Regional Fare Cap

Danny O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (16:42): I am pleased to rise to speak on this MPI, given the critical role that I played in the policy that we are now debating in the government’s matter of public importance. It was on 9 October that I stood with the former Leader of the Opposition and announced our $2 fares policy for local transport, for local Metro services and for local buses in rural and regional Victoria. I knew we had hit a bit of nerve when the media release went out at 7 am, and the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure was on the radio at 8 am excoriating us in the worst possible terms for not including V/Line in our announcement. She was not to know of course that there was still a V/Line announcement to come two days later. But I know why the minister was so upset. Clearly the Labor Party had no policy on regional rail fare savings because it took three weeks – the minister at the table, the member for Niddrie, is giving me a wry smile because he knows it is a fact that the Nationals and the Liberals actually delivered this policy first and that they then had to scramble and say, ‘Well what are we going to do? We can’t just match it, we’ll have to do something better.’

So here we are: we have now got the government once again following the Nationals when it comes to public transport policy, and they did come to the party with this policy now of $9.20 regional fare caps, which is good for those of us that have got regional services. I am very pleased to be able to speak as the Nationals rep on this MPI, but there was a bit of competition for it. Some of my colleagues wanted to have a go. The member for Lowan in particular wanted to have a go. She said, ‘Well, I just wouldn’t mind a service.’ As the member for Polwarth said a moment ago, places like Hamilton have two services; my colleague the member for Lowan has to go from Horsham to Ararat to get on a train, and even then she got a bus in from Melton this week. We could talk about all those areas of regional Victoria that do not get any services, and I will go to some of the –

Members interjecting.

Danny O’BRIEN: Well, we could also talk about broken commitments. I mean, I know the member for Mildura would like to talk, and I would also like to talk about South Gippsland, both of which the Labor Party promised to reopen. And what has happened – we still do not have anything. So do not talk to me about what happened back in the 1990s before half of your side were even born. You made promises to reopen lines, and you did not deliver.

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Order! Member for Eureka, you have had your turn. Member for Polwarth, you have also had your turn.

Danny O’BRIEN: Thank you, Speaker. I get a bit fired up when it comes to promises about regional rail because particularly the other member for Bendigo, the member for Bendigo East, likes to always have a go at what happened in the 1990s, but she never mentions the failures of the Labor government that came along and failed to actually deliver on its commitments to reopen those lines, particularly Mildura and Leongatha. But as I said, the member for Lowan would just like something decent. They do not have much in the way of public transport there – the Overland, in trouble over the years. The member for Shepparton, I know I have asked a number of questions of ministers, including the one at the table, the Minister for Public Transport, at the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee over the years, and we discovered that despite the government announcing, I think in 2018, that there would be nine services a day to Shepparton, we did not find out until last year in PAEC that in fact those promised VLocity trains will not be delivered until 2027 – 2027! You know, it is all spin. It is all ‘We’re going to do these great things’ but actually delivering on it is the thing.

The reason I am raising these issues is because, like the member for Polwarth said, as much as people will appreciate the cost savings in cheaper fares, I do not think in my eight and a bit years in Parliament I have ever had anyone come to me and say the fares were too expensive.

Juliana Addison: Seriously?

Danny O’BRIEN: Because what they want is an actual service that turns up on time. They want a train that comes up as a train and not as a coach, and I am looking at those over there who are saying, ‘Oh my God, you’ve never had anyone complain about cost. We’ve got 4000 services a day in Ballarat, they complain about the cost all the time.’ Well, when you have only got three a day, that is what people come and complain to you about. And when you are in Gippsland, there is an actual joke. There is a cartoon in Gippsland of a little kid getting a train set for Christmas, and it comes with a bonus bus, because that is what it always is in Gippsland. For the last six years in particular you have to actually check to find out. I want to catch the train to Melbourne, will it be a bus? You are actually better off saying ‘I’m going to catch the bus to Melbourne, I wonder if it might be a train?’ – because it just does not happen.

So much of that has been about the Level Crossing Removal Project, which is another area where the government has stuffed up Gippsland rail services, because Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong – and it is all very easy for those over there to say – have got the regional rail link. The regional rail link, I might add, was delivered by the former member for Polwarth at a $400 million saving and ahead of schedule compared to what was promised by those opposite. But Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo have got a regional rail link –

The SPEAKER: Order! Member for Kororoit can I remind you that when you pass the mace, you must bow.

Danny O’BRIEN: I have lost my train of thought now, and it is of all people the Rail, Tram and Bus Union who have done it! It is a conspiracy, Speaker. It is the RTBU trying to put me off.

But we do not have a dedicated Gippsland line. I caught the train here on Monday, as I often do when there is a train running. So I caught the train here, and as is always the case we rocketed along to Pakenham and then we got to Pakenham and we got stuck behind a Metro train and naturally enough we were 20 minutes late coming into town because there is no dedicated line, and now the government has gone ahead with its sky rail through the south-eastern suburbs there is virtually no possibility that you can put in a dedicated line to Gippsland because the government did not plan for it.

I talk about delays on these things. The government announced the Regional Rail Revival project, which is a good project and I support it, and it is funded 90 per cent by the former federal coalition government – 90 per cent. So when it comes to metro trains, when it comes to level crossing removals, this government can find the money for it out of its own pocket. When it is regional stuff, we will get the feds to pay for it. Indeed the feds did pay for it. My colleague the federal member for Gippsland Darren Chester came to the party and actually said, ‘Well, this is stuff that we need, so we will fund it.’ But in 2017 the Labor government announced in its budget the Regional Rail Revival and the member for Bendigo East, who was the minister at the time, said on 1 May:

We’ve done the planning work, we’ve done the business case work and we’re ready to go.

Member for Eastern Victoria Ms Shing said the project was shovel-ready. Well, that was 1 May 2017, and if you go to the Gippsland rail revival line upgrade website now there is an FAQ and it actually says:

When will the Gippsland Line Upgrade be complete?

It says:

Major construction of the station upgrades is complete, with station precinct works to be finished in the coming months.

There are two more sentences, and it still does not tell us when the whole project is going to be complete. So 6½ years after we got told it was shovel-ready, we still do not have anything. Why is that important? Yes, we want the upgrade – of course we want the upgrade – but we want the upgrade so that we can have some additional services, and we have still not got any commitment from this government for additional services on the Gippsland line. We have got 19 services a day from Traralgon and three to Bairnsdale, including Sale. The populations of Wellington and East Gippsland shires, for those opposite, tally up to nearly 100,000 people. There are nearly 100,000 people between those two shires.

Richard Riordan: That is nearly Ballarat.

Danny O’BRIEN: It is nearly Ballarat; thank you, member for Polwarth. That is exactly it. There is what – 24, 23 a day from Ballarat? And yet we have got three services a day, when there are trains – when they run, because of course they do not run on time. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just pluck the latest figures out from the V/Line website about punctuality.’ Gippsland line – that is to Traralgon – the target, 92 per cent; the delivery in February 2023, 79.6 per cent. For the Bairnsdale line, 88.4 per cent. You can go back over years and years and years and you will find that that is the same each time. The service delivery is absolutely appalling, and it is wonderful to have cheaper fares, but as I say again: no-one has ever said to me, ‘God, I’d catch the train if it was cheaper.’ They would catch the train if it was there, if there were more services and if it was timely, and it is not. Indeed a number of years ago the Rail Futures Institute completed the Gippsland rail needs study, and it showed that in 1990 the fastest journey from Sale was 166 minutes. In 2016 it was 163 minutes. So we have got a 3-minute improvement in nearly 30 years. To Bairnsdale there had been no change, so there had been no improvement in service times and indeed no improvement in the number of services to Sale and Bairnsdale since 1990. I was very proud to take to the election that we would bring an additional service to Sale. The government needs to listen to the community. We need cheaper fares, but we need better and more services.

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