Michael Sukkar MP

Federal Member for Deakin
Assistant Treasurer
Minister for Housing
Minister for Homelessness, Social and Community Housing
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Investing in Road Infrastructure

It gives me great pleasure to rise today to speak in support of the Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill. I have just sat through half an hour of the member for Grayndler patting himself on the back for the so-called work that he did, but I think the member for Grayndler was caught out in question time today. It is not good enough to have a line item in the budget to fund a so-called infrastructure project if the proceeds of the mining tax—which are supposed to fund that project—are not realised.

I understand that the member for Grayndler was probably a bit embarrassed about that in today’s question time, but I think half an hour of patting yourself on the back, Member for Grayndler, was probably a bit excessive. In contrast to the former government, we are committed to building the infrastructure of the 21st century, and this bill will help us achieve that goal.

The amendments contained in this bill are necessary to facilitate the government’s ambitious land transport infrastructure agenda. Today’s bill also cements our commitment to the Roads to Recovery program, a critical program that funds local governments to maintain the nation’s local road infrastructure. The bill secures the Roads to Recovery program for another five years, with $1.75 billion in funding, and commits $300 million to the Black Spot Program. The government is committed to investing in productivity enhancing infrastructure that will help ensure our cities, including my city of Melbourne, and the regions, continue to develop and prosper.

Infrastructure investment is critical to Australia’s economic growth and productivity, and on this side of the House we understand that. It opens up opportunities for jobs, access to markets, and it improves the efficiency and safety of our transport and freight networks. In total, our government has committed $35 billion to fund key road, rail and intermodal projects, between 2013-14 and 2018-19. These projects include things such as $6.7 billion to upgrade the Bruce Highway, $5.6 billion to finish the duplication of the Pacific Highway, $1.5 billion to WestConnex in Sydney, $1 billion to the Gateway Motorway North upgrade in Brisbane, $405 million for the F3 to M2 link project in Sydney, and most importantly to me the $1.5 billion commitment to the East West Link in Melbourne.

Being the member for Deakin, I of course want to focus on that project—the $1.5 billion that we have already committed to the East West Link, which will provide huge benefits to people living in my home state and, more importantly to me, the people of Deakin. The East West Link project involves an 18-kilometre link between the Eastern Freeway and the Western Ring Road, including an eight-kilometre section linking the Eastern Freeway to the Tullamarine Freeway, with a connection to the Port of Melbourne.

The coalition’s pre-election commitment of $1.5 billion to the East West Link will ensure that construction will be able to commence this year. Not on the never-never as we saw from the former government, and have seen from former state Labor governments—this project will happen. The East West Link is a vital and necessary component of Melbourne’s road network, and will provide significant travel, economic, business and employment benefits for residents and businesses in my electorate of Deakin.

I must give credit to the Victorian government, which has developed a business case that demonstrates the East West Link will deliver $1.40 in benefits for every dollar spent on the project—an outstanding return. Infrastructure Australia also supports the East West Link, and has identified it as a project that ‘clearly addresses a nationally significant issue or problem’. The member for Grayndler talks of Infrastructure Australia incessantly, but he ignores a statement like that from the body he is constantly referencing.

During the election campaign I was bombarded by countless Deakin residents who shared their frustrations with me that traffic congestion was an ever increasing problem in their lives. All of us accept traffic congestion, within limits, but in Deakin we are reaching our absolute limits, with the traffic congestion we are suffering on the Eastern Freeway. They told me time and again that the worsening situation on the Eastern Freeway means that they spend more time commuting to and from work and spend less time with their families. One of the reasons I am so proud of our $1.5 billion commitment is that for many mothers and fathers who work in the city, who are effectively forced to commute to work from the other side of the city via car, that extra time is the difference between giving your children a bath at the end of the day, or a kiss before they get to sleep, and getting home after they have already gone to bed. This is a real life issue. It is not just an ideological or other type of problem we are addressing. The rubber hits the road for everyday mums and dads in the most personal way—in the way they interact with their families.

One of my other constituents—a bit of a character—put it pretty succinctly. She was driving past my campaign office, and her car still had the Jeff Kennett era slogan on her car—which she had not re-registered—which said ‘Victoria on the move’. I must say they were the good old days, when Victoria was on the move. But unfortunately she highlighted the fact that her car was not often on the move when she was on the Eastern Freeway. Rather, it was at a standstill. The irony was not lost on her, and it was not lost on me when she mentioned it.

I listen to these people, and that is why I fought so hard to support the East West Link with our $1.5 billion commitment. Luckily, with our ‘infrastructure Prime Minister’, I did not have to fight very hard. His support of the East West Link has been outstanding, and when construction commences later this year all Victorians, particularly the residents of the Deakin electorate, will thank the PM and this government for their dedication and commitment to Victorians generally, and to Deakin residents more particularly.

By contrast, we have to note the breathtaking hypocrisy of Labor in opposing the East West Link, because the East West Link was first highlighted as a crucial infrastructure project by the former state Labor government, in 2008, with their Eddington Transport Study. The Eddington Transport Study provided an explicit recommendation to build the East West Link. Indeed, it is worth noting what Sir Rod Eddington said in his introduction to the report with respect to the East West road link:

The evidence is clear: doing nothing is not an option. Melbourne needs better east-west transport connections to address core congestion problems within the transport network, to meet rapidly increasing travel demand, to support a growing population and to keep pace with the changes taking place in the city’s economic and urban structure.

That is not a Liberal Party member’s words. That is Sir Rod Eddington in his report commissioned by a state Labor government. Given that independent advice, I was, perhaps naively, very hopeful that the Labor Party would put Victorians ahead of their tawdry political interests by providing bipartisan support for our commitment of $1.5 billion to enable the East West Link to be built. I do not think that was too much to ask. Unfortunately, though, the Labor Party deserted the residents of the eastern suburbs and, in particular, the residents of Deakin. Instead, they sought to placate their inner-city green constituency by opposing this landmark piece of infrastructure.

So there you have it—it was a choice between the residents of Deakin and all of those living in the eastern suburbs, or their inner-city constituency that they were very frightened of losing to the Greens. And who won? The Greens’ constituency. In doing so, the Labor Party deprived the Deakin electorate. The approach was shamefully adopted by the former Labor member for Deakin, who sold out his electorate to please his party bosses. Well, the people of Deakin spoke, and I am now their representative and I am fighting every single day to make sure they get what they need.

Even more shameful is that the Labor Party have now aligned themselves with the antidevelopment protesters who are now trying to slow the progress of the East West Link project through costly attempted vandalism and disruption. That highlights the difference again. We are standing with the residents of Deakin—the people who want to get home to see their children before they go to bed. The Labor Party is standing with the rabble who are blocking traffic on the Eastern Freeway to make a tawdry political point. They are protesters like Anthony Maine, who was recently reported as being charged with wilful damage and boasting publicly that his protests had cost police in excess of $2 million. On what basis would the Labor Party seek to align themselves with a rabble who are making life even more difficult? I have had residents from my electorate ring me asking, ‘On what basis would the Labor Party want to align themselves with a group that makes me stuck on the Eastern Freeway for two hours instead of the obligatory one hour, because their protest activities are making life even that much harder?’ So I suppose the difference is very stark.

I also laughed when I saw the Labor Party aligning themselves with this rabble of a protest group and that one of the protesters out there now protesting against the East West Link is a man who proudly claimed that he was also one of the protesters in the seventies protesting against the construction of the Eastern Freeway. So I say to all of my Deakin residents: ‘Imagine our electorate without the Eastern Freeway.’ The same people who were protesting against that are protesting against the East West Link, and it seems very obvious to my constituents that those people do not have the interests of the Deakin electorate at heart. I doubt that anyone could imagine living in our electorate without the Eastern Freeway, and I think, in future, people will not be able to imagine living in my electorate without the East West Link.

The East West Link project is not just a very worthy project based on Sir Rod Eddington’s report, Infrastructure Australia and all independent analysis; it will also create 3,200 jobs during the construction phase and have a significant multiplier effect in business investment and indirect job creation throughout the eastern suburbs. As the Prime Minister recently explained on Melbourne radio, the Commonwealth commitment to this project will also make it easier for the state government to proceed with other projects for Victorians, such as Metro rail. I do not know on what basis you could have Labor members from Victoria arguing that we should not commit $1.5 billion to this project, which will free up money for all other infrastructure projects in Victoria. Our $1.5 billion investment is proof that we will stop the former Labor, government’s bickering and we will make it happen. We have a state and federal government working hand in glove to deliver this project for my constituents.

We have a range of other road infrastructure projects in my electorate that will also be assisted by the Roads to Recovery program—and there were two really important projects that I want to outline quickly now. The first is the upgraded intersection of Bedford Road and Great Ryrie Street in Ringwood. Both of these projects I have spoken about in detail with my electorate. Both have huge community support. Unlike the Labor Party, we will deliver them. We will not have line items in the budget that are not funded because they are tied to sources of revenue that are never realised. People of Deakin and Australians, more broadly, can have confidence that when we commit to a project it will be done. It is for these reasons that I am proud to be supporting the Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill, which will help me deliver road projects in Deakin and throughout Australia.