Mr GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (16:29): I rise to speak on Ms Maxwell’s motion which calls on the Minister for Transport Infrastructure to attend a public meeting concerning the Murray Basin rail project. With the grain harvest just beginning in Victoria we can all expect to see more heavy freight vehicles on Victoria’s road network. The Murray Basin rail project was expected to remove 20 000 trucks off our roads; instead those who live in rural and regional Victoria have become accustomed to seeing a constant flow of trucks, which contributes to worsened surfaces and increased maintenance costs for local councils. The Murray Basin rail project website trumpets a $440 million project, providing 1055 kilometres of track upgrades and allowing for up to a 21-tonne axle loading. If one were to check that they were not reading a fairy tale, they could try and contact the project’s authority, but instead not a single email or contact number is listed on the website, speaking volumes about the approach collective state and federal governments have taken to consultation on a project of this scale. It is speculated that the business case commissioned for the Murray Basin rail project in 2012 did not consider the poor condition of railway tracks amongst other additional investments in passenger rail services. In addition to this, the initial business case relied heavily on the export of mineral sands as a main economic driver of the project. However, increasing agricultural exports now demand a more efficient rural rail network.
Minister Allan, and by extension the Andrews government, has noted the need for Victoria to have a fully standardised rail network that allows for more effective passenger and freight movements. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that previous business cases for the Murray Basin rail network are now outdated. Greater community consultation is needed in order to ensure that the Murray Basin rail project provides economic and social dividends now and well into the future. Given the project is stalled, over budget and half-finished, it is only fair that all important stakeholders are consulted about the project’s future. This project is of vital importance for the region of Western Victoria in particular, with the original business case proposing upgrades to rail lines between Ballarat, Geelong and Maryborough. So far only the line between Ararat and Merbein has been standardised. I would also like to note that Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party wants to see the Maroondah to Portland freight line included in an updated Murray Basin business case. The mayor and CEO of the Glenelg shire have explained the devastating consequences of heavy freight vehicles on local roads and the immediate environment. These large freight vehicles should be replaced by freight rail, which is safer, cleaner and far more economically efficient. At the very least, the merits of a freight line from Maroondah to Portland should be included in an updated business case. Unpredictable weather conditions, fluctuating dairy prices and increasing energy costs have reduced the efficiency of Victoria’s agricultural sector, therefore the need for produce to get from farmer to market efficiently has never been more important. As Ms Maxwell noted, many Victorians have been left in the dark about the future of the project. An updated business case in addition to more public consultation by Minister Allan is vital in restoring public confidence that this project will continue to serve the rural communities who are desperately relying upon it. I commend this motion to the house.