Major Transport Projects Facilitation Amendment (East West Link and Other Projects) Bill 2013

My contribution will be from the heart. What I find unsurprising is that despite all its promises, the Napthine government has done nothing to address Melbourne’s transport infrastructure for nearly three years now. We always said the coalition would not deliver for Victoria, and that is not far from the truth. What I find astonishing is watching the government wake up from its slumber and panic one year out from an election, deciding to implement this ill-fated project, east-west stage 1.

I have a new name for it — the east CityLink project — because there is no west in it. Our debate today is on the amendment bill, which is said to address all the current and future transport needs. Today’s bill crystallises a total disregard for the promises made by the government and its existing mandate from the 2010 election. It went to the election with a platform of expanding public transport and a commitment to due process in the development of a sustainable transport infrastructure plan for this state. It is worth reminding ourselves what the government said its mandate was.

The Minister for Public Transport, the Honourable Terry Mulder, MP, ruled out the east-west tunnel before the last election. He called for the implementation of the Melbourne Metro rail plan and new rail lines to Doncaster, Rowville and Tullamarine airport.

This was a public transport platform which ruled out building an east-west tunnel because, in the words of the opposition at the time, ‘You cannot build your way out of congestion’. How things have changed.But instead of implementing a sustainable transport infrastructure strategy and building on the work done by the Bracks and Brumby governments, this government decided to rip up over a decade of careful analysis undertaken since 2002. It tells us to forget the Eddington report and Victoria’s transport plan and instead applaud it for drafting a patchwork of growth corridor plans. That is more time lost as the congestion and transport crisis continues to grow.

By 2020 the congestion cost to Melbourne will be around $6.8 billion a year.

By focusing on one project and one bill which will facilitate it, at the expense of an integrated plan which includes prioritising road construction and public transport options for outer growth areas, the government’s approach sends the state’s transport infrastructure investment down the wrong path. It neglects an integrated strategy and higher priority projects of state significance, such as the Melbourne Metro tunnel and WestLink, while riding roughshod over thousands of residents it will hurt along the way, and in the end it will deliver little for commuters and businesses.

The government’s approach, aided by today’s bill, has two major consequences.

It pits private transport against public and promotes a road versus rail battle that electors never wanted when they voted for this government in 2010. The government should read its own record. Electors never wanted that, including voters in the outer eastern suburbs, who wanted better roads and investment in rail and access to public transport options. As noted by the Auditor-General, there is a widening disparity between inner and outer
suburbs of Melbourne. Sir Rod Eddington was very careful not to promote rail versus road because he knows that we need investment in both. The opposition wants both too, rail and road. The government, on the other hand, is now offering us 6 kilometres of road tunnel at a cost of up to $8 billion. In so doing, the government is ignoring the advice of its Linking Melbourne Authority, which oversees major road projects. Like the Metro tunnel, WestLink was part of the Brumby government’s transport plan. Both had been backed ahead of the east-west option by Sir Rod Eddington.

As reported in an article headed ‘Coalition overruled advice on road links’ published in the Age of 6 June, the Linking Melbourne Authority advised the Minister for Public Transport that WestLink could be completed well ahead of an east-west option and would provide a ‘crucial alternative Maribyrnong River crossing’. Despite the problems of public transport gaps, the clogged West Gate Bridge and freight access to the port of Melbourne, the government directed the authority — it actually gave a direction — to commence work on an east-west tunnel, ignoring the advice of its own authority.

We have got the government looking at building a 6-kilometre tunnel with $8 billion of taxpayers money when Sir Rod Eddington and I supported an 18-kilometre east-west project.

What the government is doing here is transferring the car park from the Eastern Freeway to CityLink. The government’s project is a dud project because it will not fix the real problem, which the proper flow of the 18-kilometre tunnel would fix. Industry Funds Management has come to the government and said, ‘We will build the whole project as recommended by Sir Rod Eddington’, at its own cost and with no risk to the taxpayers. What was the answer from this government? ‘We are not interested. We are going to waste $8 billion of taxpayers money and build the project at no risk to construction companies’.

Speaking to construction companies, and I speak to them very often, they cannot believe their luck. They think Christmas has come too soon, because they are going to get to tender for a project for which they will have no responsibility. The worst thing you can do in this country and this state is give construction companies an open cheque, and that is exactly what has been done here.

The government has given them an open cheque and said, ‘Bid for the project and we will underwrite your losses. We will underwrite everything. We will risk taxpayers paying a lot of money for this project’. Face it, the government could not get a single construction company in the state or the world to bid for this 6-kilometre tunnel without government taking the full risk. But companies would be prepared to bid for the project if it was a total project, and that is my challenge to the government. If it wants to be fair dinkum, if it wants to have a game changer, it should go for the lot.

I will support it if the government goes for the lot. Do not go for a dud 6-kilometre project. The government should go back to Industry Funds Management and say, ‘Put another proposal forward. If you do not like the current proposal, come back to us with a proposal to build the whole project’.

Then the government can spend the $8 billion to build better infrastructure for our growing suburbs. It can focus on building train lines to Doncaster and to Rowville and the Metro rail plan. It can do all that.

If this government wanted to be fair dinkum and responsible, it would not just squander $8 billion of taxpayers money, and it will probably go to 10. As I said, it will give all the cheques to the construction companies basically saying, ‘We’ll give you an open cheque’, instead of going to the private sector and saying, ‘Here is an 18-kilometre project. Let’s look seriously at this. You invest in it, you construct it, you run it, you operate
it and you divert the funds to do other projects’.

The government’s own national leader does not believe its business case, which has been lifted from Sir Rod Eddington’s report. I read the report when I wrote my own speech, and when he did the costing it was one for four, based on the whole project and not on the most expensive part of the project. Those opposite should not mislead Victorians. One for four was for the whole 18 kilometres, not for 6 kilometres. The opposition should get the real business case analysis out there, stop telling Victorians lies and start telling the truth for a change. I will leave my comments at that. I am obviously speaking against the bill and am supporting the reasoned amendment of my colleague Mr Tee.