August 5, 2015  |  Matters of public importance

Infrastructure funding

Mr HOWARD (Buninyong) — Is it not amazing when you have listened to the members of the opposition who have spoken on this matter of public importance that they cannot deal with the issue in a factual manner and cannot explain why they would need until 30 November to review something that was made as a promise ahead of the last election by the government that was elected. Opposition members do not understand the concept of mandate at all. They simply have not responded in any way to the substantive issues in this matter of public importance. Let me take them back a little bit. It is not as though this issue of the lease of the port of Melbourne was something that the Labor Party came up with as a sudden idea ahead of the last election. In fact it is three years ago that Labor came out with the first jobs policy that the people of Victoria had seen for some time, well ahead of the election.

Despite seeing so many jobs being lost across Victoria after the Baillieu government came to office and despite us saying, ‘We need you as the government to come up with a jobs policy’, nothing happened. We heard about the four pillows, or something like that which the now shadow Treasurer used to talk about. People who were in the house at the time will know about his four pillows. He said, ‘We just need to get on and make the economy better and it’s all going to work and we don’t need a jobs policy’. As it worked out, the pillows were way too soft for that government. Nothing happened, and we saw jobs disappearing month after month.

In opposition Labor did develop a jobs policy, and in 2012 — three years ago — we came out with the Labor jobs policy to try to show some leadership to the people of Victoria. A key part of that jobs policy was to say that we need to develop our infrastructure in ways that the people of Victoria want. They recognise that in terms of road congestion the key issue that the people of Victoria wanted addressed was the removal of these many level crossings across the Melbourne metropolitan area to ensure that traffic could flow better. At the same time we decided that to fund this policy we would lease the port of Melbourne. As I said, this policy was clearly enunciated by the Labor Party in 2012.

Some years later, just ahead of the election, those opposite decided that the government had better show some action on some policy in relation to jobs and so on. They then said, ‘We think it would be a good idea to lease the port of Melbourne’. They agreed with the concept. They only differed on the number of years it should be leased for. They said, ‘We would not want to lease it for 50 years — maybe 25 years or something’. Either way, the people of Victoria can be in no doubt that when the Labor Party stood before them at the last election it had a very clear policy in relation to the lease of the port of Melbourne.

The people elected a Labor government over that very disappointing excuse for a coalition government that they had experienced in the previous four years. They supported a Labor government under Daniel Andrews. What we have done since day one is try to get on with governing and delivering our policies that we put forward, and in so many areas we have been able to deliver.

The removal of those level crossings will benefit the people of Melbourne in particular, and it will also clearly benefit people from regional Victoria who still have to travel to, through and across Melbourne. They need to travel across Melbourne for a range of business purposes, and they will clearly benefit from the level crossing removal project. It is what they have asked for. We have been getting the planning for the removal of these level crossings underway, but when we try to put through the bill about the lease of the port of Melbourne, what do we get from the so-called opposition? We get obfuscation. There is a sudden view that we need to review this policy.

The coalition has got into bed with the Greens in the upper house, and together they have said, ‘We need to have a look at this’. I see the member for Morwell, a member of The Nationals, cringing at the thought of getting into bed with the Greens, but that is what they have done. The Liberals, The Nationals, and the Greens have said, ‘We need to review this matter, and that will take until November 30’. That would be one whole year of this government pretty much gone before we would be able to do anything in relation to moving on with the lease of the port of Melbourne. That means the money could not possibly flow to all those things that the people of Victoria identified as being important.

The funds generated from the lease of the port of Melbourne will not just go towards supporting the removal of the 50 level crossings but will also go towards the Melbourne Metro rail project and the West Gate distributor. The people in my area, the farmers and the many other businesspeople of the west, see the opportunity to travel more quickly into the port of Melbourne as being vitally important. Getting their product onto the ships and off to the overseas markets they are developing will be of great benefit.

The lease of the port of Melbourne will bring great benefits to regional Victoria, but there was a further announcement on the weekend when the Premier met with Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) president, Peter Tuohey, to announce that a further $200 million will be specifically designated to the Agriculture Infrastructure and Jobs Fund. This was very well received by the VFF. The VFF was pleased to hear that that funding will be particularly focused on farmers and on agricultural products being able to get to the market. This will ensure that our productivity can be supported and increased, and as a state we know that that is exactly what we need to do. Our food and fibre industry, our agricultural produce, is important to the economic wellbeing of this state. Clearly the Andrews Labor government wants to further support it by identifying that specific amount of $200 million to go towards this fund.

On Monday I was pleased to join the Minister for Agriculture in our western region on the farm of Mr Lyle Powell in Windermere. Again we announced the $200 million Agriculture Infrastructure and Jobs Fund, and Mr Powell, like so many others, noted the great benefit it would provide in helping to improve productivity. We can identify a whole range of construction projects to improve our productivity. We can identify a whole range of infrastructure and jobs projects that will help to give our people skills and improve the opportunities for getting our products to market at a high standard.

We know that the lease of the port of Melbourne will provide clear benefits not only to the people of the Melbourne area but also more broadly to the people of regional Victoria. As the member for Buninyong, I am always keen to ensure that the people of my electorate get their fair share and do not lose out. The lease of the port of Melbourne is going to be important to the people of Victoria and to the people of Buninyong in enabling their projects to get the go-ahead they need.

I strongly urge, as does the matter of public importance before this house, the opposition to recognise that this is what the people of Victoria want and this is what the people of Victoria need. They do not want this delayed for another three months or so. They want to see the government being able to deliver on the policies it brought to the people ahead of the last election. They do not want to see game playing.

I note that Fiona Patten, a member for Northern Metropolitan Region in the upper house, has said that she sees holding this matter up as clearly, in her words, political party game playing. She has seen that the Greens, The Nationals and the Liberals have got together to simply try to delay this and to play their political games. They are not acting in the interests of the people of Victoria. They do not understand the issue of mandate and the fact that the government needs to get on with it, as the Andrews Labor government is so keen to do.

I am pleased to support the lease going ahead along with the addition of the $200 million Agriculture Infrastructure and Jobs Fund. I look forward to the lease going ahead and the funding being able to flow to the people of Victoria. These are important projects. Whether it be the level crossing removals, the link into the port of Melbourne or so many other projects, I want to see them going ahead and delivered for the benefit of the people of Buninyong and, more broadly, the people of Victoria.