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June 25, 2021

RDA chair, Don Page, enters Byron election debate

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Former Ballina MP Don Page has used his current position as chair of RDA Northern Rivers to lobby against the Greens and Our Sustainable future candidates.
Former Ballina National Party MP Don Page has used his current position as chair of RDA Northern Rivers to lobby against the Byron Shire Greens and Our Sustainable future candidates.

Chris Dobney

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 response

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.


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27 COMMENTS

  1. Byron Shire residents, don’t be blackmailed! Mr Page has been responsibe for a discredited study into the rail and thrown his weight behind rail trail only for political reasons. His party position has been resoundingly rejected twice at the last state and federal election, his party elder statesman Tim Fisher believes in the viabillity of a regional rail on our corridor. The rail corridor is secure unless a new law is passed in parliament. Unfortunately Paul Spooner has jumped ship for political reasons and should be marked down at the upcoming election. Give the decent proposal for the Byron line a chance und do not be bullied.

    • Apart from numerous train advocates ,who has discredited the Arup study into the costings of restoring the rail service? I have been given the so called evidence based paper that was provided to Councillors by the rail group. It is a mishmash of dated material, and extrapolations of recent work done for the Tourist service but there is no professional engineering view that would bring into question the costings done. There is innuendo that the study was influenced by donations from road groups and recent opinions but no one has been able to provide any evidence of interference in the selection of Arups to do the study, that the TORs were inadequate, that the engineers were not competent to do the task, or that they were under pressure to come up with other than a considered view on the costs of restoring the service. Of course the paper ignored the Northern Rivers Regional Transport Plan which spells out clearly where the transport issues in the region, particularly for vulnerable groups, and why improved bus services would best meet those identified needs. I would also note that Tim Fischer provided support for proposed tourist rail services on the line, and that RDA Committees are non-profit, community-based incorporated associations – as such I would understand that while Page is appointed by the Commonwealth he is not employee of the Commonwealth.

      • Peter Hatfield, The 2012 ARUP study has been discredited by many people. Engineers and ex-State Rail employees have pointed out on numerous occasions that the study is a “furphy”, as they know the true cost of restoring the rail line would be something in the order of $100 – $200 million at most. Edvidence provided by Elements of Byron has further shown the real cost of restoring rail, as opposed to the ARUPs report. Elements concluded their Byron Bay section cost $300,000 per km (Replacement of the Belongil Creek bridge only cost $300,000 and track work only cost $100,000 for the whole section) whilst according to the ARUP study, that same area would have cost $13 million to restore per km. Even people like yourself can just look at previous studies like the Pricewaterhouse Coopers study of 2006, which stated the cost to restore would be something like $24 mil or $100 mil, then go forward 7 years and all of a sudden it is somehow at $951 million?

        It is becoming increasingly obvious the ARUP report of 2012, which is literally the blood of the NRRT proposal, was a “furphy”. I’m guessing the upcoming feasibility study for “The Byron Line” will just be further proof of this. Or maybe that is what you rail trail supporters fear? Perhaps that is why the NRRT is going back on their word to work with the Byron line for a win-win situation?

        • I have read the 2004 PwC study commissioned for the Tweed Shire if that is what you are referring to. It repeated the standard criticisms of the replacement bus services, but did not make any suggestions to improve those services through better accessibility or timetabling. You can see where that report was coming from – considerations of better bus services were not even included in its TORs. I note that the Tweed Shire did not see fit to use it as a basis for its recent Transport Plan which does not recommend linking to the Murwilllumbah and preferred a Busway down the Tweed Coast to meet medium term priorities – largely because of the high capital cost of rail but also because of high recurrent costs compared with buses. And if you are so confident the line can be refurbished cheaply than why not propose to the NSW governemnt that you can put together a consortium to do it for $200 million? If they are persuaded that with a fixed price contract that would make restarting the service viable and represent good value taking into account current maintenance costs, and current demand, you could go ahead and give them your consortium’s contract to do the work. Of course they might not want to sign it because after taking onto account high ongoing recurrent costs, they might consider a bus services would do the job better.

    • PAUL SPOONER is clearly showing his competency as a politician with this issue.
      He is a true leader to emerge from what appears to largely be populist driven Crs Retchardson, Cameron and MP Tamara Smith.

      Paul Spooner knows this issue and deserves to be Mayor, to attempt to bring the big picture into play, to help expunge the extraordinary narrow mindedness of following the hopelessly romantic dreams of people, stuck in the 122 year old tracks, designed for the freight needs of yesteryear.

      Well done Paul Spooner, for standing up for what is good for this community.

      When the rest of us catch up with good old reason, logic, and common sense, you will be applauded in averting what looks now, to be imminent corridor selloff caused by the cavalier foolhardiness of blatant ignorance.

  2. Gee, Don, overtime I start thinking Don ‘isn’t a bad bloke’, he does something like this to remind me he is first and foremost a National Party politician and always will be.

    How totally UNCOOL to jump into a Local Government election campaign, with days to go, and throw this crap against the wall.

    You bailed out of State politics when it looked like you were ‘gunna get beat’ by that sweet Greens lady, so now you want to throw your sixpence worth in from the safety of Macquarie Street.

    Boo hiss, Don Page !

  3. http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/rn/podcast/2011/09/orr_20110918.mp3
    This podcast is from a transport describing the sadly slow and lacking NSW Rail system.
    Keeping freight on the roads and people in cars is so easy with our steam age rail alignment.
    The Lismore to Murwillumbah section of the Northern Rivers line will not be compatible or viable to get people out cars or freight off our roads.
    My trip from Coolangatta Airport to Byron Bay time travel –
    Cooli Airport 6.12am
    Pottsville Highway Exit – 6.30am
    Ocean Shores Exit – 6.36am
    Bruns Exit – 6.41am
    Mullum Exit – 6.43am
    Ewingsdale Exit – 6.46am
    Byron Bay CBD – 6.55am

    Total time 43 minutes.

    Now who wants to travel by the forever slow winding train ?

    Tweed Shire Council has already stated in its Transport Strategy that it wants a future train system to follow the Pacific Highway from Chinderah to Yelgun.
    Byron Shire does not even have a Transport Strategy document, the Green based council has had 12 years to get this implemented but has sat on its hands.

    If you want a train back on the tracks you had better vote for a rock wall between First Sun Caravan Park and The Belongil as this major transport infrastructure is within 80 metres of highly erosive beach . No government will reinstate the line without this rock wall .
    Now which party said NO to s rock wall ?
    You can’t have a train without the rock wall !

    • The old train service actually got from Casino to Murwillumbah far quicker than the bus that has now replaced it. Studies have also shown that upgrading the line would further reduce rail travel times. A railway line down the highway will never happen because it would cost billions and it wouldn’t even connect the towns like the existing railway already does.

    • Geoff, Driving a car at 6am to Byron, or getting an expensive ‘airport’ bus from the airport, is not public transport people could use on a daily basis.

      Buses with stops, and traffic jams at peak times, even if they took less time, get people breathing carbon monoxide. Tourists won’t come here for that.

      Having little taxi-like minibuses running people around for the price of a bus will be subsidised way more than a rail-based system. Imagine adding thousands of minibuses to the roads, well they won’t do that, people will have to pay extra ar not get around.

      We want socially inclusive rail-based public transport, where disabled, elderly, shoppers, children, students, workers and tourists will have to put up with some nauseating middle class elite cyclists, as well as the nice ones.

  4. I think it’s funny how Don Page keeps referring to the Arup study which has been discredited so many times.
    – Didn’t include any new stations at the many festival sites along the line, such as Yelgun
    – disregarded that trains are more accessible and suitable for elderly and people with disabilities (not just locals but also visitors to the region). Chose to increase bus services instead even though it is clear they are not suitable for everyone.
    – actually didn’t include tourism at all
    – there have always been calls to extend the line to Tweed Hds and Coolangatta, it was explored in the study but Don Page never mentions that
    – The cost of $950 million must have been for a gold plated double track or something because Elements has restored a section of track for only $300,000 per km including a large bridge over the Belongil Creek. Arup estimated that same section of track to cost $13 million per km. Obviously that’s not even close.
    – Every report on the line, including the Inquiry into the Closure of the Rail Services, the Price Waterhouse Coopers Report and the Arup report have said that a frequent railcar service would be viable and provide far more benefits to the community than the previous Xpt service.
    It’s funny how Don Page and the Rail Trail advocates will say and do just about anything to justify their plan to rip up our valuable train line and sell it to developers.

    • While the Ccasino to Murwillumbah Transport Study found a shuttle service would gereate more traffic then the XPT, it also found ” The rail corridor cannot serve transport needs of the corridor between Lismore and Ballina, Ballina and Byron Bay and the Tweed Coast/South Tweed region. Importantly, the rail line does not provide direct connections to education, medical and other social services in Lismore, Ballina and Tweed Heads. ” It did consider the impact of tourism in the region. That finding reflects the survey into transport use in the region that found that the demand lies along the growth corridors on the coast, and between those areas and nearby Lismore and the Gold Coast – none of which are served by the corridor. I also note that while many people are saying the Arup report has been discredited but by whom exactly, that would persuade the NSW government and people so they are be fully confident that restoring the line would cost less than the Arup’s estimate? And how would you then persuade them that they should subsidise a transport service that only served 40% of the people in the region, and did nothing to improve access for the disabled and elderly in areas like Ballina ? . I also note your comment above concerning the speed of the XPT. You are happy to tout the popularity of a commuter shuttle service, but want to refer to the limited stop XPT in respect of speed. I also note that at least some of the Countrylink bus services now service the Lismore Ballina Byron Bay crescent, and the buses go on to the Gold Coast, which the XPT never did. As I have noted before those wanting to revive the corridor are taking a blinkered view focusing on the Byron Shire and its linkages to Lismore and Casino, ignoring the region’s needs, including the linkages to the Coolangatta and Ballina airports. . Limited public transport funds need to be focussed on where the greatest number of public transport dependent people live – particularity the Ballina Shire and the Tweed Coats. We should not be squandering limited finds on what will only ever be a limited service to the smaller centres along the North Coast line that can be serviced by more frequent buses just as the growing coastal areas can be. At at least some of the money that you will waste on rail can be spent on providing better bus services that are wheelchair or mobility scooter enabled bus services – as is done in Britain – again focusing on areas like Ballina that you whose elderly you choose to ignore in your analyses. Finally I note your reference to the calls to extend the line to the Gold Coast. The Tweed Transport Plan considered that possibility and specifically rejected it as uneconomic. It considered an extension might be warranted direct to Yelgun but only in the longer term, and proposed a busway be built medium term, down the Tweed Coast noting that rail is more than double the cost of bus ways and has far higher costs recurrent costs per passenger.

  5. Here we have a fine example of blackmail and someone having a scoff at people at the last minute for political reasons. As Jens Krause said, the corridor is SAFE unless a new law is passed (Rail Trail Bill). What Mr Page is doing is political blackmail for political interests and that alone – the only case the community or facts are even considered is from Our Sustainable Futurte and Byron Greens groups.

    • … like the Ballina line is safe! If it is not used Gary the public has every right to expect it be sold off. But you would rather do nothing, sitting complacently on a piece of legislation, in the hope that one day someone will take power with no economic sense, and no regard for the interests of the region , and waste public money reviving a service that goes form nowhere to nowhere, and services a minority of the regions population along the way. The Byron Shire, which is whee most of the push is coming from, decided to turn its back on development more than 50 years ago. That may well have been the right decision – it certainly has been for landowners – but it does mean the area along the so-called Byron Line is in no position to be demanding more of the limited transport monies of the NSW government than are spent on its more substantial neighbors, shires which have larger populations of public transport dependent people.

      • Petrus, the Ballina Line was washed out by floods and sold off many decades ago. Do you even live in the Byron Area? Or are you one of those people who have moved to the area from some other city and suddenly want to put their 2 cents into everything?

        • I am well aware the Ballina line was closed decades ago – my point is that if the corridor is not in use it can be sold off. Better then to put the North Coast line to good use as a rail trail. In answer to your second question, I have to say as someone who has lived a long time in the ACT, we get pretty tired of people in NSW questioning our right to comment on transport issues there. The costs of the use of each others’ public services across borders are sorted out each year in an agreement between the ACT and NSW, and in the Commonwealth funding arrangements for the states and territories. We pay for our small share of the use of Trainlink just as NSW pays for its people to use the ACT hospital system. If you live in the ACT where else are you likely to drive more than 20 or 30kms, or catch a coach or a long distance train, or go cycle touring if not in NSW? On the Northern Rivers, my family have lived in the North Coast since the 1870s, and moved to Byron Bay in the 1890s. I was born and grew up in the Bay, and am a ratepayer in the Ballina Shire, and it is perfectly appropriate that I would comment on transport issues in neighboring shires that affect me (and I know you are quite happy to comment on the good quality of the rail service in the Gold Coast). I do believe that the Northern Rivers’ transport problems need to be tackled on a regional basis, not a parochial shire basis. Indeed the reason we did not have a single gauge rail service from Brisbane connecting to the North Coast line a hundred years ago is because of the sort of beggar-my-neighbour parochialism that has long plagued our nation (and came into play again when Whitlam tried to take over the state rail systems). I am happy to listen to reasonable argument about the North Coast line and hope others will read and consider the public reports I refer to that propose better bus services to improve the region’s public transport . In doing so I keep in mind that the motto of my alma mater, Mullumbimby High, was “Play the Game” not the person.

  6. Selling off the rail corridor has always been the real intention of the National Party since they shut down the passenger service. Privatisation and real estate development is their main agenda, not community services. Look what they have done to TAFE.

  7. was it don page who gave permission to the rail trail mob to enter public land and vanderlise it by pulling down the bridges and why they where not arrested for doing so who is pulling the stringes here for there own benfit come thomas george get your act together and get light rail on our tracks

    • Did you raise your concerns with the police, and if not why not? It is the police who are responsible for acts of criminal damage and vandalism. And if the removal of the bridges was not vandalism then please don’t accuse people of doing that.

  8. Talk about don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. No threat, just simple fact, there is NO chance of getting rail back in the foreseeable future BUT if we can save the corridor it will be there for the next generations transport options.

  9. You have to wonder who were the other candidates that applied for Chair of the Regional Development Board and how Don Page got the job. You’d think after he retired he’d go and get on with some knitting. But no. Having seen his National Party successor fail to get elected, you’d think that he might notice that the electorate was pretty clear about how they felt about the rail issue and politicians who do a complete 180 degree backflip on what they said previous. Or maybe he’s just easily seduced? Was it Marie Lawton”s invitation to sip chardonnay and hang out with the pretentious elite? Even Paul Spooner who should know better (but after all it was his party who made the stupid decision back in 2004), believes that if you keep saying something negative for long enough (“the trains will never come back”), somehow that equates to a done deal. It’s just so sad, that people propagate this drivel because it’s abundantly clear to anyone with half a brain, that Northern rivers communities rightly deserve to have their train back and they’re going to keep agitating until it’s a reality. As for Don Page, it smacks of a manipulative spiteful loser and an inability to listen to the community. Back to the knitting I say.

    • I wonder why on earth you portray the Rail Trail enthusiasts as a pretentious elite. Sure it has been taken up for the last few decades by middle class people, but traditionally in Australia it was a working class sport and transport – and they are still used by people of a great variety of backgrounds (I notice that particularly around Ballina). Indeed it is difficult to imagine a cheaper more accessible sport, leisure pursuit and transport. That is why most Australians cycle at some stage in their lives, many millions regularly do, and based on the Euro example many millions more would if they had separate paths and lanes to cycle on wherever they want to go. The benefits of cycling to physical health and to the environment are pretty obvious, but it is also an activity that leads to social engagement and helps people to overcome social isolation, improves mental health, maintains mobility into the seventies and beyond and extends greatly the area that people can easily reach without needing to use a car. As the younger generation so aptly put it – “what’s not to like”. Ironic then to have a National championing a path that would appeal so much to cyclists and to have the Greens so half-hearted in their support – it seems they don’t really care about the most sustainable transport and tourism, preferring their beloved solar electric dreams.

  10. We will never get the trains back. But we have great connections to casino to get the train with a bit of a bus trip.
    I believe the old rail needs to be used as an option for a bypass in Byron.
    The current model of ideas for a bypass include going south down Butter St and coming out at the intersection between Johnson and Browning St. I truly think that a bypass that truly bypass’ the town and all the residential areas should go from the start of Shirley St to old Bangalow rd near the road house down the rail tracks. If this is at all possible then I might be able the sleep for more than 3 hours a night.
    With thanks to anyone who supports this idea.

  11. Geoff, Driving a car at 6am to Byron, or getting an expensive ‘airport’ bus from the airport, is not public transport people could use on a daily basis.

    Buses with stops, and traffic jams at peak times, even if they took less time, get people breathing carbon monoxide. Tourists won’t come here for that.

    Having little taxi-like minibuses running people around for the price of a bus will be subsidised way more than a rail-based system. Imagine adding thousands of minibuses to the roads, well they won’t do that, people will have to pay extra or just not get around.

    We want socially inclusive rail-based public transport, where disabled, elderly, shoppes, children, workers and tourists will have to put up with some nauseating middle class elite cyclists, as well as the nice ones.

    Why do people want to leave Murwillumbah out of the picture?

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