Monday, 2 May 2016
Tonight, I take the opportunity to speak about an issue of great importance to the people who live in my electorate of Deakin, and that is the ever-growing problem posed by traffic congestion, which is crippling our state and the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. In particular, I raise the failure, by cancelling the East West Link contract, of the current Victorian Labor government to take vital steps to reduce the impacts of this congestion—a city-transforming project which would go a long way to easing traffic congestion in our eastern suburbs.
For many years now, residents and businesses, including the Ringwood Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in the heart of my electorate, have spoken about the great need for the eastern suburbs to have increased investment in infrastructure. Our city is growing by 100,000 people per annum, and now the Eastern Freeway, which is one of the main corridors of transport for people who live in my electorate, is at a standstill for at least 2½ hours in the morning and the same in the evening. Just a short time, a decade or so, ago we can remember what it was like to be able to travel freely around our own city.
The truth of the matter is that successive governments have not been able or willing to make the infrastructure investments necessary to ensure that people can get around our city easily. That was obviously exacerbated by the absolutely reckless decision of Daniel Andrews and the state Labor Party—supported 100 per cent by Bill Shorten; let's not forget that—to spend $1.1 billion to cancel the East West Link contract. The equipment was on the ports; people were employed; all of the planning and preparatory work was done; shovels were about to hit the ground. In a city growing by 100,000 people per annum, this will be remembered as one of the most reckless decisions that any government has ever made in this country at any level, and it will be remembered for a long time. I know lots of good people in the Labour Party who, like me, shake their heads and think that it was an absolutely disastrous decision. I can assure them that the people who live in my electorate wholly concur that this was a disastrous decision, and we in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne are the people who are suffering because of it.
The East West Link project fundamentally seeks to do two things for my electorate: ease the bottleneck at the end of the Eastern Freeway, whether that be at Hoddle Street or Alexandra Parade; and ensure that there is easy connectivity to the western suburbs and the northern suburbs and access to our airport. As residents tell me, even on a Sunday afternoon there is crippling traffic. I get the frustrated emails all the time—and I am one of those people who travel on the Eastern Freeway on a Sunday afternoon, particularly when I am coming up here for a sitting week of parliament. You would think you were in peak hour. The reality is that we have a freeway which ends at a T-intersection when it hits Alexandra Parade. It was never intended to be that way. It was always expected that that freeway would continue and that finally, when a government had committed the money, we were going to get stage 1 of the East West Link built. In our case, federally, we had committed $3 billion on top of the $2 billion committed by the former Victorian state government.
Let us not forget the history of this project. In 2008, Sir Rod Eddington was commissioned by a former Labor Premier, John Brumby, to undertake an assessment of Victoria's infrastructure needs. The East West Link, or an equivalent, was the No. 1 priority identified by Sir Rod Eddington. Perversely, going into the 2010 election, which the Liberal Party subsequently won, Labor promised to build the East West Link. We see that Labor were late converts against the East West Link. It is pretty clear to all that that was based on a pretty crude and cruel political assessment that, in order to hold their seats that were under risk from the Greens in the inner city, they would sacrifice those who live in the outer suburbs, particularly in the eastern suburbs, and who just happen to live in my electorate.
Never before has a government so cruelly disregarded one group of its constituents for another. Daniel Andrews said—again, supported 100 per cent by Bill Shorten—that the contracts that they cancelled were not worth the paper they were written on and would not cost one dollar to cancel. That was the commitment that he made. Had Victorians known before that election that, in fact, it would cost $1.1 billion of their money to cancel a project that we all know is so badly needed, I question whether they would ever have been elected. Being elected on a falsehood and then absolutely disregarding taxpayers' dollars to cancel this project is something that we will never forget in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, because we feel it every single day.
What my constituents know, and have known for many years, the experts are now confirming. The experts have said that traffic congestion will cost the Victorian economy $9 billion per annum. The single worst area of cost is the area between the Eastern Freeway and the CityLink, which includes, most notably, Alexandra Parade, which I mentioned earlier, as well as Hoddle Street. The experts are confirming what we know on the ground—that is, that traffic congestion gets worse and worse every single day. It does not matter how much Labor say, 'Don't worry about it. Just suck it up and deal with it'—and that is effectively what Labor are saying to all of my constituents. They are very, very angry that a state government, supported by Bill Shorten, would wantonly waste $1.1 billion in a city that is growing by 100,000 people per annum.
We need investments in absolutely every form of infrastructure. To cruelly do that to the eastern suburbs of Melbourne on a very faulty political assessment about the danger of the Greens in the inner city was short-sighted. It went against long-held Labor Party policy and, of course, went against this government, which most recently committed $3 billion to any state government that will build the East West Link. That $3 billion remains on the table for the East West Link. Nothing will ever get back the $1.1 billion that Labor wasted. We will never get that money back—it is gone—but that is not any reason to ignore one of the most crucial infrastructure projects that exists for our state.
I will continue to fight for this project, because I am ultimately guided by what is in the best interests of our constituents. If Labor had an about-face on this, which I know lots of good people on the Labor Party would like to see happen, we would welcome them with open arms. That is why we have got to keep the pressure on and that is why the campaign in Deakin will ensure that this remains front and centre. The only way that we will get this road built is by keeping the pressure up. So that is $3 billion for a much needed piece of infrastructure for the eastern suburbs.
But we are doing more than that, and in the meantime we understand that the Labor Party are digging their heels in. They are ignoring the people who live in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, so let us get on and build some other stuff. We have committed half-a-billion dollars to be matched with a matching grant from the state Labor Party for a $1 billion upgrade of the Monash Freeway—that, again, is absolutely necessary. Anyone who drives the Monash knows that we just need to make that investment to keep up with the growth in traffic—and that growth in traffic is not more people using the roads. We are growing by 100,000 people per annum. We need to make these investments.
We are also making investments for urban road infrastructure projects. There are significant investments for a number of projects in regional Victoria as well. We have a Victorian transport plan that extends through the length and breadth of our state. The East West Link is the centrepiece of that and the East West Link will remain the centrepiece of that because we know that it will be built. We absolutely know that the East West Link will be built. As I said earlier, the $1.1 billion wasted by Labor will go down in history as being the most destructive waste of taxpayers' money that we have ever seen, but that is no reason to give up the fight and we certainly will not give up the fight.
I applaud the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who has staked himself to this project as well. I was very proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with him when we outlined our very, very strong commitment of providing $3 billion to build the East West Link. I can assure my constituents that I will continue to fight for this until it is built.