lessee was meeting its lease obligations, the Public Transport Authority has provided next to no supervision of the lessee’s right to quiet use and enjoyment of the below-rail infrastructure.

“This approach has proven to be completely ineffective in ensuring the condition of the lines,” she said.

“The conditions of the entire freight rail network remain below the standard that should be reasonably expected under the terms and intent of the lease.”

The inquiry made 35 findings and 22 recommendations for improvement, including the possibility of recommissioning closed lines and, if needed, pursuing all means to recover them.

But the ministerial response at the time of the committee report was short and seemingly perfunctory, with then transport minister Dean Nalder stating that “consistent with the lease, the government’s position is that the maintenance of all leased railway infrastructure is the responsibility of Brookfield Rail (or Arc as it is now known) and that investment in freight railways is primarily the responsibility of the private sector”.

Ms Evers said that in doing so, the previous government not only dismissed the recommendations of an inquiry led by one of its own members, but also lost a golden opportunity to rectify some of the many problems it created with its poorly-authored legislation.

“I call on the government to reconsider some of the recommendations made by the inquiry into rail line maintenance, which has now gained impetus because of the expanding lithium industry in the south, and to honour its pre-election pledge to reopen the Tier 3 lines, which have been in limbo for many years despite continued calls by grain growers for their reactivation,” she said.

“The government cannot continue to be held ransom to a private operator who enjoys the benefit of the doubt, largely due to being the fortuitous beneficiary of a badly-drafted agreement.

“There is clearly a duty of care on behalf of the lessee to ensure that all the rail lines in the freight network are kept in good working order, and regulation must be clearly legislated to achieve this goal.

“If the lessee cannot meet these conditions, then it should run the risk of forfeiting the lease agreement.”

SOME OF THE RECOMMENDATIONS

Recommendation 1

The Western Australian Government not allow any further lines to be placed into care and maintenance.

Recommendation 2

The Western Australian Government work with the lessee to include a trigger mechanism that will allow the recommissioning of lines already placed into care and maintenance.

Recommendation 9

The Western Australian Government revises the lease instrument to ensure that lines are not able to be suspended from use without consequence.

Recommendation 10

The definition of the term ‘care and maintenance’ should be amended to specify the obligations of the lessee and how lines placed into care and maintenance are to be maintained.

Recommendation 19

The Western Australian Government undertakes urgent negotiations with Brookfield Rail (now Arc) to allow access to Tier 3 lines.

Recommendation 20

In the absence of an agreement allowing access to Tier 3 lines, the Western Australian Government investigates and pursues all means to recover those lines.

Recommendation 21

The Minister for Regional Development clarify whether Royalties for Regions funding can be made available for upgrades to the freight rail network and, if so, what process is in place to allow access to that funding.

 

Soil biology

EXTRACT FROM HANSARD – 14 August 2018

SOIL BIOLOGY

Statement

HON DIANE EVERS (South West) [10.11 pm]: I am inspired to rise after hearing Hon Colin de Grussa’s speech earlier today in response to the budget. I was really pleased to hear that he comes from a farming family and that his father was one of the first to adopt no-till farming. That is excellent. It is great for farmers to be innovative in what they do.

Over the break, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar in Moora on soil restoration farming. It was not anything to do with Moora Residential College, but while I was there, I spoke to a number of farmers who pleaded their case to keep Moora college open. We need to keep farmers in the regions, and that school helps farmers stay in the regions because all too often as the children grow, the question is asked: do we stay or do we go?

Each time we lose a family, we lose not only that family but also what it contributes to the community and the businesses that go along with supporting that family.

Let me get back to the soil. I think everybody here knows that it is a passion of mine. I had to respond because in the honourable member’s comments he said that Charles Massy responded to a question about the science by saying, “Well, there’s science and there’s science.”

I cannot read his mind but I would like to comment on that, because there are two sorts of sciences that we are looking at here. One of those sciences is what the ag department has been pushing for many years and what many farmers follow: we test the soil, we see what it needs, we put that chemical in there and Bob’s your uncle, we get another crop. Good.

But we may as well as be growing hydroponically if we are going to take the soil as a medium and introduce each thing as we need it. We will get a crop that has those nutrients in it. That is all well and good. It is what we have been doing. It is what the world is used to.

However, there is a different way and a number of farmers are adopting it. At this seminar, Dr Christine Jones, who is a scientist, introduced more of these concepts to us. I found I was in a room with about 50 farmers and many of them are already adopting some of these practices.

They are looking at ways of increasing the microbiome, the fungi, in the soil so that it does what it is meant to do—that is, provide nutrients to plants. It seems simple, but it is difficult. It is difficult for farmers to take this on when we have a bank in the room saying, “Yes, we want to support farmers. We want to help them get loans and that, but we also have to support our other clients, the agrochemical industry.”

That is the problem. Do we really have to support the agrochemical industry to keep selling this stuff when the natural biology will create that stuff on its own? That is an area we need to challenge, which is why I am really pleased that our Department of Agriculture and Food is looking at other ways and allowing new ideas and innovations to be reviewed to find out what can be done.

I would not think that this microbiome would make much difference, but the difference is huge. Keeping this growing in the soil not only provides nutrients to the roots of the plant, but also allows the soil to retain water for much longer and retain much more water so that our plants can grow. Given what is happening in the eastern states at the moment, I think we need to do everything possible to keep water in the soil. This is done just by keeping the land covered by summer crops.

Farmers may not even use those crops; they may put animals on the land. It is not like money has to be made off every crop. Microbiome increases the soil’s health and the nutrients available to plants.

At the conference, I heard about people planting up to eight or more plants in a single crop to give it diversity. We have to look at what the crop is being used for, such as feed for animals or for harvesting. It is interesting to note that seed cleaners can separate all the different types of seed by weight, size or colour. That can be done, so a variety of seeds can be planted, and the benefit of doing that is that a variety of roots will be underground to support a variety of biology in the soil.

It is just like us not always eating the same thing every day. Our bodies need a variety of things, just like plants do. I even heard of one farmer who is planting five varieties of wheat in the same crop because that will get a variety of roots into the soil, which needs a variety of things. The crops grow better and it makes the plants healthier. The crops do better with more plant varieties, with more water in the soil, and when plants are kept on the soil.

No-till farming is great but it still leaves the soil bare through the summer, which means that all the good work that was done to increase the soil’s biology will die out through the heat and when it is dry. I think I have mentioned before having animals on quick rotation. Members would not imagine it, but people are bringing it back in. Farmers who have grown large-scale crops are now bringing animals back in because they recognise the benefits that animals bring after having them on the soil.

If the agriculture department gives any support to these innovations, it will be a step in the right direction because we will end up with healthier soils, healthier plants and the ability for the soil to hold more water. It will also mean that we get carbon sequestration.

This is an issue of climate change. I did not really mean to bring that in today, but I think it has been mentioned once already, so maybe it is fair to say it. We have a big problem with climate change. The soil’s biology actually sequesters carbon; it builds on it. This is just one of many ways in which we can try to solve climate change, but we have to make many changes because we are so slow to get around to them. Carbon is sequestered in the soil.

Another benefit for all of us in the city is that it will provide nutritious food. There are many reasons to go on with this idea, but I will leave it there because I think members have listened to me enough. We need to change; we need to innovate. We need to improve our soils so that we can really be leaders in the field.

 

CRC funding decision applauded

Diane shares the good news with Bridgetown resident Marta at the local CRC.

The Greens (WA) believe logic has prevailed with the WA Government’s announcement that it will continue current funding for the state’s 105 Community Resource Centres (CRCs).

Proposed cuts, announced in the 2017-18 state budget, would have reduced funding from $13 million to $8 million annually.

Protests against the move had been spearheaded by Greens (WA) MLC for the South West, Diane Evers, who said existing CRCs would find it difficult to continue the services they now offer, with shorter hours and less staff resulting from the cutbacks.

As recently as May this year, the Government had suggested a restructure of the CRCs, which would have created a two-tiered funding model that lowered funding for many centres by more than half. And despite the backlash from the communities and
Ms Evers, there was no provision of extra CRC funding in this year’s Budget.

But Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan announced in Albany today that the Government would continue to fully fund CRCs to the current $13 million per year, “ensuring CRCs can deliver important services to regional communities”.

Ms MacTiernan spent the past six months visiting CRCs in regional WA, as part of a review process to identify potential savings in the centres’ services.

Individual CRCs and the group’s representative body, Linkwest, lobbied the Government not to continue with the planned cuts.

“I am delighted at the news,” Ms Evers said.

“This government must invest in the regional areas by servicing the communities and looking after the natural environment. Ultimately, it’s about strengthening regional communities to make a meaningful rural life more achievable.

“The CRCs worked so hard to deliver the message about how essential they are, and they deserve full credit for the result.”

 

Choose wisely on Lake Vancouver

The pristine surroundings at Goode Beach.

Greens (WA) MLC for the South West, Diane Evers, is hopeful the West Australian Planning Commission will prioritise ecological and sustainability factors when deciding on whether to approve a proposal to develop holiday apartments beside Lake Vancouver at Goode Beach near Albany.

The plan for a five-star resort ­– accommodating up to 120 people, including a cafe, function centre and pool — was recently passed by the City of Albany council, bringing the facility a step closer to reality despite much local opposition.

Ms Evers said the proposal was accepted despite a petition signed by 911 local residents who objected to the plan. The council also received about 270 submissions which did not favour the facility.

She said the WAPC must hold an exhaustive investigation into the environmental, social and fiscal risks that the development could pose to such a pristine area.

She highlighted a damning statement from the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation, which said: “For the proponents of this development to state that they will plan and manage for a 50-year sea level rise is negligent to future owners and investors in the property as well as local and state government authorities that may be expected to protect the infrastructure from erosion”.

“The resort will permanently change something unique and beautiful, so it warrants comprehensive scrutiny,” she said.

There is no time frame for the WAPC decision, which could take years.

Focused on Forests: Educate, activate, protect

WHAT: Focus on Forests workshop

WHEN: September 29-30, 2018

WHERE: Fair Harvest Permaculture, Margaret River

TO REGISTER: Click Here

Our community have long been campaigning to save our native forest. This event will bring together new and experienced campaigners to get involved and focus on topics like:

  • What is High Conservation Value Forest?
  • Why/how/where are forests threatened?
  • What can we actually do about it as individuals?
  • What are The Greens doing to protect these forests?
  • Organising and activating to save our forests.

The event is in the style of a workshop and will take place on Saturday, September 29, at Fair Harvest Permaculture in Margaret River, from 9.30am to 4pm.

The event fee is just $10 for general admission, which covers lunch! Admission is free for under-16 who come with an accompanying adult.

This is a great opportunity to hear from experts and be included in grassroots action.

Scholarships are available for people to attend this event if finances are a limitation. Limited shared accommodation is available nearby on Friday and Saturday evenings at $40 per night.

To register your attendance click this link or email Diane’s office.

 

Our forests need you.

Workshop now only $10 including lunch! WA's Southwest forests are some of the most biodiverse, beautiful and ancient ecosystems on the planet. But they're under threat. Join me in Margaret River on 29th September to find out what we can do to protect them. https://contact-wa.greens.org.au/civicrm/event/register?id=4394&reset=1https://www.facebook.com/events/1057689627733911/WA Forest Alliance The Greens (WA) Busselton Dunsborough Greens

Posted by Diane Evers, Greens MLC for South West on Wednesday, 8 August 2018

 

Dunsborough maintains Puma pressure

Greens (WA) MLC for the South West, Diane Evers, has expressed frustration and dismay at Puma Energy Australia’s plans to build a 24-hour petrol station in Dunsborough, despite overwhelming community resistance.

Objection to the project has been so strong that residents and ratepayers funded a full-page open letter in The West Australian last week to plead their case.

Ms Evers said she strongly believed there was no need for another fuel station in the centre of town when it is already served by two existing outlets.

“As a tourist town, Dunsborough is choked with traffic at peak times,” she said.

“For the past two years, the community has been calling on Puma not to put the service station/convenience store in the middle of Dunsborough, taking the second to last piece of vacant land in the town’s main street.

“They believe this will negatively impact the amenity, safety and traffic flow of the town centre. An attractive alternative site has been identified adjacent to the town centre that will allow Puma to provide a full range of services that are needed in the town, such as space for a car wash and safe access for caravans and boats, but this option has not been considered by the company.”

Ms Evers wrote a letter to the chief executive of Puma in February this year to explain the problem, but did not receive a reply.

“It’s a shame that Puma management choose to ignore the community concerns. They are putting a lot of goodwill at risk,” she said.

A Supreme Court appeal is being heard to determine if Puma is legally permitted to build the convenience store that sells petrol as planned.

But Ms Evers said there was a more crucial matter to consider.

“Notwithstanding the safety and traffic aspect, it’s about listening to the community Puma plans to serve,” she said.

“The people of Dunsborough will applaud Puma if it changes its mind and builds out of town. But ignoring their wishes would definitely jeopardise their support of the new station.”

Dunsborough’s fight to save its main street

 

No to shark drum lines

 

The Greens (WA) have slammed calls from NSW for WA to introduce smart drum lines as a means of shark control.

The latest high-profile comment came from Ballina mayor David Wright, who said “you’re absolutely stupid if you don’t go for smart drum lines”.

Referring to the loss of the Margaret River Pro as an example, he said he couldn’t understand why WA would be “against something that doesn’t hurt the shark and provides so much information for the community”.

Earlier in the year, NSW Primary Industry Minister Niall Blair had also offered to give smart drum lines to the McGowan Government for a trial, but the offer was rebuffed.

Greens (WA) fisheries spokesperson Diane Evers said there was no conclusive scientific proof that the drum lines reduced the amount of shark attacks.

“It will be an expensive exercise to introduce the lines, which are not species-specific and threaten other marine life,” she said.

The system works through satellite technology, which triggers an alert to a response team when an animal, not necessarily a White shark, is hooked.

Ms Evers said the Greens continued to support the government rebate scheme for personal shark deterrents.

The devices emit a small electrical field around the diver or surfer, which affects the delicate sensory organs on the shark’s nose.

Ms Evers said she was pleased to hear that State Government was working on shark mitigation strategies around the use of shark detector beacons that pick up the signal of a tagged shark and relay it to the public.

“There is nothing that can completely eliminate risk if you go in the ocean. Yet just as a seatbelt improves your safety significantly, so will wearing an independently tested personal shark deterrent,” Ms Evers said.

“Ocean goers should also check the government Sharksmart website, sharksmart.com.au.

“I would suggest to the NSW ‘experts’ that they refrain from telling WA how to manage our problems.”