April 14, 2014  |  Matters of Public Importance

Public Transport

Mr CARROLL (Niddrie) — It is my pleasure to get up and speak on this matter of public importance. Transport projects without doubt transform our lives. They ultimately improve livelihoods and boost productivity. What has concerned me, though, since I arrived in this Parliament is the business case for the east–west link, which was released shortly after I arrived. I have a copy of it here, East West Link Stage One — Executive Summary. I left high school a long time ago, but this is a 3000 word, 12 page high school essay relating to an $8 billion project. I cannot believe that a government would produce this for an $8 billion project. When you read through it, what do you see? You see a congested freeway. This is the government advertising what the east–west link will be like in the very near future — a complete car park.

 I will tell the house one story. I was out the front of my electorate office a couple of months ago, and a constituent came up to me and said, ‘Ben, can I have 5 minutes with you?’. I said, ‘Yes, what is your concern?’. He said, ‘I want to have a talk to you about the east–west link’. He said, ‘First and foremost, I do not catch public transport; I want you to know that. That’s my V8 across the road. But you cannot let that tunnel go ahead. It would just be like CityLink — good for six months at best and then a car park’.

Why are government members changing tack now? They themselves know that the east–west link is nothing but a dud tunnel. We have had three years of tunnel talk and tunnel politics, and now those opposite have discovered public transport. But what have they produced? A 12 page, 3000 word essay. You can compare that to the work of the previous government — you can compare this 12 page document with some 250 pages of analysis released by Premier Brumby, whether it be in the Eddington report, in the east–west needs assessment or the Victorian transport plan.

But what is most concerning and what has been raised by several commentators is how you get a cost benefit ratio of 1.4 when Rod Eddington himself said it was negative 0.5 — meaning that for every dollar invested you lose 50 cents. We still do not know how the government arrived at this cost benefit ratio. This is the Liberal Party, which is meant to be the party of financial responsibility, treating the taxpayer with nothing but contempt.

Honourable members interjecting.

Mr CARROLL — Just explain yourselves! How do you arrive at a cost benefit ratio of 1.4 when the project does not even include the port of Melbourne and does not go out to the west? It is just ridiculous. Members can look through the analyses, whether it be the article by Josh Gordon on 18 July 2013 entitled ‘There seems to be some madness in link methodology’ or the comments of the VicRoads engineer who slammed the dodgy model for the tunnel.

Let us just talk about the VicRoads whistleblower. For 27 years Doug Harley built the state’s roads. He started at VicRoads as a 22 year old in 1986 and worked as an engineer. He has now decided to lift the lid on what he thinks is a dodgy model. An article quotes his own words as follows:

The east–link, he said, had been assessed ‘using a dodgy model to produce a benefit cost ratio’ that made it look a huge economic success. … ‘Nobody in VicRoads with any traffic modelling expertise signed off on it. Their own manager of network modelling and analysis … was saying, “ … you cannot trust this — data.”

Nobody in VicRoads, the state government agency which those opposite is proudly shifting to Ballarat, has supported this and come out and said how the economic benefits add up. We know this is all about trying to attract bidders. We have public private partnership arrangements that are going to make sure that those opposite can get bids and try to get the project up and running before the next election. If those opposite are so proud of the project, very clearly they should take it to the polls.

This can be compared with what Mr Eddington had to say about the Melbourne Metro project. It has a benefit cost ratio of 1.2, and that is without including any wider economic benefits. It is a project that will add 24 trains and a project Labor has committed to. It will increase capacity from 24 000 to 60 000 services per hour — that is leading to capacity of 130 000 every morning. The project needs to be started in 2015 to be completed by 2022. This is a real story of how the government has been ignoring public transport until now.

Let us turn to buses. Labor has a proud record when it comes to bus services. It was Labor that introduced the SmartBus orbital services that saw patronage jump by 34 per cent between 2006 and 2011. We have also seen the bus rapid transit routes rolled out between Doncaster and the CBD. SmartBus has been an unprecedented success, thanks to the Labor government. Since the Baillieu government — now the Napthine government — was elected, timetabled service kilometres have remained static; nothing has been done.

Labor recently released Project 10 000. If we are elected, we will do even more for public transport, including removing the 50 worst level crossings as well as putting real dollars behind Melbourne Metro. We are very committed to public transport.

The government has wasted three years on a tunnel and now has discovered public transport. Who was the source of the quote, ‘You can’t build your way out of congestion’? It was the Minister for Public Transport himself, who is also the Minister for Roads. When was east–west link discussed before the 2010 election? It was not. Now those opposite have come into government this is their one, desperate project to try to get done. The way the public has been treated with this short form business case is appalling.

I found it amusing recently that Adam Carey wrote in the Age of 26 March that even public transport operators were kept in the dark about the recent public transport shake up. The government is not taking the public or even the public transport operators with it. In terms of the recent announcements concerning zoning, no one — whether it be Metro Trains or the operators of the trams — was consulted. They were completely kept in the dark. You need to take stakeholders with you.

Professor Roz Hansen from Plan Melbourne recently gave an exclusive interview to the Age about the government’s commitment to transport planning and land use. The article is headed ‘Wrong way, go back’, and in it she outlines her dismay at how the concept under the former Premier Baillieu of a 20 minute city — that is, 20 minutes to public transport, 20 minutes to a park and 20 minutes to your job — has been washed away by the focus on the tunnel. Also the article reports comments by Carolyn Whitzman, a planning expert, about Plan Melbourne, which is to be released shortly. The article states:

It’s a plan built around the justification of the east–west link which are pretty involved, with the possible exception of the Premier’s office was talking about in the initial stages …

What we had was a 20 minute neighbourhood concept, which was the initial target of Plan Melbourne, being completely whitewashed in favour of an $8 billion tunnel.

The member for Bentleigh is in the chamber. It is not just the Labor Party that is concerned about the east–west link; the Liberal Party is also concerned about it. A former Liberal mayor of the City of Glen Eira, Jamie Hyams, recently said when he was the mayor — and I point out that the Liberal Party holds the seat of Bentleigh by a margin of only 0.8 per cent — —

An honourable member interjected.

Mr CARROLL — I would be nervous. He says:

The east–west tunnel will effectively absorb funds for major transport infrastructure in Melbourne for many years, possibly delaying projects that potentially benefit Glen Eira …

The council passed a motion unanimously warning that the $6 billion to $8 billion project would offer the local area ‘little benefit’. That is a quote from a Liberal Party aligned mayor in the seat of Bentleigh. When Liberals are off the leash and talking about and passing motions against the east–west tunnel, it shows the sort of serious trouble the Liberal Party is in. If it cannot get its own mayors to support a project — and it has put all its eggs in one basket — it raises a lot of concern, particularly for a Liberal Party mayor sitting in an electorate with a majority of less than 1 per cent. It is time for a thorough rethink, and the government should put in the investment needed for the Melbourne Metro proposal. It is interesting that members of the Liberal Party do not talk about the east–west link any more. I do not know when I last heard a Dorothy Dixer asked about east–west link. It is amazing. Government members now want to pretend that it does not exist. I say to Liberal Party members, ‘Good luck, and take it to the polls’.