I am certainly pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this bill today. In Leichhardt we know how vital it is for land transport infrastructure to be in place. It enables people to travel regularly and reliably to every corner of the electorate. Unfortunately, this is rarely an option.
The Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill 2014 lays out a detailed map of the government’s infrastructure priorities. At the same time it repeals and amends Labor’s legacy of failed policies, replacing the fragmented Nation Building Program with the National Land Transport Act 2014. This bill will enable the coalition government to get on with the job of delivering the biggest infrastructure agenda in Australia’s history. This is no mean feat, but I can tell you now we are well and truly up to the task.
Over six years, through our $35.5 billion Infrastructure Investment Program, we will construct the vital road and rail projects that will improve efficiency, boost productivity, and drive Australia’s economy forward.
Of all the major projects under this program, I am extremely pleased to see that the Bruce Highway upgrade is the biggest financial commitment, at $6.7 billion. That is incredible. But, as the coalition’s Policy to Fix the Bruce Highway states, the importance of this highway cannot be overstated.
Covering the 1,700 kilometres between Cairns and Brisbane it is the major arterial connection between Queensland seaboard communities and economic centres. I think Regional Development Australia summed it up very well, when it said that the Bruce Highway is:
“Critically important for the efficient, reliable and safe movement of people and freight throughout the state, and is the most significant single piece of transport infrastructure used by residents, visitors, business and industry all year around.”
The North Queensland Road Alliance estimates the Bruce Highway contributes $11.5 billion per annum to the Queensland economy, and supports some 60,000 jobs in North Queensland. At the same time, however, this stretch of road accounts for more than its fair share of road accidents and fatalities. Despite comprising just seven per cent of the National Highway it accounts for 17 per cent of national road fatalities. Between 2008 and 2011 there were 170 deaths and 1,620 hospitalisations as a direct result of crashes on the Bruce Highway.
The upgrade is one of the Australian Automobile Association’s top national priorities, and a recent report from the Australian Road Assessment Program stated:
“… the Bruce Highway is medium-high and high risk along much of its length.”
In addition, large sections of the Bruce Highway are prone to flooding and lengthy road closures. Queensland figures show that each year, on average, nine locations along the highway are closed for more than 48 hours, and six locations are closed for more than five days per year due to flooding. This causes economic paralysis for Far North Queensland, with critical supplies being stalled and hundreds of thousands of Queenslanders being isolated at a financial cost in the many tens of millions of dollars.
The third major driver for the Bruce Highway upgrade is the increasing congestion and capacity constraints, especially on roads within or approaching our regional cities. Congestion means that more people are stuck in traffic, frustrated. It means more cost to business and less capacity to deal safely with the volume of traffic. This contributes to the accident rate, which is often caused by driver frustration.
In Far North Queensland almost $700 million will be spent on this major transport route between Gordonvale, Edmonton and Cairns. This includes more than $300 million for the three stages in the Cairns Southern Access Corridor project, which will increase sections to a six-lane motorway, along with associated overpasses and service roads, and walking and cycling paths.
Some of this work has already started under Labor, but not unexpectedly they ran over budget. We will make sure that the money is actually available, so that the work is actually completed and paid for in a timely manner. There is a further $385 million for the Edmonton to Gordonvale duplication, doubling its capacity and increasing overtaking facilities. This is slightly outside my electorate, but it will certainly benefit all those travelling into my city of Cairns.
The great news is that, unlike what we have seen in the distant past, all of the planning has been done, so as soon as the work is completed the next project can start. And, of course, the money is already committed to make sure that happens.
The $6.7 billion will ensure there are sufficient resources and momentum to get vital safety, flood mitigation, and congestion-busting work on the Bruce Highway well underway over the next few years. As well as delivering the infrastructure investment program, this bill also reinforces the government’s commitment to the Roads to Recovery program, extending it for five years, until 2019, with $1.75 billion of funding. This provides local governments with highly necessary funding that can help them maintain the nation’s local road infrastructure.
Leichhardt is a vast regional electorate, some 151,000 square kilometres. From the tropical hub of Cairns, in the south, it extends via a network of regional roads, up the coast to Cooktown, and inland through the Mulligan Highway, to the iconic Peninsula Development Road to Cape York. From the township of Laura onwards the Peninsula Development Road is a dusty, red unsealed road, as are all the feeder roads into the coastal communities east or west, such as Aurukun, Bamaga, Weipa, and Lockhart River. In the wet season these roads are not closed for days and they are not closed for weeks; sometimes they are closed for months.
In fact, they have been closed since around Christmas time. I am currently working with the council, who are trying to organise the final arrangements for obtaining Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery funding so that they can actually get out there and reopen those roads after they have been closed for several months. It is vital we do so, because we have all the graziers up there who have not had access for several months now. The cattle are fat after the wet season, and this is the graziers’ first opportunity to get down to the markets and get their first bit of income.
The same is true of people travelling north. You have roadhouses that rely on tourists, and once this road opens it will be the first opportunity for them to start to generate an income for 2014. You can imagine the economic issues that these road closures cause, so it is important we focus on these areas. As I mentioned earlier, it has a huge impact when they are closed. They rely so heavily on these roads for their support. They really do not have any emergency backup. They just have to ensure they are stocked up, unless they live on a coastal community and can be accessed via barge.
I would really like to commend Minister Truss, in particular, for his determination to secure the $210 million the previous government promised before the electionbut the previous government forgot one critical thing; they forgot to attach money to that promise. He was able to find that money, and the $210 million is now going to go towards the largest infrastructure spend in Cape York’s history. Also, there is an additional $10 million coming from the state government. This is going to see a significant amount of sealing in the Peninsula Development Road, and it certainly will reduce isolation periods significantly.
With the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery program, particularly the Betterment program, an additional 20 per cent will allow sections to be sealed and brought back to pre-disaster standard, which is pre-sealing standard. That 20 per cent will allow them to put sealing on that road so that in the next weather event the road will not be washed away. Again, I am hoping that we will see the 400-odd kilometres left in the Peninsula Development Road actually sealed in my lifetime. I think that is pretty exciting.
We should also remember that the Roads to Recovery program was an initiative of the Howard government, and I remember when we initially announced it. It has had a profoundly positive impact on these small remote and regional shires. It has made a big difference in improving the road systems there, and I am pleased to see that we have got it for five years. I think that this program should continue indefinitely because it is a massive opportunity for the small remote and regional shires to receive infrastructure that they cannot afford. In the case of the Cook shire, half of the shire is tied up either in Aboriginal lands or in national parks. They receive no rates from that, so the rate base is very small. That is why this is very, very critical funding.
Over the last five years the Roads to Recovery program has enabled councils to make pavement, bridge and drainage improvements at a whole range of locations in my electorate, with a total of more than $14.5 million invested. From Aumuller Street in Cairns to Adelaide Street in Cooktown, from Barneys Rd on Masig Island in the Torres Strait to Blady Grass Street at the remote Lockhart Riverthese are works that have taken place under this program.
Floodways have been widened and roads have been sealed, curbed and channelled. Dust problems have been remedied, roads have been widened, gravel roads have been reconstructed, timber bridges have been replaced, causeways have been removed and steel bridges have been built. So the program has been a major benefit for us.
The third focusand this is another Howard government initiativeis the Black Spot Program. This bill confirms a commitment of $300 million to that Black Spot Program, addressing some specific sites that are at very high risk of serious crashes. Sadly, in many of these programs, a black spot identifies where somebody has actually died. It is sad that, unfortunately, to have a program in place you have to wait for somebody to die to get some of these problems fixed up.
Nevertheless, it does show that, if we can move quickly and address it, we will not see those deaths happening continually in these areas. By funding measures such as traffic lights and roundabouts at dangerous locations, the program reduces the risk of crashes and certainly saves many other lives in the community.
In Leichhardt, Black Spot projects have, as I say, saved many lives on the Captain Cook Highway. It is a busy thoroughfare linking Cairns to Mossman and Port Douglas, used by many thousands of residents in the northern beaches commuting to and from work. And, of course, with tourists heading up there, a lot self-drive. It is a very picturesque drive from Cairns to Port Douglas. A lot of those tourists are not quite familiar with Australian roads, so you need to make doubly sure that when they do that travel up there they come back safely. Then they are ambassadors for people to come back. If there is a tragedy, of course, quite the opposite occurs.
The Black Spot funding enables clear markings to be painted on the roads. At bicycle conflict points, bicycle awareness signage has been installed at sites such as Grove Street and Captain Cook Highway intersections. Of course, there is a growing awareness of and a growing need for bicycles. More and more people are using them, so it is more important for us to make sure that we have designated areas and that we are raising awareness in those areas.
There are also plans for extensive Black Spot works between Machans Beach and Holloways Beach, and between Yorkeys Knob and Smithfield, to provide physical separation of cyclists on roundabout approaches and through roundabouts with concrete splitter islands or median strips. We have lost too many people through accidents on this road, when a moment’s inattention can result in a cyclist being knocked off their bike and being seriously injured or killed.
Further north, on the Mossman to Daintree road, there is a mixture of guardrails and wire ropes that have been installed at specific sections to reduce the incidence and severity of single vehicle run-off-the-road crashes. A lot of these are in the most picturesque areas, and in our World Heritage area people tend to be looking at the view rather than looking at the road. We need to have barriers there to make sure that that moment of distraction does not mean they are plummeting over the side of the range.
Of course, there is always more work to do, but we are certainly committed to working with state and territory governments, as well as the private sector, to deliver significant infrastructure projects in northern Australia.
Government is certainly doing great work in making this happen. One of the ways we can do that is to reduce costs and to make sure we get more value for money. Of course, we should be building infrastructure through efficiency and removing red tape to make sure we do it quicker and more cost-effectively. Yesterday in this place we started the introduction of legislation that will see the reduction of that.
There is a lot of other stuff that we need to do. To send a parcel on rail from Cairns to Darwin it has to go down from Brisbane to Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide and then up to Darwin. It is a 1,200 kilometre gap between Mount Isa and Tennant Creek which takes us directly there. This is something in the northern Australia policy that we will be looking at. Another one, of course, is the Hann Highway, which is an alternative to the Bruce Highway, a relatively short area of unsealed road. Again, it is a vital piece of infrastructure that will really make a big difference in our region.
As a member of this government, I certainly look forward to continuing to work with local communities, help them develop the way they need and make sure they get the outcomes that we so richly deserve.
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