Danny O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (17:06): I am pleased to rise to speak on this motion, and I support the amendment to the motion put forward by the member for Caulfield. I want to begin by tackling the issue that Victorians resoundingly supported for a second time the Suburban Rail Loop (SRL), because it reminds me of various governments taking a mandate on particular issues. The one that I would like to mention is the east–west link, which this government constantly says Victorians have twice rejected but fails to mention that the federal coalition government twice went to an election promising to fund an east–west link. Well, apparently that was not a mandate. So it is a mandate when it is for us, but it is not a mandate when it is for someone else. This can be very easily manipulated by anyone.
It is true, it is a fact, that the government has been elected twice now with a Suburban Rail Loop idea put forward. I use the term idea loosely, because the first term in 2018 it was not much more than a back of an envelope drawing that said we think there should be a loop. And certainly the second time around we were many millions of dollars further in and little bit more detail was provided through an alleged business case, but that does not mean that it has been supported resoundingly, particularly in places like my electorate of Gippsland South. The government has had so many positions and so many issues with this Suburban Rail Loop it is not funny.
I want to place on record what I have said in here a number of times, including on the legislation for the Suburban Rail Loop: I actually support the concept of a Suburban Rail Loop. I actually think it is a good idea. If you travel to just about any of the big major cities of the world, you will see there is an orbital link, there are cross-city links, there is not the hub and spoke model that we have here in Melbourne. And you can look at the tube in London – which everyone in London loves to bag and to complain about, but it actually works pretty well – the Metro in Paris, the subway in New York and many other cities right around the world, they do not just run hub and spoke to a city centre. Equally, they are transport infrastructure services that have evolved over, in some cases, more than a century. The tube, I think, was pre-1900, the first line, so to think that we going to build this in the next 20 or 30 years is optimistic.
So I do acknowledge that it is a good idea. I also think it is a good idea that I go and buy an island in the Caribbean. I think it is an excellent idea that I have my own private island in the Caribbean. What is consistent with both of these is that we cannot afford that. I cannot afford to buy a Caribbean island, and this state cannot afford this Suburban Rail Loop as proposed by the government. It is a little bit of a contradiction in terms to even say that we cannot afford it, because we still do not know how much it is actually going to cost. We have had estimates from the government. The Premier started with, ‘Oh, it might be about $50 billion.’ Well, as it turns out, the best they can do is just the first stage is going to be $34.5 billion. We have had the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the independent Parliamentary Budget Officer, cost the project at $125 billion – billion dollars that is, b, billion dollars. Despite the fact we have been to two elections and despite the fact they were repeatedly questioned about this at the election in November last year, this government will not tell the Victorians how much this project will cost. I suspect it is partly that they do not know, it is partly that they have got no idea what the whole project actually involves and it is partly because they continue to make it up on the run.
We saw that last year with the absolutely farcical decision by the government during the election campaign to refer to SRL Airport, as though somehow the airport rail link had always been part of this brilliant idea that the Premier had had about a suburban rail loop, and ‘Yes, we were always going to make it part of the project to go to the airport.’ I mean, the airport rail link has been around since time immemorial and was funded by the former coalition government long before the idea of the Suburban Rail Loop came along, and for the government to be now trying to claim the airport rail link has always been part of this SRL project is complete bunkum.
Michael O’Brien: You may as well call it broccoli ice cream.
Danny O’BRIEN: Yeah, it is broccoli ice cream.
We have seen significant criticism of the process and the lack of transparency around the funding of this project. We saw the Auditor-General make commentary about the Suburban Rail Loop last year that it does not:
clearly identify how the proposed benefits flow from the problems identified
adequately demonstrate how some of the benefits are a direct consequence of the SRL project
immediately point to the need for a transport-related intervention …
He also went on to say that:
The BCR for the project –
the benefit–cost ratio –
is 0.51 when calculated in line with DTF’s guidance …
Now, that is the Department of Treasury and Finance. The Department of Treasury and Finance has guidance on how to establish a –
Michael O’Brien interjected.
Danny O’BRIEN: No, 0.51.
Michael O’Brien: Under 1.
Danny O’BRIEN: Under 1.
Michael O’Brien: Oh, my goodness me!
Danny O’BRIEN: And what does ‘under 1’ mean, member for Malvern?
Michael O’Brien: It means it’s underwater. It’s in the red.
Danny O’BRIEN: It’s in the red, absolutely. It means it is a dud. It means it does not stack up. We have been told that before by this government on a different project, one they might have mentioned a bit earlier. For the government to say it stacks up is just ridiculous. In that same report the Auditor-General noted that the government:
… did not demonstrate the economic rationale for the entire project, and they have told us that they have no plans to do so.
It is not just the independent Auditor-General or the Parliamentary Budget Office that have said these sorts of things, it is some of the experts in this field, some of the academics. Urban policy professor Jago Dodson said:
It looks almost like a complete failure in metropolitan planning that a project of this financial magnitude could be decided to proceed with almost no [wider strategic] planning whatsoever …
Grattan Institute cities program director Marion Terrill said:
… the project needs a rethink – not just stations, but lock, stock and barrel.
And there are many others. The reason that I have always had a concern about this project, and I put my concerns on the record during debate on the legislation on it in 2021, is that as a country member of Parliament and as a rural and regional person, I can see exactly what will happen here. We have already seen under this government that the massive bulk of infrastructure spending goes to the city. You can tally that up from just four projects: the level crossing removals, the West Gate Tunnel, the North East Link and the Metro Tunnel. We have not had an update for a long time, but a year ago we were at $54 billion in total. Now let us throw on $125 billion over the coming decades for the Suburban Rail Loop, and how do you reckon we are going to go getting our potholes fixed, member for South-West Coast? We just cannot get a single decent single-lane road in most of regional Victoria under this government, which I might add cut $215 million from the road maintenance budget over the last two years. To think that we are going to be able to get the capital investment that we need in regional and rural Victoria to keep pace with a modern economy and to keep pace with what is going on in Melbourne if this Suburban Rail Loop goes ahead – I think you would be naive to think that that would be the case. We have multiple projects right throughout regional Victoria, in my own electorate or in Gippsland generally – things like the Traralgon bypass and things like the dedicated line for Gippsland trains.
I caught the train yesterday actually. In fact I was thinking of the Minister for Transport Infrastructure as I came in, because she repeatedly tells us what the benefits of the Suburban Rail Loop will be for Gippslanders. For example, she says, ‘You know, if you’ve gotta go to Box Hill, it will be only one change, and you’ll be able to go around on the Suburban Rail Loop if you’re coming in on the Gippsland line.’ Well, minister, I have got a bit of advice for you: it is only one change now. You go all the way into Flinders Street or Spencer Street and you go back out again. I am not sure that they are worth $125 billion, the benefits of just that one change. But yes, I was on the train – there is still no dedicated line for Gippsland – and I had a good run in yesterday to Pakenham. Guess what – when you get to Pakenham, you get stuck behind a Metro train and you get slowed down because there is no dedicated line for Gippsland.
Our roads more broadly, I mentioned, are right across the place, whether it is the South Gippy highway, whether it is the Prom road, whether it is the Hyland Highway, whether it is the Strzelecki Highway – throughout my electorate these are all important things – or whether it is the Leongatha heavy vehicle alternative route to address what is known as ‘kamikaze corner’ in my electorate of Gippsland South. These are all things that we cannot get enough funding for now; I do not believe for a moment that if the SRL goes ahead, as the Labor government intends, we will have any chance of actually getting decent infrastructure spending in rural and regional Victoria. That is why I oppose the motion, and that is why I support the amendment moved by the member for Caulfield.