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Economic, Education, Jobs and Skills Committee: fuel prices in regional Victoria

25 July 2018


 It is a pleasure to rise today and speak on the inquiry into fuel prices in regional Victoria which was undertaken by the Economic, Education, Jobs and Skills Committee and tabled in this place in February this year. The aspect of this report that I particularly want to note today is the evidence that the committee heard with respect to a lack of available public transport in rural and regional areas. In particular, the Rural City of Wangaratta gave evidence to the inquiry and said that the only option for more than 65 per cent of its employed residents was to drive to work. Of course a consequence of that is that high fuel prices have an enormous impact on country residents. More particularly it also means that where there is a lack of public transport people have very little option. I believe that improving public transport really is key to reducing the strain on country families.

Unfortunately what we have seen in recent years is that the performance of V/Line on the Albury and the Seymour lines has deteriorated substantially. The most recent figures for the Albury line reveal that punctuality has decreased from 91.1 per cent in November 2014, when we were last in government, to 81.3 per cent in June this year. Punctuality in the last 12 months has averaged 73.1 per cent, and the number of services on the Albury line that have been cancelled in the last two years alone is 381. That, quite simply, is not good enough. I am deeply concerned that the Andrews government continues to reject the need for new passenger trains on both the Albury and Shepparton lines which of course would also benefit people commuting south of Seymour.

On the Seymour line punctuality has decreased from 91.7 per cent in November 2014 to 88.3 per cent in June 2018, the average services cancelled over 12 months in 2014 was 90.5 per cent and an average of 85.7 per cent of services actually ran in the last 12 months. So, again, performance on the Seymour line has deteriorated substantially over the last three years that Labor has been in government. I obviously have given a commitment to continue to tell the stories of travellers from my part of the world who are using that deteriorating service.

Pat Paige is a 74-year-old woman who lives in Euroa. She, like many people in our region, describes the service that we have as being Third World. She recently had a haemorrhage in her eye and was able to get a last minute appointment with a doctor in Melbourne. On Thursday, 19 July, she arrived at Euroa station to catch the 8.24 a.m. train to Melbourne. At 8.55 a.m. the train still had not arrived, which is a very common story. She called my office and we contacted V/Line, which were able to confirm that the train had been cancelled and replaced with a bus, but they could give no information as to where the bus was or what time it was expected to arrive. Passengers were left without any updates and with no information. The bus eventually arrived at 9.30 a.m., 1 hour and 6 minutes after the train was originally due to leave. Pat said that from year to year they stagger from one disappointment to the next and that it is disheartening to be treated in that way. She was an hour late to her appointment and was only able to squeeze in thanks to the understanding of her doctor.

Patrick and Maureen Richards from Benalla had a horrifying experience on 18 July when they were travelling back from Melbourne on the 6.02 p.m. service. The train broke down between Kilmore East and Donnybrook, where passengers were forced to wait for 2 hours for a replacement engine to make its way to them. They were then pushed all the way back to Southern Cross station in Melbourne where they had to board buses in order to get home. They did not make it home until nearly 1.00 a.m. the next day and no compensation was offered to them. After that instance I had a flood of people coming through my door with serious concerns about that incident, including Tom Crocker from Benalla who was on the same train. Tom said it is instances like that that stop customers from using public transport to get to and from Melbourne.

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