SPEAKING ON A MOTION | WEST GATE TUNNEL II

Mr Melhem: It has been quite interesting sitting here listening to Mr Davis trying to show interest in the western suburbs, trying to portray himself as an advocate, as someone who actually cares about the western suburbs. It has become a cliché when members on the other side just talk like that.

I recall Mr Davis was the Leader of the House when they were in government for four years. How much work and how many projects or anything did he deliver for the western suburbs? Let me tell you what he did: zero. I will come back to that later on.

He mentioned the Ravenhall tip. Who actually commissioned that? His previous fearless leader, Jeff Kennett, in 1998. The biggest tip in the west was actually commissioned by the Liberal government—taking your rubbish. I will tell you this: maybe you should keep your rubbish in your electorate, in Southern Metro. Maybe we should locate all the rubbish trucks coming from your electorate and let it be dumped in your backyard. It is so convenient.

The Liberal and National parties never liked the West Gate Tunnel Project—simple. From day one they opposed it, and they opposed it, and they opposed it.

Mr Davis: Nor did you. You opposed it actually.

Mr Melhem: No, I did not oppose it. I am very supportive of it.

Mr Davis: You actually had a different proposal. You supported an east–west link.

Mr Melhem: I support it. And I tell you what, thank God the east–west link is gone.

Now, we have got the west link that has started. I am a westie. I love the West Gate project because actually it is a good thing for my electorate. In fact driving here this morning—

Mr Davis interjected.

Mr Melhem: Actually, you have just reminded me I have got to talk to the minister about this because the signs were a bit confusing. As the project is really progressing, and progressing really well, as you are coming off the M80 we have now got six lanes coming from the M80 towards the city because they are doing some work on the middle lane. People of the west and Geelong will get the flavour now. If you are coming from Geelong on the M80, when the project is finished you will have six lanes each way but then three dedicated lanes to the right and three to the left, and it will be blocked in the middle to help access going through the tunnel. So that will give us, I suppose, a bit of a training run to get used to how the new project—well, not the new project, the finished road—is going to look in two years time. I got a taste of that this morning.

Mr Davis talked about the decision already having been made. Mr Davis talked about how the stuff was going to be dumped in Wyndham and now because of the pressure that has been abandoned. The truth does not really matter with this mob. Why don’t you for once stick to the truth instead of doing all this fearmongering—basically stick to reality. It is true to say that there is contaminated soil coming out of this project. That was no surprise. That was not a shock. Everybody knew about it. John Holland knew about it. CPB knew about it. They are the construction companies building the project. When they tendered for the project, Transurban knew about it, the Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) knew about it—everybody knew about it. That is why we have had the environmental impact studies done. They go and dig all these holes and do this geotech testing and all that stuff before they bid on a project like that. And it was clearly highlighted that more than likely there would be contaminated soil and PFAS could be part of it; therefore it was no surprise to anyone. John Holland and CPB, the constructors, bid on the project knowing full well that they would be facing that issue and that as part of their construction program they would need to find a site to basically treat the soil and place it somewhere after it had been treated and dealt with. I will come back to that and the process involved in doing that later.

It is also important to note the responsibility of delivering the project is with Transurban. Transurban has full responsibility and carriage of delivering the project as per the contract between them and the state government. In return there is a price paid for them delivering on the contract. At no stage is it the responsibility of the state, including if there are going to be any variations in the day-to-day activity. It is a matter for Transurban, John Holland, CPB and the consortium. Where the state government comes in is through the EPA. We have got rules and regulations and we have got legislation to protect the safety and wellbeing of the workers on this project and the general population and Victoria in general. That is where the state responsibility lies, and rightly so. Every single member of the house, every Victorian, is entitled to make sure that the state government, through the EPA, is doing its job—and through WorkSafe—to make sure that wherever that soil is going to finish up it is going to be handled safely.

And there is quite a lengthy process. We do not want to put any of our workers in harm’s way and compromise their health and safety when they are digging the stuff out. That is number one. That is the number one responsibility: we need to make sure, for workers on the West Gate Tunnel Project, that their safety is number one, that it is done properly and that all the proper precautions are put in place to make sure it is done correctly. Now, if for whatever reason the soil cannot be dug out safely, well, probably we should leave it there. No-one should put any worker at risk. Let me tell you that in all the advice so far, all the analysis—and I would listen to the experts any day; I will not be lectured by the Liberal Party and Mr Davis and Mr Finn and co—they are saying it is quite safe. It all can be done safely, and therefore we will operate on that basis. Make no mistake: if the EPA and health and safety officials were saying it is not safe to do the job, well, the job should not be done and will not be done. It is as simple as that. We cannot risk workers because the workplace is unsafe. So that is at the top.

That product then will be transported from the Tulla to whatever location, and my understanding is Maddingley Brown Coal mine in Bacchus Marsh is one of the, let us call them, companies—because they are all companies—or parties that have actually tendered for the work. Transurban went out to the market and said, ‘Look, we’ve got somewhere around 1.5 million tonnes of lower grade toxic waste or PFAS’—and I say ‘lower grade’ because that is the advice. It is a lower grade, lower risk contamination. It is not trying to scare people and saying, ‘It’s toxic. People are gonna die from it. It’s so dangerous. It’s like the coronavirus’. Well, as far as I know it is not. As far as I know it is lower grade, lower risk and will not put anyone at risk. If that was not the case, I would be standing here opposing digging the tunnel. I would be talking to Ben Davis, the secretary of the AWU, and the CFMEU and saying that that job should not go ahead—and I am sure they will do that anyway. If they have got concerns about the health and safety and wellbeing of their members, then I am sure Ben Davis and the AWU will stop their members, their tunnellers, digging the tunnel. They will not hesitate. I have got full confidence in them that they will do that, so let us not go and create this hysteria about it.

This is not the first time when have been building a road and we have been digging a tunnel that we have come across toxic soil. In Keilor and the western suburbs, unfortunately, whether we like it or not—and I have lived all my life, at least since I arrived in this country, in the western suburbs, and I still do; as I said last time I was talking about this very subject, there is no other place I would rather live in than the western suburbs—because it is a heavily industrial part of Victoria we had a lot of industries, some of them dirty industries, which resulted in soil contamination. The Cairnlea development with the ammunition factory, for example—that took years and years and years to dig up the place and treat the soil. It was so contaminated. It took a very long time to actually make it safe—and some people argue probably they did not get it to be 100 per cent safe—but that is just an example. The list goes on and on and on. It was the same thing with the ring-road, and that was surface work; we are not talking about digging. That is another point: depending on the depth of the tunnel as well, the PFAS we are talking about might be found sort of 5 metres down and 10 metres down, but when you go further and further there is less contaminated soil because it is far deep into the ground.

So a number of sites have expressed interest to basically receive the soil from the project. The government expects that no proposal will be ticked off—because the government will still have to tick it off.

When I say the ‘government’, it is not the cabinet and not the minister; it is the EPA and WorkSafe. That is when you make a reference to the government. It is not the Treasurer or Minister Allan making the decision that the soil has to go to place A tomorrow or place B or place C; that is not their job. That is not their brief. The decision will be made by Transurban, John Holland and CPB, as the builders and as the people who are in charge of building the project. The government—I will say this again—will come in through the EPA and through WorkSafe. So it is purely going to be based on health and safety grounds—managing that process. So the government, through its agencies, needs to be satisfied that whatever location has been picked will tick all these boxes; and let me tell you, very strict requirements have been put in place.

I have not heard anyone from the other side actually congratulating the government and the EPA, because when you listen to Transurban—and I talk to constructors because I still have connections back in the construction industry—their biggest problem, they say to me, is, ‘Well, the only reason we’ve got this major problem is that the EPA made it very hard for us. They’ve changed the rules, and they’ve made it a bit more stringent. How are we going to deal with this?’. So therefore now it has become too difficult. Well, I say to the EPA and to Minister D’Ambrosio: good on you for putting in place stringent rules and regulations to make sure we are not putting anyone in harm’s way and we are not risking the health and safety of our workers and our population. The argument I have heard from these people in the construction industry involved in the project is that we have been too tough, too rough, on them because we are trying to provide additional safeguards and put them in place. Unless Transurban and the construction companies are able to demonstrate that whatever proposal they put in place is safe and regulators such as the EPA are satisfied with it, well, an approval will not be given—full stop.

Now, talking about the PFAS and talking about the government’s action, let us not forget we are the government who actually first took action to close down the Fiskville training centre. I think when Mr Davis was in government they turned a blind eye and looked the other way. We actually did not. We took action. When the experts told us there was a problem and it was putting people at risk, we closed it down, so we are not shy. We are not looking the other way when it comes to the health and safety of workers and other people. So the process, as I said earlier, is a very, very rigid one for Transurban.

Mr Davis said, ‘Well, I didn’t see any MPs going to these meetings’. Well, let me tell you, Mr Davis—

Mr Davis: Well, I did actually mention one. Mrs McArthur was there.

Mr Melhem: I understand. Well, good on you, Mrs McArthur, for going to the meeting. But this is not about politicians playing politics. It is about the consultation process that should be carried out and has been carried out by experts.

Members interjecting.

Mr Melhem: Well, I am not going to comment on what the council is saying or not saying; that is a matter for the council. I am not going to respond to that. But there are meetings and discussions, and those discussions are taking place between the councils and the local members—even the minister, to my understanding, as well. So that is happening. But more importantly, meetings between the council, Maddingley Brown Coal, CPB, John Holland, Transurban and the West Gate Tunnel Project have taken place. They met with all the council—the councillors, the CEOs, the executive officers. There was a 2- to 3-hour community session—and I talked about 1500 people turning up—and a community round table with the environmental groups, including Moorabool Environment Group, Moorabool Landcare Network, Friends of Werribee River through Bacchus Marsh, Parwan Landcare Group and the Werribee River Association/Werribee Riverkeeper.

There was also a community round table with local growers and markets gardeners, including Tripod Farmers, Jeff Jones Plants and Produce, Pegasus Farm and Stockfeed and Don Watson Pty Ltd, and also another community round table with neighbouring businesses and associations, including Bacchus Marsh RSL, Westside Meats, Dellios Apples, Big River Instant Turf, The Fruits of Life, Edenhills crematorium and Graeme Spargo Transport. Also there have been information stalls at the Darley farmers market and at Harvest Festival. In addition to that the parties have met with Bacchus Marsh Grammar school, Maddingley Brown Coal community consultative committee, the Country Fire Authority, Grampians Central West Waste and Resource Recovery Group, Environment Protection Authority Victoria, Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group, the Department of Transport and Southern Rural Water—and no decision has been made. Maybe all of this will just be academic at the end of the day. Maybe a different site will be picked—I get it. Whatever site is picked, it has to meet the strictest regulations and health and safety guidelines, and then there is enforcement—that is not negotiable.

I know I said in my contribution in the last sitting week on the same subject that no-one wants any soil, any waste or any potential hazards in their backyard. It is simple; it is basic human nature. I would probably be jumping up and down, saying, ‘I don’t want it at Ravenhall’, because it is closer to where I live. Mr McGhie said publicly that he does not want it at Bacchus Marsh. I understand that. Mr Davis would not want it in his suburb or next door; he would be jumping up and down. But at the end of the day this project is needed. We need to build this project. We need to complete this project—there is no question about that—because the disadvantages of not building the project are too great.

This project, when it is completed, will cut around 20 minutes off a trip to the city from the west, from places like Point Cook, Tarneit, Geelong, Melton and Ballarat and all these areas in the western suburbs and the western districts—from your electorate, Mrs McArthur, and my electorate. It will be a huge improvement in travel time. And, God, it is needed—it is needed. It will take about 5000 cars a day from the south of the city, relieving congestion on King Street and Spencer Street. It will take 9300 trucks per day off residential streets with 24/7 truck bans, giving local streets back to local residents in the inner west. That is another thing we have been battling for for a number of years. We want to continue our program to make sure we get to a situation where we do not have any more trucks—and in particular dirty trucks—driving through the streets of Yarraville, Newport and Williamstown, because as more and more people move in and become residential, they are basically polluting the environment. People should not have to put up with it. This project will deliver a huge improvement. It will eliminate trucks going through residential areas, and that has to be a plus, improving the lives of people in the west.

This is the other thing the Andrews Labor government is doing and has done from 2014 to now. It will be seven years in May that I have been a member of this house, five years of which I have been a member of the government, and the enormous contribution and the things we have delivered for the west are unbelievable. If we still had a Liberal coalition government, let me tell you, we would be lucky if we had got 5 per cent of the stuff we have already got in the west: three hospitals; the West Gate Tunnel Project, which is a $7 billion project; finally getting the M80 done properly to four lanes, when money for it was cut by the former government in 2012; 15 level crossings, most of which have been done and the rest of which are basically in the process of getting done; and a significant amount of schools.

I can go over the list—it is a long list of what the Andrews Labor government have delivered for people in the west. That is why everyone is lining up. That is why we have a population explosion in the west. The reason why we are having this explosion of population in the west is we are doing things in the west.

Let me talk about the western roads upgrade. That is the first time in the history of this state we have got a new program, a new model of suburban road upgrades to the tune of $2 billion, and now that is going to be replicated in other electorates—in the north and the south-east. That road network, all these roads—like Dohertys Road, Fitzgerald Road, Derrimut Road, Palmers Road—are getting duplicated so people are able to go to work without getting stuck in traffic.

All these things are happening in the western suburbs. There is Sunshine Hospital—$1.5 billion. Let me tell you, if Mr Davis was the health minister—he was the health minister in the previous Liberal government—I know what would have happened to Footscray Hospital: ‘Shut it down. It’s getting too old. We can’t spend that much money, so therefore shut it down. These people of the inner west—they can be serviced by hospitals probably in the city or Parkville area. There is no need to actually build a new hospital in Footscray’. I bet you your bottom dollar that would have been the decision. But no, as a Labor government we have done the right thing by the western suburbs, and that hospital will be built in Footscray.

I have been lectured by Mr Davis about the western suburbs—and it is a pity Mr Finn is not around, because I would have liked him to be here to actually champion some of the stuff we are doing in the western suburbs, but he is not here.

Now, let me give a quick overview in the last 6 minutes I have in relation to how the work on the West Gate Tunnel Project is progressing so far. We have done 12 million work hours on that job, notwithstanding the Liberal and National coalition in the last Parliament at least. They have tried twice to put a halt to that project by putting in a revocation motion, and they did not succeed, thankfully—or they did succeed at one stage for about two days, but then we were able to get around that. The temporary exit ramp on Williamstown Road to make room for the new ramp is already done. The North Yarra main sewer: we are digging 600 metres of new sewer using a mini tunnel boring machine—that is done. And we have completed the launch site for the two tunnel boring machines, which will be the northern entry and exit to the tunnels—that is ready to go. The list goes on. I am not going to go through it all; it is a long list.

The most important thing is this project has to be completed. I think the Liberals and Nationals need to get on board and stop opposing this project. It has just become—I do not know—a psychological issue, I suppose. They just cannot accept that it is happening. It is progressing really well, and they will try anything to stop it. Thankfully they have not got the numbers anymore; they did have the numbers in the last Parliament. Unfortunately my friend from the Greens buddied with them last time about stopping the project, but thankfully they have not got the numbers now. But I bet you your bottom dollar, if Mr Davis gets a sniff that he may have the numbers to put in a revocation motion to actually stop the job, he will put that motion up in a heartbeat to try to stop it.

So it is psychological. It is basically saying, ‘This government is delivering too much. This government is doing what it said it was going to do. This government is actually going like there is no tomorrow and delivering on every single promise they made to the Victorian people, and we have to stop that’. Because come 2022, what are we going to be arguing about?

We are going to be able to say, and we will say, ‘All these things we said we were going to do and we did them’. What are they going to do, the stand-for-nothing party, the do-nothing party? So therefore if they throw a grenade here, a grenade there, stop a project here, stop a project there, then they might sort of say, ‘We are making trouble for the government, trying to stop the government’.

The Big Build project—Mr Davis talked about the environment effects statement. The project team and the EPA—the government through the Minister for Planning, Mr Wynne—carried out one of the most comprehensive environment effects statements as part of the approval process. Let me tell you, knowing Minister Wynne as a planning minister, it is probably one of the hardest portfolios you can come across in relation to making sure everything checks out—that the highest standard is applied in any planning scheme he needs to approve. Mr Davis neglected the fact that that is on the website. That is there to be seen and accessed by everyone. It is not like someone has made an executive decision and said, ‘Let’s not worry about an environment effects statement. We’ll just approve the project. We don’t care what the consequences are. We’ll just get that project done and let’s not worry about that’. I will say it again: the only reason suddenly there is an issue between the construction companies, John Holland and CPB, and Transurban, is that the EPA said, ‘You’ve got to treat that in the proper way, and we’re going to make sure that you tick every box’. That is the only reason we are here. If that was not the case, Wurundjeri Way or the mine site would have been picked or whatever and no-one would have said a word. So I think the government should be congratulated on making sure that we are applying the highest possible standard to make sure we keep our populations and our workers safe.

Finally, it is the responsibility of Transurban and CPB and John Holland to deliver the project in a safe manner, on time, and on budget. That is their job, and the Andrews Labor government will hold them to that. Also the EPA and WorkSafe will ensure that the contaminated soil is managed, tested and removed safely to an appropriate and authorised location. We do not have a particular preference for the location, so long as that location meets the standard and we do not put people in harm’s way. With these comments, for the second time, I oppose this motion—because it is similar to the previous motion we had about a week ago.