MPI Government Performance Regional Rail

Former Government Performance

18 March 2015

Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) — It is a pleasure to rise on behalf of the opposition to speak on the government’s matter of public importance (MPI). I put on the record that it is the government’s MPI, because if you look at the MPI, this government that is supposedly so proud of its first 100 days is spending all of its time talking about the last four years. I think there is a rear‑view mirror over there and members opposite have not realised that it is about them now. They are the government and they need to do something other than just talk. All the last two speakers have done, including the Deputy Premier who put forward this MPI, is talk about the past. They have not talked about themselves or what they have done for the last 100 days. The government has been so bereft of any action over the last 100 days that its members have nothing to say about it.

If you think about it, the things that probably most reflect the last 100 days are the things the Andrews government will not do, has not done and will tear up. The biggest thing was the Premier standing there tearing up a contract that supposedly was not worth the paper it was written on, and now the debate is about how much compensation is going to be paid. Who is right and who is wrong? The Premier says the contract is not worth the paper it was written on, but he is now negotiating how to buy himself out of it. How can the people of Victoria believe a Premier who flip‑flops in the space of a few days about something that he says is worth nothing but is now something for which he has to find compensation money?

The other thing about the rear‑view mirror is that most of the announcements that have been made — and I suppose this is why members on the other side are not talking about them — have been about setting up panels or committees to hold reviews. There have probably been more press releases about reviewing programs and saying, ‘We will have a look at this or that’. If Labor had had serious policies when it came to government, it would be doing something now rather than setting up reviews to look at things. The key review would be the John Brumby review of Regional Development Victoria. If something is not broken, why have a look at it? It is interesting that since that announcement was made the government has rolled agricultural service delivery into it. I do not think it knows what to do or how to do it, so it has got a review.

From the point of view of our side of politics, and particularly from the point of view of a member who represents country Victoria, John Brumby’s main legacy as Treasurer and Premier is the north–south pipeline — that is, something that was going to take water from drought‑stricken northern Victoria to Melbourne. That is something everyone found abhorrent at the time except for those who now sit on the Treasury bench. From the point of view of the people of Melbourne, his greatest legacy would be the desalination plant. It is a fantastic project — $1.8 million per day for 27 years for something that has not been used yet and most likely will not be used for a long time. I am told by the now Premier that it is a great insurance policy, but it is an expensive insurance policy.

Again if you look at what the government is not going to do or does not want to do, you see the Energy for the Regions program; a fantastic program developed by our government and driven by the then Deputy Premier, Peter Ryan, to take gas into regional towns. It is a project that was going to deliver cost‑effective energy for businesses in those towns and attract business to those towns. It is a great project. The now government was going to withdraw that contract. If Chris McLennan from the Weekly Times had not blown the whistle on that, held the government to account and had it backflip to where it is now going to deliver that project, then the government would have been tearing up contracts again.

The then Deputy Premier, Peter Ryan, signed $85 million worth of contracts to have gas go into those towns — I am talking about the likes of Lakes Entrance, Orbost, Heathcote, Marong, Terang, Maldon, Swan Hill, Kerang, Robinvale and Nathalia. They are now all going to get natural gas, albeit in cylinders, at the price other regional cities have. That will enable their businesses to be competitive and attract further business into those places.

An honourable member interjected.

Mr WALSH — As the member said by interjection, the previous Labor minister and John Brumby said it could not be done. They said they had done all that was possible. They did not put their shoulders to the wheel. They did not use their imagination. They did not care about country Victoria.

Talking about tearing up contracts and not doing things, I note one of the things that country Victoria had cried out for literally for decades was the standardisation of the rail system in Victoria. The member for Mildura has been a passionate advocate for having the rail system standardised. In last May’s budget the coalition government allocated $220 million to get on with that project — a fantastic project for regional Victoria, and one that would have increased the competitiveness of our agricultural exports, getting them from farm to port. What has this government done? It does not know if it is going to do it. It is still talking about it. It is having a review. It was forced into going to Yelta to have a press conference so that it could say it was doing something. It did not really understand the project. It made an announcement about an initial $30 million towards the project. That money started being spent last August. Some of that money has been expended. That project work has actually been done.

Members of the government are very good at spin, press releases and visiting country Victoria without knowing what they are talking about, as happened in this case, but they are not very good at doing anything, which is why they are not talking about their first 100 days in government. One of the most ironic things is that the current Premier promised to make Victoria an education state. He was going to do that by having a new numberplate. I have not seen any cars with new numberplates yet, but I am sure that will come at some stage in the future. What you need to become an education state is a serious commitment to education, not just a numberplate to say you are going to do it.

If the government were proud of its first 100 days in office, the matter of public importance would have been about what it has achieved and not about what the previous government did or did not do. The people on the other side of this chamber have not actually realised that they have won and that they have to do something. They have adopted the same mentality they had in opposition now they are on the other side of the house.

One of Labor’s core election commitments was to sell the lease to the port of Melbourne. Proceeds from the sale were to be the core funding for the removal of 50 level crossings over the next four years. What has it now done to fatten up the port so that it can sell it? It is talking about lifting port fees by 800 per cent. There is no need to increase the capacity of the port of Melbourne, because people will send their stuff to Sydney or Brisbane rather than use the port. We should be proud of the fact that the port of Melbourne is the most competitive port in Australia and that something like 38 per cent of Australia’s container trade goes through it. If this government has its way and increases the fees by 800 per cent, no‑one will use the port of Melbourne, and people will instead use the railway line to take containers to Sydney and Brisbane. Even Adelaide’s ports might become more competitive over that time.

If the government wants to think about its time in office, it might look back in the history books and reflect on the cost blow‑outs for the Southern Cross station, myki ticketing and Epping fruit and vegetable market projects. It took a coalition minister — and I commend the then coalition minister, the member for Croydon, for the work he did — to get the Epping fruit and vegetable market project back on track. It is now a good project, but imagine what it would have been like if Labor had stayed in government and finished that project.

We will shortly have the opening of the regional rail project, which is another project that the former Minister for Public Transport fixed up. It was ordered without signals and without trains — —

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