Dr Chris Back - Liberal Senator for Western Australia

DOCUMENTS - Perth Freight Link - Order for the Production of Documents

February 14, 2017

Senator BACK (Western Australia) (13:16): I rise to speak to the motion regarding the extension of the Roe Highway Roe 8 and 9 and support the explanation given by the Minister for Finance, Minister Cormann. For those not familiar with why the words 'Roe 8 and 9' are used, this particular project is part of a very extensive project that had its origins in 1955. We are not speaking about a recent project, as some might have suggested. It was the Stephenson-Hepburn plan of 1955, Madam Acting Deputy President, as you know, and the very term 'Roe 8 and 9' suggests there have been a Roes 1 to 7, and indeed there have been. Roe 1 to 7 is a large highway extending from the eastern side of Perth, including the freight areas and the light industrial areas, heading in a westerly direction and, at the moment, stopping at the Kwinana Freeway where it intersects north-south at the end of Roe 7.

You might ask, 'Why haven't we had Roe 8 and 9 completed years ago?' Well, the decision was taken back in 2004 by the then minister Ms MacTiernan who has, most latterly, been in this parliament. Indeed, she did not last long in the federal parliament. She was a minister in the previous state Labor government, and I will acknowledge she was an effective minister. In fact, she was the only one who was an effective minister because she achieved something in that state Labor government of Mr Gallop and Mr Carpenter. Ms MacTiernan, I understand, is now being recycled in the current state election in March of 2017.

Of course, at that time, to save the political skin of the then Labor member for Fremantle, state Labor member Jim McGinty, they cancelled what should have been Roes 8 and 9, otherwise known at that time as the Fremantle Eastern Bypass, which was to be the continuation of the Stephenson plan into the port of Fremantle to link-up freight traffic from the eastern suburbs and the freight accumulation areas and logistics areas into Fremantle. But, for cheap political gain, they cancelled the Fremantle Eastern Bypass and they rezoned it as residential so it could never be done. The interesting thing is, for those who are taxpayers of Australia, at that time, had it been completed, the best estimates were some $220 million to $250 million. Instead of that, to complete it today, we have to spend $1.2 billion.

I do want to draw attention to a quote from a gentleman well versed in road transport in Western Australia—so much so that he was a representative of the Transport Workers Union at that time. This is a quote from him in 2004, when this gentleman said, on the idea of removing the Fremantle Eastern Bypass: 'This will create a frightening congestion problem of mammoth proportions in the very near future on all highways and major roads leading to the docks.' That person, of course, was so influential and so knowledgeable in road transport in Western Australia that he now sits opposite me here as Senator Glenn Sterle, from the Western Australian division of the Labor Party.

Senator Sterle's knowledge of the industry was so valid that, in fact, what we come to see in 2016-17 is exactly—through you, Madam Acting Deputy President, to another old transport broken-down shearer in Senator Williams—what Glenn Sterle said: a frightening congestion problem of mammoth proportions in the very near future on all highways and major roads leading to the docks. It is exactly what the now Senator Sterle said would happen. It did happen. For those of you who do not know Western Australia, I will attempt to explain it: we have, for example, a very, very high instance of rear-end collisions on what is now the major traffic arterial road, or car park, called the Leach Highway. About 70-odd per cent of all accidents on the Leach Highway are due to rear-end accidents, simply because in the McGinty-MacTiernan era stopped doing what they should have done at that time, and that was to complete the Roe Highway through to the port of Fremantle.

To give you an understanding, Fremantle is the major southern port. It is by no means the largest tonnage port. The highest tonnage port in the world is that of Port Hedland, in the north of Western Australia, which exports about 400 million tonnes of iron ore a year. Imagine that! More than a million tonnes a day goes out of that port. But Fremantle, of course in the metropolitan area, is the most significant port. For those aware of these areas, we tend to measure the capacity of a port and its activities by the number of 20-foot sea containers or their equivalent that are moved. Currently the port of Fremantle is moving about 700,000 boxes a day and has the capacity to move up to about 1.2 million a day.

I concur with Senator Ludlam: I have long been a believer in the fact that we should be looking towards the designing and eventual construction of a container port in the outer harbour towards Cockburn Sound, Kwinana. I will go through a little bit of history. We all remember Charles Yelverton O'Connor, the great builder of the metropolitan-to-Kalgoorlie water pipeline in the early part of the last century. He was first brought to Fremantle by the then premier, John Forrest, with the objective of a project to build a port in Fremantle. History records the fact that O'Connor in fact wanted to build it where probably eventually a sea container port will go in the outer harbour. But the point is that, whether or not or when that port is eventually built, we will always need Roe 8 to take us from the Kwinana Freeway through to Stock Road. Whether or not vehicles go south towards what could become that open port area in Cockburn Sound or north into Fremantle, Roe 8 is essential.

Madam Acting Deputy President Reynolds, you might not recall the 2008 election as clearly as I do, because I was a candidate for the state seat of Alfred Cove, an area incidentally very much affected by what will be eased by Roe 8 and Roe 9. Roads such as Canning Highway, Leach Highway, Farrington Road, Stock Road, Carrington Street et cetera were all affected by the failure of the then Labor state government to give effect to the 1955 Stephenson plan. Electorates such as Cockburn, Southern River, Fremantle and Bateman have all been affected by the failure of the then state Labor government. I make this point because you will often hear people saying, 'This is something that the Liberal Party have recently rushed in.' On the front page of the newspaper leading up to the state election in 2008 was the statement 'Libs to proceed with Roe Highway'. I can recall that well because down in the bottom right-hand corner, despite my very limited funds at that time while campaigning in Alfred Cove, was my own little ad. So I remember that particularly well.

It is the case that in a democracy it is the right of all citizens to proceed legally with whatever they want to undertake by way of protest. But there is also an obligation in a democracy when the court rules in a certain direction. Then it is the right of all citizens to expect that the opinion and judgement of the court will be honoured. It is the case that those opposed to Roe 8 and Roe 9 took this case to the Supreme Court of Western Australia. It was then taken on to the appeal court. The decision of the supreme appeal court of Western Australia was that the project should proceed. As was the right of those opposed to the project, the case was also taken to the Federal Court of Australia. The appeal to the Federal Court was dismissed and thrown out. On that basis, the project has proceeded and is proceeding. It is the case now that we are looking at about a $1.2 billion project when it should have been completed back in 2004, some 14 years ago, for only $250-odd million. Nevertheless, there are significant benefits to the project.

The point has been made that some councils in the area are opposed to the project. I go to the Cockburn City Council. My electorate office is in Cockburn, and I communicate very well and often with the officials of the Cockburn City Council. Cockburn issued its own report as to what the impact might be on road and other traffic should Roe 8 and Roe 9 not be built. Because it did not suit most of the councillors of the city of Cockburn, the report was initially buried until such time as one councillor said: 'No, that is not a correct spending of ratepayers' money. Whatever the outcome of a report is, even if it is not favourable to the majority of the council, if the ratepayers have paid for it then it should be made public.' And, indeed, it was. What do you think the outcome of that report showed? It showed that if Roe 8 and Roe 9 are not constructed it is going to continue to cause mayhem on the roads in that area. In recent times we have had the Fiona Stanley Hospital and the St John of God Murdoch Hospital established in that precinct. The ability of people to get to those locations will be enhanced greatly by Roe 8 and Roe 9.

In addition to the Cockburn City Council, there is an excellent joining of various councils. They call themselves the South West Group of Local Authorities. They include Fremantle, East Fremantle, Melville, Cockburn, Kwinana and Rockingham. They commissioned a report into what the impact would be on residents, the community and transport should Roe 8 and Roe 9 not be built. Once again, as you would predict, there were those in the south west group who wanted that report buried. Why did they want it buried? It is because it did not conform to what they wanted to see in relation to the future of this area. But the Melville City Council—and here again I declare very, very proudly that I am a ratepayer of the city of Melville—said, 'No, the results of this report should be made public so the wider community can see what is going on and what the impacts might be.' Needless to say, the report strongly supported the continuation of Roe 8 and Roe 9. That is the simple fact.

As the finance minister has indicated here today, there will be dramatically increased safety as a result of Roe 8 and Roe 9 being built. The trucking industry will in fact pay a toll—not domestic vehicles, but the heavy haulage trucking industry will pay a toll. Normally, of course, you would think they would be vehemently opposed to that. For those of you not from WA, you might not know that we do not have toll roads in Western Australia; we simply do not have the population base and so we do not have them. The trucking industry is strongly in favour of a tollway for the obvious reason that they know the travelling time on the logistics trails from the large warehouses to the port and back will be significantly reduced—reduction in travelling time, reduction in costs. The trucking industry have put up their hands and said, 'We will pay a toll as a part contribution from what we will be saving.'

As we have heard this morning, the then Labor government originally developed Infrastructure Australia, and I applaud them for having done so. I have always indicated my tremendous confidence in the then director, Mr Michael Deegan; I have always considered him to be a very sound person, though he is no longer in that role. Infrastructure Australia have looked at this project, can see its benefits and strongly support the construction of Roe 8 and Roe 9. We have heard different commentary on the environmental impacts, and I respect Senator Ludlam's view on this—I do not agree with it, but I respect it. Nevertheless, the minister has outlined what will be savings attendant upon the project. Again I defer to Senator Williams because he, far more than I, has the experience of driving a truck stop-start in heavy traffic, traffic lights et cetera. We all know the impact on engine performance when you are slowing down at lights, stopping and accelerating again. All of those matters have been dealt with.

It is a project that had its origins in the 1950s. It is a project that would have gone ahead in 2004, had it not been for the cheap political opportunism of the then state member for Fremantle, Mr McGinty, and the then minister, Ms MacTiernan. It is a project that since 2008, some nine years ago, the Liberal Party has said, 'We will proceed with this project. Let there be no doubt, we will proceed with the project.' And so for the past two elections in WA the people of WA have voted for the Barnett-led Liberal government in the full knowledge that this project would proceed. That is a critically important point.

It is the case, as the minister has said, that surveys have indicated a strong support for the project—60 per cent in favour, 10 per cent against and 30 per cent could not make up their minds. That, however, was before the recent information, appearing in the local newspapers which service these communities—and tabled in this place today—which at long last are giving the facts attendant upon this project. And there will be more of it leading up to the state election. Madam Acting Deputy President, you and I attended a Senate inquiry at the Esplanade Hotel in Perth and it is a fair criticism to say that not nearly enough information had been made available to the wider community at that time. You and I had been briefed and we were able to share a lot of information which had not previously been known at that inquiry.

Since then, of course, the decision has been taken for a tunnel to be built. Earlier there had been a fear, because of an alternative route, that real estate values might be decimated and houses repossessed along some of the routes, but now we know that the exact opposite has occurred—the value of real estate has gone up and will continue to do so in those areas. You only have to think back to what is known as the Graham Farmer tunnel. Those in the public gallery might not know that there was a very great Aboriginal footballer from Western Australia called Graham Farmer and his nickname was Polly—and the day it was announced that it would be called the Graham Farmer tunnel, it was immediately renamed the 'Polly Pipe'. I draw it to the attention of the chamber simply because in the lead-up to the decision to build that tunnel by the then Court government, you would not believe the opposition to it. The world as we knew it was going to fall in; real estate prices were going to dive for the entire area of Perth. Today, of course, people go through the Graham Farmer tunnel and say, 'Where was the problem? Look at the ease, look at the speed, look at the efficiency.' We do not have all that carbon dioxide accumulating in the tunnel. In answer to an earlier question, it is being addressed environmentally; and, more importantly, the value of real estate in that area has skyrocketed, as indeed it will upon the completion of Roe 8 and Roe 9.

In the lead-up to the election on 11 March, it is necessary for the community to have the facts. It is my view that for too long there has been a set of adverse facts which have been presented but which have now been corrected with informative and useful progressions of information week after week, leading up to the state election. I concur again with Senator Ludlam that it will be up to the people of Western Australia voting in those electorates to determine whether or not they want to return the Barnett government. I, for one, will respect the opinion of the voters of WA, as I respect the courts—the Supreme Court and the Federal Court—and in my view in a democracy that is what we must honour, that is what we must respect: if a majority of people are in favour, they will vote accordingly. 

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