Suburban Rail Loop Bill 2021

Second Reading

Mr D O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (17:23): I have been looking forward to the opportunity to say a few words on this particular bill and this particular project. We are going to hear obviously a cavalcade of those opposite telling us what a wonderful project it is, what genius it was by the Premier of the day to put forward this project at the last election and how it is going to transform the state, yada, yada, yada. I actually think—and I have said this before in this place—it is a good idea. If you go to any major city around the world with a good metro system, they do not have a hub-and-spoke model; they actually have circular or orbital or cross lines. If you think of the tube in London and the Metro in Paris, you can go anywhere. They have, though, been developed over 130-odd years.

But I do think it is a good idea. As I have said before, I also think it is a good idea that I buy a Caribbean island to live on, but I cannot afford that. I cannot afford that, and this state cannot afford this project at this time. And there are serious questions as to whether it is the right project either now or in the future. One of the reasons for that is the expectation that Melbourne will just continue to grow exponentially, and I think very, very clearly the pandemic has changed the world, it has changed Victoria and it will change Melbourne. We saw data in the last 24 hours that shows that Victoria was the only state to actually go backwards in terms of population growth in the past 12 months. We saw data in the last few months that showed dramatic increases in people moving out of Melbourne to other states and more particularly to regional Victoria. That is where I want to I guess focus my comments.

My very grave concern—and I think it is held with very good reason, particularly under this government—is that this project will suck up capital in this state for decades to come, and that capital will be sucked up at the expense of the needs for infrastructure in rural and regional Victoria. We see it already. I do not have to just talk about this project. Right now, I can tell you, I can just tick off four projects: level crossing removals, North East Link, Metro Tunnel and the West Gate Tunnel—$54 billion of megaprojects in metropolitan Melbourne right now. $54 billion, those projects are, each one of them blown out. Even the North East Link started as a $5 billion project and is now $16 billion. All of them have blown out, and that is before you even start thinking about this Suburban Rail Loop. We got told it was probably about $50 billion. It is very clearly now closer to $100 billion just for the first two stages, for the east and the north. When you go further to the west, God knows how much it will cost, and there is no justification.

I will not go over the ground that the member for Ripon did, but there is no question that the business case, the benefit-cost analysis, is rubbery in the way it has been presented and more importantly in the way that it ignores the fact that there will be cost escalations. You can call them cost escalations, but we all know we are talking about blowouts. That will happen, and we have seen it on those four projects I talked about—level crossing removals, North East Link, Metro Tunnel, West Gate Tunnel. I mean, the West Gate Tunnel—how much is it going to cost at the end of the day? It just continues to grow in cost. That cost is going to come at the expense of the things that we need in rural and regional Victoria, and that is why I am actually opposed to this project at this time. Like I said, in principle I actually support it. It is actually a good idea. But when you boil it down—the needs of this state, the need for this project—it does not stack up.

I can go through a couple of projects that do need doing. One that I have been going on about for a long time now is a dedicated line for Gippsland trains. We have got that with Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong with the regional rail link. We do not have a dedicated Gippsland line, and as a result our trains go along pretty smartly until they hit Pakenham, and then they get stuck behind Metro trains. And whether it is a single or a dual dedicated line all the way in, whether it is additional passing lanes, whether it is parts of a tunnel—whatever it might be—we do not know the detail, because this government will not even consider a business case, will not even consider actually having a look at the detail of what could be done to address this issue.

I fear that what is happening is we are seeing an additional station put in at Pakenham, which the minister keeps going on about—‘This will make it easier for Gippsland train lines’. I think what she is actually saying is that we will eventually stop Gippsland trains at Pakenham and you will have to get off and get on a Metro service. And if that is not the case, what also worries me about this project is these super-hubs, one proposed at Clayton, which the minister talks about being great for Gippslanders. If it is not Pakenham, my fear is that this government will say eventually, ‘Okay, Gippsland trains—V/Line—are all stopping at Clayton. You’ve got to get off and get on the Suburban Rail Loop or continue on on a Metro train into the city’.

I know that the Minister for Transport Infrastructure actually has talked up the notion that if you are coming from the country, there will be benefits for you here, because if you are going to Box Hill, it will only be one change to get off on the Suburban Rail Loop at Clayton and go around to Box Hill. I hate to tell the minister, but if you are going into the city to go to Box Hill now, it is still only one change—you just go to Flinders Street and you get off and come out. So some of the purported benefits that they are spruiking for Gippsland are wrong, and I have a genuine fear that the government ultimately will want to terminate Gippsland trains early, which is not acceptable, absolutely not acceptable. Gippsland passengers will not accept that. Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo do not accept it, and so neither should anyone else. So that is a project that we should be doing.

Again, my concern is about the capital question. There are so many projects in my electorate or across Gippsland that will desperately need funding in years to come. A Traralgon bypass has been on the agenda for 25, 30 years and yet continues to stall. That is going to be—who knows—$400 million or $500 million for a full bypass of Traralgon, but it needs to be done. The Leongatha heavy vehicle alternative route—I have been talking about that this week in here and in the media—is probably only a $15 million project if you do it properly, but we cannot even get planning money for it at this stage. Sale rail services—you know, East Gippsland and Wellington have got a population of about 80 000, 90 000 people. Ballarat and Bendigo have about 100 000 people, yet they have got 19 and 17 services a day. We have got three—three services a day—to Sale from Melbourne. So additional services we need.

South Gippsland Highway is a basket case, as I said yesterday—and the Minister for Roads and Road Safety is here again, so I will repeat it. South Gippsland Highway and access to Wilsons Prom—Meeniyan-Promontory Road and Foster-Promontory Road: these are the sorts of things that we could be spending money on. And it still continues to come up that the previous Labor government promised to return rail to Leongatha. It was going to cost $70 million, and they said that was too expensive. This is now a $100 billion-plus project, and those small but really important projects in my electorate and right around regional Victoria, I fear, will just continually get overlooked because of this project.

It is interesting too. I had a briefing with Infrastructure Victoria just recently on their most recent report, organised by Mr Davis in the other place. Of course Infrastructure Victoria never mentioned this project. This is the body that the Premier set up. He stood right there in the box opposite me and told this Parliament, ‘We’re going to take the politics out of infrastructure’. And I laughed when the very first Infrastructure Victoria report came out recommending congestion tolls, congestion taxes. I think it came out at about 8 o’clock, and it was ruled out by about half past 8. So that is really taking the politics out of infrastructure. And yet here we have the biggest infrastructure project the country has ever seen, let alone the state, and it has not been recommended by Infrastructure Victoria, so I find the government’s justifications for this project pretty amusing.

This project, as I said, in principle would be good, but the world has changed. I think the population of Melbourne will change. We need to have more focus on regional Victoria and decentralising our state. This project is not going to help, because it is going to suck up capital for decades and decades to come. Regional Victoria will miss out. That is not something I am prepared to accept, so I support the reasoned amendment put and I do not support this project.

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