PARLIAMENT HOUSE, Canberra: In the budget just a couple of weeks ago, the government outlined a list of its infrastructure priorities for the next five, 10 and 20 years, but the key omission from the list was the funding of the East West Link in Melbourne. The motion in front of us today argues strongly that the government should reconsider its decision not to prioritise this road and indeed should match the coalition’s funding commitment of $1.5 billion to go towards it.
What is the East West Link, you may ask? It is an 18-kilometre stretch of road which would go from the end of the Eastern Freeway in Melbourne, tunnel underneath most of inner-city Carlton, the cemetery and Royal Parade, and join up with the Tullamarine Freeway and the Western Ring Road. As I said, the proposal is to tunnel from the end of the Eastern Freeway under all of the inner-city areas, thus avoiding and protecting those inner-city assets, and reappearing on the other side of those parks.
Now this is the Victorian government’s number 1 priority project. It is also the RACV’s top priority infrastructure project that it believes we should be investing in. On 7 May this year, Mr Deputy Speaker, the Napthine Government said that it would make this project happen, if there was a federal contribution towards it. It made a commitment in its budget on 7 May of $294 million towards this particular project, and it said it would start next year and it would finish within five years.
The initial stage, stage 1, which this would fund, is the most difficult and complex stage but arguably also the most important—that is, connecting the end of the Eastern Freeway to the Tullamarine Freeway. It would cost in the vicinity of $6 billion to $8 billion and, from their analyses already, most of this could in fact be funded by private contributions. But they also need a federal government contribution, and the Premier of Victoria has specifically called for a $1.5 billion contribution from the Commonwealth Government, which is what Tony Abbott, on behalf of the Coalition has committed to. This would take five years to complete if this was to begin next year, as stated.
This is such an important piece of infrastructure; it would be the most important road in Melbourne to be developed to ease the congestion pressures. Anybody who has been to Melbourne in recent times, or lives in Melbourne, as you do, Mr Deputy Speaker Cheeseman, or just outside it, would know the amount of congestion that is coming on to Melbourne’s roads. There has been a marked difference over the past 5, 10 or 20 years. Whereas previously it used to be a half-hour journey from my electorate of Aston into the city in the mornings, now it can be a 60- or 90-minute journey, if not more, just to get into the CBD.
The cost of this congestion is already estimated to be $2.7 billion per year in the city of Melbourne. And because Melbourne is growing so rapidly, in fact it is the fastest-growing city in Australia, the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics believes that the cost of congestion will escalate to $6.1 billion by 2020. So we are going to see a doubling of the cost of congestion by 2020 if we do not take any remedial action now.
For those who live in electorates like mine and yours, Mr Deputy Speaker Cheeseman, such as the member for Kooyong and the Member for Corio, congestion is one of their absolute top issues. They know that when they are spending time stuck in traffic it is time away from their families, it is time away from work, it is time away from recreation. It is just lost time that they will never get back.
From a business perspective, congestion just adds to the difficulties of making ends meet. From businesses transport good across town to a tradie trying to get from one side of the city to the other, more congestion means you are just spending time on the road and you are not getting to the destination or the project that you have been engaged to do. All of those costs, the added transportation costs or the added costs to these other small businesses, then just get passed on to everyday consumers in higher prices.
Mr Frydenberg: Like the carbon tax!
Mr TUDGE: A bit like the carbon tax, as the member for Kooyong pointed out. The East-West link will not solve all of these problems that I have been talking about, but it will make a difference. I believe it would be the single most important road that could be built in order to address congestion in Melbourne and in Victoria. For people in the eastern suburbs, like in my electorate and like the Member for Kooyong’s electorate, it would give them a pathway across to the west of Melbourne.
For those who are from the western side of Melbourne it would make a tremendous difference, because at the moment if they are trying to get across into the city they only have one avenue and that it is through the Westgate Freeway, which we know is clogged almost every single morning and almost every single evening. What this road would do is to provide a further linkage from the west across to the east, and the east across to the west. Instead of having the one pathway from the east to the west, there would now be two broad freeways.
It would have two impacts: it would make it easier for those in the eastern suburbs—particularly around the northern parts of my electorate in Bayswater, Boronia and Wantirna as well as in the electorates of Deakin, Casey and Kooyong—to get into the city along the eastern freeway and across to the other side of Melbourne. To those people who take the Monash Freeway or who rely upon Westgate to get to work it would also make a big difference to have the East West Link built, because it would take pressure off those existing assets by having a further arterial which is also linking up the east and west of Melbourne.
Furthermore, by completing this road Melbourne would finally have a ring-road. We are one of the only cities of this size in the world that does not have a ring-road. If we finally connect up from the east to the west we would have a ring-road that would go all around Melbourne.
As I mentioned before, the Coalition has made a commitment of $1.5 billion towards the construction of this project. Should we be fortunate enough to win the election on 14 September, then this project will go ahead. It will start within a year and it will be finished within five years. It will create thousands of jobs in Melbourne, particularly construction jobs, and we know that the construction sector is struggling at the moment. This will make it better for businesses; it will make it better for the economy because it will reduce those costs of congestion.
Most importantly, it would make it better for families, because people would not have to be in their cars for so long, wasting time. The Member for Kooyong pointed out that it would also be good for the environment because traffic which is moving better pollutes less. There would be fewer particles going into the air and less CO2 emitted.
People right across Melbourne are going to be beneficiaries of this great project and therefore it is hard to understand why the government has not even listed this project in their 20-year horizon. Perhaps they could not afford it this financial year, but it is not even listed in their 20-year infrastructure horizon which they documented in this year’s budget.
Through this motion I implore the government to reconsider their position in relation to the east-west link, because it is the top priority for the Victorian Government; it is the top-priority project according to the RACV and for many families and businesses it is also their top priority. We call on the government through this motion to fund the East West link and match the Coalition’s commitment.