Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (11:25:06) — I rise to speak somewhat briefly on the motion moved by Mr Davis that seeks to revoke the various planning permits relevant to the West Gate tunnel project. It is interesting that this is just one of two of these revocation motions that we will be debating today.
I think this is partly why Australians are disengaged from politics. In 2015 only 19 per cent of our population had even some trust in political parties, and that is a statistic that has been in steady decline. Our communities — and I am sure we all experience it when we were are out in our communities at events — are becoming increasingly cynical and disillusioned when it comes to our elected representatives, when it comes to us. It would be remiss of us not to contemplate why. Why in the five years from 2011 did trust in federal and state parliaments decline from 55 per cent to 33 per cent? Two-thirds of the Australian population has no trust in state and federal parliaments and our systems. Why is this trust being increasingly replaced with cynicism and frustration?
Victorians are right to be frustrated when in this parliamentary term we have seen $1.2 billion in public funds thrown away as the east–west link project was canned and those contracts torn up — a huge sum of money that could have been spent on Victorian infrastructure, be that roads or hospital beds. The opposition will blame the government and the government will point to the conduct of the former Treasurer in signing a side letter during an election campaign that was being played out on that very issue — it will be tit for tat. But irrespective of who is responsible, where the blame lies and who was or was not complicit, losing $1.2 billion of Victorian taxpayers funds was a massive failure. And it is a failure we should never repeat. It is something that we should try and protect ourselves against systematically and not continue to squabble over.
In some ways I feel that these types of infrastructure projects of this scale should be above this type of politicking. I do not think I know the answer for how we do this, but resurrecting a project like the east–west link should not be contingent on who won the last election or who wins the next. Long-term infrastructure planning does not sit comfortably with our four-year election cycle. These are longitudinal population issues, and I think we as a Parliament must consider where we are going with future planning and how we are developing that future plan for our very fast growing state.
I note that the Australian Business Council CEO, Ms Jennifer Westacott, also makes this point, and I will quote her:
… the cost of delaying yet another major transport project in Victoria would be immense.
You cannot just turn on the tap and expect infrastructure investment to flow. It will be years before another project of this scale will be ready to be built …
If and when that happens, the state will face higher costs and the project is likely to take much longer to build.
In thinking about how we could do this better — again I do not have the answer — we should be asking, ‘How do we empower an independent, evidence-based voice to drive our infrastructure agenda more effectively?’ so that we are not having this politicking and tit for tat in this place.
We have talked about transparency, and I know Dr Ratnam also mentioned transparency. I do think that there is a perception of a lack of transparency in this — it is more than a perception, I think it can be very real. The arrangements with Transurban that probably underpin this motion and are certainly the reason that we are debating this are just like the problem with the east–west link and will be again if we do not effect some sort of systematic change.
I know we all would have received letters from many councils, but I take the point of the City of Yarra, who wrote to us just the other day, and I will quote them:
In the council’s opinion, the process surrounding this proposal has not been transparent, no business case has been provided to support the project and its concomitant extension of tolls, and the project has not been submitted to a tendering process to ensure best value for the Victorian community in its delivery and ongoing operation.
I agree. We do need to improve our transparency, and that is probably how we will improve the trust. That may even be how we improve the prospects of getting bipartisan support for major projects. It may even go some way to restoring the confidence of our community and its faith that this Parliament will act with integrity. Infrastructure planning should be evidence based and above this short termism and politicking that we are seeing today.
Should we be entrenching this recent trend to block significant government projects by challenging planning approvals in this place? I think the President made some very important points on that yesterday when he spoke of this. I do not think this is how we should be operating in here — tit for tat, starting and stopping, and creating uncertainty. We know that this not only destroys business confidence but also destroys trust more broadly. If we block this project here, we will be throwing away billions of dollars that have already been spent on it, down the same hatch as the money spent on the east–west link. If this motion is successful today — although, going by the speakers list, I doubt it will actually get to a vote today — it will raise the issue that this Parliament tables a document and then revokes a document without the minister actually tabling the document. I think that raises some questions. If this were to occur today, would the matter then proceed to the courts, and if so, who would pay for that? I feel that we can afford the government some sort of mandate to govern, the successes and failures of which will be tested at the ballot box.
Turning to the project itself — the West Gate tunnel — a project of this scale will have adverse effects and individuals will be disadvantaged. They should be given every opportunity to voice their concerns, and those concerns should be considered. I do not think we ever get to a perfect scenario in which everybody is absolutely happy with a project of this scale. There will be road closures; there will be noisy works. It is difficult for governments, and it is difficult for communities as well. I feel like I have been saying this a lot in this place during my term so far, but we should not let the perfect stand in the way of the good.
I think that this project has some very positive aspects. It will improve the movement of freight. It does provide direct connections to the port of Melbourne. It removes trucks from local streets. It will deliver some travel time savings for motorists from Geelong, Ballarat and Melbourne’s west. It provides an alternative to the West Gate Bridge. One accident on the West Gate Bridge can currently clog our city in every single direction, so having an alternative route, I feel, is absolutely crucial. In the north it means that we will see less vehicles on the Bolte Bridge, and also there will be an alternative route to the western suburbs, Geelong and the Surf Coast. In the east we will see increased capacity on the West Gate Freeway, and I believe we will see better traffic flows.
I appreciate that some would say that roads create more congestion and that all we need is public transport. We are building a lot of public transport at the moment, but I do believe we need this sort of infrastructure, and we have not actually built this sort of infrastructure for a very long time. Fourteen kilometres of new cycling paths and walking paths is very positive, and this includes the new 2.5 kilometres of the veloway for cyclists, which creates the missing link to the Federation Trail. We will finally have the completed Federation Trail.
As I mentioned, the Business Council of Australia want this project to go ahead, and they are not alone. The RACV supports this project, as do the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Logistics Council, the Geelong Regional Alliance, the Urban Development Institute of Australia, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia and the Victorian Transport Association.
Finally, the environment effects statement process has been criticised significantly in this chamber, but it is a 10 000-page document and I think received over 500 submissions. I appreciate that this project is not perfect and that there will be people negatively impacted by it, but all in all I believe that governments should have some mandate and that that mandate can be tested at the election box on 24 November. I have been disappointed with the process. I believe we should consider how we can deal with large infrastructure projects like this so that they are more transparent and so we can find some way to restore the confidence of the community, but I am not supporting this motion.