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Tuesday, 7 February 2017
Page: 44

Senator BACK (Western Australia) (15:11): I was not going to rise to speak on this matter but those who might be listening need to have Senator Ludlam's comments put into perspective. If I can draw attention firstly to the legal challenges of those opposed to the Roe 8 project, the first was a challenge to the Supreme Court in Western Australia, not so much to the project but to the manner of environmental approval by the Environmental Protection Authority. Chief Justice Wayne Martin upheld the request of the applicants. On appeal, unanimously, Chief Justice Martin's colleagues in the Supreme Court of Western Australia overturned the decision and, in fact, the project was approved to proceed. Senator Ludlam did not make that point in his contribution.

I then turn to the matter of the Federal Court in which a challenge took place to the approval by the federal environment minister. In January this year that was also overturned, and the decision of the federal minister was upheld. But it is important that there be some historic perspective of this because Roe 8 was part of the Stephenson plan from the 1950s, a plan which had gone internationally to tender and Stephenson—a Scotsman—and his associates had won the tender to develop an overall transport plan for metropolitan Perth. So successful was it that Stephenson moved his family from Scotland to Perth to oversee that project. Much of what we see today in place—the freeway system, the highway networks et cetera—were all there as part of the Stephenson plan.

In her wisdom, the then state minister for transport, Alannah MacTiernan—having once been in the state parliament, briefly in this one and now back being recycled again in the state election for another crack at the state parliament—working in conjunction with the then member for Fremantle, Mr McGinty, decided that they would stop the conclusion of the Stephenson plan into Fremantle port. In so doing, they had the land rezoned and they had that component of it zoned residential. The then secretary, I think, of the Transport Workers Union in WA at that time resoundingly criticised Ms MacTiernan and Mr McGinty for the foolhardiness and stupidity of the decision they took. That secretary was a person for whom I have enormous regard. He is now in the Senate. It is Senator Glenn Sterle, and he was quite right when he criticised Ms MacTiernan and Mr McGinty for their failure to give effect to the conclusion of a program that was some 40 years in the making.

The reason the progress is now occurring with Roe 8 and Roe 9 is so there can be reasonable movement of heavy transport to and from the Port of Fremantle. Into the future, if and when—as you know, Deputy President Lines, because you are Western Australian—there may well be an outer harbour constructed down in the Kwinana area to assist in future freight demands, Roe 8 will always be needed to be built. The actions of then transport minister MacTiernan are even worse, because those of us familiar with the Roe Highway know that as we come to the Kwinana Freeway, very close to my parliamentary office, there is a project which was referred to as Roe 7. It was always intended that roadworks should be put into place so that Roe 8 would continue in an east-west direction across the north-south Kwinana Freeway. Minister MacTiernan, in her actions, ensured that there would be no future provision made for a Roe 8, and today several tens of millions of dollars have been added to the taxpayer burden as a result of the refusal of minister MacTiernan at that time to allow for the future provision of Roe 8.

Senator Ludlam is correct in the sense that there is a small area of Roe 8—I have walked it—

Senator Ludlam: The whole thing?

Senator BACK: I have walked all of Roe 8. It adjoins a road which already exists. It goes over a limited area of wetland, it is true, but what has not been said here this afternoon is that several million dollars are being expended to ensure that the nature of the building of bridges over that area is such that they will have the least adverse environmental impact. There will be movement capacity for people who use the area. I want to remind those who might be interested that I had the opportunity on several occasions to journey over a similar wetland in Louisiana, America, between the cities of Lafayette and Baton Rouge. That particular road is two bridges—one in each direction; each dual carriageway—and they are 40 kilometres long, or 23 miles. I have made it my business, in investigating Roe 8 and 9, to receive information from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality as to the apparent adverse impact of that 40-kilometre-by-two highway over the affected wetland area. The advice to me has been that it has actually improved the aquatic environment of that space during that time.

I have an enormous amount of respect for Senator Ludlam, but I do have to take issue with him here. People have every right to protest in a democracy. We all have the right to protest, but there is a rule of law, and the rule of law says you take your case to the courts and you must respect the decision of the courts. We have seen interruptions from people who have flatly refused to accept the democratic process in the state of Western Australia. They have chained themselves to machinery, abused those responsible for commencing the project, and climbed into trees—naked, for whatever reason—with every hope and intent of stopping that work. The cost in salary and overtime to the Western Australian Police Service, when they should have been out attending to other work, has been monstrous.

I will conclude with this comment. It was put me to me recently that this is some recent initiative of the Western Australian government. I have in my possession—not in front of me—a newspaper from September 2008, when I was standing in the state election in Western Australia for the seat of Alfred Cove, evidenced by the fact that my advertisement and face appear on that front page. The headline in that local newspaper in 2008 was 'Libs to proceed with Roe project.' So let there be no doubt in the minds of those who are questioning the democratic opportunity here that back in 2008—not the last state election; the state election before that—our party had said we were going to proceed with Roe 8. That is the democratic process. People elected the Barnett government in 2008 in the full knowledge that that project would go ahead. They re-elected the Barnett government in 2013 knowing the project would go ahead. It is interesting that we find ourselves here today in the circumstances that this disputation is now claimed to somehow or other have recently arisen. The funding is in place. It is the continuation of a 40-year project. I will be the first to say that I think the government in Western Australia and its department could well have sold the issue better.

But let me say this as I wind up my contribution: the city of Cockburn, with whom I have a tremendous relationship, commissioned a study of inquiry into what would happen if Roe 8 was not built. Well, of course it is dominated by people who are opposed to the project, and they attempted to bury it, to explain what the enormity of the traffic congestion will be and the risks if Roe 8 is not built. Fortunately one councillor—and I do not need to go into the politics of the council of Cockburn—ensured that that report was made public. Indeed, what did it reveal? It revealed the importance of proceeding with what Stephenson came up with in the fifties: there is a group of councils called the South West Group; it is Fremantle, East Fremantle, Melville, Cockburn, Kwinana and Rockingham. And that South West Group independently had assessed the impact on road safety, on rail safety and indeed on transport activities. Once again, the members of that group of councils who did not want the results made public did their best to make sure that report was buried. And that report has surfaced, and it emphasises the enormous risk that will happen to that area of the southern suburbs of Perth if Roe 8 is not built.

It was not my intention to speak today on this matter, but I do want to correct the record. I want people to know that this is and has been a democratic process. The courts at state and federal level have been involved. The people have known for years what is going to happen. And I simply say that it does not do any good at all for small amounts of information to be presented in this place that give the suggestion that it will not be challenged.