Matter of Public Importance - Regional transport fares

22 March 2023

Martha HAYLETT (Ripon) (17:32):

I rise to speak on the matter of public importance submitted by the member for Niddrie today, and what a matter of public importance it is – that the fare cap for regional Victorians will be the same as the metropolitan Melbourne price from 31 March.

This will encourage more Victorians to connect with family and friends by reducing the cost of travel between regional Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne. Regional tourism and businesses will benefit as a result, and it will have a huge positive impact on the cost of living for so many.

This is a game changer – a massive almost $1.5 billion has been delivered to build 59 new VLocity trains since 2015, and this side of the house has committed to build another 23 brand new VLocity trains, securing hundreds of jobs over the next three years. A whopping 800 services – that is right, 800 services – have been added onto the V/Line network since 2014, and a further 200 weekend services have been promised to make our regions prosper even more. We know on the side of the house that when we promise something we actually deliver it, unlike those opposite.

This is an issue I am hugely passionate about. As the member for Ripon, I know who stands up for regional transport, and that is Labor. Country Victorians have long memories, and we remember when the Liberal–Nationals ripped out our train lines. Under Jeff Kennett the Ararat train line was closed. Under Jeff Kennett the Maryborough train line was closed too. And as an Ararat resident at the time, the member for Eureka distinctly also remembers when the Ararat line was cut. It completely devastated the communities of Ararat and Beaufort and drastically dropped the population of our country towns. Closing the Maryborough line had a profound impact on the towns of Creswick, Clunes, Talbot and Maryborough too, and so many people still talk to me to this day about how devastating closing those train lines was. It left our towns behind, it made them isolated and it impacted jobs, educational opportunities and livelihoods.

But who brought the train lines back? Who brought them back? Labor brought them back, and we have added so many extra services since then, both during the week and on weekends. Now we are making it cheaper to catch the train to where rural and regional Victorians want to go, whether that be down to the footy in Melbourne or to visit family and friends in different towns along the Ararat, Maryborough and Ballarat train lines. Instead of costing a huge $50.80 return from Maryborough to Melbourne, from 31 March it will cost $9.20 max – that is a huge difference – or $4.60 for concession card holders. That is a massive, massive change, and we are making public transport truly affordable and accessible for Victorians by capping these fares. It is fair, it is equitable and it will benefit so many of my constituents. It will mean more people will be able to access vital health and education services, including making TAFE in Ballarat much more accessible to young people along the Ararat and Maryborough lines, and it will mean more money back in the pockets of rural and regional Victorians.

Return fares, as I said before, and I am just going to keep on saying it, are $9.20 for a full fare or $4.60 concession, and an incredible $6.70 for a full fare on weekends and public holidays and $3.35 for concession. The fare cap also applies to all Public Transport Victoria regional buses, town buses and V/Line coaches, and that was something that was raised with me by constituents. They said, ‘This is fantastic for trains, does it apply to buses?’ I can confirm it absolutely does.

Now, I encourage members in this place to take advantage of this and to come up on the V/Line train to visit CresFest next weekend. It is running from Friday 31 March to Sunday 2 April. It is an amazing three-day festival of folk and roots music. It is in its second year, so they are doing incredible work, those organisers, to organise CresFest. Anyone in this chamber, I would like to personally invite you to Creswick for CresFest. You can also come along to the monthly Talbot market on the third Sunday of each month. It was recently voted in the top 10 Australian farmers markets by Australian Traveller magazine, and is the only Victorian market that made the list. So come on up to Talbot market. It is absolutely amazing. Members might also want to catch the V/Line up to visit the Cyril Callister museum in Beaufort, which celebrates the man who invented Vegemite. So we have got the Vegemite museum in Beaufort, come up on the train and check it out. You might also want to jump on the train and come visit the Ararat Gallery, the J Ward museum, the Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre or the monthly market in Ararat. We have so much to see in our region, and now even more visitors will be able to enjoy it with cheaper regional train fares.

Now, as the member for Niddrie recently said, often it takes other governments four years to deliver promises like this, but it has taken us four months. It is absolutely not, like the member for South-West Coast wrongly claimed, too good to be true. It is happening, and we are doing it. They tried to do $2 public transport fares, which was absolutely ridiculous. What we are doing is far better and we are actually getting on and delivering it. We are getting on with easing the cost-of-living pressures and making these fares truly fair.

Many of those opposite will pretend that Labor does not deliver for rural and regional Victoria. This policy is proof that we do. It is only Labor that genuinely delivers for our regions. We deliver new fire stations. We deliver pools, recreation reserves, health services, police stations and job opportunities, and now we are delivering more train services and cheaper fares. Many constituents and rail advocates in Ripon know that I am a gunzel. For those who do not know what a gunzel is, it is someone who is very much a fan of trains and buses. So I am a proud gunzel.

A member: You learn something every day, don’t you?

Martha HAYLETT: Exactly. I am very passionate about public transport and improving access to trains and bus connections across my electorate. This policy truly makes me proud to be Labor. As a government we have nearly doubled annual spending on regional rail services from when we came into office in 2014. In comparison, as I stated before, those opposite wanted to introduce a $2 ticketing policy if they got elected in November. This would not have just hurt regional commuters, it would have hurt the whole transport network. They basically almost forgot to announce a regional fares policy and then asked regional Victorians to pay 20 times more to use a train in their communities than in Melbourne.

Now, you do not have to believe me. Just look at the track record of those opposite. It is cuts, cuts, cuts, closures of trains and train lines, the whole lot. So the former Baillieu–Napthine government slashed $120 million from V/Line, hurting services and passengers. Now this side of the chamber has done the complete opposite, because we care about connecting rural and regional Victorians and making it easier for them to get where they want to go. We are not stopping at regional fares either; we are also ordering 23 new VLocity trains to support rail upgrades on our network. This will secure hundreds of jobs over the next three years across the supply chain, including jobs in Ballarat. The member for Eureka and the member for Wendouree have previously spoken on this point, but it will mean that the hardworking staff at Alstom workshop in Ballarat will have a pipeline of work. They will have certainty for their workforce, and it will support more than 100 workers in Ballarat, which is huge for our region. We will also deliver extra weekend services on our regional network, including five additional weekend train services on the Ararat line, which will be fantastic. We have already delivered four new additional weekend rail services. It did not take us long. It did not even take four months; it took several weeks. I caught the first extra service from Maryborough to Ballarat on 4 December with Central Goldfields shire mayor Grace La Vella, Cr Chris Meddows-Taylor and Rail Revival Alliance President Noel Laidlaw, who is another gunzel. We were all over the moon about the extra services, and locals are absolutely over the moon as well.

I want to thank the member for Niddrie for his hard work as the Minister for Public Transport to get this done. I know that my constituents in Ripon are extremely grateful to the minister. Thank you to the members for Wendouree, Eureka and Lara for your fantastic contributions today, and I am sure that the hardworking member for Bellarine will make a similarly fantastic contribution. As country MPs we are all working hard to deliver for our communities. It is an honour and a privilege to work alongside them to amplify the voices of rural and regional Victorians.

Just in closing, our communities will never forget what those opposite did to our train services. They completely closed the Ararat line and the Maryborough line. We cannot let them do that again. We will never, ever do that. We are delivering for rural and regional Victorians. Unlike those opposite, we are getting the job done.