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Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Page: 8998

Senator LUDLAM (Western AustraliaCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (16:50): It has been fascinating listening to the various sides of the chamber grappling with these questions of transport planning and freight movement for the 21st century—from Senator Sterle's contribution and his background in the trucking industry to the bizarre rant by Senator McKenzie who assumed that, if you did not support the establishment of eight-lane freight highways through sensitive wetlands and suburban areas, you must want to transport freight by bicycle. The divide in this parliament, I think, has never been greater around the provision of public transport infrastructure.

I would also suggest that some of those coalition contributions that we have heard this afternoon have been quite stridently out of step with the new pitch and tone that I think Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is trying to establish. It will be interesting to see whether he is going to be able to bring his colleagues into line. This is no longer a question of rhetoric or messaging, because very substantial sums of public money are about to be invested by the Turnbull government and there will not be any place to hide.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is visiting Western Australia on 9 December, we understand, and a short time ago my office hand delivered a letter to his office inviting him—I think, probably this is his first visit to the state of WA since taking office—to visit the Beeliar Wetlands and to meet with local residents and me. This is an area that people have been defending for more than 20 years from proposals to put freeway infrastructure bisecting the wetlands and flattening one of the last really decent stretches of old-growth banksia and mature woodland in the Perth metropolitan area.

In his contribution, Senator Back went to great lengths to talk about the Stephenson-Hepburn plan of 1955. Senator Back, with the greatest respect, transport planning has moved on some since 1955. Ms MacTiernan, the ALP member for Perth, who was planning minister, was briefly sledged by Senator Back for deleting the Fremantle eastern bypass. Ms MacTiernan does not need me to come in here and defend her—she is perfectly capable of standing up for her record—but she was absolutely right. She was absolutely spot-on. I do not know whether Senator Back realises it, but he just stood in here and advocated a four-lane freight highway through White Gum Valley and East Fremantle. It would have been an absolute catastrophe for that highway to have been smashed through those quiet suburban streets. Yet Senator Back is still in here condemning the former minister, Alannah MacTiernan, for doing what the community at the time was demanding and what was exactly the right thing to do.

I do not know how well-known this is—I presume Senator Back knows this, as I think he has lived in Perth his whole life—but the Stephenson-Hepburn plan of 1955 had a freeway and an overpass going over the river from a Stock Road extension at Point Walter onto Jutland Parade in Dalkeith, which is the street that for a while had—I do not know if it still has—the most expensive real estate in Perth. That got deleted and nobody misses it. It did not do any damage at all. We do not have to stick to the cast-iron template set down in 1955—which, we should also say was somewhat farsighted for its time. It had a huge amount of public transport infrastructure in it that successive governments failed to introduce. It was on the planning books but never actually made it to the ground.

Our invitation to Mr Turnbull when he visits Perth on 9 December is a very simple. The Prime Minister has the opportunity to put his state colleagues in their place, because they are in the process of seeking nearly a billion in Commonwealth funding for what I would say is now the greatest planning debacle in Western Australian history. I have never in my life seen incompetence on this scale for a project of this scale. They are making it up as they go along. Premier Barnett is now in open conflict with his hapless transport minister, Mr Dean Nalder. They cannot agree from one day to the next where this freeway is supposed to go, and they have their hands out for nearly a billion dollars. One day it is a tunnel and one day it is a trench. They still do not know how they are getting it into North Fremantle. People are having to piece together the jigsaw puzzle pieces of this catastrophic puzzle on the fly. After a while you realise that the reason we cannot find any coherence or sense in the Perth freight link is that it is not there to find. When Prime Minister Turnbull arrives in Perth he will be met and welcomed by the local community if he is willing to have a real talk with Premier Barnett and whoever happens to be transport minister at the time—because this can be fixed very easily.

It was actually good to hear Senator Back acknowledge the outer harbour. A new overflow container terminal in Cockburn Sound is simply a matter of time. It will need to be built. He said that it could not be built in less than 10 to 15 years. Fremantle Port and many others beg to differ. Seven years is the period of time that I have seen that we could get an overflow container terminal built in Cockburn Sound. There is already an uninterrupted stretch of freight freeway on Tonkin Highway between Kewdale and Orrong Road, and there is an almost direct and unbroken freight-rail link between the Kewdale container terminal and the site of the proposed outer harbour. The solution is actually right there in front of us. Rather than torching $2.2 billion—or whatever it is up to these days—of state and federal funds for wherever the Barnett government lands on the freight link, we can start that investment now, today, at the outer harbour and resolve this once and for all, with a dedicated road and rail link to a new overflow container terminal. Nobody in their right mind would try to move 1.5 million boxes a year through the container terminal at Fremantle. It is simply not going to happen.

So Prime Minister Turnbull, when he visits Perth in a week or so—a week and a half—will be met by a sustained and growing movement of ordinary people. Fifteen thousand people have already signed their names against this project. There are 31 formal organisations in the Save Beeliar Wetlands Coalition, including some who have been active on this campaign literally for decades. Yesterday, when drilling began, many of those people were there. The Western Australia Police, who are unfortunately going to be the meat in the sandwich at this confrontation that will simply escalate, were there in numbers and so were ordinary members of the community, who sat down in front of vehicles until the Main Roads Department moved that drilling rig offsite. There are many legal avenues. The environmental approval by the state EPA is presently tied up in the state Supreme Court. That is a matter that will be heard within a week. Only in the last 48 hours an application for an emergency declaration under section 9 of the federal Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act has been lodged. And it is likely that this project will also be challenged in the Federal Court, because Minister Hunt's approval was based on flawed state approvals.

The federal Liberal Party and the National Party, despite some of the rather poorly informed commentary that we have heard from them this afternoon, do have the opportunity in an election year to differentiate themselves very sharply from their state colleagues. If they do so, I personally—and I imagine I would speak for a reasonable number of participants in this debate from right across the political spectrum—will not be beating them up for a backflip; I will be congratulating them for seeing reason. The Perth freight link will not be going ahead. As much as Senator Sterle would like to joke about politicians chained to earthmoving equipment, it has been a long while since I have been arrested for non-violent civil disobedience.

Senator Canavan interjecting

Senator LUDLAM: You can laugh all you like, Senator Canavan. One day if a project such as this is passing your back fence you might find yourself in this position too when you realise just how poorly conceived some of these funding decisions are. Local community members from North Lake, Bibra Lake, Perth's western suburbs and also from much further afield—as we discovered at a rally just this past weekend—have pledged non-violent civil disobedience, and I and many others will be standing shoulder to shoulder with them.

The Prime Minister has the opportunity when he visits Western Australia in 10 or so days to actually resolve this issue once and for all. It is not an intractable planning decision that has been made here. It is not an intractable confrontation. There is a solution that is staring us right in the face. Professor Peter Newman and his team at CUSP, the local governments who have found themselves in the path of this immensely unpopular project, residents, those who have just taken the time to inform themselves, Aboriginal people who are trying to protect 40,000 years of continuous occupation and culture over that piece of country and a very wide political coalition—all of us—standing together will welcome the Prime Minister or any of his federal Liberal-National colleagues if, when they visit Perth, they swing that large public investment behind a genuinely scalable freight solution for Perth's suburbs. That proposal is there on the table. It is reasonably well delineated.

It would have fallen at the first hurdle if we had a genuinely independent assessment process for Commonwealth infrastructure funding because the state government has chosen to put no information into the public domain at all. If they are so proud of their project, the first thing they should do is table the full business case, table the freight modelling and table any one of the nine freedom of information requests that have been denied that we have submitted and that other colleagues have submitted. If this project is so great, put the evidence on the table. It is going to be a disaster. It will not get built, but fortunately the solutions are well at hand.