Matter of Public Importance

Every time I rise to speak on a matter of public importance I reflect on the words of what we are here to do: reflect on a matter of public importance. The government have set today’s matter of public importance as an opportunity for them to slap themselves on the back and congratulate themselves on the Big Build.

Before I go into the ‘Big Bill’ aspect of their Big Build and before I talk about what we should be saying in a matter of public importance, I just have to note the bloated self-importance that this government is spending its time on today when we have, as has already been mentioned, just come out of our third lockdown, when we have got families struggling, when we had a 20 per cent increase on Saturday last week in calls to Lifeline, when we have got sickening reports by the commissioner about children in state care being groomed for sex by paedophiles.

That sickening information has come out today. And what about the organised crime and money laundering going on under our nose at Crown Casino? I am here talking on the government’s matter of public importance on the Big Build, on which I have heard nothing but self-congratulation from the government about what they are doing and how good they are. Is that just a disgrace? Because the people of Victoria want you to deal with matters of public importance. That is what they want. So I am going to refer now to some of the blowouts, for a start, so people can actually see what the Big Build is getting for their taxpayer dollar in Victoria.

We look for a start at the North East Link, which was a promised $5 billion project. Now it is over $15 billion, a blowout of 315 per cent, or $10.7 billion. The West Gate Tunnel was supposed to be finished by 2022. I obviously drive across the West Gate Bridge fairly frequently to get back to my electorate, and I did note before it was reported in the paper that the ‘Finished by 2022’ signs were certainly disappearing off the wall, because it will actually not be finished by 2022—maybe not even by 2023, because the builders do not know when it will be finished by. But that half-billion-dollar project, the $500 million shovel-ready project at the time, is being blown out by $5.8 billion. That is a 1268 per cent increase. Can you imagine what that waste could have achieved in regional Victoria for our country roads that are in a dilapidated state?

But before I talk about country roads I want to start on another big stuffed-up project by this government. This is the Murray Basin rail project—an absolute shambles, managed by Labor from go to whoa and absolutely stuffed. It is half-finished. It ran out of money, and what has been done is so poor it had to be ripped up and done again. That is what happens when you cut corners and try to save a bit of cash by using 100-year-old rails.

That is not what we are seeing in the Big Build in the metro areas, is it? This week Labor tried to spin the project into a triumph. It put out a media release saying how wonderful it was they were starting to work on fixing their stuff-ups. The kicker is the state is making out it is footing the bill, but like most of its projects it is sending the bill to Canberra and it is the federal Liberal government that is now paying to fix this Labor government’s mistakes.

There is more news this week that the Sea Lake-Manangatang area is not going to have dual gauge, as it should, and will not be able to be used in the streamlined approach that was identified as needed to get product to the ports. The revised business case also means that this project will not be completed to the original scope and means that the port of Portland in my electorate will be isolated from the grain-growing regions of the state’s north. That is despite the Premier standing on the dock at the port of Portland in 2015 saying how wonderful the Murray Basin project would be to help increase grain exports from the port, removing the barrier of needing two different trains to get products to dock.

Labor’s revised plans will take away the advantages of cost savings that the port of Portland can deliver for farmers. It is a deep-water port, which means a ship can be fully laden in one hit and be sent off to the world, but because the rail link is now a different gauge to the rest of the freight network, farmers will need two trains at increased costs, reducing the advantages of exporting from Portland.

The Minister for Ports and Freight, who is at the table, said in that release, ‘We have a commitment to get more freight onto trains’ and again talks up the work the government is doing. More spin. The Victorian Farmers Federation—Ashley Fraser, a fellow scholar and president of the VFF grains group—said that 10 000 extra B-double trucks will be needed this year to help cart the record grain harvest to port because the freight network is in such bad shape and is not cost-effective for exporters. That means more trucks thundering through the roads around your electorate, Minister, because of the inaction on that rail project for freight.

Then, in the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee, Minister, you blamed COVID for the delays in getting work done on the long-awaited port rail shuttle after you announced funding for a project that was first announced in 2018 and that had not gone anywhere—trying to blame people working from home, staff working from home during 2020, for the delays in the project, which has actually been on the books since 2014 in the state budget. So when that was pointed out, you tried then to correct the Hansard transcript to say it had only been in the budget papers since 2018. Sorry, Minister, but you clearly have no idea what is going on in your portfolio.

Point 2 in the matter of public importance (MPI) talks about creating jobs in the supply chain. Well, just yesterday I had contact from the operator of the freight services on the Warrnambool line who at the very last minute, yesterday, had heard that his train schedule has changed so that he cannot send a train out of his yard on Friday night and in turn will not be able to have a service from Warrnambool to Melbourne on Monday. He was given just 48 hours notice.

I do not know, Minister, if you can understand the difficulties decisions like that—snap decisions—will have on business and particularly his business. How is he expected to, at short notice, find enough trucks to replace a train and move perishable goods like meat and dairy products and still be able to make load times on the dock at the port of Melbourne, let alone fit in with the passenger trains that he has got the challenge of logistically? Labor says it is creating jobs for the supply chain, but at what cost to the jobs that already exist, such as those of my constituent who is unable to serve his customers? If he is not able to operate in an efficient way, the jobs he provides for many people in my electorate and in the supply chain will also be lost.

I have not even started on roads, but we all know how poor the roads in south-west Victoria are. We have the federal government, again, having to come to the party—offering money for the Princes Highway west project, so desperately needed so that the west can compete and have the opportunities that the north and the east have. With the potholes in our roads, it is actually impossible to decide which are the worst roads. The member for Lowan today in her local newspaper was talking about how bad our roads are. There was one project out of the state budget for her electorate in Lowan. There are not enough projects to be able to fix our roads.

I worry for the people of south-west Victoria. I worry for the regional communities of Victoria, because we have over 50 per cent more deaths on country roads in regional Victoria, and yet only 24 per cent of the population live outside of the metro area. There is something statistically very wrong, and it is that our roads are really broken. So all of that waste on the Big Build should be being directed, instead of being wasted, into country roads, because country people have the right to safety. When people tell me they are fearful on our roads, it is of great concern. I have not even touched on the Warrnambool line.

When point 6 in this MPI talks about improved services to regional Victoria, well, it is the federal government who have given the money, and the state government continue to say they will get on with that project. But it is years now that the people of south-west Victoria—Warrnambool, Portland—who want to use that train have been promised VLocity trains, and the project is nowhere near coming to fruition.

I will finish on the point that regional Victorians have the right for this state to invest in them as well. Our roads are appalling, and no-one can argue that is not true—no-one—so get on with governing for all.

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