Investing in Victoria's Future

Thank you Dr Tony Morton, [President, Public Transport Users Association] for the introduction.

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

It is a pleasure to join you for day two of the Victoria Transport Infrastructure Summit.

The theme of this summit is of great interest to me, both in my role as Federal Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population but also as a lifelong Melburnian.

Melbourne's growth has for many years now been the focus of public debate, especially with regard to its impact on city planning and functionality.

And while quality transport infrastructure has long been critical and in many cases, a defining, characteristic of city functionality and success, the importance of delivering the right infrastructure in a timely manner has become more complex—especially in the context of rapid population growth.

This is something that the Coalition Government understands. It is why the Prime Minister created a new portfolio which merged population policy with urban infrastructure and cities policy.

All of you in this room will understand the interconnectedness of these three policy areas. Population growth, for example, is the major reason for building more infrastructure, while our big capitals—like here in Melbourne—are where most of the growth is occurring.

Getting alignment across these three policy areas is fundamental to creating better cities—and given that our major cities are where the majority of Australians live, it will significantly help drive our economic performance and improve quality of life.

Managing population

As you know, our cities are changing rapidly. I am a Melbourne boy—born and bred—growing up on the very outskirts of the city in Pakenham.

When I was growing up, Pakenham had just a few thousand people and was more or less a country town. In fact, the hospital in which I was born was called the Pakenham Bush Nursing Hospital.

Today, that suburb is home to 46,000 people and there are houses from here to Pakenham and beyond, 55 kilometres out. That's how much Melbourne has changed in my lifetime.

Australia has a history of strong population growth, growing faster than most other advanced economies.

Our population grew by around four million people in the last 10 years, far greater than in the previous decade.

We have benefitted from that growth. A larger and more diverse population has supported a growing economy.

However, population growth has not been even across the country. Rather, 75 percent of the population growth has been to just three areas—Melbourne, Sydney, and South East Queensland.

With Melbourne growing the fastest. Last year it grew by 2.7 percent or about 130,000 people. This makes it one of the fastest growing cities in the developed world.

Moreover, the growth has been well above expectations. In 2004, Melbourne was forecast to grow by 500,000 people by now. It grew by 1.2 million.

This has put enormous strain our city, and frankly, the infrastructure simply hasn't kept up.

Ten years ago, you could have 90 percent confidence of completing a 30km freeway journey in Melbourne peak hour in 39 minutes. Today, that figure is 59 minutes.

Avoidable congestion in Australia's cities cost $25 billion a year in 2017–18. This is predicted to rise to as much as $37 billion per year by 2030.

I remember we used to laud our traffic over Sydneysiders—that's no longer the case.

All big cities have some congestion and people understand this, but much of the congestion in our big cities has come about from avoidable factors. In particular the lack of infrastructure to cater for the very fast population growth; and the lack of coordination between the federal government (that controls the major population growth lever, migration) and the state government which is primarily responsible for building the roads and rail as well as providing service delivery.

Investing in infrastructure

So what is our government's plan?

First, we are investing record amounts in the major, city shaping roads and rail corridors.

As soon as we came to office we lifted investment in every state and territory, and in the last budget we allocated a record $75 billion to infrastructure, through a forward 10-year plan.

We have lifted annual expenditure by more than a billion on average, since coming to office.

The Victorian government is good at repeating a line that Victoria is missing out on infrastructure dollars. But this is simply not the case. Over the next decade, Victoria has been allocated 30 percent of the federal funds.

Many of the projects we are funding are ones that have been on the books for decades, but never got off the ground. We are now providing the funds to build them.

This includes $5 billion to finally get a rail link to Melbourne Airport.

A rail connection linking the CBD and Melbourne Airport has been talked about for 50 years—the Coalition Government has made this a reality. Sydney and Brisbane already have such a rail connection, with construction well underway in Perth.

Over 35 million people used Melbourne airport in 2016–17, making it the nation's second busiest airport, with forecasts indicating a throughput of 68 million passengers per year by 2037–38.

This will be a city-shaping project, a transformative piece of infrastructure that will alleviate congestion on the Tullamarine Freeway, which is used by up to 210,000 vehicles every day.

This was not on the state government's agenda and they still haven't budgeted any funds for it (although they had an election commitment to match our $5 billion). We want to see this project moving fast.

The projects also include $475 million to finally connect Australia's largest university campus—Monash Clayton—to the rail network.

We have also put $1.75 billion towards the North East Link. This means, according to Premier Andrews, that the project is now “fully funded” and can get going fast.

This road will finally create a ring road for Melbourne.

Other projects funded in last year's budget alone include:

  • $225 million towards the electrification of the Frankston to Baxter Rail Line
  • $132 million to complete the duplication of the Princes Highway East from Traralgon to Sale, taking the Government's total commitment to the project to $342 million
  • $50 million towards further upgrades on the Geelong Rail Line.

These commitments come on top of many other projects funded by the Commonwealth that are currently under delivery, like the Monash Freeway upgrades, the M80 Ring Road upgrades and the recently completed Tullamarine Freeway upgrade.

I also want to mention a road that simply has to be built and we are not giving up on it: the East West Link. This is a road which in the recently released priorities list from Infrastructure Australia remains one of only a handful of projects in the top priority category.

Eighty thousand cars get stuck on the Eastern Freeway each day. It is ridiculous that one of our biggest freeway in Australia comes to a full-stop at Hoddle Street and does not flow through to freeways in the west.

It has to be built which even Bill Shorten acknowledged in 2008, when the city had a million fewer people. “Doing nothing…will threaten Melbourne's future economic success and livability”, he said.

Whenever a state government is willing to build the road, we will provide $3 billion.

In total, the Coalition Government has committed over $20 billion towards transport infrastructure in Victoria since coming to Government—and we are always looking to do more.

Delivering major national or city-shaping projects is a central part of our infrastructure agenda, but we also understand that it is not the only response. For many people, it is often local congestion issues which cause the greatest frustration.

That's why a second part of our plan is fixing local congestion hot-spots. These projects typically require less capital expenditure but often have tremendous benefit-cost-ratios.

Over the last few weeks, the Prime Minister and I have announced $505 million from a $1 billion Urban Congestion Fund, for these small scale projects. It includes projects like fixing the eight intersections along the Princess Highway between Pakenham and Berwick. This funding recognises the fact that a large part of a person's commute can be getting onto the highway or freeway at a key intersection, as much as it is the travel time on the major road itself.

Our aim is to get people to their destination and back faster and safer and so we need to be allocating funds to both the major corridors and the local pinch points that cause considerable time delays.

For example, in Mitcham and Ringwood, one of the biggest issues is lack of car parking at the railway stations. We want to encourage people to get off the roads and onto the trains, but if there is no parking, how can they?

This is why as part of the Urban Congestion Fund we announced commitments to six commuter car parks across Melbourne, with an estimated 2000 spaces to be built. This means 2000 cars off the road and more people on public transport.

Many of these congestion busting projects in Melbourne are in the fast growing south eastern or northern corridors. We know there are dozens more that could be funded.

Longer term, we have to be better at having the infrastructure built before the population outgrows it. This is where our population policy comes into play.

As I mentioned earlier, under our federation, the federal government controls the major population growth lever (being the migration rate) while the states have primary responsibility for building the infrastructure, the services and things like housing approvals to cater for the growth.

Sometimes these are not aligned.

Our population policy will marry these two things more closely. As part of this, the Prime Minister has asked the states and territories to have a far greater role in our migration settings—to achieve a ‘bottom-up’ view rather than just a ‘top down’ view on what our migration settings should be.

We know that the big capitals are struggling with the very rapid population growth, while smaller states and some regions want to grow faster.

Conclusion

We live in a great state and have as our capital one of the world's most liveable cities.

But, liveability is much more than an index and a nice label.

Liveability in Melbourne, and indeed all our cities, is intrinsically linked to Australia's future prosperity and how we plan and cater for our growth.

Australia's major cities—Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane—are in the midst of a significant transformation brought about by rapid population growth.

Our government is continuing to invest to cater for this growth and developing policy to better coordinate state and federal efforts.

But unless we have a strong economy, you cannot invest in major infrastructure upgrades.

Thank you for having me here today.