North East Link Bill 2020

Mr KENNEDY (Hawthorn): I am very pleased, delighted, excited to speak on the North East Link Bill 2020, a project that will bring many benefits to the east, where my electorate of Hawthorn is situated. This project has been spoken about for many years, but it is the Andrews Labor government that, as we have seen so many times, is getting on with delivering this vital piece of infrastructure. This bill will facilitate tolling on the North East Link and establishes the State Tolling Corporation and necessary toll enforcement and governance regime, to which I will return shortly.

Up to 135 000 vehicles will use the North East Link. This will see 15 000 trucks a day off local roads, with significant environmental benefits, while dramatically reducing congestion in the north-east. Additional lanes on the Eastern Freeway will also help ease some of Melbourne’s worst bottlenecks. Not only catering to the many road users, there will also be a range of benefits for cyclists, walkers and public transport users like myself. As I will outline later, this road will also play a vital role in connecting communities.

As the Treasurer has outlined, the project will be built to the highest environmental standards, with an emphasis on noise reduction or minimisation and engineered to a higher standard than any previous Victorian road project. Consistent with the project’s environmental credentials are Victoria’s longest road tunnels to protect those key areas of high sensitivity. Of course, Environment Protection Authority Victoria’s role in daily monitoring ambient air quality is recognised by six selected locations. I believe it is also worth highlighting the differences this project has to date from some other roads proposed in this house. Work began on the North East Link on day one of the second term of the Andrews government. To paraphrase a former Prime Minister, this government did not lose a referendum on the North East Link—there was no need for secret side deals. This project was voted on by the Victorian people and endorsed by the Victorian people. While one project was shrouded in secrecy until a new Premier had the guts to release the details, this project worked with local councils for three years—three years—and held an environment effects statement process, which saw 2 000 individual pieces of feedback, 870 submissions, 40 days of exhibitions and 36 days of hearings. Engaging with the grassroots community, working with the people rather than just having a born-torule attitude, ensures this project’s success.

Enthusiastic and passionate groups, such as the Boroondara Bicycle Users Group, BBUG, and the Metro East Bicycle User Group, MEBUG, as well as other bike groups and walkers will be able to use more than 25 kilometres of new and upgraded walking and cycling paths. Whether it is a school fete, mobile office or even on an election day, a passionate member of BBUG or MEBUG will find time to visit and speak with me. It is clear from their dedication and advocacy that there is a need for  more cycling infrastructure around Melbourne. Long have there been complaints that the current eastern route along the Yarra River is indirect, but the eastern bike corridor will provide a direct route for commuters and recreationalists alike.  In addition, the north-east bicycle corridor will be completed, which is a new commuter cycling route
to the city along the Eastern Freeway between Chandler Highway and Merri Creek. Bridges will also be upgraded, and more signalised crossings for walkers and bike riders will be provided. This will include upgrading the bridge next to the Koonung Creek wetlands, improving disability access to an incredible local resource.

While most of this falls outside my electorate of Hawthorn, it has many benefits to my community. The Anniversary Trail will now be our link to many other parts of Melbourne. Cyclists will be able to come down from the inner north or outer east, stopping along the way at some of the cafes that Canterbury and Camberwell have to offer. They will learn the history of the outer circle railway, with two historic bridges marking the edges of my electorate—the Canterbury Road bridge in the north and
the Toorak Road bridge to the south, both built around 1890. Weekends will be better spent on two wheels, exploring Melbourne and its history and culture. So many families and friends, with cycling and walking at the forefront, will be better connected across our city.

My grandfather was born in the 1880s and was ahead of his time, driving a car in the 1920s. Alas, this was not a skill passed down the generations, with neither my father, me nor even my son having received their drivers licence. Now, some may be asking why as a non-driver myself am I speaking on a bill about a road I will not be using? Well, of course, like many Victorians, I too will benefit; and as an avid user of public transport I am keen to highlight the important upgrades included as part of the project. The inclusion of Melbourne’s first dedicated busway is a win for public transport users along the Eastern Freeway corridor. The communities of Doncaster, North Balwyn and Bulleen will see improvements in their morning commute, with an upgraded park-and-ride at Doncaster as well as a brand-new park-and-ride at Bulleen. The new busway will feature dedicated connections to both locations, allowing for unimpeded access, cutting delays. By eliminating the need to navigate traffic at on and off-ramps, buses will be able to travel up to l00 kilometres an hour, slashing the morning commute for thousands by up to 30 per cent. It is more than just speed, though. This is connecting more communities. By giving people in Doncaster express trips along new uninterrupted routes, they are given easy and affordable access to more parts of our beautiful city—no more weaving in and out of traffic.

This vital road, linking the north to the east, also provides increased economic opportunities for people living in the north, east and south-east. There will be more job choices, and residents will be able to boost income levels and support the development of suburban hubs. Therefore the North East Link will be critical in providing 56 000 more job opportunities for workers in the north-east.

I now turn to specific elements of the bill. The government will introduce a new structure where a state tolling corporation, or STC, will be responsible for fixing and collecting toll revenues for the North East Link. The powers and responsibilities of the new statutory body will be managed through a North East Link tolling agreement with the government, with changes to this agreement subject to review and the right to revocation by Parliament. In addition to the many benefits it will bring, the North East Link will change for the better the way we move around Melbourne.

I would like to mention briefly some of the wrinkles that were highlighted by the member for Bulleen. Like the member for Bulleen, I have a great love of Marcellin College and a number of other activities and institutions that will be affected by the North East Link. But I believe these are wrinkles that will be settled over time; and there is plenty of time, but we need to get some things settled and organised right now. Whilst I acknowledge that there can be some wrinkles and that there is still work to be done, in consultation and working with various sporting institutions and educational institutions, such as Marcellin College, I believe these are fixable things and that in the long run the whole bill will work for the mutual benefit. So I commend the bill to the house.