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Federation Chamber: Benefits of the East West Link
I rise today to draw the attention of the House to a most serious issue that I have discussed many times in this place and that is very important to my electorate of Deakin: the current state of play with respect to the East West Link project in Victoria. From a federal perspective, we have provided a commitment of $3 billion to build stages 1 and 2 of the East West Link, and I have spoken many times about the demonstrable benefits of the project, and I will not go through them again today.
We know that, with Victoria’s population continuing to grow, there is no time to be spared in delivering the infrastructure that our city so desperately needs. It is true to say—and this is not contentious—that the East West Link remains the only shovel-ready infrastructure project in Victoria of its scale with funding in place at a federal, state and private level.
It is true to say that this is a fully-funded and shovel-ready project.
Unfortunately, though, before last year’s Victorian state election, the then opposition leader made a very reckless commitment to tear up the East-West Link contract, claiming, to use his words, ‘It was not worth the paper it was written on.’ This claim has now blown up and proven to be the lie that I think many people always knew it was. Premier Dan Andrews is now facing the prospect of paying up to $1.2 billion of taxpayer’s money not to build the road—$1.2 billion, potentially, not to build the East-West Link. This would deprive Victoria of nearly 7,000 jobs and the up to three hours a week that it would save some commuters, including commuters in my electorate of Deakin.
But what is even more alarming is that rather than swallowing his pride and getting on with honouring the contract, which is still in place, Premier Andrews is now seriously contemplating introducing legislation to declare the contracts null and void. As you can imagine, the threat to declare invalid legally-binding contracts is sending shockwaves throughout the Australian and international investment community. In fact, in a recent article entitled ‘Can Australia be taken at its word?’ the investment journal Infrastructure Investor stated that Australia risks losing its status as:
… the world’s most attractive infrastructure destination …
should the Labor Party continue down this reckless path.
Further, InfraAsia, another infrastructure publication, recently reported that ‘The upshot of Labor’s decision to suspend the East-West Link is that investors can no longer be assured that a signed contract in Australia is worth the paper it is written on.’ Given the above, you would think that the comments by the shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen, last year would resonate with the Leader of the Opposition and Premier Dan Andrews, when he said, ‘Bill Shorten and I are as one on this issue. Labor in government honours contracts entered into by previous governments, even if we don’t like them for issues of sovereign risk.’
So for Bill Shorten to have a word to his Labor colleague, Daniel Andrews, is too much to ask. The opposition leader was flushed out on this issue last week—very reluctantly. Notwithstanding his attempts to bluster and avoid the question, the journalists finally pinned him down to an answer. And the Leader of the Opposition—notwithstanding the fact that he has provided two submissions in support of the East-West Link, both in his capacity as a union leader and then as a member of this place—refuses to continue with his view that the East-West Link is the most vital project in Victoria. But that is not surprising, because the Leader of the Opposition is very well known for changing his mind.
Putting politics aside, I think that the Labor Party needs to swallow their pride on this issue and do what is best for Victoria. This is a fully funded and shovel-ready project. Victoria is a growing city. Traffic congestion is not going to go away magically. Traffic congestion will not get better if we just hope that it does. We must make the infrastructure investments now. That is why I call on the Labor Party to build the East-West Link.