One thing you can be certain of in budget week is the annual lament that Victoria didn’t get its fair share.
When it comes to infrastructure funding, the complaint goes that we should be receiving a larger slice of the budget pie in proportion to our population.
Premier Daniel Andrews walks through the partially constructed Metro Tunnel.Credit:Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images
Victorian Treasury Secretary David Martine came out firing pre-budget that “every other state and territory other than the ACT – is receiving greater than their population share or close to their population share.”
We grumble that elections are decided in New South Wales and Queensland and as a result they are the budget’s favourite children. And historically that was true. Under both Liberal and Labor governments commitments in previous budgets strongly favoured them. But has Victoria been dudded this time?
On Tuesday night the Feds committed more than $3.3 billion to Victoria’s infrastructure pipeline. Looking at NSW’s $3.3 billion, it’s hard to grumble. Queensland did a little better with $3.9 billion and WA received $2.1 billion.
The North East Link was one of the projects for which Victoria wanted funding.
But like all things budget, the devil is in the detail and when it comes to infrastructure almost all our budget eggs have been placed in one basket – the intermodal freight terminal. It’s where freight is transferred between road and rail and $3.1 billion has been earmarked for two new ones and accompanying road and rail connections. One is to the north of the city in Beveridge and the other to the west in Truganina.
Our one big ticket item becomes more striking when you look at how the $3.3 billion dolled out to NSW is allocated. It’s spread over 10 rail and road upgrades dotted across the state, painting a far clearer picture of busting congestion and getting the state moving. The story is the same for Queensland.
So, what were the infrastructure projects on our wish list that didn’t make the cut? The Victorian state government wanted funding for the projects its already working on – the three main ones being Metro Tunnel, the West Gate Tunnel and the North East Link. In the case of the latter, the feds have already handed over $1.75 billion.
When it comes to the Metro Tunnel, there seems to be a case of amnesia. It was only back in 2016 when the Victorian government refused to continue funding negotiations with the Turnbull government and cockily announced it could afford to fully fund the project on its own.
As to the West Gate Tunnel, the feds have made clear they think long term it won’t meet Victoria’s infrastructure needs. Their preference for a second major river crossing was to build stage two of the East West Link which would have started at the Ring Road. That option is now dead.
There is still $4 billion on offer for stage one, but Daniel Andrews has repeatedly made clear he won’t build it. The money is still being dished up in the budget’s contingency reserves like a serving of broccoli a toddler keeps refusing. It’s hard to see Andrews taking a bite this time. After all he was willing to spend $1.1 billion not to build it after it became a key issue in the 2014 state election.
Of course the state government would love to see some cash for its pet project, the Suburban Rail Loop. It’s already shaping up to be staggeringly expensive at more than $30 billion for just the first section. Given the cost blow outs in the major projects actually being delivered, unsurprisingly the feds are reluctant to allocate funds without more detail.
But most Victorians would likely scratch their heads if asked to explain why we need it. Sure it would make it easier for a Monash academic to start their day with a swim in Black Rock and end it with a serve of dumplings in Box Hill, but that doesn’t quite make the case.
Which gets to our real budget problem, the items on Victoria’s bucket list. Compared to NSW and Queensland, our population is densely concentrated and so too are our suburban centric projects.
Looking beyond congestion-busting infrastructure to the projects that will set a state up for long term economic growth, how did we do?
Victoria’s big win was new funding to make it the first place in the southern hemisphere to manufacture Moderna mRNA vaccines.
And where did we miss out? A whopping $7.1 billion has been allocated to strategic regional projects but the vast bulk of those funds are committed to Queensland, WA, NSW and the Northern Territory. There’s no doubt these are economy growing projects. The $1.5 billion that will flow to the Pilbara aims to make the region an export hub into the future, with a focus on low-emissions steel-production.
So, why didn’t we get one of these landmark regional projects? Could it be that in Victoria we simply don’t have the runs on the board to show we can deliver?
The Murray Basin Rail Project which was supposed to connect north-west Victoria with global trade markets is over-budget and its mismanagement was subject to an IBAC complaint. In late 2020 it stalled requiring a $200 million Commonwealth rescue package. Since then, there have been further delays due to planning issues.
If Victoria wants more federally funded infrastructure, we need to show we’re capable of delivering it on time and on budget. We might also want to start working a little harder on our bucket list.
Roshena Campbell is a Melbourne City councillor, commercial barrister and Liberal party member. The views expressed are her own.
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