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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4238

Dr JENSEN (8:27 PM) —I would like to begin with a little history which, as will become evident and as is so often the case, has great bearing on events today. In 1955, the noted town planner and architect Gordon Stephenson produced a scheme for the future development of the Perth metropolitan area, a work commissioned by the state government of the day. That plan laid the framework for the vastly expanded city we see today and included a key ring road, the likes of which have been so successful in many other major urban centres.

Work on what would be called the Roe Highway—named after WA’s first surveyor-general, John Septimus Roe—began in 1981 and the first stage was opened in 1983. The Roe Highway project, which would form the southern link of the ring road and crucially connect industrial centres and long-distance transport operations in the east with the Port of Fremantle in the west, had begun. Progress continued, with stage 2 completed in 1984 and stage 3 in 1988, but then it slowed. In 2001, stage 4 was finished, followed by stages 5, 6 and 7, with the latter completed in 2006. And there the history lesson ends, with the project grinding to a halt under a state Labor government which put the electoral interests of a local member ahead of what was best for the community—a clear example of corruption of the democratic process.

That government had been happy to support the project as it barrelled around Liberal seats—which, incidentally, supported the entire project—but the eastern boundary of the state electorate of Fremantle proved insurmountable, even for a massive four-lane road of freeway standard. ‘Stage 8 is unnecessary,’ the state counterparts of members opposite said and still say today. ‘It is bad for the environment and it is bad for the birds,’ they said and still say today, with some even going so far as to claim—and you could not make up better quotes than this—that birds are more important than people. The state Labor leader, Eric Ripper, the man who would be Premier if he could find enough like-minded souls to vote for him, said:

The preservation of the area’s flora and fauna must take precedence over the unnecessary extension of the highway.

He said stage 8 would cut through:

… the habitats of endangered species such as the Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo and Peregrine Falcon as well as migratory birds including the Great White Egret and the Rainbow Bee Eater.

He neglected to mention that, in scrapping this project, his party had consigned hundreds of thousands of people to live in habitats which endangered humans through pollution and dangerous road conditions largely caused by heavy goods vehicles which had been intended to use the completed Roe Highway. Of course, the real reason was preserving votes in the supposed safe Labor seat of Fremantle, which, ironically, was lost to the Greens only two weeks ago. Concern was not so much for endangered birds as for endangered political careers—and so the Roe Highway stalled, just eight kilometres short of the target envisioned more than 50 years earlier.

The coalition federal government of the day was even willing to put more funds into the project to see it through to completion, because we believe that people are important. We treat the environment with the greatest of respect too, but we understand that sometimes there must be compromises to achieve the best possible outcome. The state government could not be forced to complete the project, but the federal government was able to order that land for the project continue to be reserved. Unfortunately, it was unable to preserve land which had been set aside for the Fremantle Eastern Bypass linking stage 8 into the port, and the state government hurriedly sold that property. Development of that three-kilometre strip has made it impractical to pursue the planned bypass.

The handling of this entire affair was inept, to say the least. But with the election of a state coalition government there is renewed hope that the project will be completed. That government has committed more than $180 million to the project over the next four years and entered into negotiations with the federal government in a spirit of cooperation, hoping to see Commonwealth funding restored. The indications from these talks are positive, I understand, and I urge the federal government to endorse this project. However, there is a fly in the ointment—or, rather, there is an environment minister in the ointment. This is the environment minister who seems hell bent on winning a reputation for obstructing development whatever the cost. His dithering over approval for a multi-billion-dollar gas project for the north-west of WA ultimately saw that deal go to the Northern Territory. Now a handful of vocal Roe Highway opponents appear to have the minister’s ear, and he is said to be considering the plan.

I have a simple question for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts—indeed, for the federal government—and that is: what is most important? Is it a major road project which delivers immeasurable health and safety benefits while boosting the economy not only through the construction phase but through the provision of faster, more efficient transportation for the decades ahead? Or is it the supposed preservation of a strip of bush which is already suffering from the effects of pollution and could in effect be preserved in tandem with construction of the road? Polls on the project have demonstrated widespread support for it across a broad range of suburbs, with opponents, not surprisingly, concentrated in the area which would be closest to the highway. Presumably, the flora and fauna were unscathed by the development of their homes. At present, the vast majority of east-west traffic across southern Perth transits either Leach Highway or South Street, with motorists increasingly choosing the latter because the former is so overwhelmed by heavy goods trucks.

Trucks do not use the abbreviated Roe Highway as planned, but at the end of stage 7 they are forced to switch to Leach Highway. The result is that Leach Highway and South Street are often jammed and cars are routinely forced into uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous proximity with huge trucks. Accidents are taking place on these overcrowded roads. Only last week a young boy was hit while crossing South Street on his way to Leeming Senior High School—which is not only in my electorate but is also in the same suburb as my home. It is one of dozens of such accidents to have taken place in recent years.

Some suburbs which face Leach Highway have seen unsightly noise barriers rise in front of their homes in a bid to shield them from the constant shaking and roaring of trucks. Of course, the barriers do nothing to protect residents from the diesel clouds which billow down these roads. At the same time, transport operators are forced to endure congested stop-start traffic, raising their operating costs and significantly reducing efficiency. With many transport operators already existing on the thinnest of margins amid a tightening economic climate, this is a burden they really cannot afford to carry.

The extension of Roe Highway is good for residents, it is good for motorists and it is good for business. No case has been made to suggest the environmental impact of the project would be so detrimental as to negate the great benefits it would deliver society. The environmental extremists paint those supporting such projects as the enemies of nature. The truth is that fostering the development and progress of our species is as natural as it gets. Of course we all want to be in a clean, green environment and we do our best to achieve that. Completion of the Roe Highway project will go a long way to delivering a better environment for many Perth people and will adversely affect a few, along with possibly a small slice of land. There can be little doubt which side deserves to win out.