Port of Melbourne Infrastructure

Infrastructure funding

5 August 2015 - Matters of Public Importance

Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) — I rise to make a contribution on behalf of the opposition to the member for Werribee’s matter of public importance, which, to precis it, in effect says to the opposition, as the Premier has been saying for quite a while now, ‘Get out of the way. Let us do what we want to do. Actually don’t act like a responsible opposition. Don’t scrutinise legislation. Don’t make sure things are done in the best interests of Victoria’. The Premier and some of his ministers might think they are in a union meeting where they can bully their way through different issues, but this side of the house will not be bullied by the Premier and we will not be bullied by any of the ministers to accept something that may not be in the best interests of Victoria.

The legislation, which was dealt with by this house before the winter break, is being dealt with by the upper house this week. The motion that has been — —

An honourable member interjected.

Mr WALSH — I will come back to the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF). The motion being debated in the upper house today is about applying proper scrutiny to one of the biggest decisions the Parliament will make in this term of government. It is about a key piece of infrastructure in Victoria. It is our gateway to the world, and as a member who represents country Victoria, which uses that gateway to export out of the state, I want to make sure it is a good deal that is in the best interests of all Victorians, but particularly in the interests of exporters out of the state, of which the majority come from country Victoria.

I draw the attention of the house to the 70‑year lease. Seventy years ago World War II had just ended. The government is saying in effect that at the end of World War II the Victorian Parliament knew what was in the best interests of those of us here now in 2015. That is why we need really detailed scrutiny of the legislation. Forget the humbug from the government that this is only about a 50‑year lease with maybe a 20‑year extension. That 20‑year extension can be made using the signature of any Premier of the day between now and when the 50 years runs out. I will put on a bet with the member for Broadmeadows that within the first term of the Labor government it will be extended by another 20 years. It will take the cash and run, and into the future we will have a 70‑year lease. That is why this legislation needs to be scrutinised.

It is interesting that we are even having this debate today, when 50 metres away in the upper house, as I understand it, the government has now agreed to have a parliamentary inquiry into this matter. Why are we having this debate if it is not just about grandstanding and huffing and puffing by government members? Perhaps the Treasurer, the member for Werribee, might want to talk to the Special Minister of State to find out what is going on in the upper house. He might realise that in some ways this debate is redundant. As other members have said, maybe it is about different factions; maybe they are not talking at the moment. Maybe Michael Donovan was not acting as a go‑between to make sure everyone knew what was going on in this place.

It is interesting that the Treasurer was the Minister for Ports in 2010. At that time we heard the minister talk in this place constantly about how good the port of Hastings would be when it was built. Somehow in moving from one side of the house to the other the member for Werribee forgot about the port of Hastings. Suddenly on his way to opposition he had an inspiration about Bay West. The shadow Treasurer has already been very articulate in pointing out the absolute deception of the people of Geelong in relation to Bay West. It was something that the government trumpeted in opposition. It said it would be the saviour of jobs in Geelong; it would create thousands of jobs in Geelong. I think I can remember one government member, when questioned about whether Bay would be a good location for a port, saying, ‘You do not build a port for ships; you build a port for road freight’. My advice is that Bay West would have been a disaster for ships and an environmental disaster for the bay and for the Ramsar wetlands in that area.

Mr Pallas interjected.

Mr WALSH — It is interesting that the Treasurer is interjecting.

Over the last few weeks we have seen a number of media stunts where different ministers have gone out to make announcements about level crossing removals. Now they are making announcements about where this magic pudding of money from the port sale will be spent over time. The classic of those media stunts was on Sunday, when the Premier got away from the tram tracks — not very far away from the tram tracks, mind you — and went to Bunyip to feed a few pet cows. As soon as I saw the media clip on the telly with the Premier holding a bucket and feeding a few Angus cattle I thought, ‘This has got to be a media stunt’, because if they were decent cattle they would have knocked him over to make sure they could get to the bucket even quicker. They were obviously pet cows.

Following that announcement on Sunday, we have seen ministers running to all points close to Melbourne — not very far away — saying what would be funded out of this magic $200 million Agriculture Infrastructure and Jobs Fund. It could fund almost anything you ever wanted it to fund. It will fund lots of fantastic things.

Mr D. O’Brien interjected.

Mr WALSH — I am going to come to the fairytale and the magic pudding. It is effectively the magic pudding. The Minister for Roads and Road Safety has announced that the money will fund bridge upgrades in Geelong and along the Princes Freeway. The money is for farmers, but the government is going to use the money on the Princes Freeway between Geelong and Melbourne. I am sure the people of Manangatang, Underbool or Hamilton, or particularly the people in South Gippsland who want their highway upgraded, will not be happy that the money is going to be spent there rather than on their roads.

As the member for Gippsland South interjected, there is a nursery rhyme about the magic pudding. One thing I will say for Labor is that it is very good at magic puddings. It has said that the fund will do great things. It will fund this and that, and it will fund something else. It will just keep on giving and giving, and if you chop a bit off, it will grow again. The only trouble is that after a few years the budget will be in deficit because this is not a nursery rhyme. It is a fact that Labor cannot manage money and it cannot manage major projects. That will be the issue with this fund. Labor will not manage the fund well, and it will not manage the money well either.

The Treasurer and the Premier have had a lot to say about the Victorian Farmers Federation’s support. As I understand it, the only industry group that would come on board with this was the VFF. It is interesting to look at some of the different arms of the VFF. In an article in the Weekly Times Adam Jenkins, the president of the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria, said:

… the $200 million fund was ‘well short’ of his expectations and called on the government to ‘put in writing’ —

because he does not believe the government and he wants to see it in writing —

how it would ensure port charges and rents did not drive up the cost to exporters.

VFF grains group president, Brett Hosking, said there was ‘no doubt the government was using the fund to get support from the Greens and opposition’.

The opposition will not be bought off by the Treasurer with the scraps from the table. If there is going to be $7 billion and there is only money equal to one level crossing in Melbourne for country Victoria, it is not enough. One member of the VFF might be supportive of this and backing the government — —

Mr Nardella — One member?

Mr WALSH — One member: the president.

Mr Nardella interjected.

Mr WALSH — There is. There is a whole range of commodity presidents who are not happy about this deal. The work that they are doing is effectively saying that the increased charges will be more than the money they are going to get for the first 4 years, bearing in mind that this is a 70‑year deal. Their charges are going to go up. They are not going to get any money out of this. For a little bit of short‑term gain — 30 pieces of silver — they are going to be paying for the next 70 years. Farmers are very concerned that the Treasurer has done a smoke‑and‑mirrors, pea‑in‑thimble trick, which will cost them dearly in the long run.


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