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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15768

Mr GIBBONS (4:07 PM) —This matter of public importance debate is on the breaking of election commitments by the Commonwealth government relating to funding for the Pakenham bypass, the Calder Highway and other RONI projects. We have seen the Treasurer's and Deputy Prime Minister's mock outrage relating to the Victorian government's decision to use tolls to help fund the Scoresby Freeway project. This is just a diversion, a smokescreen to cover up their own appalling record in inadequately funding this nation's vital roads system. They deliberately ignore the fact that it was a substantial increase in unavoidable pressures on the Victorian budget—caused by the manic obsession with privatisation by the former Kennett government and their mates; and I use the term `mates' loosely—that had forced the state government to use a toll to fund the Mitcham-Frankston project.

The single biggest pressure, amongst others, was the around $1 billion extra needed over the next five years to keep the Liberal-National Party privatised public transport system from collapsing. The failure of the Liberal-National privatised public transport experiment, which resulted in the withdrawal of private transport operator National Express, has left a $1 billion bill. So, while it suits the Deputy Prime Minister and the Treasurer to distort the facts to create the smokescreen, they have conveniently ignored the fact that it was their own failed privatisation agenda that forced the changes to the current proposals.

I understand someone sent a car sticker to the Leader of the Opposition's office which states `Scoresby No Tolls'. We have produced our own car sticker. It says, `CALDER - NO LIES!'—and that is very appropriate for this particular issue: the Treasurer in Bendigo during the 2001 election campaign committed to fund the Calder and has failed to deliver on his promise. This Treasurer will do and say anything in order to hijack people's votes during an election campaign and then simply walk away after the election. The Calder Highway is a vital corridor to central Victoria and beyond. It is the lifeline for Bendigo and all its residents. Bendigo is the only one of all the major regional centres that does not have a dual carriageway to Melbourne. Parts of the Calder Highway in its present state are downright dangerous, as the large number of accidents has shown. The Calder is one of the most dangerous roads to drive on in Victoria. This highway should be receiving a full 50 per cent of its duplication costs from the federal government. Canberra has dumped the Calder Highway and now refuses to fund it. This is despite the fact that it was the Howard government which created the system of Roads of National Importance for the election of 1996 and which declared the Calder was a RONI in 1996, meaning that it would be jointly funded fifty-fifty by the Commonwealth and state governments.

The Calder is not a `RONI come lately'! It was one of the first highways to be granted that status. The Bracks government is meeting its obligation to pay its 50 per cent of the cost. It put $70 million in the state budget of May last year to undertake the next stage of the upgrade of the highway between Kyneton and Faraday. The Liberal-National Party coalition has refused to match it. The Bracks government again committed $70 million for the Calder in its budget of 2003, but again the Liberal-National Party coalition government refuses to match the state's funds. We now have the disgusting situation in Bendigo and central Victoria where the federal government disowns the Calder and refuses to fund it. In fact, it leaves it stranded.

So we have another appalling situation where the state government has been forced by Canberra to go it alone and fund part of the next section of the upgrade from its own funds alone. So what is the Calder today? It is a Road of National Importance that the national government disowns. In the post-budget media release from Minister Anderson, the Calder did not even rate a mention—there was not one reference to the Calder. This highway is obviously not a road of National Party importance. In fact, for the first time for some time, the Calder Highway is not mentioned in the Howard government's budget forward estimates. It is not mentioned for the year 2004-05, it is not mentioned for the year 2005-06 and it is not mentioned for the year 2006-07. It is completely off their radar screens. This coalition Treasurer and transport minister bring a new dimension to the terms `vicious' and `deceitful'. What has central Victoria done to deserve this appalling treatment? The Calder is a road with a start but no end. While the state government, commendably, has set 2006 as the completion date for the upgrade, the federal government refuses to finish it and has set no completion date. For the Howard government, it is a road with a start but no end. It rejects the state government's 2006 completion date, but it has no alternative finishing year.

How vicious can this government get? Under the timetable of the former Kennett government of Victoria, the Calder should have been on the way to completion right now. The former Kennett government of Victoria set 2002-03 as its completion date for the Calder upgrade. They never told Bendigo this, and I only learned it officially from the transport minister's answer to a question I put on notice last year about highway funding: Mr Anderson's answer showed that the original Calder finishing date was 2002-03. We have gone from an original completion date of 2003, put in place with the previous Kennett-led state coalition government, to completely abandoning the project simply because it wants to use road funding as a political pork barrel in government-held seats. What happened, of course, is that the Kennett government and the Howard government went slow on the Calder and left a huge chunk unfinished by the time the Bracks government came to office in 1999.

This dishonest Commonwealth government agreed to a 2002-03 completion date under the Kennett government, failed to fulfil it and now it rejects the 2006 completion date of the Bracks government. There are many RONIs in Australia. But the Calder Highway has the distinction of being the only such RONI where the federal government has actually stopped paying and simply walked away. It is also the only RONI the Howard government will never finish.

I mentioned deceit earlier and there is no more glaring example of deceit than that shown by the Treasurer during the 2001 election campaign. The Treasurer attended a Liberal Party campaign lunch in Bendigo on 31 October. I am not sure if pork was on the menu that day, but there were plenty of `pork pies' flying around. The Treasurer told the gathering and the media:

Under our Government, the Commonwealth will continue to fund it in partnership with the State Government. So, as the State Government commits to construction the Commonwealth will match the funding under the program of Roads of National Importance.

I am not sure if those words were accompanied by a smirk, but I would be willing to bet they were. We know the state government has allocated $70 million in its 2002-03 budget and reaffirmed that commitment in its 2003-04 budget. This Treasurer has brought down two budgets since his Bendigo election commitment. There is no funding for the Calder in either and, as I said before, no mention in the forward estimates for the next four years.

So the Treasurer was happy to come to Bendigo during the last election and deliberately deceive Bendigo voters into thinking that he would fund the Calder when he obviously had no intentions of doing so. This dishonest and deceitful Treasurer will do and say anything in order to steal people's votes during an election campaign and then will simply walk away after the election. One can only wonder again at the hypocrisy of the Treasurer and the Howard government over tolls and toll roads.

Neither the Prime Minister nor any other federal coalition minister ever opposed the City Link tolls that Jeff Kennett imposed on Melbourne motorists. On the contrary, they idolised Jeff Kennett as the high priest of privatisation—except for the Treasurer of course; he was not a big Jeff fan. They blessed every action he took, including City Link, to fulfil the Liberal fantasy of an Australia owned and operated by giant corporations.

Jeff Kennett subjected the former Tullamarine Freeway to City Link tolls. He left Bendigo and Calder motorists as the only provincial Victorians forced to pay an entry tax into Melbourne. Calder motorists entering Melbourne via City Link now pay $50 million a year in tolls and another $5 million a year in GST on those tolls. That is a total of $55 million per year and about $1.5 billion over the 34 years of the City Link contract signed by Jeff Kennett.

We have copped these costs since Jeff Kennett privatised the Tullaramarine, but not one Liberal or National politician in Canberra or Bendigo ever spoke out or stood up for Bendigo and Calder motorists. Not one of them ever opposed this discrimination; on the contrary, they all applauded it. So when we see the Treasurer and the transport minister wringing their hands in mock despair and beating their chests in mock anger over tolls into Melbourne, we know they are phoney tears from a coalition that happily supported Jeff Kennett in making Bendigo and Calder motorists his tollway guineapigs.