Daniel Andrews and the Victorian Labor Party took to last November's state election a vision for a better Melbourne—one which recognised the challenges, but also the great opportunities, presented by the city's growth. I am very pleased the people of Victoria embraced and endorsed this vision and Labor's commitment to keep Melbourne the world's most liveable city.Boosting public transport and removing level crossings will do much to get people to work efficiently and ease congestion. But such investments are not just ends in themselves; they make possible a more liveable, sustainable and productive city.
They mean that people can spend more time with their families and friends instead of being stuck at level crossings or just stuck in traffic. They mean less pollution, too.
Victorian Labor is getting on with realising this vision for Melbourne and it is also keeping its promises to Victorians. What has been extraordinary and revealing is that federal and Victorian state Liberal members are calling for Victorian Labor to break its election promises.
The Prime Minister called the Victorian election a referendum on the East West Link; well, the people have spoken. But Liberal members, having lost the argument, now want to abolish the people. For the Liberal Party the East West tollway is an article of faith, but it is a false idol. With a return of only 45c in the dollar, as we now know, it makes no economic sense and ignores the regular road-use patterns of people in the suburbs. It would do nothing for drive-in drive-out communities.
The Liberal Party in Victoria just does not get it when it comes to building cities or building community. They continue to talk at people, rather than listening or engaging in dialogue. In Melbourne's north today, exciting projects are underway: The Mernda rail—extending the rail line from South Morang to Mernda—will make a big difference to the outer north where the population, as in all of Melbourne's north, has grown at a terrific rate over the last 10 years. And with jobs growth in Melbourne particularly concentrated in and around the CBD, heavy rail links are especially important.
Labor will also duplicate the notorious, nearly four-kilometre stretch of Yan Yean Road in Plenty between Diamond Creek Road and Kurrak Road. Yan Yean Road is an important link in the outer northern suburbs, servicing a corridor of increasing residential development—but the current two-lane, undivided road is dangerous and congested. The promise to co-fund with the Commonwealth the new diamond interchange connecting O'Herns Road with the Hume Freeway in Epping, and to duplicate a 1.4-kilometre section of O'Herns Road east of the new interchange, resonated with residents. There is much frustration in Epping North with the lack of on-ramp access to the Hume Freeway and congestion in Epping more generally. Residents were neglected by the Baillieu and Napthine governments and made this apparent in November. I have made representations to the federal and Victorian ministers to follow this up, and I look forward to working with both of them to get this through for the benefit of these communities.
The sense of optimism in Melbourne, and certainly in Melbourne's north, is palpable since this change of state government. There is a real sense of having a government that understands urban policy and its extraordinary potential to improve people's lives and the communities in which they live. I am grateful that local governments are keen to seize this opportunity to work effectively together, and for the state government which listens to and understands our suburbs. They are collaborating, but they need a partner beyond the state government. They need—we all need—a national government that is not blind to the fact that we are the world's most urbanised nation.
Let us be clear: even when this government pretends it is uninterested and uninvolved in urban policy, it is. It is the case that the Commonwealth shapes the form of our cities—and, critically, the lives of the millions who live in them—by those decisions they refuse to engage in, like not funding urban public transport. It is a lame excuse to say it is not in the Commonwealth government's knitting to fund public transport. Now is the time for a national government to make our cities a national priority. There is a better way than this neglect and it is not too late to listen.
I spoke earlier about the possibilities for dialogue and I note that Labor, through the work of the member for Grayndler, has been filling the gap left by the present government by establishing our urban policy dialogue. This has been bringing people together—bringing stakeholders together—to build a shared vision of our urban future. It is a shared vision of that future and, critically, a vision of how a Commonwealth government that is interested in our cities and those people who live in them might realise it. This vision is critical to our nation's productivity and it is also critical to liveability and sustainability. I urge the Commonwealth government to stop neglecting four out of five Australians, to recognise the views of the Victorian people and to get on with the job of engaging in national urban policy.