Luke Donnellan, Minister for Roads & Ports
On Tuesday, Roads and Ports Minister Luke Donnellan addressed Committee members on a range of issues relevant to his portfolios. It was pleasing to hear the Minister speak about the need for more independent and transparent processes for decision making around the prioritisation of infrastructure; a full investigation into the pros and cons of a Bay West versus a Hastings second port option from both a sea and land side connection perspective; and a systematic approach to grade separations so that they are prioritised to maximise the benefits to both road and rail users. The Minister also reiterated the government’s support for the use of Public Private Partnerships and unsolicited proposals. In particular, its support for the previously presented Tulla-Freeway widening project, which will play a key role in freeing up traffic congestion between the airport and the city. As always, there are more projects than there is money available, but a willingness to consider using alternative funding options, and an improved process for determining long-term priorities, should at least start us on a road to success.
University fee deregulation off the agenda
This week the Group of Eight universities withdrew their support for the Federal Government’s revised fee deregulation legislation, indicating that it had now been watered down so much to appease the cross-benches that in reality, the current proposal defeats the original purpose of change. Universities are now quite rightly calling for a genuinely independent back-to-basics depoliticised review, one that needs to include input from all universities - big and small, city and regional based - as well as critical stakeholders. Metropolitan Melbourne is home to the strongest collective of universities in Australia. As Australia’s leading University City, we must ensure that we continue to protect and grow this key economic sector. And that means we need to have a full and sensible discussion around how it is to continue to provide world-class education and research services going forward, while at the same time ensuring course fees remain affordable for all.
Developers giving homeless a hand
True, PPP projects may not be as financially advantageous as builds fully funded by government dollars. Also true, in recent times we have seen some examples of PPP projects in New South Wales and Queensland go very wrong. Despite this, we should not run scared of using PPPs to fund much-needed infrastructure build. In the absence of massive surpluses, and a strange reluctance of governments of all persuasions to borrow money against very strong AAA credit ratings at a time when interest rates have never been lower, PPPs are one of the few options we have left for large-scale funding. There are many good examples of projects that should be funded in this manner. A sound PPP proposal has been put forward to fund essential upgrades along the Dandenong rail corridor. This proposal should be signed off and works commenced as soon as possible to provide not only a much-needed lift to capacity along this overcrowded line, but to also stimulate some economic activity and create jobs.
No green light for federal dollars
Despite hope amongst Victorian leaders that the federal government is considering providing at least some of the $3 billion earmarked for the East-West project to the removal of level crossings, yesterday Treasurer Joe Hockey again reiterated the Abbott Government’s stance there is no prospect of redirecting that funding into grade separations. This is disappointing from a Victorian perspective and raises the question once again of how we can effectively fund our much needed major infrastructure projects. While it is pleasing to see that the Andrew’s government has committed to starting work on the Metro Rail and Dandenong rail corridor, the question of how funding will be secured for these billion dollar projects remains. While it is good news we will potentially see the Tulla-Freeway widening PPP proposal approved soon, we still struggle with funding options for rail. It is imperative that we continue to push federal governments of all persuasions to change their attitude toward funding urban rail, and further to relax the current requirement that sees federal funding for rail projects penalised by cuts to GST returns.
Green rooftops the go in France
France has passed a new law making it mandatory for the rooftops of all new buildings in its commercial zones to be partially covered in plants or solar panels. The French government hopes this initiative will help it catch up to other European nations who have raced ahead with the adoption of solar technology, as well as jumping on the green roof trend that is becoming popular around the world – in particular in Australia. In 2009, a group of leaders taking part in the Committee’s Future Focus Group business leadership program established a green roof at 131 Queen Street. One of the aims of this project was to show how the use of green roofs could assist in limiting the impact of the urban heat island effect, which in Melbourne is calculated to cost at least $300 million a year. Picking up on this idea, by introducing this green roof initiative, France is hoping to lower urban air temperatures and ameliorate the urban heat island effects that are caused when generated heat is absorbed by the buildings and pavements.