Matters of Public Importance: Transport Infrastructure


Wednesday, 6 May 2015


Transport infrastructure

Mr WELLS (Rowville) — I rise to support the Leader of the Opposition’s matter of public importance. It is a very good one because it shows the difference between the views of the previous government and opposition and the views of the current Andrews government. If you look at the budget that was brought down yesterday, you will see there is no question that it will do nothing to fix traffic problems in Melbourne. There is nothing about infrastructure in this budget.

Remember what the member for Bundoora said: that the regional rail link was a Labor initiative — in other words, it was an idea, a thought being put forward. When we came to government we had a look at the regional rail link. The Department of Treasury and Finance came in and said to me, ‘Treasurer, we have some significant issues with the regional rail’. I said, ‘What’s that?’. They said, ‘For starters, the previous government forgot to put in the cost of the signals’. So there was — can you believe it? — a large rail project put forward by the previous Labor government and it forgot to put in the cost of the signals. How much was it going to cost to fix this very small oversight? It was going to cost $500 million for forgetting to put the money in for the signals. I said, ‘Okay, so we need to look for another $500 million’. They said, ‘Oh, no, there’s more bad news’. I said, ‘What else?’. They said, ‘They haven’t allowed for extra rolling stock’.

The fact is the previous Labor government was going to have a brand‑new train track but not one extra new train to run on the regional rail link. When those opposite get up and talk about how good they were at building and infrastructure, I do not think they can look at even one project and say, ‘We did a good job on this — it came in under budget and on time’, because they did not do that for 11 years. It was the coalition government that came in and had to sort out the monumental mess that was left to it. The regional rail was the first one. The second was myki. The government employed more and more consultants, which added to the cost of the myki project, and it got worse and worse. It took a coalition government to sort it out.

Who would build a pipeline called the north–south pipeline and not have water running through it? Why would a government do it after promising never to do it? The Labor government promised it would never do it.

I turn now to the desalination plant. It is ironic that a Labor government can say, ‘We’re going to tear up the east–west link contract’. When I was the Treasurer I would have loved to have torn up the desalination plant contract; we all would. But there is a thing called sovereign risk and government responsibility. Liberal‑Nationals governments respect the law, and they do not tear up contracts. The difference between the two sides of the house is that we were very strongly committed to building east–west link; it was a great project. It would have connected the Eastern Freeway with the Tullamarine Freeway so that people could head north and south on the Tullamarine Freeway, but it was not just about the city; it was about opening up the country as well. It was about Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong and Gippsland so people could come into Melbourne or to flow through it, including getting goods and services to the port or to the airport. It was about ensuring increased productivity.

Members on this side of the house understand what productivity is and what an increase in productivity means. I am not sure whether the message about productivity and improvements to productivity has sunk in with members of the government. Giving a massive pay rise to union mates does not mean an increase in productivity, but we will see a 7.1 per cent increase to the cost of the state’s wages bill. We will see how that unfolds. Building the east–west link would have gone towards improving productivity and moving traffic around the state. Most major cities have a ring‑road, and the east–west link would have produced a ring‑road for Melbourne.

It is interesting that the Andrews government is taking credit for the Tullamarine Freeway widening project. I do not think it is an Andrews government project. In fact, on 28 April 2014, over a year ago, the previous government announced the $850 million widening of the Tullamarine Freeway and CityLink. The announcement included references to the capacity of the roadway being increased by 30 per cent and travel times being cut by 16 minutes. On 6 October 2014 the coalition government signed an agreement with Transurban to deliver the $850 million CityLink‑Tullamarine Freeway widening project. It is a great project. Members of the Andrews government have no morals or principles, and will say, ‘This is one of our big infrastructure projects, and we will claim it as one of our own’. It is about rewriting history. The government has no infrastructure projects to claim as its own. It is relying on the good work and the hard work of the previous government.

Whenever there was a question about infrastructure projects in question time today the Treasurer got up and said, ‘Look in contingencies’. Where is the money that has been allocated to projects? We can all say, ‘We will just put that against contingencies’, but it does not mean anything until the money has been allocated to a project. That is when a project can start. VicRoads will not be able to start any projects, whether it is any planning, any studies or any work, until money has been allocated to the project.

I turn now to the western distributor. The government is spending $640 million to not build a tunnel to go from east to west, but it will spend a truckload of money to go from west to east. The irony is that the tolls contract will be extended so that the people in the east will continue to pay tolls longer than they need to in order to build a road that they will probably never use. Toll contracts have an expiry date. In other words, the contract with Transurban for CityLink tolls is to finish in 33 years or 34 years time, but if the contract is extended, instead of the asset reverting to the government and the road being toll free, all of a sudden the tolling period will be extended. That is how the Labor government will build its western tunnel. On what logic do you say that you are looking to the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, to pay for the balance of it? Do you really run government by saying, ‘The balance will be picked up by the federal government’? That is not the way governments should work.

Another interesting point is that if the Treasurer announces a $1.2 billion surplus but $1.5 billion of it is underpinned by a payment from the federal government for the east–west link, and the government tears up the contract and does not use the money for the link and the federal government calls it in, then there will be a deficit. What will happen to the finances of the state if the $1.2 billion surplus is underpinned by a $1.5 billion payment from the federal government for the east–west link? According to the Andrews government the east–west link no longer exists, so that money from the federal government is now in doubt. If there is one thing you can rely on with an Andrews government, it is that it will not be able to manage money and it certainly will not be able to manage major infrastructure projects.