| February 27, 2017

Damian Drum fighting for better rail infrastructure

Delivered: Monday 27th February 2017, Federation Chamber, Parliament House.

It is great to have the opportunity to stand in the parliament and talk about infrastructure—in particular, rail infrastructure and, in particular, northern Victorian rail infrastructure.

I was a member of the Victorian parliament for 14 years, and I have seen various governments invest in rail to varying degrees.

One of the great things about investing in rail is that it is very much 'build it and they will come'.

Improvement of living standards for our people in the regions relies very heavily on an ability to connect them with their capitals and connect them with other regional cities.

Rail certainly has an amazing opportunity to take vehicles off the road and to improve the livability of regional Australia.

The member for Indi moved this motion and mentioned that $17 million has been on the table from the Victorian government for rail upgrades.

She mentioned that this was the biggest amount that she can remember.

The member for Indi would realise that at the election in 2014 the coalition had $178 million on the table for projects in regional Victoria, of which the Wangaratta-Albury line and the Shepparton line were going to be the major recipients.

Yet the member for Indi happily seems to forget these investments in rail that were put on the table and were promised to the people of north-eastern and northern Victoria.

It was promised that a minimum of $178 million would be spent on upgrades for passenger rail.

The member for Indi says that this pathetic $17 million is somehow or other a significant investment in regional rail.

The member for Indi has to stop being a Labor Party apologist and call this total neglect of regional rail by the Victorian government for what it is, and that is a disgraceful neglect.

The motion talks about the ARTC and its performance obligations.

These are set under an arrangement with the Victorian government which sets such things as the amount of time before trains are cancelled and how late they can be and still be counted as being on time—you can be five or 10 minutes late and still be classified as being on time.

All those obligations, all those performance targets, are set under an arrangement with the state. Again, it is the Victorian Labor Party that is responsible for these arrangements.

It would also be worthwhile if the member for Indi realised that the interstate XPT service is rarely criticised for being late, because it uses modern rolling stock on that line to achieve reasonable outcomes.

It is the pathetic, old, long-haul rolling stock that the Victorian government dishes out to the people of Wangaratta, Benalla and Wodonga that is in large part leading to these disgraceful performance objectives.

There has been an enormous amount of issues.

Steph Ryan, the member for Euroa in the Victorian parliament has been pushing this issue for many years—since she arrived in the parliament, taking over from Bill Sykes.

Yes, it is true: $134 million has been put into a ballast rehabilitation program—specifically targeted at the mud holes that the soils along that north-east line tend to create.

Every time we seem to have a wet winter or a wet spring, the mud holes created on that line need significant attention.

And in the previous couple of years we have had exactly that problem.

But that $134 million has been spent and, hopefully, it will lead to some improvements in the performance objectives.

However, we are not going to see serious improvements in these time lines until we get a stricter performance obligation set down under the agreement with the Victorian government and we get some new rolling stock on that line—certainly, in the same light that we have new, efficient VLocity trains going to Gippsland, Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo, all seats that seemed to be given much more precedent than the north-east line and the Shepparton line collectively.

I want to turn my attention to the Shepparton line because whilst I am the local member for Violet Town, Euroa, just north of Seymour and just south of Benalla, about 100 kilometres of that line is in my electorate.

What is an even greater worry is the fact that the city of Greater Shepparton, which has well over 50,000 people, is only 27 kilometres further away from Melbourne than is the City of Bendigo, where I lived for the previous 15 years.

There, I was able to enjoy an hourly service to and from Melbourne for the last 10 years.

To be 12 minutes in train travel further away than another regional city in Victoria and yet only to have a quarter of the services that are available seems to be a gross injustice.

The people of Shepparton need to be treated with a little more respect.

I understand, again, talking to Steph Ryan, the member for Euroa, that the Victorian transport minister, Jacinta Allan, will not even go to Shepparton or Benalla to talk to many of these travellers who are having to put up with these substandard services.

As I said, in Bendigo there are 20 train services a day, and in Shepparton—only 27 kilometres further away from the Melbourne CBD—there are four services a day, and the fourth one has only just been added.

For Wodonga to Melbourne there are three V/line trains, two buses and two XPT interstate trains.

It is pathetic to look at the contrast in services.

And whilst I know that Minister Chester has taken up Steph Ryan's invitation to travel on the north-east line—and I know that he is very committed to doing what he can as the federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport—the member for Indi and I both know that this is predominantly a Victorian government issue.

The arrangement with ARTC is an arrangement with the Victorian government. All of those performance obligations are under a lease agreement with the Victorian government and its charter.

I think we need to be loud on this.

I appreciate the fact that the member for Indi has found her voice in relation to this issue.

It is a significant issue: it is a significant issue of disadvantage and it is a significant issue of inequality.

I cannot understand how the Labor Party in Victoria accepts the fact that we have such inequality.

We have a decent train service across from Gippsland through Ballarat, Bendigo, Warrnambool and Geelong, with regular services but, all of a sudden, when you get to Wodonga, Wangaratta, Benalla and Shepparton it is very, very poor indeed.

I acknowledge the member for Indi for having put up this motion.

I would like to have seen her be a little more critical of the Labor Party every now and again, because she understands exactly who has the total responsibility for this issue.

Certainly this has the opportunity to really grow some significant regional cities, mainly Wangaratta and Wodonga, and Albury in New South Wales.

A vastly improved, efficient and timely service into Melbourne would do enormous things for Shepparton and I am sure it would do enormous things for significant towns in her electorate.

This is very much an issue that once you build the service, people will opt to get out of their cars, leave their cars at home and find their way to Melbourne for professional appointments, medical appointments and sporting and cultural events.

They will truly be able to enjoy life and improve their amenity if they could only have a decent and significant rail connection through to their capital city.

I thank the member for Indi for putting this on the Notice Paper so that we have the opportunity to talk about a significant issue in the seat of Murray.



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