Did the Kennett Government do anything good for public transport in Victoria?

When most people reflect upon the 1990s Liberal government led by Jeff Kennett, they remember it as a time of ideologically driven cutbacks to public transport. However the truth is a little more complex, with one being able to argue that they were actually setting out to make improvements to the system – for better or worse.

Orange V/Line signage for the freightgate and the station

I found a good example of this in the Spring 1996 edition of the Hansard for the Legislative Assembly, where backbencher Robin Cooper moved a motion:

Mr Cooper – I move:

That this house, while regretting the lack of general policy commitment by the Labor Party to transport issues, congratulates the government on its transport achievements during its first term in office and applauds the commitments to further improve the transport system in Victoria during the coming four years as outlined in the public transport policy of the coalition published in March 1996.

After attacking the Labor Party on their failings on public transport while in government, Cooper then pulled out a list of of every transport improvement that the government had made over the past four years.

Mr Cooper

I now move to the period 1992 through to now to outline what has been done in public transport. And an enormous amount has been done; far more than I will have time for today, because I know the honourable member for Thomastown will also want to say something about the motion. I hope I will be able to get through the mountain of material I have in support of my motion, but if I read out all the things–

Mr Batchelor interjected.

Mr Cooper

I am not going to do that; I am going to give you something to talk about. If I went through every public transport achievement of this government from October 1992 to March 1996, I would still be talking at around 10.00 p.m. -but I am quite prepared to accept a motion for an extension of time.

Some changes were positive, no matter what side of the fence you sit on:

  • February 1993 agreement was reached between the Victorian and federal governments for the standardisation of the Melbourne-Adelaide rail link at a cost of $153 million.
  • Continued operation of V/Line rail services at international best practice to Albury-Wodonga, Swan Hill, Stony Point and Sale.
  • 15 May 1993 one of the great successes that can be testified to by members living in outlying areas was the commencement of Melbourne’s Nightrider bus service.
  • In May 1993 the notorious Southern Aurora Hotel in Dandenong was demolished in the first step of a $5 million redevelopment of the Dandenong railway station.
  • Also in May 1993 it was announced that 10 improvements would be made to the Flinders Street station, with a police booth on the concourse – which is now in place – new and upgraded food, newsagency and retail outlets, and improved customer waiting facilities on platforms.
  • July 1993, due to increasing patronage of the Nightrider buses – this is a quick endorsement of the service – the service was improved with the addition of an extra departure time at 4.30 a.m. from the City Square each Saturday and Sunday morning.
  • July 1993 the new $6 million, 1.7 kilometre extension of the East Burwood tram route was opened.
  • Again in July 1993 the weekday coach services from South Gippsland and Phillip Island began operating direct to Melbourne for the first time.
  • V /Line’s new Goulburn Valley super freighter service began transporting containers to and from Melbourne docks on 2 August 1993.
  • On 8 August 1993 trams were back on all Sunday services for the first time since 1961. Trams replaced buses on routes 3, 82 and 57.
  • On 12 August 1993 the new $330 000 Moonee Ponds modal interchange was opened.
  • On 16 August 1993 construction was commenced on the $6.3 million City Circle tram loop, which was the first tram extension in the central city for nearly 40 years.
  • new, faster, larger XPT trains commenced overnight services between Melbourne and Sydney in November 1993, in cooperation with the State Rail Authority in New South Wales and in so doing reduced the travel time between the two cities by 3 hours.
  • November 1993 $150,000 upgrade of the Sunbury railway station.
  • December 1993 the frequency of the Nightrider bus service was doubled to a half-hourly service on New Year’s Eve. That marked the return of public transport on New Year’s Eve.
  • February 1994 new Elizabeth Street tram terminus was opened.
  • February 1994 public transport brochures translated into 13 different languages were released.
  • April 1994 V /Line freight was to expand its operations into southern New South Wales with the reopening of the Strathmerton-Tocumwal railway line.
  • May 1994 The facade of Flinders Street station was to be cleaned, repaired and painted in heritage colours by the end of 1994.
  • May 1994 abolition of the fee charged by country bus operators for the carriage of prams, pushers and shopping jeeps.
  • May 1994 further extension of the Nightrider bus service – this time into the new areas of Craigieburn, Melton and Bacchus Marsh.
  • June 1994 the $20 million program to upgrade suburban rail commuter safety and security was announced. The main features included the establishment of 51 premium stations and the appointment of 330 customer service employees and more than 200 Transit Police to regularly patrol the Met. All stations were to be monitored by closed-circuit television.
  • September 1994 there was the opening of the new $2.5 million V/Line wagon maintenance depot at Geelong.
  • October 1994 $36 000 covered walkway between Belgrave’s Met station and the Puffing Billy station.
  • January 1995 the Met’s first premium railway station at Mount Waverley was opened.
  • March 1995 there was the announcement of a $62,000 grant to restore and repaint the facade of the historic Hawthorn tram depot.
  • March 1995 A $50,000 grant to refurbish the former Seymour railway station refreshment rooms.
  • March 1995 $27 million electrification of the Dandenong-Cranbourne railway line took place.
  • April 1995 it was announced that a new $10.3 million tram depot would be constructed at Montague to replace the existing South Melbourne tram depot.
  • April 1995 the government announced its intention to retain the Upfield railway line and to seek $23 million of federal funding for a long overdue upgrade.
  • April 1995 $22 million going to upgrade 200 suburban railway stations.
  • April 1995 $6 million for new railway station car parking.
  • April 1995 $1.5 million for bus-rail interchanges.
  • April 1995 $1.4 million for the new Melbourne University tram terminus.
  • April 1995 $5 million of which was going to the standardisation of the Ararat-Maryborough and Maryborough-Dunolly railway lines.
  • April 1995 $1.5 million for the purchase of Australia’s first road-transferable locomotive.
  • May 1995 there was the announcement of $49 million being allocated over four years for the overhauling of the Met’s entire Comeng train fleet.
  • May 1995 $36 million already being spent to upgrade the Hitachi train fleet.
  • May 1995 also announced that the PTC would spend $360 000 in the 1995-96 financial year to install state-of-the-art digital clocks at 63 suburban railway stations.
  • May 1995 $6.2 million is allocated to eradicate ozone-depleting gases and PCBs from the PTC’s equipment and facilities.
  • May 1995 a new $4 million train-washing plant was opened in North Melbourne.
  • June 1995 that year there was an announcement of the beginning of work to upgrade the Broadmeadows railway station to premium station status, with the work estimated to cost more than $400 000.
  • June 1995 new $9 million railway station and South Side Central development were opened at Traralgon.
  • July 1995 that year there was an announcement that the Werribee railway station was to become a $750,000 premium station and the site of a new $250,000 bus rail interchange.
  • August 1995 it was announced that Victoria’s public transport patronage had increased by more than 10 million boardings, or 3.6 per cent, in 1994-95.
  • September 1995 of that year it was announced that all the 53 W-class trams would have heating installed.
  • October 1995 that year the Bundoora RMIT tram extension was opened.
  • January 1996 we saw the opening of the upgraded Footscray bus depot.
  • February 1996 there was an announcement of increased services on the Sandringham, Dandenong, Pakenham, Cranbourne, Frankston, lilydale and Belgrave lines.
  • September 1996 Sprinter trains introduced to Echuca, no service before.

Others could be considered necessary examples of cost cutting.

  • November 1992 : removing conductors from restaurant trams, who spent their entire journey twiddling their thumbs in the rear cab.
  • September 1993 there was an extension of driver-only trams to four more routes on weekends after 8.00 p.m.

But some of the quoted ‘improvements’ are on shakier ground, depending on your opinions on outsourcing and privatisation.

  • Luxury road coaches replacing rail services to Mildura, Leongatha and Dimboola.
  • In May 1993 the cleaning of Transport House was contracted out to Security Cleaning Services with savings of $160 000 per annum.
  • In May 1993 the Geelong and Bendigo railway station refreshment rooms were contracted out for a combined savings of nearly $200 000 per annum.
  • In July 1993 V /Line’s freight trucking fleet was contracted out to TNT with savings of $650,000 over three years.
  • On 22 August 1993 Hoys Roadlines commenced operating the Melbourne-Shepparton rail service, Australia’s first private rail service.
  • September 1993 West Coast Rail commenced services between Melbourne and Warmambool, the second private rail service in Australia.
  • October 1993 cleaning and graffiti removal for trains was contracted out to the private sector with savings of $910,000 annually.
  • November 1993 the Public Transport Corporation contracted out 21 major activities at a saving of $20 million annually.
  • May 1995 new competition legislation for the bus industry and the setting up of two new transport corporations, with both V/Line Freight and Metbus to be established as separate corporations with their own boards independent of the PTC.
  • December 1995 there was also an announcement of the deregulation of rail freight from 1 January 1996.

Cooper did boast about increased patronage.

In 1995-96 patronage on all modes of public transport increased. Patronage increased on Met trains by 3.7 per cent. That was the highest patronage on Met trains since 1976-77. Patronage on Met trams also increased 4.9 per cent, the highest patronage since 1989. Met buses received a 3 per cent increase in patronage. V/Line had more than 7 million patrons in 1995-96, which was the highest V /Line patronage since 1954-55. The average patronage in 1994-95 increased by 4 per cent, with a further increase in 1995-96.

And increased operational efficiencies.

In July the Age published a report from the Industry Commission which commended the Public Transport Corporation because it carried 61 per cent more rail passengers per employee in the city and 30 per cent more in the country and passengers were paying 10 per cent more in real terms, which has doubled the cost recovery ratio from 35 to 71 per cent

Followed by a list of transport improvements the Liberal/National coalition would introduce during a a second term in government:

  • The current Met Summer timetable which reduces train and tram service during December /January will be abolished.
  • There will be only two timetables for Met train and Met tram, weekday and weekend/public holiday, thus providing customers with greater certainty and a better overall level of service.
  • For the first time, City Loop rail services will run every Sunday.
  • The Upfield Railway Line will be maintained and upgraded.
  • The railway line at Boronia will be lowered to alleviate the problems which currently exist at the Boronia rail crossing..
  • An additional 10 premium stations will be established.
  • All bus operators will be required to gain accreditation which allows the government to ensure that only competent operators enter the industry and provide services to the public.
  • There will be a $23.8 million upgrade of amenities at Flinders Street Station..
  • A study will be commissioned to assess the costs and benefits of further standardising Victoria’s remaining broad gauge rail network.
  • A ‘one-stop-shop’ for all public transport service inquiries and bookings to be known as Victrip will be set up.
  • A new station will be built at North Shore in Geelong to serve passengers using the interstate standard gauge line.
  • A $400 000 program will be implemented to expand the network of secure storage facilities for our cycling customers throughout the metropolitan area by constructing new storage facilities at 30 premium stations.
  • Expressions of interest will be sought from the private sector for the establishment of a world-class transport museum at the Docklands.

As well as the ‘improvements’ that the Kennett Government is better remembered for.

  • The Public Transport Corporation will be disbanded with Met tram and Met train established as totally separate organisations and Met Bus to be divested, with a preference for an employee/management buy-out.
  • Met Train and Met Tram will contract out their infrastructure and vehicle maintenance requirements.
  • V/Line freight will be separated from the PTC and established with its own Chief Executive and Board, thereby placing it in a more competitive position.
  • Current V/Line coach contracts will be put up for tender upon expiry with the option for tenderers to nominate either rail or coach modes.

So what did the rest of the chamber think of this Dorothy Dixer? Fellow Liberal MP Inga Peulich couldn’t take any more.

Mrs Peulich

You must be getting tired.

Mr Cooper

No. I am prepared to go on for hours.

While Shadow Transport Minister Peter Batchelor was more blunt.

We have just heard more than 2 hours worth from the honourable member for Mornington. And what a tragic and pathetic performance it was! A former and failed shadow minister was brought into the house by the current Minister for Transport. No doubt the minister and his staff have provided him with reams of written material which he has taken the time of this house to read out in the very patronising, rabid and hysterical way that is par for the course with this member.

He spent hours a week for weeks practising his routine, trying to learn it off by heart, going over it time and again and practising the two jokes he delivered in more than 2 hours which went over like a lead balloon. It is horrible to imagine the honourable member for Mornington working himself into an absolute frenzy while practising in front of a mirror for hour after hour, going through his histrionics and practising his jokes until he couldn’t see himself.

I recall that about an hour into his speech we had the pathetic vision of one of his loyal colleagues and luncheon partners, the honourable member for Bentleigh, not being able to stomach it anymore and leaving the chamber. It was even too much for her! He failed to make any significant point in his contribution, which began with events back in 1986. From memory, that was one of the first dates he mentioned. He systematically went through and highlighted dates over that long period, quoting from written material and completely missing the point.

Peter Batchelor then pointed out that the government was taking credit for projects they didn’t fund.

A number of points need to be made in response to the honourable member for Mornington. He claimed a number of initiatives on behalf of the state government that were funded by the federal Labor government.

It is clear from his comments that he did not know that a number of initiatives claimed for the state government were clearly not initiatives of that government.

The honourable member for Mornington mentioned the upgrading of the Sunbury railway station. We know that was federally funded. He also sang the praises of the City Circle tram service. That was also federally funded.

Earlier I talked about a number of initiatives that were paid for by the federal government. Another was the electrification of the train line to Cranbourne.

And projects conceived under the previous government.

The Nightrider bus service was developed under the previous Labor administration. Steps were taken to finalise the sponsorship and the routes were selected. It was, for all intents and purposes, an initiative of the previous Labor government.

And services provided by other states.

He claimed the passenger service to Sydney as a great initiative of the government, whereas the service is actually provided by the New South Wales State Rail Authority. It is not provided by V/Line.

So did the Kennett Government do anything good for public transport in Victoria? The short answer is yes – but their single minded pursuit of privatisation has seem them consigned to the dustbin of history.

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

23 Responses to “Did the Kennett Government do anything good for public transport in Victoria?”

  1. Jason says:

    While they might done some good things for Public Transport they in some areas they didn’t do much i.e buses. 1991 saw cut backs to buses under labor & then when Kennett won Goverment the 90s saw very littile improvments to buses(expect National Bus former Met operation). Extra funding for buses was very tight during this period.

  2. Bobman says:

    Whilst it’s easy to criticise the Kennett government, people should actually research why various cuts and closures took place.

    Now, it’s easy for Labor or Greens proponents to attack, they should understand it was the Cain governments incredulous spending spree on pyramid schemes combined with the sale of the State Bank which saw John Cain resign, Joan Kirner introduce her own unpopular policies and Labor lost in a massive landslide by 1992.

    By 1992 the state was riddled in debt to the tune of $32 billion. The entire state was in shambles with Melbourne resembling a ghetto.

    The massive changes which modernised the city should be commended because there was no money left, but yet still, the 1990s saw great change and it was there where Melbourne was arguably at its peak for livability and quality of life.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      I’m in the middle of reading “The Kennett Revolution : Victorian politics in the 1990’s”.

      Published in 1999, it states that Kennett’s changes resulted in the Victorian economy being turned around faster than even his own government predicated.

      It then goes to make the assertion that the state of the economy was nowhere near as bad as Kennett described it, that he played up the situation to gain political advantage, and that the changes he did make went beyond those actually required to address the issues left behind by the previous Labor government.

    • Andrew says:

      “The entire state was in shambles with Melbourne resembling a ghetto.” That was the climate of fear that Kennett created. While some bad things happened in Labor years, there was nothing wrong with the State of Victoria as a whole. Kennett brought us two different types of incompatible trains, tow different types of incompatible trams. Siemens at least, had the operators over a barrel after we bought there el cheapo trains and trams that came with usurious maintenance contracts.

      There were public transport strikes under Kennett, and who could forget the Grand Prix tram lockout in the nineties. An extra tax imposed on property owners, reminiscent of Thatcher’s poll tax.

      Not ever the middle class were safe, when home owners in Middle Park lost their civil rights as the Grand Prix track was constructed.

      And the cheek of Kennett to hold a position as head of organisation dealing with depression, when he caused so much.

      Sorry, my blood is boiling at the memory of his time in office.

      • Bobman says:

        You must have some oldtimers going on, because Melbourne was in a shocking state much like regional Victoria throughout the Cain era.

        Purchasing of Siemens & Xtrapolis had nothing to do with Kennett, in fact the operators chose who won the contracts and those contracts took place in the first term of the Bracks government in 2000.

  3. Stasik says:

    It’s easy to criticise the Kennett government because privatisation has been a disaster for public transport in Victoria.

    Just go up to Sydney and see how things work there: the trains are clean, mostly have ample capacity and staff enjoy what they do because there is still a level of respect between employee and employer. These things come from a government operation which has the skills, local knowledge and capability to plan and execute a complex operation.

    Far from zero subsidies to the private operators that Kennett promised, they have never been higher, and the operators cannot lose; they are guaranteed a profit. Not to mention that the networks and vehicles are being run into the ground. The private operators would secretly be laughing at what goes on here.

    Whilst the PTC may have needed “trimming down”, it should have remained as a corporatised government agency.

  4. Bobman says:

    Stasik, with respect.

    Private public transport meant the end of decades of strikes. Railway strikes, tram blockades in 1991 and ongoing disputes.

    It all ended and never returned following privatisation. Of course one could argue the operators are only interested in profits and this is true, however it is the government who have under-invested in infrastructure upgrades and they are still responsible for that and rolling stock.

    I do agree with your other points, you are right about Sydney and the subsidies.

  5. Bobman says:

    The 2015 “strike” was averted as they reached an 11th hour deal, thus no strike took place luckily.

    https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/melbourne-train-strike-averted-as-metro-and-union-reach-agreement-20150925-gjvcsb.html

  6. Bobman says:

    That was perhaps more of a work stoppage, not an all-out strike as we saw in the Cain and Kirner days.

    Anyway, all of these “strikes” (if you will) happened under Labor’s watch. If you could show me strikes under Liberal’s watch I will be more interested.

  7. Daniel Bowen says:

    Robin Cooper: “There will be only two timetables for Met train and Met tram, weekday and weekend/public holiday, thus providing customers with greater certainty and a better overall level of service.”

    Well, they didn’t quite achieve that, but certainly 10am-7pm frequencies vastly improved, especially on trains, from the near-unusable 40 minute services to 20 minutes.

    So yes, they did do at least one good thing.

    Arguably this was partly achieved by the cutting of staff, particularly guards and conductors, with one-person operation of trams and trains making the addition of extra services much more economically viable. (While noting that one-person operation of trams before the introduction of automated ticketing was an unmitigated disaster.)

  8. Nathan says:

    On the subject of the reduction of Guards, who were actually in charge of the train between stations and at unmanned stations, you have to remember that the purpose of Guards was to ensure that the running of trains was conducted in a safe manner.
    The cost of removing them from trains has been the loss of peoples lives, thank you Jeff. One (not the only) example being the brake blocks on a Geelong train sticking and seizing, leading to the overheating and shattering of a wheel that threw shrapnel into a car at a level crossing killing the cars occupants. A Guard on that would have smelt the blocks burning and stopped the train, simple. I believe that they calculated that it would be cheaper if a few people were killed, rather than providing the safe service that should have been their aim. Kennet was nasty bully that had the cheek to front Beyond Blue and Bugger Hawthorn Footy Club, I hope you never win while he is your ‘leader’. You sleep with dogs you get fleas

    • Bobman says:

      Righto Nathan,

      How easy it is to forget the complete utter shambles Victoria was in when Kennett took over, isn’t it?

      Ask yourself, since Labor has been in power for 15 years of the last two decades, why weren’t guards returned? Why wasn’t any cut reversed?

      Fair questions really.

      Oh and it’s worth noting Labor were looking to privatise the railway regardless as the state was bankrupt. There were a few plans in the pipeline which exceeded Kennett’s in the 1992-2000 period forward planning from the ALP.

  9. Nathan says:

    Bobman,

    What I don’t forget, was the complete neglect with which the Henry Bolte, Rupert Hamer and Lindsey Thompson Liberal Governments ran the public transport system for a Quarter of a Century, they starved both train and trams of investment in infrastructure. Perhaps their vision was clouded by fantasies of Melbourne covered in fast flowing Freeways (now Tollways i.e. Transurban a money hungry monster of Kennetts making).

    What I do remember, was thhat under John Cain and Joan Kirners Labor Governments was the phasing out of the Tait, Harris and most Hitachi trains and the introduction of the 300, 400 and 500 series Comeng trains, not to mention the brave attempt to introduce the 4D Double decker train on the Eastern line. All as the start of the modernisation of the Rail fleet.

    What I do remember was the introduction of light Rail to Port Melb. and St. Kilda,the Altona Loop being laid, the expansion of outstations to help streamline staffing, leading to a reduction in Guard numbers by 30%
    There was also the constant repair of tracks and replacement of hundreds of miles of overhead copper wires that had been untouched for nearly 30 years before Labor even got elected.

    All of this in an attempt to drag the Public transport system into the 20th Century after 26 years of Liberal Governments

    Shambles? You say. I think it was more a dereliction of duty by numerous Liberal Governments that laid the foundation for a decline of the Public Transport network.

    Regarding your other “Fair Questions”, when you remove a Railway Grade, you sack or redeploy all of those people in that Grade thereby losing the combined knowledge base and experience of those people, you then dismantle all of their training facilities, redeploy or sack all of their Instructors and Line management, destroy all their equipment, then you get rid of the Drivers who didn’t want to Drive without a Guard because they felt it would be unsafe, both for themselves and the passengers. At this point it has become a Scorched Earth policy, you then spend 10s of millions of dollars installing mirrors, straightening platforms that weren’t meant to be used in Driver only situations and paying off the remaining Drivers with a handful of silver.

    After all of that you then Privatise with lucrative contracts and subsidies all of which make it virtually impossible to recreate that Grade.

    Lastly your statement that Labor was “Looking to Privatise” needs a source cited by yourself, I find it incredulous to imply that a Left leaning Government, at that time, would seriously consider Privatising the Transport System , so I would have to say that, without a source, it’s not worth Noting.

    I hope I have been able to clarify a few things for you Bobman.

    To get back to the original question,I don’t think Kennett was good for the Transport System or Victoria for that matter.

    I still don’t like Hawthorn.

Leave a Reply