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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9497


Mr TRUSS (Leader of the Nationals) (9:30 PM) —This is a picture of Rachel Purdy. Rachel’s mother brought it to me and asked that I show it to the parliament. Rachel was killed in a horrific traffic accident on the Bruce Highway at Kybong on 4 September 2008. Ten days ago, her family and some friends gathered at the site of the accident to remember her and to plead for a commitment to upgrade the Bruce Highway from Cooroy to Curra. The newspapers reported that her car was struck by a southbound truck and burst into flames. Two more trucks then ploughed into the vehicles at the accident scene. It took 12 hours to clear the wreckage, and the scene was described as ‘like a bomb had exploded on the Bruce Highway’. Debris was strewn over 100 metres across the road.

Beautiful Rachel Purdy died along with her unborn child; her partner, Corey Whitmore; and one of the truck drivers. Rachel’s death is a tragedy that her mother and family find hard to bear; but it is also a tragedy for the community that the lives of such a young family, with potentially so much ahead of them, were cut short in a horrible moment.

This is not the only fatal accident that has occurred on the Bruce Highway north and south of Gympie over recent times. Fifty-three people have been killed on the Bruce Highway between Cooroy and Curra since 2002. More Australians have been killed on this section of road than on all the battlefields of the world over this period. The RACQ and other road authorities regard this road as the worst section of the national highway in Queensland. It received this appalling title as far back as 1982, and its ‘worst in the state’ rating has not changed. It is not as though nothing has been done to improve the road. The four-laning stops at the southern end of this horror strip, but during the term of the previous government at least $200 million was spent on widening the road, intersection upgrades and overtaking lanes. The notorious Gunalda Range section was rebuilt and a four-lane upgrade through Gympie was underway. But that is not enough.

The killer highway now requires major investment. Before Christmas the government reduced the speed limit to 90 kilometres per hour over a distance of some 50 kilometres, but there have been several fatal accidents since the speed limit was imposed. The road must be widened to four lanes with a bypass around Gympie. During my 15 months as federal transport minister, we began the route identification for the Gympie bypass and the four-laning from Cooroy to Curra. The $6 million route selection project included extensive community consultation over two years. The coalition committed to build the 65 kilometres of new road by 2020 and allocated $700 million to commence the construction of the Cooroy to Curra upgrade from AusLink II funding.

Unfortunately, Labor promised only $200 million, moving the remaining $500 million to other projects. Eventually the government agreed to provide $488 million from its Nation Building money for one section of the road upgrade. This section includes the place where the memorial for Rachel, Corey and their child has been built. Minister Albanese turned the first sod for the project recently, and work should begin within a month or two.

The minister often says that this section B is to be built because that is where most of the fatalities occur. But that is not true. Since improvements were made to this section a few years ago, there are now other places which are much more accident-prone. This section of the road was chosen for upgrade only because it is the part of the highway that will be flooded if the disastrous Traveston Crossing dam is built.

The people of the region are demanding that this road be upgraded. The killing must stop. That was the clear message from those who gathered 10 days ago to remember Rachel and Corey. They spoke of the horror of the accident scene, the tragedy of the lives lost and the maimed bodies, the nervousness and even fear that people experience every time they need to drive the highway, and their desperate concerns that unless the road is fixed the fatalities will continue.

Rachel’s and Corey’s lives were cut short in an instant. Rachel was a beautiful girl who was the state manager for a hair therapy company. Corey was a handsome young man, a keen musician and a boxer who had his own car care business. Rachel’s mother wanted her story told to the parliament. She does not want her death to be in vain. The upgrading of this road must be given priority, and I will keep talking about the horrors of the road until it is fixed.