Regional and Rural Development Port of Melbourne Infrastructure

Delivering Victorian Infrastructure (Port Of Melbourne Lease Transaction) Billl 2015

24 June 2015

Second reading

Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) — I join the debate on the sale of the port lease bill. It is intriguing to follow a comrade in the Minister for Ports. He is such an intellectual giant when it comes to commercial experience. To think that he could lecture people about commercial experience and his experience of doing leases defies logic. If you are talking about bird brains — and I will leave the rest to people’s imaginations.

The coalition cannot support the bill in its current form. It is a dud, a dog of a deal or whatever adjective you want to use. It is not what was taken to the election by the now Premier and the Labor Party. As the member for Malvern said, this is most definitely not what the Labor Party took to the election. It is a very different beast to what was taken to the election, and it is a broken promise. You can call it a lie or whatever you like, but it is a broken promise in relation to what was taken to the election. As I have said, it is a dud deal.

I support the coalition’s position that the bill needs to go to an upper house committee for examination to ensure that the detail comes out into the public arena. As in most cases, it is not what is written in the legislation that is necessarily always the challenge; it is what is going to be in the lease and what sits behind the legislation. It is about how we are going to lose our competitiveness in the long term for our export industries. As someone who represents a country electorate and people engaged in food and fibre industries, I know that this is our gateway to the world. The Melbourne port is an absolutely critical piece of infrastructure for the state but particularly for our export sector and our food and fibre sector.

Nearly one‑third of all food exports that go out of the nation go through the port of Melbourne. The third biggest user of the port, and the single biggest food user of the port, is the dairy industry. The port is our competitive advantage. In meetings I have had with the dairy industry about the legislation it has said on the record that anything that puts up port charges puts our competitiveness at risk. We are part of a finely tuned world market and every little bit that gives us an advantage helps us to get to those world markets. If we lose that, and if our exporters have to bear the cost of increased charges in Melbourne or if they have to bear the cost of shipping product to Sydney or Brisbane to get capacity to get it out of the state because the Melbourne port is strangled in the future because of this lease, they will potentially lose overseas markets or they will have to discount their prices. Surprise, surprise, what happens when the price comes down? Where does that price reduction end up? It ends up with the farmers, who will have to pay for this if there are port fee increases that make them uncompetitive into the future.

Every report written over time has said that the Melbourne port is going to reach capacity sometime between 2025 and 2031, depending on which report you read and what you believe. It never says that it is going to be 2086. No report anywhere has said that it will be 2086 before the Melbourne port reaches capacity. How long does it take to build a new port? It takes a long time, so before 2025 or 2031, depending on which report you believe, we will have to start planning for the next port. That is why in government we set aside money to develop the port of Hastings. The debate before the election was not about the sale of the lease of the port; it was about which was going to be the next port in Victoria. Was it going to be Hastings or was it going to be Bay West?

As the member for Malvern said, the Labor government, which was in power up to November 2010, was a convert to the port of Hastings. Something happened on the road to opposition and it switched from the port of Hastings to Bay West. Maybe it was because it wanted to endear itself to the people of Geelong. It would appear that any endearment to the community of Geelong has most certainly been undone by the breaking of the promise to the people of Geelong. You only have to read the front page of the Geelong Advertiser to realise that the Geelong community knows it has been dudded by the Labor government. It has been lied to by the Labor government. It was promised a port and thousands of jobs, but what has happened? It has all gone over time.

We need increased port capacity in Victoria in the short to medium term, not in 70 years time or something like that. We are seeing increased demand for our food around the world. We are seeing increased production of food here, and we need that capacity into the future. We need the opportunity to have a second port developed.

The people I talk to in the industry and the people I talk to in my electorate who are involved in exports do not trust the government to get this right. They do not trust the Labor Party when it comes to major projects and they do not trust the Labor Party when it comes to managing money. There is a saying which this deal reinforces, and that is that the Labor Party cannot manage money and it cannot manage major projects. The opposition is not going to support legislation that adds to the herd of great white elephants that are running around Victoria now as a result of previous Labor government decisions. They include the desalination plant, myki, the north–south pipeline and smart meters, which was another giant intellectual decision by a previous Labor government.

Mr M. O’Brien — Pokie licensing.

Mr WALSH — There is the pokie licensing, as well as the fact that the Labor government promised the east–west link would not cost any money in compensation. How can you believe anyone who would spend $640 million not to build something?

This is not what the Labor Party took to the last election. It is not what it promised. It is a very different beast into the future. It puts in place a 70‑year monopoly. The intellectual giant, the Minister for Ports, was trying to say it does not. He obviously has not read his government’s legislation: a 50‑year lease automatically turns into a 70‑year lease with the stroke of a pen by any Premier over that time. This is most definitely a 70‑year lease into the future.

Another debate that must be had regarding this sale is about where the money will be spent if ever a deal is done. Looking at it now it seems the money from the sale of the port will all go into Melbourne. None of it will go to regional Victoria. That is wrong. The first part of the debate most definitely has to be about making sure that this is a good deal for all Victorians, particularly country Victorians who do a lot of the work and the heavy lifting to create the exports that go through the port of Melbourne.

It is important that some of the money from the sale, if it ever happens, goes not to the regional centres of Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong but to country Victoria for infrastructure projects that improve the efficiency of the system for country people, not just for Melbourne people. That is something that has been lost by this government again. As I said this afternoon in the debate on the matter of public importance, this is not a Victorian Labor government, it is a Melbourne Labor government, because Melbourne is all those opposite are focusing on.

Mr Noonan — That is nonsense.

Mr WALSH — The minister at the table says that is nonsense. Those opposite have to actually walk the talk and do something in country Victoria before country Victorians will respect and take notice of them.

The last thing I want to say is that this bill and the sale of the lease in its current format will be bad for the environment. As the Minister for Ports said in question time today, there is no commitment from the Labor Party not to blow up the heads so they can get bigger ships into the port. It is not going to have the port of Hastings to handle the bigger ships in the future. This government poses a real risk to the bay environment. It purports to do good things for the environment, but its actions speak louder than its words. Those opposite have given absolutely no commitment that they are not going to blow up the heads to get bigger ships into Port Phillip Bay in the future.


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