West Gate Tunnel project

Mr  PURCELL  (Western Victoria) (11:22:22) — It gives me great pleasure to rise today to speak on the revocation of amendment GC65 for the West Gate tunnel project. My contribution will not be political — which is unusual for this place, I know — but it will discuss the issues in western Victoria and why this tunnel is required for the people of western Victoria, in particular those in business but also in other areas, including the need to get people from Melbourne to western Victoria and also to get people from western Victoria to Melbourne.

I travel the West Gate Freeway regularly, I would imagine once or twice a week, and it is really an issue in that from my place I can get to the West Gate Bridge in probably 3 to 3½ hours on a regular basis, and then I can add another hour or maybe 10 minutes from there, depending on traffic. If you need to get to Parliament or to a meeting and you are unsure of how busy it is going to be — and one slight accident on the bridge will cause significant delays — you need to build this into your time lines. Irrespective of the benefits to western Victoria, I must say that the use of revocation motions in this place has become excessive. I do not support it. I would support it if I believed the issue was extreme. I believe this is the sort of issue that governments are elected to work through and it is for governments to make their decisions based on what they believe is right. If the people of Victoria do not agree, they have the chance every four years to change governments and to vote for or against the government, as it happens.

As I said, this for me is more than that. This for me is what is required for Western Victoria Region, the electorate that I represent. Before I go on to look at some of the issues and why this project is needed for western Victoria, I do think it is important that we recognise that this tunnel is backed by most industry groups and most industries within the state. For them to come out and place significant ads in regional papers and state papers, at significant cost to them, shows that they do more than just give this lip-service; they do believe it is an important project and one that needs to be supported by this house. As I said, the real issue is that businesses in western Victoria need this tunnel in western Victoria because it will allow them to get their product to market and it will also allow them to get to the port of Melbourne much more quickly and more cost-effectively.

I was one of the members of this house who sat on the Port of Melbourne Select Committee, which was a very good committee, and I must admit I enjoyed the work on that committee. But with the predictions of growth that will occur in the amount of traffic that will go through the port of Melbourne — and a great deal of that will come from regional Victoria and in particular western Victoria — we do need to have better access to that port. The growth in the amount of traffic that will increase year on year through to the port of Melbourne and the rest of Melbourne will be extreme and will clog up, if they are not already clogged, the current access routes into Melbourne.

There are many businesses in western Victoria that need this access. I will quickly go through some of those, and most of them I know extremely well. I will start with one that I actually worked for for 10 years when I graduated, and that is a company called GlaxoSmithKline, as it is now. Glaxo pharmaceuticals was where I, as an accountant, spent the first 10 years of my working life. I started in Port Fairy, then worked in Melbourne and then in London. The issue with them was that every time we had either international directors or visitors from overseas, the 4 or 5 hours it would take for them to get from Melbourne to Port Fairy on our road network — they would usually stay in Melbourne overnight and then drive to western Victoria — was more than they would normally travel on their annual holidays in Europe. It would get them over probably half a dozen countries in Europe. To travel that distance with an unsure estimated time of arrival, because of roadworks and the ability to get out of Melbourne, was something that they found quite unusual and something they did not expect to see in a First World country like Australia. This was a common issue. Because they thought Melbourne to Port Fairy was such a distance, they believed the factory should be located closer to Melbourne. For anyone who is trying to push for decentralisation it is a serious problem when you have extreme distances from a major airport to the country areas that are even harder to reach because of bad connections with road networks and also with access to the major cities.

Glaxo, probably two years ago, were taken over by an Indian company called Sun Pharmaceutical Industries. It was bad enough when it was owned and operated by the English and then the Americans, but now the owners of that company believe the roads in India are better than the roads and connectivity of the company to the major cities in Victoria. If our ability to get from our country areas to our major city of Melbourne is being compared to the ability to get from parts of India into its major cities, I think we have got a long way to go. One of the major reasons for that is the ability to get from the edge of Melbourne into the city. It is something companies in western Victoria need to have access to. These are the reasons I believe we need to support the tunnel, and I believe these are the reasons why so many of the industry groups have actually come out in support of it. They are not doing it for any political reason. They are doing it because they believe it is the right thing to do. They believe we need to have access from the west into Melbourne, and we need to have it very soon.

There are many other industries in western Victoria that do need to have access to the Melbourne port. One of the major exporters out of Victoria is Alcoa. All of their produce, all of the aluminium that leaves the Portland smelter, goes by road into the Melbourne port. If the increases in the traffic through the port — increases over the bridge — continue to occur, they are going to become less competitive. Irrespective of the American imposition of tariffs on aluminium, there will still be a significant amount of material that will need to be transported via road into the Melbourne port. For aluminium to go through Alcoa, through the Portland smelter, they definitely need this tunnel to go ahead.

The majority of produce from dairy companies in western Victoria — whether it be Fonterra, Saputo, Murray Goulburn or any others — goes via road into the Melbourne port and then overseas. The extra burden and cost of getting this product to market is a burden that the tunnel would help allay, and it would certainly help western Victoria. I could go on. Keppel Prince Engineering are in the same basket. They have a lot of their visitors coming to Melbourne from overseas, particularly Singapore. They need to get to Portland, so that gets into somewhere in the order of a 5 or 6-hour drive.

We have smaller companies like Bamstone. Bamstone are a bluestone cutting factory based just outside of Port Fairy. They have somewhere in the order of 50 employees, so there are 50 families who rely on this factory surviving. For people who do not know Bamstone, if you are ever walking around the streets of Melbourne all of the bluestone that was used to build the footpaths of Melbourne came from Bamstone. That started back in the Jeff Kennett days and still continues today. Even so, they do not have it all their own way. A lot of it comes from other factories in western Victoria, and their competitors are through the Chinese market. This is probably a good opportunity for me to thank Greg Barber, who not many years ago actually helped me in this house to help that company survive. I raised in an adjournment matter one night that the City of Melbourne had changed their tendering strategy for bluestone to include a lot of Chinese imports. To Mr Barber's credit, he actually got onto the council that night and we finished up getting the tendering process changed. That company is certainly in his debt and so are the 50-odd families of those that still have a job.

The vast majority of Midfield Group's product goes through the port of Melbourne — the vast majority of the meat processing. If we look at Southern Ocean Mariculture, an abalone farm in western Victoria, again their product all goes overseas, and a lot of that is either through the port of Melbourne or, if it is frozen or cryo-packed, through Tullamarine airport. Small business, even though they do not export, do need to have access to the major city in Victoria, that being Melbourne, and their suppliers and also the owners go to and from Melbourne on a weekly basis. So we need to have good access for those who use the bridge and we also need to have good time lines to get to and from Melbourne. As I said, the reason I do not support the revocation motion is that these businesses do need to have access to the Melbourne port and also to central Melbourne, and access at the moment is not good enough.

Going the other way, we have tourism coming out of Melbourne from the airport. Usually the international visitors tend to stay in Melbourne but then travel from Melbourne into western Victoria. The most popular tourist destination in the state is the Twelve Apostles; I think it is somewhere in the order of 2.2 million visitors per annum. Without getting into some of the other issues in regard to the road condition, in regard to the amount of traffic and in regard to the poor condition of the Twelve Apostles — not the apostles themselves but the car parks and facilities that are there — these visitors often arrive late at night and have early starts in the morning for a day visit. Whether it should be done in a day is another question, but they have very early starts, and more and more often they are now driving themselves. They need to get out of Melbourne at a very early hour to travel to the Twelve Apostles and then try to get back again.

Regarding the issue of international drivers on our roads who are very tired, which I have raised in this house previously, they do spend somewhere in the order of 12 to 14 hours a day driving or in minibuses getting to their destination of the Twelve Apostles and returning, and these are not safe activities for them to undertake. Anything that reduces that time would be of benefit to the safety of Victorians and the safety of our visitors. It also would be of benefit to our tourism industry, because what it would mean is those visitors would have a much better experience. If they spend less hours in their car or in their minibus or some other means of transport, it would make a huge difference to their enjoyment and satisfaction of the places that they visit, whether it be the Twelve Apostles or many of the other attractions along the Great Ocean Road.

As well as that, there are many other tourism events and activities, including this weekend, where people from Melbourne will travel to destinations. This being a long weekend, there will be a mass exodus of people who will be leaving Melbourne and travelling to country Victoria, which we in country Victoria certainly encourage and welcome with open arms. But anyone who has travelled into western Victoria on a long weekend and tried to get back on a Saturday or more particularly on a Sunday evening will find that the traffic jam is such that it actually takes away from the experience of the short holiday break they have had.

For people who will be travelling down this weekend to Lorne or Geelong or other parts of the coast, even coming to see the spectacular Port Fairy Folk Festival, which again is booked out — there are other free acts around the town, so I would encourage people to come down — the issue is that at the end of the weekend they will all need to get back to where they live, and for the vast majority of them that is back to Melbourne. If we do not have good access into Melbourne, if we do not have the ability for people to get back into the biggest city in the state, they will stop coming. They will not travel for 4 hours if that gets to 5 hours or, if it gets even worse, 6 or 7 hours, which is on the cards, and if we do not do something about it, they will not be the tourists of the future.

As well as that, there are many others on a normal weekend who will travel to many of the other great tourism spots in western Victoria, whether it be to look at some of the natural tourism sites like Tower Hill or the Glenelg River or some of the national parks. Many of these people will stop attending and stop being visitors to our region if they do not know how long it is going to take to get back to their point of destination. As I said, for most of them it is back into Melbourne. Statistics actually prove that. Melbourne is the most popular city, and the greatest number of visitors to western Victoria do come from Melbourne, whether they be international visitors staying in Melbourne or whether they are actually Melbourne people themselves.

So not only do we need to make certain that the access into Melbourne through the tunnel is improved; we need to make certain that our road network is better as well. We need to put a lot of work into making our road network better. Currently the Princes Highway between Colac and Geelong is being duplicated, which will certainly help, but once you get to Colac the road falls into disrepair, and there needs to be significant work done to improve that. There are many other areas where our road network needs work. If we go further west and look at the work that is currently being done, on a daily basis I get notification of work that is just being wasted. I have raised this here before: if you look at the work that is being done around Heywood, where there is a natural spring — and for people who do not know, Heywood was actually relocated not long after Victoria was settled because the bullock drays could not get through the natural springs at the river crossing, so they had to move Heywood further south and closer to Portland — VicRoads have been trying to fix this piece of road for months. From the reports that I am getting and from what I can see, it is not getting any better.

We need to put a lot of work into our road network that will connect to the West Gate tunnel and the West Gate Bridge, because it is more than just making the entrance to Melbourne or the exit from Melbourne better; the issue is that we need to make our complete network better. We need to make certain that our total road network is in such a state that we can get from one place to another and that we do know how long it takes so that when we go to plan a trip, we can have a look at Google Maps and see that it is going to take 4 hours and 10 minutes and that we have confidence it will take 4 hours and 10 minutes rather than 5 hours and 10 minutes, which is the case at the moment because of the congestion that we have on the West Gate.

If you are running a business and you are trying to get your product to market, if you are trying to get it to the port of Melbourne or if you are trying to get back to your accommodation in Melbourne, you will find that it is not reasonable to accept adding another hour to your trip just because we do not have good access into the most populous city in the state.

The port of Portland is a great asset to this state, but it has never really got to a stage of taking advantage of its status as being the best deepwater port in this state. I believe the reason for that is that exporters from Melbourne cannot rely on getting their product to that port in a timely fashion. It is very difficult. For decades that port has been going to be the next biggest thing in this state, but it will not be until we can assure exporters that they will be able to get their product from the most populous city in the state to the best deep-sea port. We do need to make access into Melbourne much better than it is to be able to get the reliability and the consistency back so we know how long travel will take.

One of the areas that really concerns me is in regard to education. The issue with education is very similar to the issue that I raised in regard to tourism. Many prospective students come out here to look at places like Warrnambool TAFE or Deakin University's Geelong or Warrnambool campuses. These institutions are trying to entice international students onto their campuses. Many prospective students visit with their parents to have a look at the alternatives for education. Their general means of getting there is to spend a day or two in Melbourne to see how the transport network works in Melbourne, and then to have a look at university campuses, whether they be Deakin University campuses in Warrnambool or in Geelong. If on the way to Geelong or Warrnambool, or on the return trip, they have to spend literally hours in traffic jams, that does definitely put them off. They do get distracted from their purpose, and that is to pick the best university. I can tell you that Deakin is a great university. It does a great job and it needs to be supported. But when you have the tyranny of distance and the tyranny of time, the issue that getting over the West Gate Bridge and getting to and from Melbourne causes is a real problem.

I conclude by saying that if I supported this motion I would not have the best interests of Western Victoria Region at heart. I do believe that if anyone is genuinely trying to support country Victoria — and in my instance it is in particular regard to western Victoria — and has their interests at heart, they would not support this revocation motion. I will just finish by saying, taking the politics out of this, that if we look at what the industry groups are saying, if we look at what the businesses are saying in my part of the world, in western Victoria, if we look at what the educators are saying and if we look at what the visitors are saying, we do need to have better access to Melbourne and to Melbourne ports, and for that reason I will not be supporting this revocation motion.