By Zoe McKenzie*
THE failure of the Victorian Labor government to address local infrastructure needs last week resulted in our loss of $300 million.
The 90-day review, which took more than 200 days, saw two local projects dumped due to a lack of matching or completion contributions from the Andrews/Allan government: $225 million was lost to electrify the Baxter rail line, and $75 million cancelled for the Jetty Road, Rosebud overpass.
Now, $100 million of the peninsula’s funding will be spent on a road project in Ballarat, in the infrastructure minister’s own backyard.
Other funds that would have been spent here were redirected to the Geelong region. Again.
It was a small but important relief that the safety improvements along the Nepean Highway in Mount Martha – fully funded by earlier Coalition budgets in Canberra – were saved after huge community support for the works which have been scheduled then deferred to take place in 2021, 2022 and 2023.
The Jetty Road overpass is the most called-for upgrade on the Mornington Peninsula and it’s an insult to our community – who have pleaded with governments to complete this project for years.
Back in 2019, the Coalition government budgeted $75 million for the overpass and noise mitigation works and, according to the Victorian government’s own documents, it has used part of this money to complete the first two stages and plan for the third stage. A business case has been prepared and submitted to the state government, not that it has shared it with anyone. This work will now be wasted.
In comparison to other outer metro and regional areas, we are underfunded. It always seems to play out that if benefits are due to flow to metropolitan areas, we are regional. If benefits flow to regional areas, more often than not, we find we are classed metropolitan.
These cuts demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of local community needs and a disgusting disrespect for the peninsula.
The Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had previously expressed his full support for the Frankston to Baxter rail upgrade and promised to fund it. In the lead up to the 2019 election Albanese, then shadow minister for infrastructure, stated “a Labor government would move quickly to deliver the much-needed Frankston to Baxter rail upgrade”.
But a commitment in writing means nothing to this prime minister, who last summer visited the peninsula in a helicopter. Perhaps to avoid Jetty Road.
Last week’s cuts come on top of the $8 million dollars that was cut from the Centre for Coasts, Environment, and Climate at Point Nepean in the October 2022 federal budget. The centre will now go ahead, albeit in a scaled back form, thanks to the ongoing commitment of Melbourne and Monash universities and their researchers to the project.
Back in 2022, the Committee for Mornington Peninsula found that our area paid more in taxes than regional areas yet received far less in terms of infrastructure support than traditional metropolitan or regional areas. A similar report by the Committee for Greater Frankston found the Geelong region will receives roughly 10 times as much infrastructure investment as the Mornington Peninsula on a per capita basis.
I have raised our local needs persistently – by letter to the PM, premier and all relevant ministers, stressing the particular attributes of our region – our dirt roads, septic tanks, gas tanks, internet dongles, a degrading hospital, and an outdated and mostly inaccessible public transport network. I have raised it in speeches to the parliament, on our national television broadcasters, and in the pages of this newspaper. And yet, the blatant disregard for our region persists.
I often hear people say, “what do you expect from a Labor government, this area is too conservative for them to care”. But this analysis could not be further from the truth. Until last November, the state seats of Nepean and Hastings were among the most marginal seats within the grasp of the ALP. Hastings is now held by Labor MP Paul Mercurio – with the slimmest of margins. And yet, the Albanese government ripped $225 million which would have benefited the Hastings area – because of Andrews/Allan government’s refusal to upgrade the last part of the Metropolitan rail network, which remains diesel-fuelled and single track.
Recent estimates suggest the Victorian government’s suburban rail loop will cost some $200 billion, and yet it will not provide a tiny fraction of that to improve the Stony Point line.
This is even though the state has promised a renewable energy terminal to be built at Hastings which – if ever realised – will cost billions of dollars and create hundreds of jobs, putting even more pressure on the peninsula’s woeful public transport grid.
Together with Nepean MP Sam Groth (Liberal) and Mornington MP Chris Crewther (Liberal), I will keep up the fight to get what our community needs and deserves.
*Zoe McKenzie is the Liberal MP for Flinders