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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee
Perth Freight Link

HOWLETT, Councillor Logan, Mayor, City of Cockburn

O'NEILL, Councillor Jim, Mayor, Town of East Fremantle

PETTITT, Dr Brad, Mayor, City of Fremantle

SULLIVAN, Mr Charles, Director, Engineering and Works, City of Cockburn

TROSIC, Mr Andrew, Manager, Strategic Planning, City of Cockburn

TROTMAN, Mr Paul John, Director of Strategic Planning and Projects, City of Fremantle

Committee met at 08:00

CHAIR ( Senator Sterle ): I declare open this public hearing of the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee. The committee is hearing evidence for its inquiry into the decision to commit funding to the Perth Freight Link project.

I welcome you all here today. This is a public hearing, and a Hansard transcript of the proceedings is being made. Before the committee starts taking evidence, I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee, and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee.

The committee prefers all evidence to be given in public. Under the Senate's resolutions, witnesses have the right request to be heard in private session. It is important that witnesses give the committee notice if they intend to ask to give evidence in camera. If a witness objects to answering a question, the witness should state the ground upon which objection is taken. The committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer, having regard to the ground that is claimed. If the committee determines to insist on an answer, a witness may request the answer be given in camera. Such a request may, of course, also be made at any other time.

On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank all those who have made submissions and sent representatives here today. There are members of the media in the room. There will be filming of this very important inquiry all day. If anyone has objections to the media being in the room, put your hand up. All good. I have never seen senators or mayors that have even been scared of a camera, so that is good.

I welcome the first group of witnesses. The committee has received your submissions as submissions Nos 70, 57 and 12respectively. Would you like to make any amendments or additions to your submission? If not, I will give you each an opportunity to make a very brief opening statement. Some of you have appeared before us on one or two occasions and would know that the shorter the opening statement the more time we have for questions, but if there are burning issues you need to put to us, please feel free to do so. Why don't we start with Mayor Pettitt?

Dr Pettitt : I appreciate the opportunity to address the committee. There are four questions in your terms of reference relating to process, information, transparency of decision making, and the evaluation of options. The City of Fremantle is not able to comment on issues of process and information relied upon the Commonwealth to decide to fund the proposed Perth Freight Link, because the city was obviously not party to that decision-making process. Although not specifically related to the process that led to the Commonwealth decisions, the lack of inclusion and transparency of the process is having costs for the council, including spending ratepayers' money, gathering information that should be in the public realm, the creation of community angst that need not be there if a more inclusive process had been followed, and creating uncertainty about access into the city's central business district, in turn making it more difficult for the city to push forward with its transformative agenda, which we have been working very hard on. For the same reasons of exclusion, the city is also not able to comment on the information the Commonwealth relied on to decide to fund the Perth Freight Link.

I now turn to the issue of transparency and the options in decision-making and offer some general observations. The formation and examination of options in an open and transparent forum are critical to ensuring the best outcome, and it would be fair to say that standard practice throughout the world is supported by various evaluation methodologies such as a multi-criteria analysis. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of poor outcomes where such an approach is not applied. Once an approach is open to transparent evaluation, issues and opportunities that may have been apparent to the authors of the proposals become apparent and can obviously lead to better outcomes.

Staying with the transparency and the options theme, I now turn to the more specific issues related to the Perth Freight Link. The transparent nature of evaluation, when coupled with a process that includes stakeholders, very often leads to outcomes which are accepted and in turn reduces the adversarial outcomes compared to when not applied. The Senate inquiry could well have been avoided if there had been a more transparent and inclusive approach to the freight task to build upon the WA Regional Freight Transport Network Plan and the as yet unpublished Perth Freight Transport Network Plan. It is odd that the Perth Freight Link proposed is outside of the context of both of these plans.

There appears to be a business case for the proposed freeway, but without this being published it is impossible to tell how robust this might be. Certainly, the brief from Infrastructure Australia says a few things, and it is worth quoting this part:

Infrastructure Australia notes that the options identification and assessment for this project could have been improved by undertaking quantitative modelling of traffic and economic impacts for multiple short listed options. The multi-criteria assessment used has significant weaknesses. In particular, criteria weights used allocate 80% of the weight to benefits and only 20% to costs. This is likely to bias assessment against low cost options and in favour of higher cost options. Further, the assessment of options has had limited reliance on objective quantitative evidence.

Of this, only a small part of the benefits, about nine per cent, accrue to heavy vehicles, therefore making it pretty clear this is not really a freight link at all; it is actually a freeway for cars. Ultimately—and this is probably a key issue for the City of Fremantle—it does not actually reach the port. I am sure you are all very aware of this. That last mile, which will be extremely expensive in relation to how it crosses the Swan River into the heart of the Fremantle Port, is something that is unresolved and certainly part of the benefits-cost ratio that would have been used.

The Infrastructure Australia brief is explicit that the options did not include consideration of the outer harbour at Cockburn Sound. I am sure fellow mayors will talk about that in some more detail. It would be fair to say that the City of Fremantle has been very supportive of the outer harbour being explored as an option, and we believe very strongly that there should have been a comparative analysis between the outer harbour and the inner harbour as options. It is fair to say that there is a growing body of evidence and some very high-quality reports. Just to give you a couple of examples, the City of Fremantle commissioned a report by Peter Newman, who I understand will be giving evidence on the basis—

CHAIR: Unfortunately, Professor Newman is not appearing today. There is somebody else appearing.

Dr Pettitt : I think Cole Hendrigan, who is a co-author, will talk to that, so I will not go into any detail. But it certainly makes a strong case around that. There are also a couple of others. Urbis prepared a report for the Property Council called Keep WA growing, another very good report, which also identifies at the outer harbour as one of their key infrastructure priorities for the state. The Indian Ocean gateway report, prepared by the City of Kwinana, on the western trade coast, also outlined that as a key project. We certainly support that research to say that this should really have been examined. The Perth Freight Link is a very expensive project that does not make it to the port and ultimately will damage the economic revitalisation of Fremantle if it is not done well.

We are very pleased to be here today. A key thing that we would have liked to have seen is a range of options evaluated, in a clear and transparent process, before a major infrastructure choice like this was made.

Councillor O'Neill : Thank you for allowing me to present on behalf of the Town of East Fremantle. I will give you a bit of background. The Stirling Highway Extension goes through our town. It was built in the early eighties. So our town is already bisected by an entry. Any car or truck will go through our town if it approaches the port from the south.

Our concerns when it comes to the decision-making process include that the decision to commit funds to the PFL project by the state and federal governments appears to have bypassed the usual processes that the public would reasonably expect for an infrastructure investment of this magnitude. The information about the cost-benefit analysis for the Perth Freight Link was written after the allocation of the funds, and that is of concern to us. We find the project inconsistent with the existing long-term plans since 2002. I know that you have the Western Australian Planning Commission document from 2004 which outlines many things, including the outer harbour. I do not intend to go through it too much, but it does say that the planning should have started within five years of that document—that is, in 2008-09—and it should be up and running in 2017. It discounted the North Fremantle use for further port—for social, environmental and economic reasons. It outlined a Naval Base-Kwinana solution—I am going back 11 years—and it outlined that solution for environmental, social and economic reasons. That appears to have been dismissed. That has had bipartisan support in this state for decades.

When it came to the business case—not wishing to reiterate what Mayor Brad Pettitt said—we have not got any detail. No other alternatives were examined, including the outer harbour. What project starts without addressing the most difficult solution, which is the last half a kilometre, from the Town of East Fremantle—the Stirling Bridge, if you like—into the port? That will be the most expensive cost per metre and probably the most destructive on our town. It is our concern that you cannot start a project without having it in its entirety and its detail. The business case estimates the cost-benefit ratio of the project to be 2.8, a relatively good figure. However, the BCR of 2.8 assumes that most benefits are based on a 10-minute time-saving on the trip of trucks into the port. But that cannot work, because it has not addressed the last half a kilometre. If trucks are banked back at that bridge, there will be no cost benefit. In fact, our concern is that we will have trucks banked back to a fair distance in our town. We did find that the cost of the additional infrastructure—that is, working out how to get the trucks across the bridge—would have a serious impact on the BCR of 2.8. Unless you have costed everything, how can we rely on the BCR? The BCR, we know, did not look at alternative options. There are also no plans about how the Perth Freight Link will be incorporated into the existing freight networks. There are no traffic, noise or pollution studies, and we are meant to be a modern city. Surely that would be the first practice a modern city would use.

The Perth Freight Link project appears to have been created to reduce the number of trucks on the Leach Highway—a campaign by the City of Melville and the member for Riverton to take trucks around the city—but it simply has shifted the problem. It has not addressed it. The state plans for an outer harbour provide a much more sustainable solution to traffic congestion, and there have been no convincing reasons why those plans have been set aside.

Evaluation of options: again, the Western Australian Planning Commission and Fremantle Ports have always pushed for an outer harbour, and the preferred option has been Kwinana. It has been planned since 2002, and the land and preliminary planning, land assembly has been done. The outer harbour option has significantly less environmental and social impacts than attempting to construct a road through a built-up area, knocking down houses and businesses.

The PFL should not proceed until it has demonstrated that is in the long-term best interests of the state—impacts on our town centre, the environmental pollution, the noise emissions, socially bisecting what we regard as a historic suburb in the city of Perth. There are road-safety issues, which I do not think are being addressed. We have not got any merging of traffic—how cars will assimilate or merge into trucks that are travelling at 80 kilometres an hour. Again, what happens at Stirling Bridge? The impact on the Swan River is of concern because we do not have any plans about how that is going to be addressed.

What the town of East Fremantle wants is for the federal government to not allocate the $900 million plus until the entire PFL can be demonstrated that it is in the best economic interests of this state. On face value it will be $2 billion plus with no detail and no business case. It does not reach the port. I find, this a the 1950s road mentality to a landlocked port built in the 19th century. I do not find, on present information, that that is in the best interests of this state either economically, socially or environmentally. If this is meant to be the project for Perth for the next 50-plus years, I have serious concerns.

Councillor Howlett : Thank you for the opportunity to provide an opening statement to this inquiry on behalf of the Cockburn community. I quote from an unknown author: 'You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.' Our community is in that very space, battling a political process that has chosen to withhold vital information on the Perth Freight Link decision-making process. That information should be in the public domain. The lack of transparency, engagement and justification for the Perth Freight Link is, sadly, missing and has strengthened our resolve to join with our community and other stakeholders in seeking to have these shortcomings addressed.

The 2014 Fremantle Ports annual report states that the current inner harbour will reach optimal capacity within the next 10 to 15 years—reference page 28 of that report. It states that when this occurs additional facilities will be needed to cater for further growth. Nowhere does this mention the Perth Freight Link as influencing the optimisation arising. The very definition of 'optimal' is the best or most favourable scenario. Accordingly, by 2030 Fremantle Inner Harbour will be at its best or most favourable economic point in the evolution, irrespective of the $1.6 billion plus Perth Freight Link. One must consider whether an infrastructure spend that creates optimisation for only another decade is appropriate.

In presenting a nation-building alternative to the Perth Freight Link, the City of Cockburn and a growing number of local governments, informed communities and other stakeholders seek to convey their considered objection to the expenditure of taxpayers' funds on the Perth Freight Link—a project that is neither practical nor visionary.

The world has moved on since the Stephenson report of 1955, which was based upon the belief and promise offered by private transportation. This is a promise that has never and will never materialise for a modern, competitive city like Perth. The City of Cockburn proposal recommends the construction of an outer harbour at Kwinana and an intermodal facility, extending Tonkin Highway southward into Serpentine-Jarrahdale and beyond and an upgrade to Rowley Road into the intermodal facility.

The above projects are considered to be nation building, practical and visionary. The location of this infrastructure would provide construction jobs for thousands of people and up to 10,000 permanent jobs. The nearby high-unemployment localities of Armadale, Kwinana, Rockingham and Mandurah would be the main beneficiaries of these job opportunities.

These major infrastructure projects come at a time when the resource sector decline in Western Australia is underway. What better way for skilled workers to move into work than on these projects assisted with training and retraining? Whereas the mining industry shifts from investment to production, new infrastructure investment—which creates jobs and unlocks the potential for business investment—is critical to re-energising our economy. The movement of people to real jobs versus unemployment queues can, and should be, a reality. The infrastructure projects identified above provide a win-win outcome for all communities currently impacted or proposed to be impacted by noise, vibration, air pollution and reduced connectivity. We are asking the federal government to support our state government in redirecting the funding it has already provided for the Perth Freight Link to deliver the actual correct infrastructure investment to support and benefit all West Australians going forward. This is not the Perth Freight Link, but a plan that recognises that optimal freight management depends upon a new outer harbour intermodal terminal and supporting enterprise park which will unlock business investment and energise our economy.

Our city is seeking to have the following points considered: the release of the Perth Freight Link business case; creating a comprehensive infrastructure plan which addresses the actual problem through providing a real solution to West Australia's freight needs, recognising that our impacts on the Perth Freight Link will reverberate across many of Cockburn's communities, and that these impacts will cause enormous unplanned infrastructure upgrade for local roads, which will become congested as a result of the Perth Freight Link. We want to know how best to provide nation-building projects, and we want to stop the Perth Freight Link process and instead solve the real infrastructure need for Western Australia. Thank you.

CHAIR: Before I go to senators for questions, I want to declare an interest as a kid who grew up around East Fremantle. I went to Richmond Primary School, played football for East Fremantle and used to wait at the front steps of the Royal George Hotel for Dad to come out to take me home. Maybe I should not have said that! I am a 30-year resident of Kardinya; I am a passionate supporter of West Australia's road transport industry; and I want to see freight moved efficiently and safely, but I have opposed the Perth Freight Link for many, many years—a long, long time before I was a senator for Western Australia. So there will be a little bit of light and colour today, and some movement, but we will respect each other's views.

Senator BULLOCK: Mayor Pettitt, you mentioned in passing in your opening remarks the report that the city commissioned from Professor Newman and Dr Hendrigan. I thank you for it, because I found that most informative. I would like to take you to some of the statistics listed in that report just to get them on the record and to see whether you agree with them.

It says here that, currently—in 2014—the inner harbour was dealing with 700,000 containers a year. Is that right?

Dr Pettitt : It is about 740,000 at present, as I understand.

Senator BULLOCK: And that 100,000 of those were coming by rail.

Dr Pettitt : That is correct.

Senator BULLOCK: As I understand it, it is proposed that in the future 30 per cent of the container movements be made by rail, and it is anticipated in this report that the volume will go from 700,000 to 3,000,000 containers by 2050.

Dr Pettitt : Those projections are from Fremantle Ports; I understand that is right.

Senator BULLOCK: If 30 per cent of 3,000,000 containers was moved by rail, it would go from 100,000 to 900,000—a 900 per cent increase in rail movements, and that seems to me to be pretty ambitious—which would still leave 2,100,000 containers to be moved by road against the 600,000-odd that are being moved by road now. From 600,000 to 2.1 million over the next—

Dr Pettitt : That is correct, yes. Can I also add that I entirely agree that the idea that you could move 900,000 containers through the west end by rail is entirely ludicrous, especially given you cannot run those during daytime hours because of the constraints of the traffic.

CHAIR: Spot on.

Senator BULLOCK: I understand that 900,000 would be a challenge—

Dr Pettitt : I think it would be unmanageable.

Senator BULLOCK: considering it is substantially more than the total traffic demand. Let's say, for example, that there were 2.4 million containers being moved by road, against the 600,000 now—a 400 per cent increase. How would the city of Fremantle cope with a 400 per cent increase in container traffic on the roads in Fremantle?

Dr Pettitt : I think you have made a very good case for the outer harbour. Regardless of the Perth Freight Link, given these numbers that you are talking about, you have to travel through East Fremantle and, ultimately, North Fremantle. This is a key point: this road does not take you to the port. You have still got to travel over the same bridge, along Tydeman Road, which is very constrained, into North Fremantle. Even if the Perth Freight Link was built as planned, you are still going to have those major impacts. This is one of the big figures that I did not mention. This will ultimately cut access into Fremantle from the north especially and also from the east very badly because you will have a freeway-grade road—which is the intention of the Perth Freight Link—from Roe Highway all the way into the harbour. Imagine you are coming from the north into Fremantle. How would you get into Fremantle? It is pretty clear that the intent is to cut access, because Tydeman Road will become a zero access road, like all freeways. How would you get into Fremantle from the north? You will have to travel down Stirling Highway, at which point you actually get to turn into Fremantle. It comes down to High Street. High Street is a historic road and, by the time you get close to Fremantle, it is a single lane. If it goes ahead as planned, this could cut Fremantle off at the knees economically.

Senator BULLOCK: If the business case is based on a 10-minute-per-truck time saving, can you see that 10-minute saving eventuating if there were four times as many trucks?

Dr Pettitt : I am not an expert on this, but I do not understand how that can eventuate. A road is only as good as its weakest point. Unfortunately, this road is still going to have some major weak points, especially as you get close to the port itself.

Senator BULLOCK: In your opening statement you said that the fact that the provisions for an outer harbour was not addressed in the assessment of this project was odd. I think you take the gold medal for understatement. In your submission you say with respect to the Infrastructure Australia assessment brief:

The Brief is explicit that the “options did not include consideration of the Outer Harbour at Cockburn Sound”. This is an extraordinary omission given that for over fifty years successive State governments have considered the Outer Harbour as the appropriate place to handle Perth’s growing freight task.

Dr Pettitt : Yes, that is correct.

Senator BULLOCK: If it is impossible for the current facility to deal with the traffic, how could an assessment be made of a future plan without considering an option that has been accepted as being necessary for 50 years?

Dr Pettitt : That is a very good question.

Senator BULLOCK: Can you proffer a suggestion?

Dr Pettitt : I do find it extraordinary, because there has actually been a bipartisan agreement around the need for an outer harbour in Kwinana for 50 years, as the report says. But very explicitly from both sides of state government over the last 20 years there have been active steps towards that, with the exception of the last few years.

Senator BULLOCK: In looking at the 12 other options that were shortlisted for examination and apparently considered, are you convinced that the options were realistic and internally consistent and that there were appropriate selection criteria? Have you got an opinion on those matters?

Dr Pettitt : Certainly some of those options that were put forward were, shall we say, less realistic and less feasible than others. But it is pretty clear that when you have had a bipartisan approach to building a port—be it an overflow port at Kwinana or a new port at Kwinana—that should have been part of the comparison that happened.

Senator BULLOCK: Mayor, you will have to stay awake to know where I am trying to lead you, because the next sentence in your submission says:

In the absence of any supporting documentation it is impossible to tell if all relevant options were identified and if the top four actually deserved that outcome.

Is that your position?

Dr Pettitt : I am not quite sure that—

Mr Trotman : Yes. We have not been able to see those other options and, until we know what they are and are able to examine them, it is hard to say which of those might be best.

Senator BULLOCK: In order to have an informed opinion, more of the detail of that consideration needs to be made public so that people can assess it.

Mr Trotman : Yes, that would be correct.

Senator BULLOCK: Finally, because I know there is a big line-up here, and then I am going to leave you alone Mayor Pettitt and go to East Fremantle. By the way, I should declare an interest: I had 20 years playing cricket for North Fremantle so I am anxious to get good access to North Fremantle. What will the impact of the Perth Freight Link be on traffic in East Fremantle if this project proceeds without a new bridge over the Swan River or without substantial work on the existing bridge?

Councillor O'Neill : Even at this point in time, the Stirling Bridge does not cope. That is an assumption that we all know. Anyone who travels across that bridge would know that in peak hour traffic it simply does not work. Without addressing, as I said, the most costly and the most important stage—if you like to call it that—we do not know. There has been no process of trying to evaluate how to get the traffic across and into Tydeman Road. In March 2015, Main Roads did provide a City of Melville briefing. At that briefing, Main Roads made it abundantly clear that they were not there to argue the merits of the Perth Freight Link; they were there to provide us with some overview. I did ask them about the Stirling Bridge. It is the obvious bottleneck. They said their scope and their brief finished at the Royal George Hotel or thereabouts. There was nothing planned north of that. That was when some alarm bells started to ring for me as Mayor of the town of East Fremantle and of the impact that would have on our town on that historic stretch where we have many heritage buildings—for example, the brush factory, which 110 years ago was lauded around the world and in Paris. That is in the historic part of town that has already been decimated. We have to view these things with importance. With no planning, it does not seem to have had the regard that I think the people of WA deserve.

Senator BULLOCK: Chair, I will note for the Hansard your comment, as an aside, that you often used to finish at the Royal George.

CHAIR: My brief used to finish at the Royal George Hotel. Thank you—you dobbed me in. For the two mayors, and for those people at the back, to let you know that we invited Main Roads but they were not allowed to come or they did not want to come.

Senator BACK: Recapping historically, there seems to be some discussion about whether or not there has been wide consultation. The Stephenson & Hepburn report dates back to when—1955? So everybody has known for a long, long time—probably only Mayor Howlett and I were around in 1955; the others may not have even been born. The Stephenson & Hepburn report, including access into the port, is a long-held and respected document, isn't it? We then had the Metropolitan Region Scheme, which was 1963, and if I recall correctly that did include what became Roe up to seven, including eight and nine. Then, as part of that whole process, there was the Fremantle Eastern Bypass, which was there and land was allocated et cetera. A decision was taken in 2002 by then Minister MacTiernan, now the member for Perth, associated, I think, with Mr McGinty the then member for Fremantle, and I think, with your council's endorsement—Mr Tagliaferri at the time, Dr Pettitt—and the end result of all that was that the Fremantle Eastern Bypass was discontinued and the land was rezoned and it was turned into residential, wasn't it?

Unidentified speaker: Correct.

Senator BACK: So what was the Stephenson & Hepburn model? The Metropolitan Region Scheme effectively then ceased to have its opportunity. My recollection is that there was then to be the development of a freight network review and that there would be modifications to the Metropolitan Region Scheme. What actually happened as a result of that freight network review? Anything?

Mr Trotman : Not that I am aware of, but I understand that there is one coming out next year.

Senator BACK: I am also aware, from my readings, that nothing happened. So here we are in 2015 with the result of inactivity. My understanding is that the dollars of the time, not corrected to today's dollars, would have been about $250 million to give effect to the Stephenson-Hepburn plan which was cut off at the knees. So I just want to be clear that this is not some sudden situation or event that has been thrust upon us all, is it?

Councillor O'Neill : I do not know. To some extent I beg to differ. The Western Australian Planning Commission document from 2004 says:

The first container and general cargo plan for the Outer Harbour was put forward in the 1960s, and the idea was considered again by State Governments in 1982 and 1989.

It goes on and says that in 1991, 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2004 the outer harbour was considered.

Senator BACK: I have not got myself to the outer harbour yet. As I said to Senator Bullock a little bit earlier, it is my understanding from reading history—and we are all great devotees of CY O'Connor—that in the mid-1890s O'Connor actually recommended to Forrest that the Fremantle Harbour be built in the area of the outer harbour. John Forrest insisted that it be at the estuary of the Swan River.

I want to then ask a question of you, Dr Pettitt. In your submission you spoke of 740,000 boxes—and that is the current figure—in the inner harbour, going up by about 5.5 per cent per annum. So it is going up by about 35,000 boxes a year. Yet in your submission—although, as you have said here, it is not endorsed council policy—you speak of capping the inner harbour's current container movements to 500,000 TEUs per annum. That is now. So that would be a reduction of 40 per cent on what is there now. Then in your second dot point there is an acknowledgement that there ought to be some sort of a commitment to an outer harbour by 2025. I do want to come back to the outer harbour, Mayor O'Neill. What are you effectively saying—that we should drop by 40 per cent now and hold at 40 per cent? Have I misunderstood what you said?

Dr Pettitt : I will just clarify. There is a longer term vision for when the outer harbour was up and completed. Certainly the council is very supportive of a working port, but it needs to be done in a way that also understands that this is a growing city and one that is going through economic changes and transformation. That is good. Once the outer harbour is up and running, it is certainly the view of the council that we would rather see that remain a working port but with a cap that is either at current levels or lower—probably around 500,000.

Senator BACK: So your submission is not talking about capping it today?

Dr Pettitt : No, that is correct, because we understand that there needs to be growth.

Senator BACK: But eventually, if and when an outer harbour is constructed—

Dr Pettitt : It is a key point of debate whether you can, as has been long planned, have two ports. Whether that is an economically viable approach needs to be tested, but certainly governments always planned to cap this port and transition the overflow to the outer harbour. We are certainly supportive of that approach, but whether we want to ultimately to transition the whole lot or not is something that needs to be further investigated—

Senator BACK: Into the future. Mayor O'Neill, I will put on record that I do not think that there has ever been any departure from a general recognition that there is a need for the development of an outer harbour. I have not read anything and I have not heard anything in any briefings I have had about any departure from the recognition of a need for an outer harbour. We can all ruminate as to why historically an outer harbour has not yet been built. I do not want this to become a partisan event, but the simple fact is that both sides of politics have been in government since the 1960s and we still have not seen the outer harbour. There will be no argument from me about the need, but anybody who thought that if a decision was made today it would be up and running inside 10 years would have to be an optimist. It could possibly be 15 years. We still have that challenge.

Dr Pettitt : Certainly the Minister for Transport, Mr Nalder, has said on the public record that approvals for the outer harbour would take three years and building would take four. Certainly the council have indicated that there are a range of approvals already in place that may bring that three-year period down. So I should think that, if it were a priority of government, you certainly could do it in less than 10 years.

Senator BACK: The environmental approvals, for a start, would mean it would take an extensive period of time. You and I, Mayor Howlett, have had discussions in the past about Roe 8. Roe 8 has long been on the agenda. There have been complaints about the lack of public consultation. I have read what I believe to be the extensive public consultation, and I respect the fact that it does not meet with your council's views, but would you not agree that whether or not there was an outer harbour only, or an extension of the inner harbour, the extension of Roe Highway to Stock Road—to go south, north or both—is actually necessary?

Councillor Howlett : Firstly, the level of public consultation with regard to Roe 8 focused only on one option and that was to build Roe 8. There were no other options put forward to be considered by the community. Our city and our council have long been opposed to Roe 8—formally since 2001—and the significant impacts of Roe 8 that we see are critical to us to ensure that we fight against it, to stop it from happening. We do not want to see the situation, which has been mentioned here, that is occurring in Melville where the community is exposed to noise, pollution, lack of amenities and so on. Why would anyone want to constructively think about a new road, a new delivery option for freight, that has impacts on other communities? Why wouldn't you look at other options that are available, that bypass communities and that do not have that option?

We have Aboriginal sacred sites in the North Lake and Bibra Lake area. To my understanding there are 13 registered sites. In the last few years, we built a bird hide in our city; we put it on a pontoon because we consulted with our Aboriginal elders and they did not want the lake beds penetrated. We spent about $300,000 over and above the cost to respect their point of view. We are saying that the Aboriginal community needs to be consulted more widely—and I understand that Reverend Sealin Garlett will be addressing the inquiry today.

Importantly, over and above that, Roe 8 impacts on wetlands, on the banksia woodlands and on the recreational opportunities of thousands of people who come to this location every year—it is the most used recreational area in the City of Cockburn, and probably has been for the last 30 years. It is in a pristine state. But if you go on further to say that we are going to divide the communities of Cockburn, disconnect them from each other and have an impact on amenities, which is already being felt in Melville, why would we want to support a proposal that brings the impact from Melville over to Cockburn? What we want is an outcome that respects the community and assures us that those impacts are taken away for all time.

Senator BACK: And yet, when you look through the documentation—and I am sure we will be discussing further today the issues of the Aboriginal impact that seem to have been addressed—the EPA, after considerable consultation, has agreed with the project with offsets of four times the land to be offset.

The only other point I would make—correct me if I am wrong—is that 95 per cent of the proposed road of Roe 8 is actually coincident with the high-tension powerline that goes across that same area, that only five per cent of the predicted area is not already impacted by a substantial development. Am I wrong in that understanding?

Councillor Howlett : The high-tension powerlines do run through the locality, but there is no reason or justification to impact further by clearing hundreds of hectares of natural bushland. That is, in our opinion, totally unnecessary. Offsets can be offsets, but it is my understanding that those offsets are not within the City of Cockburn.

Senator BACK: Mine also.

Councillor Howlett : Why would we impact that locality, which has significance for a whole range of people, including people who live in the City of Melville? We have a solution that arrives at an outcome that takes the impact away from the City of Melville, and we support that, and the City of Cockburn and through to East Fremantle and Fremantle. We have a solution that we have provided.

CHAIR: Thanks, Senator Back. Now for balance I will go to Senator Ludlam, bearing in mind that Senators Whish-Wilson and Reynolds have questions too. I am not going to close the debate down; we will make up some time somewhere because it is very important to hear from everyone.

Senator LUDLAM: Thank you all for coming in today. I note also that the Fremantle submission proposed that this would not be happening if there had not been a proper planning process set in place. Is there anybody at the table who did not find out about this decision via press release, who found out about it via some other form of orderly consultation? Did you all find out about it in the media?

Councillor Howlett : Media, yes.

Senator LUDLAM: What effort has been made since then from any entity or arm of the state government to consult or seek your views?

Mr Trotman : I have only joined recently. I am aware that Main Roads briefed the council earlier this year in a closed session, but apart from that I am not aware of others.

CHAIR: They briefed the Fremantle council?

Mr Trotman : They briefed Fremantle council, yes.

Senator LUDLAM: How about East Freo or Cockburn?

Mr O'Neill : It was a briefing in March 2015 and we had a letter a few weeks ago about stakeholders being involved in the planning process of the Perth Freight Link, but it was a done deal.

Councillor Howlett : From the City of Cockburn's perspective, we had a briefing for council and senior administration staff by Main Roads WA. We were invited to join the stakeholder reference group, and that is, I think, the extent of it, unless the administration—

Mr Sullivan : That briefing was very much a briefing on the construction of the works. There was no other discussion taking place that night.

Senator LUDLAM: So it is not really fair to describe it as consultation, is it? The decision has been made; we are going to announce it.

Councillor Howlett : No.

Mr Sullivan : The Main Roads officers made it clear that they were there to describe the implementation of the project, and that is what they had been asked to do.

Senator LUDLAM: Mayor Pettitt, you guys have been put in an interesting position. At least from the point of view of Cockburn and East Freo, they have presumably been given maps and route alignments, and they know where this thing is intended to go, whereas for the top half of the project—as you described—nobody seems to know. What are the options? The extraordinary thing for me is that we have had a state and Commonwealth commitment of funds to a project, but now we are talking about potentially tunnels, potentially double stacking the bridge or duplicating the Stirling Bridge, and the North Fremantle Tydeman Road side is just a blank space on the map. Do you have a sense—maybe starting with you, Mayor Pettitt—of when you will find out what the actual project is?

Dr Pettitt : It is a good question. We certainly expect we may find out further information later this year, but it would be fair to say that the range of options seems to be increasing rather than decreasing. The original plan A, which was obviously a fattening and upgrading to freeway standard of the existing Leach Highway and Stock Road network was put forward. Since then the second plan was around tunnelling under the former Fremantle Eastern Bypass route.    What was certainly reported on the front page of the Fremantle Heraldlast week was new options for tunnelling that may go more diagonally, running from Stock Road at the Winterfold Road intersection through to the Fremantle Golf Course. They seem to be changing, but none of those, other than the first two, have we been informed of formally.

Senator LUDLAM: Recognising that none of you here are necessarily engineers, my understanding would be that tunnelling would be significantly more expensive than—as you described it—fattening up the freeway, a surface alignment.

Dr Pettitt : That is my understanding.

Senator LUDLAM: On what basis—feel free, anybody, to take this on—has the government been able to calculate a benefit-cost ratio if they do not know what the cost is going to be, if they do not know what the alignment is, how much if it is elevated and how much if it is underground?

Councillor Howlett : From the City of Cockburn's perspective, there has been no consultation on the options going forward from the Stock Road intersection. They are certainly two that are widely being promoted by the government, but we have had conflicting statements from the Premier of Western Australia and the Minister for Transport on when, where or what would be happening, time lines et cetera. I think that is confusing everybody and it is putting a lot of people under pressure. On options for tunnelling, people are talking about how you have to vent tunnels. As these tunnels run under people's homes, where is the ventilation going to be coming out? What impacts does that have?

I was contacted by an aged care facility only about two weeks ago, and it was the first time the chief executive officer had ever heard, or was aware, of this proposal to take freight up Stock Road adjacent to their recently upgraded aged care facility, impacting on hundreds of residents.

Senator LUDLAM: So there seem to be two options, one being that the state government know and they are refusing to tell us, and the other being that they actually have no idea—they still do not know?

Councillor O'Neill : Yes, tunnelling has been mentioned to alleviate the Stirling Bridge problem. It simply cannot be done. Our understanding is you would not get the gradients down and up in that space. So a lot of the argument about tunnelling simply does not stack up—and it is too expensive. You often wonder why we are even looking at those options when the reality is it will not happen—

CHAIR: Where did the tunnelling proposals come from? Can someone help me out? I, like you, have just picked up the Fremantle Herald and picked up a few things, or the West Australian. Has anyone ever had any conversations with Main Roads, or any government bodies or ministers, that have said that tunnelling is an option?

Councillor Howlett : From the City of Cockburn's perspective we heard about it through the media.

Mr Trotman : On the Main Roads website they indicate that one of the options—alternatives they call it—is a tunnel consideration. That has been on their website, but I do not know for how long.

Senator BACK: Is it not the case that there are a couple of options being sought by Main Roads from proponents and they are going to be made available by the end of next week? That is not under the bridge; I will come to the bridge. I do not want to interrupt your time, Senator Ludlam, but that is what I understand to be the case—within 10 days there will be options put. The second one is in the consultation with regard to the Stirling Bridge—it is my understanding there always was a plan to double the width of the Stirling Bridge, and the land is already allocated for that purpose. Am I wrong in that assumption?

Councillor O'Neill : I have no knowledge of the proposal to double the bridge.

Senator BACK: The land is put aside. That might assist the committee.

CHAIR: This is where there is so much confusion. Unfortunately, if Main Roads were allowed to come, or whatever, they could have told us. But there you go—we do not matter.

Senator LUDLAM: For the record, that was one of the reasons that each of your views, on behalf of your constituents, are on the record and fairly clear. One of the purposes of holding this inquiry in the first place was to hear the counter point of view. At the moment, it has kind of been left to Senator Back and Senator Reynolds to run the counter argument. We wanted to hear from Main Roads, planning and the people who are actually backing this thing. Apologies to have dragged you all into this, but this is the only way that we can find out what information is in the public domain.

Councillor Howlett, in your submission—and I think you referenced it again in your comments—you have said that the Bibra Lake reserve, or that Beeliar wetlands area, is the most used recreation place in the whole city of Cockburn, which is a substantial extent. Do you have any ideas, or any figures, as to how many people use that reserve annually?

Councillor Howlett : It would be in the tens of thousands. We do have a survey conducted I think every year or two to look at the usage of our recreational areas. Bear in mind that those people, from my own personal experience, come from all over the south-west metro region, which is a great accolade for the facility. Importantly, also we have the Native ARC animal rehabilitation centre there. We have the wetlands education centre and children come to those facilities, into that precinct, every year from schools all over the Perth metropolitan area as a place of learning, of understanding and of appreciation. We have researchers using those facilities, and universities. There is a link particularly with the Murdoch University. Apart from recreation there is a whole range of other activities that take place, which go to the heart of learning and passing knowledge on. Of course, the Noongar people also have storytelling in those localities as well—again, passing on that information; engagement with the community.

Senator LUDLAM: While we are doing disclosure, I guess as a North Fremantle resident and someone who lived at Bibra Lake for many years, I can certainly attest to the values of that area. Apart from the cloverleaf at the Roe Highway end and the cloverleaf at Stock Road—we know what the alignment is; we know it is sort of where the impact template is—do you have a clear idea whether the freeway is proposed to be elevated, or on the surface, and how the Main Roads engineers are proposing to cut that road between those two cloverleafs?

Mr Sullivan : That was part of the briefing that we received from the Main Roads officers. The concept design that was published in 2012, which is available on the Main Roads website, is very relevant to answering that question in terms of which intersections will be grade separated, which will not, which roads will be severed and which will not.

Senator LUDLAM: By 'grade separated', I am imagining a viaduct—an elevated—

Mr Sullivan : That is correct, yes. But subsequently, which became clear at the briefing, there has been some additional thought given to how the road will be constructed through the environmentally sensitive areas. That brings in treatments such as stone columns, elevated sections of roadway and the roadway being supported on pillars, which, obviously, is a very expensive solution.

Senator LUDLAM: Going back to Senator Back's question from before where he put to you that, irrespective of when an outer harbour opens—because I do not think anybody here believes that is not a form of inevitability if the container traffic continues to grow at the rate of forecast—it would still be valuable to cut that Roe Highway segment as far as Stock Road in any event. It appeared, though, in the evidence that you have all given—and I am happy for whoever wants to take this one on—that the Tonkin Highway extension and a dedicated rail link well south of Roe Highway would mean you would not need to build that Roe Highway segment.

Councillor Howlett : That is correct. Our discussions with the City of Armadale and the Shire of Serpentine-Jarrahdale indicate they are anxious to get the Tonkin Highway extended southward into their locality, again to develop a proper network and one that opens up opportunities for their particular districts. We again state that by extending Tonkin Highway south you are moving the freight away from major communities through Melville, Cockburn, East Fremantle and Fremantle, and you are being futuristic. You are looking at proper and orderly planning, which is essential, and that is, in our opinion, the best investment of taxpayers' money and local government ratepayers' money. Supporting infrastructure around those particular localities is the best way to go. It is pointless, we understand, for the state to go into Fremantle when we know other state governments have now moved to develop outer harbours to ensure that they are going to meet the needs of what are the new super-size ships that will move containers around the world. This includes the depth of the harbours that are required, the technology within the harbour, the investment there to ensure that they get ships in and out as quickly as possible—that all leads to having modern, well-designed ports with associated harbours and infrastructure that best meets the needs of competition between states in terms of how they receive and export.

CHAIR: Senator Ludlam, with your indulgence and that of fellow committee members, our next witness, Dr Hendrigan, has another appointment and has to leave here at 9.30 on the dot. Are you okay if we can rush? Otherwise we could maybe ask the mayors if we could go to Dr Hendrigan and then come back to them. But if we are nearly finished—

Senator LUDLAM: Others had questions, but I am happy to leave it there.

Senator REYNOLDS: I have a few; 10 minutes maximum.

CHAIR: Mayors: at the moment you are the stars of the show, because it is your municipalities that are affected. Would we muck you around if we went to our next witness at nine o'clock but asked you to stay around and we will come back to you? You will be the main show in town at this stage.

Dr Pettitt : Yes.

Councillor Howlett : Yes.

Councillor O'Neill : Yes.

CHAIR: Can I ask the mayors to take a bit of a stretch or grab a coffee or something, and I will call the next witness. Thank you very much, and thank you also to the officers of the councils.