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Queensland Rail failures: Transport Minister Stirling Hinchliffe resigns

Brisbane Times, 6 February 2017
Embattled Transport Minister Stirling Hinchliffe has resigned from his cabinet portfolio amid the long-running Queensland Rail debacle. Mr Hinchliffe will also step down from his role as Commonwealth Games minister.

Deputy Premier Jackie Trad will act as Transport Minister and Treasurer Curtis Pitt will serve as acting Commonwealth Games Minister.

A report into QR failures prepared by Phillip Stachan was made public minutes before Mr Hinchliffe’s announcement.

Mr Strachan has been appointed new chairman of QR.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Mr Hinchliffe told her on Monday he did not wish to continue in his role as minister.

“I want to thank Stirling for his service,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“It has taken a personal toll on him and his family.”

“These are tough jobs, family must come first.”

Mr Hinchliffe’s decision came despite the report stating that shareholding ministers were not adequately informed of driver shortages in QR.

s Palaszczuk said the job was incredibly demanding, and she said she did not suggest it would be best if he resigned.

“Stirling gave an excellent presentation to cabinet of a clear path forward and I want to thank him for that,” she said.

“These are incredibly demanding jobs and I have to listen to my minister and it has taken a huge toll on him personally and a huge toll on his family.”

Ms Palaszczuk said she sincerely apologised to south-east Queensland’s rail commuters who had experienced unacceptable disruptions.

Mr Hinchliffe resigned after cabinet meetings on Monday. He will retain his position as Leader of the House.

A potentially small cabinet reshuffle is likely to occur as a result of Mr Hinchliffe standing down.

Mr Hinchliffe said the decision was tough but he believed it was in the best interests of the government.

“The issues at Queensland Rail have been some of the most challenging and, at times, frustrating issues I have needed to manage as minister,” he said.

“The findings of Mr Strachan demonstrate that no minister or government could have foreseen driver shortage issues due to the Queensland Rail mismanagement.”

Mr Strachan said he did not believe either the present Labor government or the previous LNP government were to blame.

“I don’t believe there is any particular finding I’ve got against one government or another,” he said.

Mr Strachan said he and Ms Trad would meet with the rail unions on Monday afternoon to discuss how to accelerate driver recruitment and training.

“That means talking about external recruitment and allowing drivers to qualify more quickly on a single section of track,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

Ms Palaszczuk said cabinet had accepted all 36 recommendations from the report.

She said cabinet had agreed to establish a new Citytrain Response Unit, to ensure QR followed a program of sweeping reforms recommended by the Strachan Commission of Inquiry.

“It will, in effect, be a watchdog for Queensland Rail, ensuring it stays on track and on time in delivering these vital reforms that the public expect,” she said.

“There is no quick fix – Commissioner Strachan thinks it could take two years for Queensland Rail to have enough drivers to reliably deliver the timetable.”

Some employees will also be referred to the Public Service Commissioner.

Mr Strachan is also expected to interview a shortlist of candidates for the position of chief executive officer on Friday.

Opposition Transport spokesman Andrew Powell said Mr Hinchliffe’s resignation showed he had admitted he was not up to the job.

“It is the minister’s responsibility to be asking the right questions,” he said.

Mr Powell said commuters would be facing “train pain” for two more years.

“Mr Strachan will have a tough job,” he said.