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The Turnbull government has opened the door to pumping more money into the Melbourne Metro Rail Project, with its own transport minister conceding Victoria deserves a fairer share in the carve-up of infrastructure cash.
Nationals MP Darren Chester has also declined to endorse the view of some Coalition colleagues – that South Yarra station should be included in the project – pointing out that "we need to assess the business case" before passing judgment.
In comments that are likely to be welcomed by Andrews government, Mr Chester has declared he would like to see more infrastructure funding flowing to Victoria, which Labor claims is only getting about 9 per cent of the federal carve-up, despite having the fastest growing population.
"I want to see a fairer share of federal funding making its way to Victoria," said the Infrastructure and Transport Minister, who represents the regional seat of Gippsland, in the state's east.
"We've had massive road projects in Queensland and NSW with the Pacific Highway and the Bruce Highway, and I understand very keenly that my Victorian colleagues are keen to see more projects of that scale supported by the Commonwealth in the future, and I am open to the possibility."
Mr Chester's comments come days into a marathon election campaign, and as state-federal tensions simmer over the funding of the Melbourne Metro Rail Project – a $10.9 billion cross-city tunnel designed to take some pressure off the city's overcrowded trains.
However, weeks after state Treasurer Tim Pallas announced he was prepared to "go it alone" in financing the tunnel, Mr Chester rejected suggestions that "we weren't willing partners in that project", signalling that more money could be offered, should the Coalition win the election.
"The Melbourne Metro Project is one that we need to have further discussions on, because I was disappointed by some of the commentary from senior ministers after the state budget that we had dragged our heels," he said. "I'm hoping that we can work more productively on that project in the future."
In a broad-ranging interview ahead of the July 2 poll, the transport minister also:
"We can keep adding lanes to freeways in Melbourne, or we can create opportunities by working with business and industry for more people to live in the regional centres," he said.
With weeks until the federal election, infrastructure funding remains delicate issue for the government, particularly in Victoria where several seats – such as Corangamite, Deakin and LaTrobe – hang in the balance.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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