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.