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Monday, 2 June 2003
Page: 15619

Ms CORCORAN (4:23 PM) —Let us get a few facts about this issue on the table. The vast majority of people and businesses in the south-east of Melbourne want the Scoresby Freeway, or the Mitcham-Frankston freeway, built. The cost of this huge project will be about $1.8 billion. The federal government has committed to $445 million—less than a quarter of the project's cost. The state government has committed the balance of $1.4 billion.

A little while ago the Victorian government was faced with a difficult choice. The budget situation had changed dramatically from the position the government was in when it committed itself to the $1.4 billion for the Mitcham-Frankston freeway. A large part of the change in circumstances was due to the sudden withdrawal of National Express from the public transport service. The Victorian government was forced to suddenly find $1 billion to keep the public transport system operating. The Victorian government's choice was between continuing its commitment to the Mitcham-Frankston freeway and reducing services in other areas, changing the way it funded the freeway or not proceeding with the freeway at all.

Faced with this awful situation the government took the best decision it could. It told the Victorian community what had happened and apologised for not being able to meet the freeway commitment. The Victorian government recognised several things in the process. It recognised that the people and businesses in the south-east of Melbourne wanted the freeway. It recognised that local governments all along the route—Frankston, Kingston, Greater Dandenong, Casey, Monash and Whitehorse—have all said that the freeway is needed and needed now. It recognised that reducing other services was not on—that schools and hospitals, for example, are critical to the wellbeing of people and not to be toyed with. It made the very sensible judgement that tolls on the new road would allow the new road to go ahead without cutting into other critical services.

It is time that other issues were also recognised. A large part of the reason for the unexpected budget situation was the collapse of the private consortium's involvement in the public transport system. National Express walked away from their contractual obligations because they could not sustain the costs involved. They talked about losses of hundreds of millions of dollars. The National Express contract was negotiated and signed off by the previous Liberal Kennett government—a government that had an obsession with the notion that anything in the public sector was done in a second-rate fashion and that the private sector could do everything better. The private sector occupied an almost god-like status in the eyes of the previous state government and, worryingly, the private sector occupies that status in the eyes of the present federal government. This glorified private sector experiment just did not work and the present Victorian government has been left to pick up the pieces. The next thing to recognise is that, in picking up the pieces and making the best decision it could, the Victorian government did not walk away from explaining itself. It did not talk about core and non-core promises; it stood up and explained the situation. It did not back away from the tough decision and it said sorry. This is a refreshing change from what we have seen here in the federal parliament.

While I am on my feet I want to put on record my support for the City of Greater Dandenong's plea for the South Dandenong bypass. I urge that, in the negotiations for the contract to build the freeway, room or opportunity is left to make some change to what I understand are the present plans around Dandenong. I ask that the minister seriously consider altering the present plans to remove the full diamond from the interchange of the freeway at Cheltenham Road. Instead, a half diamond should be built, with the opportunity to build a run onto the freeway in what will become the Dandenong bypass. Essentially this means a road connecting Chandler Road to the South Gippsland Highway. This would mean that traffic would not congest Cheltenham Road through Dandenong—already a difficult situation—and it would allow easier access to the freeway for traffic to and from further out—namely from areas in the City of Casey. I do not support this motion.