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Monday, 2 June 2003
Page: 15615

Mr BARRESI (4:13 PM) —I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises:

(a) the importance of the Scoresby Freeway to the people of the East and Southeast of Melbourne and the Federal Government's continued commitment to this project; and

(b) the inclusion of funding for the Commonwealth's share of project costs as agreed with the Victorian Government in the 2003/04 Federal Budget;

(2) takes note of:

(a) the conditions contained in the Memorandum of Understanding and the obligations on the Victorian Government to comply with the agreement;

(b) the payment of funds by the Commonwealth to the Victorian Government under the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding; and

(c) reports that the Victorian Government was seeking support for tolls on the Scoresby Freeway while publicly claiming to be committed to the toll-free condition of the Federal Government funding;

(3) condemns:

(a) the Victorian Bracks Government for lying to the Victorian people about supporting a toll-free Scoresby Freeway prior to the last State election; and

(b) ALP members of the Victorian Parliament elected under false pretences by communities in the East and Southeast of Melbourne by misleading the people they claim to represent; and

(4) calls on:

(a) the Bracks ALP Government in Victoria to honour the binding agreement and deliver a completed toll-free Scoresby Freeway by 2008 as promised to the people of the Eastern and Southeastern suburbs of Melbourne;

(b) all Victorian Federal and State Members of Parliament to support the honouring of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Commonwealth and Victorian Governments; and

(c) the Victorian Government to release all documents relating to tolls on the Scoresby Freeway and Eastern Freeway Extension from the time the Scoresby Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Transport Ministers.

I am very pleased to be able to move the motion that appears in my name today, having the support in this motion of my fellow Victorian colleagues the members for Dunkley and Aston. I know that if we had had more time the members for Casey and La Trobe would also have contributed. All of us have for a number of years dedicated ourselves to pursuing the matter of a toll-free Scoresby Freeway running from Ringwood in the north to Frankston in the south. For over seven years we have spoken with one voice on this issue on behalf of the people of the eastern and south-eastern suburbs. We also welcome the maiden contribution on Scoresby by the members for Chisholm and Isaacs. As the federal ALP contemplates its leadership, it might have been more appropriate for the member for Hotham to lead on this issue and pressure his counterparts in Victoria to honour their promise. After all, the promised tollway goes through his electorate.

It is unfortunate that we are brought to a position where such a motion is necessary. Last year on 24 September the Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks, on 3AW said:

We're not going to build projects with tolls, that's our policy, it has been our policy, no tolls on the Scoresby or Eastern freeways, no shadow tolls—that's our policy position.

All of us, as we sat in our cars along Springvale Road, Whitehorse Road or Burwood Highway would have felt a great deal of relief and comfort in hearing the Premier make such an unequivocal statement.

This commitment was echoed throughout the following state election campaign by the Bracks, Batchelor and Brumby cabal. The voters in the east can still clearly recall Bracks' co-conspirators—the newly elected state ALP members—supporting it with their statements, their handshakes and their grins. They can still recall the ALP electoratewide mail-out saying that the only threat to a toll-free road was the state National Party. `Bracks will build it, build it on time and build it without tolls' was the great claim. I am afraid to say that the Bracks ALP government do not know how to deliver any infrastructure project on time, on budget or in full. But they do know how to deflect attention away from their incompetence and how to shift the blame to other parties, making excuses such as, `We can't deliver Scoresby because of Kennett's public transport contractual arrangements,' `We can't deliver it because of the high cost of the Eastern Freeway extension tunnels,' and `We can't deliver it because of Canberra.' It is always someone else's fault. Well, I say to Bracks, Batchelor and Brumby: if you cannot deliver infrastructure projects on time, in full and on budget, then give the game away. Moreover, I call on Batchelor, if he cannot deliver a toll-free Scoresby as promised, to hand over the keys to the VicRoads bulldozers, earthmovers and graders to a government that can deliver.

The Bracks betrayal was made on 14 April 2003. The resulting response from the local community has been like no other. Over the past month and a half, my electorate office—and I know also the electorate offices of my colleagues, the members for Aston and Dunkley—has been inundated with responses. Thousands of surveys have been returned to my office. Furthermore, signature after signature continues to be received via petitions. Yet Bracks and Batchelor believe the hard yards have been done and tolls are inevitable.

It is incumbent on me to report to the House the comments from thousands of angry constituents in Deakin. The local paper has done its own survey and has found over 87 per cent of the public are angry over the betrayal by Bracks and his team of local ALP accomplices, headed by Tony Robinson, Dympna Beard, Peter Lockwood and Carolyn Hirsh. Since the decision was made the usually outspoken member for Mitcham, Tony Robinson, has gone to water on the issue. He cannot be found; Tony is missing in action. Yet he owes his very existence to a `no tolls on the Eastern Freeway' campaign going back to 1999.

We have news for the meek ALP local members. In my office alone we have received over 2,600 pieces of correspondence and over 2,000 signatures on a petition demanding that Bracks honour his agreement with the people of the east. There is no greater issue on the lips of those in the east and south-east of Melbourne than the broken promise of tolls. Scoresby and roads remain four of the top 10 issues in my constituency. Bracks and Batchelor now want us, the federal members and the federal government, to support their betrayal by also breaking our promise. Yesterday, Peter Batchelor, after the launch of the `Scoresby no tolls' bumper stickers by my colleague the member for Aston, called our campaign `grubby local politics'. Asking us to break our promise, Mr Batchelor, is grubby local politics. We are not going to absolve your lack of morality in failing to honour the contract and your promises by doing the same thing.

And Batchelor is not alone in his deflective attempts. As reported in Fairfax's MaroondahJournal on 20 May, John Brumby told a business breakfast:

There is no government in Australia that can fund a project with that type of budget. There just isn't!

Why didn't he tell the public that prior to the election? It really does make a mockery of using the public transport contractual arrangements as an excuse.

As for state Labor member for Silvan Province, Carolyn Hirsh, describing the federal government's call for the agreement to be honoured as `political blackmail' in the MaroondahLeader on 20 May 2003, I find it absolutely naive and offensive of Ms Hirsh to make such a claim. She along with her colleagues sold out the people of the east. To hold a government to its promise is not blackmail, Ms Hirsh; it is called making you and your government accountable. In calling for our meek acceptance, I fear the Victorian government, aided and abetted by its federal members up here in Canberra from the eastern suburbs, are missing the point. This matter is not debatable. An agreement was struck between the federal and Victorian governments in October 2001. No amount of heavy-handed tactics can stem the rage about that broken agreement.

Even as recently as last week, Peter Batchelor, the Minister for Transport, had a series of meetings with local councils, pressuring them to desist in their opposition. He visited four councils—Maroondah, Yarra Ranges, Knox and Frankston—to read them the riot act. `Come aboard or we'll play hard ball on future funding,' was the implied threat from Batchelor. No wonder councils such as Whitehorse Council have been scared off, fearing a possible loss of road funding.

The MOU clearly outlined that the road running from Ringwood to Frankston would not be tolled. The Commonwealth has advanced funds and made the forward estimate for the allocation of its $445 million share of the cost of the project. In anticipation, the Commonwealth forwarded close to $25.3 million for the environmental preliminary studies to be carried out along the site. I understand a further $63 million has been allocated in this year's budget. I congratulate the federal government for its consistent support of this project and note that the Treasurer, Peter Costello, has once again allocated funds in the forward estimates. This is leadership from the Liberal federal members of parliament for Victoria. We have not seen that same level of leadership from those members from the ALP who are affected by this freeway.

In contrast to this solid commitment by the federal government, I well remember the flag-waving publicity stunt by Peter Batchelor at the start of the geotechnical bore drilling in Ringwood just prior to the election. On the site, I confronted him on the state's financing arrangements. He reassured me in the presence of other witnesses that a report would be due soon and would not include tolls as an option. `Slippery Pete' is how we know him out in the east. All I can say to him is, `You poked the people of the east in the eye over the Nunawading by-election scandal and you've come back for a second poke. There won't be a third.' In fact, I have some gratuitous advice for local state ALP members: if you want a chance of holding your seats next time round, don't invite Batchelor to your electorates in the eastern suburbs.

The Commonwealth has an agreement. More than that, it signed a contract with the state. In years gone by, a mere gentleman's handshake stood in the place of a signed legal agreement. These days we reinforce the gesture with documents, memorandums of understanding and the like. But to Bracks, Batchelor and company, this was still not enough. They have shown their contempt not only to the federal government but to the motorists and public of the eastern suburbs. As simple as it sounds, as in any other commercial context the Commonwealth is legally empowered to enforce the conditions of the contract. As a leader of the alternative government and as a member for an electorate affected by the tollway, the member for Hotham owes it to the Australian public to make sure that those sorts of contracts between federal and state governments are honoured. He owes it to his constituents to stand up and insist that Bracks honour the contracts with us.

For Steve Bracks and Peter Batchelor to be talking about the hard decisions is an absolute joke. If I can paraphrase another federal ALP leader: this is a toll we had to have. But we will not be laughing on the night of Tuesday, 10 June. On that night a second public meeting has been organised to follow the one that was organised by the member for Aston. I have invited the state Labor MPs to come along to the Karralyka Centre in Ringwood to justify their about-face and explain why they sold out their constituents. Honour is an important element in public life. The decisions we make should reflect our character. We want a toll-free road. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Is the motion seconded?

Mr Billson —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.