Transport Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 Second Reading

12 Nov 2019

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I rise to speak on the Transport Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, a bill that provides for, I guess, either the abolishment or the consolidation of certain transport agencies, VicRoads and Public Transport Victoria, into Transport for Victoria, creating one superagency for the operation of our transport system and having the Department of Transport there in charge of the overall strategic direction. It also introduces measures to address offensive advertising on vehicles, which, as previous members have stated, deal with the offensive and sexist words on Wicked Campers vans, something very welcome to see—something that certainly the Greens first raised back in 2016. We are really glad to see this change now being brought before Parliament. There are also a number of changes to the road safety scheme. But the major part of this bill is this merging of transport agencies into one transport agency, Transport for Victoria. Certainly I welcome this proposal.

I am probably not as cynical as the opposition in terms of this proposal because it is very familiar to the one proposal that the Greens actually announced prior to the last election. I will refer to the Greens initiative—and this proposal brought forward by the government of course was not announced until after the last election. Prior to the election it was announced that the Greens would: … create a transport super agency to take responsibility for Victoria’s transport system. It went on to say: The Greens will fold all transport agencies into Transport for Victoria to create a single agency responsible for our transport network. So the Greens are very supportive of this proposal. The big difference probably between our proposal and what the government has brought back is that Transport for Victoria will have the operational functions while the strategic functions under this proposal will sit with the department secretary, the merits of which I am open to hearing. But wherever they sit, I believe we do need stronger and better transport planning in Victoria.

This is another example; the Greens have been pushing for the reform of our transport agencies and transport bureaucracy for a long time. Prior to the 2010 election the Greens actually pushed for the combining of the various disparate public transport agencies into one single agency, which was actually criticised by the Labor government at the time but adopted by the subsequent government. Of course we would not change that now. Actually in doing a bit of further research on this bill I found that as early as 2006 it was the Greens’ policy to abolish VicRoads and replace it with a unified transport agency. So, as you can see, we are leading the way on these sorts of matters. If the government was of a mind, we have got plenty more transport policies and we would be happy to sit down and have a chat about them. I want to talk about why it is important to have a unified transport agency that will take a holistic approach to operating our transport network.

I certainly welcome the clear goal in this bill, which is seeking to increase the share of public transport, walking and cycling trips as a proportion of all transport trips in Victoria. I am glad that that is going to be in legislation, because the reality is that transport planning and operation in this state for decades have been far too weighted in favour of cars and freeways and roads to the absolute detriment of the livability of our suburbs and our communities and our towns. The competition has been weighted in favour of roads, so this change is a welcome step in the right direction. Ultimately I would like to see Transport for Victoria be much like Transport for London, and that does seem to be the direction that it is headed is in.

One thing I would probably note that Transport for Victoria and the Department of Transport can take from Transport for London is its transparency. In fact just looking at the Transport for London website, it has even got a transparency strategy. You can go onto the website, and you can look at the meetings and the agendas of the board and its various committees, with information and updates on its programs and investments, safety and sustainability. That is something I think Transport for Victoria and the government could really take up to make sure that people are informed about what is occurring in terms of their transport programs. As pointed out by the member for Euroa, it is one thing to have these changes in place but the government still has to implement them, and I think we are still going to see competing ministers at the cabinet table in the budget process. There still has been a state of mind that ‘Just one more lane will fix it. We’ll just chuck one more lane onto the Monash or the Tulla and that’ll fix everything in terms of congestion’.

I think it is right to point out that, yes, these changes can be made and, yes, these agencies can consolidate and you can have the aims, but it is really is up to the government now to take it up. Where I think the Transport Integration Act 2010 can be strengthened is in the provision of a transport plan. Despite it being a requirement of the act, Victoria does not have an overarching transport plan. Credit where credit is due: the government is making far bigger investments than were ever made by the previous coalition government. We are talking serious dollars—billions of dollars—and this has got to go where it is needed most: reducing car reliance, reducing carbon emissions and giving people more transport options like public transport, cycling and walking.

But instead we have got, I guess, a bit of a confused approach where on one hand you are building a big public transport project that is going to allow more trains on the tracks but then you have got giant tollways that are going to put 100 000 new cars on the road. The West Gate Tunnel is going to put more cars in the inner city. I guess at the moment the lack of a strategy has also allowed Transurban to come in. I have described it as a privatised government department. They are planning, owning, operating and profiting from transport projects, which really should be the domain of government. They have got a profit motive, which is not necessarily in the public interest. I did ask the transport secretary during the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearings about the lack of an overarching transport plan.

The secretary did indicate that he felt that the number of other documents and plans and strategies essentially fulfilled that requirement of the act, so there is not an actual overarching plan, which one would at face value read as what the act says is required, but there are a number of documents. You have got the Victorian Infrastructure Plan, Plan Melbourne, the Western Rail Plan, the rolling stock strategy, the Network Development Plan and the cycling strategy.

But the issue with these plans is that you have got varying degrees of detail, varying degrees of level of support within government itself, varying time frames and varying degrees of how current they actually are. By way of example, the bike plan, with all due respect, is a pretty poor document. It is actually embarrassing. That was released, I think, three days after New Year’s a few years ago. I think the only project it includes is the bike path that goes with the West Gate Tunnel, and I think it includes pictures of some foreign bike paths. That is not a plan; that is a space filler. That says nothing to the strategic direction of where we might actually put a bike path—a separated path down Sydney Road, for example. I note that the member for Brunswick is here.

Similarly, the Network Development Plan for the train network was done, I believe, in 2012. That is now out of date. You have had other projects come on board. It needs updating. We do not have a similar plan for the bus or the tram network. Even the rolling stock strategy is not actually meeting the targets that it said it would. We are getting 10 new trams a year; we actually need 20 to 30. The difficulty of this approach and the problem with this approach—and I think the member for Euroa actually pointed it out—is accountability. I get it: the political imperative outweighs any other imperatives. I understand that it is much better for governments to not be held to account for a long-term plan or a long-term vision.

To announce things as they go along is better politically, as we saw when all things were trumped by the announcement of the Suburban Rail Loop. Not even the Department of Transport knew about that when it was announced. Curiously enough, we saw a leaked document called the Victorian rail plan come out the very same day or very close to the same day, which seemed to indicate that the department has one plan for the rail network and the government and Development Victoria, of all agencies, have another plan. That is not how you plan transport in this state. At the end of the day these are serious dollars, but the reports are coming out that we are maxing out our capacity to actually build major infrastructure. Finances and public debt are under pressure. The investment needs to go where you are achieving your best value for money, and I do not think lurching from the world’s biggest toll road—$15 billion—to other projects is the way to go about it.

Where it also lacks—and I asked the Minister for Transport Infrastructure about this during Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearings—is in clear targets, like, for example, a target for transport mode share. We are investing billions of dollars in transport and yet there is no actual target. How many people do we want to get on public transport? Do we actually want to reduce the percentage or number of people driving their car? Do we want to increase the number of people riding their bike? We do not even have a target for that. It just seems inexplicable. If you look at it from the Melbourne perspective, where we have got about one-fifth of people—just under—using public transport and 1 per cent or so of people riding their bike, it is pretty ordinary.

It is not where we want to be in 10 years time, but if we continue with investments lurching from here to there and not give much for sustainable transport, we are going to stay there. It is the same with a carbon emissions target for transport. Twenty per cent, about one-fifth, of our carbon emissions come from transport, and it is rising and is forecast to increase. I think in a previous argument about the West Gate Tunnel the member for Essendon said how great new tollways were for carbon emissions because they just marginally decreased carbon emissions. Looking at the North East Link, it will pour hundreds of thousands of more cars on the road. That increases carbon emissions, but because trucks can go a bit quicker it gets you your technical decrease. Well, it is kind of like the argument for building one of these new coal-fired power stations; yes, you will get your marginal decrease in carbon emissions from that asset, but you have just locked in—or baked in—an overall increase in carbon emissions compared to the alternatives. And when I did ask the minister about it, it was pushed off to the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change.

They are just some of the things that we need to see in a transport plan for this state. Local air pollution is another one. And really, while in the original Transport Integration Act 2010 there is language around what should be in a transport plan, there really does need to be a stronger and clearer hierarchy of modes of transport—walking and cycling first, public transport and then private cars. That will send a really clear direction and a really clear guide as to where we should be investing in transport in Victoria. Previous speakers have gone over the history of transport and what various governments have done over time, and I thought I would just add my thoughts to that. Going back to the previous government, who obviously came in when public transport finally came to the fore, I think it was a decisive factor in that election.

The Liberal government promised things under their campaign slogan ‘Fix the problems. Build the future’. We were promised Doncaster rail, Rowville rail, airport rail and Southland station. A few reports were done and some studies were done, but they were pushed off into the never-never, and they went all in on the east–west link, which of course did not pan out very well for them. People rightly were upset that that was going to go ahead. Not just the local area but the state more widely felt that that was far too much investment in a single road project when we were not seeing investments in other places. But there are two other projects that I would point out in that time of the previous Liberal government that I think go unmentioned, and they are Melbourne Metro and high-capacity metro trains.

If you look back at the original Melbourne Metro business case, which was developed in 2010—and I will remind the opposition that they are the ones that finalised the route without a connection to South Yarra station; it actually happened under their government—the time lines for that project meant it was supposed to get going during the term of that government and finish five years sooner than it will now. Similarly, when you look at the previous rolling stock operations strategy, high-capacity metro trains were supposed to come on much earlier and in that term of government. I have got to say that whoever it was who sat around the decision table—whether it was the cabinet table or wherever—and decided to put those two projects off into the never-never, they signed their own death warrant there, because those two projects now, to the government’s credit, are coming online and are being done. They are absolutely critical to increasing the capacity of our rail network.

In terms of this government’s record, it has been rightly pointed out by previous speakers that the operation of our public transport network is not up to scratch. Yes, we have got some capital spending on rail and road—there are some good projects and a few clangers in there—but it is very strange that there seems to be a real reluctance to increase the operational expenditure to increase services and increase reliability. There are still waits of 15 to 20 minutes across the entire rail network. It is ludicrous, and for no other reason than that the Treasurer does not want to stump up the extra cash it would take to make sure that we have got trains and trams running every 10 minutes during the day. It just seems inexplicable. In fact we got this costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office. It costs 40 million— Mr Pearson interjected.

The SPEAKER: Order! Member for Essendon!

Mr HIBBINS: Thank you, Speaker. It costs $40 million per year to get trams running every 10 minutes throughout the day across Melbourne and about $160 million per year for the rail network, for trains every 10 minutes throughout the day, on weekends, on evenings. Some transport enthusiasts and experts have actually pointed out that they think it could be a lot cheaper, if not cost neutral. These are the sorts of things that are hallmarks of a good transport network of a city that is livable, a city that is dealing with growing population, yet there seems to be a very strange reluctance by this government to get the most out of the existing infrastructure. Of course Melbourne’s infrastructure, particularly our rail infrastructure, is ageing. It is old. The signalling is not up to date; it is ancient signalling— Mr Pearson interjected.

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Essendon!

Mr HIBBINS: I feel sorry for the member. I am not sure what I have said to upset the member for Essendon. He feels that the government is above reproach. He should head down to a train station in the morning or have a chat to the commuters from last night on the Sandringham line who had to miss the train at Richmond because it was too overcrowded. He should come down to Dandenong Road and have a chat to the commuters who missed their tram because it is overcrowded or come and have a chat to the commuters who are waiting 15 to 20 minutes in the middle of the day, when there are no other trains on the tracks, about why they have to wait for a train or a tram. Perhaps the member for Essendon, if he feels so aggrieved at hearing about these problems on our transport network— Mr Pearson interjected.

Mr HIBBINS: Do not listen to me. Have a chat to the commuters out there who are suffering. You will get up there and say, ‘But we’re spending money over here. We’re spending money over here. It’s okay!’. Mr Pearson interjected.

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Essendon has been warned.

Mr HIBBINS: Well, how long is that going to last? Granted, I reckon the Victorian public definitely gave the government the benefit of the doubt on these issues, but another three years at this level of service on our train network and, I tell you what, passengers and Victorians will be fed up. There is absolutely no reason why we cannot have trains and trams running every 10 minutes across the entire network, absolutely no reason why the government could not be investing in the sorts of critical infrastructure to make sure that we are not experiencing delays on every other day. The minister’s response was that she was going to write to the department to say, ‘You need to sit down and work with Metro to improve their performance’. She is going to write to her own department and ask them to have a meeting. (Time expired)

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