Back in the days of his prime, Barnaby Joyce announced that the Coalition Government had allocated 9.5 billion dollars for the construction of the Inland Railway.
He had demanded this from Malcolm Turnbull as the price for National Party cooperation at the time of Turnbull's coup to topple Abbott.
Turnbull reluctantly agreed, but insisted that it had to be funded 'off balance sheet', ie, not taken from general taxpayer revenue in the next Budget, but funded by loans to be taken out by the Federal Government's own railway company, ARTC (Australian Rail Track Corporation) against its balance sheet. Future revenue would pay back the loans.
This was mentioned only in the fine print of the public announcement. Most voters think it is being funded by regular government grants.
In other words, Barnaby Joyce proceeded with the project without allocating one cent of government funds to it. This means that his in-depth commitment to it has been Nil. It was simply a vote getting stunt.
It still is a very shallow commitment by those who have followed him and it will cause future governments huge pain when, inevitably. they are forced to pick up the large tab.
Based on current planning, it will take a full decade or more to build the railway from Melbourne to Brisbane via Parkes and Toowoomba.
Interest on the ever increasing ARTC loans will rapidly multiply over those years.
Then, it will take another ten years for freight traffic on the railway to generate enough revenue to start repaying the loans, while, in the meantime, huge operating losses will add onto those loans.
The venture will bankrupt ARTC.
The facts are that the Inland Railway can only ever attain viability if it is funded totally without debt and this was known to both Turnbull and Joyce when the deal was done.
Their actions represent one of the most irresponsible decisions in Australian political history and could easily have been avoided.
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