Alice Thompson, CEO

Newcastle Herald, 2 February 2021

That’s why the Committee for the Hunter brought some big transport ideas to governments last year, including a new runway at Newcastle Airport and a multipurpose deep-water terminal at the Port of Newcastle. Projects that will stimulate an economy reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic while supporting thousands of ongoing high value jobs and complementary investment.

While the 2020-21 Federal Budget did not deliver all that we had hoped, there was an important win for the region in the Mid-Year Economic Fiscal Outlook that went largely unnoticed.

Northern NSW is having one of the best agricultural harvests we have seen for generations – if not the largest on record. The famous ‘Golden Triangle’ has had an amazing growing season with full fields of cereal crops, wheat, barley and canola. Yellows and greens paint the landscape where 12 months ago was brown dust.

It is one thing to be the ‘food bowl’ – but how does Australia’s world class food and fibre reach dining tables around the globe in the most cost-effective way?

That’s why it was welcome news that the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) secured $44.7 million to upgrade the 35 kilometre Narrabri to Turrawan Line. The project will improve connections between Inland Rail and the Hunter Valley, allowing longer and heavier freight trains transporting food and fibre to access the Port of Newcastle more efficiently.

To illustrate, the upgrade means an additional 18-tonne payload in each wagon. That translates to 720 tonnes of additional freight carried (the equivalent of 100 elephants in weight) across a typical 40-wagon train using existing services.

Transport can amount to as much as a third of the cost of getting products to market. Wherever we can reduce that cost, the more dollars go back into the regions, the more competitive our products are on the international market and the cheaper it is for local food production.

The Australian agricultural industry has set a $100 billion export target by 2030. The ARTC’s investment complements the Hunter Valley’s world class transport network – built for our coal and heavy manufacturing industries – to now help our farmers reach this export target.

Agricultural producers transporting grain, cotton and other food and fibre from Northern NSW to domestic and export markets are the major beneficiaries. That region will also benefit from freight being transported more efficiently on the backhaul leg – like machinery or fertiliser, from the port to the paddock.

The Hunter also stands to benefit and we have more to offer than a transit corridor between paddock and plate. We have the opportunity to leverage the link to Inland Rail to support more value-added export opportunities and jobs in agribusiness, food and beverage manufacturing and pharmaceuticals in our region.

It will take vision and a plan to achieve the full potential. A plan that also has the upgrade of the Newcastle Airport and containerisation of the Port of Newcastle at its centre.

The Narrabri to Turrawan rail upgrade shows how we can pivot the Hunter’s industrial and mining heritage and infrastructure to secure jobs in a stronger, diversified economy, all while boosting farmers’ productivity and wealth in North West NSW. A relatively small project that delivers a great return for the Hunter Valley, for regional Australia and the national economy.