Speech on Rowville Electorate Commitments, Emergency Services and East-West

EXTRACT FROM PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES HANSARD

Thursday, 19 March 2015

GOVERNOR’S SPEECH

Address‑in‑reply

Mr WELLS (Rowville) — It gives me great pleasure to rise to speak on the address‑in‑reply to the Governor’s speech. I congratulate the Governor of Victoria on his speech outlining the Andrews government’s plans for Victoria over the next four years. I want to address a number of issues raised in the Governor’s speech and also cover the commitments made in the Rowville electorate, to emergency services and to the east–west tunnel.

I am honoured to have been elected as the MP to represent the newly named seat of Rowville. It is truly a high honour and I am very proud of it. I thank the people of Rowville for placing their trust in me.

I take this opportunity to recommit to the commitments we made to the Rowville electorate in the run‑up to the 2014 state election, including upgrades to Scoresby and Rowville secondary colleges and Park Ridge, Rowville and Karoo primary schools. These upgrades are well and truly overdue.

We also committed to a new Scoresby Country Fire Authority station and upgrades to the Scoresby and Lysterfield junior footy clubs. We made these commitments, and I am absolutely committed to making sure we get them delivered. I assure the Rowville electorate that I will be doing whatever it takes to make sure that we hold the Andrews government to account. We will be lobbying very hard to make sure that all those election commitments are delivered.

I also thank my campaign team for their incredible effort. I understand that it was very difficult for them, and I understand the commitment that is required by people in local campaigns, especially when your member is a minister with statewide commitments, which means the member is not always available locally. To the chair of the campaign team, David Apelt; to the people on the campaign, such as Ev; to my campaign manager, Shan Blethyn, who was ably assisted by Lois Hutchings and Colleen Black; to Marg Briggs, Ron Tiesler, Ken Oaten and Terri Marley; to the Scoresby, Knoxfield and Rowville Liberal branches; and to all the volunteers and supporters who staffed polling booths and pre‑poll mobile polling booths, I say a big thankyou. It was an incredible effort.

I thank the ministerial team headed up by Glenn Corey and my executive assistant, Chris Costello. I will always be truly indebted to these two brilliant, loyal and hard‑working people, and we will remain lifelong friends.

To my family — Judy, Sam, Tom and Tahnee — I say thank you so much for your incredible support, tolerance and incredible patience over the last 22 years.

There are two particular issues I will address now. The first one is the east–west tunnel, and it is the biggest issue in my electorate and for the eastern suburbs. Most cities in the world would have a large ring road. Melbourne needs to be able to build the east–west tunnel to be able to link the Eastern Freeway with the Tullamarine Freeway to allow Victorians to have a Melbourne ring road. It is something that people in the eastern suburbs need so they can get to the airport or go to Bendigo or Ballarat. People in Ballarat and Bendigo who need to come into the city also need it so that they can head south to the port of Melbourne or access the West Gate Bridge. It is needed by people who have to get to work on time or who want to get home from work so that they can spend more time with their kids. It is needed so we can move products around Victoria more efficiently and cheaply and achieve a massive increase in productivity. That is what the Andrews government needs to get its head around: the issue of increasing productivity. It is an important issue in this state. We do not have the natural mineral resources of other states. We rely on improving productivity.

The Napthine government had the right as an executive power to sign the east–west link contract. There is no question about that. To say it did not have that right is nonsense and has been proved as such. It is just nonsense to say that. The genesis of the east–west link was in the Eddington report, which was an idea put forward by former premier John Brumby when the then government wanted Sir Rod Eddington to look at the infrastructure needs for Victoria. He was asked to look at the transport needs of Melbourne and Victoria and at what would be required for a growing city such as Melbourne. The east–west link would be good not just for Melbourne but also for Victoria, for the economy, for productivity and for standards of living.

It is interesting to look at who supported the submissions to the Eddington investigation and what they said. One submission addressed to the East‑West Transport Options Review says:

Attached please find our submission on the east‑west link needs assessment study … undertaken by Sir Rod Eddington.

The west needs modern transport services to catch up with other parts of the city, to benefit the community, and to boost jobs and industrial development.

The submission was signed by the Honourable Julia Gillard, MP, the then federal member for Lalor; the Honourable Nicola Roxon, the federal member for Gellibrand; the Honourable Brendan O’Connor, MP, the federal member for Gorton; and the Honourable Bill Shorten, MP, the federal member for Maribyrnong. They were local members in the federal Parliament representing the western suburbs who thought it was a good idea when they made their submission to the Eddington investigation on 15 July 2008 for the east‑west link to be built.

The submission also said it had to be ‘a balanced, integrated approach’, and we all agree with that. It has to be a combination of rail, road and cycling projects and everything else that goes with it. I reiterate that there was strong support for it by those four Labor members of the federal Parliament representing the western suburbs. It is interesting to note that the submission states:

As part of an integrated transport solution, the —

four MPs —

… support a cross city road link from the western suburbs to the Eastern Freeway.

There was very clear support from Bill Shorten that this project should go ahead.

Also — and there has been much talk about this — the Australian Workers Union (AWU) made a submission, which was undertaken by Bill Shorten and Cesar Melhem, which made it very clear that the east–west road tunnel needed to be built. That submission says:

The Australian Workers Union (AWU) believes that the new east–west link is crucial to jobs and economic growth. A new transport link from Melbourne’s booming west to the south‑east and eastern suburbs has the AWU’s strong support because the Victorian economy relies on the efficient movement of freight and people. Hundreds of thousands of Victorian jobs depend on good transport links so it is crucial that the state continues to invest in new transport infrastructure.

Bill Shorten has been very quiet on this issue. He said one thing when he was a union leader, but he is not saying a lot now that he is the Labor federal Leader of the Opposition.

There have been other comments put forward on this issue. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gave strong support — as did the former Premier John Brumby — when in a joint press release he said:

Let me say again, what we are also doing with the Premier today is confirming our combined investment, $40 million from the commonwealth, in a final engineering and design study of the east–west tunnel — what would become the next link in the urban metro system for Melbourne.

Then we have the ridiculous situation where when in opposition the Labor Party said that taxpayers would not have to pay any compensation if the east‑west link was scrapped. There is a signed document. The validity of signed contracts is backed by hundreds of years of legal precedent. That is why people sign contracts.

When we were elected to govern in 2010 it would have been easy for us to tear up contracts relating to the desalination plant or the north–south pipeline, which were projects that we did not like. We did not like those projects and we did not support them, but they had contracts. The Baillieu and Napthine governments supported those projects because they had contracts delivered on by the previous government.

After saying that the consortium would not be paid compensation, the Premier goes on in his press release to say:

These arrangements, including the secret side deal, aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

That is a great concern. An even greater concern is if you bring in legislation to scrap the compensation available, who would want to invest in Victoria? An overseas company coming in and signing a contract with the government would never, ever know whether that contract would be delivered on or whether it was making an agreement with the government. This occurs in African countries. Foreign investment goes into those countries and companies are dudded on those deals by governments that override contracts. That is why many companies will not invest in many African countries.

I am embarrassed to say that if the Labor government brings in legislation to stop compensation for a contract that has been signed, this state’s reputation interstate and overseas will never recover. We will always be remembered as the state which has overridden a legal contract through legislation. That is not right. We know that not everyone in the Labor Party is strongly behind this decision, especially those with a strong understanding of legal issues. This is something we believe is wrong. We believe contract law should be upheld at every opportunity.

The other issue I would like to raise as part of my address‑in‑reply contribution is Country Fire Authority (CFA) volunteers. I have worked closely with them over the last 22 years, and they do an outstanding job. This is about keeping Victoria safe. I was amused during the election campaign that whenever an announcement was made about CFA volunteers or the CFA, the United Firefighters Union (UFU) was always present. I could never understand that. If it was such good news for the CFA, why not have 20 or 50 CFA volunteers present to make that announcement? When I saw the now Premier at a UFU conference making an announcement about how much he was going to improve the CFA while standing next to the Victorian secretary of the UFU, Peter Marshall, I thought that was not good for CFA volunteers — not in a million years.

Announcements regarding the CFA are now being made, and it is all about payback for the UFU. There has been no consultation with the CFA or CFA volunteers. The problem is that if you put more full‑time firefighters into those CFA stations, then a lot of the volunteers are going to say, ‘I am not needed anymore’ and they will go. This is something on which we will need to hold the Andrews government to account.

This is an issue of surge capacity. Surge capacity is when you have 30 000 or 40 000 volunteers, there is a major fire, such as those which occurred on Black Saturday, and you are able to call up tens of thousands of CFA volunteers. If these volunteers say, ‘I am no longer required because they have now got full‑timers in the CFA stations’, then those volunteers will go and spend more time with their kids at soccer, footy, netball, tennis or whatever it may be. You lose that surge capacity. Once you lose the surge capacity of those tens of thousands of CFA volunteers, they will never come back. They tried to do something similar in California — they were going to have more paid people. I am a strong supporter of being able to have volunteers and full‑timers working at the same stations. However, if you try to push out the volunteers, it is going to be wrong.

The emergency management commissioner, Craig Lapsley, needs to have the ability to call up firefighters from Parks Victoria and the department formerly known as the Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) and also have CFA volunteers on stand‑by to put out fires. This is about keeping Victoria safe. I hope the Andrews government takes into serious consideration this issue of being able to work with the volunteers to make sure we have that surge capacity. If you are just going to rely on the UFU and the full‑time firefighters at the CFA, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, Parks Victoria and what was DEPI, then we will be in all sorts of difficult situations during summertime and other high fire danger periods.

I thank and congratulate all volunteers in the emergency services, whether it be the Victoria State Emergency Service, the lifesavers, St John’s Ambulance, the Australian Red Cross or the Victorian Council of Churches, who do an almighty job. They all play an important role in the emergency services. It is important that the Andrews government works closely with every single one of these volunteer groups. Victoria, along with California, is one of the highest fire danger areas in the world, and we need volunteers to work with us to keep us safe.

Business interrupted under sessional orders.