QUESTION: Overland train service

In Question Time, Mark asked the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment about the Overland train service.


The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: A number of constituents have contacted me concerned about the fate of the Overland rail service. It is an issue that has been raised in this chamber a number of times in the past, but we are now coming towards the end of 2019 and coming to the end of the Victorian Government's rescue package for the Overland. According to media reports, the operators of the Overland, Great Southern Rail, are not taking any bookings for the year 2020. The South Australian Government has made no commitment to funding the service, and the Victorian Government has made no commitment to funding the service.

The constituents who contact me are a range of people. Some of them just like trains, but some of them have serious health issues and other reasons why flying is not an option for them, and we know some people are even just plain scared of flying. More important than any of those groups is possibly the tourism sector and so my questions are:

1. Has any decision been made about a South Australian contribution to continue the Overland train service to Melbourne?

2. Are any discussions underway, or have any discussions been held with either the Victorian Government or the train operator?

3. Does the Minister think that the closure of the Overland will be good for tourism in South Australia?

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment): I thank the honourable member for his ongoing interest in the tourism sector and, as a Hills resident, I guess, in the noise from trains the Hills residents sometimes endure. It is no secret that in our first state budget we announced that South Australian taxpayers shouldn't have to subsidise a privately owned company to run this service. We made that very clear. The Overland is a privately owned and operated tourism service and therefore its continuation really is a matter now for Great Southern Rail. Of course, we know that the Victorian Government did provide some funding, which continued this service.

All of those discussions are a matter for the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, the Hon. Stephan Knoll. The funding was always provided through that department, and so any discussions that have taken place are not a matter for the tourism minister. One of the aspects of the honourable member's question asked me whether it was going to be good for tourism. It is interesting to note that the patronage on the service has been declining for some years, so really the passengers are voting, if you like, with their feet; they are not using the service.

However, Journey Beyond I think is the company that is actually doing—and the name of the actual tour escapes me—a journey that will use that line for a tourism experience similar to The Ghan. It will still be operating. They are able to offer quite a unique experience to their patrons. I expect that we will still see some use on that line, but from the State Government's point of view, we don't believe it will have an adverse impact on tourism numbers.

As members would know, I lived in that part of the world and am very familiar with the Overland on both sides of the border and also the town of Bordertown, where it used to stop. Even in those days, the amount of patronage on that service was declining, simply because of the amount of time it took to get to Adelaide. Even on the Bluebird that used that line, it was over five hours from Bordertown to Adelaide and you could drive there in about three hours. It may be a little shorter now that you have better roads and better cars. The Government doesn't believe the cessation of this service will have any dramatic negative impact on tourism numbers.