Monday, 16 March 2015

Speech in Parliament - East West Link - 16 March 2015

Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (17:35): I rise in this afternoon's grievance debate to again call for the state Labor government to see common sense and to construct the East West Link. This is a vital project for Melbourne. It is a vital project for the outer eastern suburbs and the Yarra Valley that I represent along with other members. This is a project that once had broad support from within the Labor Party. This is a project that was first mooted by the Eddington review set up some years ago. The former Labor government of John Brumby was supportive of this project. The former federal Labor government was supportive of this project. The current Leader of the Opposition was extremely supportive of this project, as were other colleagues of his. We can go back to before the time the Leader of the Opposition was elected when, as a member of the Australian Workers Union, he, together with the state secretary, Cesar Melhem, put in a submission that said amongst other things:

The Eastern Freeway is the remaining freeway to terminate in the inner suburbs without providing the connectivity benefits of other freeways to city and regional users and commuters.

An important statement, a self-evident statement in so many ways, but clearly a statement from the Leader of the Opposition of the need to build the East West Link. Anyone in Melbourne who travels along that Eastern Freeway to where it terminates as you approach the city encounters a car park—a car park that is growing by the metre. If this East West Link is not built, that car park will grow and grow and grow.

It is not just commuter times; it is the cost to businesses. As a local businessman in the nursery industry said the other day, no matter what the advocates of alternative transport projects put forward, he cannot put a metre of tanbark on a train or on a bus. They are delivering products all over Melbourne. The small businesses are trying to get about Melbourne to compete and earn a living. The growers in the Yarra Valley are trying to get their produce to market. That is why way back in 2007 the Leader of the Opposition strongly supported an East West Link. Then, when he became a federal member, he together with three other colleagues put in a joint submission that said amongst other things:

'Doing nothing' therefore, is not an option.

I could go through all of the submissions in detail. They received publicity at the time back in 2007. That AWU submission received a lot of publicity with the then leader of the AWU, Bill Shorten, strongly advocating the project. The state secretary, Cesar Melhem, said at the time:

We strongly support the project; the project has to go ahead sooner or later …

He is absolutely right. Seven or eight years down the track we have this situation where the state Labor government, with a contract in place, is contemplating tearing up that contract and getting out of it with an act of parliament. Apart from the fact they would pay many, many millions of dollars—we do not know how much—not to build a road, the risk not just to Victoria's economic reputation but also to Australia's economic reputation is manifest.

The now Labor premier went through the last election saying the contract was not worth the paper it was written on. Now he is contemplating passing an act of parliament to void that contract—an extraordinary reckless economic decision, the consequences of which will be felt beyond Victoria, and will affect Australia's financial reputation. As I said, the Leader of the Opposition went from strong support to silent acquiescence, with the election of the state Labor government. Today, just before question time, he finally answered a question and acknowledged he had done a complete backflip on the East West Link. Presumably, he supports tearing up the contract as well. There has been a lot of publicity from those experts in the infrastructure investment community.Infrastructure Investor had this to say just a week or so ago:

Retrospective legislation: two words designed to send shivers down the spines of infrastructure investors …

I could go through many, many more. Embassies have been approached by concerned government representatives about what is going on in Australia with the Andrews government. You do not need to take our word for it or their word for it. It is because what is being contemplated by the Victorian premier would be such a reckless step that in the past the Leader of the Opposition and the now shadow Treasurer have made the point that, from Labor's perspective, they might not like a contract, but for the very reasons I have outlined they have said that they will always honour contracts.

At the National Press Club, the shadow Treasurer had this to say, back on 11 September last year, 'Bill Shorten and I are of one mind—Labor honours contracts. Labor in Government honours contracts entered into by previous governments. Even if we don't like them, for the issues of sovereign risk Labor honours contracts in office signed by previous governments.' The Leader of the Opposition has to show some leadership. That is the position outlined at the National Press Club and that is the correct position. That is the responsible position. That is the position that protects Australia's sovereign interests, and protects Australia's financial security on these infrastructure projects. But, now, the Leader of the Opposition is prepared to stand by and watch a reckless state government not only play fast and loose with Victoria's financial reputation but with Australia's reputation as well.

Let me make this plea to the Labor members who might be capable of speaking to the Victorian premier to see common sense. They have got ambitions for alternative plans. They do not want to build this road, and we understand they are not interested in the outer east. We think it is not too late to change their mind. But if they want to build alternative projects they are going to have to raise money from investors. How do you think they will go in the future? How do you think any level of government will go in the future if a state government in Australia has gone into the parliament and passed a law to tear up a contract?

How are they going to go at getting the investment for projects in the future? This is a cut and shut matter, and for those opposite to sit silently by is either knowingly reckless or hopelessly incompetent about the real risks that this Victorian government is contemplating this very week.

The contract is signed, the road needs to be built. The idea that the East West Link will not be built is ridiculous. They should get on and build the road, protect their own financial interests and, critically, protect Australia's financial reputation in overseas markets.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs Griggs ): The time for the grievance debate has expired. The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 192B. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 17:45.

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