Public Accounts and Estimates Committee: budget estimates 2011-12

It is a pleasure today to speak on the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) report on the budget estimates 2011-12, part 1. I am going to focus my remarks on the Department of Transport hearings, in particular on an issue that directly affects my electorate.

Last time I spoke on this report I spoke at length about the proposed car park extensions at the Merinda Park and Narre Warren railway stations. In the transcript of the hearing there was reference to the extension of the Merinda Park station car park. As was pointed out during the hearing by the member for Preston, this project was funded by the Labor government in the 2010-11 budget allocation for park and ride.

The project included at least 350 additional car parking spaces.

The former Minister for Public Transport joined me at Merinda Park in October last year to announce this much-needed project for local commuters. Six weeks later — two days prior to the election — a four-page Liberal Party advertisement appeared in the Berwick News. It read in part ‘$600 000 for 500 more car parks at Merinda Park and Narre Warren train stations’.

This funding was subsequently included in the Baillieu government’s first budget. What happened after that is undoubtedly the biggest miscalculation on the back of an envelope I have ever seen.

During the hearing the member for Preston asked the minister a simple question:

… how many additional car parking spaces over and above the 350 already funded this additional funding of $600 000 will create and where will they be?

This is the same question that the community has been asking all year. It is the same question that I and local journalists in my electorate have been asking all year. It is a question that the minister has been dodging all year. Substantial extensions to car parks, of which the Merinda Park project is one, cost millions of dollars to complete. I am fully aware of this because our government, the Labor government, invested greatly in park-and-ride facilities, including in my electorate.

I knew when I first heard of the Liberal Party’s $600 000 commitment that it would not equate to the 500 additional spaces the Liberals were promising.

The community wanted answers. After two Freedom of Information requests, several parliamentary speeches, questions on notice, letters and newspaper articles, we have finally been given some answers from the Baillieu government. Before I relay those answers to this house, I must say how ironic it is that a government that came into office on a platform of being open, honest and transparent would not release this information without months of laborious scrutiny by me, the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee and local journalists.

But here is the current status of the extensions of the car parks of Merinda Park and Narre Warren stations.

After delaying construction on the Merinda Park project, the minister wrote to me in response to my adjournment debate request and advised that 400 extra spaces would be provided at Merinda Park station, including the 370 funded by Labor — that is, just 30 spaces out of the 500 promised by the Liberal Party. I gave the Baillieu government the benefit of the doubt and expected that 470 additional spaces would be provided at Narre Warren station.

Months after my receiving this letter a member for South Eastern Metropolitan Region in the Council, Inga Peulich, announced that the total number of additional spaces at Merinda Park will be 360, while the sign that went up at the station says 370. They cannot even get their stories straight. At around the same time the minister announced that 130 extra spaces will be provided at Narre Warren station. So after all the dithering, the question asked by the member for Preston at the PAEC hearing has been answered.

We now know that the Baillieu government has broken its promise to provide 500 additional spaces at Merinda Park and Narre Warren stations. The minister has cheated Narre Warren commuters by announcing 370 fewer spaces than they were promised by him. During the hearing the minister’s response to the member for Preston’s question was:

That is the way you do business; it is not the way we do business …

We have seen the back-of-the-envelope way this minister and this government do business in this case. Their handling of these two projects in my electorate has been nothing short of shambolic and is indicative of an incompetent, dithering and, dare I say, dodgy government. I urge all members to read the PAEC reports and see how far short of reality the government’s words concerning the delivery of major transport projects in our electorates fall.