Puffing Billy: funding

I raise a matter for the Minister for Tourism and Major Events. The action I seek is that the minister commit to a $15 million injection urgently required by Puffing Billy, one of our greatest and most beloved tourist icons. Puffing Billy is one of the finest preserved steam railways in the world. Hundreds of thousands of locals and tourists visit it every year. In fact it carried a record number of passengers in the last financial year — almost 269 000 people. It is vitally important to the community and local businesses in my region. It delivers a massive economic benefit of $23 million per year. It supports hundreds of local jobs, and almost 1000 volunteers work tirelessly to keep this wonderful steam train in service.

But Puffing Billy as we know and love it is under threat. Unless there is significant government support, we face the very real possibility of Puffing Billy being forced to significantly downgrade its service. Without urgent investment to upgrade its ageing infrastructure, it will be a shadow of what we enjoy today. Puffing Billy will be forced to drastically cut services and increase prices. Hundreds of thousands of people will no longer have the opportunity to experience this majestic train ride through the Dandenongs. An article in the Age of 14 September, under the title ‘Warning Puffing Billy at risk, Asher cool on cash help’, states:

The previous Labor government promised $10 million to upgrade Puffing Billy, but Ms Asher said the Liberal Party ‘did not give any commitment’ in the election campaign.

No, it did not — and it does not seem interested now it is in government. But what did the Liberal Party say before the election? Prior to a visit to Puffing Billy in January last year, the then shadow Minister for Tourism said:

The state government needs to ensure that Puffing Billy is adequately funded and invests in its capital infrastructure … the state government needs to commit to investing in the future of Puffing Billy and provide funding that acknowledges the significant part Puffing Billy plays both historically and within our tourism sector.

The then Liberal candidate for Gembrook, now the member for Gembrook, the then shadow Minister for Tourism and Major Events, who is now the Minister for Tourism and Major Events, and Edward O’Donohue, a member for Eastern Victoria Region in the Council, visited Puffing Billy on 20 January last year. They made all the right noises about supporting Puffing Billy.

On 3 February last year Edward O’Donohue said in Parliament:

… the future of Puffing Billy is not secure.

It has an ageing infrastructure that needs upgrading … I congratulate the chief executive officer of the Puffing Billy railway, Eamon Seddon, for putting together a comprehensive business case …

It appears to me to be a good investment for the state to secure the long-term future of Puffing Billy … It will be a very important job creator for the Dandenongs and the outer east.

… the action I seek from the minister is that he work with the government and Puffing Billy so the $15 million sought can be provided …

That is what the Liberal Party said before the election. I could not have said it better myself.

I am proud of Labor’s longstanding support of Puffing Billy, including the multimillion-dollar commitment we made during the last campaign. If it is good enough for the Liberal Party to support Puffing Billy and call on the then Labor government to provide $15 million in 2010, it is good enough for it in 2011. I have already received 580 supporting signatures on a petition that I have distributed along the Puffing Billy railway line. The community wants the government to deliver on what it was calling for last year.

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