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Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Page: 5793

Senator RICE (Victoria) (13:02): Why do the Labor and Liberal parties, both state and federal, have such an obsession with toll roads? Let's look at Sydney, where the median house price is over a million dollars, where people are struggling to make ends meet and where young people are locked out of the housing market and forced to live further and further out from the city. Sydney will soon have more toll roads than the entire United Kingdom. Think about that for a moment. A city of four million people will have more toll roads than a country of 65 million people. Also, the Victorian government is planning a massive polluting toll road in the western suburbs of Melbourne, where the biggest, most desperate need is for more train services to service the expanding outer suburbs.

This is at a time when carbon pollution from transport is continuing to rise, yet Labor and Liberal governments around the country are hell-bent on building expensive, unnecessary toll roads that will clog our cities with traffic and pollution. These toll roads will just line the pockets of a private corporation without providing Australians with the clean, efficient transport that one would expect we should have from an apparently modern, progressive so-called innovation nation. There is so much support in the community to give people the choice to get out of their cars and use public transport or walk or cycle. There is so much support for freight to be shifted out of trucks and onto rail. But governments right around the country don't have the willpower to put the money that's required into this type of transport for the future. Instead, they prefer to keep us in the past and are using a tonne of taxpayers' money to do so.

Building more roads does absolutely nothing to solve congestion. Nothing. Nada. In Victoria, the Labor government's own environmental effects statement on the proposed West Gate Tunnel shows that that toll road will only increase the congestion to the CBD, North Melbourne and Parkville. Indeed, Infrastructure Australia, the state government's independent advisory body, has said that building more roads just attracts more road users until these roads are congested once again.

So why are governments building unnecessary and expensive toll roads that won't provide long-term solutions to congestion? In fact, they'll become the long-term problems of congestion. The Victorian government's own projections show that the West Gate Bridge will be more congested even than it is now, even with this new tunnel, in just 15 years time. And, if this new toll road is built, it will only save three minutes in travel time for people coming into the city and five minutes on the way out—such minuscule time savings for such a huge outlay of money.

In the words of my colleague in New South Wales Mehreen Faruqi, we have reached peak toll road madness. The New South Wales government has said that the cost of the F6 extension could top $18 billion and rip through a national park. Let me just repeat that: $18 billion. That's $500 million per kilometre. This is just mind boggling. It's triple the cost of rail upgrades that would slash the travel time between Sydney and Wollongong and actually provide a solution to Sydney's housing crisis.

Globally, we're seeing countries move away from building more roads to more efficient, cleaner and more affordable public transport. But not in Australia: we have Labor and Liberal governments and oppositions recklessly supporting and building toll road after toll road after toll road. A train line can move people in the way that roads just can't. An efficient train line carries the same number of people as 10 to 12 lanes of freeway traffic. Imagine what $18 billion for the F6 toll road could do for Sydney's public transport, or what the $5.5 billion that the West Gate Tunnel is going to cost could do towards public transport in Melbourne in the rapidly growing western suburbs, including the much-needed rail line to the airport. That's what people are crying out for, or connecting regional areas with the city, providing more opportunities for people in regional areas to find jobs in the city and to ease the pressure people are faced with from unaffordable houses in the capital cities, especially in Sydney and Melbourne.

When Tarneit station opened in Melbourne's outer west in 2015 people flocked to it, making it one of the busiest V/Line stations in the state after Southern Cross. It shows that, if you give people good public transport infrastructure, they will use it. People have a thirst for fast, efficient transport options that don't clog our cities and don't cost them the earth. It's patently clear that all around the country toll roads are extending their death grip on our cities and that toll road companies are essentially being given a licence to print money. Consequently, governments right around the country are refusing to provide proper transparency and accountability in their dealings and their contracts with toll road operators. In Victoria, we had the Victorian Labor government swept into power on a ticket of canning the East West Link, another unnecessary toll road, but on taking office it immediately set to work on the West Gate Tunnel, funded by Transurban by charging tolls on the tunnel and on CityLink after the government proposed to extend the tolls on CityLink for another 10 to 12 years.

It was because of these sorts of dodgy deals that the Greens secured a Senate inquiry into toll roads earlier this year, allowing the Senate to look at the financial arrangements of existing and proposed toll roads. This inquiry, which I'm a member of, received a submission and heard testimony from Mr William McDougall, a transport planner with 40 years experience—30 years of that in Australia. He worked as a consultant on the West Gate Tunnel highway, working with the independent peer reviewer, but he was moved off the project when he raised his concerns about the transport and economic modelling. He raised his concerns, which the independent peer reviewer also shared, with the Victorian Treasurer, Tim Pallas. His submission and testimony alleged that Transurban's economic and traffic benefits were deliberately distorted and misrepresented and that the justification for spending billions of dollars on taxpayers' money was based on flawed traffic modelling and cost-benefit analysis. So what happened when Mr McDougall, working with the independent reviewer, raised these concerns with the project team and raised these concerns with the Treasurer? He was taken off the job.

Despite the acknowledgment amongst experts that Australians are travelling less and less in cars, particularly in Melbourne, the traffic results produced by the consultants on the West Gate Tunnel that Mr McDougall was questioning were significantly higher than traffic surveys showed, with the figures utilising a methodological fudge to illustrate increases in traffic.

If this wasn't enough, Mr McDougall noted that consultants fudged the figures in the cost-benefit analysis of the toll road and used guidelines from other countries that showed a higher cost-benefit analysis than the local Australian guidelines would have produced. Mr McDougall noted that no other Australian cost-benefit analysis he was aware of has incorporated this effect, which has overstated the benefits of the West Gate tollway to the tune of $780 million. It doesn't end there either. A technicality in the business case was used to exclude the enormous cost of the transport network in Melbourne that comes from the increased traffic caused by the tollway when it opens. Increased congestion into the CBD comes at a cost. Yet, the independent peer review that Mr McDougall was working on has not been made public. The critical parts of the business case have not be made public. They have not been released.

The Labor government dumped the East West Link because the business case didn't add up. It cost taxpayers a billion dollars to exit the contract. While in opposition, the Labor government repeatedly called on the Baillieu Liberal government to release the East West Link's business case. Yet, they're not releasing the critical parts of the business case and they have not released the independent peer review. Let's not forget to mention the group that was responsible for the business case for the East West Link, which the Labor government in Victoria absolutely panned, is the very same group that produced the West Gate Tunnel tollway business case. What a difference a few years makes. They are different governments, but same old story—hypocrisy at its finest.

The public is being kept in the dark. What are our governments hiding from the public who are forced to use and pay these toll roads and whose taxpayer dollars are being spent without their knowledge on projects that do nothing to reduce travel time or congestion? Labor and Liberal parties are obsessed with toll roads and serving the interests of the toll road operators, particularly Transurban. Why? When they refuse to release the independent business case? It begs the question: what are they hiding? (Time expired)