Privatise Queensland Rail

TO say the Beattie Government has dropped the ball on infrastructure needs for its coal industry would be an understatement. Jamie Wade writes

The Beattie Government has been exposed for its lack of planning on major infrastructure.

So bad are port and rail bottlenecks in the ‘Sunshine State’ that there has been talk of job losses, and in a climate of chronic skills shortages that’s disgraceful.

Anglo Coal for one has spoken of standing down about 50 workers because of excess stockpiles of coal that are going nowhere fast, and Rio Tinto boss Tom Albanese said the backlog plaguing Australia’s east coast ports is among the top-five problems facing the mining giant’s global operations.

Albanese has gone as far to suggest that Rio would redirect its expansion plans offshore if the Queensland Government does not provide vital infrastructure, prompting Queensland Premier Peter Beattie to meet with him to smooth over relations.

Sadly, the situation is going to get worse before it gets better, because it will take time to build the infrastructure that is needed.

The Beattie Government’s plans for greater private-sector involvement in Queensland Rail to improve the efficiency of its freight network and overcome the production bottlenecks are long overdue. However, don’t hold your breath on the announcement of any major reforms.

With a federal election around the corner it’s highly unlikely that significant changes will be made or even mooted for fear of damaging Ken Rudd’s campaign.

Although not released at the time of publication of this issue of Australian Mining, the coal industry report, prepared by the former chief executive of private-sector rail freight company Pacific National, Stephen O’Donnell, is expected to focus on simplifying communication between Queensland Rail and the mining industry.

With much ground to make up Peter Beattie has indicated his government would follow all the recommendations of that review, but, how far would reforms go — if implemented? For one thing, Beattie has point blank rejected all-out privatisation which is disappointing.

Private-sector investment in Queensland Rail’s coal business could inject some much needed cash in to the Government’s coffers as it attempts to spend about $82 billion over the next 20 years on rail infrastructure.

Given the buoyancy of the industry, China’s rapacious demand for coal and a positive long-term outlook for the industry, there’s unlikely to be a shortage of commercial interest in Queensland Rail.

See page 52

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