Wednesday, 25 November 2015
East West Link
That the Senate—
(a) notes that:
(i) there is a political stalemate between the Federal Government and the Victorian State Government in relation to the East West Link,
(ii) there is approximately $1.5 billion in unspent allocations to the East West Link,
(iii) evidence presented to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee inquiry into aspects of road safety in Australia by the National Rural Health Alliance demonstrated that those who live outside the major cities make up 30 per cent of the population and 52 per cent of deaths due to land transport accidents,
(iv) rural roads play a vital role in putting food on city tables and bringing resources to urban areas,
(v) the annual economic cost of road crashes in Australia is enormous – estimated at $27 billion per annum – and the social impacts are devastating,
(vi) many rural roads are in dangerously poor condition and in desperate need of repair,
(vii) some local councils in Victoria do not have the necessary funding to fully maintain the extensive road networks in their electorate due to proposed rate caps and the federal freeze in financial assistance grants,
(viii) a life in rural and regional Australia is just as important as a life in urban Australia,
(ix) until there is a change of Victorian State Government or a change in Federal Government, a resolution to the East West Link is unlikely, and
(x) there is a strong need in Victoria to invest in rail and road infrastructure in order to ease congestion and improve productivity into the future; and
(b) calls on the Government to withdraw the allocation of federal funding set aside for East West Link and to reallocate this funding to projects to improve rural road infrastructure.
I seek leave to make a short statement.
At the time of writing this motion there was a significant stalemate between the Victorian state government and the federal government in relation to the $1.5 billion unspent allocations for the East West Link. I understand that in recent time there has been some conversations between the parties but no outcome as of yet. My motion acknowledges that only 30 per cent of the population lives in rural and regional Australia yet over 50 per cent of road fatalities occur in these areas. It was my intention to encourage all sides of government to consider the increasingly poor conditions of rural roads and the subsequent fatality rate and to spend the unspent allocations on upgrading rural roads, where the funding is desperately needed for safety reasons, not just congestion.
I acknowledge the federal Black Spot Program and Roads to Recovery program and note the increased allocations of funding over coming years. However, the need to repair many rural roads is more immediate. I had encouraged the public to send in pictures of damaged rural roads to visually highlight the issue. There is a large amount of interest, and I am still receiving them. I will continue to collect these pictures and will table them at a later date.
The coalition government notes Senator Muir's ongoing interest in funding for regional roads. As Senator Muir would be aware, the coalition government is funding regional road upgrades not only in his home state and my home state of Victoria but right across Australia. In fact, the coalition government is spending $210 million to help the Victorian government duplicate the Princes Highway East between Traralgon and the regional town of Sale, where Senator Muir has his electorate office.
On top of this, the coalition government is also providing $500 million to duplicate the Western Highway and more than $180 million to duplicate the Princes Highway West—both projects, again, located in regional Victoria. These projects are in addition to the coalition government's funding commitments in the current Infrastructure Investment program, which include $3.2 billion for Roads to Recovery, $500 million for the Black Spot Program, $300 million for the Bridges Renewal Program and $230 million for the National Highway Upgrade Program.
The coalition government's preference is for funding which was previously set aside for the East West Link to be used on other transport projects already agreed to within Victoria, including those in regional areas rather than be dormant in a Victorian bank account.
The Greens recognise the vital importance of making our regional roads safer, but we will not be supporting this motion because we do not believe that the full Commonwealth commitment to the East West Link should go to rural roads. The East West Link was a debacle and it is one that we are glad to have behind us. The Greens are committed to road safety and we acknowledge the trauma that regional and rural communities suffer as the road toll disproportionately affects those who live outside our major cities.
We want to see a strong Commonwealth commitment to rural and regional roads so that we can bring down the road toll in regional Australia. However, we do not support the proposal that the full lot of Commonwealth funding for the dead and buried East West Link should go entirely to rural roads. The Commonwealth money should be redirected to cost-effective infrastructure that is built in the public interest. The $3 billion commitment should be returned to the Melbourne Metro Rail project to begin to unclog our congested city and reduce our car dependence. We commend Senator Muir's commitment to rural road safety and look forward to working further with him on this issue.
Thank you. Labor agrees with the core premise of Senator Muir's motion, especially the point about the cost of road trauma and death. Labor notes that more deaths per population occur in rural areas. Federal Labor invested record amounts to improve road and rail transport and there are several ongoing projects in rural Victoria, including the Western Highway and the Princes Highway and new projects to be funded under the boost to Roads to Recovery funding initiated by the opposition. Labor also spent $3.2 billion on the Regional Rail Link. Labor believes the East West funding should be spent on road and rail projects in Victoria. Whilst specifying roads, the motion does not specify rail or that the funding should go to Victoria. For this reason, Labor cannot support the motion as worded.