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Thursday, 10 December 1998
Page: 1943

Ms GILLARD (10:12 PM) —I rise to draw the attention of the House to a major issue for my electorate, for the west of Melbourne and for Victoria generally—namely, the appalling condition of the Princes Freeway between Melbourne and Geelong, which is referred to in Melbourne as the Geelong road, and the complete failure of the current minister for transport to address the issue.

In recent times, the Herald Sun newspaper has reflected the depth of community concern about this issue. In a three-week period starting from late October until mid-November, the Herald Sun carried articles about the issues as follows: `Our deadly highways' says one on 29 October; `Canberra rejects road funds plea' says another on 31 October; `Geelong road funds go north' says one on 2 November; `Crash adds to road fight'—referring to the Geelong road—says another on 3 November; and `Truckie blames road for carnage' says one on 12 November. Finally, on 14 November there was a picture of the minister for transport and an article entitled `Death road funds delay'.

If I can refer members of the House particularly to the article on 12 November entitled `Truckie blames road for carnage', I think this article gives a particularly startling and grim view of the condition of the road. It refers to a truck driver called Joe Puglia, and it states:

Joe Puglia has made more than 9500 round trips on the deadly Geelong road but has never had an accident.

But what he's seen over the past 20 years and 1.5 million kilometres of travel on the deadly stretch of Princes Freeway would make your blood curdle.

Mr Puglia, 58, estimates he's seen at least 50 accidents and eight deaths during his 20 years as a driver for Ford Motor Co.

Later in the article, it states:

Driving Geelong road with a man of Mr Puglia's experience and knowledge makes its dangers seem less tangible.

Particularly when you are in the cabin of a $400,000 33-metre B-triple, a leviathan of the road. But despite the state-of-the-art transport, you feel every bump and dip, particularly approaching the Maltby Bypass.

This, of course, is in my electorate. The article continues:

There a severe dip precedes one of the road's blackest accident spots.

`Even I get worried about that spot. Imagine what it's like for people who don't know the road and there are so many thousands who don't,' Mr Puglia said.

`I've seen so much blood over the years I can't understand why the governments don't fix the road.'

That is the response from a frequent user of the road as to its condition. In the same period as the Herald Sun carried these news articles, it also editorialised on the condition of the Geelong road on two occasions. One of those editorials was entitled `Minister out of touch'. In that editorial, the Herald Sun summarised the issues as follows:

John Anderson must mend his ways—and Victoria's deadliest road—if he wants to win back support from the bush for the Howard Government.

By refusing funds to rebuild the Melbourne-Geelong freeway, the federal Minister for Transport and Regional Services ignores the fact that this narrow, overcrowded 50km stretch of bitumen has claimed 86 lives in the past eight years.

Yet Mr Anderson shows callous indifference towards the families of the dead as well as others injured since 1990 in the 6000 crashes on this section of highway.

The minister will not explain why his government refuses to provide the $100 million needed to match a similar contribution the Victorian Government would make to fix our worst killer highway.

Instead, the people of Geelong and the commuters of Melbourne's outer west have been told by the minister's official spokesman that the Herald Sun 's Fix our Deadly Highway campaign is a `wonderful beat-up in true tabloid fashion'.

Some beat-up, some spokesman, some minister, when 86 people are dead.

Having just taken you to newspaper reports and editorials which indicate the depth of community concern about this issue, let me take you to some of the facts about this road. Fact 1: the freeway carries up to 132,000 vehicles a day, with traffic increasing by almost five per cent a year. Fact 2: it carries more than six million tonnes of freight a year and services more than 30 per cent of Australia's exports through the ports of Melbourne and Geelong. Fact 3: the freeway services one of Victoria's fastest growing population and economic regions and is the key link to export markets for primary producers throughout the western district and South Australia. Fact 4: it is the gateway to one of Australia's premier tourist attractions. Fact 5—and most important of all: it is Victoria's most deadly road with more smashes on its 63-kilometre length than were experienced on the 1,000 kilometres of Victoria's federally financed highway system in the same period.

The statistics are chilling: 86 dead since 1990 with 6,000 crash victims in total and 1,000 of them injured. At the Maltby Bypass in my electorate, to which I have already referred—a severe accident black spot—we have suffered 11 deaths and 300 accidents in the past eight years. In the recent federal election campaign, the Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, and the leader of the Victorian opposition, John Brumby, gave this commitment on behalf of the Labor party: that a Beazley Labor government and a Brumby Labor government would each commit $100 million to fixing the Geelong road, Victoria's deadliest road, and then would include it as part of the national highway system so it would be kept up to a standard and would be the recipient of Commonwealth funds. Even Jeff Kennett, the Premier of Victoria, who is not known for his concern about the people of Melbourne's west, understood the argument and quickly matched—

Government member interjecting

Ms GILLARD —This was the Premier who was trying to put a toxic dump in my electorate until he was defeated by a community campaign. So the Premier of Victoria, not known for his concern about the people of Melbourne's west, understood the argument and quickly matched John Brumby's promise for a $100 million commitment from Victoria.

So now the only remaining obstacle to fixing this road is the uncaring and cavalier attitude of this government. The response of the Minister for Transport and Regional Services to date has been to turn up for a photo opportunity with his state counterpart, Geoff Craige, and then to patronise the people of Victoria by saying, `There is no magic money tree available to me at the moment.'

We know that money does not grow on trees, but the minister should also know that we understand that at the end of the day the allocation of road funding is a matter of political will and political priorities. The electors of Lalor demand that this be a priority and, on the basis of any of the statistics about numbers of vehicles, number of accidents, its exposure to export markets and the carrying of export goods, this road is a road of national importance and should be a priority.

On 10 November I wrote to the minister for transport, given that he had refused to see me on his visit to Victoria to inspect the state of the road, and asked to meet him regarding this vital issue. The minister has not yet responded to this letter—perhaps I will have to send another one—but in raising this matter in the House today I am making this commitment on behalf of the people of Lalor: that this issue of upgrading the Princes Freeway will not go away. Indeed, the campaign to fix the road is growing.

A business and community coalition called the Princes Freeway Action Committee is determined to keep the issue at the forefront of the minds of Victorians and also at the forefront of the minds of the members opposite. The Princes Freeway Action Committee involves the Melbourne City Council, the City of Hobson's Bay, the Wyndham City Council and the council of the City of Geelong, as well as many major business identities, including Lindsay Fox. This committee has already run community actions, including a postcard campaign to the Prime Minister raising safety and other concerns about the situation of the road, has provided members of parliament with information kits about the state of the road and has distributed bumper stickers and freeway signs raising the condition of the Geelong road. It is the intention of that committee to continue to pursue the issue in the coming year.

In relation to the work of that committee, it is well supported as a community campaign by the people in my electorate. As I have said in this House previously, the people in my electorate have a good record in mounting community campaigns, having recently defeated the Kennett government's proposal to situate a toxic dump in Werribee. On the basis of that experience and working with the City of Wyndham as well as the other local councils involved in this campaign, it is my intention—and I would suggest the intention of the people of Lalor—to ensure that this issue remains before this House and before the members of the government until we get quite a simple commitment. That simple commitment is that the government matches the offer made by Kim Beazley in the recent election campaign to give $100 million to match Jeff Kennett's $10,000 million—or, hopefully, after the next state election, John Brumby's $100 million—to create a pool of $200 million, which is the amount necessary to upgrade the road and thereafter to treat it as a road of national importance and part of the national highway system.