Senator LUDLAM-I am not sure whether you were in the room earlier or watching us on the monitors, but I have asked a series of questions about rail in Western Australia, in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland. Do you play a role in strategic planning of rail infrastructure in Australia?
Mr Marchant-The company contributes to public debates and influences rail policy. We make submissions to Infrastructure Australia and the broader frameworks of that. But, effectively, decision making with regard to the company's areas is limited to obviously those areas the company operates in.
Senator LUDLAM-Okay, but you will be able to offer us opinions of policy as far as your corporation sees infrastructure development, even if it is outside your area?
Mr Marchant-The company has views on rail strategy and infrastructure policy that impacts upon railways, yes, and transport generally.
Senator LUDLAM-Are you familiar with the system of rail network in regional Western Australia that was traditionally used to haul grain?
Senator LUDLAM-Can you tell us what your understanding is of the state of the debate about the closure of a certain proportion of those lines?
Mr Marchant-I would not even offer an opinion about the status of a public debate in an area in which we do not operate. It would be a little bit inappropriate for the company to pass an opinion publicly.
Senator LUDLAM-From a policy perspective, do you have a view on whether that rail should stay, should be improved, or should be torn up?
Mr Marchant-We have never done a net present value or an economic analysis of those individual lines in WA.
Senator LUDLAM-That is fine. It is a shame, actually. Is that something you would consider doing?
Mr Marchant-It is not something that affects the company's P&L. We are a company that is actually driven by having to make a return on our equity, so I would be very cautious that the company would invest dollars that do not have a direct impact on the operation of the company.
Senator LUDLAM-That is fine. I thought it was worth asking. From a higher level policy perspective, are you investigating a fast rail regional network for passenger transport, at least up the east coast?
Mr Marchant-ARTC as a company is not.
Senator LUDLAM-Are you aware of any such efforts that you might be able to inform us about?
Mr Marchant-In my other role as Chairman of the Australian Railways Association Inc., yes, the association is.
Senator LUDLAM-Are you able to speak in estimates committees with that hat?
Mr Marchant-No, Senator, unless you want to call the Australian Railways Association, which I do not think will have much bearing on the Senate estimates.
Senator LUDLAM-No, that is fine. Your corporation is not really working in any substantial way on regional fast rail as a substitute for aviation, for example?
Mr Marchant-The corporation is not, no.
Senator LUDLAM-Can you tell us whether you have any involvement in the Murwillumbah to Casino railway in northern New South Wales?
Mr Marchant-We manage the land that that railway line occupies on behalf of the state of New South Wales under a Country Regional Network Management Agreement.
Senator LUDLAM-Were you operating that line before the services were closed?
Mr Marchant-The line ceased operations by the state government prior to our take-up of the management arrangements for the country network in New South Wales.
Senator LUDLAM-So your active involvement has been around custodianship of the corridor without active services on it?
Mr Marchant-Yes. Our involvement is the husbandry of the land on behalf of the state.
Senator LUDLAM-What is the condition of the rail infrastructure?
Mr Marchant-That is a matter for the state of New South Wales. Our management agreement is a confidential agreement with the state. The state is the decision maker. The state determines the assets. The state determines the investment. It is inappropriate for me to comment on it.
Senator LUDLAM-What is your actual role?
Mr Marchant-Our role is to manage the assets on behalf of the state in the terms in which the state wishes to have them managed.
Senator LUDLAM-But can I ask you a question about the condition of the asset itself?
Mr Marchant-You can ask me the question, but I will actually only give that advice to the state government. You would need to ask them what their opinion is.
Senator LUDLAM-Unfortunately we cannot call them in here; I do not imagine that they would turn up if we did. What is your understanding of proposals to actually sell that corridor?
Mr Marchant-I am unaware of any proposals to sell the corridor.
Senator LUDLAM-You are not aware?
Mr Marchant-I am not aware of any proposals to sell the corridor.
Senator LUDLAM-Or to sell any part of the corridor to make the railway line no longer viable?
Mr Marchant-There are no proposals that I am aware of-and we manage the property assets there-to sell land which would preclude the rail operation on the corridor at this point in time. There are some land packages for sale there which are lands which are not part of the linear continuity of the rail line. With respect to the proposals that have been speculated in the media about decisions on closure, I am unaware of any decisions about selling off the rail line corridor.
Senator LUDLAM-No, I understand that no decisions have been made, but there is certainly a degree of speculation, so you think that speculation is unfounded?
Mr Marchant-You are asking me about people's motivations about speculation. I have enough trouble with my own motivations, let alone anybody else's.
Senator LUDLAM-That is an unusually candid admission, but thank you. It was probably a bit of an unfair question. Are there any proposals that you are aware of to resume services on that line?
Mr Marchant-As of today, I am not aware of any proposals to resume services. There have been three studies into that line over the last six years. Two of those studies were funded by the state of New South Wales and others involving councils and the rest in the area to look at economic proposals around them. Another study was one done by the state government. Each of those studies has been to the state government. Each of them was announced as outcomes by the state government. My knowledge is that none of those studies showed that there was an economically viable way of operating in the short term. There have been proposals put about three or four years ago by one of the small operators to do a niche operation there, and the evaluation in that study, which was released, indicated that it was not viable for them to commence that operation.
Senator LUDLAM-Is anything underway at the moment that you are aware of that is reviewing or revisiting that, or is it a dormant line at the moment for all intents and purposes?
Mr Marchant-I am not aware of any formal studies that anybody is doing at the moment.
Senator LUDLAM-The company does not have a view-or you are agnostic-as to whether services should reopen on that line?
Mr Marchant-We manage that property on behalf of the state. If we did have a view, under our management agreement, we would give that view to the state.
Senator LUDLAM-I will leave it there; thank you very much.