Still hope for regional rail deal: Chester

Up in the air: Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie with Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester and City of Ballarat mayor Samantha McIntosh. Picture: Lachlan Bence.

Up in the air: Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie with Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester and City of Ballarat mayor Samantha McIntosh. Picture: Lachlan Bence.

The federal government has promised a “pathway” to more cash for regional rail – if the state government comes to the table. Last week’s federal budget saw just $500 million allocated to regional rail in Victoria, plus another $460 million for “future projects” to be negotiated with the state.

The sum falls almost half a billion dollars short of the $1.46 billion state government says it is owed for the leasing of Port of Melbourne under the federal government’s asset recycling scheme, and had earmarked just weeks ago to bankroll regional rail. Planned upgrades included improvements to the Ballarat-Ararat line, for which the state this month pledged $39 million. 

Speaking in Ballarat on Tuesday, federal Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester said he hoped to reach a deal with Premier Daniel Andrews by July 1. Mr Chester flagged the budget’s $10 billion national rail fund as a means to make up the shortfall, as well as the $460 million earmarked in the budget “to provide for future projects identified with the Victorian government”.  

“I can see a pathway for Victoria getting more than $1 billion into the future but they’re going to have to provide some plans,” he said. “There’s $460 million there with no strings attached and that’s why we need to sit down with the Victorian government.”

Victorian Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan said the federal government had scrapped the existing agreement under the assets recycling scheme, which would have delivered a no-strings attached windfall to the state.

"I'm keen to meet with Mr Chester as soon as possible, to understand why they don't support the $518 million Ballarat Line Upgrade and better services to Ararat. A good starting point for any discussions will be why the federal government continues to short-change Victoria on infrastructure funding, and why they are walking away from the asset recycling deal."