Matters Of Public Importance - Infrastructure Projects
Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) (14:43:43) — I rise to make a contribution on the member for Narre Warren North’s matter of public importance (MPI), which I will not give the satisfaction of reading out because it is just a long litany of self‑praise. If you look at the matter of public importance, normally the matter of public importance is taken seriously in this house but today we have had the B‑team — some would be unkind enough to say we have had the C‑team presenting it. The member for Narre Warren North is a poor man’s member for Melton when it comes to doing MPIs. I can remember a time in this place when there was a bit of fire and a bit of vigour in the MPIs coming from the Labor Party. But the people who have done it today obviously have not got the strength of their convictions about what they have talked about because, apart from a bit of a rant about ancient history from the member for Narre Warren North, I have not heard much passion about or commitment to this particular matter of public importance.
I note that the minister, who just finished his contribution, talked at length about manufacturing in this state. Manufacturing in this state is on its knees, and it is on its knees for one very important reason — the cost of energy in this state. That has been brought about because of the policies of the Labor Party. It has been brought about because of the policy to increase the coal tax royalties in the Latrobe Valley, a $253 million increase by a Premier who promised people that he would not introduce new taxes or increase taxes. He looked at the TV camera on election eve, talking to Peter Mitchell, and said, ‘Peter, I give that promise to all Victorians. I will not introduce new taxes. I will not increase taxes in this state’. Ten or 15 tax increases and new taxes later, one of those being a $253 million increase in the coal tax that led to the very fast closure of Hazelwood, has meant that manufacturing businesses are very, very worried about the cost of power and about the cost of gas — and that comes back to the moratorium on gas exploration in this state, which is another issue. More importantly they are worried about the reliability of the supply of electricity in this state.
As I travel around the state the first thing a number of businesspeople say to me is, ‘It’s the cost of power that’s got us really worried’, particularly those who have owners or partners from overseas. They are being benchmarked against equivalent businesses in other countries, and their masters are saying, ‘If this is the price of power long term in Victoria, why are we doing business in Victoria when we could buy power a lot cheaper in other parts of the world?’. The minister says that manufacturing is going fine. The minister should go and talk to businesses because they are very worried about the price of power. More importantly they are also worried about the reliability of supply.
I went to International Dairy Week in Tatura earlier this year. There was a big trade display stand there of a business that sells generators. I went and had a talk to them, and I asked, ‘How’s business?’. I was told that they are overwhelmed with businesses that are buying generators because people are extremely worried about the interruptible supply of power. That comes back to the government’s policy around the coal tax; it comes back to the policy around brown coal power production in the Latrobe Valley and the fact that businesses are very worried. If the minister is saying that businesses are not worried about power prices and they are not worried about the risk of supply in this state, then she is not asking the right questions. More importantly she has turned a deaf ear to what they are telling her. The number one concern of every business that I go to is around power prices and the supply of power.
The MPI before us is about major transport projects. Well, you could not get a bigger disaster in this state than the Murray Basin rail project. You could not have a minister that could botch a project so well. This project was laid out when this government came to power. The previous Liberal‑National government had actually allocated the money for the state contribution to this project. It had done all the work involved in having the commonwealth pay their particular share of this project, so it was all there for them. It was all there for the Minister for Public Transport. All she actually had to do was make sure that the contract was
worded appropriately and the contractors did their job. How difficult is it for a minister to actually implement a project —
An honourable member — Apparently very difficult.
Mr WALSH — As the interjector said, it is apparently very difficult. It was a project that was all laid out and it could have delivered a great outcome for north‑western Victoria. That is now in tatters. It was a once‑in‑a‑lifetime opportunity project for that part of Victoria, something that had been fought for for decades.
If you look at the specifics of that project, the Mildura line was taken out of action to be upgraded and standardised. The Wakefield Transport Group, including Iron Horse Intermodal, at Merbein had to relocate their business to Manangatang. It set up a pad over there to lift containers on and off transports, resulting in additional transport costs. It was continually given the run‑around by the department as they went through that particular process. They thought it would be short term. It has been a lot longer term than they originally thought it would be because the Mildura line took longer than they thought. What has happened is that once the trains actually started running, they have had to go so slow that they cannot get enough services on that line. What should have been fixed up quickly has taken a long time. It has gone from one train to two trains. They still have to use the Manangatang line, which has been a real problem for that particular business, with very little support from this government.
Once that line was done, and done very poorly, the issues around the Maryborough to Ararat line came about. I am sure the member for Ripon will mention this during her contribution to this house. The next stage was going to be stage 3 of this project, which was the upgrading and standardisation of the Manangatang and Sea Lake line.
At Ultima in my electorate a large business has been set up, Pentarch Agricultural — or Mallee Hay — which is going to take tens of thousands of tonnes of hay, compress it, put it in containers and export it. One of the reasons they set up there was that it was on a railway line. They were going to go to the cost of putting in a loop so they could send away full train loads of compressed hay in containers. V/Line went out and met with them a few weeks ago and said, ‘This project’s been put on hold indefinitely’. Pentarch has invested millions. Qube, the logistics managers, are part of that syndicate. The Pickering Transport Group from Swan Hill is also part of that syndicate. Pickerings have spent three‑quarters of a million dollars buying a new forklift to lift the containers on and off, and they have been told, ‘It’s on hold indefinitely’.
How could a minister stuff up a project as much as that? It is on hold indefinitely. They do not know what is going to happen. They do not know whether they should build a broad gauge loop to load the trains, but then they might have to convert it across to standard gauge at their own cost if this project ever goes to finality, over which there is some real doubt because of the cost blowout so far. In the meantime, as a result of being told this project would start in March and be finished in August and that by August they could start shipping containers, they are having to run all those containers on trucks to Melbourne. We hear from our city colleagues about the issues around trucks coming into the port. Here is an example of a project that would have put all those containers on a train and brought them straight to Melbourne. They are now being trucked down because the minister has made such a mess of this project.
The last project that I briefly want to talk about is the rail shuttle to port. There has been money in consecutive budgets for the rail shuttle to port project. The current government has said that once the lease is resolved we will then be able to get on and do the rail shuttle to port. I have heard nothing about the rail shuttle to port proceeding at all, even though the money is there. Salta has actually pulled out of the expressions‑of‑interest stage for that particular contract now because, as I understand it, they are sick of this government taking no action. If this government were serious about getting trucks off the road into the port, then they would spend the money that has been sitting in the budget from when we were in government. They would spend that money on a rail shuttle to the port so that trucks could be taken off the road.
The talk from the government about the issue of trucks on roads to the port is just the government crying crocodile tears, because the money is there to do that. The money is there to fix it. Maybe the minister at the table, the Minister for Industry and Employment, who is so passionate about manufacturing and business in this state, might like to get off his you‑know‑what and actually do something about this particular project, because the money is sitting there. That project could be done; it could be completed. But nothing is happening. From the point of view of northern Victorians the Murray Basin rail project is an absolute disaster under the current minister. Even if we had those trains, there is no access to the port so that they can get straight in there and unload them. They have to come to Melbourne, be taken off and put on a truck to be taken to the port, and that is an absolute disgrace.
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