Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (16:28): I rise to speak to the Rail Safety National Law (South Australia) (Fees) Amendment Bill 2023. As has already been mentioned in this house, this bill seeks to amend a number of sections of the Rail Safety National Law (South Australia) Act 2012 in order to complement the Rail Safety National Law (South Australia) (Miscellaneous) Amendment Act 2022. I would like to acknowledge that we are the lead state in this national law, so obviously we need to get this legislation through the parliament.
The bill includes amendments to private sidings, defined as a low-speed section of track which is distinct from a running line. It includes exemptions for accredited persons from the annual fees prescribed by the national regulations and the insertion of a section to increase prescribed fee amounts.
The bill seeks to remove the requirement for tourist and heritage rail operators to pay the annual accreditation or registration fees to the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator, and it will amend the definition of the term 'private siding', which will allow rail managers of various freight terminals to be registered instead of accredited, which will result in lower annual registration fees.
The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator prescribes fees relevant to rail infrastructure managers and operators to be paid annually to that body. A new cost-recovery focused model is being introduced, which will amend the way in which accredited operators will pay their relevant prescribed fees, following broader amendments to the national law in late 2022.
At present, an accredited operator is required to pay a fixed annual fee of $15,000, as well as a variable fee annually, based on track kilometres managed, travelled or possibly both. The new model will see an accredited operator pay an annual fee that is based on a risk profile as well as the regulatory effort required from the ONRSR to oversee the operator.
The risk profile will be structured into six tiers, with tier 1 to be considered the highest risk and tier 6 the lowest risk, respectively. Those operators allocated to tier 1 will be subjected to the highest annual fees, based on this risk profile, with those in tier 6 subject to the lowest. There are, however, types of railway operations not included in the six-tier cost-recovery model.
Railway operators that are not included in this six-tier cost-recovery model will be subject to other costing arrangements. This includes tourist and heritage sector railway operations, and accredited tourist and heritage operators are instead subject to a reduced annual fixed fee of $2,000, including the variable annual fee. However, the bill seeks to remove the requirement for tourist and heritage operators to pay annual accreditation or registration fees.
Railway operations defined as less complex railway operations will also be exempt from the six-tier risk model, as they are considered to require less oversight. These operators will instead be subject to an annual fee of $20,000. Additionally, railway operations that manage private sidings will only be required to be registered rather than accredited, on the ground that they also require less oversight. They will be subject to a fee of $5,500.
This bill will amend the definition of private siding to allow various managers of freight terminals to fall under this definition, therefore being subject to the lower fee of $5,500 rather than the considerably higher fees that are incurred under the six-tier model arrangements. The final component of the bill is to insert three new sections in the national law to enable annual increases in fees indexed via movements in the consumer price index.
Railways have made a significant impact on society, on our country and on our state. It is interesting, though, that we have had narrow gauge, broad gauge and standard gauge railway lines put in across our state. Over on the West Coast, there was a narrow gauge system, and there is some debate now at the moment about whether or not that will reopen for grain traffic for Viterra to get their grain railed into Port Lincoln.
I know even at Cummins, which is not that far out of Port Lincoln, there have been a reasonable number of incidents, with trains slipping off the lines and having derailments. Some of this might have been because of the narrow gauge. But over on our side of the world, certainly before 1995, running from Adelaide through to Mount Gambier and through to Bordertown were broad gauge railways.
As a child growing up in the Coomandook area—and that was a little while ago—we saw quite a few trains coming through because of a lot of stock of fertiliser supplies. I have early memories of the grain stacks at Coomandook where grain, once it had come off the headers, was all bagged in those days in the late sixties and was trucked in and huge stacks put up. In the old language, the bag of wheat would weigh 187 pounds, which is probably 90 kilos rounded off in the new metric language.
The bag lumpers, right across the state, had unbelievable strength. Some men would throw a bag over each shoulder. When you think about that, it is a lot of weight. It is unbelievable. Just lumping one bag would have been more than enough for me. There were huge stacks built and they had big bag elevators that would elevate the grain to many levels—probably, 20 high is not enough. It might have been a lot higher than that, but you could get a lot of bags stacked into a railyard.
Apart from that, we saw stock get transported on the rail. All the railheads had stockyards. A lot of the saleyards were next to the railheads and all the local sidings had yards to either send stock out or receive stock because it was the easiest way to do it before people over time got into their own trucks more and more. Even then, they only had little six or eight-tonne trucks that could not cart a lot of stock.
I can remember fertiliser turning up in closed vans and you would have to get it out and load it up onto your truck. Usually, you would have to go up a ramp or something to get it onto your truck. Certainly, as a 17 year old (which was a couple of days ago and a bit) I remember working at the Coomandook silo for a while trucking out grain. Back then, we did not have the bulk carriers that emptied out into grids like you see at silos now. We had the grids, but they did not have the rail freight carriages that were compatible with the grids as such.
It is how fertiliser came down the other way as well from Adelaide. They had flat railcars, obviously with sides on them. The first job you had to do was to get newspaper and fill in all the holes around the four doors—two doors each side—to make sure it did not leak and then load them up with grain. The requirement was eight railcars a day, but we could have that done by nearly 2 o'clock in the afternoon, so we would do a couple more and clean up the situation and then knock off. I note that fertiliser, once it went from bags to bulk, came down the rail line, but again there were systems put in place where there were unloading machines with giant paddles to drag it into a hopper to put it into bags in a shed at the sidings.
But I suppose the closest activity—and I have talked about it in here multiple times before—was in 1995 with the Melbourne to Adelaide rail standardisation project, where along with a friend of mine Mark Elliott, who I also did quite a bit of shearing with, we signed up as contractors to work on that standardisation project. We were making a bit of pre-seeding money. It was before Easter of 1995. Anyway, we got signed up as contractors. As I have said here many times before, it was with actual great shame, and I have said it and I agree that it was the blackest three months of my life, that I had to join the AWU, the Australian Workers' Union, so that I could work there even as a contractor.
Mr Tarzia: It's outrageous.
Mr PEDERICK: It is outrageous. But, anyway, I wanted some money, and I was getting paid well, and I was willing to work, and went on the job. It was a very interesting job because all the concrete sleepers had been put in place with all the extra cleats to shift the line (rail gauge people can google this) about six inches into standard gauge and bring it into a more standardised form across Australia. The wooden sleepers had been replaced from Melbourne to Adelaide, the concrete sleepers had been installed—a big job—and the ballast was in place, and then it was the job to get organised to shift the rail. You do not have to have much rail to have a lot of weight.
What happened was that, for those six weeks leading up to when we did the big move over the Easter weekend, we had an unclipping machine that was actually built for maintenance (so it broke down a bit) and the clips that held the rail to the sleepers were very tightly sprung steel. It was a machine with a Honda motor and it rode up the rails, almost like those old carts you can remember with the hand pumps that run up and down the rail line. One bloke sat on that. You would line it up with a clip, unclip a clip and away you would go.
Over the many, many kilometres of line, probably about 800-odd to Melbourne, that is a lot of clips, and the other bloke would pick up the clips and throw them in a heap so they could be picked up. What happened was that on the straight bits of track we would unclip every other clip, and I am pretty sure we left all the corners in place because this was still like a fully clipped-up line. This was still a fully functioning rail line but, as we unclipped more line, speed restrictions came in place.
This is a pretty popular route, Melbourne to Adelaide, that links through to Perth and also through to Darwin once it links up in Adelaide. We would unclip every other clip, and after a while you might have one clip in four or one clip in six left, but I cannot remember exactly. Obviously, with speed restrictions, they believed the line would stay in place.
Anyway, the time came for the big shift (Easter time), a big crew came through from Murray Bridge, picked me up at Coomandook a bit after five in the morning to get down to the track and we had a bus. We had to move the section from just north of Coonalpyn to south of Keith, between Keith and Bordertown, to do the big shift. There was a lot of manual labour and I got there a bit tentative as to which job we would get.
Mark and I rolled up and the supervisor said, 'Right, you two blokes get back on the unclipping machine,' and I thought, 'Well, thanks for that. That is good,' because there was a lot of manual labour and a lot of bending over with what we called the MARS bar, the Melbourne-Adelaide rail standardisation lift mechanism that would lift the rail to about waist height.
One person would flick one cleat around on the concrete sleeper, one would use a little broom to sweep it off, and that was done in sequence as the bar. There was also a mechanism to lift up the rail. It was quite a unique machine, and I guess about half a dozen people were working on that section to do that. We got into it, and we would get out there unclipping line. It was a unique role because it was the first job I had ever had where if something broke you sat down while the breakdown crew fixed it.
One day, because this unclipping machine would break quite a bit, I am sitting in the supervisor's car and he says, 'Have a look at the documents on the plan on doing the line.' I said, 'Well, what's going on? This says we should only be doing eight kilometres a day and we're doing 16.' He said, 'That's fine. Just keep going.' The beauty of it was that the rail operators—we had done everything we had to do within three days instead of four—celebrated with some light refreshments in the Tintinara Hotel on the Monday because we had moved the line, done our quota.
There is a historic photo—and maybe someone who is listening has a copy of it, because I have not seen it—that is a bit like the Wild West in America when the two teams meet. We did not have a train at each end, but we had crews and equipment and trackers. I remember I stood on the front wheel of a tractor to make sure I could be seen amongst all the many people in the photo. I must chase that photo up and see if someone does have a copy of it.
I guess that is a bit of a long story, but it just goes to show what had to happen. It is still a lot of manual labour to make sure that we can get that rail standardised. I notice some of the rail projects that are going in place in the Eastern States potentially link in with us. Sadly, because of cost factors and maintenance factors, we lost the Mallee lines a couple of years ago. I was proud to be part of the celebration of the centenary of the Pinnaroo line quite a few years ago in the early 2000s.
In respect of the actual bill, I hope that what we can see from it is some of the little tourist and heritage rail operations that may happen. There has been a lot mooted around locally—perhaps a service coming out of Murray Bridge, going out to Karoonda for a lunch or a morning tea and then coming back. It would need a lot of maintenance now and a lot of work. That is the issue with trains. I also acknowledge that roads do take a hammering from freight, but the reality is a lot of rail has gone out of business.
There is a lot of discussion also about rail being used for public transport further out into the regions. I think it would be great if it stacked up. One reason is not so much about cost, although it would be a huge cost to make it stack up. One reason it does not stack up even just getting to Murray Bridge is that it is two hours and 17 minutes to get there from Adelaide. I know people travel on the Overland to Melbourne, but that is more is a bit more of an experience. It is a little bit like the experience if you do the Ghan or the Indian Pacific. I was privileged to do the trip from Darwin once, and it is a very enjoyable trip down to Adelaide.
The reality is you can get to Adelaide in an hour under that, in one hour and 17 minutes, even in a bus from Murray Bridge. I know there has been talk in this place about getting high-speed rail. I know there has been talk with companies from overseas about coming here and trialling trains. They are going to have to shave some time off on the rail, or there are going to have to be some major infrastructure builds. I do not think anyone has the cash to dig a tunnel from Mitcham through to Mount Barker, which would give you a huge opportunity for high-speed trains, or higher speed trains, but it would come at a huge cost.
We see how the government today have pushed back the South Road tunnelling project. That is costing many billions of dollars. It has gone out by $5½ billion. I hate to think what a project tunnelling through to Mount Barker would cost. One thing it would do, if it did happen, is it would open up that rail access to the South-East and also to the south, to Victor Harbor. That is the nexus: you have to get to Mount Barker first.
Years ago I can remember travelling on the Bluebird, which used come out five days a week to Coomandook, and that would take three hours. It would leave Adelaide at 8 o'clock in the morning and get to Coomandook at 11 o'clock. I know other members have spoken here of some of the other trains that were about in the past. The Redhens were fantastic. One of my grandfathers was a conductor at Gawler. We would get on there when the subway was still there. We used to play on it as kids. We would jump on the train. It would be a bit hot. You would slide these great sliding doors off. There was no occupational health and safety. No-one fell out—that I saw, anyway—and it was just a different world, roaring along the line between Gawler and Adelaide with the Redhens.
Certainly, railways have a lot of romance about them, but at the end of the day you have to make them pay. I hope that with this bill we can get the right outcomes, the right regulatory framework so that people are not paying too much, and we get the right framework to make it work for this state as the lead legislator for the country.