Debate Roads and Road Safety Motion

Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (11:02): I am really pleased to rise this morning to add my support with my colleague Gaelle Broad to motion 6.

Just as my colleague Mr McCracken said, this is an investigation to look towards finding the best outcomes for our roads, for our road safety and, above all, for Victorians. What is there to see, not to let this go through? This is not anything other than it seems. It is important to look at the raft of particulars in the terms of reference.

I have just heard some members of the Labor Party talking about the importance of roads and saying that there is adequate road funding. I have heard some say we could do better, and we could do a lot better here in Victoria. In the past two years there has been a 45 per cent budget cut in road maintenance – 45 per cent; $702.2 million down to $441.6 million. It is with incredible sadness that we read into Hansard the number of deaths that have occurred on all Victorian roads to date. Sadly, we saw the tragedy in the western part of our state on the weekend, and then following that, in Eastern Victoria Region around Darnum, another tragic, tragic death. This brings families to live life with a hole in their heart and live life with a limb of their family tree missing, and I know what that means, because my cousin died on a regional road. It is vital that we protect the safety of Victorians.

You only have to drive around my Eastern Victoria Region to understand the depths of that. Indeed, finishing off on those tragedies: 58 per cent of the deaths that have occurred on Victorian roads this year have occurred on country roads – 58 per cent. That is 58 country families that are at a loss, as are their communities. It is not about just lowering the speed limit. That is not the solution. We see it time and time again. I understand lowering the speed limit when there are traffic works being undertaken, but you see the pothole filled and the ‘Reduced to 80 kilometres an hour’ sign is never removed. I can point to a number of different roads like this in my electorate.

What I would like to talk to is the importance of the road base and road maintenance. We know that part of this motion talks about the tender process. I have fantastic road construction companies in Eastern Victoria Region, who do an outstanding job, but they have to complete a road to tender. They are often frustrated by the fact that the quality of the substance that they put down on that road is not what they would like to use. We need to investigate the structure of road construction and how tender processes occur and the importance of getting it right so it is done well once and lasts for a long, long time.

For some of the roads that exist in my Eastern Victoria Region, a little while ago we did an investigation. We asked people to explain to us – the Nationals – about some of these roads. The Traralgon-Maffra Road was voted the fourth-worst road across the state. People came into my office and wrote to me saying that this is a deplorable road. It is often a huge thoroughfare for agricultural equipment and B-doubles transporting our great ag, but there are also many towns along the Traralgon-Maffra Road. Other roads included Sale-Toongabbie Road, Glengarry North Road, Brown Coal Mine Road in Yallourn North, Tyers-Walhalla Road and Trafalgar–Thorpdale Road. There is a slip between Trafalgar and Thorpdale that is constantly failing and is constantly putting those communities at risk. There are multiple unsafe sections along the Strzelecki Highway and the Fish Creek to Wilsons Prom road. If you go to the prom to look at kangaroos and our beautiful wildlife, you have to hop on that road to make your way there. There is also Cape Paterson Road, Wonthaggi Road, Rhyll-New Haven Road, and Cardinia Road. Last but not least, there is the Great Alpine Road. I was up there recently. There has been some work done on Name Stone Point, and thank goodness, because it was quite a safety hazard. There were rocks falling. The engineering had not been done well. There is high rainfall. It needs to be done properly and well. That is the only road in and out of Omeo from Bairnsdale. I went, and again, there were potholes the size of small countries. These are unacceptable.

Regional Roads Victoria do the best they can with what they have got, and I thank Beth Liley, who is a fantastic girl from Yanakie. She grew up in the Yanakie area. She is doing an outstanding job with what she has got – the budget.

Let us talk about bridges. I heard the previous member’s contribution. He spoke about what they are doing with bridges. Well, the Andrews government removed the country roads and bridges program in 2015. The Andrews government then came out with the building stronger bridges program. The Premier came to Tyers to announce a new bridge to connect Traralgon to Tyers. The old bridge floods very regularly when we have floods in central Gippsland. The bridge was announced in 2015, and works started last year – seven years later. It is going to be finished – at a push – in 2023. If you think one bridge in Gippsland is something to hang your hat on, then you have got another think coming.

There are a couple of reports that we seen. A report in March 2022 by Infrastructure Australia, Regional Strengths and Infrastructure Gaps, reported an urgent need to invest more in Victoria’s neglected and crumbling regional roads. I could go on and explain that in detail.

We do transport a considerable amount of agriculture – $2 billion from our Gippsland region goes into Melbourne and out into a variety of domestic and international places. We need our roads to be safe for that transport and safe for people to get their children to school, to sport and to work. We need that safety factor.

Another investigation that this inquiry could do so very well is to look at a very good board called the Australian Road Research Board. It is funded by multiple Australian states. It is funded by a range of road bodies as well. It does wonderful research, and it is looking at alternative solutions to road surfaces to make them last longer. We need that durability. They are looking at putting recycled plastics, glass, reclaimed asphalt, concrete and crumb rubber into the road infrastructure. They are looking at geopolymers, mining waste and bottom ash. I know Opal has an energy-from-waste program, and the bottom ash from that – the very stuff that cannot be used in the production of energy and heat – can be inertly inserted into the road base to make it more durable. These sorts of things are really important to investigate and support.

We have also seen the Committee for Gippsland. We met with them recently, Martin Cameron and I, and they have got a road infrastructure plan. None of this was in the government’s budget. There was no work for the Drouin arterial road network, no preplanning or business case for the Traralgon bypass and no work funded for the Leongatha heavy vehicle bypass stage 2. We call that, down there, kamikaze corner.

There is a huge opportunity to investigate the important work that bodies are doing to insert more durable road base, the way roads are constructed and the importance of increased safety so that our families can get home safely and our product can get to market and we will not see this tragic number of 134 people to date increase any more. We can get people where they need to go more safely.