Barnaby Joyce claimed to have told NSW Farmers to suck it up over rail project

The New England candidate seeking to return as Deputy Prime Minister at this weekend’s by-election, Barnaby Joyce, is claimed to have told a farmer at the NSW Farmers’ annual conference that she would just have to “suck it up” when the woman told him of concerns the federal government’s $8 billion Inland Rail project would cut through farms.

Barbara Deans of Coonamble’s complaint that the Deputy PM brushed her off in July, comes as NSW Farmers have written to the Federal Transport and Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester also complaining about a lack of consultation on the preferred route for the $8.4 billion line.

“I said ‘we have concerns for farmers in our area because we have got the inland rail coming through’,” Ms Deans said of the conversation with Mr Joyce to The Australian.

“Well then he said ‘everybody’s going to have to suck it up. I could be having to suck it up, it could be going through my place.”

Ms Deans said Mr Joyce had said he had a place in The Pilliga area which may be affected by the line.

NSW Farmers have expressed concern at the way that the project has been handled.

In a statement to The Australian, NSW Farmers CEO Matt Brand told the government to hold fire on the project until more work was done with local communities.

“We call on the Government to make no final decision on, or commit to, a preferred corridor until such time as the Minister visits the region, and both he and the ARTC [Australian Rail Track Corporation] fully explain to affected land owners why the preferred route is, indeed, the preferred route and why other options have been deemed inappropriate,” Mr Brand said.

In a letter to Transport and Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester sent this month, NSW Farmers President Derek Schoen said: “NSW Farmers has been a longstanding advocate for the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail project (inland rail). We enthusiastically welcomed the $8.4 billion financial commitment from the Federal Government in the 2017-18 Budget to ensure this project is finally realised.

“NSW Farmers’ support for inland rail is, however, predicated on meaningful consultation with communities and affected land owners, not just for compensation for land acquired for the railway, but to ensure that the final design is viable.’’

The letter said a particular concern was the proposed greenfield development between Narromine and Narrabri, a 307-kilometre section of rail that would be constructed across highly productive cropping country and across volatile floodplains.

He said farmers support for the project “does not represent a ‘blank cheque’.

“Our members want to ensure that the finally-selected route adequately manages the competition of road and rail freight movements, alongside the need to maintain highly-productive broad acre cropping enterprises across New South Wales’ grain belt.”

Another Coonamble farmer, Paul Tym, said it was unbelievable that the town of Coonamble was not within the proposed route, given its importance to farming.

“As far as consultation is concerned, it’s non-existent,” Mr Tym said.

A spokesman for Mr Joyce declined to comment.

Mr Chester said NSW Farmers had been long term advocates of the railway and backed it at the federal budget.

“Decisions on the alignment of Inland Rail will be made based on the requirements of the Inland Rail Service Offering, which is to provide a road competitive freight transport link between Melbourne and Brisbane in under 24 hours, and also achieving the best balance between economic, community and environmental considerations,” the minister said.