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June 2, 2023

Trains dominate Nats ‘meet the candidates’ forum in Lismore

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Outgoing member Thomas George, with State Nationals director Nathan Quigley, and the three candidates. (Pic: Paul Connelly)
Outgoing member Thomas George, with State Nationals director Nathan Quigley, and the three candidates. (Pic: Paul Connelly)

By Darren Coyne

My vote goes to the bloke who recited a poem dedicated to Banjo Paterson, only because I think there should be more bush poetry in the ‘Bear Pit’ of NSW’s Parliament.

Tenterfield mayor Peter Petty was one of three candidates at last night’s NSW Nationals ’meet the candidates forum’ at SCU, and by far the most entertaining.

His rivals, former cop turned Lismore real-estate mogul Andrew Gordon, and young – ‘I’m a farmer, really’ – Austin Curtin, were vaguely disappointing in comparison.

The trio are vying for the honour of representing the NSW Nationals at the next state election.

At least Mr Petty thought having a look at what train campaigners described as a dodgy feasibility report was worth some time, and he also spoke about building things, which is always promising … bridges, roads, infrastructure.

Mr Gordon on the other hand, thought that while his grandfather, father and he had enjoyed the train, it was not worth bringing it back for the kiddies because things had changed and a rail trail was now a more viable option.

Mr Curtin, also a rail trail supporter, did promise to sit up at night and think about it because that’s the type of guy he is.

The evening had started well enough. There was coffee and biscuits, and pleasant catch-ups.

Nathan Quigley, NSW Nationals’ state director, finally called the forum to order and urged the 40-odd people – many of them members of the local Labor party – assembled to keep it nice and on point.

Tenterfield mayor Peter Petty. (Picture Paul Connelly)
Tenterfield mayor Peter Petty. (Picture Paul Connelly)

Peter Petty the poet

Mr Petty, fresh from a mayoral forum in Western Australia, spoke glowingly about new roads, bridges, highways, and the view from the plane he had recently landed in at Ballina.

Like Banjo, he come across as a man of vision, a ‘proud Australian’, a believer in all levels of government working together to promote tourism … and build things.

‘The Roads to Recovery program is the best thing that ever happened to this country,’ he enthused, before mentioning the $4.8 billion upgrade of the Pacific Highway, the second crossing across the Clarence at Tabulam, and the bypass work at Tenterfield.

He said nice things about outgoing MP Thomas George, and sincerely wondered how anyone could possibly turn away from the Nats when the state election rolled around in 2019.

He spoke about ’how lucky we are’ for our free speech, our right to protest, and our bloodless elections, free of persecution and the fear of being shot.

Then he recited a poem.


Andrew Gordon, third generation National Party member. (Photo: Paul Connelly)
Andrew Gordon, third generation National Party member. (Photo: Paul Connelly)

Andrew Gordon, third generation

Mr Gordon, a proud office-bearer with the Sporting Shooters Association, was the next to face the audience.
Struggling with the microphone, he began by saying his campaign ‘started three generations ago’, as his family became embroiled in the local community.

He praised the Nationals for representing the ‘conservative, traditional values’ that had been drummed into him and his siblings yet lamented that the opportunities enjoyed by his grandfather and father were no longer available.

Apparently one of his six children lost a job when the Telstra call centre closed.

Nevertheless, being involved in the community was the key, Mr Gordon said, adding ’I don’t think there are too many committees I’m not involved in’.

And while ‘infrastructure is important’ … ‘hope and opportunity are far more important in my mind,’ he intoned.

Describing outgoing MP Thomas George as a ‘political giant’ who had ‘big shoes to fill’, Mr Gordon then questioned why Tenterfield wasn’t properly resourced, recounting a tale of his son being run over by a pig and having to travel to Tamworth for treatment.

He also spoke of overhearing a conversation about people moving to Kyogle from Lismore for cheaper rentals, noting that his business managed 1500 houses and had up to 71 applications whenever something become available.

He finished with a subtle dig to the next contender, pointing out that he and Peter Petty were now ‘empty nesters’ and had the time on their hands to represent the interests of the electorate.

Austin Curtin, the youngest candidate. (Photo Paul Connelly)
Austin Curtin, the youngest candidate. (Photo Paul Connelly)

Austin Curtin, young blood

Mr Curtin was up next, recounting tales of being a child paddling through Lismore flood waters where his father worked as a surgeon, and being swooped by magpies as spring set in.

Throughout his 20s he studied economics and communications, and worked in sales and human resources before moving to Perth in his 30s to further his wife’s career. There he became a carpenter, had a couple of kids, and joined the Young Nationals in 2003 because the ‘party fights for country people’.

When an opportunity for a small macadamia farm at Tregeagle presented itself, he and his wife returned to the area because they knew they ‘wanted to raise the kids in a safe, country environment’.

Now, at 38, he was ready to front up as the new breed of National, pointing out that Lismore’s growth was slow when compared with other places such as Wagga Wagga and Tamworth.

He promised to be a politician for the people, whether they be ‘business people, farmers, families, conservationists, the disadvantaged and artists … those that believe in God and those that don’t.’

He then rattled off a list of priorities: providing jobs, improving the university and TAFE, the services at Lismore Base Hospital, more frontline police and better roads and bridges.

‘We need someone to fight for it. We need to offer a genuine country voice.’

Question and Answer

Formalities over, the question and answer session began and it was straight to the trains.

Mr Gordon remembered as a kid going to Byron bay at 9am and returning at 3pm but now the ‘bills are too big’ and ‘tourism is the key.

He pondered why the state government had not got a rail trail ready for the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane before apologising to the questioner, saying ‘I’m sorry but they’re not coming back. Move on. Build a rail trail’.

Peter Petty said a business plan was needed to justify the cost of bringing back the train, and took a shot at previous state governments ‘back in the 80s’ for abandoning rail.

Austin Curtin said he supported the rail trail because ‘I can’t see the economics stacking up to bring the trains back’.
“I just wish we had got on with it (the rail trail).’

The second question was also about public transport, pointing out that people in the area were reliant on school buses to get around, despite being required to ‘work for the dole’, or get to their job.

Mr Curtin noted that a significant amount of money was allocated for buses in the last state election ‘but not in this region’.

‘We need to go to Sydney to fight for a bus network that will work for this region,’ he said.

Mr Petty suggested coming up with a business plan to support such a venture while Mr Gordon agreed that more buses was a great idea.

The third question was also about trains, with Northern Rivers Railway Action Group’s Beth Shelly pointing out that the Byron rail had been revitalised at a cost of $330,00 per kilometre, while the feasibility report for the Lismore train quoted $7.2 million per kilometre.

Mr Petty said ‘if you’re saying the reports are dodgy I’d be concerned about that and it needs to be looked at’.

Mr Curtin promised he would stay up late getting his head around the issue.

Mr Gordon said ‘for me it’s a pass’ after saying the train obviously didn’t work ‘because it disappeared’.


Finally someone in the audience asked a question unrelated to trains.

Ms Liz Rummery, former Chair of the Northern Rivers Area Health Service Board and deputy chancellor at Southern Cross University, noted that she had heard very little about environmental policies from any of the candidates.

‘Clean air, water and soil … I think my generation hasn’t done enough to protect these things. I’d like to hear what you’ll do for your children and grandchildren’.

Mr Gordon countered that biodiversity in the region was flourishing, noting that he often saw bush turkeys and wallabies on the lawn where they never used to be.

“We have different biodiversity today and we got it through good stewardship,’ he said.

‘I don’t think we need any more legislation to to lock up parcels of lands. The legislation we have right now is fine and we’re doing a reasonable job.’

On this subject, Mr Curtin outshone his opponents, saying he believed the area could lead the country in renewables, while cautioning ‘we’ve still got to keep the lights on at the hospital at night’.

Mr Petty opined that ‘environment is everything’, saying there were so many regulations in place that anyone doing something wrong is quickly found out’. He said the government had been very supportive of recycling, and said it was important to work with the Environment Protection Authority ‘but it does cost a lot of money’ to do so.


A further question from a farmer wanting to subdivide his 100 acre block resulted in each candidate agreeing that more subdivisions, within reason, would bring further prosperity to the region.

Mr Curtin said such subdivisions could result in bringing more people to the land, resulting in jobs and apprenticeships, and he promised to work with councils to achieve that goal.

Mr Gordon said ‘I truly believe that rural land should be protected’ but there should be opportunity to ‘speculate and fund your retirement’ by selling off a few blocks.

Mr Petty noted that it was all to do with council’s Local Environment Plans, adding he had no problem with subdividing 100 acre blocks into smaller parcels.


On the issue of health and hospitals, the candidates all agreed that while the state government had done a good job providing facilities, there were shortcomings.

Mr Gordon again told the story of his son being gored by a pig in Tenterfield and said that ‘we have to recognise and acknowledge that ongoing funding is needed,’

‘Lismore’s hospitals are great and we are so damn lucky to have them but I wouldn’t want to be in Tenterfield and. be run over by a car,’ he said.

Mr Curtin said it was a matter of listening to the people using the facilities and bringing the experts up from Sydney to listen to the people using them.

Mr Petty said he would sit down with the North Coast Area Health Service, acknowledge the issues, and address them ASAP.


The evening ended with a question about the candidates experience with the community, local government and the Nationals Party.

Both Peter Petty and Andrew Gordon were able to recount their long experience with the party, community involvement in various committees, especially their local show societies. Mr Petty described being involved in campdrafting and sporting groups, while Mr Gordon rattled off a number of groups including the Speedway, shooters groups, canoe clubs and the Northern Rivers Aero Club.

With quite a few decades on their younger opponent, Mr Curtin countered that leadership was the key to success, saying experience with committees did not necessarily translate into politics.

With that it was over, and after a short goodby from Mr Thomas George, the forum came to end.

Time to vote

Now it is up to the people to decide, and the Nationals will be holding a community vote on 18 November. To find out where you can have your say go to http://www.lismorevotes.com.au









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  1. The title said “Trains dominate Nats ‘meet the candidates’ forum in Lismore”. As reported above, trains are only mentioned as an aside to the first question which was about tourism and the rail trail. The second question was about public transport which in spite of the efforts of rail buffs to persuade us otherwise is not synonymous with trains – the discussion was about better buses. The only question about the train was Beth Shelley’s perennial extrapolation of the Byron tourist tram to suggest the line can be restored to meet some imagined but never properly identified public transport need; interesting she did not refer to the $2m a km figure that the Greens accepted at NRRAG’s Murbah forum that it would cost to put public transport along the line. And why would you waste even $40m plus additional recurrent costs for an eight a day commuter train serving 40% of our region’s population , when for far less you could have more frequent (at least hourly) disabled friendly bus services going along a network of all the main routes. Mr Curtin noted that a significant amount of money was allocated for buses in the last state election ‘but not in this region’ – something I have pointed out to rail buffs since the budget. It is interesting that a National is willing to support achievable bus transport improvement something the Greens never mention. Buses can actually go past destinations like hospitals, aged care centres, campuses and airports that people without a car will want to visit. They can also serve areas like the Ballina Shire and the Tweed coastal areas that the 2016 census tells us have far more – and growing numbers of – older transport dependent households than do the areas along the railway line (where the number of households without a car has actually fallen) . But when people keep railing on about the train can we be surprised at the poor provision of public transport in our area?

  2. Hi Darren,
    Is this News or an Opinion piece? I met all the other journalists last Thursday night at SCU but not yourself. Would be happy to meet if your available. Email me if you’re interested. Cheers Austin Curtin
    [email protected]

    • The article is a plainly an opinion piece by a writer who appears to be pro-train. The Government has said it will only proceed with the rail trail if there is community support; this article is trying to generate the impression of widespread interest in the train when only one perennial rail supporter is reported to have spoken in support of it. Again as I note above, you are to be highly commended for referring to the thousands of new bus services the government announced 3,300 as a budget announcement not just an election announcement as reported above, and more again were recently announced). What a shame the Echo and our current members and Councils have not shown your leadership and knowledge of the subject, and are not pushing to improve the bus services – ironic too that the Greens in particular portray themselves as more environmentally aware and keen on equity than the Nationals.

    • Trains also dominated local election campaigns for eight years when the Nationals promised to bring the trains back as they knew it was a vote winner. They haven’t kept their promise and consequently are not doing very well at the polls and the seats of Lismore and Tweed are now marginal.

      The Nationals have done nothing to improve public transport on the Northern Rivers other than waste $2 million of taxpayers’ money on a very dodgy ‘study’ and the voters are not impressed. They’ve seen the Byron line repaired for $1 million per three kilometers instead of the $6 million per kilometer the National Party claimed it would cost. Their own 2012 Condition Assessment Report shows that 75% of the C-M line only needs minor maintenance.

      They know that Northern Rivers people want and need commuter trains on the C-M line and the line connected to Coolangatta Airport. They also know that a train service would be the most cost effective, safe, least polluting way to provide transport for locals and five million tourists who visit the region every year.

      But they are hostage to the road transport lobby and their donations so refuse to provide what has been needed for many years.

      While the politicians fiddle locals and tourists suffer abominable traffic congestion, massive emissions and loss of quality of life as countless millions are wasted on huge road maintenance costs, unnecessary by-passes and bus terminals.

      Just get the trains running and stop wasting our money on things that will increase road traffic, congestion and pollution!

      • The Nationals have done nothing to improve public transport because you others have not asked what the LNP showed in the budget and again last month that it is willing to o –improve the bus services. The dodgy study you refer to was done by Arup – why would you recommend connecting a rail to QLD rail services when you do not trust Arup the lead consultant to the Gold Coast light rail. And why would the government fund the billion dollar cost of connecting rail to Coolangatta airport, when tourists to destination near the line use Ballina Byron airport, and private buses get to Coolangatta from the Bay in less time than the XPT tool to get to Murwillumbah, and at a fraction of the real cost a rail service? A lot of people who look back fondly on subsidised or free rail trail might say they would like a rail service – provided the rest of NSW pays for it. But you never answer my question – why should the people of NSW outlay large capital and recurrent costs to provide at most a two hourly service for one route that serves just a quarter of the region’s households without a car and a significantly younger population than other areas in regional NSW? Do you not support equity in public transport spending?
        You refer to congestion, but you never explain how a two hourly train would service more than two or three of the many commuter routes in our area, and only at a time that would suit a small proportion of the commuters along those routes, or hwy you ignore that it does not serve the highest volume commuter routes like Tweed Coast – Gold Coast, Lismore – Ballina, and Ballina – Byron Bay. That, and the lack of significant destinations like hospitals and campuses, is why the Arup report estimated fewer than 2% of people would shift from cars to an eight a day rail service. You try and show a conspiracy but surely a rail consultancy firm like Arup – which would be well placed to win further rail work – would propose greater spending on rail here not less!
        When I read the Echo and other media the main concern is of the inadequacy of spending on maintenance, and most voters know a rail service will not provide them with an alternative to driving to work. I have yet to read any complaint from the residents of Ballina, Brunswick Heads, Alstonville or Wollongbar about the spending of money on by-passes for their towns, and while some might question the alignment of the new Pacific Highway I do not read an outcry from Woodburn, Broadwater or Wardell that the highway will bypass them (and can you imagine the corner of Jonson and Lawson Street if they had not in 1931 built the alignment over St Helena bypassing Byron Bay!). It is curious that you are happy to support huge outlays on subsidising rail services but begrudge bus travellers an efficent comfortable terminal, particularly since so many users of any train would need to catch a connecting bus service.
        Voters, Louise, drive cars and have no intention of doing otherwise (look at the furore when their free parking is threatened). Most recognise the need to provide transport, but when it is explained that only buses go where those who most need it live and need to go voters will I am sure be happy not to support wasting limited funds on a “a rail to nowhere” that serves – almost – no one.

  3. Very interesting to hear support for the rail trail is paired with a lack of knowledge on the topic. I emplore candidates to inform themselves on both sides of the debate, and make an educated decision.

    “The train will never come back” is just an ill-informed assumption. Fact is, trains can and already have come back. In Byron Bay the world’s first solar powered train arrived on Friday the 3rd of November (last week). The whole 3kms of track from Byron CBD to the rapidly growing Byron Arts and Industry Estate was fully restored for just $300,000 per km. A 40m wooden bridge over Belongil Creek was also replaced with a steel structure for just $250,000. All of this was done by PRIVATE INVESTMENT for very little indeed. It’s something that was done quite cheaply considering the Government, through their flawed ARUP ‘feasibility’ report would have you believe it would cost mega millions to bring trains back – Something totally untrue that the National party candidates seem to have believed all too easily. The train about to begin testing in Byron Bay is clear proof that the Government can reinstate much needed rail services – All we need is a good local member with a bit of vision. Trains may also be coming back to the wider Byron Shire as well; search ‘The Byron Line’ on Google and ‘Friends Of The Byron Line on Facebook.

    To build a rail trail would be to waste millions of taxpayer money and destroy what is valuable infrastructure actually still in good condition for the occasional leisure activity of a minority group. Nobody in any substantial capacity would use a Casino to Lismore rail trail (its way too hot) and such infrastructure would only cost the area money – It would be a financial black hole for LCC. The proposed rail trail here cannot be compared to other rail trails in places such as Victoria, Tasmania and New Zealand and our climate here (Lismore in particular) is much, much different here and isn’t good for cycling most of the year. A rail trail would be of no use to those with disabilities or mobility issues, and is a something that, after the initial buzz wares off, would more than likely only be used by a handful of cyclists. It would be way too hot for the vast majority of residents, some of which don’t even own a bike. It gets baking hot on the rail line. Casino – Lismore would be like an oven after 10:00 in the morning. Hardly something that would attract a tourist and I don’t know why you’d do it to yourself. The rail trail would make the sale of the land all too easy. Removing protective rail legislation through the formal closure of the rail line/corridor would only make it easier for the Government to sell the rail corridor. Which would by that point cease to exist with the land supposedly becoming Crown Land, which the minister can repurpose and eventually sell. Sure, there could be some benefit from the proposed rail trail, but this would be only for a time before the initial buzz wares off or people get sick of the heat. After that it would likely become disused and ultimately sold off.

    I encourage all candidates to do real research that explores both options and make a truly informed choice as to which to support. I’d hate to see such valuable infrastructure that boasts so much potential as a rail line destroyed just so a few cyclists can have yet another bike track.

    • Wayne The Arup report – done not by the lead consultants to the Gold Coast light rail was an estimate for bringing trains back along the line, not a slow tourist shuttle along a very easy flat section. The PwC proposal that NRRAG supports found to refurbish the line to be able to provide a suitable low maintenance track for a commuter service would require extensive refurbishment of the line; even the Greens accept it would be of the order of $2m pr km. The real cost would not be known until a contract were let. Why would government of whatever persuasion commit to spending a million or more on feasibility design and tender preparation, raising expectations of train buffs who want everything from tourist trams, commuter services to high speed rail, knowing that the likely outcome is a cost to restore the line when it is likely to cost at least hundreds of millions, with heavy ongoing outlays for track maintenance, service provision and to meet the expectation of the free travel or highly subsidised fares that people associate with rail . I have written many times that three quarters of the households without a car live away from the line, mainly along the coastal areas of the Tweed and in Ballina Shire, and that the numbers and proportions of elderly people are much greater in the Ballina and Tweed LGAs than in the Lismore pr Byron. You choose to ignore that and argue that very large capital and recurrent sums – sums that whatever the final figure would be the bulk of transport spending in the region – be directed ways from elderly transport dependent people, to serve households along the line.
      You again make the absurd suggestion that the rail trails in the South or NZ are more viable because they are suitable year round. Our area has a more equable climate than any other trail, but is particularly so compared with Otago which has a short summer, like Victoria very changeable weather, and a very cold winter. One of the great benefits of a trail here is that the cooler months of greater likely usage complements both the summer cycling in the South and the busiest surfing and other water sport time here. The studies on other rail trails show steady growth – you have never provided any evidence to support your repeated suggestion that usage is likely to fall away. The repeated suggestion that people with mobility issues or disabilities presents would not use the rail trail does not do credit to the initiative people take to overcome challenges to their mobility. I have previously pointed out to you and other readers the efforts people with visual and other challenges make to enjoy cycling on Canberra’s mixed use paths. I again commend readers to the website of one organisation that provides opportunities on tandems http://www.fitability.org.au/ . Other cyclists with limited vision or other disabilities like many older and many female cyclists, and parents with kids cycling, can only, or choose only, to cycle off the road, and the rail trail provides the opportunity to do so for longer distances with easy gradients and minimal crossings.
      The wording of the Explanatory Memorandum for the model rail trial amendment outlines that the closure of the line is “… in order to create a rail trail for walking and bicycle use. ” The wording of legislative amendment is “Closure of railway line between Rosewood and Tumbarumba (1) For the purposes of section 99A, the rail infrastructure owner is authorised to close the whole or any part of the railway line that runs from McEachern Lane, Rosewood to Tumbarumba. (2) The authorisation of the rail infrastructure owner under subclause (1) in relation to the disposal of the land concerned is limited to the land being dedicated under the Crown lands legislation as a rail trail for recreational use. ” That NRRAG and its supporters have never explained how such a clear amendment would enable a sell-off leaves it wide open that they have never sought any legal opinion to support their repeated allegations. I believe most readers will be able to see that that legislative arrangement will protect the corridor .
      I would encourage all candidates to follow Austin Curtis’ view and support better buses. Let us have public transport for all our region by putting in place regular hourly or more frequent buses along all the main routes, instead of wasting hundreds of millions to provide an occasional train along one corridor.

  4. A real shame to see that Mr Gordon and the rest of the candidates poses such an uneducated view on trains and public transport. They seem to be forgetting about the new solar train in Byron. You know, the one that attracted international media attention, was done for millions less than the government predicted and arrived a few days ago. It’s already better than a rail trail ever could be!

    • Spot on again Gary.

      But mustn’t mention the world’s first solar train in Byron-very upsetting for the bikers-but no doubt they’ll ignore it as they do the 5 million tourists who need transport, and just keep referring to the local population.

      • I do not know why a 3km solar train would upset anyone Louise – 100% renewables was one of the sweeteners ACT Labor used to justify the light rail the Greens forced on them. What I wonder is why train supporters make so much of it but never comment on our references to buses that can run all day on renewable energy, such as those the ACT has bought (negating the benefit they claimed for light rail). If you want the government to provide 100% renewable public transport, lobby them to fund electric buses for all new buses and purchase renewable power for them – it will cost more than the current services but will not cost the quarter of a billion that the Greens accept it will cost to restore the line to be able to run commuter train services, and it will service a lot more than 3km.

    • Mungo – these are important matters of transport, and of mental and physical health and recreation – don’t fuss about Petty matters.

  5. Peter Hatfield, You sure do love buses but I’m afraid the wider community of people disagree & have continued to state they expect trains & want trains for everyday travel, for all the people of all ages who need the advantages of a train, fun, ease of getting on & off, able to walk around, room to stretch the legs in the seat, buy a snack or meal to enjoy as they travel, enjoy the views & not amongst mad traffic & drivers on the roads but denied a train service by MPs who continue to ignore them; to the MPs peril in the voting area and as their votes are what they care about. The tourism from trains will show the MPs & other negative people how wrong they have been – denied train tourism.


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