The chair of Regional Development Australia – Northern Rivers, former National Party Ballina MP Don Page, has jumped into the Byron Shire Council election campaign, threatening that the rail corridor in the shire will be sold off unless it is turned into a rail trail.
In a media statement sent out just three days before the council election, Mr Page has attacked plans by current Greens mayor Simon Richardson and Our Sustainable Future’s (OSF) Basil Cameron to push for a multi-modal approach to the use of the corridor.
‘Uncosted, unfunded, unrealistic proposals for trains, trams and a rail trail in the Byron Shire section of the corridor only jeopardises the rail trail project,’ Mr Page wrote on RDA letterhead.
‘If the rail trail does not proceed it is likely the corridor will be sold off.
‘This outcome will be a tragedy for the region and deprive the Northern Rivers of the opportunity to have one of the best rail trails in the world.
‘The Northern Rivers region needs a united commitment to the Rail Trail uncontaminated by unrealistic ideas that will only ever serve to undermine a viable rail trail.
‘If the region can’t agree to support the Rail Trail, its inevitable sections of the corridor will be sold off. It’s a case of use it or lose it!
‘We need the region to unite behind the Rail Trail project and stop the spoiling tactics currently in force which seriously threatens a great opportunity to create jobs and income for our region,’ Mr Page said in the statement.
Mayoral aspirant and fellow National Party member Alan Hunter immediately seized upon his comments, accusing the Greens of ‘once again displaying their inability to grasp big picture projects and work for the best outcomes for the Shire’.
Cr Hunter’s proposal to progress discussions with neighbouring Tweed Shire Council over the possibility of a joint rail trail passed Byron’s August council meeting but this wasn’t enough to stop him taking a broadside against those who opposed it: Greens councillors Richardson and Dey, and OSF’s Cameron (who he wrongly dubbed a Greens member).
‘Our neighbouring councils are in full support including the Tweed Council who have an application for $13 million to fund the northern section,’ Cr Hunter said.
‘Byron Shire is the only one holding it up, along with the opportunity to bring some much needed funds into the Shire’s coffers to help fix things like roads and provide better sports fields.’
Bully boy tactics: Cr Cameron
But OSF’s Basil Cameron was unimpressed, describing it as ‘an extraordinary intervention from Mr Page employing bully boy tactics against our communities’ strong desire for trains on our tracks.’
‘Threatening our community with selling off the rail corridor unless we agree to a poorly costed and largely unwanted rail trail reflects poorly on Mr Page and is highly inappropriate coming from an employee of the Federal Government,’ he told Echonetdaily.
‘That Mr Page should describe genuine attempts to bring about a multi use corridor that includes rail, trail and cycling as “spoiling” demonstrates he is out of touch with our community and more interested in playing politics.
‘Mr Page refers to the discredited train study that excluded 4.6 million tourists and a multitude of everyday transport needs from the study. As the promoter of the flawed study on which $2 million was wasted, Mr Page has a lot to answer. He appears to be unaware of the many strong statements supporting trains on our tracks made by local government candidates across the Northern Rivers.
‘We have become used to big party apologists working against the interests of local communities. Its time to stand up against these desperate attempts by ensuring our next Council will represent the community on transport needs,’ Mr Cameron said.
Mayoral candidate Simon Richardson replied, ‘It is well known that Don Page is a long-term supporter of a sole Rail Trail solution for our rail corridor, which would negate the possibility of any other transport options such as a rail shuttle – which our community clearly wants. It concerns me that his statement suggests he hasn’t read the Byron Line proposal. The purpose of the document was to put all the options on the table with the view of creating a fully costed proposal which we can put to the State government with the backing of the entire community. The solo rail trail option was unsuccessful in receiving state funding so it’s not shovel ready. It’s clear the government wants Byron Shire to come back with a fully costed option for activating the rail corridor that unites instead of divides our community.’
Cr Spooner supportive
Mayoral candidate Paul Spooner said that Mr Page is ‘talking complete sense.’
‘During this campaign I have pointed out a number of facts about the rail corridor in the Byron Shire. Our community leaders in the past identified this land as a public transport route through the region. It should remain in public hands and should not be commercialised for private interests.’
‘A publicly funded rail service is not coming back on this track. No state or federal government is proposing this to happen.
‘Both Lismore and Tweed Councils have committed to establishing a Rail Trail on this corridor. This will effectively stop any idea of a regional train service returning. Byron Council has also supported the establishment of a Rail Trail and recently decided to support a Tweed Shire Council funding application to this effect.
‘We need to maintain our historical public transport corridor for what it was meant for – public transport. It should not be sold off. It should be used for local transport uses.
‘The Chair of RDA Northern Rivers is talking complete sense. If we continue to follow false hopes in relation to this corridor the state government will step in. The sale of the public corridor to commercial interests continues to be a real possibility the longer we wait.
‘A rail trail needs to be supported now.
‘I look forward to the day when people can traverse the region on a bike. I look forward to the day that school children can safely cycle to school rather than dodge cars and pedestrians.’
Sensationalist commentary: Smith
But the woman who replaced Mr Page in the seat of Ballina, Greens MP Tamara Smith, has called on him to ‘support the democratic processes of community consultation and local government.’
‘Hasn’t the RDA chairman got enough work to focus on without making sensationalist and House of Cards type commentary two days out from a local government election?’ Ms Smith said in a statement.
‘To hear the Labor candidate for Byron Shire council calling National Party Mr Page’s comments “sensible” gives us some idea of who is drinking the Kool-Aid.
‘There have been a number of highly professional, costed, funded and economically viable proposals for multi-modal use of the rail line in Byron Shire put to me and Byron council over the last two years.
‘Paul Spooner’s suggestion that these business models give the community false hope is ludicrous. We are all actually on the same page – we want multi-modal use of the rail corridor and I am confident that the community and our elected representatives can deliver this without ripping up the tracks and without conflating the idea of public transport with cycle paths,’ Ms Smith said.