September 7, 2023

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (19:08): It's apt that this is a grievance debate because I rise to speak on behalf of my electorate, the electorate of Wannon, about the state of our roads and the need for the federal government to begin to work with the Victorian state government to address the deteriorating condition of our roads. So far—I think it's 16 months in—nothing that we're seeing from the Albanese Labor government is in any way demonstrating that they know and understand how diabolical the road conditions and road network are in western Victoria. As a matter of fact, everything that we're seeing, sadly, shows that they have no understanding or comprehension of this.

It started with their infrastructure review. The government undertook an infrastructure review and immediately started taking money away from key road projects in our electorate. Then, it decided to undertake what it said was a 90-day review. That 90-day review has lasted longer than 120 days and shows no sign of ending. As a matter of fact, I would love the infrastructure minister, Catherine King, to announce either today or tomorrow when that 90-day review will actually end and when we will hear about it. The clock is ticking, and the roads continue to deteriorate. It's not only in western Victoria that this is happening. Right across the nation, especially in regional and rural Australia, roads are deteriorating while the government sits on its hands and does nothing with its infrastructure spending. A bad situation is getting worse and worse by the day. So I call on Anthony Albanese, when he lands overseas, to ring Catherine King and say to her, 'Please inform the parliament when that 90-day review, which has turned into a 120-day review and continues to go on, will come to an end and announce when some certainty will be provided to western Victoria and right around rural and regional in Australia on road funding.'

At the moment, the uncertainty is leading people to despair about what is happening to the roads, knowing that conditions will get worse before they get better. It is adding to people's cost of living. Every time a pothole is hit, every time a car veers off the side of a road because it has eroded, every time someone punctures a tyre, damages a rim or affects their suspension—whether it be cars, motorbikes or trucks—it adds to the cost of living and the cost of doing business. Enough is enough: this needs to be fixed. But it's not only about providing certainty about how much funding the Albanese Labor government will provide for roads. It's about quite clearly coming out and saying, 'We will make sure that every bit of funding that the previous government put into roads is there, and, not only that, we'll put in additional funding.' We haven't seen any of that yet, but that's what we need to see.

There needs to be more transparency. The minister made a commitment before the last election to work with Labor state and territory governments, and I'm sure the Tasmanian government will come on board. Now is the time to do this while we have Labor governments wall to wall. What we need from the state governments is for them to be transparent about the audits that they do of the road networks in their states and territories. I see the member for Grey nodding in agreement because he, too, knows how important this would be for his regional and rural electorate in South Australia. Catherine King made this election commitment before the last election that she would ensure that there would be negotiations with the state and territory governments around their auditing of roads. Why don't the state and territory governments want to make their auditing of their road network public? It's because they know, especially in the case of Victoria, that it will show one thing and one thing only: that the road network in regional and rural areas is deteriorating before their eyes. They need to do something about it.

Instead of spending billions and billions on suburban rail networks—where the costs blow out from $20 billion to $40 billion, to $80 billion and now to over $100 billion—they could fund the roads in regional and rural Victoria, which the audits clearly show should be the highest priority. Why should the minister demand that she honour her own election commitment? It's not only because those audits will show where the need is greatest and where the work needs to be done; it's also because—and this is important for those of us on both sides of the chamber—it will save lives. The sad reality is that not only in Victoria but right across the nation, the road toll is starting to rise again, and one of the reasons that it's starting to rise again is, I'm sure, the poor state of our roads. The fact is that we have failed to invest in the roads that need investing in the most, and the fairest and most reasonable way to do that is by making those audits public.

It's not just the coalition that is calling for this; it's also all the major road user groups right across our nation. They understand how important this is as well. All the different road user groups know that if this information were to be made transparent, they would then be able to articulate their arguments for why these roads need fixing—and we know that these roads do need fixing.

I say to the minister: from Ballarat, it's not too far to get down to western Victoria; come for a drive on the Princes Highway, on the Henty Highway or on the state government roads that run through my electorate and see for yourself how they're deteriorating because of a lack of investment. Now, the majority of them are state government roads, and we know that the majority of the fault lies with Dan Andrews—as it does with most of the problems we have in Victoria—but there is a need for the federal government to play its role. By asking for transparency, we will be able to see loud and clear where we need that investment to go, and that is how we could save lives. That is how we could help people with the cost of living. We could help businesses with the cost of doing business because we would be able to put the resources where they are needed the most.

I think every fair-minded person across the state of Victoria and across the nation would agree that we should initially put the investment into fixing roads in the areas where they are worst. No one thinks that part of a state, a city or a suburban area should put up with shoddy roads. At the same time, serious billions and billions of dollars are being invested in projects that do not have proper cost-benefit analyses done on them and where the productivity returns are unknown. Most fair-minded people think that money should go where it is needed most, and the best way that you could do that is through transparency.

The Coalition will support the government in calling for this transparency and in calling for these road audits to be made public. It happens internationally, so there is no reason that we can't do it here in Australia. What it would mean is that for the first time, we would be getting money put into our road network where it is needed most, and I am absolutely sure that that would be in rural and regional Australia.

Media contact | Cate Mercer-Grant 0408 564 232