Infrastructure

Infrastructure Projects - Matters of Public Importance

25 February 2015


February 25, 2015

MS RYAN (Euroa) — What an enlightening contribution from the member for Essendon. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate, which examines the broken promises of the Andrews government with respect to shovel-ready projects for our state. Specifically I would like to address how these broken promises impact on regional Victoria — how they impact on jobs, investment and confidence in regional Victoria.

It seems that when it comes to shovel-ready projects, the Andrews government has never even had regional Victoria on its radar. When it comes to the important projects for the people who live in regional Victoria, the Andrews government does not want to listen to their needs. History tells us that when it comes to major projects — these shovel-ready projects that support jobs, encourage investment and build confidence — Labor governments in Victoria overpromise and underdeliver. How could we forget the regional rail link? The cost of that project blew out unbelievably when it was revealed that Labor forgot signals, forgot level crossings and even forgot the rolling stock. It took a Liberal-Nationals coalition government to not just put the project back on track but also bring it in under budget and ahead of schedule.

It was a similar story with the Bracks government's fast rail project, which was promised at $80 million and blew out to a staggering $750 million. History also tells us that Labor governments in Victoria have a track record of mismanaging projects. The food bowl modernisation project was in tatters until a coalition government took charge. The north–south pipeline — what an unmitigated disaster that was! The desalination plant — $24 billion dollars for 27 years at $1.8 million dollars a day. It is an absolute millstone around Victorians' necks. Myki. Ultranet. The Melbourne wholesale market. The list of Labor's mismanaged projects goes on and on.

Sadly we now have fresh experiences of Labor governments failing to listen to communities and failing to invest in the projects and services that matter to the people of regional Victoria. And when Labor governments fail to deliver for regional Victoria, they undermine jobs, they undermine investment and they undermine confidence in regional Victoria. The failure of the current Andrews Labor government and these broken promises are a tremendous blow to regional Victoria.

It is a great shame, because in the four years up until 29 November 2014 regional Victoria was receiving unprecedented levels of funding and support from the Victorian coalition government. Under the leadership of the Liberal-Nationals coalition government there was investment in country roads and highways and in regional rail services. Local hospitals and family health centres were supported along with schools and training colleges. The previous government listened closely to the needs of regional communities and delivered for them. For example, there was co-investment with farmers in irrigation schemes and marketing co-ops — I am sure the member for Gippsland East knows all about that — and there was work done with local councils on projects that improved the main streets and recreation facilities that mean so much to small communities.

At this point it would be remiss of me not to mention the $1 billion Regional Growth Fund, an initiative that delivered tremendous opportunities to country communities, an initiative that delivered jobs, investment and confidence to regional Victoria, and a fund that supported shovel-ready projects, which reflected the priorities of local industries and local communities. The Regional Growth Fund was additional funding, not re-prioritised and reallocated funding, like the programs now being spruiked by the Andrews Labor government. It was a dedicated fund that was making regional Victorian communities better places to work and live in.

The Regional Growth Fund invested $500 million in support of some 1800 projects and in turn leveraged an additional $2 billion of investment for regional Victoria. It supported and created jobs in regional towns and centres. Importantly, it funded local priorities: projects that were identified by, and important to, local communities. These were not projects decided by a bureaucrat in a Melbourne-based department. Under the Andrews Labor government, however, there will be no more Regional Growth Fund. A successful program set up specifically to support projects and investment in Regional Victoria has been sent to the scrap heap by this city-centric government.

It seems that under the Andrews Labor government if you live in regional Victoria, you are on your own. Less than 100 days in the job, and this Premier is finding every excuse he can not to invest in the infrastructure projects that matter to the people of regional Victoria. Labor's promise of shovel-ready projects has gone AWOL. From the Mallee all the way down to southern Gippsland, the Premier is ignoring the infrastructure needs of the people and the industries that underpin our regional communities.

The true tragedy of this is that if the Andrews government genuinely engaged with regional Victoria, it could get behind a number of very worthy projects. The Murray Basin rail project is ready and waiting, but it has taken nearly 100 days of government for the Premier to admit there is significant merit in this project. This is a project that those in the freight and agriculture industries describe as a lay-down misère. There is $220 million already in the budget for this critical project, yet last week all the Premier could do was reannounce $30 million for works which are already underway. Here is a shovel-ready project that would create jobs, investment and confidence in regional Victoria and in this state's $12 billion agriculture industry, yet the government is still refusing to commit. The people of regional Victoria are starting to wonder how much of the $220 million that is sitting in the state budget after having been allocated to this project will be spent as intended.

In Gippsland, the Macalister irrigation district modernisation project is another ideal investment prospect. Gippsland is a powerhouse of dairy production, not just in Victorian terms but on a national scale. That is why in 2012 the coalition government joined with Southern Rural Water to invest $32 million in stage 1 of a modernisation project for the Macalister irrigation district. The planning has been done, and the business case has been prepared.

It is estimated that the irrigation district footprint makes an annual contribution of around $500 million to Victoria's economy, and the modernisation project has the potential to boost that by a further $45 million. What have we had, however, from the Andrews government? Nothing. It is not serious. The Minister for Agriculture this week and last week told Gippsland media that the irrigation district modernisation is not a priority. Here is another project ready to go. Here is a project where the Andrews government has the opportunity to leverage additional funding from the commonwealth government, yet government members sit on their hands and ignore the needs of regional Victoria.

The list goes on. If the Andrews government would commit $15 million to Sale Specialist School, it could be completed. Regional hospitals are being let down by the Andrews government. The Ballarat Base Hospital needs to expand to meet the needs of the growing region, so the Liberal-Nationals coalition pledged $83 million to start a major upgrade and redevelopment. It is a similar story in Shepparton. Goulburn Valley Health needs to expand to better meet patient needs, but again there is no commitment from the Andrews government in relation to this important project. In my own electorate, the Rushworth hospital is ready and waiting to go. Just $7 million is needed from this government for the co-location of aged-care facilities — —

An honourable member — Is that shovel ready?

Ms RYAN — It is shovel ready, but what has Labor promised? Absolutely nothing.

In Echuca the biggest priority in terms of infrastructure projects is a second bridge connecting Echuca and Moama. Every local in Echuca knows that a second bridge crossing must be built. A $96 million commitment was on the table and in the budget for this important local priority. This project would fix congestion and traffic safety issues, and it would support local jobs during its construction phase. It was even funded in the state budget; the money is there. What is missing is a commitment from the Andrews government to invest in shovel-ready projects. What does the Premier say about this project? I quote from a report by Fiona Parker on the ABC:

Last week, new Premier Daniel Andrews poured cold water on the project being a priority.

'We didn't make commitments in relation to that particular project'.

On the topic of bridges, it is also bitterly disappointing that this government has cut the successful $160 million country roads and bridges program.

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