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Turnbull continues to turn his back on Victorians

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The Hon Michael Danby MP
Federal Member for Melbourne Ports


31 MAY 2017

Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (11:15):  This government likes to talk the talk on infrastructure, but it does not seem to be walking the walk? Yesterday, the member for Grayndler, in an excellent speech on infrastructure gave the minister credit for his chutzpah, his cheek, in talking about infrastructure. He said in here that Victoria is getting 8 cents in every dollar in the national infrastructure budget, when we have zero dollars this year, zero next year, zero the year after, zero the year after that, and zero the year after that, right through to 2021. The member for Grayndler argued that this budget means that the minister came in here to speak about Victorian infrastructure without there being any content to what he was saying, or without any real contribution. The member for Grayndler pointed out that this is a budget that cuts $1.6 billion from infrastructure investment this year. It is a budget in which it was said it would be $9.2 billion, but instead it is $7.6 billion. After that it falls off the cliff. It cuts out $7.4 billion in actual infrastructure investment over the forward estimates, down to $4.2 billion. That is why the peak body Infrastructure Partners Australia says 'The budget confirms the cut to real budgeted capital funding to its lowest level in more than a decade, using a mix of underspend, re-profiling and narrative to cover this substantial drop in real capital expenditure.'

The former Prime Minister, the member for Werriwa, talked about wanting to be known as the 'infrastructure Prime Minister'. He failed, instead being known as a failed Prime Minister. The current Prime Minister and his Treasurer are now holding the purse strings and are continuing the Abbott/Hockey tradition by cutting $1.6 billion off total infrastructure spending in this financial year alone, as the member for Grayndler said. From there it only gets worse. Over the next four years it plunges to $4.2 billion, in 2020-21. This will be the lowest level of infrastructure spending in more than 10 years.

On 11 May I spoke in the House on the Turnbull government's apparent vendetta against Victoria when it comes to federal transport infrastructure spending. Since the budget, the unfair allocation of funds from the Sydney-centric government of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer has become even more apparent. It is no wonder the Victorian Treasurer, Mr Tim Pallas, said in an article entitled 'Turnbull Government's infrastructure spending short-changes Victorians'—which has been strongly supported by the Herald Sun newspaper, which is not necessarily a friend of the opposition:

At Budget estimates this week, the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development confirmed that the federal Budget did not include a single extra dollar for Victorian infrastructure. This is despite Morrison claiming he'd made $1 billion available for regional rail and infrastructure projects in Victoria.

This is a terrible situation where we have 37 per cent of national migration coming to Victoria, Victoria has 25 per cent of the Australian population, and Melbourne is moving towards being the biggest city. If you stand on a crowded tram or train in Melbourne you will think very fondly—not—of the current government. Perhaps it is why it looks very unlikely that the current government will win any support in Victoria. Commuters are being encouraged to come to Victoria. There are lots of economic prospects there, but we are being deliberately short-changed on infrastructure spending by the current federal government, and you can tell as the population grows in Melbourne. There is a lot of expenditure by the state government on removing level crossings, improving the rail service and the tram service. As the city grows to more than four million people, of course we have got to have more public transport, but we cannot do it without federal government support.

I applaud the Victorian government's decision to sell the Port of Melbourne, particularly since it was done with some sensitivity to overseas strategic interests. They managed to get $9.7 billion for the sale of the Port of Melbourne, and the Victorian government is ploughing that back, as it should, into public infrastructure, and in south-east Melbourne people can tell. It has been very intensive in some areas around some stations, but those level crossings have been removed. I can tell, you for instance, that the McKinnon shopping centre has been absolutely transformed. Not only has it given a great boost to local traders but traffic and trains move quicker and more efficiently—that is the whole idea of spending money on public infrastructure by the Victorian government. It is underlined by the transformation of that very important Frankston line from the city down to the far south-east.

In the year leading up to 2016, the Bureau of Statistics estimate that a third of Australia's population growth has settled in Melbourne. Currently, Victoria's share of interstate international migration is 37 per cent. Given Victoria's population growth—some people would call it an explosion—it would be reasonable to expect that a fair share of Commonwealth infrastructure funding would match this clear need for transport options to keep pace with population. The Victorian government, as I said, has done its part: fifty dangerous level crossings are being removed; they are widening the Tullamarine, Monash, Westgate and Western Ring Road freeways; and building the Westgate tunnels linking the Port of Melbourne to the freeway system—a very important thing in my area. Most importantly, we want to extend the Melbourne Metro Rail project with $2.9 million of tunnels and five new stations. This is where the federal government should be coming in, and this is what we are not getting.

This is Australia's biggest city. We are not talking about the future, like the Deputy Prime Minister talks about the Inland Rail boosting inland cities which may be a worthy project in itself; we are talking about the here and now, with Australia's biggest city being completely underdone by this government. They will pay the political price for it, as they should.

According to its own budget papers in the Infrastructure Investment Program and the amount allocated under 'Victorian Infrastructure Investments', the amount of federal funds allocated to Victoria in 2016-17 is, as the member for Grayndler said, zero; for 2018-19, zero; and for 2019-20, zero. And, in news that will probably not surprise anyone: for 2021, it is, again, zero. The Turnbull government, in its budget, raises infrastructure funding projects that have Commonwealth funding attached. However, these are for projects that have already been funded. There is no new funding at all for Victoria, with the Commonwealth rivers of gold all running to Sydney it would seem. New South Wales is served up a healthy 39 per cent slice of the infrastructure spending pie.

It is not our fault in Victoria that successive New South Wales governments—including, I might say, the hopeless Carr Labor government—failed to spend money on infrastructure in New South Wales. We have been spending it through the years as population has increased, and Victorians should not be penalised for the incompetence of the New South Wales state governments, and now their allies in the Liberal federal government are trying to make up for the incompetence of their state colleagues. To its credit and despite the Turnbull government all but starving the state of funding, Victoria has continued with its ambitious infrastructure agenda, planning for our population to reach eight million by 2040.

Public Transport Victoria's annual report shows that, over the financial year ending 2016, passengers on Melbourne's V/Line grew by an amazing 19.4 per cent in one year, while trams saw a passenger increase of 12 per cent. I know the most popular tram route in Australia runs through my electorate: route 96, which is like a ring-road, or ring-tram-track, which goes from one side of Melbourne Ports right across the member for Melbourne's electorate, linking people through the CBD right across the city.

Public Transport Victoria projects an increase in public transport users by 2050 of 80 per cent. These levels of passenger growth are simply unsustainable without huge investment in the state's transport infrastructure, something that the current federal government refuses to address. The Prime Minister, under pressure on this issue, told David Koch on Sunrise that he 'loved Melbourne' and he 'loved trams'. However, these are hollow words when he refuses to put his money where his mouth is and fund either. Days before the federal budget, we even saw the Victorian opposition leader, Matthew Guy, forced into the admission that his federal Liberal counterpart was leaving Victorians stranded on transport infrastructure spending.

Earlier this month, I held a press conference with Labor shadow transport minister Anthony Albanese at the proposed Domain interchange of trams and trains—with a large shopping centre South Korean-style, three storeys down, underneath it—to highlight the unfairness of Mr Turnbull's lack of support for our great state. The member for Grayndler put it quite simply: the Prime Minister does visit Melbourne. When he visits, he takes selfies on trains and on trams. What Victorians want is for him to fund trains and trams, not to take selfies on them. The member for Grayndler is a New South Welshman, and he is taking a more objective view of how our national infrastructure ought to be spent. This was the contract underlying Federation: that all states would be treated fairly and be given a fair amount of the national tax-take for infrastructure. This is persistently disadvantaging Victorians, who make up 25 per cent of the population and the fastest growing state. Victoria is the state that is standing up and taking responsibility for 37 per cent of national and interstate immigration. We just want, as a former Prime Minister used to say, a fair suck of the sauce bottle. It is not fair that Victorians are being so short-changed—

An honourable member interjecting

Well, he was imitating Bazza McKenzie! Some people were trying to humanise him by making him use sayings that appealed to the average Australian.

Anyhow, the federal government still owes Victorians $1.45 billion under the coalition's own asset recycling scheme after the lease of the Port of Melbourne. Because the Victorian government managed to get more money from the lease—$9.7 billion rather than the projected $6.5 billion—it was penalised by the current federal government and did not get the asset recycling money that is mandated to come to state governments that sell infrastructure and redeploy it for good infrastructure uses. There is an incentive offered by the federal government that was not fulfilled for that extra portion of the sale price that Victoria got.

Infrastructure spending futureproofs our nation on population growth and provides employment for thousands. I remember when the Prime Minister used to say 'jobs and growth' all the time. Now it is abundantly clear that he has abandoned that strategy. Sydney is a wonderful city, and New South Wales is a great state. It is silly to have interstate rivalries that go back to Federation. But people in Victoria will naturally feel this rivalry if we are getting eight per cent of expenditure when we have 25 per cent of Australia's population and 37 per cent of national migration coming to Melbourne. We are a very cosmopolitan city. People are willing to stand up; it does not concern them at all. But we want a fair slice of the national tax pie. This current federal government is undermining the contract implicit in Federation. Australia is the nation of the fair go. Victorians just want a fair go on infrastructure.

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