Delivering Victorian Infrastructure (Port of Melbourne Lease Transaction) Bill 2015
10 March 2016
Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) — I rise to make my contribution on the Delivering Victorian Infrastructure (Port of Melbourne Lease Transaction) Bill 2015. I suppose it is important in starting this contribution to actually articulate what we are talking about here. We are talking about the port of Melbourne, which handles nearly 40 per cent of the container trade in Australia and, particularly from a rural export point of view, is the gateway to the world for all our industries not only in Melbourne but particularly right across country Victoria. So it is absolutely critical that the port of Melbourne stays competitive and stays efficient so that our exporters are not disadvantaged in the world market. The focus from this side of the house, from the Liberal‑Nationals opposition, has been that whatever deal was done had to be in the best long‑term interests of all Victorians, including, particularly from The Nationals point of view, the export industries across country Victoria.
What we are doing here is making decisions for the next, as it is now, 50 years. If you think back 50 years, we are making huge decisions for a long time into the future. If you go back 50 years, people then would never have envisaged some of the changes that have happened in Victoria over that time. So we are making very long‑term decisions here, which is why we are focusing so hard on getting a good outcome.
As previous speakers have said, I think we had a very good process with the upper house committee. I also give my thanks to the committee members, including Gordon Rich‑Phillips, Damian Drum and Craig Ondarchie, for the work that they did on that committee, actually looking at this bill in detail. More importantly, I particularly put on the record my thanks to all those people from the freight and logistics industry who actually appeared before that committee and gave evidence that enabled us to have an evidence‑based outcome with the amendments that we have here before the house today. They are evidence based, a lot of work has gone into them and a lot of senior people in the freight and logistics sector made the time to appear before the committee not only in Melbourne but at regional hearings around the state — in Warrnambool, in Horsham, in Shepparton and in the Latrobe Valley. They made the effort to come along and put their views. As the amendments kept coming — we had a number of iterations of amendments because the government could never quite get it right as we went through this process for a number of weeks — the industry was very happy to come back with feedback as the amendments evolved. I particularly thank all those who did that.
I would like to reflect for a minute on the Treasurer, who was the Minister for Ports in a previous government, and look at a bit of the history of this. The now Treasurer, who was the Minister for Ports leading up to 2010, was a passionate advocate of the port of Hastings and how we needed to be developing the port of Hastings simultaneously with the port of Melbourne for the future. Somehow after the 2010 election, when he transferred from one side of the house to the other, he lost interest in the port of Hastings and became a convert to the Bay West concept that was going to be a jobs boom for Geelong at that particular time. It went from the port of Hastings, to Bay West and a jobs boom for Geelong, to back into government, and all of a sudden we were not going to need a new port for 70 years. To my mind the Treasurer is absolutely at best confused and totally a fool if you really look at it, particularly if you look at what he has said over the years and analyse all the things that he said over that particular time.
Again — it has already been touched on by the shadow Treasurer — we had the rock‑hard deadlines for a number of sitting weeks: ‘If you don’t get out of the way, it’s going to be sold’. The shadow Treasurer did not mention the fact that we also had the discussion about having an early election. We were actually going to rush off to an early election on this particular issue. I think if you go and read the notice paper, there is still a motion there from the Leader of the House to refer this off to the disputed bills process so we could have an early election around this particular issue. So not only did we have a number of sitting weeks with rock‑hard deadlines and ‘Get out of the way otherwise we will run over the top of you and we will go to the market without any legislation’, which would have been a very, very foolish thing to do, but we were going to have an early election.
Can I say, fortunately we did not start the preselection process on this side of the house because we knew, again, that the Treasurer was all bluff and was not actually going to do anything about this. It just shows how silly and how desperate they were in trying to bluff their way through this particular issue.
I will particularly focus on clause 15 of the bill and the amendments to clause 15 that have inserted a 10 per cent requirement in this particular bill. There has been some concern from some on this side of the house that the government is trying to fudge this particular clause and is going to use it as a grab‑all of money to fund projects other than transport and logistics projects in regional Victoria. I would particularly like to invite the Minister for Ports, who is going to speak after us, to put on the record that that 10 per cent will be used for the same purpose as set out in the Victorian Transport Fund and in that particular clause 15 of the bill.
What we do not want to see is country Victoria being dudded again by the government actually using these funds to substitute other forms of funding that they should be paying for out of consolidated revenue. We saw with the Stronger Country Bridges program how a number of those bridges were actually in Melbourne, and quite a few of them were very close to the Premier’s own electorate. The people of country Victoria are very cynical and very concerned about the deceit that this government goes about at times and how it does particular things.
With clause 15 and the amendments to clause 15, we worked very hard to make sure that 10 per cent of those funds would go into regional Victoria, because let us bear in mind that all of this money was going to be spent in Melbourne in the first instance. It was the combined efforts of the Liberal and National parties that made sure that there were actually some funds going to country Victoria out of this particular sale, and 10 per cent, might I add, is the minimum. We would dearly love the government to spend more than 10 per cent in country Victoria, but it is there as a minimum. Very importantly it needs to be spent, as per the purpose of clause 15, on transport and logistics projects in country Victoria to improve the transport of those very valuable exports that come out of country Victoria and go through the port of Melbourne.
I will just finish off, I suppose, by reinforcing that I think there has been a very good process here. The people of Victoria can feel comfortable that the opposition has fulfilled its role very, very well through this process with the upper house inquiry, with an evidence‑based outcome making sure that the amendments to the legislation actually improved it in the best long‑term interest of all Victorians. This was so that we did not find that we had a potential lease that went for 70 years, that we had a compensation clause that went for 70 years, that we locked out the second port for the next 70 years and that we found out that we actually lost business to Sydney and Brisbane into the future. What we worked very hard to do was make sure Melbourne is the key port in Australia into the long‑term future.
Through this particular process, I was very concerned to hear some members on the other side of the house saying, ‘Why do we need to have the biggest port in Australia? Does it really matter if Melbourne is not the key export container port in this country?’ It is absolutely important that it stays the key container port in this country. The Melbourne port is about jobs, jobs and jobs. We did not want to see a process that actually took jobs away from Victoria and sent them to Sydney and Brisbane, as would have happened if this legislation had passed as originally intended by the government. What we have been able to achieve is a good outcome and particularly a good outcome for jobs into the future — not only in Melbourne, but right across Victoria — because the port infrastructure is one of the most critical, key pieces of infrastructure in this state.
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