Matters of Public Importance: Liberal Party Policy Review
Ms SPENCE (Yuroke) (15:12:57): I am very pleased to speak on the matter of public importance (MPI) presented in the name of the member for Essendon. As the Parliamentary Secretary for Road Infrastructure, I believe there is much to be wary of with the Victorian Liberals’ decision to review all policies. They are not ruling anything in or out, and I am particularly concerned that this review will inevitably mean cuts. As noted by the member for Essendon in his MPI, the state-changing infrastructure agenda of the Andrews Labor government is at risk under the Liberals’ policy review, and this includes the Suburban Rail Loop, Metro Tunnel, North East Link and the removal of 75 dangerous and congested level crossings. Also at risk are the thousands of jobs created by these and other projects across the state. So what does this mean for the massive infrastructure program of the Andrews Labor government? Let us start with North East Link, the biggest road infrastructure project ever built in Victoria. The North East Link completes the ring-road between the Eastern Freeway and the M80, providing an important connection for around 100 000 vehicles a day, creating more than 10 000 jobs and delivering $1.30 to the Victorian economy for every dollar invested. The project will build around 6 kilometres of tunnel and it will give roads back to local people, taking 32 000 vehicles off Greensborough Road, 14 000 off Fitzsimons Lane, 9000 off Rosanna Road and more, as well as taking around 15 000 trucks off local roads every day. Under Labor, construction will start in 2020 and be completed in 2027. However, the Liberal Party cannot decide where they stand on the North East Link and it makes this project particularly at risk of getting the chop. In early 2018, the Victorian Liberals were against this project. On ABC radio in May 2018, the former leader was asked, ‘If you’re elected, will you sign those contracts?’ for the North East Link. The response was a definitive no. A month later, they decided they were for the project as part of their ill-fated triple bypass. And this year the current Liberal leader said, ‘A North East Link is a road that needs to be built’. So no-one knows what the position of the Victorian Liberals will be after the policy review, but we do know that this project is at risk. The Metro Tunnel is Melbourne’s biggest rail project since the city loop was built in the 1970s. I remember that, which is a bit sad. It creates 7000 jobs and involves building 9 kilometres of twin rail tunnels and five underground stations from North Melbourne to the Domain precinct. The project will benefit passengers on every train line with more services and destinations. The future expansion of our rail network is dependent on this project. However, the Liberals went to the last election with a clear policy position to renegotiate the Metro Tunnel contracts that would have delayed the project by at least two years and cost at least $1 billion. They even tried to give Stonnington council the right to veto the entire project. Again, no-one knows what the position of the Victorian Liberals will be after the policy review, but we do know, based on their previous position, that the project is at risk. Another hallmark of our Big Build agenda is the level crossing removal program. In our first term we got rid of 29 level crossings. We have 21 to go in the 50 that we originally committed to and we have added another 25, to make it 75 removed by 2025. Victorians know that Labor gets rid of level crossings and the Liberals do not. They did not get rid of them when in government and they are trying to keep them from being removed now. The Liberals’ election costings clearly outlined that they were going to push back the removal of level crossings to after 2023. They tried everything they could to stop us getting rid of the crossings. In the community, in the Parliament and even in the courts, they have done everything they possibly could but they have failed: 29 are gone and more will follow. Again, under the Victorian Liberals, this program is at risk of significant delay or simply getting cut. The Suburban Rail Loop will transform Melbourne, with a rail network forming a circle around Melbourne’s suburbs, a 90-kilometre circle line, with 12 new stations catering for 400 000 passengers a day. It will run from the Frankston line to the Werribee line, connecting Melbourne’s middle suburbs to priority growth areas, and linking all Victorians to major health, education and employment centres. However, the Liberals have refused to support this project. And again, given their refusal to support the project to date, this massive project is at risk under the Victorian Liberals. Victorians need to know what the agenda of the Liberal Party is—should they ever be returned to government in this state, Victorians need to know. They need to know the policy review actually means cuts. They need to remember that the record of the Liberal Party is one of inaction and cutting projects, even when the projects are good for the economy and good for the community and even when they are funded and planning is underway. The record speaks for itself. It does not matter if I look locally or across the state, in the years between 2010 and 2014 there was no infrastructure program across the state. In the electorate of Yuroke, we are experiencing massive growth, much of it from developments that were approved by the former planning minister. However, that is all that was approved. No business cases were undertaken to prepare for road duplications as traffic massively increased. No land was acquired for schools in these new communities. No parking expansions were undertaken at railway stations to cater for vehicles coming from developments where no public transport existed. No planning was done to bring public transport to those areas or to improve it in areas where the network was no longer appropriate. In fact in Yuroke they cut a service that stopped at Roxburgh Park station, leaving commuters without that connection. This is where it becomes really scary, and that is the cuts. It is bad enough to do nothing in government but the Victorian Liberals’ willingness to cut existing programs and projects is something that all Victorians should be very concerned about. Altering a bus service—that is at the minor end of the scale. At the other end is the cancellation of substantial projects that are funded and underway. One that I am very familiar with is the Broadmeadows station redevelopment and the government services building in Broadmeadows. This project was funded by the Brumby government with $14.7 million provided in the budget. Following the 2010 election it was cut by the Baillieu government, and the money was just put into pet projects elsewhere. The project was well underway, planning was well advanced and community consultation had occurred. I am very familiar with this project, because I was the local mayor at the time. We were incredibly disappointed, because we knew the benefits that this project would bring to the area. It would have had benefits for both the community and residents, and in particular because of the job opportunities that it would have brought. But it was cut. The Victorian Liberals did not go to the 2010 election saying, ‘We’re going to cut this project if we’re elected’. They just kept quiet and cut it once they were elected. This was despite the local benefits, despite the allocated funding and despite the extent of planning that had progressed. The fact that they were willing to just cut this project is indicative of what we can expect. This provides a cautionary tale about what the Liberals policy review may mean for Victoria’s current Big Build agenda that is providing infrastructure across Victoria with enormous community benefit and the creation of thousands of jobs. The reputation of the Victorian Liberals speaks for itself. If the Victorian Liberals do not want it, they will cut it. This is of great concern, and the Victorian Liberals need to come clean and tell Victorians which of these important projects are actually on the chopping board. As I said in the beginning, there is much to be wary of with the Victorian Liberals policy review. They are not ruling anything in or anything out at this stage, and the state-changing infrastructure agenda of the Andrews Labor government is at risk. This includes, as I have mentioned, the Suburban Rail Loop, the Metro Tunnel, the North East Link and the removal of the 75 dangerous and congested level crossings, along with the thousands of jobs created by these and other projects across the state. These are projects that are warmly welcomed by the Victorian community. Whenever I am out and about and visiting on site there is so much going on. It would be an absolute shame to see these projects that have not as yet commenced just taken off the table because some policy review determined that that money would be better spent on pet projects elsewhere. I fully commend the matter of public importance in the name of the member for Essendon.