I rise to make a contribution on the West Gate Tunnel (Truck Ban and Traffic Management) Bill 2019. I note that this project is really already underway and that this bill establishes the framework for tolling and operation of the West Gate Tunnel. It provides for truck bans to be declared and it also establishes the Better Freight Outcomes Fund. It introduces a range of reforms in relation to tolling enforcement, which I note are quite a substantial part of the bill, and some of these arise from recommendations around community disadvantage, hardship and family violence.
After consideration of the issues, I have taken the view that I support this bill. While this tunnel is unlikely to directly affect my constituents or me as we travel from the north of the state, it will no doubt have a significant impact on those travelling from the west. From my observations these major road projects have provided a significant benefit to our communities already, and quite broadly across the state. These are projects which go way back in time, to the duplication of the Hume Highway, the Craigieburn bypass and, more recently, the adding of the additional lanes to the Tullamarine Freeway. These are all things that have really added very much to the amenity of our community. For those of us who travel from the north of the state, they have sped up travel times and provided a much safer and better route for all of us. Projects such as these are, I think, not only important for people’s day-to-day convenience but also very important for the economy of the state.
The Shepparton district is in the heart of the food bowl of the Goulburn Valley of Victoria. Much of our produce is moved on a daily basis to the port of Melbourne and into local markets. Good roads—safe roads—that increase speed and accessibility are essential. The port of Melbourne is a pivotal place for so many of those who are in our agricultural and horticultural industries in the Goulburn Valley. I recall back in 2015, when the lease of the port of Melbourne went through, that there was a sum of $200 million placed in an agricultural infrastructure and jobs fund for rural and regional projects. That money came from the lease of the port. Those funds no doubt have been spread across the state to some extent, but one of the benefits that has been rolling out in our region has been improved accessibility for high-productivity freight vehicles at higher mass limits. Changes made to a range of bridges along the route that allow for those heavier, bigger trucks to travel from their point of origin to their destination at the port have been a really important feature of the funding that came from that project.
The Shepparton bypass is a major project that I have talked about a number of times in this Parliament. It is a very large project and is effectively an extension of the duplication of the Goulburn Valley Highway, which takes off just near Seymour. The end result is to have duplication of that highway all the way to the border at Tocumwal. It is finished at Arcadia. The last step that was done was the Numurkah bypass. There is a significant amount left to be done, and the Shepparton bypass is the next piece of the jigsaw. It is a project that is probably worth over $1 billion to get done.
At this point in time, and also because it is to be a federally funded project, the project has been broken down into parts. The really pivotal part of it at the moment is to get a connection from the Midland Highway at Mooroopna—a second river crossing north of the current one so that it joins the Goulburn Valley Highway again as it travels north. That is a major project that will have a very significant impact on the amenity of so many people in so many ways. First of all, at the moment we have so many trucks thundering down McLennan Street, Mooroopna, across the causeway—which is the only major crossing between Mooroopna and Shepparton; it crosses the Goulburn River—and then down the main street of Shepparton, past our new five-storey courthouse and all the way down. It has created a situation where businesses are unwilling to be in that thoroughfare. It is a danger to pedestrians. It is noisy, and it has generally become quite unattractive. T
here is a real desire to see that stage of the bypass progress. These sorts of things make a lot of difference, not only to the movement of product—especially in a regional area like ours—from one place to the other, very often also going north as well as coming from the south, but also to getting those trucks out of the main streets and out of our town, which is really important too. We cannot help but to have some sympathy for the people of the west in Melbourne, who have that problem themselves. These projects do provide an opportunity to improve people’s lives in a really practical way.
Major projects are important. In the Shepparton region we have seen a situation where for so many years we were neglected. There were so many projects that the community was calling for, but they were not getting up. The start of stage 1 of Goulburn Valley Health is now underway. There is a huge crane in the sky. It is just so pleasing to see that work underway. We have got the Shepparton Art Museum just about to be started on the banks of Lake Victoria. We have the Shepparton education plan, which is partly funded and I hope will continue to be funded, which will roll out a completely new single secondary college within the Shepparton district, comprising nine schools and 300 children at each campus. These are all things that represent very significant progress to our community and which we hope will help grow our community to make it an attractive destination, particularly for people to grow industries.
One of the biggest problems in our region is recruitment of professional and trained people to fill so many of the positions that exist in our community—in our food processing industry, in our hospitals and in our educational and other areas. It is very important that regional cities and towns have the services they need if they are to be able to attract people. That sort of development has been pivotal to Shepparton. I think there is a lot to be said about progress, and the infrastructure spending that is taking place in this state at the moment is benefiting my community to a very significant extent. I see very little option but for more of these projects to take place. When we live in a state such as Victoria—especially with a city such as Melbourne, which is such a highly urbanised part of the state where the population is growing at such a rate—it is incumbent upon governments to be busy, to be rolling out projects, to be funding these infrastructure projects and to be providing all of our communities with what they need to be able to go about their day-to-day lives.