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Tunnel debate erupts

by
February 14, 2018

State member for Northern Victoria Jaclyn Symes, Benalla Mayor Don Firth, State Minister for Roads and Road Safety Luke Donnellan and Benalla Council CEO Tony McIlroy discuss plans for a new concrete manufacturing facility in Benalla.

Victoria’s Labor government has accused State Member for Euroa Steph Ryan of putting Benalla jobs at risk by voicing her party’s position in opposing the Westgate Tunnel project.

Last week Victorian Roads and Road Safety Minister Luke Donnellan visited Benalla to announce a $60 million concrete manufacturing facility, which will create 400 local jobs.

The factory, which will be operated by the John Holland group, will supply the Westgate Tunnel project as its first contract.

Victorian Industry and Employment Minister Ben Carroll said Steph Ryan was putting politics before jobs and needed to stand up to the Liberals and put people first.

‘‘This reckless move to stop the West Gate Tunnel is putting 400 jobs in Benalla on the line,’’ Mr Carroll said.

However, Ms Ryan said Labor was just playing cheap politics and the Nationals opposing the tunnel would have no affect on the planned facility and the jobs it would offer.

‘‘We will be going to the (November) election with a full infrastructure agenda, which the plant proposed by John Holland will be able to supply,’’ Ms Ryan said.

‘‘We have already announced a $5.5 billion program of intersection removal works, a project which John Holland will undoubtedly bid for,’’ Ms Ryan said.

‘‘Major infrastructure companies like John Holland regularly tender for government work.

‘‘They do not build plants like these for one project.

‘‘I think it is fantastic that John Holland have recognised the value of the skilled workforce Benalla can provide and the benefits we have been selling for years: namely that we have a fantastic connection to road and rail to deliver precast concrete for projects in regional Victoria, Melbourne and Sydney.

‘‘The company’s decision to build here has nothing to do with Daniel Andrews and that is demonstrated by the fact that they have said — irrespective of the West Gate Distributor — there will be 300 ongoing jobs at the plant.

‘‘It’s great that Daniel Andrews is suddenly concerned about jobs in our community after doing nothing for the past three years, but it is absolutely shameful that he and his cronies are willing to use them as a political football.’’

There is no doubt the Westgate Tunnel project is the catalyst for the new concrete manufacturing plant being built in Benalla, it is also true that the facility will not exist solely for that reason.

However, the speed it is being built and the timing of those 400 jobs being created is most likely a direct result of the contract to supply the Westgate Tunnel project.

The locking of horns and mudslinging between political parties is no doubt at least partly due to the fact we are in an election year with each championing their own policies and projects over the other.

Luckily for Benalla the reality is that the concrete factory is being built and regardless of who holds sway in the Victorian Parliament it will be in a position to tender for future projects.

Whether the Liberal Nationals will be successful in blocking the Westgate Tunnel project is still up for debate, and if they do, how it might affect the short-term success of the Benalla facility and the jobs it can offer is anyone’s guess.

One thing is for sure, between now and the November state election we are likely to see in increase in animosity between the major parties, and each will no doubt have an opinion on any project the other puts forward.

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