NSW Transport Minister Michael Costa was said yesterday to have "completely lost the plot" by declaring on Wednesday that budget airline Jetstar was causing country travellers to abandon the CountryLink rail service.
Former Tamworth mayor and administrator of the Tamworth Regional Council James Treloar said Mr Costa's claim was "an outrageous statement and obviously has nothing to do with the north-west".
It was especially outrageous because the Qantaslink service between Tamworth and Sydney was probably the most expensive in Australia.
Mr Treloar said he had recently paid $295 for a one-way airline ticket for a young girl from the United States who had to travel back to Sydney from Tamworth.
He also said Qantaslink did not service many country NSW towns and cities, so Mr Costa's claim was nonsensical.
Member for Northern Tablelands Richard Torbay was one of many political, community and union leaders united in criticism that Mr Costa's claim lacked credence.
Commenting on Mr Costa's claim at a rail summit in Sydney that passengers had turned their backs on the country rail network since the launch Jetstar in May, Mr Torbay said: "They [the Government] must have a book saying how to offend everyone. And boy oh boy, they're following it religiously."
"What a ridiculous claim to make in the middle of a short-term price war between the airline companies [Qantas and Virgin Blue] ... ridiculous because Mr Costa's job is to come up with an acceptable, long-term policy."
NSW leader of the Nationals Andrew Stoner said Mr Costa's com-
ments that Jetstar was stealing CountryLink passengers were "nonsense and the latest excuse for Labor to axe CountryLink
Newcastle-based assistant secretary of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union Mick Schmitzer said Mr Costa was "coming up with all sorts of reasons to close CountryLink down ... there is a whole host of things going on which don't make sense".
He could not understand the attitude of the NSW Government, which seemed to be short of money.
"Twelve months ago we had a surplus budget. Now we seem to be out of money," he said.