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Friday, 15 November 2002
Page: 6552

Senator TCHEN (3:53 PM) — Mr President, it has been a long week and I am sorry to keep you back a little longer. In the other chamber, the member for Bendigo, Mr Steve Gibbons, earlier this week attempted to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear in referring to the Bracks Victorian Labor government's ineptitude, and that should not and cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. Given the nature of my topic, it is unlikely that the opposition would agree to let me incorporate this speech into Hansard.

When seeking proof of a claim, we can proceed in two ways: by demonstrating that the claim is true or by demonstrating that the contrary is false. Conversely, if it can be demonstrated that the contrary is actually true, it follows that the claim has been disapproved. Mr Gibbons makes some claims about the superiority of the Bracks government by citing a number of achievements, especially in the context of Bendigo, in the areas of health, education, job creation, provision of regional fast train services and economic management. On Wednesday night, I debunked the government's fictitious achievements, particularly in the context of Bendigo, in the areas of health and education. Today, I would like to go on to the other issues that Mr Gibbons raised. On the matter of job creation, it was indeed a very strange claim to come from Mr Gibbons, who has over the last three years consistently cried wolf over the loss of jobs or the expected loss of jobs in Bendigo. In my office, I have a whole file of newspaper cuttings of his claims. In fact, according to ABS employment statistics, unemployment in Bendigo has slowly but steadily been dropping. The examples that Mr Gibbons cited are actually very good support of that, because he has been counting only the losses and now he has discovered that there have been increases. Mr Gibbons attributed all these increases to Mr Bracks's good management, but he could not nominate a single state government policy or program that led to such jobs. I maintain that that job creation was as a result of good economic management on the part of the federal government, particularly the federal government's programs that support regional Australia and which flow on to regional Victoria.

Yesterday, Mr Bracks, as part of his election campaign, promised to create 150,000 new jobs in Victoria. Just how a state government creates jobs, and over what period, is not quite clear. As usual, Mr Bracks was short on practical details, but the disdainful expression on the face of the man standing next to him during the announcement—the man who really runs Victoria's economy, the Victorian Treasurer, Mr Brumby—really told the story. I invite senators to look at the picture in the Age newspaper of Thursday, 14 November. It is truly a case of a picture being worth a thousand words.

I move on to the fast rail, because this is a really good one. I am really surprised that Mr Gibbons nominated this as a Bracks government achievement. It shows how confused or desperate one can get when one is trying to find something positive to say about the Bracks government. Let me lay out the whole sorry saga for senators' consideration. During the 1999 state election, the Labor Party's policy called `Fast rail links to regional centres' stated that Labor would work in partnership with the private sector to significantly reduce travel times to Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Traralgon. The target for each of these regional centres was to reduce the travel time from Melbourne to Geelong to under 45 minutes, to Ballarat to under 60 minutes, to Bendigo to 80 minutes, and an unspecified time to Traralgon. I do not quite know why Traralgon got the short end of the stick in this list. Maybe the fact that it has always been a Labor town means that it could be set to one side, but I shall leave that for the time being and will concentrate on what this Bracks 1999 promise has meant for Bendigo.

Part of the Bendigo fast rail promise was a specific promise that a feasibility study would be completed within 100 days of Labor attaining office. It would have been nice if I could inform the Senate that at least this promise had been kept. I suppose that, in a manner of speaking, it is a promise that was kept, as Mr Bracks did release his regional fast rail feasibility study in September 2000, only about a year after taking office. If we assume that the Bracks government customarily works for two days a week instead of five—a very reasonable assumption on other evidence available—this promise may even be considered to have been delivered on time, but only if we accept that it is reasonable for a government to work for only two days a week.

The bad news is that the study shows that the cost of this fast rail project for Bendigo will be $270 million instead of the $20 million the Labor Party assumed it would cost. The total project cost for the four cities had blown out from $80 million to $810 million, plus or minus 30 per cent. That means that the cost of this project could well reach over $1 billion. So much for the Labor Party's grasp of economic reality!

But the story gets worse. According to this wishful promise, the Bracks government would seek private sector contributions of $260 million of the $810 million, with the remainder being met by the government. In September 2001—another year later—the Bracks government released a document entitled Regional fast rail project request for tender country works packages tender. What detail is missing in that title? This showed that the government funding promise had declined from $550 million to a net present value of $430 million as at 1 July 2000 and would only be worth between $340 million and $380 million for project funding at construction time. The document also revealed that the project would deliver only two additional peak services and one counter peak service on the Ballarat, Bendigo and Latrobe Valley lines.

At the time this Bracks election promise was made, the existing passenger train service between Melbourne and Bendigo took 101 minutes. Three years later the service still takes 101 minutes—but that is getting to the punch line in advance—and the train makes four stops on the way. It now transpires that the new `fast train'—if it ever eventuates—will take 84 minutes but would be express and not make any stops on the way. If the existing service ran express and did not stop on the way, it would take about 89 minutes. So the promised new service would only be delivered by a slightly faster train—not a fast train at all. Mr Bracks's promise to Bendigo is not only a broken promise but a broken pretzel promise.

What is more interesting is that Mr Gibbons tellingly illustrates his desperation when it came to finding good things to say about Mr Bracks's three years at the helm of his state with his leading example of what he called the Bracks government's `quite astounding top achievements'. He cites the fact that the Bracks government has maintained the state's AAA credit rating. Isn't it the least a state can do, and must do, especially at a time when the nation as a whole—under the able leadership of the Howard coalition government—is experiencing outstandingly strong economic performance, or is Mr Gibbons saying that he fully expected the Bracks state Labor government to reduce the state's credit rating? He could be right, of course. After all, it was the Cain-Kirner Labor government that famously ran Victoria's credit rating down and the Kennett Liberal government that restored it.

Finally, Mr Gibbons cites Melbourne 2030—a 30-year planning blueprint for metropolitan Melbourne—as one of the Bracks government's crowning achievements. That was in a speech that supposedly highlighted his `own area of Bendigo specifically'—Zthose are his words. What about a planningblueprint for regional Victoria? What about a 30-year planning blueprint for Bendigo? Mr Gibbons is entirely silent on that.

Victoria needs a government that will honour its election commitments and properly manage the affairs and development it is responsible for. In two weeks time the Victorian voters have a chance to choose such a government, and it should not be the Bracks government.

Senate adjourned at 4.04 p.m.