SPEAKING ON A MOTION | WEST GATE TUNNEL

Mr Melhem: Now Mr Finn talked about a unity ticket. I agree with you. I actually offered last night to escort you to Wyndham. I said we could go in one car, ‘I’ll even drive you there’. And what did you say? ‘Oh, no. I can’t be seen with you. We can’t be seen together’. I offered to drive you there, brother, and you did not take up the offer. Maybe next time we will go together.

Mr Finn: Are you voting for the motion?

Mr Melhem: I am not voting for the motion, because, Mr Finn, you do not believe in anything you have said. The only thing you have been saying in this place is—

Mr Ondarchie: On a point of order, Acting President, I think we should offer the member a chance to redeem himself in that he has just misled the house. He said he agrees with Mr Finn, and now he is saying he is not voting for the motion.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Elasmar): There is no point of order, Mr Ondarchie.

Mr Melhem: Because I think, Mr Finn, you do not believe a word you have said for the last 25 minutes. You do not believe in anything you have said. You do not believe in the west. You do not do anything for the west. You just sit here and drive fear and fear and fear. I remember the Stop the Tip campaign in relation to the expansion of Ravenhall some five years ago, during the 2014 election. Your constituents and my constituents came to a debate, and there were commitments sought from the parties about whether we would continue campaigning against the extension of the tip. I gave a commitment that we would continue to work to make sure the tip sort of finished, and guess what? Mr Finn did not turn up! Mr Finn did not turn up. He sent a young lady who was standing up for St Albans, I think. I felt sorry for that poor woman because he did not have the guts to turn up and face the people. Then we received the message, ‘Oh, we have no commitment towards doing anything with the tip, and our policy is basically that the tip will continue to operate’. So do not lecture me about what the Liberal Party is doing for the west and how the Liberal Party cares about the west. Come on, in four years what did you achieve?

Mr Finn interjected.

Mr Melhem: What did you achieve? I am coming to that. Just hold your horses. I listened to you and I did not interrupt. I have 27 minutes so I will cover all these issues. In the four years that you were in government, Mr Finn, what did you do for the west? Zip. I will tell you what he did—

Mr Finn interjected.

Mr Melhem: Well, the first thing you did was that you cancelled the Caroline Springs station. That was actually committed to in the 2010 budget. The first thing you did was to cancel it. Two—

Mr Finn: And we got rid of the St Albans level crossing.

Mr Melhem: I know about the level crossing. I am glad you raised that. There were three very important level crossings that were part of the regional rail project, which were initiated by a Labor government—at Fitzgerald Road, at Robinsons Road and at Station Road—and you cancelled them. You modified the regional rail project and they were no longer there. Now, we are going to do them, years later, and they are going to cost us more money. We could have done them when we were upgrading, but you took the money out.

Do you want me to keep going, because the list is very long? The M80 extension—money was committed by the Gillard government to actually complete the EJ Whitten Bridge and widen that, but what did you do? You took the money out.

Mr Finn: On a point of order, Acting President, the motion is very clear. I do not know whether Mr Melhem has actually read it, but he has not made a lot of reference to it at this point in time. It might be worth, given that he has been speaking now for 4½ minutes, just reminding him that the motion is in fact about the Andrews Labor government dumping toxic soil in Wyndham, and it has nothing to do with the M80 or any other matter that he might be rabbiting on about at the minute.

Mr Melhem: On the point of order—

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Elasmar): Thank you, Mr Finn. It is my understanding that when Mr Melhem started you all started to interject and in most of his speech he has been replying to your injections.

Mr Finn: I don’t think so.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Elasmar): Thank you.

Mr Melhem: I just remind Mr Finn that in his contribution he talked about many, many things other than the toxic waste. He opened up a Pandora’s box about Labor’s commitment to the west and the Liberal Party and everything else—he covered all sorts of issues—and I am simply responding to that.

Mr Finn: On a point of order, Acting President, I know that Mr Melhem has his back against the wall on this particular issue, but for him to mislead the house in the way that he just has, I think, is something that he has to be brought to heel on. I ask you to caution him about, well, basically just sticking to the truth if that is possible for him to do.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Elasmar): Mr Melhem, please, to come back to the motion. Thank you.

Mr Melhem: It must have hurt, all the stuff I have said about Mr Finn and the Liberal Party. The truth really hurts.

Let us go back to the West Gate. We know the Liberal Party, and Mr Finn in particular, never actually wanted the West Gate project to go ahead. They still have not got over the 2014 election and the east–west tunnel proposal, which had a western section that was going to be in never-never land—it was going to happen probably in the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years.

I am actually a bit surprised, as a member of the Western Metro Region—are you number 2 on the ticket? What are you on the ticket, Mr Finn? You’re number 1 for the Liberal Party—given we are actually doing the western section first, as a westie, you should say, ‘It’s great. We’re actually developing things in the western suburbs. We actually put the western suburbs, as western suburb MPs, ahead of the eastern suburbs—ahead of other people in this state. That is one point you should be pleased about—but no. At every opportunity, let us go and shitcan the project. Let us go and attack the proponent of the project. Let us go and say, ‘No, the western suburbs are not allowed to have a freeway of six lanes each way, have a tunnel, have better transport. No, they’re not entitled to that’.

Mr Melhem: Instead, ‘We’ll put in our revocation project’, a revocation motion to basically stop the project.

Mr Finn: Get cancer instead!

Mr Melhem: Let us talk about the soil. I am going to talk about that, Mr Finn. I was not avoiding the subject at all. Unlike you, I will talk about it, but this time I will talk about the facts and not going and scaring the daylights out of people. You have talked about asbestos. Where did you get that from? Where does the asbestos come from? I have not heard from anyone that there is an issue with asbestos, but no, let us go and scare the daylights out of people and say there is going to be asbestos. There is none.

Mr Finn: Can you rule it out?

Mr Melhem: So far there is no indication there is any asbestos.

Mr Finn: You’re telling us there are no carcinogens and there is no asbestos—

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Elasmar): Order! Mr Finn.

Mr Finn: Is that what you’re saying? Is that what you are saying, because the minister would not say it?

Mr Melhem: The EES, the environment effects statement, all the analysis, all the geological testing was done before the project commenced. The only thing that was identified was that PFAS is a potential contaminant. Everybody knew about that; that is not new. Anywhere in the western suburbs, anywhere within 10 kilometres of Melbourne, you will find PFAS, because we are talking about stuff you use at home. We are talking about stuff you use in detergent. It is everywhere. You actually breathe that. We deal with that everyday.

Mr Ondarchie: It’s okay to go down to Wyndham Vale. Are you saying it’s okay then?

Mr Melhem: I actually listen to the experts. I do not listen to you two dodgy brothers, so-called experts. You do not know what you are talking about. The only thing you do is you like the sound of your own voice.

Members interjecting.

Mr Melhem: Come on, get excited. Let’s talk about Good Friday!

Members interjecting.

Mr Melhem: I’m going to church.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Elasmar): Order! Enough, thank you.

Members interjecting.

Mr Melhem: I am not going to be lectured by you two.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Elasmar): Order!

Ms Stitt: On a point of order, Acting President, I cannot hear Mr Melhem’s contribution.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Elasmar): Neither can I. Thank you.

Mr Melhem: Let us go back to the issue at hand. The project is going ahead. The project is vital to Melbourne and particularly to the western suburbs of Melbourne. A part of the project is that 1.5 million cubic tonnes of soil need to be dug up. Yes, there is some contamination in that. The Environment Protection Authority (EPA), when they did the analysis, basically went to the extreme measure of saying, ‘That is the worst-case scenario’. Even though all the indications are and all the analysis is saying that the risk is very low—very minimum risk—and there is no harm in basically digging the soil, transporting the soil, even temporarily putting the soil in a particular location, then treating it and putting it in a proper landfill. There will be the strictest possible regulations put in place to deal with that.

We have a problem with the construction companies, John Holland and CPB. They knew they needed to make arrangements to have that soil deposited somewhere, 12 to 18 months ago when they bid for the project.

Members interjecting.

Mr Melhem: Let me finish. Let us not defend these construction companies, because if they can rape and pillage, they will do that everyday. So they knew. It is not a surprise. They have decided now, ‘If we can go and say, “We’ve delayed the project”, and we can say, “It’s going to cost us an extra half a billion”, we might be able to squeeze some money from the government. So we’ll make all these issues about the toxic soil and that we cannot find a place for it’.

Well, I have got news for them: they knew exactly what they were getting into. They knew exactly what they tendered for. All the testing was done prior, so it is a matter for John Holland and CPB to get off their backsides, along with Transurban, to sort it out, to find an appropriate place to basically treat the soil safely and deposit it safely without impacting the population of Melbourne, whether it is west, east, north, whatever it is.

The soil has got to go somewhere. The soil will be treated and will be sent to an appropriate location. Now, the issue in relation to Wyndham—and I want to congratulate the Treasurer for turning up to a meeting to talk to his constituents, which he did.

Mr Finn: He wasn’t there last night. He was invited.

Mr Melhem: Maybe he did not want to be with you, Mr Finn, but he did turn up, and the consultation was done. No decision has been made in relation to where the final destination is. Definitely, there is no consideration, as far as I am aware, that Wyndham is going to be used to store the soil there. My understanding is Transurban is considering and talking to the council and talking to Public Transport Victoria in relation to a contingency plan in the event the soil is going to, say, location A in a landfill somewhere and they cannot access the premises for some reason, whether it is flood, fire or whatever happens on a particular day, because when the tunnel is operating it will actually be operating 24 hours a day seven days a week.

You cannot just switch the machine on and off. It does not turn on and off; you have got to keep going. So in that scenario they were looking at a backup plan for a temporary place where they could store it for a day or two or three or four—I think it was 21 days maximum—and when that problem has resolved itself, they can access where the soil should go on a permanent basis that they removed. And I am not sure that is going to go ahead, by the way. Mr Finn is creating the picture that 1.5 million cubic tons are going to be actually stored in Wyndham. That is not the case. The worst-case scenario—that is not the case.

When I talk about a unity ticket, you actually work with the government to actually find a solution, not to actually run a scare campaign. Now, we agree that the project is going ahead—

Mr Finn interjected.

Mr Melhem: No, it will not be dumped in Wyndham because there is no room for it to go in Wyndham. So it will have to go to a large hole in the ground somewhere, right? It will be the same thing we will do with the North East Link. We are going to have clean soil which will go to a clean area where people can re-use and repurpose it. We might have contaminated soil that will have to go to a specialised tip or hole in the ground. There will be a process, and then it has to be dealt with. So that will be dealt with in the safest possible manner.

Now, let us go back to the progress on that particular job so far. As I said, the Liberal Party from day one—I think it was Mr Davis—moved a number of motions in this house trying to stop the project, but thankfully unsuccessfully. There are 12 million work hours so far that have been done. They have built a temporary exit ramp at Williamstown Road to make room for a new ramp, and they have built a new exit ramp on Williamstown Road to make room for the new tunnel entry. We have relocated the north Yarra main sewer, and we have completed the launch site of the two tunnel-boring machines. They are ready to go. All the power poles—we have got some actually not bad looking power poles. They are the new single ones instead of all of these humongous ones. I drive past there every day. I think they are sort of making the area look better. So all the preparations in relation to the start of the tunnelling process are completed.

The other big job is the Footscray Road underpass, or the double-decker, if that is what you want to call it. That is progressing really well as well. So there is a lot of work that is happening on that project. I could even see the lane, driving in last week. Exiting the M80, the extra lanes on the left-hand side going towards Werribee have now been completed, and work has now started on duplicating or fixing the middle lane. That will then have the freeway being six lanes each way. So work is progressing.

We are talking about Werribee, Wyndham and Hoppers Crossing, and I am pleased to inform the house that we just did two more level crossings in Hoppers Crossing and Werribee. Basically, construction on these ones is about to commence at a cost of $355 million. So we are doing a fair bit of work in Werribee and the western suburbs on level crossings. The whole focus of the Liberal-National coalition, the opposition parties, and Mr Finn—the lonely voice—is basically trying to run a scare campaign about scaring people. That has not changed. In my time here, six years, the message has not changed. It has not changed. I have not seen anything positive from Mr Finn or his party about the western suburbs.

Well, let me tell you, the western suburbs have transformed since 2014. The past six years have been huge.

Mr Finn: You are still dumping on us.

Mr Melhem: Well, do not say, ‘You are dumping on us’. I actually live in the western suburbs. I am a proud western suburbs resident, and I tell you what: the western suburbs have become the place to be. The western suburbs of Melbourne have transformed. For once in your life, just praise where you live. Just tell the world, ‘I live in a good suburb’. I live in Caroline Springs. It is the best place. I would not live anywhere else.

Let us look at the places in the western suburbs. Yes, the western suburbs 20 or 30 years ago were a place of heavy industry and were sort of working class—which is great. Great people live in the western suburbs, but in recent times it has transformed. People are now racing—they want to go and live in the western suburbs. A lot of suburbs in the western suburbs have become the place to go for a lot of Melburnians—the inner west, whether it is Footscray, Williamstown, Essendon, Moonee Ponds, Cairnlea, Hoppers Crossing, Werribee or Point Cook. Melton is connecting to Melbourne now. Between Deer Park and Melton used to be a wasteland. It used to be paddock after paddock. Now it is connected. There is a train station at Rockbank and massive investment in regional rail. Airport rail is about to come online. Just watch that space: in the next couple of weeks that will be finally announced. It will be a reality, in partnership with the federal government. I am pleased that they have come on board. Sunshine will be the biggest hub in Melbourne. It will be connecting Victorians to the airport and to regional Victoria.

There are massive changes happening in the western suburbs, and yet the only thing Mr Finn talks about—and his party—is that the western suburbs is a dump.

Mr Finn: There’s obviously people in Werribee. God help us if we talk about people’s health. Don’t worry about the people in Werribee. They don’t matter, do they? He doesn’t think they matter.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Elasmar): Order!

Mr Melhem: Do not let the facts stand in the way of a good story, Mr Finn. Keep that going, mate. That has not done you much good in the last six years and probably is not going to do you much good in the next six years. You know what? I have got faith in my constituents. I treat my constituents as intelligent people. They can actually separate fact from fiction. They actually can see through it. They can see what we are actually doing in the western suburbs. We are actually getting things delivered. I can go through the list, but look, I mean that might upset Mr Finn. I can go through a list; it is a long list. I want to think about the positives not the negatives, about the good things we are doing in the western suburbs. I would like to invite you, Mr Finn, if we are talking about a unity ticket, one day to stand in this house and do a members statement and talk about how wonderful the west is, how wonderful life in the west is.

Mr Finn: I do, often.

Mr Melhem: You don’t.

Mr Finn interjected.

Mr Melhem: Well, you need to probably be a bit clearer about it. So how wonderful is life in the west! Can it be better? Of course; the whole world can be better. We have the coronavirus. Thank God, Mr Finn is not the health minister—thank God, Jenny is the health minister—because he would be saying, ‘The sky is going to fall. We’re all going to die tomorrow’. Did you clean out the supermarkets of all their toilet paper?

Ms Mikakos: Ask him how much toilet paper he has got at home.

Mr Melhem: We are going to check your car and see how many toilet rolls you have got in your car. You went to the supermarket last night. That is where you went last night, didn’t you? That is where you went.

Mr Finn interjected.

Mr Melhem: Well, can you share?

Mrs McArthur: Don’t kiss anybody.

Mr Melhem: I know. I am not even shaking hands these days. Apparently, you cannot shake hands.

In the last 6 minutes I have got I will conclude with the government will continue its investment in the west. We will continue driving it to make sure that project is built on budget and on time.

Mr Finn: Will you continue to dump on us?

Mr Melhem: The issue in relation to the soil—unlike Mr Finn, I have got full confidence in the EPA.

Mr Finn interjected.

Mr Melhem: Well, there you go. We have independent authorities that we put in place to actually administer the laws and do things, and what do they do? They put them down; they undermine them. Well, I have got full confidence in the EPA, particularly the revamped EPA. I have got to give Minister D’Ambrosio credit. She reformed the EPA. We have got a new CEO. A massive number of staff have been employed with a high level of expertise. The EPA—you are right—a few years ago were starving. They did not have the right skills. They could not attract the right people and keep them, and that is why they were struggling. But you have got to admit, in the last few years, since the new legislation came in and the investment of $196 million in the new EPA and the new CEO, they have actually been doing things.

One of the reasons, Mr Finn, John Holland, the CPB and Transurban are pulling their hair out is that the EPA got really tough on them and said ‘Okay, we’re going to put the strictest measures in place to make sure that soil is dealt with properly’. That is why I have got full trust in the EPA to do the right thing and that it will be done properly. An appropriate location will be chosen to meet all the rules. It is not a big confession: I do not want to see the soil going to Ravenhall if I can help it. Steve McGhie would not like to see the soil going to Bacchus Marsh if he can help it. And, Mr Finn, you do not want to see it going to Bulla if you can help it. But let me tell you this—

Mr Finn: Why does it have to be the west?

Mr Melhem: Where do you want to send it? Well, the project is in the west, Mr Finn.

Mr Finn: Put it in Mulgrave.

Mr Melhem: Well, put it in your backyard. I am a realist, Mr Finn. The project is in the west and the soil will be dealt with in a safe manner. It will be cleaned up, it will be made safe and it will be deposited in the appropriate location. We will see in the next few weeks what agreements the consortium, or CPB, John Holland and Transurban, will come up with under the supervision of the EPA. We will find out where the soil will go to. My focus is on a permanent location, instead of running a scare campaign. There will be consultation with people in relation to this. There are a lot of things that need to be put in place about the transport of the materials from the West Gate Tunnel, and yes, there will be a fair number of trucks travelling on a daily basis to whatever the location is going to be. Common sense is you probably do not want to—

Mr Finn interjected.

Mr Melhem: Well, we will send it to Mildura. Will that fix the problem? If you are prepared to pay the bill, I am sure they will do it. They will do anything.

It will be done safely. I hope that Transurban, CPB and John Holland, in conjunction with the EPA, will find the final solution—I will call it the final resting place for the soil—in the next few weeks so we can get on and turn these boring machines on and we can start digging that tunnel and keep digging and digging until we get it completed come 2022, because I am so looking forward to actually being there at the opening. Six-lane roads each way and a three-lane tunnel will make the journey easier for my constituents in the Western Metro Region, for residents of Geelong and beyond and for the residents of Ballarat and beyond. They will all be using the M80 and the Princes Freeway, or the M1, to come into the city, past the city, going to—

Mr Finn interjected.

Mr Melhem: And the Footscray Hospital. We are building that. That is another one: a $1.5 billion new hospital in Footscray. Thanks for reminding me, Mr Finn. I mean, that is another development we are doing in the west.

If we left it to you, you would probably close the old Footscray Hospital, and then, ‘See you later. Don’t worry about building a hospital in the western suburbs’. But, no, the Labor Party would not do that. We will build a new hospital. If we had left it to you, that would not have happened.

Labor again is delivering on its commitment to the west and to Victoria. We are getting things done. The only things the other side have been doing for the last six years are whinge, scare people, make up stories and try to be relevant. Keep trying. It is not helping at this stage. So with these few words I will be voting against the motion. Does that answer your question, Mr Ondarchie?

Members interjecting.