SPEAKING ON A BILL | WEST GATE TUNNEL (TRUCK BANS AND TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT) BILL 2019
Mr Melhem (Western Metropolitan): I also rise to speak on the West Gate Tunnel (Truck Bans and Traffic Management) Bill 2019. As Mr Rich-Phillips alluded to in his contribution, the bill does a number of things. One is to give effect to the arrangements or agreements reached between the state government and Transurban in relation to the construction of the West Gate Tunnel and also take into account the widening of the Tullamarine Freeway and the major works that were carried out on the Monash Freeway. The bill gives legally binding effect to that contract. The contract does provide an extension of the current toll arrangements by a further 10 years, and that subject or this particular issue has been before this house a number of times. It has been before the previous Parliament a number of times, so I think members will be familiar with the debate. We have had that debate I do not know how many times, and the opposition have been constant in their opposition to the West Gate Tunnel project. I heard Mr Rich-Phillips say, ‘We don’t oppose the project, but we don’t like the toll arrangement. We don’t like how it’s paid’. Mind you, a notice of motion was before this house to revoke everything in the last sitting week, and in the previous Parliament there was a similar motion trying to stop the project. In fact it was successful in stopping the project for a period of 24 hours. We were able, thankfully, to get around that and get the project going again.
I think this project is probably one of the most advertised projects in the state. It is no secret what we are doing. The project is halfway through now. The boring machine or the tunnelling machines are ready to go, but the work around widening the West Gate Freeway from the bridge towards the M80 is progressing reasonably well. In fact I know it is progressing really well because I drive on that road on a daily basis. The portal at Whitehall Street in Yarraville is progressing very well, and the boring machine is being installed and put together as we speak. Thousands of people are employed on that job. We went to the election, and people knew exactly what we were proposing. They knew exactly what the proposal was all about. It was no secret that this project would be paid for by extending the existing toll arrangement—which was started by the former government, by the way, in 2010. The former Liberal government one day finally committed to do something in widening the Tullamarine Freeway and agreed to extend the tolling arrangement for one year, so it is okay for them to actually propose that. They are even talking about the indexation, which Mr Rich-Phillips talked about. The indexation in that particular contract was 4.5 per cent; in this proposed contract it is 4.25 per cent. So I think the hypocrisy of this opposition is unreal. Probably next week they will come back with another West Gate Tunnel project motion. They do not get it. They do not get that they did not win the last election. We were voted in with voters knowing exactly what we were proposing in relation to this particular project, so it is no secret. The opposition are now coming up and saying, ‘No, no we like the project. The project should continue’. Duh! Imagine just stopping the project halfway: it would put all these people out of work. Good luck to the opposition leader, the opposition frontbenchers, the backbenchers and even Mr Finn in going and facing the people of the west and the people of Victoria and in showing themselves in public. I bet you they would not be able to do so.
They are saying, ‘We do not like the way in which you are paying for this project’, but again, we went to the election and we said, ‘We are going to extend the contract by a further 10 years’, so it was not a secret. It was not a secret. Wake up to yourselves. You had a 10 or 12 per cent swing against you at the election. People endorsed what we are doing. You might not like it; I get that, and I respect that. The alternative is—what are you saying? That the state should fork out the $6 billion cost of the project? The state should fork out the cost of widening the Tullamarine Freeway—close to $1 billion? The state should fork out the extra money for widening the Monash Freeway? Let us add all that up, and we are talking about nearly $8 billion. So that is $8 billion that the state would have to pay up‑front, and then we have got projects like railway crossings and hospitals. We are spending $1.5 billion on rebuilding the Footscray Hospital—a new hospital in the western suburbs, in my electorate. That would be gone, because where would we find the money? Yes, the way this project is going to be paid for is by Victorians who use the CityLink network—and yes, everyone gets benefit out of this, not just the people living in the western suburbs of Melbourne. I do not know what you have got against the western suburbs of Melbourne because, you know, the people of Geelong are not the only ones who are going to use the road. The people of Ballarat are not the only ones who are going to use the road. The people in the south-eastern suburbs are going to use it the most, which I talked about earlier, because part of extending the toll is that it would pay for the costs that have already been incurred in the process of getting work completed on the Monash Freeway. For people going to the airport, the Tullamarine Freeway widening project is not complete. That is part of it, so most Victorians who use the entire CityLink network will benefit out of this. When the project is completed in 2022, this bill—it is already in place—will impose by law a permanent ban on trucks entering residential streets. I think everyone should applaud that. That is what the bill does. The bill also talks about a number of other improvements which we have managed to put in place in relation to infringement and fines where the current system does not deal with that adequately. I know I had a lot of representation from legal aid services in the Western Metropolitan Region in relation to some of my constituents. They ended up paying thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars in fines. With the current system in place, you could have a $100 fine that could very easily accumulate and become a $1000 fine. So this will streamline a lot of that. We basically listened to the people who were getting impacted by that, and this bill will address that issue. I want to commend the Treasurer for giving that a fair bit of attention. I have written to the Treasurer a number of times and done some representation on behalf of constituents in the western suburbs. I also want to recognise the Footscray legal services for the work they have done on behalf of my constituents. So if we look at the whole project and the value, you have economists and you have people saying it will cost $37 billion or $20 billion. That was always going to be the case—a lot of it is projection. It is fair to say that a lot of that is projection. Maybe their numbers are correct. But they may not be correct—it depends on how many cars actually use that road, whether the numbers go up or down.
Mr Finn interjected.
Mr Melhem: Mr Finn can laugh.
Mr Melhem: The tolling project in New South Wales went broke because not many cars were using them. Look, when Transurban approached the government in relation to this project, they were put through a very rigorous process to get it approved. So it was not just that someone walked in, ‘Great, we like what you are saying and here you go, we will sign you a cheque’. That was not the case, and if the opposition are truthful to themselves, if they were basically focusing on that instead of just scaremongering and trying to sort of say—
Mr Finn interjected.
Mr Melhem: Well, I have not heard what the alternative is. What is the alternative, apart from are you committing to pay the $6 billion up-front? I do not think you are even saying that. You are not offering a solution, unless I missed it. In Mr Rich-Phillips’s contribution of nearly an hour, I did not hear a single word on how he is proposing to pay for it. I have not heard that the state should cough up, let us say, $6 billion plus the other $2 billion I have talked about. I have not heard him say that. I have not heard him say, ‘We will pay that, and therefore we will cancel the other project’. They do not like the project because it is not their idea. I do not think they had many ideas for major projects when they were in government anyway. The one they dreamt up in the last one was the east–west link, and we all know what happened to that. So I think it is about time—
Mr Finn: Yeah, $1.3 billion—$1.3 billion.
Mr Melhem: No apology for that, Mr Finn. Let me tell you, we said we were going to cancel that project and guess what—we did exactly that. We actually do what we say we will do. That is what we do, unlike you. We actually do what we say we will do, and that is what we did. That is why we are sitting on this side of the chamber and you are not. This project is a good project. I think this Parliament has spent enough time chasing its tail and debating this project week in, week out. It is time that we got on with it. It is time we passed this bill to give some certainty to the project and to streamline some of the processes which are attached to this bill. We should get on with it and get this project built, without playing politics. With those words, I commend the bill to the house