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11 September 2019

Grievance Debate: Rural and regional roads

Ms BRITNELL (South-West Coast) (15:29): Today I rise to grieve for the people of rural Victoria. I am grieving because the roads are broken, many of them are actually stuffed. For five years the people of regional Victoria have been begging the Andrews Labor government to listen and start investing properly in our roads. We have bridges that cannot be used. We have roads where the shoulders are crumbling. We have trucks using roads that were built 50 years ago, and although they are being accessed today they have not had work done on them other than remedial work that cannot hold up. This is holding back our state—holding back the whole of Victoria.

I am grieving because we have a Premier who thinks he is the Premier for Melbourne, who has forgotten where the country is, who has visited China more times than he has visited regional Victoria. If he came for a drive, as many of my truck drivers offer him to do, on the roads to south-west Victoria—

Mr Pearson: On a point of order, Deputy Speaker, I think the member is mistaken. She just indicated that the Premier has visited China more times than regional Victoria. I do not think that would be accurate. I would ask that the member amend the public record.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: There is no point of order.

Mr Foley: On a point of order, Deputy Speaker, but it is true.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: There is no point of order.

Ms BRITNELL: It is true?

Mr Foley: I was talking about the member for Essendon’s point. It is true. The member for South-West Coast tells untruths.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! Minister!

Members interjecting.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Members, I will not tolerate frivolous points of order.

Ms BRITNELL: Thank you, Minister, for correcting the record and acknowledging that I was telling the truth. I appreciate your support.

Mr Foley: On a point of order, Deputy Speaker, the honourable member wilfully misrepresents my position, and I would ask her to withdraw.

Ms BRITNELL: I withdraw.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member South-West Coast to continue.

Ms BRITNELL: But I will go on to say that it was recorded in the Weekly Times just recently that the Premier has not visited the regions in the last short while very much at all, and their point is what I am saying: the Premier has forgotten regional Victoria. He should come out and take a drive on Princes Highway west from Warrnambool to Port Fairy, on the road from Heywood to Woolsthorpe, or along any roads in the regions. I obviously know my roads fairly well, but I have been visiting roads all across regional Victoria and I am hearing the same story. I am particularly hearing this story from our councils, who are desperately wanting some sort of investment. They are working hard to get their local roads up to a standard, and they are asking the question: ‘Why aren’t Victorian roads up to that same standard?’. I just met with a councillor recently who brought that up again, and I hear that everywhere. They tell me that they really appreciated our country roads and bridges program so they could use the money for their local roads. They are struggling, and they are wondering why the standards they have to adhere to are not the standards for VicRoads.

In this debate we have heard so much about the history of the state 25 years ago, and I ask myself: why is it that the Labor government is forgetting? Why are Labor members who are contributing to the grievances debate today forgetting one thing? For the last 16 of 20 years we have had a Labor government. During that time our roads have been failing year in, year out. For the last five years they have gotten really, really bad. A girlfriend of mine who travels back and forth from Warrnambool every second week for her work in Melbourne said it has become even worse in the last two years. It gets to a point where they crumble and it is just beyond comprehension how we are going to manage to fix these roads.

But at the end of the day what we have got is an Auditor-General’s report which gives us the road map. He said quite clearly that the Labor government have no strategy. They have not got a strategy. They are not assessing the situation of the roads properly. Within the department that the Minister for Roads has responsibility for, she is not setting out how the department can actually assess the situation properly, so it is up to self-assessment. I do not know about anyone in this room, but when I was at school you did not mark your own exams, and I reckon if you did, there is a high chance you might have got 100 per cent. So my point is: why would you let self-assessment be the way to make sure things are done well? And we are seeing that they are not. Clearly there are not enough resources going into it, which leaves the contractors in an absolute difficult position to begin with. But if you are doing your own assessment of what your work is, clearly as a human nature thing there is a big possibility that you are going to cut corners—so no strategy, self-assessment and no accountability as well.

If you do a job, you need to be held to account. That is how basic work practices work. But no, the minister has let that loose and we do not see any accountability. You can build something and if it falls apart within three months, so what? If it falls apart in six months, so what? If I was investing in anything and it fell apart, even consumer law would protect me from that. So why is it not the same approach in the department? The minister in the other place does need to have a look at that report. It is nearly two years old. It is time to actually implement some of the recommendations. Asset management 101 is what they are calling for here. It is time for the minister to figure out that there are two things going wrong here: firstly, not enough resources, and, secondly, do the job well and do it once.

These roads are causing our state to actually lose money, and it is businesses that are really suffering. I have got a business in South-West Coast that quarries bluestone. The bluestone pitchers went down to the Acland Street renovation in St Kilda. The trucks—

A member interjected.

Ms BRITNELL: They did actually. That is bluestone pitcher from the Bamstone quarry.

But the really interesting part was when they took the pavements down they would actually have quite a number of broken pitchers. That tells me that if you can crack bluestone that is being transported to Melbourne in a truck, it must be a shocking road that you are travelling on. That is backed up by what I get told as well by many of the trucking companies. They tell me their undercarriages are only lasting about a third of the time that they once did. Things like kingpins are snapping. It is incredibly dangerous that these roads are causing steel components on these trucks to crack. I visited an engineering firm last week and saw a truck with damage and severe cracks as a result of driving on these roads. So it is not just tyres; it is not just suspension. It is things like kingpins, which are really important to make sure that the trucks stay together and safe on the road.

I am told by some trucking companies that their costs have increased by 40 per cent for repairs and maintenance. You would think that the tyre businesses would be saying, ‘Great. The roads are bad, and I’m making more money because I’ve got cars coming in all the time with more repairs’. But the tyre businesses are actually telling me the roads are terrible.

Now, the federal government and our local member, Dan Tehan, understand the importance of our roads for productivity, making sure people get home safely, and connectivity to the centre of the state and to the rest of the state. They are incredibly important to our state. The federal government and Mr Tehan have given $60 million to fix the road from Warrnambool to Port Fairy. He has also given $80 million under the roads of strategic importance initiative. But where is the state’s contribution? This is money from the federal government for state roads because the Premier is not taking responsibility for our state roads.

So I put out a petition. I have been sitting out for almost three months now, I think, on street corners and at bakeries in Heywood, Portland, Port Fairy, Woolsthorpe and Warrnambool for people to sign this petition. And it is amazing. When I ask people to sign they say, ‘How many times can I sign? Where do I sign?’. Normally when you stand on the street asking someone to take a pamphlet or do something, they do not want to talk to you. Well, people just cannot be quick enough to get their signature on. But what is fascinating is the business people that are coming into my office saying, ‘Can I have one of those petitions?’. The tyre businesses have been more than happy to sign them because they are just amazed at how much damage the roads are doing to the cars. I think that is fairly telling.

We have a Labor government that has been bellyaching about Jeff Kennett, but for 16 of the last 20 years it has done nothing in south-west or regional Victoria. Our roads are telling the community that, and the community are pretty angry. What did we see in the last budget? We again saw a decrease in money allocated to our roads. We certainly see money repackaged and re-announced, but the actual money has been going down and down. If you do not believe me, Labor, try and tell country Victorian people that you have put more money in; just try and tell them that you are investing more in roads. The evidence is what they drive on every day. It is not being well used and it is not being invested properly. There is not enough, and it is not being well used.

Then we saw the Andrews Labor government rip $2.9 billion out of the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) budget at a time when the road toll is at its highest for 12 years and when we have country Victorians over-represented in the number of people dying on our country roads. Not only did the government take $2.9 billion out of the TAC budget, it also reduced by $400 000 the allocation for blood alcohol testing. Really? We know that people are dying. Yes, there is distraction, there is alcohol and there is the lack of seatbelts, but there are also poor roads. If you lose control 100 metres down the road after hitting a whopping great pothole, it is pretty hard to know exactly what caused that accident. There are lots of reasons for the road toll, but I think roads certainly have a part to play in that.

What is also challenging is the increase in drug use on our roads. What have we seen from this government? Nothing. An emergency summit was called back in May to meet with all the stakeholders, who the government already has, and should have, the ability to speak with every week. All the players who were brought together for that summit that day—VicRoads, the TAC and VicPol—are the people who the government should be speaking to and have the imprimatur to speak to; they are within the departments.

What was that? What has actually happened out of that so far? Nothing. And what have we seen also? Magistrates up my way in Warrnambool are calling for the government to actually give them the tools to be able to strengthen the penalties given to drug drivers, begging the government to act. What did we see? Daniel Andrews announced yesterday, ‘Um, might do a review’. That is nothing. That is just so poor.

What else is coming out of that summit? I think the government is thinking the way to fix the road toll is to lower speed limits; they are talking about 80 kilometres per hour on C-class roads. I have no problem with country roads that are gravel and difficult to navigate being at 80—I probably would not go 100 kilometres per hour on many of them unless they were very well maintained—but on some of these C-class roads there is no way we need the speed reduced from 100 kilometres per hour to 80.

What the government is doing is lazy, lazy, lazy policy. Rather than fix the roads, it says ‘Let’s slow Victoria down’. I remember saying in here one time that you have got to understand productivity if you are running a business, and Victoria is a business that we need to run efficiently. I remember the member for Essendon saying, ‘She doesn’t understand, because you don’t make money out of roads; roads aren’t a business’. Tell that to the business owners who are running their trucks back and forth, trying to get to the port or to export. And how do the farmers fare? I will tell you how they fare. If you are exporting goods out of the port and trying to compete internationally, you are very compromised because the cost of that increase in repairs and maintenance to trucks gets passed straight back to the exporters.

What does Victoria do very well? It produces food really well. We export 60 per cent more than we consume, because we cannot eat, clothe ourselves in and shelter under all the products we produce, which is a wonderful thing to celebrate. It is not going to be celebrated if we are compromised and we are not internationally competitive.

We have lazy policy by this government, which has been in power for 16 of the last 20 years. The government are going on and on about what Jeff Kennett did badly, yet what are they doing? Talking about 25 years ago. Let us focus on the last five years. The roads are crumbling, the people of Victoria are being put at risk, and the state is actually suffering because we cannot compete when we have got roads that will not connect us and will not give us access to the port, which compromises the vehicles and the people trying to do their jobs.

As many of my truck-driving friends have said to me, if workplace laws applied to roads, it would be a WorkCover issue. So, Daniel Andrews, fix our roads.