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Second Reading: Project Development and Construction Management Amendment Bill 2020

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Sam Hibbins MP
Member for Prahran
3 March 2020

Mr HIBBINS (Prahran): I rise to speak on behalf of the Greens to the Project Development and Construction Management Amendment Bill 2020. This is a largely technical bill covering machinery of government changes due to the fact that the new Department of Transport is the legal successor to the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources. This has resulted in a number of projects now sitting within the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions and the Department of Transport that now are essentially in the wrong department. They have responsibility over projects that sit with them, so we have got to shift some projects over to the Department of Transport or over to the new Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions. I will not go through it; I think the member for Euroa has done a very good job of going through all the projects that have been moved over.

The Greens will be supporting this bill. Certainly we do support the creation of a standalone Department of Transport and any changes that go along with it. We think this is an important reform in strengthening the transport bureaucracy and administration here in Victoria. I would note that it does seem to have been a very lengthy and ongoing restructure of the transport bureaucracy and we do not appear to be quite at the end of it yet. We have had previous legislation that has rolled VicRoads and Public Transport Victoria into Transport for Victoria. It has made clear, from what I recall of that legislation, that you have got the Department of Transport secretary in charge of the strategic side of things and you have got the head of Transport for Victoria in charge of operations, but as I understand it, currently the secretary is the head of Transport for Victoria. I think we have still got a bit of work to be done in terms of what the bureaucracy is going to look like and how the machinery of government will work for transport here in Victoria. We are still a long way from the promised Transport for London model, which is a very transparent, very thorough and very effective model for transport governance here in Victoria.

There is, however, the missing piece to the puzzle here. As the member for Euroa mentioned in her contribution, it is a long-term integrated transport plan for Victoria. I believe yesterday the RACV—our mates, the best friends of the Greens—became just the latest transport group to call for a long-term transport plan here in Victoria and not ad hoc solutions. They join a number of transport groups and academics that have been calling for this plan for a very long time. Of course the government is actually legally obliged to develop such a plan under the Transport Integration Act 2010. This was introduced by the former Brumby government in 2010. At the time they did have a Victorian transport plan, but we have not seen one since. I guess the catch in the legislation is that whilst they are required to have a plan, they are not required to publish that plan.

That is something that the Greens tried to change by moving amendments to the previous transport amendment legislation in the upper house that would have compelled the government to table that plan and any updates before Parliament. I think that is a fairly reasonable ask, for a government to table a plan that they are legally obliged to actually have. We had quite a bizarre debate where essentially the government on one hand would say that it was compliant with the act but then on the other hand say that if the amendments passed, they would have to do something new and have a consolidated, single plan. And they were saying that that plan could be potentially out of date. It was ridiculous. The government is wanting to get away with essentially making it up as they go along or have a series of individual plans that do not necessarily integrate with each other. It is disappointing that whilst we got support from the opposition and some crossbenchers, the government and some other crossbenchers decided that it was in their best interests to try and protect the government and save them a few blushes rather than act in the best interests of this state.

Of course the problem with not having an overarching plan is, whilst it has been fantastic and it is certainly welcome to see the level of investment in transport we have had from this government as compared to the previous government, the question is: are we just going to do more of the same with more population or are we actually genuinely shifting people out of cars and into public transport and sustainable transport? As it stands right now this government does not have a mode share target for transport. It is not an explicit aim. Nowhere have they put down or said, ‘We are actually trying to shift the modes of transport or more people onto public transport rather than vehicles’. The New South Wales government and their minister have been very clear that that is their aim, and it is a Liberal government in New South Wales, not so the Victorian government.

The government does not have a carbon emissions target for transport. You have got emissions from transport now upward of 20 per cent of Victoria’s emissions and going north, yet incredibly we do not have an emissions target. So what you are having are all of these projects and funding with no clear aim to actually reduce emissions from transport. What we are getting when we question the government or ministers about this is the sort of Yes Minister response: ‘We want to take a flexible approach. We want to give people choices’. But in reality what they want to do is actually just make it up as they go along.

Melbourne is going to be as big as London is now by 2050, and we do need a transport system to match. Without a long-term plan we are getting what is being described as project-led planning, or you could even put it as Transurban-led planning. With their incredible influence and involvement within our transport system Transurban is effectively the world’s first privatised transport department. They are planning, building, owning, operating and profiting off transport projects in this state. Yes, great, we have got a standalone Department of Transport, but we have got two departments of transport—the actual Department of Transport and Transurban.

What we are getting is, on the one hand, the government going around touting and saying, ‘The Suburban Rail Loop—we’re going to get a couple of hundred thousand cars off our roads’ and, ‘Melbourne Metro—we’re going to get more capacity on our public transport network’. But on the other hand you have got the North East Link. That is another 100 000 cars on the road. The West Gate Tunnel—that is thousands of cars in the inner city. So what are we doing? Are we taking cars off the road or are we putting more cars on the road? This is the issue with not having a long-term plan, making it up as they go along and allowing the influence of Transurban and their profit-led transport planning. It really is not going to serve this state well.

I want to go to the North East Link because seriously this is probably one of the biggest examples. It is being called the missing link, and that is if you believe that all the freeways have got to join up because you never get off a freeway. There is a reason it is missing. There is a reason it has been the missing link, because you have just got to look at what actually now has to happen for them to build the thing. It is not only 100 000 extra cars on the road, it is hectares of open space and threatened species’ habitat loss for billions and billions of dollars at a time when the Treasurer is going out saying he has got to make some tough decisions, we are getting $4 billion cut from the public service, we have got debt pushing at its limits, we have got a climate crisis and we have got an extinction crisis. This is a toll road that is economic and environmental vandalism, and the only way they have managed to get it to work is to suddenly have masses of lanes on the Eastern Freeway pouring into the city. As has been reported, this is really going to make it a precursor to a future east–west link.

Councils have rightly taken the government to court over the environment effects statement process, primarily over the fact that this whole process was based around a reference design and the fact that the minister has ignored the panel’s findings and recommendations. What this really does show is that the whole environment effects statement process is simply a rubber stamp for projects that permit environmental destruction. We have had multiple parliamentary inquiries over a decade and an Auditor-General’s report recommending the strengthening of the environment effects statement provisions, but they have remained weak. This government has not acted. You have got an act that has no mandatory trigger for what projects go to it, with very little detail and which has been found to not actually contribute to good environmental outcomes. You have got planning panel recommendations. Well, they are not binding, but then the minister’s recommendations on the projects are not actually binding.

The fact is that you would be very hard pressed to find any project that has ever been stopped because of these laws. It is hard not to draw the conclusion that, despite multiple parliamentary inquiries, despite an Auditor-General’s report saying these laws need to be strengthened to protect our environment, this government has deliberately chosen not to act to get a project like the North East Link through.

Similarly with the West Gate Tunnel, which has been called a tunnel but is actually a section of tunnel and a very long section of overpass of Footscray Road, this is a project that is going to pour thousands of cars into the inner city. You would be hard pressed to go anywhere in the world that is building a project that pours thousands of cars into their CBD and inner city. Incredibly the government at the 2014 election already had a project that they said was going to do the job—$500 million, 5000 trucks a day off the West Gate Bridge—if you believed what they were saying. I reckon, I suspect, they might want to go back in time and resurrect that project instead of what is happening now, when you have got tunnel boring machines stuck there doing nothing whilst they figure out what to do with contaminated soil. Who would have thought that there would be contaminated soil issues in the western suburbs?

The issue that this project goes to as well is not just Transurban’s influence over transport planning in Victoria but just how the government is actually financing some of these projects and how they are actually being implemented. I mean, you have got the much-touted public-private partnerships where you are often saying, ‘Well, no, it is actually the private sector that is going to handle the risk of these projects’, yet you have got builders saying, ‘Well, we’ll walk away from this project’, threatening to walk away. Well, who is essentially carrying the can for these projects? It is always the taxpayer. It is always the public. For a government that has put so much—

Mr Pearson interjected.

Mr HIBBINS: A point of order, Acting Speaker—

A member: On yourself?

Mr HIBBINS: the member for Essendon has simply walked into the chamber, listened to barely a word and started interjecting.

Members interjecting.

Mr HIBBINS: If the member for Essendon is not actually interested in the bill being talked about, keep on walking through the chamber and sit somewhere else.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Ward): The member may want to talk to the bill himself.

Mr HIBBINS: So we have got a government that have put so much of their political capital into a project. They are not going to abandon it. You are not going to have half a tunnel or an unfinished project; it will always be the taxpayer who bears the risk for these projects. It is the taxpayer and motorists, through this sweetheart deal with Transurban, that are going to be paying through the nose—for more tolls for the West Gate Tunnel. It is an appalling situation. This government really has taken the approach that they will try and raise revenue wherever they can, however they can do it, to fund some of these projects. We have got massive toll increases on one hand, yet privatisations on the other: selling off the port of Melbourne, something that the Labor Party, when this was first ever raised decades ago, were dead against—warned against. When Jeff Kennett brought in legislation to assist with privatisation it warned that the port of Melbourne was on the chopping block. Well, who would have thought now that it is actually a Labor government that is selling off the port of Melbourne and privatising public assets here in Victoria—the biggest sell-off agenda since Jeff Kennett?

Now, it has been good to see extra investment in public transport compared to the previous government. It is a start. Projects like the Melbourne Metro were sitting on the shelf under the previous government, and projects like the high-capacity trains. I mean, if you look at the original business case and you look at the original rolling stock strategies, these projects were supposed to start under the previous Liberal government, and I suspect that the fact they did not is very much the reason why they are sitting on the opposition benches. But it must be noted that these projects are just a first step in transforming our entire public transport network. We are going to need the high-capacity signalling to be across the entire network. We are going to need more tunnels and more tracks. We cannot just keep pointing to one project, the Melbourne Metro, and say, ‘This is going to be the one project that fixes everything’.

If you listen to people and about their lived experience on our public transport network, it is not up to scratch. It is unreliable. It is overcrowded. It is our current, existing network that is simply not up to scratch. It is not just this one project that is going to solve it all. We are going to need significant investment over many years, and it would be ludicrous to suggest that to fix those problems you have a standalone suburban loop around Melbourne of 50 kilometres—you are going to have that project whilst you allow the existing network to rot and you have the same overcrowding and unreliability on those networks.

Members interjecting.

Mr HIBBINS: I am glad to hear that the government is actually listening to what I have got to say. One of the key things that they could be doing right now—

Members interjecting.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Ward): Order!

Mr HIBBINS: One of the key things they could be doing right now is actually getting the most out of the existing infrastructure. As I have raised in this place multiple times before, yes the Metro Tunnel is needed to unlock capacity during peak hour. That is absolutely true. That is why we need that project, that is why we need a second metro tunnel, that is why we need the high-capacity signalling. But right now when you look across essentially most of the metropolitan network—when you look at, for example, the Sandringham line or the Craigieburn line—this is where you are waiting 20 minutes on the weekend for a train and 15 minutes during the day. These sort of wait times are absolutely not up to scratch for a world-class public transport network. You have got a government on one hand, yes, spending billions on infrastructure, but then not stumping up the relatively small cost for increasing services on our existing network. We see, for example, the Dandenong line and the Frankston line do run at 10-minute services. This should be the minimum. You should be getting these services during the day and on weekends. But instead, you have got ridiculous waits of up to 20 minutes during the day or on the weekend, when there are no trains running. It is absolutely absurd.

If we are fair dinkum about getting more people onto public transport, getting people to shift away from cars and onto public transport, then high-frequency services during all of the day are absolutely essential. It is absolutely bizarre. As I said, we have had this costed up by the Parliamentary Budget Office. It is around $170 million for the metropolitan rail network and about $40 million for the tram network to be getting trains and trams running at 10 minutes all day every day. It is a quick, easy reform that this government should be doing, and it is absolutely inexplicable that they are not. We will be supporting this bill, but they need a long-term transport plan.

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Sam Hibbins MP
Member for Prahran
3 March 2020
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