Public Transport in Scullin - speech in Parliament

Mr GILES (Scullin) (19:34): If you live in Melbourne's outer suburbs and you rely on public transport, how it works has a major influence on your quality of life. It sets the boundaries of your world—how to get to work, what jobs are available to you, how much time you can spend with your family and what leisure options are available to you.


Melbournians are justifiably proud to live in one of the world's most liveable cities, but we are increasingly conscious that this much-vaunted status means too little to too many in our city. The geographic limits of liveability are being tested. It is suggested that we are moving inexorably towards two Melbournes: an inner hub of jobs and activity, and an outer ring where opportunities for a decent life are constrained.

Let me be clear: I am concerned by this trend, but it is not inexorable; we can turn it around, with political will. The community is there, and politics needs to catch up. Much of this trend relates to concerns of accessibility, people's capacity to get around effectively for work and leisure. When we talk of the 20-minute city, it reminds us how extensive the impacts of transport poverty can be. For too many, this concept seems remote, unreal. Instead, people are giving up on opportunities. I think of some of the mothers I have met who work in lower skilled jobs so they can more easily manage pick-ups and drop-offs or those experiencing great stress in trying to balance work and family while navigating long and uncertain commutes.

We are a long way from meeting the challenge of productivity, sustainability and ability, and getting public transport right is the essential ingredient in advancing all three objectives in our cities. This does not account for the cost-of-living impacts. I am mindful of recent research by the Australian Railways Association that highlighted the commuting costs of car versus rail. The cost pressures on two-car families in outer suburbs are acute. The conceit of this government is to assert that urban policy is the sole responsibility of state and territory governments. This government has absolved itself of the acute challenges our cities face.

This is not the Labor way. Under Whitlam, we had Tom Uren as Minister for Urban and Regional Development. Under Hawke, we had Brian Howe as Minister for Housing and Regional Development. It was the Hawke government that initiated the Building Better Cities policy, which I believe set the benchmark for cities policy in Australia. It was of course built on by the member for Grayndler, who offered a great vision of how we should approach infrastructure provision in this Commonwealth—and he delivered on urban rail.

Of course, roads are also a part of this. Indeed, they are a source of major concern and frustration for residents in the electorate of Scullin—as well as public transport defects. This is because, for most, there is little alternative. I recently held a series of community catch-ups right across the electorate, and I can safely say that congestion on the roads was a consistent theme. I have experienced firsthand what constituents are speaking about—whether it is the Yan Yean Road from Doreen to Diamond Creek or O'Herns Road in Epping North, the experience is the same right across the electorate. Even to make a simple run to the shops or doing the school run, residents face the type of gridlock you would expect at rush hour in the CBD.

The Access Denied campaign, run by the City of Whittlesea, has mobilised communities in Melbourne's north. The campaign is seeking a commitment from the current coalition state government and a prospective Labor state government to build access ramps onto the Hume Freeway at O'Herns Road in Epping North and also to extend the train line to Mernda. Whilst Mernda is in the neighbouring electorate of McEwen, the campaign highlights the critical situation facing residents of Melbourne's north, who are hit by a pincer movement of the government's high fuel costs and its refusal to fund urban rail. When I was campaigning at train stations and communities such as Hurstbridge and Wattle Glen, it was not uncommon for me to encounter residents of Mernda who had no choice but to drive to Hurstbridge station in order to get to work. The alternative, they told me, was to be stuck in traffic along Plenty Road and face a two-hour drive to the city. The hundreds of emails are testament to the level of community concern behind getting our transport connections right in Melbourne's north.

Another example of grassroots activism on this front was evident to me earlier this month when members of the Aurora Community Association, led by Cara Horner and Toni-Marie Wuelfert, met to discuss possible bus routes for their neighbourhood. The new estates in Epping North are particularly poorly served by public transport. These residents have a constant reminder of the Victorian coalition government's neglect, with bus stops on their streets but no bus service. If ever there was an example of the need for and importance of having a long-term vision for community connectedness, this is it. I pledge to work with the state member for Mill Park, Lily D'Ambrosio and the member for Thomastown, Bronwyn Halfpenny, to do everything we can to improve community connectedness in this area. There is a long-term need for heavy rail in this area but we cannot allow perfect to be the enemy of good, and we need bus services that connect people to work—soon.

Last week another campaign was brought to the attention of readers of The Age—the efforts of the community to get the No. 86 tramline extended to South Morang railway station. This campaign also has widespread support, and it is not difficult to understand why. You need only drive on Plenty Road at any time of day to understand the limits of road infrastructure in Scullin. I want to pay tribute here to the work of local activists—in particular, Alahna Desiato and Trevor Carroll, who put together a petition of more than 2,300 signatures which was tabled in the Victorian parliament in April. However, given the Victorian government's track record of promising to fix the problems while doing the exact opposite, I do not think residents can expect to see any improvements prior to 29 November. Building Better Cities brought the tramline up Plenty Road; now is the time to complete the job. Along Plenty Road Scullin has RMIT's Bundoora campus; and, just outside Scullin, in the neighbouring electorate of Batman, there is La Trobe University's Bundoora campus. Much has changed since La Trobe was established in 1964 on a piece of farmland attached to the Mont Park psychiatric hospital. However, even then the Victorian Minister of Education in the Bolte government, Sir John Bloomfield, acknowledged in his second reading speech that population figures in Melbourne strongly supported La Trobe University's establishment, which he described as 'an urgent matter'.

The location of La Trobe and RMIT's Bundoora campuses has allowed them to become the universities for Melbourne's north. This is a good thing. It is a matter of equity for all Australians to have access to quality tertiary education, but a key part of this is for students to be able to actually get to these campuses. How can equity be realised without improved public transport links? The absurd situation we have at the moment is that it is quicker and cheaper for people in Melbourne's north to go to universities based in and around the city by public transport rather than to go to campuses in Bundoora. Even by car, as I mentioned earlier, the constant gridlock on Plenty Road makes this an extremely unattractive option. Simple things like an effective shuttle service from Reservoir train station to La Trobe's Bundoora campus would make a big difference to many kids in Melbourne's north. When I visited railway stations on the Hurstbridge line, early morning commuters were keen to impress upon me the infrequency of their train service. They do not exaggerate. Trains at peak times run at a frequency of 20 to 30 minutes, with a travel time, sometimes, of over an hour. If we want to get people off our roads, this frequency must be increased.

In April, I, along with Vicki Ward, the state Labor candidate for Eltham, met with local residents in Hurstbridge. We had the pleasure of hosting the member for Perth, who, I hasten to add, caught the train to our meeting and, incidentally, missed her first train, which meant a 20-minute wait for all concerned. At the meeting, locals raised their views about the public transport issues they confront on a daily basis. The member for Perth outlined her achievements in Western Australia as well as suggesting flexible solutions for new communities. Supporting community transport, tailored to smaller communities, would seem to meet a need that is not presently being met and is not on the radar of our state government in Victoria. There is innovative and lateral thinking being done.

Speaking of such matters, as I have mentioned many times before in this place, Victorian and Commonwealth Labor support funding for the Melbourne Metro project. The project will allow for greater capacity right across our rail network. The greater frequency of trains that the people on the Hurstbridge line, amongst others, are desperate for would be closer to being achieved. Melbourne Metro was rated by Infrastructure Australia as 'ready to proceed' and:

… a project that is expected to shape Melbourne's future transport network and land use patterns. The preferred option presented could achieve up to 30 per cent capacity increase in the urban passenger rail network …

Melbourne needs Melbourne Metro, not a cut-price knock-off. It is as simple as that.

It is only courageous in the Yes, Minister sense of the word that we would seek to grow a 21st century economy for a major world city on the backbone of 19th century infrastructure. That is why there is a groundswell of community support for better infrastructure in Melbourne's north, for roads, for heavy and light rail and for buses.

However, there are two critical elements missing from this debate. The first is a Victorian government that is prepared to listen and fund projects that these communities are crying out for, though the people of Victoria have a great opportunity to attend to this shortfall on 29 November by electing a Daniel Andrews Labor government. I am sure they will do so. The second missing element is, of course, the Commonwealth government, which has just washed its hands of the problems facing our cities. The transport needs of Melbourne's north raise two big questions for the Commonwealth: the need to commit to funding public transport and the need to engage in city policy. The people in Scullin, and indeed across all the cities in Australia, can expect to be stuck in traffic, to be disconnected from jobs, communities and opportunities as long as these two elements remain missing. Labor will continue to make the case for this nation's cities and their people, for productive, sustainable and liveable communities which treat equally those Australians who live in vibrant, growing outer suburbs. These people will soon constitute one in five Australians. Their fair share is overdue.

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