A first thing to note is that I’ve never seen people so shy to sit on the front bench.
There’s vacant seats here – it’s amazing.
I’ll also say, I’ve never seen the Chamber as quiet as this – and it’s not every day I get a round of applause when I rise to speak.
But it is very good to be here – this is an important event.
And an opportunity for both sides of the political debate and the spectrum to share their plans for Victoria.
Now, despite our location, I know this is not an occasion for politics or for point-scoring.
But I would like to highlight some comments made by the Leader of the Opposition – who I know is going to be speaking to you today – those comments were made earlier this week.
And he said, it was time to “take the politics out of infrastructure delivery”.
And they are fine words.
And quite frankly, I couldn’t agree more.
It’s something I’ve said hundreds of times myself – and no doubt many of you have heard me say it many, many times.
It’s not the only idea our political opponents have been borrowing from us in recent days.
Of course, infrastructure delivery – I think we all know – is critically important to our state’s prospects, today and into the future.
And that it requires more than simply words.
There’s, in my judgement, no more stark example of that, than when we compare the last three years with the previous four.
I don’t need to remind anybody in this room about the numbers.
The economic statistics.
I’m sure each of us can remember the feeling of inaction and inertia that had dominated public debate, our economy and communities right across Victoria during that time.
As you know:
TAFEs were closing.
Jobs were going backwards – those are the facts of that period of the history of our state.
Confidence was flat-lining – or at least nowhere near where it needs to be in order for us to take advantage of the unique gifts we have, the unique opportunities we have, and to properly address the challenges we face as well.
Progress had really paused.
Three years on, and things could not be more different.
As last week’s National Accounts show – apart from the fact that those National Accounts are largely being written right here in the state of Victoria, which should be a source of pride for business and for all of us –
Those accounts show that our economy is leading our nation.
Our Gross State Product grew by 3.3 per cent, the highest of any state – and, of course, compare that to a national growth rate of just 2 per cent.
It puts our prosperity – our progress – in really clear context.
Our State Final Demand was also the strongest in the nation, reaching some 3.9 per cent.
Now as you know, jobs numbers are up as well.
More than 260,000 jobs have been created under our watch in just three years.
I’m very proud of that number, because it tells more than just an aggregate story.
It’s about individuals having the purpose and the wherewithal to build better lives for them and their families.
We all share in that benefit – each and every one of us.
After I finish my remarks today and take some of your questions –
I’ll be heading on down to the great city of Geelong to help make what, frankly, is a massive new jobs announcement for Geelong.
It’ll mean 500 new jobs – 500 brand new jobs – and 500 more Victorians and their families who’ve found the dignity and the security of work.
Importantly – those jobs are coming in one of our booming regional cities.
500 more jobs, on top of some 60,000 that have been created in regional Victoria across these last three years.
Ladies and gentlemen, confidence is up as well – we know that.
We’ve seen the strongest household demand, a 3 per cent increase.
The highest export growth, at 7.8 per cent.
And over the last year – this is perhaps the most impressive statistic, among many statistics – we’ve seen business investment jump by a massive 20.5 per cent.
That is huge. That is a massive vote of confidence – not in just the policy settings today, but people’s sense of certainty as they look to the medium and long term.
And all of that’s occurring at a time when the world has never been smaller.
Capital and investment has never been more flexible.
People can literally go where they please in terms of investment and risk.
And they are choosing to make those investments right here, in our great state.
Now of course, that’s not for a moment to say that we are without our challenges.
I know that businesses are really feeling the impact of energy prices.
And, indeed, households are doing it tough on that front as well.
And again I don’t make this as a partisan point – I just want to make it very clear to you that it’s my intention to keep pushing the Prime Minister and the national Government.
And I do hope we can get agreement on gas exports, and the fact that we need a domestic reserve.
We need a cap on gas exports.
We simply cannot settle for a situation where Australian gas is not reserved for Australian needs first – and then whatever’s left is exported to the world.
It is simply absurd that you can buy our gas cheaper in Japan than you can buy it right here at home.
The same, of course, can be said about electricity.
There is a lack of national certainty and leadership, I think.
And I don’t make that as a partisan point – the blame can be shared across the political divide, in some respects at least.
That lack of national leadership really is hitting the hip pocket of every Victorian and indeed Australians more broadly.
Households and businesses.
There is no arguing that our national energy market is broken.
We will, of course, have more to say about this quite soon.
But I do want to promise you that we will not just be talking about this issue – we will be acting on it.
And the same can be said in relation to another very topical, very tangible, very real issue for so many people across the state.
And that issue of course is the affordability of housing.
We didn’t just talk about the issue. We stepped in and used all of those levers that were available to us – acknowledging that that’s not all of the levers; there are things that are uniquely the province of the national Government.
But despite the fact that we didn’t necessarily have every power and every opportunity we might like, we have stepped in to make a real change, and to prioritise this issue – because we know it to be just so important.
I’m really pleased to be able to tell you today that our changes are, in fact, working and delivering real results for families and communities and – indeed – this critically important sector of our Victorian economy.
Since our cuts to stamp duty came into effect, there are more than 7,285 Victorians that have benefitted.
On average, those first home buyers are saving some $17,900.
Contracts signed between July and mid-November show 1,057 Victorians have received the First Home Owner Grant – and to put that in some kind of context, that’s close to double what it was at the same time last year.
Importantly, 565 of these contracts were signed in regional Victoria.
That’s very very important to me, given my background and understanding of just how important, critical and how vital strong regions are for a strong state.
But perhaps the clearest mark of our success in this regard is the fact that, of course, more people are coming to Victoria than any other state.
2.4 per cent growth over the last year, compared to the national growth rate of about 1.6 per cent.
Now, it may sound a bit clichéd – and of course I’d be the first person to have ever used a cliché in this Chamber – but people do really vote with their feet.
The point I made before about the flexibility, the options, the choices being exercised these days are perhaps more than has ever been the case.
But people are choosing Victoria. And that should be something we are very proud of – but at the same time we recognise that the strength of our economy, and our record jobs growth, and our world-leading liveability are big factors in those decisions.
But attracting more people than ever before does present its own challenges.
And of course the last thing our state needs – and the last thing that I would settle for – is a government that doesn’t have its foot on the pedal.
Now, in terms of building, and in terms of our effort, and the things that we have done and are doing –
When we came to government, infrastructure investment averaged around $4.9 billion per year.
That’s the ten-year average before we came to office.
Over the next four years, looking to the future, it will almost double to some $9.6 billion in infrastructure investment.
It’s a reflection of our attitude and our culture as a Government – and it’s one that says you don’t just talk about it.
You get on, and get it done.
That is what is most important to me and the team I lead.
It’s an investment, a total capital investment, that’s building new schools.
56 of them, in fact – brand new, greenfield sites, 56 brand new schools – with a 1000 more that are being upgraded across Victoria.
We’re also building new hospitals. New kindergartens. New police stations.
Lots of new infrastructure for a growing state.
Many of these projects ought to have been built a long time ago.
But we’re getting on and delivering them right now.
All of this is topped off by the biggest ever investment in Victoria’s roads and our critically important public transport system.
$3 billion for new trains and trams, made for Victorians, by Victorians – giving that sector the order book certainty they have craved for such a long period of time.
We are building the biggest public transport project our state – and perhaps our nation has ever seen – the Metro Tunnel.
We’re removing 50 of the state’s most dangerous and congested level crossings – using 100 per cent Australian steel, I might add.
Delivering a long-overdue alternative to the West Gate Bridge.
And upgrading every single regional rail line – passenger rail line – in regional Victoria.
It’s the biggest forward plan of infrastructure and investment our state has ever seen.
$73 billion dollars in total, supporting more than 50,000 Victorian jobs.
After four years where we just didn’t have that work rate, Victoria is very much moving again.
But as our state grows, we need to maintain this pace.
This needs to become the new normal in terms of government effort, government energy, and delivery.
Now it is why – and many of you heard me talk about this when we were the alternative Government, and you’ve heard me talk about it since.
That is the work of Infrastructure Victoria.
This is why we set the body up.
An independent expert, that’s at arm’s length from government and the political process.
It really does remove the politics from planning and infrastructure.
Late last year, Infrastructure Victoria released its 30-year blueprint for infrastructure investment across our state.
That included a number of projects that, to date, many, many people have talked about – they’ve discussed it, but none have ever delivered.
Priorities like the much-needed missing link in our freeway network, North East Link.
Infrastructure Victoria told us this was the most important major road project, and that it needed to be done as soon as possible.
There’d been enough talk about this project. We need to get on and deliver it.
This time last year, I announced $100 million to begin the planning for this crucial missing link.
And today, I can announce that we will shortly release the final route.
It’ll take in to account the needs of our growing north and south east.
And has been carefully considered by the very best in the business – and in direct and unprecedented consultation with the community.
The business case for this project will be finalised in time for next year’s Budget – and the business case will be released publicly.
This is a project that stacks up. It is not a project that loses 55 cents in every dollar you invest in it.
We also won’t put all our focus on one project.
We won’t put all our eggs in one basket.
Infrastructure Victoria made recommendations to us to drive our infrastructure pipeline over the next 30 years.
Like more arterial road upgrades across our cities and suburbs.
Improvements to our bus network.
A rail line connecting Melbourne to the airport.
A better, faster, more reliable regional rail service.
Well, I can tell you, we are getting on with each of those. Each and every one of those.
Today I’m very pleased to be able to announce that by the time the Metro Tunnel – Australia’s biggest ever transport project –
By the time the Metro Tunnel is completed in 2026, construction work will be well underway on an airport rail link.
I’m very pleased to make that announcement, and to deliver the planning today, for the projects we need for the future.
In fact, ladies and gentlemen, the planning has already begun.
Because, as you know, and as I think Victorians know – this sort of investment needs to be done right.
It needs to be done properly.
And it needs to benefit every single Victorian.
It can’t just funnel tourists and business people between the CBD and the airport.
It needs to be much more – and it can be.
It can transform the way people live, work, and travel right across Victoria.
In our view, the airport rail link has the potential to unlock Western and Northern Victoria.
It can create the extra capacity that we need in the congested rail corridor between Melbourne and Sunshine –
Which means we can untangle the regional and metropolitan network on the Geelong and Ballarat lines.
And finally it can give Melbourne’s booming west access to electrified metro rail services.
Ultimately, that means we can deliver real, high-speed rail to regional Victoria.
Right now, the idea of high speed rail is nothing more than a pipe dream.
The jumbled network of regional and metropolitan train lines in Melbourne’s west mean it just can’t be done.
But by separating metro lines from regional ones –
And using the airport rail link to create capacity on the rest of the network –
That dream becomes a reality.
Beginning with Geelong, and then Ballarat –
Our plan will look at how to deliver real, high-speed rail to connect Victoria.
Imagine travelling from Geelong to Melbourne in under 40 minutes.
It would change the way people work and live.
And it would change the face of our state forever.
Now to get this done right, I’ve asked the Victorian Co-ordinator General to get to work.
To plan, not just an airport link, but a high-speed link between our cities.
A plan, indeed, to reshape Victoria.
And I’ll have more to say about this important work, and these important projects, in the new year.
As we look to the future, I want to be clear that under my government, the days of election-cycle infrastructure delivery are over.
This is the kind of commitment a growing population needs.
The consistency of effort – that run rate, each and every day.
Doing more and planning to do even more than that.
This long-term planning is what our state has been crying out for.
It’s what the Chamber has advocated for – along with many others – for a very long period of time.
Look well beyond this term, and the one after that, and indeed – the one after that.
A pipeline that will drive the next generation of Victorian prosperity and growth.
Protecting and enhancing all the things we value and cherish.
Creating not thousands, but tens of thousands of jobs in the process.
And the certainty that industry absolutely needs to get on and continue to lead.
Of course, this will require a mature conversation about funding.
And there will be a time and a place for that into the future.
Many of you have heard me speak about borrowing.
You’ve heard me speak about the fact that we need to leverage our strong economic position to do more.
And borrowing to build is not something we should be afraid of – within reasonable limits, and with a proper, well-defined frame.
I think we have shown ourselves to be strong, prudent economic managers.
The accounts of our state prove that and put it beyond any doubt.
That economic management, and our credentials in that regard, is because of the investments that we’ve made. Not in spite of them.
And that’s a key difference between governments that get things done and others.
It really does put us in a strong position – the box seat, in fact – to leverage that position.
To do more, and to do even better.
To build more infrastructure, to create more Victorian jobs.
We are capable – all of us, as Victorians – to get this task done.
It is, after all, the commitment I gave to the people of Victoria back in 2014.
And I’m very pleased to say, and proud every day, that they gave us that gift and that huge responsibility.
We will take our record, not of talk, but of delivery, to the polls next year.
We have many more policy announcements.
And with the culture of urgency, a culture of investment, a culture of getting things done.
And then it’ll be for the people of Victoria to make their judgement, and to see what side of the House people make speeches from.
I would say to you that a government that looks to the future –
And one that is about bold change –
And not just doing the easy stuff –
But getting on and making the difficult choices –
That’s what leadership is about.
That’s what puts us in a strong position for the future.
My values, my experience, and my team, are all about getting things done.
And never wasting one moment.
Never betraying the trust, and the great gift that was given to us.
When you do that work, and you do it properly –
There are more jobs.
There are more and better prospects for the future.
They are our credentials.
And we’ll give them to the Victorian community, around this time next year.
Can I thank the Chamber. Mark and his team.
It’s always an open dialogue. It’s a frank exchange of views.
So many of the things we have done in these last three years have come from the relationship – the partnership that we have with the Chamber.
I thank Mark and all the membership for their willingness to engage.
I think it is fair to say, without any doubt, that that engagement and that partnership made us a better alternative government, and it’s made us a better government over these last three years.
It’s a valued partnership, and one that I know will continue into the future.
And I do thank you very much for your kind attention – your almost unparliamentary attention – and for your kind invitation to be with you today.
Check against delivery