The Guardian June 18, 2003


Third party access to Queensland rail network

by David Matters

As part of National Competition policy the coal haulage contracts for the 
Blackwater and Goonyella rail systems are being put to competitive tender. 
The process allows for BHP Billiton to decide who will get these contracts 
and to therefore set the price that they are charged for coal haulage.

This comes under the absurdly biased system of national competition policy. 
It means that the existing rail infrastructure has to be made available to 
the successful tenderer to conduct their operation. This is despite the 
fact that these facilities were built by the people of Queensland through 
the publicly owned rail system.

The beneficiaries of this largess will be the huge transnational mining 
giants and most probably the Patrick corporation which, if successful in 
the tender process, would be able to split the difference so to speak of 
the mining haulage rates with BHP Billiton.

In effect some $150 million stands to be hived off the public sector and 
shared between these two groups.

Those to suffer will be the other users of the Queensland rail system, the 
environment and the workers in Queensland Rail. Queensland Rail have been 
placed in the position of tendering for this work, and competing with the 
private sector for work that is rightfully theirs. There is no doubt that 
they will be told to accept changes to work practices and lower wages.

The job security and working conditions of Queensland rail workers are 
seriously challenged by this process.

Also at risk are a number of rural lines which may face closure if cross-
subsidisation is lost from the public rail network. Currently many 
communities depend on rail to deliver freight. The outcome of closures 
would push more of this freight onto the road.

The net effect of this absurd policy is that the mining companies get to 
extract more of our coal without making any useful contribution to the 
wellbeing of the State and the people. As this policy continues to unfold, 
these huge monopolies will continue to exert pressure to reduce their costs 
and to maximise their profits.

Furthers cuts to the already threatened rail infrastructure are inevitable 
as government policy is further subjected to the whims of the large 
transnational corporations.

This is what "competition policy" is all about  cutting out existing 
publicly owned services. In Queensland it is being implemented by the 
Beattie Labor Government.

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