Airport accused of blocking rail line over parking cash

Callum Godde |

Melbourne Airport Rail won’t be completed until at least 2033, Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas says.
Melbourne Airport Rail won’t be completed until at least 2033, Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas says.

Melbourne Airport has been accused of blocking a train line from the city to prop up its parking sites as Labor members pile more pressure on the Victorian government over the stalled project.

A motion pushing to get the Melbourne Airport Rail link back on track was unanimously backed by rank-and-file party members and unionists at the Victorian Labor state conference in Melbourne on Sunday.

In his 10th budget earlier in May, Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas revealed the line would be completed at least four years later than its original 2029 target.

Melbourne airport passengers queue for bus
Melbourne’s lack of an airport rail line is embarrassing, a union leader says. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)

The Labor motion called for the state government to “get serious” about the rail link’s development and for all parties to roll up their sleeves to get the project done, and condemned the airport’s “greed” for “protecting their parking revenue”.

“You need to get on with it and get it done now,” Transport Workers Union state secretary Mem Suleyman told the crowd to cheers.

In 2018, the Victorian and federal governments committed to contributing $5 billion each to the project, expected to cost between $8 billion and $13 billion.

But the state government and airport remain at odds over whether the Tullamarine station should be underground or elevated, with the airport’s operators favouring the former.

A mediator was appointed by the Commonwealth in April to resolve the long-running stalemate between the two parties.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s latest monitoring report on the nation’s four major airports showed Tullamarine generated $160.9 million from parking revenue in 2022/23, down 3.9 per cent since 2018/19.

Moonee Valley Council Mayor Pierce Tyson accused the airport of tanking the project to safeguard its parking revenue.

“It’s a clear conflict of interest,” he said.

“The airport doesn’t want this project to happen.”

Victorian Labor State Conference
Rail projects were a hot topic on day two of the Victorian Labor State Conference. (Con Chronis/AAP PHOTOS)

Rail, Tram and Bus Union state secretary Vik Sharma was critical of the government “kicking the can down the road” and said it was a global embarrassment Melbourne did not have a train line to the airport.

Mr Pallas has threatened to consider building a train station at Avalon Airport if the stand-off continues.

He said the government had “no control” over the length of the delay.

“Of course, were the airport operator to see reason and maybe become a good corporate citizen at some point, instead of a really good car park operator, then perhaps we might be able to move those things forward,” he told reporters on May 7.

A Melbourne Airport spokesman said it was part of a consortium in 2019 that offered up to $7 billion towards an underground airport station and express tracks from Sunshine to Southern Cross, but the government rejected the proposal.

Its operators remain supportive of a “future-proof” airport rail link and offered in April to explore potential funding opportunities to help deliver that outcome, the spokesman said.

“This offer was reiterated to government following May’s state budget,” he said.

“To date the state has refused our requests for a meeting. 

“We remain available to meet with the premier or the treasurer should they wish.”

Pro-Palestine rally at Labor state conference
Security guards were injured when protesters stormed the Labor conference, an official says. (Con Chronis/AAP PHOTOS)

Transport Infrastructure Minister Danny Pearson received a frosty reception in a speech to party faithful before Sunday’s motion, with many repeatedly shouting “shame” after he oversaw controversial changes to the state’s workers compensation scheme as WorkSafe minister.

Headline speeches from Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Premier Jacinta Allan at the two-day event were overshadowed on Saturday by pro-Palestine protesters.

Up to 50 protesters stormed the Moonee Valley Racecourse, overwhelming police and security, locking down the conference room and drawing backlash from Ms Allan.

Newly elected Victorian Labor state secretary Steve Staikos said security guards were injured and called the protesters “political opportunists”.

There were no protesters outside the venue on Sunday.

Other key motions to pass included one calling for the Albanese government to back out of buying US nuclear-armed submarines under the AUKUS deal and another for the Allan government to legalise, tax and regulate cannabis in Victoria.