Airport visit gives way to funding stoush as Nationals questioned over regional rail funding

State and federal Nationals MPs visited the Bendigo Airport on Tuesday as the project approaches completion. Picture: ADAM HOLMES
State and federal Nationals MPs visited the Bendigo Airport on Tuesday as the project approaches completion. Picture: ADAM HOLMES

THE second stage of the Bendigo Airport expansion is expected to be complete by the end of the week as workers put the finishing touches on the taxiway.

The City of Greater Bendigo will officially open the $15 million project next week, which included a new 1600-metre runway and the capacity to host four large commercial planes on the tarmac at one time.

The third stage – including a business precinct at the airport – is still several years away.

Several state and federal Nationals MPs visited the airport on Tuesday in an attempt to spruik regional infrastructure funding from last week’s federal budget.

But instead they were quizzed on a stoush with the state government over regional rail funding – in particular Jacinta Allan’s promise to spend $91 million improving the line from Bendigo to Echuca, reliant on federal funding.

Federal infrastructure minister Darren Chester said the plans lacked detail.

“If I have any criticisms of the Victorian government in the last couple of weeks, is that they have claimed $1.4 billion from the federal government without any plans whatsoever,” he said.

“They’ve given me a letter. I’ve got one letter from Jacinta Allan asking me to spend $1.4 billion.

“I can’t spend Australian taxpayer dollars on the back of a 300-word letter.”

The train lines to Warrnambool, Waurn Ponds and the state’s north east each received funding commitments in the federal budget, but Echuca-Bendigo was not included.

The state government hoped the lease sale of the Port of Melbourne would give them a further $1.45 billion under the federal government’s asset recycling initiative – but the Commonwealth says they applied too late.

It leaves the regional rail projects unfunded.

Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters said the federal government “changed the rules” after the Victorian government applied for the money.

She said Mr Chester would be well aware of the need to improve the line from Bendigo to Echuca.

“I don’t know how many times the minister needs to be told about this project,” Ms Chesters said.

“The need to upgrade the regional rail network in Victoria – and especially central and northern Victoria – has been well established.

“The Nationals have come up to Bendigo for a ribbon cutting event at the airport, but not for the next stage of infrastructure needs for northern Victoria.”