Inquiry into VicRoads management of country roads

Mr  PURCELL  (Western Victoria) — I move:

That this house —

(1)   notes that —

(a)    VicRoads has failed  country  Victoria in the provision of safe  country   roads ;

(b)   Victorian  country   roads  are unsafe and the occurrence of injury and death is increasing;

(c)    the condition of  country   roads  is poor and deteriorating further year by year;

(d)   VicRoads figures reveal western Victorian  roads  are the worst in the state; and

(2)   pursuant to section 33 of the Parliamentary Committees Act 2003, requires the Law Reform,  Road  and Community Safety Committee to inquire into, consider and report on, no later than 30 November 2017 —

(a)    the effectiveness of VicRoads in managing  country   roads ;

(b)   the existing funding model and its lack of effectiveness for  country  Victoria;

(c)    the lack of consultation with regional communities and their subsequent lack of input into prioritising which  roads  are in dire need of repair; and

(d)   the option of dismantling VicRoads and creating a specific  country   roads  organisation and separate metropolitan  roads  body.

It gives me great pleasure today to speak on this motion. It is a particularly straightforward motion. The motion is in regard to VicRoads and how VicRoads have simply failed  country Victoria. The motion refers to deaths and serious injuries on  country   roads , which are twice as likely to occur as on city  roads , so it is a big issue for  country  people. One of the other big issues in the motion is the condition of  roads , which have been deteriorating year on year and are continuing to deteriorate. The final part of the first paragraph of the motion says VicRoads figures show that  country   roads  in western Victoria are worse than in any other part of the state, let alone the  country . The calculations are that it will take something in the order of $220 million to bring these  roads  up to a condition equivalent to the worst  roads  in the rest of the state — not to bring them up to the condition of the best  roads  but to bring them up to the next worst  road  conditions.

The motion then goes on to say that this issue should be considered by the Law Reform,  Road and Community Safety Committee and asks that that committee report back to the Parliament by 30 November next year, a little bit over one year from now. The report should be into the effectiveness of how VicRoads actually looks after  country   roads . It will also look at the funding model and the lack of effectiveness of how this model works in  country  Victoria so that we get better benefit from the spending of money on  country   roads .

The motion also asks for that committee to look at the lack of consultation. It is one of the big issues we hear about daily — that reports or suggestions that are made to VicRoads are not taken into consideration and any decision on  road  upgrades seems to be taken in isolation. The fourth part of the second paragraph asks the committee to consider the possibility and the benefits of dismantling VicRoads to form a metropolitan  roads  group and a  country   roads  group.

There is no doubt that  country   roads  are falling apart. If members get the opportunity to visit  country  areas, as I suggest all members in this chamber should do, they will agree with this. It is a common matter that has been raised in this chamber many times before, but nothing is happening to alleviate or fix that problem. It is a problem that continues to get worse, and the work that is done by VicRoads is not helping.

Governments of both persuasions — I am not suggesting that it is coalition governments or Labor governments, but both types of government — discuss their funding commitments to the  road network and promise millions of dollars. We saw that even as late as yesterday, with many millions of dollars of funding, and if you look at those figures you would think that the problems will be fixed. We have seen these promises in the past, and this is certainly not enough to overcome this serious problem.  Roads  are not getting any better.

We are seeing in the  country  that bandaid fixes are not working. Piles of scoria are being placed into potholes as a means of fixing them, and then by the time the next truck arrives the pothole is emptied of scoria or other base material and the  road  and potholes are back to where we started. A perfect example of this is the Garvoc rail overpass. For people who do not know where Garvoc is, it is west of Terang. Millions of dollars have been spent on this overpass, including as recently as 2008, when another $2 million was provided for this overpass to make what was meant to be a permanent fix, but the overpass continues to fail. The answer at the moment, as with many other parts of the  road  network in rural Victoria, is to simply put up speed restriction signs. There does not appear to be any attempt to do anything about the long-term problem and fix it up permanently.

To me it seems that the issue is that VicRoads is not an effective manager of  country   roads . Some people in the past have blamed this problem on high rainfall and truck usage on our  road  network. It is quite bizarre, though, for anyone who lives very close to the border, as I do. If you go into South Australia, for example, you just cross the border and you magically find that the  roads  are in so much better condition. Potholes do not exist, the  roads  are wider and they are in much better condition. Anyone who suggests that this magical climate change occurs as soon as you hit the border is delusional. The condition of  roads  and the  road -making techniques that have been used traditionally throughout western Victoria in particular show that we seriously need a better way of doing it.

In a recent discussion with an employee of VicRoads about the difference between the Victorian and South Australian  road  conditions it was admitted that our  roads  have been built with scoria, a traditional base for our  roads . The durability of the material used in South Australia is much better. For people who do not know, scoria is a very unstable product to use. It is really porous and not a very good base at all for  road  making. What was even more concerning about the discussion with the VicRoads employee is that they really do not know what the South Australian  road -making authority uses for its base. It is surprising that a simple phone call would maybe help significantly improve the  road  base material that is used just from one state to another.

Surely effective consultation with regional communities would also help. The people who are on the ground are the ones who know the condition of our  road  network, and they also are the ones who need the fixes made. They are the ones who certainly contact me and, I am sure, all other members of this chamber on a very, very regular basis with suggestions and input.

The evidence surrounding the deplorable state of  country   roads  can be found everywhere. At a local level these are just a handful of comments that have been made from some of our leaders in our community. One of the major areas where we see a real problem at the moment is through the Glenelg shire, which covers the Casterton-Heywood-Portland area. Their chief executive, Greg Burgoyne, says that the safety of motorists and the protection of export industries were dependent on urgent  road  repairs, and he also added that we have been neglected for decades. He says it is not good enough.

Moyne shire councillor Colin Ryan, while he was mayor, said that the key freight routes were literally crumbling under the weight of timber trucks, placing lives and livestock and livelihoods at risk. VicRoads have records that do show that the region's  roads  are well below standard. We need a large input of money and also a large input into a different way of constructing these  roads . Corangamite mayor, Cr Jo Beard, described the whole network as struggling, and I think that is certainly as well as you could put it. These are just a few of the complaints that are made to me on a very regular basis.

Recently we went to the public to get their list of worst  roads  in south-west Victoria. The intent was to identify the 10 worst  roads , but as soon as we made our position clear that we were intending to do this the phones just started to ring. Even the local radio station weighed in, playing the AC/DC classic Highway to Hell to highlight the issues we have with our  road  network. The despair from these people and the cynicism that VicRoads would ever successfully fix our  road network were absolutely palpable. They have had enough, and rightfully so, because they just want our  roads  fixed. The nominations that came to our office that we had for the 10 worst  roads  we submitted to the Minister for  Roads  and  Road  Safety and VicRoads in the hope that this list would stimulate some action. We are that desperate that we actually took on the job of community consultation to create a priority list to stimulate some action from VicRoads itself, because it showed little motivation to consult with our regional communities.

Research by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that people living outside the major cities have, as I said earlier, nearly twice the rate of serious work-related injuries as those living in the metropolitan area. If their statistics are based on the assumption of reasonable  road  conditions, it does not bode well for people who choose to live in south-west Victoria and western Victoria, given the horrendous condition of our  roads .

As well as that, there is huge confusion about the responsibility for  roads . The public generally do not understand that local government are responsible for some  roads  and VicRoads are responsible for others, and if they do understand that there is this split, it does come to the situation where they do not know which ones belong to which. This leads to more blame-shifting and more confusion about who should fix the  roads , and they get the same answer when they go to VicRoads or go to the local council: 'It's not our responsibility'. You may know, and I may or may not know, but the general public do not know who is responsible for particular  roads .

Given it is these people who use the  roads  and know which ones are the best, we really need to have a better system of tapping into their intelligence on  roads  and  roads  that need repairing. Not only do we not tap into their intelligence; we actually discourage them from contacting either the local government or VicRoads to have a report done of a  road  condition. They also deserve a lot more than the recent decision to reduce speed limits, and the number of speed limit signs on  country   roads  is increasing at a phenomenal rate. In many cases it would be cheaper to fix the  roads  than to continually put up reduced speed limit signs.

Our  roads  are starting to affect our industry in western Victoria and, I am sure, in the rest of  country  Victoria, but I know western Victoria — as you do, Acting President Ramsay — better than the rest of the state. In October I raised the issue of freight coming into the port at Portland. There is room for expansion of hauling woodchips to the port, but truck companies have expressed concern over the safety of their drivers and how the already heavily potholed  roads  will stand up to even more traffic. School buses are routinely cancelled in the region because in heavy rain and wind, which we get more than our share of, the  roads  are unsafe to transport children to school. This is not a false claim; this happens on a fairly regular basis. These  roads  are affecting jobs and job creation and the growth of industry in our region.

Prior to 1913 Victoria had a Central  Road  Board and district  road  boards. The Central  Road  Board was responsible for main  roads , and the district  road  boards were responsible for local  roads . In 1913, as I understand it, the  Country   Roads  Board was established, changing its name in 1983 and officially becoming VicRoads in 1989, when it amalgamated with the  Road  Traffic Authority. A lot of these are name changes, but they have not changed the situation that we have. VicRoads has responsibility for overseeing, repairing and keeping  country   roads  safe and needs to have a better rural focus. The  roads  in Melbourne and in the suburbs of Melbourne are in comparatively good condition, and this is vastly different to what we see in the prime agricultural region where I live.

I am not intending to compare the state of the  road  network under the  Country   Roads Board to the  road  network now or to extrapolate any results, but when we did have the  Country   Roads  Board our  roads  were in better condition because the board's role was to concentrate on  country   roads  and not get mixed up in political chases for money throughout the rest of the state. We all know times have changed, but the stress on our  roads has increased. Rural  roads  are not receiving the attention or funding they deserve. Metropolitan areas, in my opinion, are being favoured over their  country  cousins, whose  roads  are falling apart around them.

VicRoads is failing  country  Victoria in the provision of safe  country   roads .  Country   roads  are unsafe and are deteriorating further year on year. We need to make a change, and we need to make it now. By continuing to do the same thing over and over again we will not get a different result. We need a system that provides dedicated attention to  country   roads . The existing Melbourne-centric funding model is not providing even the basic maintenance level needed to keep  country   roads  safe.

Finally, I propose that VicRoads be split into two bodies: a metropolitan body and a  country   roads  body. Each organisation should be funded separately and be responsible for geographic areas, with local councils included in the process of consulting and prioritising repairs and ongoing maintenance. Maybe this will help, as nothing else has. I thank you for listening and commend this motion to the house.