Come fly with me, Vic opposition urges in $23m Mildura splurge
The northwest public transport puzzle is now complete for the Victorian Liberal-National Coalition after a two-week cascade of fare subsidy announcements to attract votes in the independent-held seat of Mildura.
Transport Minister Jacinta Allan was quick to attack the Opposition for their $2 public transport pledge Sunday week ago, saying it overlooked V/Line passengers. Whether that criticism was canny timing knowing a staged series of announcements was imminent - or that the Opposition was caught napping - we may never know, but within days an Opposition subsidy announcement for half the V/Line fares emerged.
There was little value in either Opposition announcement for Mildura voters, particularly those outside of the eponymous regional city in communities like Sea Lake and Ouyen - and the Nationals candidate Jade Benham knew it. Speaking with Flow, the Swan Hill mayor said she was working on a bespoke solution for those communities:
On Friday the final piece of the fare subsidy puzzle fell into place, with the Opposition declaring everyone in or within 150 kilometres of Mildura could claim two $100 return flights to Melbourne over the next two years.
Again - all conditional on the Coalition forming office at the 26 November state election.
Whilst a Liberal or National might hope the theoretical pressure from the announcements might spur the Andrews Labor government to deliver fare relief for the northwest, actual public transport relief would serve as cold comfort if either Jade Benham or the Liberals' Paul Matheson prise the seat off of independent Ali Cupper and/or the Coalition remain in opposition.
With the $750 million Mildura hospital pledge early in the campaign, Friday's additional $23 million trial on subsidising flights to Melbourne keeps the spend climbing towards $1 billion in the Coalition's attempt to return Mildura to Coalition hands.
In a microcosm of the state and nation itself, the dominant urbanised area of voters will determine the outcome in Mildura electorate.
For all their criticisms, Labor is neither running a credible candidate nor pledging anything substantial in addressing the northwest's transport disparity with other regional cities. In effect, Mildura remains in many senses disconnected from Melbourne and the Spring Street psyche - at least on the Labor side of the chamber.
Former Labor supporter, now independent Ali Cupper came to office on the back of a host voter dissatisfactions but has regularly shared frustration at the seat's lack of passenger rail services, at times standing wistfully for photo opportunities on rail platforms. That train is not coming anytime soon, with the Nationals leader Peter Walsh conceding that until the Murray Basin Rail Project - ostensibly for freight - is resolved, passenger rail is a long way off.
No doubt Ms Cupper will be proud to see so much pledged toward the seat and claim it demonstrates the value in having it in independent hands. Her options are to improve Mildura's connectivity to the rest of the state or keep gambling on perpetual dissatisfaction into a second or subsequent terms.