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Conflict continues over Vic rail funding

The dispute over the allocation of federal budget funds to Victoria’s rail infrastructure projects heated up this week with the bitter war of words continuing between Labor and Liberal figures at both federal and state levels.

On Monday, Victoria’s state transport minister Jacinta Allan joined with Labor’s federal shadow minister Anthony Albanese to attack the federal budget, and to claim that the Turnbull government had “dudded” the Victorian government’s request for the $1.45 billion in Asset Recycling Initiative funds meant for the state’s regional rail upgrades.

“The Turnbull government is ripping off Victoria — it’s as simple as that,” Allan said.

Since the budget’s release last Tuesday — which included a commitment of $1 billion in investment on Victorian infrastructure — the Andrews Labor government has claimed that the Turnbull government was not giving the state its fair share, with premier Daniel Andrews saying in a press conference last week that a massive gap had been left in their own commitments to upgrade the regional network.

“Even if all that money could be invested in regional rail, $1 billion can’t be made into $1.45 billion of work,” he said.

While $2.2 billion of Asset Recycling funds have been provided to the NSW Liberal government, the Andrews Labor government says that that Victoria “will get absolutely nothing” of the $1.45 billion that it claims is owed after leasing the Port of Melbourne through the Asset Recycling agreement with the federal government.

Labor called this “another kick in the guts for Victoria”, as the state receives 8 per cent of federal infrastructure funding overall, while NSW receives 45 per cent.

“Only Labor will give Victorians their fair share, so we can build the better transport, schools and hospitals they need and deserve,” Allan asserted on Monday, welcoming the support from the federal opposition.

Albanese added to his ongoing criticism of the budget’s funding strategies, stating that the budget papers themselves reveal that federal infrastructure investment for Victoria in the coming years is to be “further reduced from its already pathetic levels”, shrinking to $280 million in 2020-21, and by $150 million this year.

“These vicious cuts highlight the chasm between the coalition government’s rhetoric on infrastructure and its total inability to engage in the planning required to take projects from the drawing board and into construction,” he said.

Allan was also reported by The Border Mail as saying on Monday that the $100 million the federal government has promised for upgrades to the North East rail line was not enough.

“The Turnbull government needs to justify how they think $100 million will properly fix the track, given their own experts say it will cost more than that,” she was quoted as saying.

“As they have failed to provide any evidence to support their claims, people have every right to be sceptical.”

The Andrews government claims that the cost of the upgrades is closer to $130 million, and wants assurance that federal investment will be adequate for the update the tracks require before committing itself investing in new rolling stock.

Talking on ABC radio on Monday, federal infrastructure and transport minister Darren Chester responded, saying that “Premiers complaining about not getting enough money from the federal government is a bit like the sun coming up every morning; it does happen every day”.

Chester said that the federal government was helping the state Labor government fulfill “its own responsibilities” towards public transport system by putting forward $500 million for Victoria’s regional rail system, including $100 million for the North East line.

“Right now premier Andrews has zero on the table, he doesn’t have a single dollar from the state government there to negotiate with, and we are encouraging him to come to the table with money. Let’s have a proper conversation about how we can invest together in the future of regional Victoria,” he said.

Joining Chester for a press conference at Wangaratta on Tuesday, state Nationals member for Ovens Valley Tim McCurdy echoed the federal minister’s comments.

“Jacinta Allan and Premier Daniel Andrews need to stop playing the games and get on and provide the rolling stock that we need so importantly here on the North East line,” he said.

Nonetheless, the state Labor government has so far remained firm, with Jacinta Allan telling The Border Mail that the ball was in Canberra’s court.

“As soon as the Turnbull Government can prove their investment will properly fix the track, we will order new trains for the North-East line.”