I am in full support of John Holland’s decision to build a new precast concrete plant in Benalla.
Suggestions by Labor MPs that I am not are completely false.
What I do not support is Daniel Andrews’ flawed plan for the West Gate tunnel, one of the projects John Holland has been subcontracted to supply.
When the announcement about the new plant was made the week before last, council said John Holland intended to build the plant to supply not just the West Gate tunnel, but infrastructure projects across the eastern seaboard of Australia.
The government says it will provide 400 jobs, although council documents suggest up to 230 employees.
As a major construction company, John Holland tenders for infrastructure work all over Australia and Benalla offers direct access to the $9.3 billion inland rail network that the Federal Coalition Government is building, which means a plant built here will be able to supply projects in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.
Furthermore, the Liberals and The Nationals have already announced $5.5billion worth of road infrastructure projects, with more commitments to come ahead of the election.
These are projects that a major construction company like John Holland will bid for and which a plant in Benalla could supply.
The decision to build the plant in Benalla is John Holland’s, not the Victorian Government’s and I have sought a meeting with them to discuss their plans.
Disappointingly, however, Daniel Andrews has sought to use these jobs as a political football in a much wider debate.
For months now, the Liberals and The Nationals have been raising concerns about the West Gate tunnel.
Our concerns about the project are threefold.
Firstly, Labor went to the last election promising a $500 million road that they said was shovel ready.
Instead, they are now proposing to build a road that will cost 12 times that.
Secondly, despite the enormity of the project, the project never went to tender, but was instead done as a sweetheart deal with Transurban, the major contractor, behind closed doors.
Thirdly, as part of the deal with Transurban, the government has given them the green light to massively increase tolls on CityLink and to extend them for a further 20 years.
We wrote to the builders last year outlining our concerns about the project and urging them not to incur substantial costs until proper planning processes were complete.
Despite this, Daniel Andrews went out the week before last and announced the tunnel anyway, saying it would create 400 jobs in Benalla, but knowing full well that he did not have the required planning approvals to undertake the tunnel project.
When they announced the plant, Labor told reporters that I would seek to block it in Parliament, which shows its plan all along has been less about jobs and more about petty wedge politics.
We have used Parliament to seek additional documents about the project from the government, so it can be properly scrutinised.
We have also moved to stop Labor from funding the project by extending tolls on CityLink because it is unfair to make CityLink motorists, including people travelling to Melbourne from our part of the world, to pay for a road they won’t use.
It’s worth noting that when Daniel Andrews was asked by reporters last week whether the project would go ahead, his response was that he would use any means available.
In short, Labor wants Melbourne people to believe that the project is going ahead, but you to believe that, because of me, it won’t go ahead.
I know that people don’t care about these silly political games.
I’ll continue to fight for more jobs in Benalla and for the investment our town needs, like new trains and a new school, but I’m not going to play nasty political games that toy with the future of our town.