Mr BROAD (Mallee) (15:02): My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. Will the minister update the House on projects that will address freight efficiency for the producers of the Wimmera, Mallee and Mildura region?
Mr CHESTER (Gippsland—Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (15:03): I thank the member for Mallee for his question. He brings a great deal of experience and diversity to this place. As a farmer—the member for Mallee purchased his first farm as a 22-year-old—he went on to become the president of the Victorian Farmers Federation. He has been an outstanding advocate for primary producers—not just in the Mallee, but right throughout Australia. He also knows a lot about transport. The member for Mallee is a qualified pilot and he understands the need for country communities to remain connected. He understands connectivity in all its forms—whether it is road or rail or airports or telecommunications connectivity—and understands how critical it is for the future of our regional communities.
When it comes to rail, the Murray Basin Freight Rail project is all about connecting growers to ports and markets, capitalising on those new markets that have been established by members on this side of the House through those free trade agreements which have been so well received throughout regional Australia. An efficient freight rail system is critically important to connecting producers in the Mallee with their markets. As the member for Mallee will be happy to tell you if you get five minutes or five hours with him, his one of the most highly productive regions in the nation. It produces export quality dried and stone fruit, wheat and other cereals, wool, sheep and vegetables—a fact that the member for Mallee is particularly proud of.
The Turnbull-Joyce government is addressing the freight needs for our nation’s future. It is worth noting that the Murray Basin Freight Rail project is a project that has been added to be Infrastructure Priority List by Infrastructure Australia. The government has committed $220 million to the Murray Basin Freight Rail project, and Prime Minister himself referred earlier to the fact that this is part of a $1.5 billion commitment he has made through our infrastructure package for Victoria.
This Murray Basin Freight Rail project will connect primary producers to their markets and to major ports. It will boost efficiency; it will create jobs throughout the Mallee and the regional economies connected to it. The House will be interested to learn that tenders opened in December and closed last month. This project will mean an extra 500,000 tonnes of grain will be transported by rail in the future; and it will mean that 20,000 fewer trips will be made by trucks to the ports of Geelong, Melbourne and Portland. It will involve an additional 276 jobs during the construction phase. So this is a good project.
This government is getting on with the job of delivering projects which build for our nation’s future. We are also paying for future projects through the government’s announcement a couple of weeks ago of the development of a freight and supply chain strategy, which has been well received by the industry. So we are delivering a safer, stronger and better regional Australia where people can get ahead. We know that good infrastructure can change lives and can save lives. The Murray Basin Freight Rail project does both. We are getting on with the job of delivering our $50 billion Infrastructure Investment Programme; we are building for the future; and the Murray Basin Freight Rail project is a great example of investment in jobs for the Mallee and regional Victoria. I thank the member for Mallee for his question.