MEMBER for Mallee Andrew Broad made a surprise appearance at Saturday’s passenger train rally but turned down the chance to make an impromptu speech.
Standing among the crowd as guest speakers discussed the future of passenger rail in the region, Mr Broad distanced himself from the train supporters’ standpoint, saying the passenger train could be Mildura Airport’s downfall.
“If we put a passenger train on, you possibly could lose 30 per cent airport patronage, (with the consequence) the loss of Virgin flights because you wouldn’t have enough (passengers) to fill a big plane,” he said.
“What would that do to the affordability and the services you get from air – it would gut them.
“I think you’d find it difficult to sustain both.”
However, NorthWest Rail Alliance president Christian Mitchell said rather than competing against each other, the airport and the passenger rail would “work together” for the benefit of the community.
“I don’t believe that’s true that the airport will suffer,” he said in response to Mr Broad’s comments.
“The airport is a gold-plated service, it costs hundreds and hundreds of dollars to go to Melbourne and back. “A $110 return is not the same as a $500 plane ticket.
“I think they serve different demographics.”
Despite agreeing with Mr Mitchell’s view on the need to connect our region to Victoria’s capital city, Mr Broad was more concerned with the lack of economic benefits connected to a passenger rail service.
“(The passenger train) might bring more tourists and backpackers but what it doesn’t bring is business customers and people who are going to come and invest,” he said.
Drawing a parallel between Mildura and Swan Hill, which had the same number of residents in 1965, he said Mildura outgrew its northern Victorian counterpart because the economy grew off the back of the airport connection.
“Swan Hill has a train but want an airport; Mildura has an airport and want a train,” he said.
“Mildura has 55,000 people and Swan Hill has about 15,000 and there is a reason for that – business wants to invest here.
“I’m trying to get government jobs here (but) they won’t consider putting government jobs in a town that doesn’t have air services.”
Mildura has the second-busiest passenger airport in Victoria, with 225,000 movements in 2017.