Coalition must re-commit funding for regional VIC

great_ocean_road.jpgMr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (11:25): I can agree with the member for Corangamite on one or two things. I agree that the Great Ocean Road is a beautiful stretch of highway. I have travelled it many times myself on pushbike. As I was riding my bike around Australia, I found the Great Ocean Road a little bit wet in part but a fantastic place to tour through. I have also travelled it by bus and car. I have concluded from those experiences that it is almost as nice as Lawrence Hargrave Drive, which runs through the electorate of my colleague the member for Cunningham and terminates somewhere near my electorate of Throsby on the South Coast of New South Wales. It is a beautiful stretch of road. The Great Ocean Road is almost as nice as Lawrence Hargrave Drive, and indeed it has many things in common with Lawrence Hargrave Drive, being a beautiful stretch of road that hugs the cliffs alongside the ocean.

We have absolutely no difference of opinion when it comes to the fact that this is one of Australia's great assets. Literally millions of Australians have driven and, like me, cycled along the road and stopped at the regional towns along the way for a bit of respite. I am pleased that this government recognises the importance of this road, as Labor always has.

I also think it is pretty good that the coalition actually have an infrastructure project in regional Australia that they are willing to back, because such projects are few and far between. You have to ask yourself: what is going on? What special thing singles out this particular piece of infrastructure in regional Victoria from all the others that speaker after speaker have got up recently to talk about, saying, 'We'd love to fund this project but there's no dough'? We recently heard the member for Wannon and the member for McMillan get up and say, 'I've got a shopping list of projects but unfortunately my side won't fund them because we've got no dough.'

The difference is this: the Victorian government is going to an election this year, on 26 November. What we are seeing in this motion is a celebration of a $25 million electoral bailout for a struggling Premier. That is what we are seeing. I see the member for Wannon here. He finds it hard to cover up his smile because he knows that this is absolutely true. Indeed, when the Premier of Victoria lodges his electoral declaration in December this year, there will be one very big line item: a donation from Tony Abbott to the tune of $25 million to help his struggling government get across the line. That is what this is. This is an electoral bailout for a struggling Victorian government—nothing more and nothing less.

Mr Tehan interjecting

Mr STEPHEN JONES: Yes, it is a worthy project, but it is no less worthy than many of the projects that have been canned—and I see a prominent member of the National Party in the chamber—in your very own electorates, which you will not get up and fight for.

On this side of the House, we think it is important that you keep this important, iconic road in good nick, but we are more than a little bit suspicious about the motives that have picked out this project, at this point in time, for a $25 million fill-up whilst ignoring literally dozens and dozens of excellent projects in other electorates around the country. It is a $25 million electoral bailout for Denis Napthine—nothing more and nothing less. We see that the government in its first few months have cut literally millions of dollars out of regional Victorian communities dotted throughout regional Victoria. I think, for example, of the Emerald Tourist Railway, affectionately known to many of us as Puffing Billy. Perhaps if they called it Puffing Freddo Frog and dipped it in chocolate it might be a little bit more successful in gaining funding, because when the Prime Minister was in Tasmania he was more than willing to throw some money at some tourist infrastructure down there, being that multinational-owned Cadburys confectionery factory, claiming that the reason he was doing that was that it was an important tourist icon. The Emerald Tourist Railway will be very disappointed to know that the $3 million which had been granted to their Puffing Billy railway, as an important tourist attraction, has been withdrawn. If only it were the Freddo Frog railway, it might have got that funding.

While we are talking about the Great Ocean Road, can I talk about Torquay, on the Great Ocean Road. I have spent a number of nights at Torquay. It is a beautiful place. I know that the people in the town of Torquay are crying out for community infrastructure, including the Torquay North Family and Children's Community Centre, a $6.5 million project that had attracted funding from the federal government, only to have that funding withdrawn. If we are to believe those opposite, it was because there was no dough available, and yet we see the government able to bring forward over $15 million and $25 million to fund this project. I do not cavil with the project; I query the motivation for doing it now.

One of the joys of travelling along the Great Ocean Road is stopping at the country towns along the way. Just outside Geelong there is a little town called Leopold, of 13,000 people. There is no community hall there, so the football and netball club take on that role. The member for Corio, a great champion for his community, has recently spoken in this House about sports facilities there that have not been updated since the 1970s. They were due to receive over half a million dollars for a new netball facility. Unfortunately, with the election of the coalition government, that funding has been axed—a community along the Great Ocean Road that has not received the priority that it deserves. A family touring through Geelong might like to get out and go for a bike ride, as I enjoy doing, and they might be interested to know that there had been a proposal for a new million-dollar cycleway project out of Geelong. We promised to fund it. It was supported by the member for Corio and the former member for Corangamite but unfortunately not by the current member for Corangamite, the mover of this motion, and that funding has been withdrawn.

Whilst there is much to celebrate in the grant of funds—under suspicious circumstances—for the upgrade of the Great Ocean Road, there are many communities along the Great Ocean Road and throughout regional Victoria that are not enjoying the same largesse. The member for Bendigo is in the chamber at the moment, and I really hope that she has something to say on this important motion, because I know that she has experiences that the House needs to hear about to do with the failure of both the Victorian and the Commonwealth governments to support worthy and important infrastructure projects in her electorate.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you would have thought that a member of the government might be a little bit timid to stand in this place and talk about an infrastructure project, given the woeful history that the coalition have had in government. When we came into government, Australia was ranked 20th out of 25 for the government's commitment to infrastructure and infrastructure investment. That is right: 20th out of 25. When we left office last year, we were ranked No. 1. The coalition would not have even made it to an Olympic Games at the conclusion of their term in office. They would not have even been in the reserve pack. But when we were there it was gold medals for our contribution to plugging the infrastructure gap left by those opposite.

The member for Corangamite was proud to talk about many of the coalition's infrastructure commitments. She had nothing to say about the $1.5 billion fillip from the Commonwealth government for the WestConnex project. They have lectured us up hill and down dale about the importance of cost-benefit analyses. There was not one cost-benefit analysis for that $1.5 billion worth of Commonwealth money. While you are all there weeping on that side of the chamber about there being no dough in the bank to fund your important projects, you have got your priorities wrong.