Infrastructure Victoria Bill 2015 - Second Reading
4 August 2015
Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) — I rise to speak on the Infrastructure Victoria Bill 2015. It was interesting to listen to the previous speaker, the member for Bundoora, and to hear how he is trying to rewrite history. I think he has a very short memory. If I remember rightly, when Labor was previously in government it proposed, in response to the Eddington report, a $38 billion transport plan that was never funded but was talked about a hell of a lot. One of the key infrastructure projects in that $38 billion transport plan was the east–west link. In criticising that particular project, the member for Bundoora is criticising Sir Rod Eddington and criticising the previous Labor government, because that was a key part of Sir Rod Eddington’s plan.
The member for Bundoora might smile about the fact that he was not trying to rewrite history — —
Mr R. Smith — It is either a dud project or it is not. You cannot have it both ways.
Mr WALSH — It depends on what audience you are talking to. During the previous Labor government one of the key planks of Sir Rod Eddington’s $38 billion transport plan that Premier Brumby kept talking about but never put any money into was there. Now government members are bagging that plan, so I find the position that the member has taken on that issue really interesting.
I support the position put forward by the member for Malvern as far as the amendments that have been suggested to this bill. The previous speaker has implied that there is something horrible about putting amendments forward. What this house is here for and why we come to Parliament is to scrutinise legislation and to put forward the views of the people of Victoria. If the government is going to be true to the commitment it made before the election — that is, to be open, honest and transparent and to govern for all Victoria — I would have thought that it would embrace these amendments. These amendments are about putting things into the bill that reflect what the Premier said before the election as Leader of the Opposition. He wanted to make sure that the people of Victoria understood what was going on, and he was going to be open, honest and transparent. All these amendments do is make those particular things happen.
From a country Victorian point of view, this is a new piece of legislation, and the issue is that the leopard has changed its spots. Most infrastructure projects under the previous Labor government were very poorly managed. There was always that old saying that Labor cannot manage money and cannot manage major projects, and that is just as true of this new Labor government as it was of the previous Labor government.
If we look back to the infrastructure projects that were undertaken by the previous government, we can see that the list is long, but there are some key ones from country Victoria’s point of view. The north–south pipeline was an absolute disaster of a project — $1 billion to build a pipeline to take water from a drought‑affected area to an area that has more rainfall. The amount of $1 billion is a lot of money, and that pipeline will probably rust out before it is ever used. It was so ill conceived, and it divided the country and the city. The country and the city should be working together. We should not be dividing the two situations, which the north–south pipeline did. It was incendiary to those people in northern Victoria against the Brumby government. I believe that one of the key reasons Labor lost government was that particular project.
Then there is the absolute classic of all infrastructure projects, the desalination plant, an absolute white elephant. We can talk about herds of white elephants, and we do not have to go to Africa to find them because there are a lot of them here in Victoria. The biggest white elephant of the whole lot is in South Gippsland, at Wonthaggi. It was not an argument about whether there should be a desalination plant as a supply of last resort for Melbourne, because it was Ted Baillieu in opposition who put forward the proposal that there should be a small desalination plant to make sure Melbourne had a water supply, not the monstrous 150‑gigalitre plant that is down there that was originally going to cost somewhere around $3.7 billion. It blew out to over $5 billion, and the consortium partners lost a lot of money out of that. The only people who made money out of that particular project were members of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union members and the Electrical Trade Union, who had an exclusive deal on that particular project.
Mr R. Smith — And the red helicopter pilot.
Mr WALSH — And the red helicopter pilot — maybe one payment to the red helicopter pilot for that great ad of Premier Bracks.
That project ran over time and over budget, and it built in increased costs to all infrastructure projects in Victoria because it pushed up the cost of doing business in Victoria. There might be some new legislation coming in to establish Infrastructure Victoria, but what we want to see is a government that is prepared to do the hard work, to manage major infrastructure projects and to drive value for Victorian taxpayers dollars. We do not want government members to do sweetheart deals with their union mates so that they can cream the real money out of those projects at the expense of taxpayers in Victoria.
If members look at some of the other major projects that have affected regional Victoria, they will see the regional rail link, which was trumpeted as the solution to a lot of the transport needs of Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong. It was said that it would also help by freeing up slots in the suburban network. I do not see any example of that. All I see in press clips is the fact that people in Ballarat are even more unhappy about their train service, and people in Geelong are still unhappy about their train service. The government flip‑flops between whether it is going to give priority to Geelong for new carriages or whether it is going to say to the people in Ballarat, ‘We’re going to bring the new carriages up here’. Which is it? You cannot put new carriages in both places; it has to be in one or the other. However, the government is just saying whatever it has to to shut the people up in those particular places.
The doozy of all projects — and I raised this in question time — is the Melbourne market relocation project. Was that not an absolutely fantastic project for the market community here in Victoria? For a range of reasons a decision was made in the early 2000s by the Labor government to move the Footscray market. There was a discussion about where it would be relocated to. Epping was finally decided on. As I understand it, the geotechnical work was not done well enough, and when they started work out there, there was a lot more rock present than they expected, and that had to be cleaned out. A project that was originally going to cost only $300 million ended up costing more than $600 million, and based on what I hear from everyone I talk to in the market community, it is not going to deliver what the market community wants out there.
There is a very damning Auditor‑General’s report about that particular project. The project has taken probably twice the length of time it was supposed to take and cost double the money it was supposed to cost, and it is not going to service the market community well. Along with other members of Parliament I am constantly getting feedback from country buyers and merchants that there is no undercover parking for them. If they have a parking spot, they are going to have to load produce out in the weather — whether it be the sun in summertime or the wind and rain in wintertime — and that will affect the quality of the produce. They do not have access to undercover parking in the market. They also do not have anywhere to sleep. At their current market they have their bays. They can come in, unload, pull into their bay and have a sleep. They are in a secure site. They know that even if they have money or valuables in their truck, they can sleep because they have a secure bay.
What is happening in the new market? Merchants are being told that they can come in and unload but that they then must vacate the market. They are being told that they can go to the BP roadhouse to sleep. I think that is a totally unsatisfactory outcome. If you are going to spend $600 million, why not have a project that actually meets the users’ expectations rather than the other way around? The market community is very unhappy with that particular site.
If members think about the new legislation and the money from the sale of the port that is supposed to go into these infrastructure projects, they can see there is a list of infrastructure projects that have not been funded in country Victoria or from which money has been taken away. We funded the Murray Basin rail project. That money has been sitting in the budget since May 2014. There has been absolute silence about what is going to happen with that. It is three months since the Minister for Regional Development, Jaala Pulford, said the business case would be released in a couple of weeks.
If members go to the budget papers, they will see something that is very personal to me and is in my own electorate. There is money in the budget for the Echuca bridge, a very necessary project for that particular part of country Victoria, particularly the roundabout at the Warren Street and Northern Highway intersection, where there have been a number of traffic accidents. That money was there to do that particular project. With the change of government and changes in VicRoads, that money has evaporated and is not there to facilitate the project.
What we need is not a piece of legislation that establishes an independent body that does something; we need a government and some ministers who will drive things to happen in Victoria. Rather than having the 80‑something reviews that have been announced by this government, we need action by some ministers to make things happen on the ground, particularly in country Victoria. We hear talk of what might happen in Melbourne, but we do not hear talk of what might happen in country Victoria. We want action out there, not just a piece of legislation that is going to hand‑ball the job of giving advice for the future to someone else.
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