Victoria’s Big Build

18 Feb 2021

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I rise to speak on the matter of public importance put forward by the member for Eltham in regard to the government’s investment in transport infrastructure. Look, certainly credit where credit is due: the approach of this government when it comes to investment in transport infrastructure certainly is in stark contrast to the previous Liberal government and even the Brumby Labor government, which of course, when it came to public transport infrastructure, was too little too late, which unfortunately saw them defeated. When the incoming Liberal government came in under the slogan of, ‘Fix the problems. Build the future’, they incredibly put the Metro Tunnel on the backburner and then scrapped it altogether.

What they did do with the Metro Tunnel, though, was they finalised the plans very early on without an interchange at South Yarra station. So thanks for that, because the government ended up taking those designs and we do not have an interchange at South Yarra station. They also did not proceed with high-capacity trains, which were on the agenda too. These were two critical public transport projects that were necessary. They are now getting completed, but they really should be being completed in this term of government, not the next. So I welcome that this government is prepared to increase government debt, to borrow to build when public interest rates are low and to fund transport infrastructure. I am less enamoured with their privatisation of the port of Melbourne to do that. Not even Jeff Kennett went that far in privatising the port. In fact I looked at the debate when the port went through from I think around 1992—Labor members railed against the potential privatisation of the port of Melbourne, yet here today they have sold it off. They like to call it a long-term lease—privatisation nonetheless.

Just in terms of the context, transport is the fastest growing source of emissions here in Victoria. It makes up almost a quarter of Victoria’s total emissions, making it second only to our biggest source of emissions—second only to our coal-fired power stations. The vast majority of our transport emissions, over 80 per cent, come from road-based transport. Yes, we do need a revolution to revolutionise transport when it comes to dealing with the climate crisis and the growing transport emissions, but I think we have got a different perspective on what ‘revolutionise’ means to the member for Eltham. Just more of the same—more roads and more lanes—is not a revolution, and certainly while I would like to seize public control back from the private operators of our public transport network, seize that back for public ownership, what I see as a revolution in terms of transport is something different.

One of the things that we need to revolutionise in our transport network is to electrify our cars and shift to EVs. We need to do this rapidly. And while the rest of the world is doing that rapidly—offering incentives for people to buy EVs, to switch to EVs, and lowering the cost of electric vehicles, because we know price is the biggest barrier—this government here wants to put a new tax on electric vehicles and make them even more expensive. This government wants to be the only government in the world that actually wants to make electric vehicles more expensive instead of more affordable. And of course we got $100 off rego—that is it. That is basically it, and I am sure that is going to get cancelled out by this new tax. And we know the government wants to sell off, privatise, VicRoads—no doubt this will get bundled into that. Once they have got a healthy source of revenue they will be eyeing off selling that off as well, because we know that this government is addicted to privatisation.

We know that this government out of a fleet of 10 000 vehicles has got five EVs and 29 plug-in hybrids. This is in stark contrast to other states around Australia that are looking to shift their entire fleets to EVs. The US President, Joe Biden, wants to shift his entire government fleet of 600 000 vehicles over to EVs. Out of 2000 buses in Victoria, Victoria has one electric bus, while cities around the world are ordering thousands. So Victoria is a lagger when it comes to the shift to electric vehicles and the revolution, and I would hope now that they not only axe or get rid of this ridiculous proposal to make EVs more expensive but actually put in a decent policy in regard to electric vehicles. The Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change keeps saying she has got more to say on it, yet the first thing they come out with is to make them more expensive. That is absolutely ridiculous. They need to change. Not only will it reduce carbon emissions and cut air pollution, but there are so many opportunities in terms of jobs, in terms of innovation. You have got car-to-home charging potential—there is so much potential there.

The other part of revolutionising our transport network comes to shifting the way people actually travel. This government does not actually have a transport plan. That is one good thing that the Brumby government actually did bring in. This government does not have a transport plan, so that means we do not actually know what the actual outcome is. Are we actually looking to cut carbon emissions? Are we looking to get more people off the roads and onto public transport? On the one hand they will say the Suburban Rail Loop is going to take 100 000 cars off the road, but then they are building the North East Link that is going to put 100 000 more cars on the road. So we do need to focus on shifting people’s modes of transport.

Every year at budget time cycling and pedestrian advocates are disappointed that, despite the billions spent on transport, cycling and walking get about 1 per cent of that. We have seen with COVID around the world that less people are on public transport and more people are riding to commute or for recreation. Here in Australia bike shops were selling out. Governments around the world were reacting with pop-up bike lanes, fast-tracking bike infrastructure, taking advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity whilst people were changing their travel habits. The City of Melbourne acted quickly, as did New South Wales. I am glad to see this government are putting in some pop-up bike lanes now, but it is far too late. It is far too late, and they need to get a hurry on and really commit to some serious investment in cycling infrastructure to take advantage of this once-in-a-generation time when people are actually changing their transport habits. They should get the St Kilda Road bike lanes fast-tracked, and on Sydney Road, Royal Parade and Flemington Road there are plenty of opportunities within inner Melbourne. And they should invest as well in pedestrian infrastructure. One of the things that I really noticed during the lockdown was there were so many families and people actually using our streets for public space because there were not that many cars on our local roads. It seems that, despite all the investment in large infrastructure, getting a decent set of traffic lights or a decent pedestrian crossing are some of the hardest things to get out of this government.

The government also need to make sure that they are doing what they can now in terms of services. Yes, we have had an increase in services recently, but 20-odd services extra in the morning and 20-odd in the afternoon across the entire metropolitan network each day is not a revolution. There must be a higher standard, with trains and trams at least every 5 to 10 minutes across the day, making it easy for people not necessarily just going into the city and back but to actually get around our city so they do not have the long waits. That is a really key part of having a people-friendly public transport network.

I also just want to touch on with the Big Build the fact that we have the weakest environmental effects laws in the country. It is absolutely staggering that the government would launch a big build without actually updating its decades-old environmental effects laws. This basically means Victoria is going to die a death of environment, die a death of 1000 cuts, because these laws are simply not strong enough. We found with the North East Link that when the planning minister actually made some recommendations the government said, ‘Thanks but no thanks’. You have got communities all around Victoria becoming frustrated. When they want to see projects having good environmental outcomes they are really frustrated by this weak environmental effects process. Despite a Victorian Auditor-General’s Office report and parliamentary inquiries over the years, they have not been updated.

Then there is this government’s obsession with public-private partnerships. They took it to the nth degree with the West Gate Tunnel. Let us face it, they bent over backwards for Transurban, gave them everything they wanted—inflated the traffic modelling and gave them a sweetheart deal on tolls—and they have been taken for a ride. This idea that you can get more from private finance for these PPPs and the private sector will take the risk is absolutely ludicrous. It is the public that is always on the hook, and the private sector absolutely knows that. You can see that playing out with the West Gate Tunnel. You see it playing out with the Metro Tunnel project. The government’s response to that is it really needs to get out of these ridiculous PPPs. Yes, a lot is being spent, but we actually need a proper revolution— (Time expired)

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