Transport and housing key issues for Victoria

Infrastructure Victoria has highlighted three top priorities out of the 137 recommendations it has put forward to parliament as part of the state’s first ever 30-year infrastructure strategy, Infrastructure Victoria Chief Executive Officer, Michel Masson has told a CEDA audience in Melbourne.

On 8 December Infrastructure Victoria released the state’s 30-year infrastructure strategy to parliament. Mr Masson spoke at the CEDA event  to outline the short-, medium- and long-term infrastructure needs and priorities for Victoria.

Mr Masson said there was an immense feeling of pride held by Infrastructure Victoria in releasing the report as it is different in many ways. 
“It’s different, first and foremost, because this is the first-ever, state-wide 30-year infrastructure strategy, covering all sectors: transport, health, justice, education, tourism, environment – you name it,” Mr Masson said.

“It’s different because the approach we’ve taken was resolutely about how to make the most of existing assets. While at the same time looking at the cross generational, multi-billion dollar projects that Victoria needs in the future.

“It’s different because we are an evidence-based organisation. That means that every single one of those recommendations are backed by very strong evidence, which we published transparently.”

He said the organisation made it clear that it wanted to have as many Victorian fingerprints as possible in the report, gathered though deep community engagement. So, when it was tabled to parliament, parliament would understand that the report had come from the community, for the community.

The strategy progressed from 285 options, to 137 final recommendations. Mr Masson said this fact is testament of the tough decisions the organisation had to make in reaching the final strategy.

Elaborating on what the recommendations consisted of, he said: “Consistent with the approach of making the most of our existing assets, 45 per cent of the recommendations are around making the most of what we currently have. Only 35 per cent are about expansion and new build.

“For those of you in the room who have already done the calculation, there is 20 per cent missing. The other 20 per cent is around better prioritisation and more transparency around how decisions are being made.”

He said within that 20 per cent, recommendations included calling for more transparency, and regular publishing of the pipeline of various projects planned across varying sectors, such as planning for new schools.

Out of the 137 recommendations put forward, Infrastructure Victoria had to pick its three top priorities. These were:

1. Transport infrastructure

This strategy related to increasing density in established areas and in employment centres. The scope of this recommendation included Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong, and other regional cities that will face questions regarding how to make the most of their existing infrastructure.

The recommendation put forward was to concentrate on developing the transport corridors to the south and the east of Melbourne.

Mr Masson said that “the reason why we picked this area is absolutely obvious when you look at the future demand on networks. By 2046 the road and rail corridors will not match capacity.”

2. Transport pricing

This recommendation relates to introducing comprehensive transport pricing.

“We have the evidence to show that in order to bust the traffic congestion, we have to come to a point where the supply side of the congestion (more roads, etc) will not be enough. It’s necessary to look at the demand side,” Mr Masson said.

“The system is currently broken with the way the revenue is being collected. For every single litre of petrol that you put in your tank, 40c of that is going to the government as revenue.

“Cars are becoming more and more efficient and electric cars are selling quite nicely. So that pool of revenue is actually reducing.”
Additionally, he highlighted this means the government earns the same amount of money whether you drive 1km of road in the country, or 1km of road during Monday at peak-hour on Hoddle Street.

“There is currently a national reform taking momentum with a public enquiry taking place in 2017 to look at how we can replace this broken road pricing, which will reflect how you travel and when you travel. And this will allow us to look at the inefficiency of the system at the moment,” he said.

“This is the most powerful way to tackle what we all suffer from – congestion. If we were to take five per cent of cars off the road, you would enjoy the same traffic flow as you enjoy during the school holiday season.”

3. Social and affordable housing

The third recommendation is around social and affordable housing reform.

“The number of vulnerable Australians facing housing stress is equivalent to the population of the city of Ballarat,” Mr Masson said.
“That is the magnitude of what we’re talking about. That’s why our strong recommendation is to ramp up the investment and a raft of changes to ramp up that specific issue.”

Now that parliament has the strategy, the next step will see government table a response. From here, it has up to 12 months to provide the community with a five-year infrastructure plan, in which it will identify its priority projects, but also the policy and regulation reforms that they will commit to work on.

A follow-up event focused on social and affordable housing will be held on 16 March 2017. Register for the event here.

View Infrastructure Victoria’s 30-year infrastructure strategy here.