Pollies won’t budge on rail stoush

The war of words between the state and federal governments about who should fund Gippsland rail upgrades continued late last week with State upper house MP Harriet Shing writing to Federal Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester touting the benefits of the project.

In a letter to Mr Chester, who is also the local member for Gippsland, Ms Shing and her counterpart Daniel Mulino called on the Federal Government to fund the project from its Asset Recycling Initiative.

The $435 million upgrade was announced by Premier Daniel Andrews in Warragul last week as the centrepiece of its $1.45 billion statewide Regional Rail Revival Package.

Immediately after Mr Andrews announced the project, Mr Chester accused the State Government of not economically contributing to the project and said it could not receive federal money until a business case was presented.

The Federal Government has also disputed the State Government’s claim it is owed $1.46 billion from the asset recycling scheme from the lease of the Port of Melbourne.

But in the letter, Ms Shing said the money was owed to Victoria and accused the Federal Government of “short-changing” Victoria.

“Based on our population share, the Commonwealth is short-changing Victoria on $6.6 billion of infrastructure spending,” she said.

“As home to 25 per cent of Australia’s population – and as this nation’s fastest growing state – a nine per cent share of Commonwealth Government funding isn’t enough.”

Ms Shing said as a result, Gippsland was helping subsidise the rest of the nation’s infrastructure.

But Mr Chester responded sharply to the letter, saying Labor MPs would be better off directing their attentions towards Mr Andrews.

“Rather than write to me, the Labor MPs should write to their own Premier and ask him why he expects the Federal Government to pay for all the proposed upgrades on regional rail lines,” Mr Chester said.

“If the State Government was serious about investing in Gippsland rail it would’ve put some of its own money on the table in this week’s budget.”

He said he remained “absolutely committed” and had strongly advocated for better Gippsland rail services.

“Once the dust settles after the federal budget I’m expecting to sit down with the relevant State Ministers and see if we can deliver an outcome which is good for Gippsland and all regional Victorians,” Mr Chester said.