Bill Speech: West Gate Tunnel (Truck Bans and Traffic Management) Bill 2019

Ms SPENCE (Yuroke) (12:21:12): I am very pleased to make a contribution on the West Gate Tunnel (Truck Bans and Traffic Management) Bill 2019. As we have heard, essentially the bill establishes the framework for the operation of the West Gate Tunnel, the long-awaited second river crossing that will open to the public in 2022. First, I will just give a bit of an overview of the bill. Part 1 of the bill deals with preliminary matters, including the purposes, objects and commencement of the bill and the powers of the Secretary of the Department of Transport, the West Gate Tunnel Corporation and the West Gate Tunnel operator. Part 2 includes provisions with respect to the West Gate Tunnel project agreement and provides for amending, modifying and tabling the Westgate Tunnel agreement in Parliament. Part 3 sets out the tolling provisions and provides for imposing, collecting and enforcing tolls and toll administration fees on the West Gate Tunnel. This includes measures introduced in the bill to reduce the reliance on infringement notices and prosecutions for tolling offences. These aim to improve the effectiveness and fairness of toll recovery activity and reduce the number of tolling offences that end up in the infringement system or the courts. I think it is really important that these measures apply across the CityLink, EastLink and West Gate Tunnel projects. As was mentioned by the member for Prahran, it is important that these changes to infringements apply to all of these roads. The changes have arisen in recognition of the impact of infringement notices and prosecution for tolling offences, particularly on those people that are experiencing financial or other hardship. As has been said previously, currently a person who makes multiple trips on CityLink in a day without paying the tolls can be charged with a tolling offence for one of those trips, although they do still pay the tolls for the remaining trips. One of the measures in this bill is to reduce the number of tolling offences for which a person can be prosecuted to one in seven days. This will significantly reduce the number of infringements for users of the existing tollways and the new West Gate Tunnel. Another measure in the bill that goes to protecting those experiencing financial hardship is the provision that gives courts the discretion to waive administration fees for people convicted of multiple tolling offences should matters proceed to criminal enforcement. As someone who spent some time working in the community legal sector, I know that these changes will have a significant impact on those that get caught up in that infringement cycle, which is what it becomes. They are suffering hardship and then they incur multiple tolling offences. This was very common. A number of people would present each week with this same issue. They receive a number of tolling offences over a few days, they are unable to pay them, the tolls accumulate, the fees are added on top, enforcement action is then taken, the penalty amount goes up and there is, in reality, no ability for the person to pay. For these people the very best outcome was for them to get a long-term repayment plan, and that would basically have a detrimental effect on them for a very, very long time—for as long as these offences hung over their heads. Reducing the number of infringement prosecutions allowed in a seven-day period to one and providing the opportunity to remove the administration fees will go a long way and will certainly have a much less punitive effect in the enforcement regime where there are outstanding tolls. The bill also contains a new mechanism for the introduction of truck bans in the inner west to protect community amenity. This is to be done through the declaration of no-truck zones. The bill creates a new offence of driving a heavy vehicle in a no-truck zone. The new offence has a significantly higher maximum penalty than is currently provided for in the road rules for those who disobey a ‘no trucks’ sign, and the bill contains measures to make operators and contractors liable for the offence and to facilitate electronic enforcement. Part 5 of the bill also establishes the Better Freight Outcomes Fund, which will receive the proceeds of fines and infringement penalties arising from the no-truck zone offence and provides that the funds raised are to be invested back into transport programs to benefit the local community. Part 6 provides for the making of regulations and the repeal of transitional regulation-making powers, and part 7 sets out the amendments to other acts. As I have outlined, the bill provides a framework for operation of the tunnel. It is a project that will deliver immense and enduring benefits to the state of Victoria. It will provide Melbourne with a long-awaited second route across the river and an alternate route to the West Gate Bridge. It will involve building four more lanes on the West Gate Freeway and will include express lanes between the M80 and the West Gate Bridge, which will reduce that weaving and merging problem that leads to traffic congestion. The tunnel from the West Gate Freeway to the Maribyrnong River will take cars and trucks underground and off residential streets in the inner west, providing a more efficient freight route and a new journey choice for motorists. A bridge over the Maribyrnong River, linking to an elevated road along Footscray Road, will get people where they need to be in the city’s north, and the ramps will give trucks direct access to the port. It is expected that these measures, including the state-of-the-art smart technology that will run along the route, will cut travel times by up to 20 minutes on these roads, and it will certainly create an efficient route for freight in and out of the port of Melbourne. Currently there are over 200 000 vehicles using the West Gate Bridge each day. As we all know, one incident does not just turn that road into a problem, it turns our entire road network into a car park. This project will improve the resilience and security of our road network, which is something that is urgently needed. In really good news, this project will create 6000 jobs over its life, including 500 for apprentices, trainees and graduates and up to 150 jobs for former autoworkers. I was thrilled to meet a number of these workers when I recently toured the project with the Minister for Transport Infrastructure. What was very clear on that visit was that there is a lot of work underway, particularly at the northern portal site in Yarraville. Whilst meeting these workers and seeing the great work that they are undertaking, it was also great to see Bella, the first of two tunnel boring machines (TBMs), on site and ready for assembly, which is now underway. Let me tell you: this tunnel boring machine is massive. The component parts themselves are massive, and it is hard to comprehend how big Bella will be when fully assembled. It will take around 75 000 working hours to assemble the TBM, with up to 30 people per shift working around the clock. The 15.6-metre diameter cutter head—one of the last pieces to be assembled—will be moved into place by a 500-tonne gantry crane, one of the largest of its kind in Australia. So as I said, this machine is massive. Bella will be joined by Vida, and these two TBMs will build the twin tunnels for the West Gate Tunnel project. Each machine will weigh in at around 4000 tonnes; will be 15.6 metres in diameter, which is as tall as a five-storey building; and will be 90 metres long. The cutter heads on the front of these machines are powerful enough to spin two A380 aeroplanes a total of two revolutions per minute. ella and Vida will start their journey at the northern portal and move south-west towards the southern portals in the West Gate Freeway near South Kingsville. Work will start on the 4-kilometre outbound tunnel first, followed closely by the 2.8-kilometre inbound tunnel. So why the names Bella and Vida? Well, tunnelling tradition dictates that a TBM cannot start work until it has been given a female name, a sign of good luck for the project ahead. This is a tradition that dates back to the 1500s when miners and military engineers working with explosives prayed to St Barbara for protection. Our TBM Bella is named in honour of Bella Guerin, who was born in Williamstown and was the first woman to graduate from a university in Australia in 1883, and she went on to teach at Loreto Convent in Ballarat. Vida is named in honour of Vida Goldstein, a groundbreaking campaigner for women’s rights who established the right for females to vote and stand for election. So it is great to talk about these two outstanding machines that have been named in honour of these two outstanding women, particularly when we are also celebrating International Women’s Day this week. I am very excited that these tunnel works will be starting later this year. Hopefully we can all get along and see those works underway. As has been said, the West Gate Tunnel project forms part of the government’s broader and unprecedented transport pipeline, including the level crossing removals, the Metro Tunnel and the north-east link, all of which will transform the way people move around Melbourne. The West Gate Tunnel will slash travel times, it will create thousands of jobs and it will get trucks off our local streets in Melbourne’s west. I commend the bill to the house.