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Monday, 16 November 2009
Page: 11818

Mr CHESTER (7:06 PM) —It is a pleasure to join the debate on the National Bike Path Program and I acknowledge the very common sense and practical contribution made by the member for Oxley. The motion notes that:

… building community infrastructure or improving community amenity has the potential to generate local jobs and increase skills and social capital—

and that—

… investment in cycling is regarded as a cost effective way to increase mobility and physical activity… and boost regional tourism.

The motion goes on to note that it supports:

… awareness programs, initiatives, organisations and individuals that promote cycling as a way of getting fitter, having … fun.

I am comfortable with the broad range and the general thrust of the motion because it highlights some regional development opportunities that I believe we have not fully explored as a nation, particularly to improve the health of our communities and to provide economic and tourism opportunities in regional areas. All the reports that we see on almost a daily basis point to a nation which is getting fatter and a nation where the health impacts of long-term disease related to inactivity are a major concern for us and costing our nation a fortune, yet we have piles of strategies saying we should be investing more in infrastructure to support healthier lifestyles. I think the most important aspect of the motion today is that we actually need to see action coming out of state, federal and local governments.

I have spoken previously about the East Gippsland Rail Trail and emphasised my support for the plan to rebuild the Latrobe River timber trestle rail bridge, which is a real opportunity for the federal government to create five jobs in the immediate construction phase and to support ongoing employment in the tourism industry and the smaller regional centres associated with the rail trail. The motion before us highlights the very important point that we need to provide opportunities for people to exercise safely. It comes back to the saying ‘If you build it, they will come.’ If the facilities are there for people to exercise safely, I am confident they will use them.

That brings me to the Latrobe City Bicycle Plan and the situation in the Latrobe Valley. I note the presence of the member for McMillan, who obviously has a very good understanding of the Latrobe Valley region and probably has a better appreciation than most of what could be done in the Latrobe Valley with improved cycle links. There is a need to develop better access—to link the Latrobe Valley communities, which are only 10 to 15 kilometres apart and ideally situated to capitalise on commuter traffic. We would get more vehicles off the road, reduce fuel costs and provide what would be a low-cost sporting opportunity for people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, of whom there are many in the Latrobe Valley region. Towns such as Moe, Morwell, Traralgon and Churchill and the smaller regional centres would benefit enormously from improved cycle networks and infrastructure and a cycle friendly environment.

The Latrobe City Council has made moves in that regard and I note that there was funding announced only a couple of weeks ago by the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government of $140,000 for the Latrobe City Council’s Bicycle Plan to construct some shared pathways in the region. Unfortunately, $140,000 is not anywhere near what is required in the long term. Without wishing to sound churlish, there needs to be a multimillion dollar investment in new cycling facilities to promote healthier lifestyles in the region, to improve safety and to improve the liveability of the region by connecting these large and smaller communities. It is hard to think of a regional centre anywhere in Australia more ideally suited to a major investment in cycling infrastructure. So I commend the member for Oxley for putting the motion before the House tonight.

One area that concerns me greatly, and the member for Oxley did touch on it, is the need to provide a safe cycling environment. We have a situation where bikes and cyclists are very exposed, with only limited protection, interacting too closely with vehicles on roads which were often not constructed to accommodate bicycles on the shoulders. If we get ourselves into a situation where we are providing improved infrastructure, where there is a dedicated cycle path and children can ride to school safely, you will find that parents are more comfortable with allowing their children to ride to school. So there are issues which need to be accommodated at a local planning level and also more significant funding costs which will require some federal and state support.

I refer briefly to the La Trobe City 2007-10 bicycle plan. I congratulate La Trobe City for having the vision to work towards encouraging greater participation in all recreational pursuits, particularly cycling, and to promote active living and participation in community life. It has got a plan for making sure that the road networks and the bicycle path networks are integrated with the footpaths and the public transport options, which will provide real opportunities for the people of Gippsland and the La Trobe Valley to exercise in a much safer manner. If we are going to wait for the state government, I am afraid we will be waiting for a very long time. The Brumby state government in Victoria has failed miserably in this regard. It recently released its $115 million Victorian Cycling Strategy, which could have been renamed the ‘Melbourne cycling strategy’.