Mr NORTHE (Morwell) (14:09): It gives me pleasure to rise to speak on the West Gate Tunnel (Truck Bans and Traffic Management) Bill 2019. The bill does three main things: it provides for the modification, amendment and tabling of the West Gate Tunnel agreement; it provides for the collection and enforcement of tolls in relation to the West Gate Tunnel tollway; and it establishes a Better Freight Outcomes Fund into which the proceeds of infringement fines in respect of truck offences are to be paid.
It has been interesting to listen to the debate from all quarters. I guess from my perspective in terms of the project itself it is really hard to know what the benefits might be for motorists going forward. There are obviously conflicting views and opinions from experts and the like, but from a broader aspect the notion of building infrastructure for our road and transport networks is something I support. I do have to commend the government for many of the infrastructure projects it is delivering across the state. However, there is always the question at the end about who pays, and I guess in terms of this bill that is somewhat contentious.
I really want to bring my contribution back to those in the Morwell electorate and how they feel about road and other infrastructure projects in Victoria. We are blessed to have many very successful transport businesses within our community and the Gippsland region more broadly, and the utilisation of the road and rail networks is something they do on a daily basis, whether they are going to the ports, whether they are going to the market, whether they are going to the outer suburbs or whether they are going into the city. They do that frequently. Of course it is not just our businesses, it is individuals and families who quite often frequent the Melbourne Airport or come into the city for medical appointments and otherwise. So the infrastructure and road and rail network we have is absolutely critical.
In terms of roads, while there has been some investment into the Monash Freeway in terms of adding additional lanes, it is still by anybody’s reckoning a really difficult situation. Those of us who live in the country are curious about how people contend with the disruptions and delays on a daily basis. They handle it far better than me or many others from regional Victoria, I am sure.
The alternative we have from a local perspective is rail. In all senses at the moment it is a really difficult challenge for people living in the east and within the Latrobe Valley. Unfortunately from a rail perspective, particularly passenger rail, it has been a massive challenge and something I have raised in this house on many, many occasions. Nonetheless, one of the concerns we have with this bill is that people who are CityLink customers and those businesses, individuals and families who use the Monash Freeway and also the Tullamarine Freeway will have to pay for this West Gate Tunnel project.
I respect the member for Mordialloc’s comments when he says that it will be a user pays system, but I would argue, and people within my community would argue, ‘Well, if we use CityLink for the Monash or Tullamarine freeways and we do not have a necessity to use the West Gate Tunnel, we are also being forced to pay’. That is the primary issue I have with this bill from a personal perspective.
I was talking about the Tullamarine Freeway earlier, and it has crossed my mind that I cannot quite fathom how an 80 kilometres an hour speed limit applies to that freeway, a beautiful freeway with new servicing and new roads; 80 kilometres an hour seems absolutely ridiculous in the modern world. Anyway that is for another day.
The whole principle of user pays is something I support. But the problem I have with this particular bill is of constituents and businesses within my electorate that may not have a necessity to use the West Gate Tunnel development into the future being forced to pay an extra 4.25 per cent per annum for 10 years. We also see the CityLink concession extended for another 10 years, from 2035 to 2045. That is a hell of a lot of money and it all adds up. One of my fears with the bill is that although I support developments and projects of this magnitude, if it is cost prohibitive we do not want to see motorists using alternative roads. That is no good for our suburbs and that is no good for local roads. I hope that is not the case, but I really do think that needs to be factored in when we are talking about such things. I am concerned about the funding component of the project. My constituents tell me that already the tolls on the roads are prohibitive in many respects, and many families, individuals and sometimes businesses take alternative routes to minimise their costs. So further imposing costs on them to fund a project that they may not use is something that has been conveyed very strongly to me.
From an equity point of view, I mentioned before road and rail infrastructure, and from a Gippsland perspective when we are talking about rail, Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo have dedicated lines; Gippsland does not. Even from a cost perspective, I have raised in the house just recently that regional students in the Latrobe Valley are not entitled to a regional student pass. They are forced to pay more, sometimes triple, the cost of what a Bendigo student pays to use V/Line services or other public transport to get to their schools of choice. That is inequitable. The same applies to this bill in terms of looking after my constituents who will be subject to the same disadvantage. In relation to seniors travel, again the Latrobe Valley seems to be significantly disadvantaged when we compare apples with apples with the other major regional centres of Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo.
On top of that I remember, and many other members have spoken about, the east–west link. Money was paid by the government to not build that road. It was a huge disappointment for many people within my electorate for whom that project would have made a massive difference in getting from point A to point B.
The feedback that I have had in respect of this particular bill is, ‘Yes, we’re fine with the development if that makes it easier to get transport from point A to point B. That’s fine’. But at the end of the day, if we are not using this particular road network but we are forced to pay for it because we are CityLink customers, then we do not believe that is fair. We do not believe that is equitable. There are enough things going on with our community in terms of transport fares that make us feel like we are being dudded at the moment. From my community’s perspective, that particular element of the bill is one that sticks in their craw. With that I will conclude my comments and let other speakers have their turn.