Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (19:46): I think this is actually kind of exciting, and I am sorry that we have diminished it to conceiving children, council oversight and concrete. This is the biggest infrastructure project in the state’s history and I think Mr Davis also said possibly in Australia. That is quite extraordinary. To be here thinking about something that will be the biggest infrastructure project in my life—well, actually, not in my life. I probably will not be alive to see this, unless those stem cells that I have been taking actually work and those vitamins I have been taking actually work. I may not see the end of this project, and that is not a bad thing. But I think that is an important issue about this—that this is about having faith in governments, having faith to plan beyond the future, having faith to plan beyond our time on this earth.
When you look at people in other great cities—and I know Mr Ondarchie has travelled and lived in many of them—most of them put infrastructure in way ahead of their lifetimes. They put in significant infrastructure—and that goes back to the Romans, when our first sewerage systems came into place. They did not live that long then, so they did not get to see the fruits of their labour. This is one of those projects that we in this place will not see, most likely. Although for some of the young ones here, of course you will, but for many of us, we will not. But in many of the cities that we looked at around the world we saw this plan, we saw this vision, we saw these projects. And we have all, I suspect, as tourists or as people who have lived in other countries and other cities benefited from those projects.
Melbourne is going to be bigger than Sydney. That is a fact—Melbourne is going to be bigger than Sydney.
Mr Finn interjected.
Ms PATTEN: With or without you, Mr Finn—with or without you. And may I just make a note, Mr Finn, that I am a Sydney Swans supporter. But Melbourne is going to be bigger than Sydney, and in fact by 2051 we expect Victoria to have a population of 10 million.
Now, look at other cities that have those types of populations. Tokyo, 9 million—look at the infrastructure. Look at greater Tokyo and the trains and infrastructure that they have—the fast train. I was actually born in Canberra, so throughout my life we have been debating a fast train in the ACT. I doubt we will ever get there.
If you could have a business case for something that is planned to be finished in 2050, I do not know, but right now what they are presenting to us is quite a good business case. Now, I do not have the wherewithal to know what is going to happen between now and 2050, but at the moment the current business case is that there is between $1.10 and $1.70 for every dollar invested. That compares to something like the east–west link, which I think will probably ultimately be part of our city, but it did not have the same business case that this one does.
But what this requires is trust. This actually requires some form of trust in government, and right now that is lacking. It is not lacking just in Victoria, it is lacking around Australia and it is lacking around the world. We have to bring back that trust, and we have to be up-front about the costs of this project. We have to be up-front that this is going to be an expensive project. The current figures are, what, $50 billion, I think, or—if you break that down—$2 billion a year. But more importantly I would suggest that it is about that trust. It is about that faith—and I use that word again—in the government, the faith in this Parliament that we can see to what we want for our grandchildren and what we want for our great-grandchildren. Something like this is one of those projects. It will be transformational. It will change the shape of our city.
I may raise this in committee, but we are planning for something that is 40 years in the future—and part of this bill enables us to plan for that. It enables the government to maybe purchase land, to do those sorts of things to achieve that. We need to plan that future, and we need that absolute faith in government—and I think that is something that is absolutely lacking around the nation and certainly around this state at the moment. So we need to be transparent, and we need to continue with that transparency.
Certainly I looked at one of Mr Davis’s amendments here, which was around having some oversight in the Parliament and having some form of public works committee. Now, I think a public works committee is long overdue in this Parliament. I know it existed before my time, and I think the idea of some sort of public works committee is very valid and something that I would be very supportive of. Because you want that oversight over such a giant project. And yes, we will have government oversight; yes, we will have the giant departments that this bill will create today.
But probably one of the other issues—and I know everyone will speak about concrete, population growth, climate change and the rest of it—I would actually like to talk about is women and the impact that women can have on this project going forward.
The business case that we have read expects 24 000 jobs during construction. I do not know how they got to that number, but I am happy to accept that, and they will be highly skilled, well-paid jobs that could transform the lives of those workers. I am hoping that this project will enable women to be able to access those opportunities because it has been a longstanding and persistent problem, gender inequality in our construction industry. I do not think that anyone is going to deny that we have a gender issue in our construction industry. We have really tried to change that, and there have been many changes. I know that many organisations and I that know many governments—I would say even the federal government has tried to make amends in this area, but they have largely failed. But given the significant money that we are putting into this—at least $2 billion a year—surely we can use it to start addressing and reducing sexism and gender barriers in construction and in engineering.
I know the government has done some work on this, and I note that they created the Women in Construction Strategy. We need to ensure that that is put to work. We need to ensure that it does not just gather dust. This is our chance. You know, this is the time when we should be encouraging kids into STEM. This is an intergenerational project. This is what STEM is about. This is what education is about. I can see the Minister for Higher Education nodding as I say this, and I am really looking forward to hearing that we are funding apprenticeships and training to unpack the gender bias in this area and that we are looking to unpack the gender bias in career counsellors. I am very pleased to hear those in the government saying, ‘Yes, we’re doing this. Yes, we’re doing this’. One of the solutions in that strategy, the Women in Construction Strategy, is:
a campaign to eliminate the attitudes that underpin the culture of gender inequality, involving all construction workers—including managers and employers
Great. Can we please get that done, because that underpins the sexism in the construction industry, and we know it is still rife. We know the industry is still, frankly, 99 per cent male, so this is a project that could change that. You know, at 99 per cent male this is like an all-boys school, and the behaviour in the construction industry mirrors that of an all-boys school. I cannot even repeat what a manager—a female engineer—told me about the comments that were made by her boss. I just cannot. It would be unparliamentary, and I think the clerks would certainly stop me from saying it. When she complained about those comments, her boss said, ‘Oh, no, that’s not sexist. He says that to everyone’.
Now, that is what we need to change, and when we are looking at transformational projects like this, we should be focusing on some of that transformation that we can make around gender equality as well. Highly sexualised comments are not the only issues that women face in construction. They are perceived as weak. They are perceived as not up to the job. All of that still pervades the industry. Quite often they feel like they are spotlighted, like everyone is watching them to make sure they can do the job as well as everyone else, and that means that they feel like they have to overperform. They feel like every time they might make a mistake. It is a very anxious time in this area. You know, they are likely to have comments like, ‘Well, we had to put up with way worse, mate. You’re up for it’. Multiple studies have confirmed that sex discrimination and workplace culture are the most significant barriers to tradeswomen’s careers, so I would hope that the government sets this up. You are an equal opportunity employer. Do not tolerate sexism in any form. This Suburban Rail Loop gives us the opportunity to do that.
Women are going to contribute to this in their taxes, so I want to see them benefit financially from this project. I want to see them being part of this project. For the time that I can I will be watching this project carefully and specifically on this issue of gender equality. When we spoke to the government about this they certainly talked about Indigenous quotas. They talked about a range of quotas. I would like to see some real targets for female workers, for female engineers as part of this—not putting aside Indigenous employment.
The other area I would like to see in such a long project: we will be planning decades in advance, and having just recently been part of and chaired the homelessness inquiry, we know that VicRail has enormous amounts of land that quite often sit fallow, sit unused.
Mr Ondarchie: VicTrack.
Ms PATTEN: VicTrack. Thank you, Mr Ondarchie. It sits unused, and during this time we need to be nimble with that land. We need to be modern with that land. We need to look at how we can use that land to great effect. I would really ask the government to use some of that land; some of that money that they are using to buy land, to buy houses and to prepare for this can be used to address homelessness and can be used to address our lack of housing in our community. I think this is a great opportunity to do that. At that point I will leave my comments and commend the bill.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading speech 5/10/21