MS TIERNEY (Minister for Training and Skills) (10:51:20) — I rise to make a contribution to the debate and oppose the motion to revoke the planning scheme amendment GC65 moved by Mr Davis, which would have the effect of stopping work on and then further delaying the West Gate tunnel project. There are no legitimate grounds for members in this place to pass such a motion. This revocation motion strategy has been tried before with the deliberate and calculated goal of frustrating the government’s infrastructure building agenda.
That has also been substantiated by members of the business community. You only have to look at the Herald Sun of 21 February, where an article has the heading ‘Tunnel vision costly’ and the subheading ‘Big business backs Andrews on West Gate dig’. The chief executive officer of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, said:
Governments and oppositions are entitled to disagree on policy, but at some point the government of the day has to be able to get on with delivering the infrastructure the community so desperately needs.
Ms Westacott went on to say:
… the cost of delaying yet another major transport project in Victoria would be immense.
You cannot just turn on the tap and expect infrastructure investment to flow. It will be years before another project of this scale will be ready to be built.
If and when that happens, the state will face higher costs and the project is likely to take much longer to build.
The general manager of public policy for the RACV, Bryce Prosser, said:
Doing nothing is not an option and vital infrastructure projects need to move forward and not become party political.
I noticed today, again in the Herald Sun, a whole one-page ad by the Australian Logistics Council, G21, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA), Infrastructure Partners Australia and the Victorian Transport Association. It is an open letter in the newspaper which states::
Dear Victorian members of Parliament,
Re: Melbourne’s much-needed alternative to the West Gate Bridge —
and it is fairly strong and quite succinct —
For Victoria’s sake, the Parliament must not stop the West Gate tunnel project.
Using parliamentary processes to overturn planning decisions, for political reasons, would be irresponsible — and we all know from the east-west’s cancellation that it would negatively impact Victoria’s economy.
Costs increase, delays increase and Melbourne cannot get better, if projects and planning decisions are subject to divisive politics.
The West Gate tunnel has a contract — and construction has begun — with a workforce that will peak at 6000 Victorians.
Investors need to know that when they sign a contract with the state of Victoria, it will be honoured.
The West Gate tunnel project will:
remove 9000 trucks from local streets;
connect Victorian producers to global markets, via the port of Melbourne;
cut 20 minutes off commuting times and release new housing;
safeguard Melbourne from being shut down by one accident on the West Gate Bridge.
Melbourne has not successfully built a motorway since 2010 — but the population has grown by half a million people in this time.
Victorians need more and better infrastructure — not more politics.
Melbourne needs an alternative to the West Gate Bridge — and this project delivers it.
Yours sincerely —
and I will repeat: the Australian Logistics Council, G21, VCCI, UDIA, the Victorian Transport Association and Infrastructure Partners Australia.
Nearly ninety years ago, in the 1930s, an eminent Australian historian, Keith Hancock, described the Liberal side of politics as ‘the parties of resistance’, and he saw Labor as ‘the party of initiative’. You would have to ask yourself: after all of this time, what has changed? If you look across the road in this chamber, you would say: nothing much at all. It is the road of fractious politics. It is the politics of stalling, it is the politics of blocking and it is the politics of delay. It is all directed to prevent change to the way traffic moves on the western side of the city in particular, and in doing so it stands in the way of an initiative that will make such a difference to the city, to the region and to Victoria as a whole.
With this revocation motion we see a desperate opposition attempting to block what is a fantastic project for no good reason, apart from straightforward opportunism. This revocation motion is a political stunt designed to manipulate parliamentary processes in order to delay and obstruct, and not to achieve a better project or pursue good planning.
In contrast to the do-nothing record of the previous government, the Andrews Labor government has spent the last three years addressing the backlog and moving Victoria forward. The economic benefits of the West Gate tunnel project are clear, the long-term planning for the future is in place and Victorians will reap the benefits into the next generation.
This project is desperately needed because of Melbourne’s traffic congestion. It is clear to all that the West Gate tunnel project has obvious long-term benefits. The widening of the West Gate Freeway and the complementary upgrade to the Monash Freeway will move traffic more efficiently, reducing travel times as well as moving vehicles more reliably and safely. The twin tunnels under Yarraville will provide a much better link to the port, and a second river crossing will provide route options, especially from the west. We can get more trucks off the local streets, and there will be system-wide benefits, with better connections from the port to CityLink, to inner-northern suburbs, to the CBD and beyond. There will be a city centre bypass as well.
Of course as the advertisement says in today’s paper, the other benefit of this project is that it will deliver more than 6000 jobs, which are needed in this state. In my electorate of Western Victoria Region we have seen the loss of jobs with the shutdown of the automotive industry and of course Alcoa. Toyota Altona on Grieve Parade has also closed. So there are many, many people who are job ready and are wanting to pick up the work that goes along with the construction of this project.
That is to understate the situation. We are a job-creating government. Since 2014 we have created 204 300 new full-time jobs — 320 000 all up — and we are leading the nation. The West Gate tunnel project will deliver, as I said, more than 6000 jobs, and some of those workers are already on the job in the preparation stage. I understand there are something like 700 workers. That is not just 700 workers; that is 700 families who are already reliant in terms of their wages on this project. In terms of our job-creation agenda, we have already established a 10 per cent minimum of employees on government infrastructure projects who must be apprentices and trainees. This project will also, in a similar vein, increase the number of apprentices and trainees that this state will have. Again, when you compare that to the previous government it was a government that had the number of young people in employment fall by 20 000. The West Gate tunnel, as I said, is already underway. If the Liberals are successful in their move to stop the West Gate tunnel, over 700 Victorian workers now on the job will lose their jobs. I would put to the house that this would be an absolute act of economic vandalism.
It is clear in terms of congestion that Melbourne will benefit from this project, but I clearly put to the house that it will also benefit regional Victoria. You can see that in terms of the work that is being done by a number of companies across western Victoria and their need to have easier access to different parts of Victoria, including Melbourne. You only have to look at Keppel Prince Engineering in Portland, which is doing some very important structural work for the project. Last week we heard from Jaclyn Symes, a member for Northern Victoria Region, who went into significant detail on the precast concrete manufacturing facility that is in Benalla. That will deliver 400 jobs when it is in full operation. That will also be supplying a number of things to Victorian and interstate projects.
Victoria is Australia’s fastest growing economy. The West Gate tunnel project is estimated to deliver an $11 million boost. The National Australia Bank monthly business survey shows that business confidence in Victoria has doubled since November 2014. Business does understand that this government is providing opportunities, so you really do wonder at the disconnect between the opposition and the traditional supporters that they like to be associated with in the business community. What is the real purpose of this revocation motion when you are disenfranchising your political and economic base and when you are disenfranchising 700 workers and their families? What is the possible rationale for this stop-start approach by those opposite?
Like the Metro Tunnel project, the West Gate tunnel will use local materials. There will be 93 per cent local content for design and construction of the tunnel, roadworks and elevated structures and up to 92 per cent local steel. More than 110 000 tonnes of steel will be used to build the two underground tunnels, the bridges and other infrastructure. I note the optimism of Mr Melhem that western suburbs steel millers will potentially benefit from this opportunity. It is one of 80 public projects with minimum local content requirements. Those opposite, when in government, had no local content requirements and bypassed local manufacturers.
Again, I would like to emphasise that this project will provide better access to the port of Melbourne, the largest and busiest container port in Australasia. One of the key features of the West Gate tunnel project is that it will facilitate access to the port for freight — 6 million standard containers per year, which is one-third of Australia’s containerised trade. The value of exports from Victoria is up more than 10 per cent to $50 billion in the year to September 2017.
I do not know if those opposite have ever tried to commute from Geelong or beyond to Melbourne in the weekday peak hour, but I know that it can be a very, very trying experience.
I live in regional Victoria, and I regularly travel the Geelong–Melbourne stretch along the Princes Freeway and onto the West Gate, as my ministerial office is at 2 Treasury Place. Because of the congestion, I have often chosen to take the ferry trip across the bay rather than face the traffic that becomes a car park from the Point Cook bend across the West Gate to the CBD. If my ministerial office was anywhere other than the CBD — if it was in the north or to the east — I would be looking at travel times of two and a half to three hours or more. The same can be said of commuters travelling from Ballarat on the M80, joining the congestion onto the West Gate in Brooklyn. This project will provide greater access to jobs from the west.
The West Gate tunnel and the second river crossing will provide an alternative route, sharing the load in terms of traffic movement, and will give us all something to fall back on in the event of a disruption. Melbourne and the west have been crying out for this for a long time, and Geelong has been crying out for it for a long time too, I can assure you. But it is about more than just easing traffic congestion. A major incident on the West Gate shuts down the city. It potentially shuts down the port and much of Victoria. We see a small version of this each time there is a significant accident on the bridge or the freeway on a weekly basis. Sometimes this is a daily event. This scenario is no longer an option in the 21st century with a rapidly growing state and very strong growth in the western suburbs. Melbourne will hit 5 million people in 2018, and it has grown by 1 million since 2010. The West Gate tunnel project is the first major road project since that time.