I thank Ms Maxwell for, I know, her interest in this matter. Of course the heart of this project is in our shared electorate, and I know that she is very, very interested, as we all are, in the completion of all the infrastructure projects that the Andrews Labor government has undertaken in Northern Victoria and right around this state. I can say I cannot speak on behalf of the minister of course on those questions that you raised in your contribution, Ms Maxwell, that you intend to direct to the minister. I could not possibly speak on her behalf, and I know that you would not expect me to. But I can say that the Murray Basin rail project is a very, very important infrastructure project for this government, and it remains so.
As we know, and as Ms Maxwell identified in her contribution, it is also very important to the federal government—the interest from the Deputy Prime Minister. This project of course is about delivering better and more efficient freight services and ensuring that people along the Murray Basin rail project can compete in a much smaller world than we once had. We are always looking for the most efficient, productive ways for those people to do their business and get access to the best possible pieces of infrastructure that we can provide for them. I think it will not take the history books very, very long to point to the very, very, very long list of infrastructure projects that this government has started. In fact I think what the history books will show is that this government leads the way in terms of infrastructure projects. Indeed I recall seeing something the other day. Was it PwC who had ranked all of the state economies around this nation, and Victoria was the— Ms Shing: CommBank.
Mr GEPP: CommBank, was it? Probably PwC will do that as well, and they will have the same findings, I am sure, that once again the mighty big V is at the top of the pops in terms of those rankings. It is no accident that that occurs. One of the great drivers of Victoria’s economy in the last five years has been the Andrews government’s dedication to building the infrastructure that is so very much needed right around the great state of Victoria and indeed in our electorate of Northern Victoria. I said earlier this morning that I was in the Mallee only last week talking about three-year-old and four-year-old kinder. That is a wonderful piece of public policy which I think we have been lauded for right around this country. It is one thing to have those fantastic pieces of public policy, but you have actually got to back them up with infrastructure. It was so pleasing that I was able to be in Sea Lake last week to announce the $1.15 million that we will give to the Mallee Track Health and Community Service to refurbish parts of Tyrrell College, putting that vital piece of infrastructure in place so that our three- and four-year-old kids can enjoy the benefits of that early learning public policy. I think this goes to the heart of why we are ranked number one in this country for our economy, and it is because we are prepared to put our money where our mouth is in terms of infrastructure. It does not go unnoticed in this place, I have got to say. In the three-odd years that I have been here, every time there has been an infrastructure project that has come through this place, you whistle and I will point out who has opposed it, and it has been from those opposite. We see today that that dreaded curse that has saddled those opposite in the time that I have been here and certainly in the five years of the Andrews Labor government—voting against and carrying on about every bit of progressive policy that has come before this place, particularly around infrastructure; we get documents motions, we get all sorts of shenanigans trying to stop things—unfortunately seems to be befalling those in the federal government. People are crying out for infrastructure investments right around this nation. On hospitals, what do we hear from the Treasurer up in Canberra? ‘Gee, you know, we can’t give you money to build new hospitals, but we’re going to have a budget surplus’. What about some money for some new schools? ‘Oh look, we’d love to, but guess what, we’re going to have a budget surplus’. Ms Shing: Half a million jobs we have created in Victoria. What have they done?
Mr GEPP: Half a million, and I do not think we have finished yet, Ms Shing. I think that by the time that we are finished there are going to be a lot more than half a million jobs that we have created here in Victoria. Our track record in terms of infrastructure and our preparedness to put our money where our mouths are is second to none and unchallengeable—unchallengeable. The other thing I have noticed since I have been here is that those opposite oppose the infrastructure spend of the government and the things that we are building around the state—and they do—but only up until the time that they are actually built. When there is a ribbon to cut and the band is playing and champagne corks are popping, they are there wanting to celebrate. Ms Shing: Mr Davis loves sky rail though, doesn’t he?
Mr GEPP: Mr Davis does love sky rail on occasions; there might have been a road to Damascus there somewhere. Ms Maxwell: On a point of order, Acting President, the motion clearly states that it is about Murray Basin rail, and I would ask if you could direct Mr Gepp back to the particular topic of the motion.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Bourman): Thank you, Ms Maxwell. Mr Gepp, if you would like to come back to the ballpark, it would be great. Mr GEPP: Thank you for your guidance, Acting President. I think I am still in the ballpark. I mean, we are talking about the very significant infrastructure project that is the subject of this motion and I am just giving some context on the government’s commitment to infrastructure projects, because there is some criticism of the government in relation to this matter. Nonetheless I will take your guidance, Acting President, and I will do my level best— Ms Shing: Your level crossing best. Mr GEPP: Yes, my level crossing best, to bring it back in the remaining 21 minutes that I have. Members interjecting.
Mr GEPP: No, no, get the popcorn out, because on permanently outraged day there is nothing I like more than to be expansive on these things. There is a bit of deja vu, I think—a little bit of last term coming back and biting people on the tail. Coming back to Ms Maxwell’s motion for the time being, stage 1 of the project is of course complete. Stage 2 is largely complete, with a few remaining speed restrictions on the reopened Maryborough to Ararat line to be lifted following the completion of level crossing works. Just on level crossing works, Mr Davis, I think the briefing we received the other day from the minister was that we are up to 30 now, with the latest one to be announced being Reservoir. We will be moving to 31, hopefully, by the end of the year. Mrs McArthur interjected
. Mr GEPP: So just another piece of extraordinary infrastructure that is well loved by people who are enjoying the benefits of that, Mrs MacArthur—and there are many of those people. Again, this is demonstrative of this government’s commitment to infrastructure. We will not take our eyes off the ball as long as we occupy the Treasury bench, and as we all say in unison, ‘Long may that be the case’. The government is now focused on ensuring, in terms of the Murray Basin rail project, that key freight lines are prepared for the upcoming harvest. It is going to be a very, very busy time in northern Victoria and right across this state. We have invested $23 million in upgrading the Manangatang line—works that have been completed ahead of this grain season, because we know how important that Murray Basin rail is for our farmers and for our freight industry. I do want to take a moment, though, to talk about how, as I said at the commencement of my contribution, we have been working with the commonwealth government to complete this project and to enhance access to and competition for Victoria’s freight network, and we will continue to do that. But it is worth noting that when those opposite were in government they did absolutely nothing in relation to the Murray Basin rail network—not a thing. But of course it would not be true to say that they did nothing in relation to our freight networks, because they sold them.
Our friend from The National Party here in in this place and The Nationals in general stood by as they do on most things in regional Victoria and watched it happen—they watched it happen and they did nothing. So whilst people can sit and throw eggs at the government in relation to the myriad of infrastructure projects that it has got going around the place, those opposite are not entitled to do so, because when they had the opportunity—and now that they have got the opportunity at the federal level—they were sadly left wanting. They just did not fulfil their promises and meet the needs of people in regional and rural Victoria. It was the Andrews Labor government that got this project going. We were the ones back in 2016 that secured the federal funding needed for the project. The Andrews Labor government is continuing to focus on this very important bill. We do not for a moment, and nor does the minister, suggest that the completion of this project is going to be anything but challenging. It is a massive undertaking, and we do understand. I know Ms Maxwell understands the very important nature of the project and the requirement for it to be completed as early as it possibly can be.
I note that the Deputy Prime Minister has said in recent times that he continues to work directly with Minister Allan in the other place to ensure that we have a pipeline of funding open to us to complete this project as early as we possibly can. All projects at some point are challenged in relation to ongoing funding, and it is very, very important that we continue to work with all of the stakeholders on this project to find the money necessary to complete it as quickly as we possibly can. Of course there is always competition for those funds. There is not a limitless bucket of money that is available for all of these infrastructure projects. There is a finite amount of money that is available each and every year. That is why we have the relevant budgets at the state level and at the federal level. It is about making sure that for all of the different infrastructure projects that are underway, or indeed soon to be commenced, the funding matches the urgency in terms of those various projects, and we are delivering as much as we possibly can across the board. As I said, the Murray Basin rail project is a very large investment, and it is of great importance to people in the north-west. It is now competing, for example, with some of the infrastructure projects that we are seeing through the urban expansion around the place. It is about making sure in the very competitive fiscal environment that the dollars, both at the state level and at the federal level, are available when they are needed so that the work on these projects continues. With that, I might leave my contribution there.
I know there are other people to speak on the motion. But I do want to say that it is a very important project, Ms Maxwell. We do take it very, very seriously. It is in competition with 100 infrastructure projects that we have got going on around the place. It is about making sure that all of those priority needs are balanced and that we are able to deliver the pipeline of investment to those projects when it is needed, and this is certainly a significant project for this government.