As a former proprietor of a horse trail riding business that almost exclusively survived on tourism, I don’t like to be a wet blanket when it comes to the matter of the Great Southern Rail Trail (GSRT) extensions.
In my view, there is far too much ’over egging’ of the future value of the project to the South Gippsland Shire (SGS), and not enough attention being paid to the cost of the project. The cost is to be worn by the present ratepayers, most of whom will not be using it, and from, hoped for, Government grants.
Some of the grant funds sourced previously have now dried up. What’s more, the GSRT maintenance bill – in the order of $300.000 p.a. for the existing GSRT – is in the process, right now, of being transferred to the SGS ratepayers.
Too much about this ‘No.1 Priority Project’ is being presented to the ratepayers as a ‘fait accompli’, when it is nothing of the sort. The outstanding example of that is the signing of the ‘Heads of Agreement’ document by the SGS CEO, Mr Tim Tamlin and the Executive General Manager Property, VicTrack, Mr Peter Chau.
That document signing was given extensive media coverage, but when looked at closely, it changed nothing and did not advance any aspect of the project(s) one iota. I can quote prominent lawyer, Ben Killerby B.Juris., LL.B., LL.M., M.A.I.C.D., regarding his advice to negotiating parties, when he is approached to draw up a Memorandum of Understanding, or a Heads of Agreement, as some sort of half-way house between negotiations and a final agreement. His response is –
“Why bother?”
So, the ‘why bother’ might be seen as an attempt by Mr Tamlin to bolster his standing in his contract renewal aspirations. Or, is it the Council diverting constituent attention away from other less appealing matters, like resetting of the rates, for instance? Perhaps there are a few Councillors who have committed themselves so deeply to pushing this project, that they now find it impossible to walk away, even though they must now acknowledge the lack of real progress (because the foundations are on quicksand).
The same may be said of the administration staff who are still insisting that it’s all about to happen, without offering any new confirmable information. Stan Wallis, the then Chairman of Coles Myer, once said to me regarding a business model I put to him for funding: “Show me the money”.
He had no qualms about stumping up the ‘start up’ funding, he needed to know the business model was going to make money. That’s akin to where this project is at!
The problem is the Memorandum of Understanding/Heads of Agreement signing – let’s call it a ‘stunt’ – has implications because it is open to misleading people. Take for example, these quotes attributed to Mr Tamlin: “…..this is our first priority now that we have the security of this agreement”. The fact is, there was no such agreement, and there still is not some six weeks later.
Mr Tamlin then goes on to say: “Not only can we get on with initial preparatory activities, we can also commence our work seeking grant funding for the construction of the trail”. Well that goes absolutely nowhere without a signed lease in place!
An example of how disinformation snowballs, is to be seen in the statement by Korumburra Business Association President, Noelene Cosson: “All this can be achieved for a relatively small cost…”
The start point of the cost stands at $7 million – and it is only on paper at this stage – keep in mind the Council is yet to determine the state of the rail corridor, including the bridges. Ms Cosson goes on to say: “The new lease does not include rail yards at Leongatha or Korumburra. Council and VicTrack continue to negotiate leases for these locations”. The fact of it is, the “new lease” referred to does not exist (yet).
It is also noted that my previously expressed concerns that equines may have been quietly ‘air brushed’ out of the GSRT extension(s), are confirmed by Ms. Cosson, when she says: “It is a manageable distance of 12km (referring to the section from Korumburra to Leongatha), a perfect day out for bike riders, walkers and joggers…”. Again, there is no mention of horse riders!
Why so, when equines have been part of the GSRT project from day one? Equines are required to be included. When challenged on this aspect last Wednesday 20 March, Ms Penny Ellicott, Co-ordinator of Major Projects, trotted out the usual line that they are included and the extension(s) can handle the side by side situation if the trains are returned.
Apparently, in her mind, horses have morphed away from being creatures of ‘fright & flight’. When it comes to this particular rail trail extension (West of Leongatha), I again express my concerns that it’s all about a bicycle track. That view is supported by the wording of the request for funding.
If that is the case, will someone please be honest about it and say so? If I am not right about the limited usage of the proposed extension(s), please produce clear and concise documentation to remove my doubts.
Does anyone acknowledge that delays by VicTrack coming to the table with a lease agreement might have something to do with the fact we are dealing with a railway reserve that might well eventually be required for trains – or is that just too inconvenient to admit?
As someone with the aforementioned background in small tourism ventures, Horse Trail Rides at Tarra Valley, sightseeing tours from Warburton, and from having involvement in finding a use for abandoned facilities in a number of country towns in Victoria (Kaniva, Chiltern, Woodend & Bacchus Marsh), none of which relied on ratepayer or Government funding, and from my seat on the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS) Steering Committee in relation to the first attempt to get the Formula 1 GP to Melbourne, for which the funding was pulled shortly after John Cain was elected Premier of Victoria (1982) – the GP was picked up by Adelaide (that was also $13 million (in 1980’s dollars) thrown away).
I reckon that qualifies me to at least keep a watchful eye on what’s going on here, without being attacked for doing so in the way I was last Wednesday outside Council Chambers. My background is included here because I was specifically asked in this ‘confrontation’, in an aggressive tone: “And who are you?”
I am not anti-progress for Korumburra, that’s not the case at all, I have family living there. The fact of it is, there is a much bigger plan currently before Council. If adopted, it has the potential to be of far greater overall benefit to the SGS community than the GSRT extension(s).
Furthermore, this plan specifically stands to benefit the community of Korumburra ahead of other towns in SGS, with the exception of Clyde and Loch. It will also bring with it a significant increase in usage of the existing GSRT.
The ‘Growth for Reduced Rates’ is a public document since it has been presented to Council by Mr Lindsay Love last Wednesday. All who might doubt my motives need to understand what is entailed and are encouraged to read and understand it.
Please Councillors, take the time to understand your job description – abandon the parochialism that has, for too long, undermined good governance in SGS.
Think bigger!
John McCombe, Leongatha.