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Thursday, 13 November 2008
Page: 95

Senator BUSHBY (6:18 PM) —I rise tonight to speak of a major issue of concern in my home state of Tasmania: the severe neglect and abject state of Tasmanian roads and the consequent impact on Tasmanian commerce and the safety of Tasmanian motorists. The fact is that Tasmanians now have to suffer under the dual yoke of a Tasmanian Labor government that has neglected Tasmanian roads for over 10 years and now a federal Labor government that, regrettably, is doing the same.

The facts are that the Tasmanian government has for years failed to deliver road infrastructure to the state. During that period, time and time again the previous, federal, Liberal-led government has stepped in to deliver safe roads to local Tasmanian communities. Why? Because the state government refused to meet its obligation to the Tasmanian people to deliver roads of a sufficient standard to enable Tasmanians and Tasmanian businesses to safely move around our state. Fortunately, in the absence of action by the state Labor government, the previous, Liberal-led coalition government was good to Tasmania. Examples of its investment in Tasmanian roads include the upgrade of the Arthur Highway to Port Arthur; the $7.8 million upgrading of the dangerous Sisters Hills section of the Bass Highway; the sealing of the Esperance Road in the Huon Valley; duplications and upgrades on the Bass Highway, including the Penguin to Ulverstone and Port Sorrell Road to Devonport sections; the Westbury-Hagley Bypass on the Bass Highway; an accelerated East Tamar Highway upgrade package; Midland Highway upgrades; and the very much needed but state Labor government ignored—despite many protestations over many years—Lilydale to Scottsdale Road upgrade.

It is illuminating indeed to contrast the Liberal-led federal coalition government’s investment with that of that federal and state Labor parties. The Tasmanian Labor government is the only state government which regularly spends less on roads in its own state than the federal government. And what of the new federal Labor government? It has yet to deliver to Tasmania even one of its election promises about roads. Twelve months in, no work has started anywhere in the state on any of the road works promised. A clear and high-profile example—in Tasmania, at least—of both federal and state Labor failing to deliver on the issues of Tasmanian roads is the great need for the Kingston Bypass, which would solve major traffic problems in the fastest growing municipality in Tasmania: Kingborough.

Senator Abetz —Hear, hear!

Senator BUSHBY —I note that my colleague Senator Abetz is a resident of that municipality. I do not live in the municipality, but I am a very regular visitor and I can attest to the fact that, at any time of day, the roads affected are frustratingly slow and busy. But try to negotiate our way past Kingston at either end of the day and you would think you were in London or Rome at peak hour. I have driven in Rome at peak hour, and it is not very nice.

The local community has had enough, and the outcries for action have been getting louder as the municipality continues to grow, which simply exacerbates the issue. In the absence of action by the state Labor government, the previous, Liberal-led coalition government promised to fully finance and build the bypass, making the funds available immediately—an offer which was not taken up by state Labor because, inexplicably, they preferred the deal offered by the then federal Labor opposition to provide $15 million to jointly fund the estimated $30 million project. I simply do not understand why the state Labor government would say no to $30 million which is immediately available and say yes to $15 million which still has not materialised.

So where are we now with this project? Sixteen months after the then coalition government made the money immediately available to fully fund the bypass, not a single sod has been turned. In the ensuing period, the cost of the project has blown out by an additional $12 million. That has led to all sorts of questions about who will fund this cost blow-out, especially since federal Labor has confirmed that it has capped its contribution at $15 million. Given federal Labor’s position, it is a worrying fact that, when the cost blow-out first became apparent, the state Minister for Infrastructure, Graeme Sturgess, said he was confident that the Commonwealth would honour its commitment to fund the bypass on a 50-50 basis. This leaves a real question of who is going to fund the difference. In May, former Premier Lennon said the bypass could be delayed until 2013 or 2014. Remember that we offered to fully fund it 16 months ago and the money was available then. The question is: will it be built at all?

A further example highlighting how Labor, both state and federal, is letting down Tasmanians in respect of its roads is found in one of Australia’s most productive and unique regions—the Huon Valley, south of Hobart. The Huon Valley maintains a substantial share of one of the most sustainable forest industries in the world. It has a major aquaculture industry, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, supplying Tasmanian salmon throughout the world. Its agricultural industry provides everything from apples, to livestock, to saffron. Most of the area’s primary industries downstream-process a significant part of their products in the valley, including the manufacture of the equipment needed for processing.

It is fair to say that the road transport needs and road safety of residents and businesses of the Huon Valley have been totally abandoned by the Labor Party at both a state and federal level, leading to an increased risk to the productivity of businesses and the safety of individuals in this rapidly growing and increasingly prosperous part of Australia. Prominent local resident and businesswoman Jillian Law has taken on a personal crusade to improve the lot of the valley’s residents by organising a petition highlighting the lack of investment in road infrastructure by both state and federal Labor governments. Jillian has worked the shops, footpaths, back roads and laneways of the Huon Valley from Cygnet to Dover, to Geeveston, to Franklin and, of course, Huonville in her crusade to improve the lot of all road users in the local area. Anyone who has met Jillian has to admire the energy and passion she puts into helping her local committee. She has identified an area where the Huon community is in urgent need of assistance. It is an area where road transport is critical as it has no rail, no regular shipping and very little public transport. Jillian has acted to address that need.

Huon Valley residents have become so concerned with the state of the road infrastructure that Jillian Law’s petition has seen some 1,500 residents sign a petition calling for immediate action. Those 1,500 signatures have been obtained in four months—a very short period indeed considering that almost all of them have been gathered by one passionate woman. It is important to note that the area has only some 14,000 residents, so we are talking about over 10 per cent of residents in the area signing the petition. The level of support received for the petition is not surprising. The petition recognises the tragic reality that there have been 11 deaths on the roads in the area in the last four years and 72 serious hospitalised casualties over the same period—statistics which highlight the devastating impact the state of the roads has had in the valley.

It is all too easy to throw dirt when given an issue like this and to point the finger and hope no-one examines your own record. But, as I have already outlined, the record of the last Liberal-led coalition government is exemplary when it comes to funding road improvements in Tasmania, including road upgrades in the Huon Valley region. As Senator Abetz would be able to testify, at least one major local aquaculture business was transporting hundreds of millions of dollars worth of product to overseas markets on a substandard and dangerous dirt road until the previous federal Liberal government stepped in to seal the road and work with the local council to fix the problem. This was after the state government failed to address the safety concerns and assist an important local economic contributor to Tasmania.

But we had also promised more. In fact, only the Liberal-led coalition—and Senator Polley may be interested in this—committed road funding for the Huon Valley at the last federal election. According to data from the Roads and Traffic Division of the Tasmanian Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources, an average of 10,500 vehicles travel through Huonville every day, with 680 of these movements being heavy vehicles. No wonder the state of the roads in the region has become such a major concern for local residents. As mentioned, addressing this challenge is being pushed at a community level by the efforts of Jillian Law and local residents, which also includes the local Liberal Party branch. Jillian took over as president of the Huon Branch of the Liberal Party a little over 12 months ago. Since then she has uncovered the raw nerve of neglect felt by Huon Valley residents as a result of federal and state Labor’s refusal to address the valley’s road needs and she has become a significant campaigner on local issues.

The road related issues Jillian has passed on to me include the damage caused by heavy vehicles travelling through Huonville, the lack of the maintenance that is required as a result of this damage and everything from potholes to the road sinking in some sections. Jillian has passionately ensured that I am fully aware of the benefits of sealing the road to Hastings Caves—a beautiful cave system and high-traffic tourist attraction. And then there is the absence of overtaking lanes south of Huonville. This is another dire need where state Labor has failed to meet its responsibility. We have something like 50 kilometres of narrow winding road that is used by farmers, industry, tourists, commuters and others with absolutely no overtaking lanes. Is it a surprise that it is a high-accident area? Despite state Labor’s abrogation of responsibility, the previous federal Liberal-led government promised to fund the construction of overtaking lanes along this section. But, like the state Labor government, federal Labor has chosen to ignore this dangerous section of road.

Strong local communities need people with passion who care. Jillian Law is one of those people who is fighting on issues of importance to the people around her. Her determination to find a solution to the unsafe and appalling state of the roads in her community stands as a tribute local leaders. (Time expired)