PLANNING SCHEME AMENDMENT GC65

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria) (11:37:20) — It is a pleasure to rise and speak on today’s motion, which has been proposed by Mr Davis. I must say Ms Patten’s contribution was very sensible and it made a lot of sense. I too will not be supporting Mr Davis’s revocation motion.

Mr Ramsay interjected.

Ms SYMES — Actually I will passionately be opposing this motion, Mr Ramsay.

Mr Ramsay — You come from the north. You won’t be paying tolls.

Ms SYMES — You wait and you will hear about how good this is for the north, Mr Ramsay.

The current status of the revocation motion is meaningless. I did speak on this at some length last sitting week in relation to the requirements under the Planning and Environment Act 1987 to go through the right processes. In order to be revoked, planning schemes must first be tabled by the minister. Of course we know that that will happen this week.

I will speak generally on the revocation without getting into too much of the legal uncertainty that has been introduced by today’s motion. The Labor government’s ambitious infrastructure program is massive; it is huge. We are a government that can never be accused of doing nothing. We do not sit on our hands, and no‑one disagrees that we are a government that gets things done.

This infrastructure project is the biggest in Victoria’s history. I do not always get the time to examine the details of every individual project, but I have paid a little bit of attention to this one. We are building the West Gate tunnel because drivers in Melbourne’s west, Geelong and Ballarat desperately need an alternative to the West Gate Bridge. For too long Victorians have desperately needed a second river crossing. The West Gate tunnel will slash congestion from Geelong to Pakenham. It will reduce travel times. It will take 28 000 vehicles, including 8000 trucks, off the West Gate Bridge and 22 000 off the Bolte Bridge. It will finally ban thousands of trucks from local streets, with 24/7 truck bans coming into effect in 2022, and improve safety and reduce noise. On the face of it, it sounds pretty good.

Even so, I think I have already been questioned while on my feet on why a member for Northern Victoria Region would be so passionately opposed to Mr Davis’s revocation. What does this have to do with northern Victoria — the communities that I represent and that I truly care about? This project will create 6000 jobs — and it had me at ‘jobs’. Last fortnight the Minister for Roads and Road Safety joined the Premier in Footscray to mark the start of the West Gate tunnel works. Workers have started clearing a site on Whitehall Street in Footscray where they will dig down more than seven storeys, clearing the way for the project’s two massive tunnel boring machines. When they are launched in 2019, these two machines will tunnel towards the West Gate Freeway, moving 9 metres per day and excavating enough rock and soil to fill the MCG. As these machines bore through the earth, they will install a concrete lining behind them, forming the walls, roof and base of the tunnel. Construction crews following behind will work to build the road surface and install electrics, ventilation and safety systems.

Although I am the daughter of a builder I am no expert on construction, but what is very clear in relation to a massive project like the West Gate tunnel is that a hell of a lot of concrete is needed to do this. So the day after he visited Footscray I was delighted to welcome Minister Donnellan to my home town of Benalla. It was not just the roses and street art that brought one of the busiest ministers in the government to B‑town. He joined me, Benalla Rural City Council mayor Don Firth and CEO Tony McIlroy to formally announce that in order to facilitate the construction of the West Gate tunnel project, Victoria’s largest precast concrete manufacturing facility will be built in Benalla, creating 400 jobs and providing a massive boost to the local economy.

That is the reason I vehemently oppose any interference with or stalling or frustration of the West Gate tunnel project — 400 jobs for people living in Benalla or around it in Wangaratta, Euroa, Shepparton, Yarrawonga and all the way up to Wodonga and every town in between. A $60 million factory will be built outside Benalla to supply the concrete for this project. Mr Donnellan’s announcement explained to my country constituents that the Labor government is making sure that all Victorians will share in the opportunities created by our massive infrastructure program.

The massive factory will be built and operated by local businesses and will supply the concrete for the tunnel project. It will then go on to supply future major projects across the state. Benalla’s access to road and rail infrastructure means the facility is directly connected to the West Gate tunnel project and will be well‑placed to supply future projects around Victoria and also interstate. A new 700‑metre rail siding will be built along the existing rail line in Benalla to provide a direct link between the precast facility and Melbourne. Construction of this facility will commence next month and is due to be completed in October of this year.

I am very much looking forward to hearing the contributions on this motion from the members for Northern Victoria Region, particularly Mr O’Sullivan. This is the biggest jobs announcement in decades to affect the communities of Benalla and Wangaratta and the Nationals‑held seats that are the huge beneficiaries.

I cannot emphasise enough what this project means to Benalla. But I do not need to, because my community have done a pretty good job themselves. The mayor said:

This is a massive investment and one Benalla has been waiting for for a long time — you could say it is a game changer for Benalla.

And he said:

The number of jobs coming to Benalla is so significant, it’s the biggest investment Benalla has seen at least since Thales.

Facebook comments have included those from Tanya:

Congratulations, Benalla. We are back on the map.

From Colin:

What a great thing for Benalla.

And from Graham:

At last some good news for Benalla. Bring it on! #benalla #jobs #northeastvic #westgate.

The Supporting Benalla Business Facebook page has changed their cover photo to a diagram of the tunnel project with the headline ‘West Gate tunnel creates 400 jobs for Benalla’. They have shared the WIN News coverage of the announcement, saying:

Such a buzz in town — locals can’t wipe their smiles!

Robert commented:

This is unbelievable for Benalla, 400 workers for this site, 150 approx. for the new aged‑care centre and 200 for the proposed tomato farm, at last Benalla is becoming a commercial hub.

Gwen said:

Well done Jac Symes, you are doing lots for Benalla.

Dianne said:

Congratulations Benalla, great to see some new employment … Welcome to Benalla all you new people.

Christine said:

Good news for the region.

Further Facebook comments have included Wayne telling a friend:

Maybe you guys should move up here. Will be jobs going soon.

Steffi told her friend Anthony:

See, come home.

Ally wrote:

This is bloody amazing news! Congratulations to you Jaclyn, your government colleagues and the Benalla Rural City Council.

The front page of the Benalla Ensign welcomed the jobs boost for the area, with a story headed ‘Concrete investment thrills’.

I can honestly say that I have not found any negativity in town about this development, so I find it really interesting that The Nationals in particular are set to abandon the view of their constituents and side with the Liberals to knock off the project and in turn knock off 400 jobs in north‑east Victoria. If The Nationals do not stand up for country jobs, what do they stand up for? They stand in the shadows of their Liberal leaders. Is it any wonder they are becoming less and less relevant in modern‑day politics? I promised my community that I would stand up today in support of jobs, and I am proudly doing that. Like most of the locals, I am really, really angry that the coalition are attempting to revoke the planning approvals for the West Gate tunnel project. Of course our minds turn to the hundreds of workers already on the job and their families. Many of them are apprentices or retrained auto industry workers. But this is the biggest thing for Benalla in decades, and the thought that it could be taken away is generating a lot of talk in town.

Bizarrely the Assembly member for Euroa is trying to convince Benalla residents that the concrete factory will be built even if the West Gate tunnel project is stopped. This could not be further from the truth, and I cannot work out if it is misguided, misinformed or malicious. The tunnel project has been awarded to a construction consortium, and commercial discussions are currently underway with local suppliers to develop and operate the facility.

The member for Euroa is trying to convince Benalla that John Holland will build the facility anyway, and she has sought a meeting with them to discuss this. The embarrassing fact is that her intelligence on this project is false. I assume she made it up. I do not want to go in too hard on the member for Euroa — that is not really my style, and I think it is likely to happen at the ballot box anyway. I personally think the Liberal Party have hung The Nationals out to dry on this revocation motion, and they have little option but to desperately try to save face in the community. I guess desperate times call for desperate measures, but as politicians we should really refrain from just making up facts.

There is no saving The Nationals on this one. My communities know they have sold them out, and they are unlikely to be forgiven for being active participants in a plan to cut 400 jobs from north‑east Victoria. I cannot be clearer: if there is no tunnel, there is no Benalla concrete facility and there are no 400 jobs.

Mr O’Sullivan — On a point of order, Acting President, this seems to be a set speech that the member is reading from which is overtly criticising a political party and has got nothing to do with the actual bill.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Ms Dunn) — Thank you, Mr O’Sullivan. That is not a point of order.

Ms SYMES — It is true that once built, the facility will be capable of up to 1500 tonnes of concrete product per day at peak capacity and will be well‑placed to supply future jobs interstate and in our state. It is awesome that this project will go ahead, but it will only be built if the tunnel is built, and it is being built now. I will not say it will never be built — I am not as loose with the facts as some other members of Parliament — but it certainly will not be any time soon. If the tunnel project is stopped, the concrete facility will not be operational from October this year.

Larry on the Benalla Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down page summed it up pretty well. This story will either be a thumbs‑up or a thumbs‑down story. It will be a thumbs‑up story if it creates jobs and growth and a boom for real estate and businesses in the area and employment for young people, or it could be a thumbs‑down project if it does not go ahead.

I am very pleased to say that I have already been contacted by people who want to work at the concrete factory, asking, ‘What are the employment opportunities?’, and I am happy to report that there is an industry briefing to be held at the Benalla Performing Arts Centre tomorrow night. You can imagine, following the announcement of the actual concrete factory being built in Benalla, the numbers of interested people, companies, organisations and parties to register for this has soared. I am sure actually that the opposition’s attempt to knock off the project will be a hot topic of conversation for people participating.

There are no legitimate grounds for the Legislative Council to revoke this planning scheme amendment, and any attempt to do so would be an act of economic vandalism. Personally for me it puts at risk 400 jobs in my home town — that is, 400 country people wanting to live and work close to home.

Perhaps it is unsurprising. There is a quote from the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party in 2011, the member for Brighton, when she revealed:

… there is a fundamental point of philosophical difference between the opposition and the government, and that is that the opposition seems to think the government’s role is to provide jobs.

I can confirm to the house that Labor members consider that it certainly is our job to create jobs. It underpins almost everything we do. We know that the Liberals and The Nationals do not believe it is the government’s role. They have got no record in it. They have never done it. But we on this side, we the Labor government, get it. The latest labour force statistics show that since the election of the Andrews Labor government Victorian employment has increased by 316 800 persons and 52 700 regional jobs have been created under Labor. Almost 40 000 of these are full‑time. This is publicly available information. In contrast, only 8500 regional jobs were created in the entire coalition term, December 2010 to November 2014, and full‑time employment shamefully went backwards by 14 100 jobs. We do not spend time patting ourselves on the back over this.

We know there is more to do — more jobs to create — and I am proud of our government’s commitment to creating jobs. Many of our projects have minimum numbers of apprentices. We are reskilling retrenched workers. We have got long‑term unemployed programs for getting people back into work. We have got programs targeted at Aboriginal employment and jobs for people with disabilities, and frankly if it was not for this government’s hard work and commitment to job creation, many Victorians would not be employed or have any prospect of future employment at this time.

I have got lots and lots I want to say on this, and unfortunately the clock is going to beat me, but I did want to just point out that one of the issues for the Greens and the Liberals, who keep saying that it did not go to tender and that this is secret, is wrong. This project went through the market‑led proposal guidelines of Treasury and competitive tender processes, which this consortium, which is CPB Contractors and John Holland, won. Some people will have you think that it is all John Holland. This is a consortium. This is a group that got together to build the tunnel.

This is the most open and transparent process a project of this size has ever gone through — it is actually unprecedented — unlike the east–west link, which never released a business case. We do know why, though, because it would have lost 55 cents for every dollar invested. The West Gate tunnel, on the other hand, returns $1.30 for every dollar invested.

I have got lots to say, but I think most importantly I promised the Benalla community that I would come here today and stand up for them, for their jobs and for north‑east Victoria, and I vehemently oppose this motion.